A New Covenant: with Israel or the Church?

Rev. Willem Glashouwer Sunday 24 April 2011

With whom have all covenants in the Bible been actually made? It might come as a shock to us Christians, but all covenants since Abraham have been made with Israel alone. There is not one covenant that has been made with the Church. Praise the Lord, however, one of the covenants made with Israel has also been opened to non-Jews who are allowed to become partakers with Israel. This is the New covenant.

We have been told by some theologians that the Old covenant has been made with Israel and the New covenant has been made with the Church. How remarkable, then, that Paul, speaking about Israel (his brothers after the flesh, the Jews) and summarizing all their blessings, says that “theirs are the covenants” (see Rom. 9:4)—plural! Not just the (old) covenant, but the “covenants” (plural), indicating both the Old and the New covenant, and some other covenants as well!

Where did he get this idea? From Jeremiah 31:31-34, where the prophet says:

“The time is coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a New covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.” So the New covenant was to be made one day with Israel!

First the Jew, and then the Gentile

When was this New covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah made? Or does it still have to be made with the Jewish people, as some people think?

At the Last Supper, Jesus took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:19-20). The Lord Jesus, a flesh-and-blood Jew, surrounded by His Jewish disciples, pointed to the signs of the new covenant. There was not a single Gentile in sight. At that moment, He was establishing the New covenant with Israel; His broken body and His poured-out blood were the signs of the New covenant, which spoke of redemption and forgiveness of the sins of the world, the sins of Jews and non-Jews alike.

It is important to note that everything up to this point had been a totally inner-Jewish affair. Later, at the Feast of Pentecost, only Jews and proselytes (non-Jews who had converted to Judaism and thus had become Jews) were present in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit was poured out (see Acts 2:11). Just as the Last Supper, Pentecost in Jerusalem was also a totally inner-Jewish affair. When did we Gentiles come in? Only in Acts chapter 10, the Gentile Roman centurion, Cornelius, to the utter amazement of the circumcised believers and even to Peter himself, saw the Holy Spirit poured out upon the heathens (see Acts 10:44-47), Gentiles! From that moment on, non-Jews were added to the New covenant, and the New covenant was opened up for them.

Later, Paul started to grasp what had happened there at the house of Cornelius; and since then, everywhere among the Gentiles, whenever the Gospel was preached, people received Jesus as their Lord and Savior. These people were like new branches being grafted onto the old root (see Rom. 11:24), into the New covenant with Israel. They were cut off from their Gentile roots and grafted onto the new root. What a difference it would have made if Romans chapter 11 had been read carefully and preached in the church.

We are engrafted. We are not at the core; rather, the Jews are. The church has said, “The Jews must come to us. They have to convert to Jesus, and then they more or less lose their Jewishness. Then they become part of the Church and become Christians, just like all of us.” But the truth is just the opposite. They do not have to come to us, to the Church; instead, by the grace of God, we are added to them—into their New covenant—engrafted. Be careful, as Paul warns the Gentile Christian believers; you do not carry the root, but the root carries you (see Rom. 11:18). By God’s grace, you Gentiles are permitted to share in their new covenant. Isn’t that wonderful?

God is faithful

So now, God is our covenant God as well! We are engrafted into a New covenant. He will be faithful, despite our unfaithfulness. He is a God who elects. If He can be faithful toward a disobedient Israel and keep His promises to them, He can and will be faithful to His so-often disobedient Church and keep His promises to her as well. And He can be and will be faithful to an often disobedient “me.” There is hope for you and me! Despite our unfaithfulness and disobedience, He looks upon us in Jesus, whose broken body and spilled blood are the signs of the new covenant. The Lord even hardened and blinded 99 percent of Israel, deciding to not yet give them revelation about Jesus, while letting us in first!

But someday in the future, God will do this for “all Israel” as well. He used the prophet Jeremiah to announce that the New covenant would be for the house of Israel and the house of Judah. Paul is clear that once God’s work of grace among the Gentiles has been completed, He will save “all Israel.” Then the Deliverer will come from Zion, and He Himself will turn ungodliness away from Jacob and take away their sins (see Rom. 11:25-27). Paul says to us: Be glad, therefore, Gentiles, that God for a time, has set aside His own Jewish people (branches were broken off) in order that you might be grafted in (see Rom. 11:19-20). But He will continue to be with Israel, He will reattach the broken-off, natural branches to the olive tree, because He is faithful to Himself and to His covenant(s).

Christian Church, and Christian community, do not be arrogant, but fear! Be astounded at the grace of God toward you. Note that He will remember His grace and will never neglect His faithfulness with regard to Israel. For the Jewish people are coming home! Israel is reborn as a nation! And that means that the Savior is on His way!

One day, Jesus will reveal Himself to the Jews, and then they will hug and shed some tears, just like the brothers of Joseph did (see Gen. 45:2). In His time and in His own way, God will do it: “I will come to give rest to Israel” (Jer. 31:2b). What a great time of reconciliation that will be—between Him and His brothers! No Gentiles will be involved in that moment. This is clear from God’s repeated “I wills” in Jeremiah 31:31–35 (quoted by Paul in Romans 11:26–27): “I will…I will…I will…” says the sovereign Lord. He will come from Zion and take away their sins. He Himself will do so for the last generation of Israel, for the remnant who will have returned to the land of Israel.

Jews Know God

“But,” some say, “what happens to Jews who have died without believing in Jesus? Are they saved or are they eternally lost?” I reply, I want to tell you a story that a Jewish friend passed on to me.

During the Second World War, when he was 11 years old, my friend and other Jewish children were led into a remote Polish forest, to a place where a deep trench had been dug and soldiers were standing ready with machine guns. The boy broke away from the group of children and hurried into the thick bushes. From a safe distance, hidden behind a tree, he watched to see what would happen. When the children arrived at the edge of the trench, the rabbi who was accompanying them made a request: “May I sing and pray with the children?” The request was granted. Then the children, along with the rabbi, sang, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” And they continued with the beautiful words of the Twenty-third Psalm that have over the ages been such a comfort to so many people, Jew and Christian, on their deathbeds. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff [belonging to a shepherd], they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4). I lack nothing because the Lord is my shepherd.

None of the children, nor the rabbi, knew of or believed in the Lord Jesus as the Good Shepherd. However, they went into eternity with the words of their own Jewish Psalms, from their Word of God, on their lips. We often tend to forget that the Psalms are Jewish; they are Psalms of Israel. These Jewish children and their rabbi went into eternity with the words of the eternal God on their lips, the God who revealed these words to Israel. Jews know who God is, and God has called the Jewish people His firstborn (see Exod. 4:23). Many Jews might not be aware of who Jesus is, but they do know who God is.

Returning to our original question, are these children and their rabbi saved for all of eternity? Who am I to say? Are they eternally lost because they did not know Jesus? Again, I will make no comment, but lay my hand on my mouth. That decision is God’s business and it is safe with Him. Jews know God. They are no heathens. We sometimes forget that we were the heathens, separate from Christ, without citizenship in Israel, without the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world (see Eph. 2:12). But now, we Gentiles have been permitted to come to Jesus Christ in order to know God, to pray to Him, and worship Him. We know about Him through the Word of God, the Bible, which God revealed to Israel, both the Old and the New Testaments.

We have been saved and grafted into the root of the new covenant God made with the house of Israel and the house of Judah through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who was a Jew as well. Through Him we have come to know and worship the one and only God, the Creator of Heaven and earth, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. But Jews by birth have it all, as Paul says in Romans 9:4-5. They are not without God, but they do have a blind spot for who Jesus is. Praise God, one day that will change as well.

God’s eternal plan for His Jewish people is His business. In His anger He has sometimes acted against Israel in this world. Many perished in the desert because of their unbelief and disobedience, but does that mean that they are lost forever? That decision is not ours. Israel remains God’s firstborn son, and God Himself will decide about their eternal destiny and their resurrection.

What About Heathens?

Another question: Are heathens who have worshipped God as Creator, and whose conscience teaches them the difference between good and evil and who have tried to live accordingly, eternally lost because they do not know Jesus? Or will God judge according to what people have known of Him? Or on the basis of what they have not known about Him? Paul writes about this in his letter to the Romans (see Rom. 2:12-16). When you do not worship God as Creator, and you are determined to go against your conscience, you will certainly be in deep trouble. Or when you as a Jew go deliberately against the Torah, then you are certainly in deep trouble. Or when you were brought up as a Christian and you deliberately turn your back on Jesus and your faith, then you are without excuse and have the worst to fear (see Rom. 1:18-32). But the final decision remains God’s business (see Rom. 2:1-11; 12:17-21). Final judgment is His, and His alone.

Jesus Will Be Revealed to the Jews

Jews know the Scriptures. It is their Bible. They know what we Christians believe. And when the Lord opens their eyes by the Holy Spirit, they all will see. We can leave that to the Lord, because He has promised to do so! And, of course, we can also understand our messianic Jewish brothers and sisters who, like Paul, feel an urgency to speak to their Jewish brothers and sisters (see 1 Thess. 4:13-17; 2 Thess. 1:3-10; Phil. 3:20-21). Everyone who knows Jesus as his or her personal Savior would love to see the whole world know Him as well! Certainly, God loves us. We have a heavenly calling and are on our way to meet our heavenly Bridegroom (see Rev. 2:26-27; 19:6-10). We will one day be the Queen beside the King (see Rev. 21:1-5)!

We Christians fail to recognize how much guilt is on our heads. Often, Jews know our church history better than we do, and because of that, some Jews are deeply convinced that Jesus cannot be the Messiah. Undeniably, there is so much Jewish blood on the hands of His followers, the Christians, that He must be some kind of false god, lusting after Jewish blood, they think.

No one comes to the Father except through Jesus

“But,” you might ask, “does not Scripture say, ‘No one comes to the Father except through Me [Jesus]’?” (John 14:6b). Certainly, that is true. God’s Word in both the Old and New Testaments is absolutely trustworthy. No one comes to the Father except through Jesus, whether one knows that or wants to admit that or not. God created the world through the Word, the Torah, who has been with Him eternally (see John 1:1-3). The Word played as a child by the Father (see Prov. 8:22-31). John says that He, Jesus, is the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us: the Torah in the flesh (see John 1:14). The world and all things that were created were made by Him (see Col. 1:15-20). God created the world through the Word, through the Torah. It all came through Him, the pre-existing Christ, and the way back to God is through Him, to the Father, whether you know that or not. The Bible says so.

Jesus serves as the heavenly High Priest at the golden altar so that the prayers of the people are sanctified and cleansed before they are brought to God. No one comes to the Father but by Him. True worship is in spirit and in truth—always, in all times, and everywhere. It is a revelation of God to the heart. And everything flows from the Father through the Word and returns to Him through the same Word, which was made flesh and dwelt among us.

What a day that will be, when Israel too is allowed to see who Jesus is. And it will come! Zechariah prophesied, “I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on Me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for Him as one grieves for a firstborn son” (Zech. 12:10; see also verses 11-14). Gods firstborn son, Israel, will bitterly grieve their firstborn Son, Jesus. The whole land, all generations, men and women separately, will grieve. What a moment of recognition that will be! And who knows how soon it will come? The Lord is bringing His people back to Israel because He wants to meet them there. Israel is finally on the way to her rest, on her way to being engrafted into her own new covenant forever, and to being a blessing to the world. He will come to give Israel rest (see Jer. 31:2).

The Church has not replaced Israel; just as infant baptism has not replaced circumcision. Israel is Israel, and the Church is the Church. God will fulfill all His promises to Israel, as He will fulfill all His promises to the Church. We need to stop mixing the two, or replacing the one with the other, as has so often happened in the past.


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