by Paul George
A significant biblical covenant that will determine important issues related to Israel and the future Kingdom of God is the New Covenant. According to the Old Testament, the parties of this covenant are God and the nation of Israel.
God promised many things to the people of Israel in the New Covenant.
First, He promised regeneration. This would involve the giving of a new heart and a new nature (Jeremiah 31:33; 32:39-40; Ezekiel 36:26).
Second, God promised forgiveness of sin (Jeremiah 31:34; Ezekiel 36:25).
Third, He pledged the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 36:27).
Fourth, He guaranteed a universal knowledge of Jehovah among the people of Israel (Jeremiah 31:34), the kind of knowledge that comes through a genuine salvation experience, not just head knowledge of His existence.
Fifth, God promised that Israel would obey Him and have a right attitude toward Him forever (Jeremiah 32:39-40; Ezekiel 36:27; 37:23-24).
Sixth, The greatest of all His promises, He would never turn away from the people of Israel (Jeremiah 32:40).
The Nature of the New Covenant
The New Covenant is an unconditional covenant. This means that the fulfillment of the promises of the New Covenant would not depend upon the obedience of Israel. When God presented the promises of the New Covenant, instead of stating conditions for Israel, He continually said, “I will” (Jeremiah 31:31-34; 32:37-42; Ezekiel 36:24-37). This meant that the fulfillment of the promises of the New Covenant would be dependent totally upon God’s faithfulness to His word. The New Covenant is an everlasting covenant. The fact that God intended the New Covenant to be everlasting, together with the fact it would be unconditional in nature, meant that the New Covenant would never be abolished or annulled with or by Israel. Once established, its promises would have to be fulfilled.
Relationship to the Church
The Old Testament said nothing concerning a relationship of the Church to the New Covenant. This silence should not be a surprise for at least two reasons.
First, the Apostle Paul indicated that no revelation concerning the Church was given before the time of the apostles (Ephesians 3:2-9).
Second, the Old Testament prophets who presented God’s revelation concerning the New Covenant were Israelite prophets. It was their responsibility to declare God’s message specifically to the people of Israel. They described how the nation of Israel would be related to the New Covenant, not how others possibly would be related to it.
In spite of the Old Testament’s silence concerning the relationship of the Church to the New Covenant, the New Testament seems to indicate that the Church does have some relationship to it.
First, the Church partakes of the communion service that Christ instituted on the night before He went to the cross. When Jesus instituted the communion service, He stated the following concerning the cup; “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me” (1 Corinthians 11:25). Since Jesus used the word “the” and since God had promised only one New Covenant prior to Jesus’ statement, it seems evident that Jesus was referring to that New Covenant. Therefore, Jesus was saying that the cup of the communion service represented the New Covenant that God had promised to Israel in Jeremiah 31 and other Old Testament prophetic passages.
Second, Jesus made His statement to Jewish men. They would have been aware of only one New Covenant, the one God had promised to Israel in Jeremiah 31. Since Jesus did not tell them to think otherwise, they would have understood Him to be referring to that specific New Covenant.
Third, The Apostle Paul’s claim the apostles of the Church functioned as ministers of a New Covenant (2 Corinthians 3:6).
Since the Church has a relationship to the New Covenant, partaking of its spiritual blessings, what is the relationship of the nation of Israel to the fulfillment of that covenant? Theologians disagree with each other in their answers to this question; some claim that the New Covenant is being fulfilled totally in the Church today. According to this claim, the nation of Israel forfeited any relationship to the New Covenant because of its unbelief and rebellion against God. According to this claim, the Church has replaced Israel in that relationship. Therefore, the promises of the New Covenant that were presented in the Old Testament are to be fulfilled in a spiritualized Israel, the Church, and not the literal nation of Israel in the future. According to this view, there never will be a fulfillment of the New Covenant for national Israel.
According to a second claim by theologians, is God promised to establish the New Covenant with the people of Israel (Jeremiah 31:31), the New Covenant is unconditional in nature, and God declared that He would fulfill the promises of the New Covenant with Israel, not because the nation would deserve it, but because of its disobedience (Ezekiel 36:21-36), Israel has not forfeited its relationship to the New Covenant because of its unbelief and rebellion against God. According to this view, the Church has not replaced Israel and the New Covenant is not being fulfilled totally in the Church today. The fact that the Church has a relationship to the New Covenant does not rule out the fulfillment of all the promises of the New Covenant with national Israel in the future, there will be a fulfillment of the New Covenant for Israel in the future.
The Future Fulfillment of the New Covenant
One of the major Old Testament passages in which God presented promises of the New Covenant (Ezekiel 36:21-38), He clearly indicated that He would fulfill those promises with the same people who profaned His holy name among the Gentiles. The context (Ezekiel 36:16-20) and language, “house of Israel” (vv. 22, 32, 37) of this passage signify that those people were the literal people of Israel. Because of its unbelief, national Israel has not yet received the fulfillment of the New Covenant promises of Ezekiel 36 since the time Jesus established that covenant when He shed His blood on the cross. Since God indicated that He would fulfill the New Covenant promises with Israel, and since that nation has not yet received the fulfillment of those promises, one must conclude that they will be fulfilled with national Israel in the future.
Although the Church partakes of the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant, the material and national promises of that covenant are not being fulfilled with the Church. Since the material and national promises of the New Covenant are not being fulfilled with the Church that means that those promises have not yet been fulfilled. Since God has declared His determination to fulfill all His promises, including the material and national ones, of the New Covenant (Ezekiel 36:26), one must conclude that those promises will be fulfilled with the nation of Israel in the future.
After the Church came into existence and began to partake of the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant, the Apostle Paul declared that the nation of Israel would experience the fulfillment of the New Covenant when the Messiah would come in His Second Coming (Romans 11:25-29). Paul was not original in this declaration, for the Old Testament taught that God would fulfill the New Covenant with Israel when the Messiah would come in conjunction with Israel’s final regathering from its dispersion and permanent restoration to the land of Israel (Isaiah 59:20-21; Jeremiah 32:37-44; 50:4-5; Ezekiel 36:22-28; 37:21-28).
Paul also claimed that God would not change His mind concerning this future calling for Israel which He announced in the Old Testament (Romans 11:29). In other words, God’s calling for Israel to enter into New Covenant relationship with Him in the future is irrevocable. It must happen. When Israel enters into that relationship with God, the New Covenant prophecy will be fulfilled.
In verse, one of Romans 11 Paul clearly indicated that he was talking about the people of God who were physical descendants of Abraham and members of Israelite tribes as he was. Second, in verse 14 Paul declared that the Israel to which he referred was his own fellow citizens. Third, Paul contrasted the Israel of this chapter with the Gentiles (vv. 11-14, 25). It is evident that in Romans 11 Paul was teaching that the nation Israel will enter into New Covenant relationship with God in conjunction with the Second Coming of the Messiah.
The fact that Paul taught this after the Church had come into existence and had begun to partake of the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant indicates two things. First, the nation of Israel has not forfeited its promised relationship to the New Covenant because of its unbelief and rebellion against God. Second, although the Church is partaking of the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant, it has not replaced Israel in its promised relationship to that covenant, Paul clearly stated that God has not cast away His people of Israel (Romans 11:1-2).
According to the Apostle Paul’s teaching in Romans 11, during the time of the Church, a remnant of Israel is being saved by the grace of God through faith in Christ. Those Israelites become members of the Church through salvation. They partake of the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant, as do the other members of the Church. However, they do not partake of the material and national blessings of the New Covenant, as the rest of the Church does not.
By contrast with this remnant of Israel, the majority of Israel during the time of the Church does not become saved because of its hardened unbelief. As a result, that majority does not obtain any of the promised blessings of the New Covenant, even though it seeks many of those blessings during that time. Because of their unbelief, the majority of the nation have been removed by God from the place of covenant blessing which the nation of Israel enjoyed with Him in the past. This means, Israel failed to enter the New Covenant relationship with God in conjunction with the Messiah’s First Coming.
While Israel remains in unbelief outside the place of covenant blessing, many Gentiles, who originally were not in that place of blessing, are being grafted into it by God’s grace through faith in Christ. These saved Gentiles are members of the Church, grafted into the place of covenant blessing in the sense that they partake of the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant.
Although believing Gentiles are grafted into the place of covenant blessing in place of the unbelieving Israelites does not mean that the fulfillment of the New Covenant with Israel has been nullified. Paul made it very clear that the majority of Israel will not be removed from the place of covenant blessing forever. That removal is only temporary, when the great harvest of Gentile souls has been gathered and the Messiah returns, Israel will be saved and placed back into the place of covenant blessing (Romans 11:23-27). At that time Israel will enter fully into the New Covenant relationship with God, and all the promises of the New Covenant will be fulfilled completely. Although Israel failed to enter the New Covenant relationship with God in conjunction with the Messiah’s First Coming, it will enter it in conjunction with His Second Coming.
In Romans 11, Paul explained how the Church now partakes of the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant. The complete fulfillment of that covenant with Israel, however, has not been and never will be nullified.