The Nature of the New Covenant and Its Progressive Fulfillment in History, Part 3

Dr. Richard Pratt has written a significant paper on Jeremiah 31:31-34, ((I will be borrowing unashamedly from this great article in the latter part of this paper. Dr. Richard Pratt, JEREMIAH 31: INFANT BAPTISM IN THE NEW COVENANT, IIIM Magazine Online, Volume 4, Number 1, January 7 to January 13, 2002.)) which argues that the fulfillment of the New Covenant does not happen at once, but rather in stages. He terms these stages with the use of the acronym ICC. This refers to the Inauguration of the Covenant (which was inaugurated in Christ), the Continuation of the Covenant (which runs from Christ’s first advent to His second coming), and the Consummation of the Covenant (which takes place when Christ in His second coming will make all things right). ((Ibid., pg. 10.)) This idea of different stages can be seen in Matthew 13:31-32, which reads: “ He put another parable before them, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” Notice that the grain of mustard seed grows very slowly, but eventually covers the earth. ((Though Dr. Pratt would not concur with this conclusion, this passage conforms to a Postmillennial outlook that sees a gradual growth of Christianity over the nations.)) This same pattern is applied to the New Covenant promised in Jeremiah 31:31-34. Though it was inaugurated in the ministry of Christ (Luke 22:20, I Corinthians 11:25, Hebrews 8:1-13), it is not fully manifested until the triumphant coming of Christ when He will make all things new. In Andrew Dearman’s words, “ the coming of Christ and the gift of the Spirit do not exhaust the promises made in the New Covenant, the complete transformation of God’s people is still in the future.” ((Dearman, J. A. Jeremiah/Lamentations. NIVAC. Zondervan, 2002, pg. 289.))

The New Covenant spoken here in Jeremiah and cited in various New Testament passages indicates not a simple transition where all people will see all the promises fulfilled at a particular time, but rather that God is progressively conquering His enemies; (I Corinthians 15:24-26) as a result His people experience the joy and abundant forgiveness that He offers in Jesus Christ on a progressive basis as well. Once again Andrew Dearman summarizes this point: “ What all the New Testament references have in common is a belief that the future redemption promised by God through Jeremiah (or any of the prophets) has dawned in the ministry of Jesus Christ and will be brought to an ultimate fulfillment in his second coming at the end of the age.” ((Ibid., pg. 289.))

But what does it mean to live in the New Covenant? What are the covenant’s promises for us today and what do they mean? In verse 33, “But this covenant…” indicates there is a contrast with the previous one. That is, this covenant unlike the old one will not be broken. So, how is this possible in light of the warnings of Hebrews 6 and 10? Are they merely hypothetical? Though some say these verses are not to be understood to indicate literal consequences, this is not the best reading of those passages. The “falling away” of Hebrews 6:6 presents real consequences for those who are in the New Covenant. They may experience all the benefits thereof (Hebrews 6:1-6), but apostasy is real and will happen to those who spurn the Son of God (Hebrews 10:29). Though the covenant promises of Jeremiah 31 indicate that this New Covenant will not be broken, the reader is called to see the consummation of this covenant. For while God’s people experience the New Covenant now by tasting of the heavenly gift and enjoying all the privileges of covenant membership, they are not already in its consummative state, rather still under the blessings and curses like the Old. ((I am well aware that some will venture to say that all the Older Covenant curses are laid upon Christ and no longer on us. However, this is inconsistent in light of the clear warning of Paul in I Corinthians 10 and the author of Hebrews in chapters 6 and 10. Christ has paid the eternal consequences for those who are eternally elect only, not historically elect. Those who fall away are only historically elect, not eternally or eschatologically elect.))

This plays a crucial role in the discussion concerning who is part of the New Covenant. Is it radically different from the Old where only males were circumcised and received the covenant sign of membership? In this sense it is! For Paul states in Ephesians 2:14 that Christ has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility. This is indeed a broader covenant, where male and female, Jew and Greek, infant and adult are called to participate in this grand covenant God has made with the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16).

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About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
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