The New Covenant Promised
For this is My blood of the New Covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matt. xxvi. 28).
In saying "this is," the Lord Jesus explained that the blood He was about to shed was the blood of the New Covenant, but He did not define what the New Covenant was. To do that was not necessary, for the disciples had the New Covenant promised and described in the words of Jeremiah:
"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a New Covenant with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts, and will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Jer. Xxxi. 31-33).
This New Covenant was new in contrast to the Covenant made on the day of the exodus. There had been other covenants made with Noah, Abraham and David, but these were unconditional and enduring, and will not become old or be supplanted by any other covenant. The New Covenant is only new in relation to God's covenant given to the nation of Israel when He, for the first time, began to deal with them as a nation.
To appreciate what the New Covenant is, we must endeavour to understand, first of all, what the Old Covenant was. While the Old Covenant was made on the day that Israel came out of Egypt, yet it is not until Sinai is reached that we read anything of what the covenant was. At the first ascent of Sinai the Lord spake to Moses:
"Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob and tell the children of Israel: Ye have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I bare you on eagle's wings and brought you unto Myself. Now, therefore, if ye will obey My voice indeed and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me, above all people, for all the earth is mine; and ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel" (Ex. Xix. 3-6).
The covenant was conditional "if . . . then," and though made at the Passover, the conditions were not given until Sinai. The requirement was that Israel should "obey My voice and keep My covenant," This Israel agreed to do:
"And all the people answered together and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do" (Ex. xix. 8).
The promise was that Israel should be the Lord's peculiar treasure and a kingdom of priests in the earth.
At the second and third ascents of Sinai, Moses received the details of the covenant that Israel had agreed to keep; he received the law. Coming again to Israel after the third ascent:
"Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord. . .all the words which the Lord hath said we will do. And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord. . . And he took the book of the covenant and read it in the audience of the people, and they said, All that the Lord hath said will we do and be obedient. And Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people and said, Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words" (Ex. xxiv. 3-8).
On hearing the words of the law which was to be the conditions of the covenant, Israel further agreed to abide by it by a double repetition of "we will do." The written law was called "the book of the covenant," and the blood sprinkled was "the blood of the covenant."
During the next three ascents, Moses received instructions concerning the tabernacle and its service, and the special privilege of Israel if they kept the covenant. At the sixth and last ascent, a further promise is given that was to make Israel an object lesson and a witness to all the people among whom they should go:
"Behold I make a covenant before all they people; I will do marvels . . . observe thou that which I command thee this day" (Ex. xxxiv. 10-11).
But this covenant was made with a people who had only been typically redeemed: they had been delivered from the bondage of Egypt, but not from the bondage of sin. Before ever the Lord had ceased speaking to Moses in the Mount Israel broke the first commandment of all:
"Thou shalt have no other gods before Me. Thou shalt not make any graven image" (Ex. xx. 3, 4). "They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made a molten calf and have worshipped it" (Ex. xxxii. 7, 8).
The failure of Israel under this covenant necessitated a change, as it was not possible for God's purpose in Israel to be realized on these grounds. Thus it is that a New Covenant is promised:
"I will make a New Covenant. . . not according to the covenant that I made . . . in the day that I took them out of . . . Egypt . . . which My covenant they brake . . . but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel . . . they shall be My people" (Jer. xxxi. 31-33).
Under this New Covenant Israel shall be the Lord's people. We make no apology for giving a second quotation of Jer. xxxi., nor, indeed, for frequent further references to these verses; unless this promise is understood, we shall not be able to enter very far into the significance of the words of the Lord Jesus at the Passover supper.
"Which My covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord" (Jer. xxxi. 32).
The comparison of the broken covenant with a broken marriage vow, is enlarged upon in Ezek. xvi. Here, again, we have the promise of another covenant that should replace the first covenant agreed upon by Israel:
"Nevertheless, I will remember My covenant in the days of they youth, and I will establish with thee an everlasting covenant . . . but not by the covenant . . . I will establish My covenant with thee and thou shall know that I am the Lord" (Ezek. xvi. 60-62).
Together with the promise of a New Covenant, Israel received the promise of a coming Messiah. In the last written prophecy given to Israel, the two promises are linked together:
"The Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to His temple, even the messenger of the covenant" (Mal. iii. 1).
Thus when the Lord Jesus came, He came: "To perform the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant" (Lk. i. 72). The New Covenant is not mentioned until the last Supper Matt. xxvi. 28). Not only did Israel fail to keep the covenant during the O.T., but they also failed to receive their Messiah while under the administration of the Old Covenant. It was not until Israel had gone to the fullest lengths in rejecting the Lord Jesus, that He first made mention of Israel's only hope--the New Covenant.