Table of Contents
We must remember that the conditional covenant God made with Moses and the nation of Israel did not supersede or nullify the Abrahamic promise.[footnote]See Galatians 3 and Romans 11:28–29.[/footnote] So while Christ fulfilled the terms of the law to redeem us, he wasn’t necessarily focused on the Mosaic law in particular, but on the promise to Abraham that had yet to be fulfilled along with the Father’s natural law. To fulfill the promise to Abraham, Christ declared his right to receive the inheritance. This explains the preponderance of joint-heir or co-heir language.[footnote]See Romans 8:16–17.[/footnote]
Christ deserves the inheritance through the law; as the rightful heir, he nullifies any claims of the accuser (Satan). And so Christ, Abraham’s Seed, is set to receive the inheritance promised to Abraham.
As the Heir mentioned in the unconditional Abrahamic promise, Christ fulfills the law of the Father, then inherits all the earth. Although the earth belongs to God, Christ’s intervention demonstrates that God did not simply create the earth for himself, but he desired to dwell with us and share in humanity’s conditions.[footnote]See Hebrews 2:10–18; 4:15; 5:7–9.[/footnote]
Abrahamic Covenant Related to the End Times
In the end-times, Christ will return to the earth to receive the land portion promised to Abraham as his inheritance (called the heavenly country or kingdom of heaven)—thus literally fulfilling the promise. And then Christ in turn will share his inheritance with his co-heirs.
Abraham received God’s promise that he, Abraham, would inherit land in which to dwell forever. The only way God can literally keep this promise is to resurrect Abraham and allow him to enter the earthly land. The land promise would not amount to much if it was only meant to cover a few generations of descendants from Joshua to the diaspora. Paul clarifies this further:
“For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
“That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations’—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, ‘So shall your offspring be.’”
Again, Paul uses the singular when he could have used a different plural noun for “offspring” being the heir of the world. There is only one “he” in Romans 4:13, so it either must be Abraham or Christ that inherits the world according to the text. Hebrews 1:2, 2:10, and Colossians 1:16 state that Christ has the claim to the earth, so even if it is not crystal clear in Romans, “he” must mean Christ in light of all Scripture. Abraham is promised a portion of the earth, so he is a co-inheritor, as we are.
Another point Paul makes is that the plural offspring group of “adherents” do not inherit the earth based upon the Mosaic law; co-heirs receive their promise as a gift, not by their works.
One “Adherent” did, in fact, keep the law, but that is not the main point of this passage. We don’t share with Christ in keeping the law—we share in Abraham’s faith, becoming co-heirs by grace. Also, we need to keep in mind that Abraham believed in the resurrection of the dead.[footnote]See Hebrews 11:19.[/footnote] He believed that God could raise his son Isaac from the dead (Genesis 22) and that he himself would be raised from the dead someday to enter the Promised Land (Hebrews 11:10–16).
We are declared righteous not through our own works but through Christ’s perfection under the law:
“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”
We are saved by faith under the promise, which is grace, but we are made righteous under the law. Read the entirety of Romans 4–5 for a great summary of what we have looked at so far.
Summary of Law and Grace Within the Covenants
The interplay between law and grace can be difficult to understand because of how the Mosaic covenant seems to overlap with the land promise of the Abrahamic covenant. But we can distinguish them accordingly:
- The land portion of the Mosaic covenant to Israel was conditional.
- The Abrahamic land promise always remained unconditional.
- Israel failed to obtain the fulfillment of the land promise.
- Christ fulfilled the conditions of the law that predates Mosaic law.
- Christ is the main Heir of the land promise to Abraham.
- Christ received both claims: the promise to the land and fulfillment of the law to obtain the land.
- Christ is the fulfillment of Abraham’s promised blessing to all nations.[footnote]This promise to bless all nations is further developed in Judah’s blessing and the Davidic covenant.[/footnote]
- Abraham obtained faith by believing in God’s promises and obeying God’s instructions. All nations are blessed because of Abraham’s great faith—but this faith was a gift, not something he mustered up within himself through pure determination. And we can follow his example to obtain faith today.
- We are co-heirs with Christ in the redemption of the earth and the resurrection of our bodies (Romans 8:16–23); co-heirs with Christ, we receive an inheritance according to the promises God made to Abraham (Galatians 3:29).
The New Covenant is Related to the Abrahamic Covenant
The new covenant is related to the Abrahamic covenant and supersedes the Mosaic covenant. There are many prophecies in the Old Testament that speak to a new covenant that God pledged to make with his people.
“‘And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,’ declares the Lord. ‘And as for me, this is my covenant with them,’ says the Lord: ‘My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,’ says the Lord, ‘from this time forth and forevermore.’”
This prophesies how Christ would bring the new covenant to redeem Israel.
Another passage shows that God’s new covenant would again include his law—but this time his people would be fully equipped to walk in righteousness.
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
Jeremiah and the New Covenant
Jeremiah 31:31–40 is often hailed as the official prophecy for the new covenant, so let’s look. It offers a clear reference to the enslavement in Egypt and the covenant that followed, so we can be sure that God is talking about the Mosaic covenant, not the Abrahamic promises.
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
As can be imagined, Christians disagree over how to interpret this passage. Has God already fulfilled this prophecy by grafting the Church into the nation of Israel, or is there a literal fulfillment for actual blood descendants yet to come? Thankfully, this is not the only passage to consider.
Let’s now look at Hebrews 8. This is where we find a direct quote of Jeremiah 31. Here are several key verses about what parts of the Jeremiah 31 prophecy have been fulfilled or not, canceled or kept open:
“They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, ‘See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.’ But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second….
“In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.”
—Hebrews 8:5–7, 13
The “first” covenant indicated here must be the Mosaic covenant because the writer of Hebrews uses different words for the Abrahamic covenant: the “promise” or the “inheritance.” Paul also differentiated between the two in this way in Galatians 3. Combining the two into a single covenant is our own modern mistake.
The author of Hebrews says the new covenant described in Jeremiah 31 is currently at work. Christ is “mediating” the new covenant in the present tense (Hebrews 8:8–12).
God only has one plan for redemption, one gospel, and one Spirit. He does not have a separate plan for the salvation and spiritual regathering of scattered Israel. Jeremiah prophesied of the day when the people of Israel would return to God after receiving his Spirit in their hearts—a salvation method that is identical to how Gentiles receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and turn to God. Same God; same salvation plan; same work of the Holy Spirit to save us all.
The New Covenant is Linked to the Promised Land Inheritance
“Therefore [Christ] is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.”
This verse ties the new covenant to the Abrahamic land promise and eternal life; Hebrews 9:15 is of utmost importance in terms of understanding salvation. Christ himself instituted the new covenant and is the sole mediator for redemption. Christ announced the new covenant during the Lord’s Supper in the upper room.
“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”
—1 Corinthians 11:23–28
This passage makes clear that the new covenant will continue until Christ returns to the earth.[footnote]Also see Matthew 26:29, Mark 14:25, and Luke 22:18.[/footnote]
By partaking in the Lord’s Supper, we remind each other that Christ is coming back again to complete all that has been promised and to grant us our share in the inheritance, which includes land and eternal life. The new covenant promise of unity in Christ was fulfilled at Pentecost, where the Holy Spirit was poured out to all, Hebrews and Gentiles alike; everyone is grafted into the same promised inheritance.[footnote]See Romans 11:11–24.[/footnote]
Ezekiel 36 and 37 in Relation to the Covenants
According to Ezekiel 36:16–23, God withdrew the blessings of the Mosaic covenant from Israel because of their sin. God’s reputation needed to be upheld. Therefore, a new covenant was needed, as described in Ezekiel 37.
“Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.’ So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.
“Then he said to me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord….
“Then say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land. And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms. They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
“My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes. They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.”
—Ezekiel 37:9–14, 21–28
If we don’t believe the heavenly kingdom will arrive physically on earth in the future, then this passage will not make much sense. We are left with figurative interpretations that speak to a spiritual return, or Israel’s rebirth as a geopolitical nation in 1948—or we fall into the mystic void altogether.
It is difficult to take this passage literally, with its description of physical resurrection; however, the book of Revelation sheds a lot of light on Ezekiel. We can read, for example, how God will dwell with his people (Revelation 21–22). Do Revelation and Ezekiel point to a heaven where God and his people will be together forever in another realm? Or do these books state that God will come to earth to reside with his people, thereby literally fulfilling all promises? Why did Christ inherit the earth? Certainly not to blow it up and shuttle us off to a different realm.[footnote]See Isaiah 45:18.[/footnote] (Later we’ll explore this topic further.)
The Outpouring of the Spirit in the Last Days
Previously, we observed the bridge prophecy that links Joel 2:28 to Acts 2:17: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.” How does the new covenant separate national Israel from spiritual Israel? There is no distinction for salvation purposes. All people are saved the same way.
The Spirit’s key role is to enable eternal life, which is a different act than granting physical life. We must be filled with the Spirit to be born again by faith, as is mentioned all throughout Scripture. In future chapters, which deal with the resurrection of the righteous, we will discuss the Spirit’s role in more detail.
In the Old Testament, we meet the Spirit as he dwells in the Holy of Holies, a single, fixed location. As the concept of the Holy Spirit expands in Scripture, the Spirit is poured out on all flesh and comes to dwell in human temples. Through the new covenant, God’s glory spreads throughout the earth to achieve redemption for all peoples at their location. Christ fulfilled the law through atonement at the one-time event of the cross; from that point onward, the single location of a tabernacle or temple was not needed for mediation between God and his people. Christ is now the mediator throughout all the earth.
The new covenant confirms God’s promise to Abraham that all people throughout the world who share in the same faith will receive the same gift: bodily resurrection into the land inheritance. The gift of salvation and entrance into the Promised Land of heaven is offered freely to physical descendants of Abraham; they do not need to keep the Mosaic law as the law has been fulfilled for all people.
The new covenant also ties in the spiritual descendants of Abraham under the same gift of salvation. Whether Jeremiah 31 has been fulfilled through the inclusion of Gentiles or points to a future fulfillment for the Jewish people, the same salvation is available to all people. The new covenant was confirmed by Christ, who fulfilled the law. Christ came to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17) and confirm God’s promises (Romans 15:8).
People debate whether our salvation inheritance entails physical or spiritual resurrection. But it is clear that Israel is saved under the new covenant, not through the Mosaic covenant. God divorced Israel (Jeremiah 3:6–18), but Revelation tells us of a new marriage contract that will be celebrated in the future.
We cannot save ourselves by keeping the law; only God’s gift of faith will save us by adopting us into his original promise to Abraham. This promise has been carried over and tied into the new covenant.[footnote]See Hebrews 9:15.[/footnote]
Christ came to fulfill God’s promises to the patriarchs. God does not ever abandon Abraham’s physical descendants.[footnote]Volume II will explore this point in greater detail.[/footnote]
“Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over transgression
for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in steadfast love.
He will again have compassion on us;
he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea.
You will show faithfulness to Jacob
and steadfast love to Abraham,
as you have sworn to our fathers
from the days of old.”