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The Really Awesome News!
16 October 2013
In my last article we looked at the covenants God had made during the Old Testament period,
ending with God's promise to replace the old Mosaic Law covenant with a New Covenant.
Today, 2,000 years after the promised New Covenant was established, I think it is difficult for people to really appreciate how radical, astonishing and revolutionary this New Covenant was when Yeshua first introduced it.
A passage from the New Testament (Covenant) book of Hebrews is foundational to our understanding:
Yeshua, our High Priest, has been given a ministry that is far superior to the old priesthood, for He is the one who mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises. If the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need for a second covenant to replace it. But when God found fault with the people, He said:
"The day is coming, says Yahweh,
when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of the land of Egypt. They did not remain faithful to My covenant, so I turned My back on them, says Yahweh. But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day, says Yahweh: I will put My laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people. And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins." (Jeremiah 31:31-33,34b)
When God speaks of a "new" covenant, it means He has made the first one obsolete. It is now out of date and will soon disappear. (Hebrews 8:6-10,12,13)
When the author of Hebrews
wrote that last sentence, it was truly prophetic. It was written after Yeshua died on the execution stake (cross) in order to establish the New Covenant, therefore, the Old Covenant, which is the Mosaic Law, WAS then "out of date." However, when Hebrews was written the Holy Temple still existed, and the Temple ceremonies and sacrifices, which much of the Mosaic Law revolved around, were still occuring on a daily basis.
But then the Temple was totally destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 AD — see the Siege of Jerusalem
— rendering it impossible to obey over half of the 613 Old Covenant commandments.
That destruction was God's final death blow to the obsolete, out-of-date Old Covenant of Mosaic Law, causing it to disappear.
There are quite a number of major differences between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant which were surely very shocking to first-century Jews. Let's take a closer look...
- Sacrifices for sin: Under the Old Covenant, animal sacrifices had to be offered regularly in order to "cover over" the sins of the people. In the Mosaic Law there were various sacrifices and offerings which were required to be made by an individual, depending on the offense (you can research those details yourself in the Torah). Once a year, on the Day of Atonement — Yom Kippur — the high priest had to perform a special ceremony and sacrifice in order to atone for the "uncleanness, rebellion, wickedness and sins" of the Israelites as a whole — as you can read in Leviticus chapter 16. But such sacrifices never removed their sins, only covered them over until the next Yom Kippur.
But under the New Covenant, Yeshua came to offer Himself as the perfect and final sacrifice which solved the problem of sin once and for all. This is all explained in the entire chapter of Hebrews 9 and the first half of chapter 10 — here I will share only a summary:
The Torah is only a shadow of the good things to come — not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.... It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.... For this reason Messiah is the mediator of a new covenant... now that He has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.... He sets aside the first covenant to establish the second. (Hebrews 10:1,4; 9:15; 10:9b)
Just this one idea would have been shocking and revolutionary to the first-century Jews, because their whole religion — as well as the whole history of mankind — revolved around the concept of having to continually offer animal sacrifices for sin. To have one's sins forgiven and forgotten forever is really awesome news indeed! But wait! The New Covenant provides so many more benefits!
- Friendship with God: Abraham was the only person in the Old Testament called the "friend of God" (Isaiah 41:8). He lived hundreds of years before the Mosaic Covenant was established; therefore, his friendship with God was based upon faith rather than on observing the Mosaic Law. "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called God's friend." (James 2:23b)
Under the Old Covenant, no one was called the "friend of God." To be sure, Moses spoke to Yahweh "face to face, as one speaks to a friend" (Exodus 33:11, Numbers 12:8, Deuteronomy 34:10) — but it was only as a trusted servant, and not as a genuine friend (Numbers 12:7, Hebrews 3:1-6).
But under the New Covenant, friendship with God is now available to ALL believers. On the evening of Passover, after Yeshua introduced the New Covenant with the symbols of bread and wine, He told His disciples: "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from My Father I have made known to you." (John 15:15)
- God as Father: Under the Old Covenant, even though God had declared Himself a Father (Deuteronomy 32:6, Isaiah 63:16, Isaiah 64:8, Hosea 11:1-4), the people were not able to relate to Him as such, but only as their Master. They saw themselves as servants or slaves rather than children.
"How gladly would I treat you like My children and give you a pleasant land, the most beautiful inheritance of any nation. I thought you would call Me "Father" and not turn away from following Me. But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to Me," declares Yahweh. (Jeremiah 3:19-20)
God was a Father to the nation as a whole, but not to the individual — with perhaps the exception of Solomon, of whom God said, "Solomon your son is the one who will build My house and My courts, for I have chosen him to be My son, and I will be his Father." (1 Chronicles 28:6)
But under the New Covenant, relating to God as our Heavenly Father is one of the central themes of the all the New Testament writings. God the Father loves us with the same love that He has for Yeshua. We can pray directly to the Father without having to go through the Son. The Father has a glorious eternal inheritance for each of His children.
Yeshua said, "In the future you will ask in My name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father Himself loves you because you have loved Me and have believed that I came from God." (John 16:26-27)
If all of this really awesome news about forgiveness of sins, friendship with God, relating to God as our Father, and a glorious eternal inheritance were not enough, there is even more!
Yeshua prayed, "I have given them the glory You, Father, gave Me, so they may be one as We are one. I am in them and You are in Me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that You sent Me and that You love them as much as You love Me. (John 17:22-23)
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! We know that when Messiah appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. (1 John 3:1a,2b)
May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to His people, who live in the light. For He has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of His dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins. (Colossians 1:11b-14)
- Closeness to God: Under the Old Covenant, the people were unholy, therefore they had to stay far away from God, and not hear His voice, lest they be destroyed.
Yahweh said to Moses, "Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, 'Be careful that you do not approach the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain is to be put to death.'" On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because Yahweh descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently.
But under the New Covenant, because of Yeshua's blood poured out in order to make us holy, not only are we able to be the friends of God and know God intimately as our Father, but God has gone so far as to promise to come to us and dwell with us.
Yahweh said to Moses, "Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see Yahweh and many of them perish." When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, "Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die." Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning." The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was. (Exodus 19:12,16-18,21; 20:18-21)
Yeshua said, "Anyone who loves Me will obey My teaching. My Father will love them, and We will come to them and make Our home with them. (John 14:23)
The author of Hebrews makes a clear contrast between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant in this regard:
The one who keeps God's commands lives in Him, and He in them. And this is how we know that He lives in us: We know it by the Spirit He gave us. (1 John 3:24)
You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: "If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death." The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, "I am trembling with fear."
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the Church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Yeshua the mediator of a New Covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:18-24
- The Holy Spirit: Under the Old Covenant, the Holy Spirit came upon only a small number of people, like Moses and the 70 elders:
Yahweh came down in the cloud and spoke with Moses, and He took some of the power of the Spirit that was on Moses and put it on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied — but did not do so again. However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp. A young man ran and told Moses, "Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp." Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses' aide since youth, spoke up and said, "Moses, my lord, stop them!" But Moses replied, "Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all Yahweh's people were prophets and that Yahweh would put His Spirit on them!" (Numbers 11:25-29)
The Holy Spirit empowered various other Old Testament leaders, like the various Judges, Saul (1 Samuel 10:9-13), David (1 Samuel 16:13), and various Prophets. Moses wished that all of God's people could have the Holy Spirit.
Under the New Covenant Moses' wish comes true! All followers of Yeshua can have the enabling presence of the Holy Spirit upon them and within them! That was Yeshua's promise to His followers right before He returned to Heaven: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8) This promise was fulfilled ten days later on the Jewish Feast of Weeks (First Fruits, Shavuot, Pentecost):
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.... When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.
Some years later, the Apostle Paul gave further insight. As Moses had wished, all of God's people can now prophesy:
Then Peter stood up with the eleven other Apostles, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: "Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.... This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: "In the last days, God says, I will pour out My Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on My servants, both men and women, I will pour out My Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy." (Acts 2:1-4,6,14,16-18)
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. (Acts 4:31)
We were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.... Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.... you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. (1 Corinthians 12:13; 14:1,31)
- Non-Jews are included: Under the Old Covenant, the Gentiles (non-Jews) could celebrate the Passover feast (which the Jews were required to observe or else be cut off from Israel — see Numbers 9:13) only if they were first circumcised (Exodus 12:48), which, in effect, converted them to Judaism.
Also, non-Jews were allowed to eat animals found already dead, but Jews were not, because they were a people holy to Yahweh (Deuteronomy 14:21). Every seven years, debts among the Jews were to be canceled, but repayment from a non-Jew could still be required (Deuteronomy 15:1-3). It was legal to charge a non-Jew interest, but not a Jew (Deuteronomy 23:20). It was forbidden for a non-Jew to become a king in Israel (Deuteronomy 17:15).
The Jews of Yeshua's day had a pretty low view of non-Jews:
- Jews did not associate with Samaritans. (John 4:9)
- It was against the law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. (Acts 10:28)
- The whole city of Jerusalem rioted when they thought (wrongly) that Paul had taken Gentiles into the Temple area. (Acts 21:27-32)
- Reflecting the common Jewish outlook of his day, Paul, in a confrontation with Peter, satirically referred to Gentiles as "sinners." (Galatians 2:15)
But under the New Covenant, Gentiles are fully accepted by God and are His children and citizens of His Kingdom on an equal footing with the Jews. No more first class Jews and second class Gentiles!
The Jewish believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. Then Peter said, "Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have." (Acts 10:45,47, emphasis mine)
These were radical, revolutionary concepts which were very hard for some Jews to accept. I will look at that issue in a future article. To finished this point, I want to quote a resounding passage from Paul:
The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the Jewish believers criticized him and said, "You went into the house of Gentile men and ate with them." Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story. "So if God gave the Gentiles the same gift He gave us Jews who believed in Messiah Yeshua the Master, who was I to think that I could stand in God's way?" Peter concluded. When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, "So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life." (Acts 11:1-4,17-18, emphasis mine)
After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: "Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the Gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that He accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as He did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for He purified their hearts by faith." (Acts 15:7-9)
Righteousness is given through faith in Yeshua the Messiah to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile. (Romans 3:22)
Is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify Jews by faith and Gentiles through that same faith. (Romans 3:29-30)
There is no difference between Jew and Gentile — the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him. (Romans 10:12)
There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female, for we are all one in Yeshua the Messiah. (Galatians 3:28)
In this new life, it doesn't matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Messiah is all that matters, and He lives in all of us. (Colossians 3:11)
Don't forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called "uncircumcised heathens" by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Messiah. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you have been united with Yeshua the Messiah. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to Him through the blood of Messiah.
For Messiah Himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in His own body on the execution stake (cross), He broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in Himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Messiah reconciled both groups to God by means of His death on the stake, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.
He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from Him, and peace to the Jews who were near. Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Messiah has done for us. So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God's holy people. You are members of God's family. Together, we are His house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Yeshua the Messiah Himself. We are carefully joined together in Him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through Him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by His Spirit.
God Himself revealed His mysterious plan to me.... God did not reveal it to previous generations, but now by His Spirit He has revealed it to His holy apostles and prophets. And this is God's plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God's children. Both are part of the same Body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Yeshua the Messiah. (Ephesians 2:11-22; 3:3b,5,6, emphasis mine)
No wonder people of the first century were radically transformed by the Gospel — the Good News! Each item I mentioned above would qualify as good news in and of itself. But taken all together, they are definitely really awesome news!
This article is 6th a series of articles on this Web site related to Exploring New Testament Realities which also includes (scroll to see the entire list):
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