A New Covenant Believer? (Weekly Reflections)


New Covenant Christians? What exactly does that mean?


For better or for worse, all human beings are very much creatures of habit. Depending on the nature of our habits, this tendency can be either beneficial to our overall health and well-being or become a heavy burden that we carry through life on this planet! Just like any other aspect of our being, our habits can be of physical, mental or spiritual nature as well. Thus we may choose to develop a favorable habit of healthy eating and physical fitness or prefer to go with junk foods and lack of exercise; we may opt to acquire profitable habits of a life-long learner or choose to remain at the level of mental mediocrity and average intelligence; we have a choice of becoming spiritually astute individuals or settle for a life of spiritless insensitivity; we are given a choice of being free individuals guided by the Spirit of the Almighty and His Word or follow the crowd by letting others dictate our faith and beliefs. The choice is always there, beloved!


We have all heard or known the cases when a long-caged bird or other living creature would simply refuse to spread their wings and fly to freedom of their original wild habitat, where the LORD of heaven and Earth would supply their sustenance. Instead they chose the safety and predictability of their circumscribed life. The same has been true for many human slaves, who have chosen the house of their lenient human master over against the freedom of living their own lives as their Creator intended. There is no doubt that all of us feel somewhat sad when we read stories like these ones. The saddest of all is the fact that the same is true of many millions of people today, who willingly choose spiritual ignorance and mental apathy over against the vigorous life of the Spirit and a quest for spiritual and intellectual excellence! Let me explain what I mean in less general terms now.


In my ministry as a Messianic rabbi, and previously as pastor within many Christian denominations, I have come across countless sincere individuals whose concern for spiritual and intellectual growth and whose search for God were totally dwarfed by their petty earthly worries and trivial daily routine. Whenever any biblical teaching was presented to their attention from a fresh spiritual perspective, their response, almost invariably, was: “I believe as my church does and am comfortable with my faith. I know that I have personal relationship with God and that He answers my prayers.” That was their way of saying that they had no interest in pursuing a dialogue and would rather address themselves to something “more practical.” What could be more practical, however, than discovering the truth of the One True God? The quest to find the Living God is the one most significant thing a person can do during a short span of his/her life on Earth: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:11-13) – Are you ready for something more exhilarating than the same old “church fluff”?


Are You a New Covenant Believer?


Ever since Christendom acquired political and military power in addition to their spiritual hegemony in the Roman Empire, they have striven to elevate themselves in the eyes of the entire world as the only legitimate way to God. One of their most prominent theologians, St. Augustine, declared that “Outside the Church there is no salvation” (extra ecclesiam nulla salus). He made this ludicrous statement in the 4th century CE. Since then it became an official dogma of the Catholic Church.

Please, take a listen to the following fun declamations:
- “There is but one universal Church of the faithful, outside which no one at all is saved.” (Pope Innocent III, Fourth Lateran Council, 1215.)
- “We declare, say, define, and pronounce that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.” (Pope Boniface VIII, the Bull Unam Sanctam, 1302.)
- “The most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, can have a share in life eternal; but that they will go into the eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless before death they are joined with Her. . .” (Pope Eugene IV, the Bull Cantate Domino, 1441.)
Sounds pretty arrogant, doesn’t it? Although the Protestant World has been unable to go the same length of arrogance and falsehood in their declarations of supremacy, due entirely to the pitiful fragmentation of their ecclesiastical bodies, they do believe that salvation for all humankind lies within the Church Universal.


In my conversations with Christians from different denominations, whenever the question of obedience to the Torah’s Commandments and the God of Israel is mentioned, their first, and almost instinctive defensive reaction is expressed by means of: “I am a New Covenant Christian and the Old Testament requirements and regulations do not apply to me any longer. They were nailed by Jesus to the Cross and we live now by the Spirit!” Believe it or not, I used to spew out the same ignorance and fallacy during my greenhorn days within the fold of the Church!


Part of the reason why this teaching of Christendom has proven so tenacious has been the practice of purposeful exclusion of the Hebrew Scriptures (called the Old Testament) from the spiritual arena of people's minds and churches’ activities. Thus you may have noticed that on coming into the “sanctuaries” of many mainline denominations, the only portion of the Scriptures available to their parishioners is the New Testament, conveniently packaged as their “pew Bibles.” We should also understand that the pejorative term “the Old Testament” was, most likely, coined by the Catholic scholar Jerome in the 4th century CE. Prior to that, all the spiritual individuals, including Jesus and His disciples, regarded the Hebrew Scriptures as, well . . . the Holy Scriptures of God! In light of all this, do my Christian friends even understand what the phrase “the New Covenant” means? Do they? Let us take a closer look!


The New Covenant . . .


The term “new covenant” appears around 9 times in the entire corpus of the Bible. The first mention is found in the Hebrew Scriptures, in the writings of the Prophet Jeremiah. The rest of them are in the portion of the Bible that has come to be called “The New Testament.” Before we proceed any further, allow me to make the following axiomatic statement (axiom, unlike a theorem, does not require proving and is self-evident): The Hebrew Scriptures do not require the New Testament portion to be divinely inspired in order to be considered the Word of God! However, the New Testament’s claim to divine inspiration rests solely on its correspondence and flow from the truths of the Hebrew Scriptures! Did you catch that? The veracity of the New Testament’s text depends on how closely and truthfully it bears out the meaning of the Hebrew Scriptures. That is why, by the way, the New Testament writers try and quote the Hebrew Scriptures extensively whenever they want to substantiate their statements and claims!


Hebrews 8:7-13

With this understanding in mind, we will address ourselves to the most significant biblical passages containing the phrase “the new covenant,” i.e. the ones with direct correspondence to this term as found in the Hebrew Text. I will first adduce the passage from the book of Hebrews, which purports to be a direct quotation from the book of Jeremiah. Please, read the text closely because we will compare it to the one in the original Hebrew as well:
“For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the LORD.” – Please make a note of this last sentence in verse 9, - we will compare it to Jeremiah’s words. The text continues: “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” (Hebrews 8:7-13) – A portion of this quote is also found in Hebrew 10:16-17. The text of Hebrews 8, however, is much more relevant to our current topic of the “new covenant.”


There are a number of things that should be pointed out in this text as having a great import: (1) Who is the New Covenant concluded with? (2) The ending of verse 9 and its correspondence to Jeremiah’s text. (3) What happens as a direct result of this “new covenant?”


Jeremiah 31:27-34


Now we will lift a corresponding quote out of the Book of Jeremiah and unpack the meaning of the phrase “new covenant”: “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will plant the kingdoms of Israel and Judah with the offspring of people and of animals. Just as I watched over them to uproot and tear down, and to overthrow, destroy and bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant,” declares the LORD. . .” – This is a bit of context in which our verse is nestled. Here comes the text quoted by the author of Hebrews: “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.” (Jer. 31:27-31) – Let us pause for a moment and see that the addressees in this prophecy are the same in both the New Testament text and the Hebrew Scriptures. Who are these recipients of the prophetic oracle? They are: “the people of Israel and the people of Judah.”


The prophet Jeremiah was writing these lines during the Babylonian Exile of the Jewish people, sometime in the 5th century BCE. By then the Ten Northern Tribes, often referred to as people of Israel, had been lost for almost two hundred years with no visible hope of recovery. The people of Judah, on the other hand, were conquered by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The Prophet’s mention of both entities in the same statement points unmistakably to the future predicted restoration and reunification of the entire Kingdom of Israel, - hence his reference to both “the people of Israel and the people of Judah.” In fact, in the original Hebrew, it states: “the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” So, the prophecy’s addressees are the scattered people of Israel, not the Church! This text is among many others that have prompted my Christians friends to start developing their doctrine of Church’s replacement of Israel as God’s Chosen People. One simple question is sufficient to knock their theological card-house down flat: “Does the Church worship and obey the Holy One of Israel or its very own Catholic Trinity?” Countless other disqualifiers may be cited as well, but this one will truly suffice!


To Quote or to Misquote. . . That is the Question!


Let us continue with the text of Jeremiah: “It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD.” (Jer. 31:32) – Let us take another brief pause and compare this verse with the one in the New Testament Book of Hebrews. The original text of Jeremiah states: “. . . they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD.” (v. 32) – It has a deep connotation of the LORD’s love for His people and His faithful support for them even in the face of their disloyalty! By finishing the passages later on, we will also see that the LORD has remained a husband to them!


Now, what do we see in the text of the purportedly accurate rendition of this verse in Hebrews 8? Here is the sentence: “ . . . because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the LORD.” (Heb. 8:9) – Is this a faithful quote or a deliberate misquote? Many of my Jewish brothers and sisters have long concluded that this and other similar instances of misquoting of the Hebrew prophecies in the New Testament are the clear-cut cases of the deep-seated anti-Semitism within the Christian Church. What do you think? Does the practice of quoting a part of a verse correctly and then adding something that is simply not there sound fair to you? The text of Hebrews 8:9 replaces the correct “though I was a husband to them” with the false “I disregarded them.”

New Covenant Results


Our text goes on: “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Jer. 31:33) – Please, understand that the term “new covenant” does not mean that the Law of God has been done away with, “nailed to the Cross,” as they say. On the contrary, the Law of the Almighty is now written internally on the fleshly tablets of our hearts and not just externally on the tablets of stone. This fact alone quickly disqualifies the 99.99% of the world’s Christianity from being able to call themselves “New Covenant believers.”


Notice how in the following lines Jeremiah predicts that all the faithful of the LORD will know Him and His Name: “No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (v.34) – How much of the world today knows that there is but One Living God, whose Name is the LORD God of Israel? Do you belong to those who know Him? Does your church or group worship the Holy One of Jacob or something else, perhaps some Trinity?


Faithful Forever!


I, for one, love the LORD God of Israel and stand in awe of His all-knowing mind. He knew that somewhere along the timeline of the world, there would arise many different entities that would try usurping the place of His covenantal people Israel in the eyes of the world. That is why Jeremiah was bidden to write in conclusion of this oracle: “This is what the LORD says, He who appoints the sun to shine by day, Who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the LORD Almighty is his name: “Only if these decrees vanish from My sight,” declares the LORD, “will Israel ever cease being a nation before me.” This is what the LORD says: “Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done,” declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 31:35-37) - Does anything need to be added to this stunning-in-its-power prophecy coming directly from the Throne of Grace? God is faithful to His own forever and ever! Have you joined God’s covenantal people by coming to the Holy One of Jacob, embracing His Word, walking in His ways and supporting His people? It is not too late today!


Conclusion:


The conclusion of the matter is quite simple then: First, those who are most loud about being “new covenant believers” are truly clueless as to what this particular designation really means according to the Bible. Second, the New Covenant is ratified only between the God of Jacob and His faithful monotheists, the ones, whose hearts are renewed by the divine grace and filled with His Holy Spirit (this would include all the faithful believers among the Jewish people and their Messianic brothers)! They willingly accept God’s Laws and Commandments into their hearts and lives, and walk in the light of His Torah! Third, the New Covenant presupposes the final and complete restoration of Israel, making the LORD’s monotheistic nation the Light unto the Gentiles once again! Are you part of His Light and Life?

How many of us today are willing to leave behind the gilded cage of Christendom’s falsehood and acquire the freedom of God’s faithful children: “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32) May the Holy One of Israel bless you and keep you! May He make His face shine upon you and grant you peace! Shalom!