There is a popular view of the new covenant among many Restorationist churches which works directly against the goal for which Jesus Christ gave his life. This view is anti-spiritual and divisive. It can be summed up as follows: (1) the portion of scripture called the New Testament is the new covenant; (2) the new covenant is a law which replaces the old law and whereby we are judged by God; (3) the new covenant as law is binding on all people; and (4) forgiveness of sins is a provision of this law.
The new covenant portrayed by the Bible is drastically different from the view mentioned above. It can be summed up in this way: (1) the new covenant is found in a Person, our Lord Jesus, and not in a written code; (2) the new covenant is forgiveness (and not a new law) whereby God writes His laws on our hearts and minds; (3) only believers have a part in the new covenant of forgiveness; and (4) forgiveness is extended not because we meet the requirements of God's law, but because God's demand for justice has been satisfied by Jesus Christ's death.
According to the first view, God revealed one law for Adam, another for Noah, still another for the Jews, and a final law for all the world. It is supposed that the ten commandments are done away at the cross, with nine of them reissued in the Law of Christ. Thus, the Sabbath law is not included in the new covenant.
There is a glaring error in this first view. It fails to take into account the progressive revelation of God's law. This law is simply a reflection of His perfect character and will. God does not change, and neither does His will for us. However, God had to prepare mankind to understand His perfect character and will. God revealed His will a little at a time. For example, murder has always been wrong in God's eyes. It was always against God's law, even when this law had not yet been revealed to mankind. In His mercy, God spared the murderer Cain, but after the flood God delivered a law condemning to death those who murdered (Gen. 9:5-6).
When we come to the old covenant and Law of Moses, God is still working to help us understand His perfect will and nature. The old covenant taught the Jews to love God and their neighbors as themselves (Matt. 22:3740). This was God's will for all mankind, but he had chosen a people whereby He would make His will known. God revealed His holiness through the retribution promised by the Law to offenders. God also revealed our powerlessness over sin through the clean/unclean laws. He revealed His incredible mercy through the animal sacrifices and holy days which were all symbolic pictures (shadows) of Jesus and His work of forgiveness. Thus, through the Law of Moses God prepared His people to understand His perfect will.
So careful and so excellent was God's plan, that the apostle Paul did not hesitate to say that all sin had been revealed by the Law of Moses (Rom. 3:20; 7:13). Paul called the Law spiritual, holy, and good. King David meditated on it day and night, and so must have our Lord. The Law was our school-master to bring us to Christ. First we had to understand the seriousness of sin, and our powerlessness to do the will of God. We had to understand that the penalty of sin is death, and that there was no escaping the justice demanded by a Holy God. The price had to be paid, and in the Old Testament clean animals without spot or stain died instead of the people who had sinned. However, animal sacrifices could not really pay the price for sin. This inadequacy was clearly pointed out by the Law which called for sacrifices continually.
God had made His Word known at various times and in various ways through the prophets. But now in these last days He has made His Word known through His Son (Heb. 1:1). For the Word of God became flesh and dwelled among us full of grace and truth. At the cross God made his ultimate revelation of law: The love God demands of us must triumph over justice. Jesus... God Himself... died in our place so that the justice of God might be satisfied. The infinite mercy of God was revealed in this act, and all who accept the sacrifice through faith (and baptism) are forgiven of their sins.
The old covenant was a legal system of justification. Stumble on one point, and the Jew was condemned by the Law to death. This old covenant held out no hope to the people of Israel, for all had transgressed it. There was no forgiveness offered by this covenant. The penalty of death had to be paid, and Jesus paid it not only for the Jews, but for the whole world. Only the Jews were under the old covenant, but God was revealing His will for the whole world through this chosen people. All people, everywhere and at all times are condemned to death because they do not love God and their neighbor as God demands. Yet our gracious Lord has planned from the beginning that we should be saved from death through our dependence and trust in Him.
The Jews could not be saved under the old covenant. But this old covenant and the Law it encompassed had been added to the Abrahamic covenant of promise. The old covenant and the Law could not make the Abrahamic covenant void. The Abrahamic covenant looked back to God's promise in the garden that the seed of woman (Jesus Christ) would crush the seed of the serpent (Satan).
Abraham was promised a great land, an innumerable people, and that through his offspring all the world would be blessed. The blessing to all the world would ultimately come through the Son of God, born into the world as a Jew. The old covenant could not make this promise of forgiveness void. In fact, the old covenant and Law was added only to reveal sin in its fullness...that is, our failure to love God and our neighbor as ourself. When Jesus nailed the old Law to his cross, and when the old covenant became obsolete, only the Abrahamic covenant remained for God's people. The Abrahamic covenant had promised a blessing for the whole world, and the apostle Paul speaks of non-Jewish believers being grafted into Israel, while unbelieving Jews are cut-off. The Abrahamic covenant was completed at the cross, where Jesus died to offer forgiveness to all the world.
Through the life and death of Jesus, God's demand of love had been fully made known. The Jews, given a covenant written on stone, had minimized and misinterpreted God's law. Jesus lived the ten commandments and loved God and His neighbor even unto death. As we follow the example of Jesus today, we are keeping the true intent and spirit of the ten commandments as Jesus did. The law of God has never changed, can never change, but God's revelation of that law has been completed in Jesus. The Law came by Moses, and it taught God's will, but it only showed God's ultimate grace and truth in shadow form. Jesus lived the old covenant, and showed us it's true intent and spirit. Jesus' perfect obedience to the ten commandments allowed Him to become the atoning sacrifice for our failure to love.
This is the new covenant in Jesus' blood: the forgiveness of sins. Only God's people are privileged to participate in this covenant. Unbelievers still stand condemned for failing to love God and their neighbors as themselves. But the covenant promises more than forgiveness. The covenant also promises us the power to overcome our sins. As we contemplate the immeasurable love of God we repent in tears, but our God lifts us up to take our first faltering steps in His footprints. We must cling ever to God, trusting in His forgiveness, so that we may continue to grow in love as we follow Him. This is the message of joy Paul gave to the believing Jews: "Sin shall not be your master, for you are not under law, but under grace" (Rom. 6:14). Grace refers to an unearned gift of forgiveness. It can be our message of joy too, if we will study to understand the real demands of God's law, and the incredible gift of the new covenant.
Those who believe that the new covenant is a new law point to the Sabbath law as proof. See, they say, the ten commandments were done away at the cross, and nine of them reissued in the Law of Christ. Furthermore, they say, Paul plainly taught that we are not to allow anyone to judge us concerning the Sabbath. And if further proof is necessary, Paul condemned the Judaizing teachers who sought to impose circumcision or bind any of the Law of Moses on Gentile Christians.
This view again ignores the progressive revelation of God's law. The ten commandments are simply part of a continuum ending in the ultimate revelation of Christ. There is a vast difference between binding the elementary teachings of the Law, and recognizing that the Sabbath is fulfilled in Christ Jesus. Instead of simply dismissing the Sabbath, or any of the Law of Moses, we should be searching the Old Testament to find the deep truths now revealed in Christ Jesus. This is what Paul referred to when he told Timothy that "from infancy you have known the holy scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 3:15). Jesus Himself said that He had not come to destroy the Law and the Prophets but to fill them to overflowing.
Paul says the reason no one is to judge us concerning the Sabbath is because it is a "shadow of the good things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ" (Col. 2:16-17). Paul says that Christ is the Sabbath for the Christian.
The Sabbath is given the most emphasis of all the ten commandments (Deut. 5:12-15). It was the test case to see if the covenant would be enforced (Num. 15:32-36). Speaking of the future glory of Zion, God said that even the foreigners who "keep My Sabbath" will have "their burnt offerings accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations" (Is. 56:6-7). Referring to the new heavens and earth, God says, "From one New Moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another all mankind will come and bow down before me" (Is. 66:23). We dare not dismiss the Sabbath lightly, for it is inseparable from the promised blessings of the new covenant.
The Jews were commanded to keep the Sabbath (1) in rememberance to God who had created the world in six days and rested on the seventh and (2) in rememberance that God had rescued them from slavery in Egypt.
Adam and Eve were created on the sixth day, and on the seventh day they joined God in His holy rest. After they sinned, they were cursed with hard labor. They could no longer share in God's rest. God's rest was broken as well, as He began His great work of salvation for mankind. Eventually the Jews were rescued from their hard labor in Egypt.
What does all this mean for God's people today? What is the shadow that Paul speaks of?. God, who created mankind to share in His rest has now made it possible for all believers to share once again in His rest. Jesus Christ has rescued us from our slavery to sin so that we can rest in Him. We have Christ's rest here on earth as we trust and depend upon Him. Yet, there is still a Sabbath-rest remaining for the people of God. One day, when God's work is completed, we will rest with our Lord in heaven.
What is the nature of this rest? The Sabbath was to be a time of refreshing for the Jews, as they paused from their everyday labors to remember their Creator and Deliverer. Thus, the priests, busy in God's service on the Sabbath did not transgress the Sabbath law. Thus Jesus healing on the Sabbath to reveal the glory of the Father, was keeping the real spirit and intent of this law. We rest in Christ Jesus so that we may devote our lives to God's service and glorify Him.
The old covenant is done away, but God's law that we love God and our neighbor remains. Thus it is that unbelievers stand condemned before God because of their sins. The Law of Moses was given after God had redeemed His people from slavery. The Law of Christ is written on every believer's heart after he has been redeemed from sin. This is the new covenant: forgiveness, and through forgiveness the power to do God's will.
The Law of Moses was a national law, and contained judgements intended to enforce and protect the covenant. The Law of Christ is the law of God's spiritual kingdom, and no safeguards are needed. This is the Law of Christ: "Love one another as I have loved you." If we do not love our brother, then we do not love God, and we have no part in His kingdom.
This is the message of the New Testament: Forgive one another, accept one another, submit to one another, be likeminded, be one in Christ.
The new covenant is not found in a written code, but in a Person. Speaking of Jesus, the Lord said, "I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles" (Is. 42:6). The law is not found on paper, but in the hearts of those made one with Christ. The first portion of the Bible is called the Old Testament because it focuses around the old covenant (or testament). Yet only a very small part of these scriptures is the old covenant: the ten commandments. These commandments were written on stone. The second portion of the Bible is called the New Testament because it focuses around the new covenant (or testament). Although inspired by God, no part of these scriptures is the new covenant, for the Spirit of the living God has written his law "not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts" (2 Cor. 3:3).
Jesus Christ is our new covenant and law.We have imagined that the Holy Spirit was sent to reveal "all truth concerning the work, worship, and organization of the church. We have sought to establish another law such as the Law of Moses. But all the worship of the Old Testament looked forward to Christ. All the work, all the organization of Israel was based simply on the principle of love. God does not care if we use one cup or multiple cups to drink his Son's blood. He wants us to be one in Him. God is not interested in how, or if, the money gets collected. He wants us to devote our time, our energy, our resources to those in need. God is not concerned with maintaining a balance of power through a plurality of elders. He wants the mature to lead by their example of holy living and sacrificial love.
So many times, we have hated our brother in the name of love. We have rejected our sister in the name of unity. We have minimized and distorted God's law, and replaced His covenant of forgiveness with a law of conversion and confession. We need to remember the words of our Lord Jesus: "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."