Episode 130 - The New Covenant
Hi I’m Josh Hawkins, this is Episode 130 of Opening Up the Gospels. Since Episode 126, I’ve been looking at the event commonly known as the Last Supper as recorded in all four Gospels. This meal was a special Jewish meal, the Passover meal, eaten by Jesus and the Twelve in an upper room in Jerusalem in April of 29AD. Jesus’ crucifixion is only hours away at this point. We’ve looked at several things that help us to understand the scene better, including the argument about which disciple is the greatest, the seating arrangement around the table, the washing of the disciples’ feet, and the various conversations about who will betray Jesus. At the end of Episode 129, we saw Judas’ get up and leave the meal as Satan entered into him. He was most likely headed toward the Temple where He would tell the Jewish authorities where Jesus was so they could send officers to arrest Him. In today’s episode, I want to develop a well-known event during the Last Supper from Matthew 26, starting in verse 26. He says:
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
(Matthew 26:26–29 ESV)
We can’t be exactly sure when this happened during the long meal that evening, but I bet that for Jesus, this was one of the most important parts of the whole night. So what’s happening here? Jesus blesses some bread, breaks it, and they eat. Then later, He lifts the cup of wine again and they drink. Remember, this is all still part of the Passover meal - it wasn’t some special new thing that Jesus was doing that would have been distinct from the liturgy of the Passover. Despite that, He did say that the broken bread represents His body that would be broken. Don’t forget what Passover is all about - a lamb was killed, its body essentially broken, and its blood was placed on the doorposts of the Israelites’ homes so that the wrath of God would “pass over” that particular house. Jesus here isn’t changing that underlying meaning of the Passover, but He’s upholding it. He is the lamb that would be sacrificed, His body would be broken. This is what Paul says about Jesus in 1 Corinthians 5. Why? So that those who rely on God’s words and count Him as trustworthy, just as the Hebrew slaves did in Egypt, would escape the coming wrath. Instead of their body being broken, His would be, and for all those with faith, God would count His death on their behalf so that they would not have to die.
Jesus also says that the wine represented “the blood of the covenant”. Some manuscripts say “the blood of the new covenant”. Let’s talk about the “new covenant” for a minute here. This is something that I think is often misunderstood in the evangelical world today. Many think of “the new covenant” and associate it with “the New Testament”, and thus think of the “old covenant” and associate it with “the Old Testament”. But that’s not correct or precise at all. We can’t forget that Jesus is addressing His Jewish disciples in the upper room who would have understood how covenants were made, what “the old covenant” was, and subsequently what “the new covenant” was. After the first Passover and the deliverance from Egypt, God entered into a covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai. There, He gave them commands, rules, and ordinances to follow in order to be His chosen people through which all the other nations would be blessed. This set of commands and rules given to the nation of Israel is of course called “the Law”. Let’s read from Exodus 24:
Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the Lord. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
(Exodus 24:3–8 ESV)
So here at Mount Sinai, Israel agreed to the terms of the covenant, and blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled onto them. Notice what Moses calls it - “the blood of the covenant”. In other words, blood “ratified” the covenant - it made the agreement between God and the people formal and officially valid. That will be important in a minute. Now even before Israel entered the land that God promised them, throughout the book of Deuteronomy we see Moses speaking of their future disobedience and rebellion. They would turn from God to follow the gods of the nations and they would disobey His commands and rules, and thus would be disciplined in accordance with the curses of the covenant in Deuteronomy 28. But Moses also said in Deuteronomy 30 that after their last days distress and their genuine national repentance, God would act decisively to bring them back to the land and give them a new heart so that they could obey the Law perfectly and thus walk in the role that God had elected them for. This exact theme is what the prophet Jeremiah develops in Jeremiah 31, and this is the only place in the Old Testament where the phrase “new covenant” occurs. Let’s read that passage briefly:
“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. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
(Jeremiah 31:31–34 ESV)
Also, Jeremiah 32 goes on to say:
"I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me."
(Jeremiah 32:39–40 ESV)
So what is Jeremiah saying? That in the future, God and Israel will enter into a “new” covenant, not like the “old” covenant made at Mount Sinai. This new covenant is different from the old covenant in several ways: first, instead of merely hearing the Law from Moses or the priests, Jeremiah says that the Law will be written on the hearts of the Jewish people. This would enable them to see it rightly and obey it fully. Secondly, the whole nation would have the knowledge of God - not just a select few like Moses or the priests. And thirdly, all of Israel’s sins would not be remembered by God, and the whole nation would have the experience of forgiveness. The national scale of these things that the “new covenant” promises were not the case under the “old covenant”. Does that make sense?
So now, back to the words of Jesus in the upper room. He said that the cup of wine represented the “blood of the covenant”. That’s the exact same phrase used by Moses to describe the blood of the sacrifice made at Sinai when Israel entered into the original, old covenant with God. Jesus is saying that His blood will be the blood that ratifies the new covenant between God and the nation of Israel. So look at this - God brings Israel out of the slavery of Egypt and then institutes a covenant with them by writing the Law on tablets of stone at Sinai and then given to them through Moses, the mediator, who then sprinkles blood on the people to ratify the agreement. And in the same pattern as the exodus from Egypt, Jesus will bring His chosen people Israel out of the nations in a “new exodus” and plant them in their land to dwell in safety, and there He will enter into a “new covenant” with them according to Jeremiah 31 by writing the Law on their hearts. Jesus’ blood is the blood of that future covenant, the blood that will ratify the covenant between God and Israel. Does that make sense? Jesus didn’t just snap His fingers that night and all of a sudden every believer in Him is in a covenant with God. If we’re true to the context, the only people in the upper room that night were Jewish. Gentiles never entered into an “old covenant” with God, and the “new covenant” is never said in scripture to be made with anyone except “the house of Israel and the house of Judah”. The blood of Jesus is what cleanses both Jew and Gentile of their sin, not the fact that they somehow are participants in “the new covenant”. I know this may be new to you, but I think it makes so much more sense of the text and the larger story of the Gospels and the Bible as a whole.
Now look back at the last verse we read in Matthew 26. Jesus says “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Here once again, Jesus is affirming the eschatological significance of the Passover, something I talked about back in Episode 127. When the nations are threatening the Jewish people and they are backed into a corner, their repentance and cries for deliverance will be answered by God sending His Messiah, that final Davidic king. He’ll return, bring about another exodus by freeing the captives of Israel from the tyranny of the nations, and bring them into their own land. The blood of the Messiah will be what ratifies the new covenant between God and Israel in that day, and through their heart obedience, God will administer the blessing of the kingdom and eternal life to all the nations through them. According to the prophets, it’s at that time that they will never turn away from God and they will fear Him forever. This is yet future, and this is the hope for Jew and Gentile alike.
Well in the next episode we’re going to look at the final moments in the upper room and begin the journey to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus is captured. If you’ve missed any of the past episodes in this series or you want to re-watch some of them, you can find them all on my website - www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. God bless, and come back next time.