A famous, young, fast-talking mega-pastor dismisses the Old Testament Scriptures as handily as some others dismiss … well, the Old Covenant.
Those two things are not the same, by the way. But, somewhat embarrassingly, he apparently thinks they are.
It’s a profoundly important distinction. And nothing better illustrates why there’s nothing old or outdated in the Old Testament. In fact, from our standpoint, it’s timeless.
Allow me to explain.
In Hebrews 8, the author of this New Testament book introduces the New Covenant, not to be confused with the New Testament, which had not been completely written yet, nor compiled as “Scripture” per se. He does so by quoting four verses from the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah who first reveals the concept of the New Covenant.
The New Covenant is certainly something to be excited about – in context, it’s clearly about the return of Jesus the Messiah. Don’t let anyone tell you it we’re living today in the fulfillment of the New Covenant.
Here’s what it says in Jeremiah 31:31-34: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
You can read nearly the exact same words in Hebrews 8:8-12: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.”
First let’s notice what these parallel verses make clear:
- The Lord says there are days coming when He will make a New Covenant;
- Who will He make it with? The house of Israel and the house of Judah;
- This wasn’t going to be like the covenant God made when He rescued them from bondage in Egypt – a covenant which they broke, even though He was like a loving husband to them, God says;
- God repeats this New Covenant will be with the self-same house of Israel;
- Sometime in the future, God says He will put His law in their inward parts and write it on their hearts; and He will be their God, and they, the children of Israel, shall be His people;
- And how will we know when that time is come? Because the law won’t have to be taught any longer, because everyone will know it, from childhood. God will also forgive their sin and remember it no more – not just forgive it but forget it.
Now the first thing I like to ask people when we study these verses is this question: Has all this happened yet? Has God literally put the law in our hearts so that we don’t have to teach it any longer? Do children know the law without being taught? Does everyone in the house of Israel know the Lord? Has God fully poured out His mercy on the house of Israel yet, or anyone else for that matter yet, and, not just forgiven their sins, but forgotten them?
The answer is no – not at the time Jeremiah wrote, not at the time the book of Hebrews was written in the first century and not today as we talked about these Scriptures in the 21st century.
Can we all agree on the fact that we have not yet witnessed the complete fulfillment of either one of these parallel verses?
Let’s go back to Hebrews 8 to see what has some people confused – like our famous mega-pastor and many, I fear, in his flock.
Remember, both Jeremiah 31 and Hebrews 8 are talking about a New Covenant, not the New Testament, which is just a name chosen for the Greek Scriptures while the original Hebrew Scriptures were later unfortunately dubbed “Old.” The chapter begins in verse 1 explaining what has happened since Jesus came: We have a new High Priest who atoned for our sins on the cross, was resurrected and rose and ascended to the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.
Here’s where it gets a little tricky but follow along closely with me. Hebrews 8:6-7 goes on to explain: “But now hath He (Jesus) obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also He is the Mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.”
The first what? The first covenant. The second what? The second covenant. There is no discussion in either Jeremiah 31 about an “Old Testament” nor a “New Testament.” None even knew what those terms would mean until hundreds of years after Hebrews was written when the New Testament was compiled. Are we all on the same page here?
No one is dissing the Old Testament here in Hebrews. Both Jeremiah and this book were looking forward to a New Covenant, not a New Testament.
Hebrews 8 is a discussion, an explication, a revelation, about the Old Covenant from Sinai and the New Covenant that will take place at some time still in the future. To understand when that is, you need to know a little bit more about the New Testament and, in even more detail, the Old Testament.
For instance, am I suggesting this New Covenant is not for gentiles, but only for Israel? No, I am not. But, if Israel’s promises are not going to be fulfilled by God, why would anyone expect God to fulfill them for anyone else? What kind of a promise would that be? Instead, we learn from the apostle Paul in Romans 11 that not only will Israel experience this New Covenant, but so will all those saved in grace by Jesus – or “grafted in” like a branch on Israel’s olive tree through the root and trunk of Messiah’s salvation.
In Ezekiel 36, we learn that God is going to bring his dispersed people from all over the world back to Israel.
“Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you,” we learn in Ezekiel 36:25-28. “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.”
This, too, is a parallel verse to Jeremiah 31. God took away their stony heart and put His law in a heart of flesh.
The Hebrew writer understood in the first century, just as Jeremiah and Ezekiel knew hundreds of years earlier, that these promises were for the house of Israel as well as the gentiles who find salvation.
Why do we need the Old Testament today? Let me count the ways:
If we want to understand the New, we need the Old. Can you try to imagine understanding the New Covenant, where it was first revealed, without the context of whom it was for and who would institute it, namely King Jesus? Not now, not here, but in Israel where He ministered and where He will come back to rule and reign and judge the world.
Most of the information about the Messiah’s return, and what life will be like when He does, is in the Old Testament. I’ve written one book about it, “The Restitution of All Things,” and I am currently working on another.
There’s a storyline that is important that goes all the way back to Creation and the Garden of Eden. How would anyone have recognized Jesus as Redeemer without the background? How would we even know we needed a Redeemer without the Old Testament? As my newest title, “The Gospel in Every Book of the Old Testament,” shows, the Bible is one fully integrated, miraculous message from beginning to end by One God who always wanted what was best for us – a God who loved us and always will if we walk with Him and His ways.
There’s a lot more to learn there – the entire Bible. I’ve been learning for more than 40 years. It never ends – until it’s in our hearts. And it isn’t yet.
Some mega-pastors don’t understand this. But you don’t have to be a mega-pastor to do so. In fact, it might not even help. The Bible was meant for all of us as a way for God to reveal Himself to humanity. He did. You can understand it as well as anyone by studying it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
And, just remember, there’s nothing Old in the Old Testament, because God makes the old new and the new old. He didn’t make a mistake with the Old Covenant. It’s part of His perfect plan. It’s been the same all the time. He doesn’t change. He’s the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. He’s got a glorious future ahead for all His children. If you want to find out about it, you need to read the whole book, not just the end.
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