The Ministration of the New Covenant
We have noticed that, as a result of the New Covenant having been ratified, Israel were given the opportunity to receive their blessings on the terms of the New Covenant, but because they refused, and resolutely rejected, the Lord Jesus, Paul was caused to repeat for the last time those words from Isaiah vi., which indicated that the attitude of Israel's heart was entirely opposite to that necessary for the New Covenant to be realized. The period between Matt. xxvi. 28 and Acts xxviii. 28 must, therefore, have been occupied with the proclamation of the New Covenant; this is just what we find.
Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, reviews the nature of the collective ministry of the Apostles at that time:
"Our sufficiency is of God, Who also hath made us able ministers of the New Covenant" (2 Cor. iii. 5, 6).
"We have received this ministry . . . our gospel" (2 Cor. iv. 3).
The us, we, and our, makes it evident that this ministry of the New Covenant was committed to others beside Paul. When Paul makes claims of independence and speaks of "My gospel" during the same period of the Acts, it is because of the special aspect of the ministry that was his as being the Apostle of the uncircumcision; so far as hope was concerned, the "hope of Israel" remained in view till the end of Acts xxviii. 20; not until after the dispensational boundary of Acts xxviii. 28, was Paul given another ministry (Col.i. 25, 26), the stewardship of which was his peculiar privilege.
The ministry of the New Covenant that was shared among many during the Acts is, in 2 Cor. iii., set in contrast with the ministry of the Old Covenant (see table).
|2 Corinthians iii|
|Old Covenant||New Covenant|
|The ministration of death. 7||The ministration of the Spirit. 8|
|The ministration of condemnation. 8||The ministration of righteousness. 9|
|The letter killeth. 6||Not of the letter... Spirit... giveth life. 6|
|Made glorious. 10.||The glory that excelleth. 10|
|Is done away. 11||Remaineth. 11|
|Vail in reading the O.T. 14||Which vail is done away in Christ. 14|
|Could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses. 7||But we all with open face beholding the glory of the Lord. 18|
The difference between the ministry of the Old and New Covenants was the difference between death and life, condemnation and glory. Those addressed in this passage were the fruits of this New covenant ministry, and constituted a sort of first-fruits of those who are to receive New Covenant blessings. Notice how that the attitude of heart of these who believe is the same as will be that of all Israel in the day when the New Covenant is made:
"Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the spirit of the living God, not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart" (2 Cor. iii. 3).
"For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws in their mind, and write them in their hearts" (Heb. viii. 10).
The vail had been taken from the hearts of these believers, so that they could behold the glory of the Lord as in a mirror, Israel as a whole being still blinded. But though this was so, a time was anticipated when Israel as a nation, should see:
"Nevertheless when it (i.e., Israel's heart, verse 15) shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away" (2 Cor. iii. 16).
The ministry being the ministry of the New Covenant, the doctrine also was relevant to the New Covenant.
"Covenant" diatheke occurs 33 times in the N.T. Three indicates divine perfection, eleven imperfection, twelve is a number associated with Israel, eleven speaks of Israel coming short.
"Covenant" with "new" kainos occurs seven times. Seven, spiritual perfection (Matt. xxvi. 28; Mark xiv. 24; Luke xxii. 20; 2 Cor. iii. 6; Heb. viii. 8; ix. 15). Thus, while imperfection is suggested by the general use of "covenant," perfection is found in the New Covenant. Of these seven occurrences of "New Covenant" five have a reference to the blood in their immediate context. Five is a number associated with grace; the New Covenant is one of grace in contrast with the Old Covenant, which was by law. The gematria of "diatheke" is 60=5x12: the factors suggest Israel being dealt with in grace. Of the 33 occurrences of "Covenant" in the New Testament, 17 occur in Hebrews and 16 elsewhere; this makes it evident that the covenants are the special concern of the Hebrew believers.
Outside of the Gospels, Paul is the only writer who mentions the New Covenant; it was given him to show what the New Covenant meant to Israel in Hebrews; what was the dispensational place of the New Covenant in Romans; and what the ministry of the New Covenant meant in 1 and 2 Corinthians. Paul was especially the Apostle to the Gentiles. Why, then, was he chosen to expound the teaching of the New Covenant, which was essentially a Jewish hope?