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WAS THE NEW COVENANT IN EFFECT IN THE ACTS PERIOD?

WAS THE NEW COVENANT IN EFFECT IN THE ACTS PERIOD?

Many Bible believing Christians believe that the new covenant was in effect during the Acts period. I disagree with that belief and offer this paper in an effort to state my reasons for that disagreement.

The most complete explanation of the new covenant and the character of the times of the new covenant is given in Jeremiah 31:31-37. “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. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them’, declares the Lord. ‘This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time’, declares the Lord. ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their heart. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying ‘Know the Lord’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord. ‘For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more”.

THE NEW COVENANT AS PRESENTED IN THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS

Hebrews 8:10-12 is a quote from Jer. 31 where we read of the new covenant. This passage in Hebrews does not tell us when the New Covenant will be put into effect, but we have a few clues in other verses from the epistle to the Hebrews. Consider, for example, Heb. 8:13, “By calling this covenant ‘new’, he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear”. The writer is telling us that the old covenant will soon disappear. Obviously, if it will disappear soon, it had not disappeared at the time of the writing of Hebrews, i.e. during the Acts period. Therefore, during the Acts period the old covenant had not yet disappeared so the new covenant had not yet been put into effect.

Note also Hebrews 9:10, “They (gifts and sacrifices of verse 9) are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings- external regulations applying until the time of the new order.” Here the writer is speaking of the old covenant saying that it applies “until the time of the new order”. I believe that the term “new order” must apply to the time of the new covenant, i.e. the millennium. It is clear that the writer does not see that time as having arrived for he writes that the earthly regulations apply “until the time of the new order”.

Let us also consider Heb. 8:6, “…..He is the Mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises”. The question is: was the new covenant in effect at the time that it was established?

In order to answer that question we must understand that the shedding of blood was a requirement for the establishing of the old covenant. How do we know that? We read in Heb. 9:18-20, “Whereupon neither the first testament (covenant) was dedicated without blood. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry”.

As we examine the Abrahamic covenant we will see that it too required the shedding of blood. We read in Gen. 15:7 of God’s promise to Abram that his seed would inherit the promised land. And then in verse 8 we read, “and he said, ‘Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?'”. The answer to his question is found in verse 9, “And He said unto him, ‘Take Me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old…..’ and he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst….”. Then in Gen. 15:18 we read, “In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘Unto thy seed have I given this land…..”.

So we have learned that God made a covenant with Abram that his seed would inherit the promised land and that that covenant required a blood sacrifice, which was offered.

But it is clear that that covenant has not  been put into effect at the time of the sacrifice. That is to say, the required blood was spilled and the covenant was “established” by it, and yet the covenant was not  put into effect at that time which is obvious from the fact that Israel did not inhrirt that promised land at that time. The point is that the establishment of a covenant does not automatically mean that the covenant was put into effect at the time of its establishment.

So too the new covenant. It required a blood sacrifice, in this case it was the blood of Jesus Christ. And that blood “established” the covenant. But as will be shown in the section below, we are told that it will be put into effect in the millennial reign of Christ. Therefore, it will not be in effect until then.

WHEN WILL THE NEW COVENANT BE PUT INTO EFFECT?

Let us consider Ezek. 20 and compare it with Ezek. 36 in our efforts to answer the question posed in the heading of this section, i.e. “when will the new covenant be put into effect”? Verse 34 of Ezek. 20 tells us of the gathering of Israel for the millennium. “I will bring you from the nations and gather you from the countries where you have been scattered…”. The millennium is not mentioned specifically in this passage, but a comparison of all the scriptures which speak of the gathering of Israel will show that the gathering of Israel will be for the millennial reign of Christ.

Ezek. 36 also speaks of the gathering of Israel and of the new covenant. Ezek. 36:24-27, “For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; …..I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. …..and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my lawsYou will live in the land I gave your forefathers, you will be my people and I will be your God”.

The passages quoted above tell us that the new covenant will be put into effect at the gathering of Israel for the millennial reign of Christ. Absent any Scriptural evidence to the contrary, I believe we must conclude that the new covenant will go into effect at the time of the millennium.

WHO WILL COME UNDER THE “BOND” OF THE NEW COVENANT?

Ezek. 20:38 tells us that only the righteous will be allowed entrance into the land of Israel for the millennial reign of Christ. That verse reads, “and I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against Me: I will bring them forth out of the country where they sojourn, and they shall not enter into the land of Israel….”.

To whom are the promises of Ezek. 36 given? They are not given to unbelieving Israel, they are given to believing Israel. How do we know that? Because we read in Ezek. 36 that they will be brought back to their land. “I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land”. And, “You will live in the land I gave your forefathers”. Unbelievers are brought out from where they had been scattered, but they are not allowed entrance into the land.

We may conclude therefore, that the promises of Ezek. 36 are given to believing Israel. What are those promises that are given only to the believers of Israel? They will be brought back to their land (verse 24). They will be sprinkled with clean water and will be made clean (verse 25). They will be given a new heart and a new spirit (verse 26). They will be given a spirit from God so that they will be careful to follow His laws (verse 27). They will be God’s people (verse 28). They will be blessed with great prosperity (verse 30). It is clear that verses 26 and 27 explain the new covenant (compare Jer. 31:33).

It is purged Israel that will be allowed entrance into the land to enjoy the blessings of the millennium, and it is purged Israel that will be brought into the bond of the new covenant. Again, the new covenant is for Israel, purged of unbelievers.

Consider also Ezek. 11:12-21, “Therefore say: ‘this is what the Sovereign Lord says; I will gather you from the nations and bring you back from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you back the land of Israel again. They will return to it and remove all its vile images and detestable idols, I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be My people, and I will be their God. But as for those whose hearts are devoted to their vile images and detestable idols, I will bring down on their own heads what they have done, declares the Sovereign Lord”.

It is clear that this passage refers to the new covenant, even though it is not named as such. Note the key phrases “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them”. Also, “I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws”.

Before we go on to the next section, I believe that a word of clarification of Ezek. 20:40 is in order lest some be led astray. The NIV has, “…..the entire house of Israel will serve me there”. That would suggest that all Israel, including unbelievers will be allowed into the land. But the Hebrew-English Interlinear has, “The entire house of Israel, all of them in the land will serve me there”. This is consistent with all the other scriptures that concern the gathering of Israel for the millennial blessings, i.e. only believers are allowed into the land and therefore, only believers will serve Him there.

Let us turn our attention to Jer. 31:37 where we read, “No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying ‘Know the Lord’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord. ‘For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more”. How are we to understand the statement in Jer. 31 which reads, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more”? Let us consider the Hebrew word “for” in this phrase. The same Hebrew word is used in the previous phrase and is translated “because”. That passage reads, “No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying ‘Know the Lord’ because they will all know me”. So let us reconsider this passage translating the Hebrew word with a greater consistency. “No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying ‘Know the Lord’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord. ‘Because I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more”. In other words, the Lord will forgive their sins because they will know Him, i.e. because they are all believers.

In short, the new covenant will be given to those already saved.

AN EXAMINATION OF THE ACTS PERIOD WILL SHOW THAT THE NEW COVENANT  WAS NOT IN EFFECT DURING THAT PERIOD

What is the New Covenant? God will put the law into the hearts and minds of believing Israel. The following passages from the book of Acts will show that even though believing Israel was zealous of the law, God had not put the law in their hearts and minds.

Acts18:24-26 is an example of a believer not understanding the law. We read in this passage of a Jew named Apollos. “He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately”. Here was a believing Jew who did not know as much about Jesus as did others. It is clear that God had not put the law in his mind, or he would have known all about Jesus. Furthermore, the fact that Apollos needed further teaching directly contradicts one of the elements of the New Covenant. We read in Jer. 31:34, “And they shall no more teach every man his neighbor…..for they shall all know Me…”.

Where will the New Covenant be put into effect? In the land of Israel. Ezek.11:17b-20, “….and I will give you back the land of Israel again. I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them: I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws..”. God did not, during the Acts period, gather Israel to the land He had promised them. Far from it, they were more scattered at the end of the Acts period then they were at the beginning. (See Acts 11:19.) Obviously, this part of the new covenant was not in effect in the Acts period.

When will the New Covenant be put into effect? Ezek.11:17-20, ..This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘I will gather you from the nations and bring you back from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you back the land of Israel again. ….I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws”. Because we are told in Scripture exactly when the new covenant will come into effect, i.e. when Israel is gathered to the land God had promised Her, we may not, in my opinion, change this point without a great deal of Scriptural evidence, and there is none.

PASSAGES THAT SEEM TO SUGGEST THAT THE NEW COVENANT WAS IN EFFECT DURING THE

ACTS PERIOD

MATTHEW 26:28-29

Matt. 26:28, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” That the new covenant was in effect in the Acts period is one of those misconceptions that stem, as so many do, from not laying the proper groundwork from the Old Testament. That is to say, when we understand the new covenant from the Old Testament then we are not led astray by those passages in the New Testament that refer to it. If, on the other hand, we read of the new covenant in New Testament passages first, and then attach what we think we have learned to Old Testament passages, we come away with misconceptions.

We have seen from the Old Testament scriptures that speak of the New Covenant that the new covenant had nothing to do with salvation of unbelieving Israel. We need to keep that in mind as we read New Testament scriptures that refer to the new covenant. As we have seen in the sections above, the new covenant is for those of Israel who are believers, i.e. already saved, and therefore can not be for the purpose of saving unbelievers of Israel. Therefore, I believe that the forgiveness of sins mentioned in Matthew is the forgiveness of sins of believers. In the section above (“Who Will Come Under The Bond…..”) the meaning of the Hebrew translated “for” was discussed. We saw that it means “because”. That is to say, God forgave believing Israel their sins because they were believers. This is consistent with the teaching of the entire Bible concerning the forgiveness of sins, i.e. it is for believers.

I CORINTHIANS 11:25

I Cor. 11:25, “In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying ‘This cup is of the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me”. It is very true that a covenant requires blood, and that it was Christ’s blood that was the blood of the new covenant. However, this does not prove that the new covenant was put into effect at the same time as the shedding of His blood. As we have seen in the section above, “The New Covenant As Presented In The Epistle To The Hebrews”, the Abrahamic covenant was not put into effect at the time it was established by the spilling of blood. So too, the new covenant was not established at the time of the shed blood of Christ on the cross. It will be established, according to Scripture, in the millennial reign of Christ.

II CORINTHIANS 3:6

“He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant-not of the letter but of the spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life”. The only way that we may understand the true meaning of this passage is to put it in context and discover what was Paul’s point in this passage. In verses 7-11 Paul draws the contrast between the old covenant and the new. Note verse 12 where we read the important word “therefore”. “Therefore” tells us that we are reaching the point of the previous verses. “Therefore, since we have such a hope we are very bold. We are not like Moses who would put a veil over his face…”. Now we are ready to ask ourselves this question: Is Paul’s point in this passage that the new covenant was in effect? I don’t believe it was. I believe that his point was that the new covenant was superior to the old covenant. In saying that he was a minister of the new covenant he was saying that he was a minister of the spirit of the law, rather than the letter of the law. Does that mean that the new covenant was in effect?

The very fact that Paul was the “minister of the new covenant” is proof that it was not in effect. Why? Because we are told in Jeremiah 31 that the new covenant will be put into effect by God. God would not need Paul, or anyone else to be its minister. May I remind the reader exactly what the new covenant is. It is an unconditional promise of God to believing Israel that He will put His law in their hearts and minds.

The very fact that Paul was the “minister of the new covenant” also proves that the new covenant was not in effect because Paul’s Acts period epistles were written to believers, and most of those epistles included teachings for believing Israelites. But, as mentioned above, part of the new covenant is that there will be no teaching once the new covenant is put into effect because they will all know Him.

Only if one puts aside the following facts can one assume from this passage that the new covenant was in effect during the Acts period. 1) The new covenant was God acting unilaterally and did not need a “minister”. 2) As we read in Hebrews 8:13 and 9:10, the old covenant had not yet been put aside, therefore the new covenant could not have been in effect during the Acts period. 3) We are told when the new covenant would be put into effect, i.e. at the gathering of Israel for the millennial reign of Christ on earth. Israel was not being gathered during the Acts period. 4) One of the conditions of new covenant times was that each man would know God. That was certainly not true in the Acts period. 5) Another condition was that God would always be the God of His people Israel. That was certainly not the case at the end of the Acts period when Israel was set aside. 6) Even though believing Israel was zealous of the law in the Acts period, I do not believe that we can say that they had the law in their hearts and minds. If that were the case, they would not have had the disagreements etc. as mentioned above. 7) Paul’s point in II Cor. 3 is not that the new covenant was in effect, only that the new covenant was superior to the old covenant. As minister of the new covenant he was preaching the spirit of the law, rather than the letter of the law.

We can not say that believing Israel had the law in their hearts and minds in the Acts period. It is not, in my opinion, sound Bible study to try to prove that the new covenant was in effect from a passage that does not concern that particular question. This is especially true when the Scriptures prove that it was not in effect.

CONCLUSION

We are told quite specifically when the new covenant will be put into effect, i.e. at the gathering of Israel for the millennial reign of Christ. As  students of God’s written word we can not change that prophecy without a great deal of Scriptural evidence. Because there is no such evidence, we must conclude that the new covenant will indeed be put into effect at the time of the gathering of Israel for the millennial reign of Christ.

This paper was written by Joyce Pollard. I would love to hear your thoughts. Please E-mail me at: Janjoyce@aol.com

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