Jeremiah and the New Covenant

Jeremiah prophesied during the reigns of the last four kings of Judah and witnessed the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 586 BC. Unlike his predecessor Isaiah, Jeremiah was reluctant to be called as a prophet, and his career certainly wasn’t easy. He preached an unpopular and pessimistic message of God’s judgement on his sinful, rebellious people that was seen effectively as treason. He was persecuted, his written message burned, he was imprisoned, put in stocks and thrown into a well. Even after his prophecies of Jerusalem’s destruction were fulfilled, his words were still disregarded and he was hauled off to Egypt by a rabble in direct disobedience to God. In many ways the suffering of Jeremiah for his message of truth was typical of the suffering of Christ.

Yet Jeremiah’s message was not all doom and gloom. Even though Judah passed over the opportunity for repentance and sealed their fate, it was not to be final. In a symbolic act of future hope, Jeremiah bought his cousin’s field at a time when no one in their right mind would invest in the doomed kingdom — as a sign of hope that “fields and vineyards will again be purchased in this land” (Jer 32:15). He wrote to the exiles telling them the exile would not be permanent and encouraging with the message that God had not forgotten them; “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer 29:11).

But Jeremiah’s message of hope went beyond the restoration of Judah from exile. It centred on the coming of the one called the Branch, introduced by Isaiah (4:2; 11:1, 10) and continued by Zechariah (3:8; 6:12).

Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness’ (Jer 23:5–6; see also 33:15–16).

The Lord Jesus is indeed our righteousness; in the Gospel “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith” (Rom 1:17). “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Rom 3:21–22). “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom 10:4). “Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor 1:30) “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21) “[That you may be] filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Phi 1:11). “Not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil 3:9). “To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 1:1).

A number of Jeremiah’s predictions concerning how God would act are seen to be fulfilled by Jesus. These are but a few of many Old Testament references to the character and deeds of God that are claimed for and by Jesus in the New Testament. One of these acts is God’s unique ability to judge righteously. Jesus said, “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22). In Jeremiah, the LORD is the one who judges righteously, who searches the heart and mind and will give to everyone according to his deeds (Jer 11:20; 17:10). In Revelation, Jesus claims this for himself; “I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works” (Rev 2:23) and “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done” (Rev 22:12).

In common with Ezekiel, Jeremiah spoke of the failure of the leaders of Israel to shepherd God’s flock. “’Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!’ declares the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: ‘You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD’” (Jer 23:1–2). Jesus claimed that “All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers,” (John 10:8) and that he was the Good Shepherd, who would truly care for the flock (Jer 23:3; John 10:11–16).

There are a remarkable number of parallels between Jeremiah’s prophecies and those in Revelation. Clearly, Christ will fullfil all that Jeremiah said that God would do. The nations will drink from the cup of the wine of God’s wrath (Jer 25;15; Rev 14:10; 15:7; 16:19); Babylon will fall (Jer 50–51; Rev 18), to name just two.

The most detailed and specific link between Jeremiah’s prophecies and Jesus’ fullfilment is the New Covenant spoken of in Jeremiah 31 and 32.

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).

And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me” (Jer 32:38–40).

This New Covenant is a covenant of the heart; God’s laws written on the heart, so that all will truly know God. It is a covenant of forgiveness. It is also an everlasting covenant that binds God’s people to him. The first century Jews would have known these prophecies and looked for the restoration of Israel under God. Perhaps they expected some grand ceremony as occurred when God descended on Sinai before the Israelites and proclaimed his covenant with them (Ex 19:1–6). Instead, the New Covenant was announced during a simple but profoundly significant meal on the anniversary of the Israelites’ departure from Egypt:

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood’ (Luke 22:19–20).

Paul reminded the Corinthians of this: “In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me’” (1 Cor 11:25) “[God] has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor 3:6).

Jesus’ blood is “the blood of the eternal covenant” (Heb 13:20) by which we have the forgiveness of sins: “To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43). Jesus is the means by which God dwells amongst and within his people; “For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people’” (2 Co 6:16). It has always been God’s intention to dwell among his people (Ex 29:45; 1 Kings 6:13; Ezek 37:26–27) and the tabernacle was a type of his more permanent dwelling (Ex 29:46). Now, Jesus has enabled this permanent indwelling; “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph 2:22) culminating in “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev 21:3). Immanuel, God with us.

This covenant is not a covenant for the Jews only, but for the Gentiles, which had always been God’s plan (Gen 11:2–3; 17:4-5; Psa 22:27; 96:10–13; Isa 42:1, 6; 49:6; 60:1–3; Jer 3:17; Mic 4;1–3; Zech 2:11). All nations would be blessed through the Son of Abraham, Jesus Christ, the righteous Branch of David (Matt 12:18–21; Acts 13:47; Rom 15:8–12; Eph 3:6; Rev 7:9)

Abraham ‘believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness;’ Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (Gal 3:6–9).

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Rom 1:16–17).

For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal 3:26–29).

The New Covenant brings together all these threads; justification by faith, the imputation of righteousness, forgiveness, the blessing of all nations, God dwelling among his people. No longer do we seek favour from God by obedience to the Law, because full obedience is simply not possible. Instead, God has worked on our hearts, through his love and grace. It is an inward change, enabled by the Spirit through the work of Christ. We have become new creations (2 Cor 5:17). “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2Co 4:6). This is a heart knowledge, not a mere head knowledge or lip service, and it comes through the indwelling of Christ through his Spirit (Rom 8:9–11; 1 Cor 3:16; Eph 2:22; 2 Tim 1:14). It is through Christ that we are made the people of God, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Gal 4:4–7; Eph 1:3–5; 1 Pet 2:9–10; Rev 1:6; 5:10).

Through the lens of the New Testament, or more correctly, New Covenant, we see the absolute centrality of Christ to not only Jeremiah’s prophecies of hope to a disobedient Israel, but to every covenant God made with his people. The Old Testament is incomplete, partially empty. Only in Christ is it full-filled; only through Christ do we really come to know God. God himself, the Shepherd of Israel, the only righteous judge of our hearts and minds, has always been committed to his people. And that people has always included Gentiles, because it is not through the works of the Law that we are redeemed, nor in any sense by our own strength. Rather, salvation has always been about faith, faith in the One who alone is righteous and faithful, whose covenant is everlasting.

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