“The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah … This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (verses 8, 10)
This quotation (in its entirety, extending all the way from verse 8-12) takes up almost half the total length of the whole chapter. It’s a significant passage. Indeed, it’s the longest continuous quotation in the entire New Testament of any passage from anywhere in the Old Testament. The quote itself comes from the prophet Jeremiah, starting in chapter 31 at verse 31 (a reference easily remembered!).It’s the classic prophetic statement of the “new covenant” – in fact, it’s the one and only time that phrase is used in the Old Testament, the phrase itself coming into English (via its Latin equivalent) as “New Testament,” giving us the title for those scriptures that commence with the life and ministry of Jesus.
This promise of something new - something transformative - is spoken by God through his prophets at many points in Israel’s history, calling his people to look ahead with breathless yearning to a time of deep-seated renewal. The law, handed down by Moses on tablets of unyielding stone, will instead be written on human hearts and inscribed in human minds. Ezekiel chimes in, telling us that hearts of stone will be removed and in their place we will receive soft hearts, together with a new spirit placed within us, the Spirit of Almighty God himself (Ezekiel 36:26-27, 11:19-21). Joel tells us further that this Spirit will be poured out on all God’s people, without preference, without exception – men and women, slave and free, old and young – a Spirit of revelation, yielding a rich flow of prophetic ministry and dreams and visions (Joel 2:28-29). All of this is encompassed in this hope-inducing phrase: “new covenant.”
No wonder Old Testament believers leaned forward with eager anticipation into this future reality! They knew they were stumbling through the Law. They knew they needed renewal. They couldn’t wait.
That’s the wonder of this passage in Hebrews. The writer affirms that the Old Testament promise is now here. It’s arrived. The yearning is fulfilled. It’s a breath-catching realization. In Jesus, the new covenant is inaugurated. Finally! The transformation has come. Hearts are remade. The Spirit is poured out. All things are made new.
And there is a new High Priest who presides over this new-ness. A High Priest who has “sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven” (verse 2), who serves in a new sanctuary, offering up gifts and sacrifices on behalf of his people. This High Priest’s ministry is superior to all that has gone before, as much as “the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and … founded on better promises” (verse 6). The new covenant has necessitated a new High Priest. And that Priest is here.
His name is Jesus. Of course. In him we rejoice.
Lord Jesus, thank you that you have inaugurated this long-promised new covenant. Thank you, this new reality is my reality – it’s the place in which I live.
Thank you that you have given me a new heart. (There are moments it becomes stony again, but thank you for your ongoing renewal.)
Thank you for your Spirit, poured out within me. (There are moments when I grieve his heart, but thank you for his ongoing presence.)
Keep tracing your own will on my heart and mind. I look to you. Praise your name.
Give Thanks … For this profound new reality. Consciously embrace your new heart – it’s Jesus’ own. Consciously invite his Spirit within. Walk in this new covenant today.