No Part of the Mosaic Covenant Has Ended
– Part 2
by Gerald R. Thompson
THE MOSAIC COVENANT IS EXPRESSLY MADE ETERNAL
God doesn’t make mistakes. He never has a Plan B, or a contingency plan. Nothing catches Him by surprise, ever. He doesn’t have to guess what will happen in the future, and in the strict sense of the word, God never makes predictions. What I mean is that God transcends time – He is not bound by it. He exists in the past, present and future all at once. He does need to wait and see what happens in the future – He has already been there, and has already seen it. So when God speaks of the future, why would he say anything – ever – except that which He already knows for an absolute certainty will take place exactly as He says? And if God says something is everlasting or eternal – knowing already exactly how long it will last – why would He say anything other than the absolute truth?
Before the Fact
The underlying foundation of the Mosaic covenant, God’s covenant with Abraham (confirmed to Isaac and Jacob) is eternal. Here is some of the scriptural evidence:
“And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you … all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” (Gen. 17:7-8).
God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.” (Gen. 17:19). See also, Gen. 26:2-5.
And God said to [Jacob], “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” (Gen. 35:11-12).
And Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, and said to me, Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession.'” (Gen. 48:3-4).
Remember his covenant forever, the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations, the covenant that he made with Abraham, his sworn promise to Isaac, which he confirmed as a statute to Jacob, as an everlasting covenant to Israel. (1 Chr. 16:15-17).
By Its Terms
Not surprisingly, when God gives His covenant and laws to the nation of Israel , He declares them to be eternal numerous times. For example, the Sabbath, springing from the creation of the world as it does, is part of the law of nature for everyone. But under the Mosaic law, the Jews were given specific additional obligations regarding the Sabbath that were unique to them, including the death penalty. This is a special sign between God and the people of Israel forever. I think God probably knows what forever means. Do you?
You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed. (Exo. 31:14-17).
The land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is to be Israel’s possession forever.
“Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.'” (Exo. 32:13).
Israel is God’s chosen people forever.
“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. … Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations ….” (Deu. 7:6, 9).
He remembers his covenant forever, the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations, the covenant that he made with Abraham, his sworn promise to Isaac, which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute, to Israel as an everlasting covenant. (Ps. 105:8-10).
In the history of the world there were only 77 generations from Adam until Jesus (4,000 years, for an average of 52 years per generation) according to Lk. 3:23-38. Since Jesus (2,000 years ago) there have been no more than 80 generations, allowing for 25 years per generation. Thus, there have been only a maximum of 157 generations since Adam. At that rate, it will take at least another 21,075 years from now before there will have been 1,000 generations of people. Actually, however, we have to count a thousand generations from the time of Moses (i.e., Deu. 7:9), not Adam, adding another 2,500 years to the calculation. So effectively, a thousand generations means forever. But quite literally, it means that God’s covenant with Israel can’t have ended already, because we are still so far away from having it be in effect for a thousand generations.
However, did you know the Levitical priesthood and the priestly portion originating under the Mosaic covenant are also eternal? That’s right – what I’m saying is the ceremonial law of the Mosaic covenant is expressly made eternal.
“And you shall gird Aaron and his sons with sashes and bind caps on them. And the priesthood shall be theirs by a statute forever.” (Exo. 29:9).
Then the Lord spoke to Aaron, “Behold, I have given you charge of the contributions made to me, all the consecrated things of the people of Israel. I have given them to you as a portion and to your sons as a perpetual due. … All the holy contributions that the people of Israel present to the Lord I give to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due.” (Num. 18:8, 19).
And the Lord said to Moses, “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel …. Therefore say, Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace, and it shall be to him and to his descendants after him the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the people of Israel.'” (Num. 25:10-13).
Then David said that no one but the Levites may carry the ark of God, for the Lord had chosen them to carry the ark of the Lord and to minister to him forever. (1 Ch. 15:2).
More Perpetual Statutes
In addition to the instances mentioned above, there are numerous times in the scriptures where specific laws under the Mosaic covenant are designated as statutes forever. Here is a partial list (go ahead – check out the references yourself):
Passover / Feast of Unleavened Bread. (Exo. 12:14, 17, 24.)
Tending of the priestly lamp. (Exo. 27:21.)
Priestly clothes. (Exo. 28:43.)
Ritual washing. (Exo. 30:21.)
Don’t eat fat or blood. (Lev. 3:17.)
Priestly prohibition of wine and strong drink. (Lev. 10:9.)
Day of Atonement. (Lev. 16:29, 31, 34; 23:31.)
Peace offerings. (Lev. 17:7.)
Feast of Firstfruits. (Lev. 23:14.)
Feast of Weeks. (Lev. 23:21.)
Feast of Booths. (Lev. 23:41.)
The showbread. (Lev. 24:5, 8-9.)
Manner of sacrifices. (Num. 15:15.)
Ritual impurity. (Num. 19:21.)
Also consider the words of the Psalmist, who wrote:
Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord! …
I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end. (Ps. 119:1, 112.)
Notice how many of these forever statutes relate to the so-called ceremonial law: all the statutes relating to priests and Levites, feasts, rituals, sacrifices and the tabernacle/temple. That’s most of them, by far. What’s the point? If the ceremonial law is eternal, how likely is it that the rest of the Mosaic law will also be eternal? Pretty darn likely.
I can see the wheels spinning in your head as you consider these various scriptures. You’re trying desperately to figure out how the words forever, perpetual, everlasting, and irrevocable can’t possibly be taken literally, and yet you still want to hold yourself out as being a biblical literalist. A little fudging for the sake of a good systematic theology is OK every once in a while, right? Well, there are a couple of problems with that.
First, God never fudges. God doesn’t have near misses, He is never mostly right, and He is not almost perfect. Nor does God exaggerate, use hyperbole, or allow for unforeseen contingencies. God is precise, accurate, and never wrong. God is the one who demands that his prophets be 100% accurate (Dt. 18:20-22). That’s because God Himself is 100% accurate, and anyone speaking the words of God cannot be wrong.
I want you to think very carefully. If God meant only that the Mosaic covenant would last roughly 1,500 years (the time from Moses to Christ) when He said it was a covenant forever, would that be a lie? If God said the Mosaic covenant was forever, yet He not only knew, but had already seen, that it would last only about 1,500 years, how could that not be a lie? All God had to do was say that the covenant would last until the Messiah came. But He did not say that. So I ask you – Is God a liar? “God is not a man, that He should lie.” (Num. 23:19).
Oh, but you may say, God was speaking allegorically – as if that actually explains anything at all. Let me ask you – in any of the instances where God said the Mosaic covenant would last forever, are they presented in a metaphorical context? Is symbolic language being used? Was God speaking merely illustratively? Did the people who heard God’s words understand them in a figurative sense? No, no, no and no. If you are reading the preceding verses allegorically, then allow me to suggest you are merely trying to avoid the plain meaning of the words. Call it what you want – I call it fudging.
Second, let’s just say, hypothetically, that God actually wanted to say the Mosaic covenant and the Mosaic law were, in fact, eternal. (As opposed to what you might think the scriptures mean.) What words would/could/should God have used – you know, instead of the words He actually did use – to convey unambiguously that He meant eternal? What words conveying the concept of eternality are so completely clear that no one could possibly misinterpret them? What are the idiot-proof words meaning eternal that no one could ever misconstrue – if not the words forever, perpetual, everlasting, and irrevocable?
You do realize there are no such words, right? So that if God actually wanted to say the Mosaic covenant is eternal, He would have used the exact words He really did use. So maybe, by using the words He did, that’s what He really meant to say. Suppose the Mosaic covenant really is eternal. How would that be a problem? As we will see (keep reading), it isn’t.
After the Fact
Roughly 900 years after the Mosaic covenant was first given, God showed Jeremiah that He was not finished with the nation of Israel yet. This, in spite of their imminent deportation, the destruction of Jerusalem and their temple, and the scattering of the people. Chief among God’s promises at that time was the promise of a new covenant with the nation of Israel. This new covenant would modify or perfect the Mosaic covenant and make Israel suitable for a renewed purpose.
“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. But 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.” (Jer. 31:31-34).
Notice this new covenant cannot possibly refer to the new covenant in Christ, or the Church covenant, because it is expressly made applicable only to “the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” Plus, it was spoken 600 years before the Church even existed. What this new covenant affirms is that God has an everlasting covenant with the sons of Israel and their offspring, as a nation. They will never lose their national identity. They will never be absorbed or subsumed by the Church, as long as the sun, moon and stars remain in the heavens.
Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar, the Lord of hosts is his name: If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the Lord, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever. Thus says the Lord: If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done. (Jer. 31:35-37).
It makes sense, that if God’s relationship with national Israel will last forever, then the tribal divisions which are part and parcel of the identity of national Israel, will also last forever. A key attribute of this tribal division is the separation of the Levites from the other tribes. It should be no surprise, then, that the duration of the Levitical priesthood is tied to the duration of the Davidic covenant, since both are tied to the identity of national Israel. However long Christ’s claim to the throne of David is in effect, then so is the Levitical priesthood in effect.
Thus says the Lord: If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night will not come at their appointed time, then also my covenant with David my servant may be broken, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne, and my covenant with the Levitical priests my ministers. (Jer. 33:20-21).
Paul, for his part, wanted to assure Jewish believers that notwithstanding the advent of the Church covenant, God’s promises concerning the nation of Israel had not changed.
Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob; and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. (Rom. 11:25-29).
Thus, from one end of scripture to the other, God’s testimony concerning the permanence of His promises to Israel remain perfectly consistent. His covenant with them will last forever.
NOTHING IN HISTORY HAS ENDED THE MOSAIC COVENANT
Now, let’s deal with some common objections. That is, the idea that even though the Mosaic covenant started out with eternity in mind, things happened afterward that altered, modified and/or completely terminated it.
There are three primary circumstances people point to as bringing about these covenantal alterations: 1) Israel clearly broke the Mosaic covenant; 2) the death and resurrection of Christ obsoleted the Mosaic covenant; and 3) the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. brought the Mosaic covenant to an end in practical terms. Let’s examine each of these in turn.
The Mosaic Covenant As A “Broken Covenant”
Again the Lord said to me, “A conspiracy exists among the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. They have turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers, who refused to hear my words. They have gone after other gods to serve them. The house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant that I made with their fathers.” (Jer. 11:9-10).
“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.” Jer. 31:31-32.
Let me concede that the Mosaic covenant has indeed been broken. But again, nothing about this took God by surprise. Israel’s breaking of the covenant was foretold long beforehand during Moses’ lifetime.
And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers. Then this people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering, and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them. Then my anger will be kindled against them in that day, and … many evils and troubles will come upon them. … For I know what they are inclined to do even today, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give.” (Dt 31:16-17, 21).
And we know that from the time of the judges until the Babylonian captivity, the people of Israel pursued idolatry as predicted.
But what is the significance of this broken covenant? When a persons “breaks” a law, what does that mean? Say you drive over the speed limit and get a speeding ticket. You have broken the law, and now you must pay a fine. But what happens to the traffic law itself? Because you have broken (i.e., violated) the law, is the law itself now altered, suspended or terminated? No, of course not. It continues unchanged. The operation of the traffic laws do not depend on whether you keep (obey) them, or break (violate) them. Your actions of non-compliance do nothing to the existence or efficacy of the traffic laws.
So to say that the Mosaic law is a “broken covenant” is to say nothing more than Israel, as a nation, has violated the terms of the covenant. But what of the covenant itself? Has it been altered, suspended or terminated? No – it continues unchanged. Israel can do nothing, by its own conduct or volition, to alter, suspend or terminate God’s covenant with them. The covenant is eternal, notwithstanding Israel’s non-compliance. Israel’s compliance is, in fact, irrelevant to the question of the status of the covenant.
So what things actually change the status of a law? As for traffic laws, only the actions of the legislature – not individual drivers – can actually change the laws. Similarly, as for the Mosaic covenant, only the lawgiver of the nation (i.e., God, as per Isa. 33:22) can change the covenant. So the covenant continues unchanged unless God acts legislatively to change it. And, I suggest, there is nothing in scripture to suggest that God has acted legislatively to change the Mosaic law. Just the opposite, in fact – all the evidence points to an eternal duration, not a temporary one.
Look at the text from Deut. 31 again. God knew Israel would break His covenant with them. But did that change any of God’s plans? Did He refuse to take them to the Promised Land and deliver possession to them? No – He immediately commissioned Joshua to take over for Moses and do that very thing. (Dt. 31:23.) God promised that when Israel broke the covenant, “many evils and troubles will come upon them.” More curses, as it were. But did that mean God was altering the terms of the covenant He made with Abraham, confirmed to Isaac and Jacob, and delivered to Israel as an everlasting covenant? Not at all. All the promises God made were fulfilled to the letter.
What did change? What changed was the amount of difficulties Israel would experience as God fulfilled His promises. Remember, the blessings of God were contingent on Israel’s obedience. (Dt. 28:1-2.) If Israel was disobedient (i.e., if it broke the covenant), it would experience curses rather than blessings. (Dt. 28:15.) However, whether Israel obeyed or disobeyed, or kept the covenant or broke the covenant, the covenant would still exist and be operational.
It is reminiscent of the Fall, in Gen. 3. Sure, the Fall brought curses on the man, the woman, and the serpent. But none of that changed the terms of the Adamic covenant. People were still under a duty to be fruitful and multiply, to rule over and subdue the earth, and to have dominion over the animal kingdom. The circumstances became more difficult, but the objects or purposes of the Adamic covenant remained unaltered. Same thing for the Mosaic covenant.
Another way of looking at it is to say that even though Israel broke the Mosaic covenant on their end, God never broke the Mosaic covenant on His end. Before the fact, God promised that Israel’s disobedience would have no effect on His upholding of the covenant between them.
“Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the Lord their God. But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the Lord.” (Lev. 26:44-45).
And after the fact, God reiterated that this was the case. Review again the words of Jer. 31:35-37, where God said that the offspring of Israel would not cease from being a nation before Him forever, nor would they be cast off for all that they have done, as long as the sun, moon and stars remain in the heavens. Last time I looked, the sun, moon and stars were still there – you know, in the heavens.
So, no, the fact that Israel broke the Mosaic covenant did not alter, suspend or terminate it.
Jesus Did Not Abolish The Law
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mat. 5:17-19).
I am constantly amazed at how this text is blatantly misconstrued, sloppily misinterpreted, and deceptively manipulated. First, we have to define what – in this context – the word Law means. Potentially, it means the entirety of the Mosaic covenant, just as the entire Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy) are considered the books of the Law. Such a reading is consistent with other New Testament references to the law, such as in Rom. 3:19-21. So let’s adopt that meaning for now. I think you’ll see this meaning is confirmed when we look
at verse 18 (below).
Second, we must contend with what it means for Christ to fulfill the Law and Prophets. By definition, it cannot mean that Christ abolished either of them, because He expressly disavowed that possibility (twice) in verse 17. Many, perhaps most, Christians view the word fulfill as meaning that Jesus completed the law. But in this there is a sleight of hand. Because what does it mean for Jesus to complete the law, except to say that what He has completed, is no longer necessary or in effect?
I confess, I am at a loss to describe, define or distinguish how this manner of completion is any different from an abolition. If something is rendered unnecessary or ineffective, how is it not abolished? What – God rendered the law unnecessary, and then kept it around dead as a doornail just so He could say it had not been abolished? What good is a dead law? And how is a dead law still around?
Actually, there is another equally valid, but distinct, definition for the word fulfill. Go ahead – look up its definition in any standard dictionary or online search engine. Definitions are: “1) bring to completion or reality; achieve or realize (something desired, promised, or predicted); and 2) carry out (a task, duty, or role) as required, pledged, or expected.” (Definitions provided by Bing.com.) Aha! – more sloppiness. Why do interpreters rarely, if ever, cite the second definition?
In other words, when Jesus came to fulfill the law, it means He came to carry out or obey the law as required or expected. And isn’t that exactly what He did – the man who knew no sin? He completely obeyed the law, and in this manner fulfilled it. You know – in the way no one else could. That’s what made Him special. And by obeying the law completely, He changed not one iota of it. That’s right, friends, Christ came to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs (including Moses). (Rom. 15:8). He meant what He said.
And verse 18 (“not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished”) precludes the possibility that Jesus’ words can be construed to mean that some of the law has been abolished (such as the ceremonial law), while the rest of it remains intact. When He said He did not come to abolish the law, He meant not any part of it, not even a single stroke or a dot. And the ceremonial law is at least a stroke or a dot, isn’t it? Therefore, Jesus must have had all of the Law in view.
Strange, isn’t it, the widespread belief among Christians of all stripes that the ceremonial portion of the Mosaic law has ended? Yet Jesus expressly denied He came to do that. All people have to do is adopt the second meaning of fulfill in order to avoid making Jesus a liar. But for the most part, they do not. And on goes the universal charade that Jesus somehow completed the ceremonial law (bringing it to an end) without abolishing it. Whether this fraud is being perpetrated intentionally or ignorantly by others, don’t you get caught in the error.
Third, if I were you, I’d take the warning in Mat. 5:19 seriously. Being called least in the kingdom of heaven is something I know I don’t want to be saddled with for eternity. Granted, this warning has a limited context. That is, “whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments [of the Mosaic law] and teaches others to do the same” probably doesn’t apply to Gentiles teaching other Gentiles. It would be pretty hard for any Gentile to “relax” a law he or she is not bound to obey to begin with. And the admonition against “teaching others to do the same” would only apply to teaching biological Jews who also happen to be Christians, i.e., Messianic believers.
So the question for Gentile Christians is whether they paint with too broad a brush – assuming every believer in their local church is a Gentile, when that may not be true. Sure, many Messianic believers belong to a Messianic assembly. But that doesn’t mean every believer in every non-Messianic church is a Gentile. The risk is if the message goes out from the pulpit, or a Sunday School class, that the judicial and/or ceremonial laws of the Mosaic covenant have ended (when they have not), then this could lead any biological Jews in the congregation into confusion or error (sin). Which would bring about the conditions of the warning in Mat. 5:19. In other words, telling a biological Jew that the commandments of the ceremonial law have been relaxed is exactly the problem verse 19 addresses. Therefore, don’t do it. Preachers and teachers – be warned.
Fourth, Jesus said He did not “come to abolish the Law or the Prophets.” What significance is it, that Jesus did not abolish the Prophets? You might think He is mainly referring to prophecies concerning Himself. However, the Law and the Prophets are another package deal. Recall that the Law was the law of only one nation, Israel. Much of the content of the Prophets is directed to the nation of Israel, as well. In other words, protecting the viability of the Law benefits who? Israel, and Israel alone. What if protecting the viability of the Prophets by Jesus has the same goal?
It would make no sense whatsoever to ensure the Law of Israel would continue, if the people of Israel did not also continue, as a nation. The Mosaic covenant was not given to the Jewish people as individuals, but to Israel as a national entity. It is not enough for the biological line to continue – the nation itself is an integral part of the Mosaic covenant. And the Bible is full of prophecies concerning national Israel – its scattering, its regathering, its restoration and prominence, and its future glory as the preeminent nation of the world. Where are these prophecies to be found? In the Prophets.
Do you see how it all fits together? The Law and the Prophets don’t merely foretell about Jesus – they are both chiefly concerned with the nation of Israel. Of course Jesus, as the king and high priest of future national Israel, will play a prominent role in the fulfillment of those prophecies. But, as I said, it’s a package deal. Jesus came to obey (fulfill) the Law, and to complete (fulfill) the Prophets, neither of which has ended. The Law and the Prophets are all about Israel, folks. Jesus knew that.
DECOUPLING THE BEGINNING FROM THE END
Now it’s time to go to the next logical step. Since Israel and the Church are completely different kinds of entities, the beginning of the Church cannot possibly have any impact on the existence of Israel or its governing covenant. How can a community of faith by its inauguration terminate the biological descendants of Jacob? It cannot. So then how can the Church covenant (a faith covenant) terminate Israel’s covenant (a biological covenant)? It cannot.
We need to decouple the Mosaic covenant from the Church age. That is, we need to separate and forever dissociate the end of the first from the beginning of the second. Instead of assuming the beginning of the Church brought the Mosaic law to an end, why not understand the Church as merely being added to what already pre-existed?
It’s not as though this hasn’t already happened. The Adamic and Noahic covenants, as I already mentioned, apply to every person on earth today, since we are all descendants of both Adam and Noah. When the Abrahamic, Mosaic and Davidic covenants came along, they related solely to the nation of Israel – a new covenantal paradigm, of sorts (applying to one nation instead of all). Did that new covenantal paradigm suspend, modify, or terminate the previous covenants applicable to all nations? Not at all. So why would the introduction of the Church covenant (a divine covenant not tied to any one or more nations, but directed solely to individuals) have any different impact on what came before? In other words, no impact?
Looking forward to the Kingdom Age, we can anticipate that when the new covenant with Israel finally goes into effect (discussed next), it will have no impact on the Church covenant. After all, the Church covenant is both eternal and perfect, needing no modification, right? You don’t really think that when the Millennium comes, God is going to throw the entire Gentile world under the jurisdiction of the Mosaic law and religious Judaism, do you? No, of course not – the Gentile world will at that time remain subject to the Church covenant. Then – as now – the Mosaic covenant and Church covenant will both keep running together in perpetuity – not intertwined or commingled, but in parallel, separately. Although, admittedly, Judaism in the Millennium will not be completely old-style Judaism – it will acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah and universal Savior.
Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood … what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek…? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. (Heb. 7:11-12).
Was the law of priesthoods changed when Christ arose after the order of Melchizedek? Yes. Was the nature of that change a termination? No. What was the nature of the change? An addition. The priesthood of Christ was given to the Church, while the Levitical priesthood continues to function for the Jews. Both exist at the same time, and both are in full operation today. Why can’t they operate on different people for different purposes at the same time? The only reason I have ever heard anyone suggest is that God can’t deal with the Jews and the Church at the same time. Says who? What – your God isn’t big enough to be able to do two things at once?
The New Covenant With Israel
Now let’s look at one of the principal texts people point to for the proposition that the Mosaic covenant has been made obsolete.
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. For he finds fault with them when he says:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with 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. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, 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 laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”
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. (Heb 8:5-13).
The key to understanding this text is rightly understanding the quotation of Jer. 31:31-34 – a text I cited a few pages back. If you recall, I cited Jeremiah for the idea that God isn’t done with Israel yet, because He will deal with them in a new covenantal way during the future Millennium. This new covenant with Israel will bring about a perfection of the Mosaic covenant during the earthly kingdom of Christ. It will be a form of covenant modification – but continuing the Mosaic covenant, not terminating it.
However, a large number of Christians worldwide do not believe this. Those who hold to a mainly allegorical interpretation of scripture believe God is almost exclusively concerned with spiritual things, not physical or temporal things. The logical consequence of which is that there will never be an earthly kingdom of Christ – all references to such in the Bible are taken to refer to heaven, that is, in eternity. This is the so-called amillennial (i.e., “no millennium”) view. From this viewpoint, Jer. 31:31-34 will never be fulfilled in any literal or physical sense during human
On the other hand, those who believe the Church has subsumed or replaced national Israel in unfulfilled prophecy view this scripture as being fulfilled in the present, but (again) only in a spiritual sense. In other words, fulfillment relates to the Church, not the Jews. Such people view Heb. 8 as proof that the Church has fulfilled this particular prophecy. So between these two viewpoints, many Christians simply do not accept the idea that this text in Heb. 8 refers to Israel as a nation in future history.
I just ask that you consider whether the actual words of the text should be taken in a literal sense. Take the opening sentence: “I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made [when I brought them out of Egypt].” First, does God know who the houses of Israel and Judah are, or does He not? Assuming He does know, why would He refer to them as a way of actually referring to the Church? Was God ignorant of His own plans to create the Church, or was He just being deceptive and/or a liar? Where in the Bible are the Church and the houses of Israel and Judah used as equivalent terms? (Psst – nowhere.)
At what point in time was the Church brought out of the land of Egypt? When did the Church no longer “continue in my covenant,” that is, break its covenant with God? Jeremiah says, “I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts.” Where is the evidence that the laws of God are fully – at this moment – written on the hearts and minds of Christians? The obvious purpose of the prophecy in Jer. 31 is that the participants in this new covenant will be noticeably different from everyone else in their knowledge of God and His laws. Is it even conceivable that Christians today are marked in this way?
When was the last time you had a vigorous discussion of God’s laws with other believers – each of whom had an intimate knowledge of the subject? When was the last time all the believers you know were in complete and full agreement about the specific content of God’s laws because it was burned into everyone’s heart and mind the same way? You and I both know that never happened. To read the prophecy in this way – that is, as being currently fulfilled and manifest in present-day Christians – is to gut all the words of the prophecy of having any real meaning. It makes the entire text a sham prophecy. And I’m simply not going in that direction.
Eventual Amendment Of The Mosaic Covenant
So let’s assume the Jer. 31 prophecy applies solely to national Israel, not the Church. Also that it has not been fulfilled yet – because if it had, then all Jews would now be saved (see v. 12: “and I will remember their sins no more”). See also, Rom. 11:25-26. With that understanding in mind, now let’s look at the other verses in Heb. 8. Fundamentally, we know that the reason why the Jer. 31 prophecy is quoted here in Heb. 8 cannot be for the reason of showing that Jer. 31 has already been fulfilled. It must be quoted for some other purpose.
Start with verse 7: “For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.” What is the first covenant? The Mosaic covenant. How do we know this? That is what verse 5 tells us – “For when Moses was about to erect the tent.” What is the second covenant? The New Covenant with Israel – not the Church covenant. That is why Jer. 31 is quoted – to remind the reader what the second covenant is. The writer of Hebrews is comparing the Mosaic covenant (with Israel) with a future covenant (with Israel) for one basic reason: to show that the Mosaic law was imperfect from the beginning, and needed to be upgraded (modified) someday.
But, surprise, surprise! The Church covenant isn’t what modified the Mosaic covenant. The New Covenant with Israel is what will modify the Mosaic covenant. Then in verse 6 the Mosaic covenant is compared to the covenant mediated by Christ (the Church covenant), and predictably, the Church covenant is better than the Mosaic covenant. Better in what way? Whereas the Mosaic covenant was imperfect from the beginning, the Church covenant was perfect, therefore the Church covenant will never need to be modified. There – comparison complete.
But, wait! Even though Christ came and offered a covenant made on better promises than the Mosaic covenant, that still doesn’t solve Israel’s problem. What problem? The one mentioned in Romans: “a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” (Rom. 11:25). Merely because the Church covenant is better, does not mean the Jews (as a nation) will turn to Christ. They are going to need an extra push. That push will not come until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. When that happens, then the New Covenant with Israel will be implemented.
I said earlier that “it takes new words to change old words.” Actually, to be more accurate, it takes new words of agreement to change old words of agreement. It is common for people to think of God as a benevolent dictator. That is, since God is the ultimate sovereign, people really have no choice but to accept His terms in any divine covenant. However, that is only partially true. People do not have the power to negotiate terms with God, as such. Nonetheless, God does not force anyone to accept His terms – He waits for people to accept His terms before the covenant begins.
Sometimes this acceptance is implied by conduct, whether by Noah building an ark (which he was not forced to do), or by Abraham going to the land God would show him, etc. Under the Church covenant, God does not force salvation on anyone, but He extends the gift of grace to all those who believe and accept it. And one thing we know for darn sure is that the people of Israel accepted the Mosaic covenant not by implication or conduct, but by express verbal consent. “Then [Moses] 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.'” (Exo. 24:7). See also, Exo. 19:8; 24:3.
What I am suggesting here is that in order for the Mosaic covenant to be amended in any way, as to any part, it would take: 1) God verbally informing the Jews of the exact terms of the amendment; and 2) the Jews, as a nation, to verbally consent to the change(s). Of course, neither of those things has ever happened yet. Therefore, the Mosaic covenant simply cannot ever have been amended (mush less terminated) as to any part – yet. An amendment requires consent by the Jews, period.
The caveat, of course, is when the New Covenant with Israel is implemented, that consent will occur. Jer. 31:31-34 has already announced the terms of the amendment. When Jesus returns and all Israel will be saved, then the Jews will, as a nation (with the laws of God written on their hearts) give their verbal consent. So until that happens, the Mosaic covenant continues unchanged.
Which brings us to verse 13. “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.” Note what the text does not say: The Mosaic law (first covenant) has become obsolete, has grown old and vanished. None of the verbs in Heb. 8:13 are in the past tense. They are all in the future tense. Becoming obsolete, not become obsolete. Is growing old, not has grown old. Is ready to vanish away, not vanished away.
Therefore, Heb. 8 does not say the Mosaic covenant is obsolete. It was/is imperfect, it is in need of upgrading someday, and in that sense it anticipates becoming obsolete, but it won’t actually be altered or obsoleted until Jer. 31:31-34 is fulfilled. And that won’t happen until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in (i.e., Jesus returns).
If the Mosaic covenant were already obsolete now, it would have been obsolete when Hebrews was written, and the verb tenses in Heb. 8:13 would all be different. Which means that as of right now – today – the Mosaic covenant is still alive and kicking. The reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated.