Both testaments record that God made certain promises
to man in the form of specific contracts or agreements with man. These
are called covenants" and define the terms of God's relationship with
individuals or groups in various circumstances and eras. Of these
covenants the best known are the covenants made with physical Israel and
the New Covenant established on "better promises," which will be fully
confirmed with spiritual Israel after the return of Jesus Christ. The
New Covenant, which also applies to the New Testament Church from the
time of the original apostles, makes God's law even more relevant by
expanding it to include one's mental attitude and spiritual intent.
In recording the history of God's relationship to
mankind, the Bible reveals various examples of covenants made between
God and certain individuals or nations. A covenant may be defined as an
agreement, written or verbal, whereby two or more parties agree to a
certain relationship governed by specific rules and yielding
commensurate results. This usually involves certain conditions to be
fulfilled by one or all parties. Therefore, a covenant is most closely
analogous to our present day "contract," though any such analogy must be
A contract implies a clear bilateral agreement with
both (or all) sides fully agreeing to the terms. But God's covenants are
not always so bilaterally equal. In almost every situation it is God who
sets all the ground rules, God who formulates all the conditions, and
God who stipulates all the results. Man is simply given the choice of
agreeing to comply and receiving the tremendous benefits, or not
agreeing to comply, in which case he not only does not receive the
benefits but suffers the terrible liabilities as well. As such, God's
covenants could perhaps be better characterized as "promises" since they
are most often unilateral. As God has defined His covenantal
relationship with man, He promises to do something if man does
something, and He promises to do something else if man
does something else.
God's purpose in making covenants has always been,
and still is, to officially and clearly delineate what He expects from
man and what man can expect from Him. By understanding these covenants
an individual may come to a better knowledge of God's will and desire
for mankind and also realize the conditions which will lead to
prosperity and abundance.
In the Old Testament a number of important covenants
are discussed. In Genesis 9:8-17, for example, God promises Noah He will
never again destroy life with a huge flood. Later on in Genesis we read
how God made a covenant with Abraham-which He later reiterated and
expanded-which provided physical benefits to him and eventually to all
humanity through Abraham's descendants (Gen. 15:18-21; 17:1-27). Another
covenant example was the agreement God made with King David (2
7:12-16; 1 Chron. 17:11-14). To one degree or another most of the major
biblical covenants interrelate and intertwine. To understand any one
covenant wholly, we must usually have a working knowledge of the others.
For example, the covenant God made with Abraham has as its
promises certain blessings that are reiterated in whole or in part in
The best known of the Old Testament covenants is that
between God and the Israelites made at Mount Sinai. After bringing the
Israelite slaves out of bondage in Egypt, God made an agreement or
covenant with them (Ex. 19-24). In return for obedience to the Ten
Commandments and other laws enumerated in Exodus 20-23, God promised
certain physician blessings. Included among these were protection from
enemies, removal of sickness, and abundance of food and water.
Noticeably absent from among these promises was any mention of spiritual
benefits, such as forgiveness of sin and eternal life. The promises of
the covenant given were strictly temporal and physical, as Leviticus 26
and Deuteronomy 28 bring out in clear detail. Conversely, disobedience
to these laws would be followed by curses affecting the same areas of
the Israelites' physical lives as did the promises. Moses served as the
mediator of this covenant, which was then ratified with the blood of
animals. Despite temporary periods of relative obedience, the
later history recorded in the biblical account shows the unfaithfulness
of the Israelites who repeatedly broke their part of the covenant.
In the New Testament, another covenant is proposed by
God to replace this old covenant that had been made with the nation of
Israel. This New Covenant had already been prophesied in Jeremiah
31:31-34 and is discussed in detail in Hebrews 8:6-13. This New Covenant
is to be a "better covenant" than the Old Covenant since it will be
established upon "better promises" (Heb. 8:6). These "better promises"
are spiritual in nature and far transcend the physical promises given to
ancient Israel. These promises include: grace (unmerited favor in God's
sight demonstrated in numerous ways), forgiveness of sins, eternal life
as sons in God's family, God's putting His laws into our minds and
writing them in our hearts, the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, and other
spiritual blessings of various kinds and of inestimable value.
Through these better promises God immeasurably
extends the benefits of His relationship with man. For example, by means
of the Holy Spirit, it is now possible to keep the spiritual intent of
the law, whereas those under the Old Covenant did not generally keep
even the physical letter of the law. The New Covenant is also nonethnic,
being offered to all who repent and through baptism become Abraham's
spiritual descendants and heirs (Gal. 4:28; Is. 55:1-3; 59:20-21).
The New Covenant will not be applicable in its full
force and widest sense until Jesus Christ returns and establishes it
with Israel. This is the clear message of the prophets. All peoples and
nations of the world shall then have an opportunity to enter into this
same New Covenant relationship with God, though Israel will be the
international example as God's law will go forth from Zion (Mic. 4).
Nonetheless, since Jesus Christ is called "the mediator of the New
Covenant" (Heb. 12:24), the New Covenant is already in force for all
true Christians today who have accepted Him as their Savior.
The differences between the promises of the Old and
New Covenants extend beyond their content-there is also a difference in
the timing of their fulfillment, and this difference is instructive in
further understanding the application of the New Covenant under the Old
Covenant, the physical promises of blessings or cursings were fulfilled
(within whatever time period) according to whether Israel obeyed or
disobeyed God's law. Under the New Covenant, God's promises are surely
given to His begotten children, but even such converted Christians will
not receive the promises in their fulfillment until Christ's
return. This event is described in I Corinthians 15:51-53 when:
"...we shall be changed, in a moment, in the
twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will
sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be
changed. For this perishable nature must put on the
imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality."
Indeed all the patriarchs and prophets of the Bible
have not yet had God's promises to them fulfilled:
"And these all, having obtained a good report
through faith, received not the promises: God having provided
something better for us, that they without us should not be made
perfect" (Heb. 11:39-40).
God has determined that He will fulfill His better
promises of the New Covenant to all His people, from all the ages and
eras of man, at the same time; this will be at the momentous turning
point of history, the return of Jesus Christ.
It is critical to understand that the agreement and
acceptance of the New Covenant commits both God and men to stricter-not
lighter-terms. God is now bound to the spiritual promises mentioned
above. Likewise man is more tightly bound to God's law, the Ten
Commandments and Jesus' expansions of it. Far from being free from
obedience to God's law, the true Christian is now more fully responsible
to keep the law in its complete spirit and intent. As Jeremiah 31:33
states, "I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their
hearts." Thus God says His law shall not be done away but rather become
more deeply ingrained in his people (see also Heb. 8:8ff; 10:16ff).
Note that God's writing His law "within" His people
and "upon their hearts" will not be some magical transformation or
mystical experience by which God will suddenly and mechanistically
rewrite our brains and reprogram our minds. God, in His wisdom, has
determined that true character cannot be built instantly by fiat, not
even by divine fiat. While it is possible for God to command and enforce
instant obedience, that is not at all the same thing as developing true
godly character. Character can be defined as the internalized
desire and determination to obey God, backed by the mental fortitude and
resolve to in fact obey through all circumstances, however difficult.
Character can only be generated by a process of conscious experience,
test and trial, growth and development. God designed human beings to
become His Sons; and sons must do more than just obey, they must radiate
God's character from within. Consequently, under the New Covenant, God
shall make His laws known and His Spirit available, enabling people to
understand and keep those laws. Thus, the opportunity to enter into the
process of conversion-of living God's way throughout a long, rich
physical life-will be available to all who accept the invitation to be
included in the New Covenant. Today it is only available to the relative
few, those who have been called out of the world by God into His Church.
After the return of Christ it will be available to the vast
multitudes-those comprising physical Israel, as the example, and then
every other nation on earth, all people who will gladly submit
themselves to God.,
The fundamental unity between Old and New Covenants
is an essential element in biblical understanding. The law is
principally the same, created by the same God, but our relationship to
it differs. The law of the Old Covenant required physical obedience and
offered physical promises; the law of the New Covenant requires
spiritual obedience, which is far tougher, and offers spiritual
promises, which are enormously greater.
The greatest illustration showing that God's law is
expanded and made more binding (rather than abrogated) by the New
Testament is the "Sermon on the Mount" (Mt. 5ff). Here Christ, speaking
to His disciples (who would receive God's Spirit and hence enter into a
new covenantal relationship with Him), clearly told them that not one
"jot or tittle" would pass from the law. (This is indeed logical since
the Jesus Christ of the New Covenant is the same being who was the God
of Israel in the Old Covenant. See Jesus Christ.) Jesus further spoke
against the concept that obedience was not necessary by saying whosoever
taught this error would not be in His kingdom (Mt. 5:19). He goes even
further and gives definite examples which conclusively show we must
keep the Ten Commandments more strictly in their spiritual intent
than under the Old Covenant. For example, the commandment against the
physical act of murder is expanded to include the spiritual attitude of
anger; the physical act of adultery is expanded to include the spiritual
attitude of lust, etc. Clearly the concept that the law need not be kept
under the New Covenant is an error. Indeed what God is developing is an
"internalization" of obedience to Him, flowing out of our own intrinsic
mental character rather than through the external coercion of physical
The offer of the New Covenant to the world as a whole
is a yet future event. Thus, its full effect will not occur until the
return of Christ and His thousand-year reign. But God today is calling a
few elect individuals to His Church and the accompanying New Covenant
relationship. Upon repentance and baptism these individuals can receive
God's Holy Spirit and enter into this New Covenant (Mt. 26:26-27, Heb.
10:9-10); and those who indeed will abide by its terms (acceptance of
Christ's sacrifice and God's grace, obedience, faith, etc.) shall
receive its incredible promises.
God is not a God who leaves our relationship with Him
to chance or doubt. He has rather formulated covenants through which He
makes plain our responsibilities as Christians toward Him and His
responsibility toward us. If we fulfill our responsibilities toward God,
we will surely receive the abundant physical and spiritual blessings He
READ THESE SCRIPTURES FROM YOUR OWN BIBLE:
Genesis 9:8-17 -
Covenant with Noah.
Genesis 15:18-21; 17:1-27 - Covenant
2 Samuel 7:12-16; 1 Chronicles 17:11-14
- Covenant with King David.
Exodus 19-24 - Covenant with Israel.
Jeremiah 31:31-34 - New Covenant
Hebrews 8:6-13 - New Covenant
discussed in New Testament.
Hebrews 12:24 - Jesus Christ is the
mediator of the New Covenant.
1 Corinthians 15:51-53 - True
Christians today will receive the promises of the New Covenant at the
return of Christ.
Matthew 5:19 - Commandments must be
Matthew 26:26-28; Hebrews 10:9-10 -
Upon repentance, baptism and the receiving of the Holy Spirit,
individuals can enter the new covenant.
1] A covenant may be defined as an agreement, written or verbal, whereby
two or more parties agree to a certain relationship governed by specific
rules and yielding commensurate results. True or False?
2] In a covenant, God and man are equal partners in the agreement.
True or False?
3] In a covenant, who sets the rules, conditions and results?
c) both man and God
4] If man chooses not to comply with a covenant...
a) nothing happens
b) he still receives the blessings of the covenant
c) he suffers the terrible liabilities of the covenant
5] The purpose of covenants are...
a) to show what God expects of man
b) to show man what he can expect of God
c) to give man a better understanding of God's will
d) to show the conditions which lead to prosperity and abundance
e) all of the above
6] Most covenants in the Bible are interrelated. True or False?
7] The covenant with Israel included spiritual benefits, including
forgiveness of sins. True or False?
8] The New Covenant replaces the Old covenant made with Israel. True
9] The New Covenant contains "better promises" than the Old Covenant.
True or False?
10] The New Covenant is offered to...
a) Jews only
b) all the tribes of Israel
c) Descendants of Abraham
11] The New Covenant is now fully confirmed and
applicable in its full force. True or False?
12] However, the New Covenant is in force for all true Christians
today. True or False?
13] True Christians today will not receive the promises of the New
Covenant until the return of Christ. True or False?
14] God will fulfill the promises of the New Covenant to all His
people, from all ages and eras of man...
a) at different times
b) at the same time
15] Under the New Covenant, Christians are now more fully responsible to
keep the Law in its complete spirit and intent. True or
16] How does one develop or gain Godly character?
a) allow God to mechanistically rewrite their brains and reprogram
b) by a process of conscious experience, test and trial, growth and
17] Today the process of conversion (Salvation Process) is available to
a relative few. True or False?
18] After the return of Christ, the Salvation Process will be available
to everyone who has ever lived. True or False?
19] The Law of the Old Covenant required physical obedience and offered
physical promises. The Law of the New Covenant requires spiritual
obedience and offers spiritual promises. True or False?
20] With the New Covenant...
a) the Law no longer needs to be obeyed
b) the Law remains the same as under the Old Covenant
c) the Law is expanded and made more
21] Today God is calling a few elect individuals to His church and the
accompanying New Covenant relationship. True or False?
22] God has formulated covenants which...
a) make plain our responsibilities as Christians toward Him
b) make plain God's responsibility toward us