What is the word “covenant”? You know when you’ve heard a word so often that you take it for granted, and you don’t really know what it means? I feel that this word is important enough to slow down with and try to really understand it
Jesus speaks about his blood being the blood of a new covenant in the story of the first Lord’s Supper. This takes place in MT 26:26-30, MK 14:22-26, and LK 22:14-20.
Matthew 26:28 (HCSB)
28 For this is My blood that establishes the covenant; it is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins.
I tried a different translation to see if I could get more meaning out of the word “covenant”.
28 for this is my blood, sealing the new covenant. It is poured out to forgive the sins of multitudes. (TLB)
Then I looked at the other Gospels to see if they said it any differently, looking at both translations.
24 And he said to them, “This is my blood, poured out for many, sealing the new agreement between God and man. (TLB)
24 He said to them, “This is My blood that establishes the covenant; it is shed for many. (HCSB)
20 After supper he gave them another glass of wine, saying, “This wine is the token of God’s new agreement to save you—an agreement sealed with the blood I shall pour out to purchase back your souls. (TLB)
20 In the same way He also took the cup after supper and said, “This cup is the new covenant established by My blood; it is shed for you. (HCSB)
I still wasn’t getting very far.
According to Google, “covenant” is defined as an agreement. Synonyms include – contract, undertaking, commitment, pledge, pact, arrangement, and understanding.
What is the first covenant? God promises to not destroy the earth by flood. He says this to Noah after the waters have gone away.
Genesis 9:8-17 (HCSB)
8 Then God told Noah and his sons, 9-11 “I solemnly promise you and your children and the animals you brought with you—all these birds and cattle and wild animals—that I will never again send another flood to destroy the earth. 12 And I seal this promise with this sign: 13 I have placed my rainbow in the clouds as a sign of my promise until the end of time, to you and to all the earth. 14 When I send clouds over the earth, the rainbow will be seen in the clouds, 15 and I will remember my promise to you and to every being, that never again will the floods come and destroy all life. 16-17 For I will see the rainbow in the cloud and remember my eternal promise to every living being on the earth.
So why is it significant that God makes a new covenant through Jesus? He promises not only not to destroy the world, but to save it. Instead of being a negative, it is a positive. While it is good for someone to promise to not hit you while you are in a pit, it is better if they promise to hand you a ladder to get out of that pit.
Let us look at more examples of God making covenants with people.
God made a covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17:1-22 (CEB)
When Abram was 99 years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am El Shaddai. Walk with me and be trustworthy. 2 I will make a covenant between us and I will give you many, many descendants.” 3 Abram fell on his face, and God said to him, 4 “But me, my covenant is with you; you will be the ancestor of many nations. 5 And because I have made you the ancestor of many nations, your name will no longer be Abram but Abraham.6 I will make you very fertile. I will produce nations from you, and kings will come from you. 7 I will set up my covenant with you and your descendants after you in every generation as an enduring covenant. I will be your God and your descendants’ God after you. 8 I will give you and your descendants the land in which you are immigrants, the whole land of Canaan, as an enduring possession. And I will be their God.” 9 God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants in every generation. 10 This is my covenant that you and your descendants must keep: Circumcise every male.11 You must circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it will be a symbol of the covenant between us. 12 On the eighth day after birth, every male in every generation must be circumcised, including those who are not your own children: those born in your household and those purchased with silver from foreigners. 13 Be sure you circumcise those born in your household and those purchased with your silver. Your flesh will embody my covenant as an enduring covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male whose flesh of his foreskin remains uncircumcised will be cut off from his people. He has broken my covenant.” 15 God said to Abraham, “As for your wife Sarai, you will no longer call her Sarai. Her name will now be Sarah. 16 I will bless her and even give you a son from her. I will bless her so that she will become nations, and kings of peoples will come from her. 17 Abraham fell on his face and laughed. He said to himself, Can a 100-year-old man become a father, or Sarah, a 90-year-old woman, have a child? 18 To God Abraham said, “If only you would accept Ishmael!”19 But God said, “No, your wife Sarah will give birth to a son for you, and you will name him Isaac. I will set up my covenant with him and with his descendants after him as an enduring covenant. 20 As for Ishmael, I’ve heard your request. I will bless him and make him fertile and give him many, many descendants. He will be the ancestor of twelve tribal leaders, and I will make a great nation of him.21 But I will set up my covenant with Isaac, who will be born to Sarah at this time next year.” 22 When God finished speaking to him, God ascended, leaving Abraham alone.
God made a covenant with Israel as a whole in Deuteronomy 30:1-10 (HCSB)
“When all these things happen to you—the blessings and curses I have set before you—and you come to your senses while you are in all the nations where the LORD your God has driven you, 2 and you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey Him with all your heart and all your soul by doing everything I am giving you today, 3 then He will restore your fortunes, have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you. 4 Even if your exiles are at the ends of the earth, He will gather you and bring you back from there. 5 The LORD your God will bring you into the land your fathers possessed, and you will take possession of it. He will cause you to prosper and multiply you more than He did your fathers. 6 The LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the hearts of your descendants, and you will love Him with all your heart and all your soul so that you will live. 7 The LORD your God will put all these curses on your enemies who hate and persecute you. 8 Then you will again obey Him and follow all His commands I am giving you today. 9 The LORD your God will make you prosper abundantly in all the work of your hands with children, the offspring of your livestock, and your land’s produce. Indeed, the LORD will again delight in your prosperity, as He delighted in that of your fathers, 10 when you obey the LORD your God by keeping His commands and statutes that are written in this book of the law and return to Him with all your heart and all your soul.
There are a lot of conditions there! If you do this, then I will do this. This is known in legal terms as quid pro quo, (this for that). This doesn’t sound very mature or healthy.
Jacob makes a covenant with God in Genesis 28:18-22. This is right after he’s had the dream of angels ascending and descending to and from heaven on a ladder where he is sleeping in the desert.
18 Early in the morning Jacob took the stone that was near his head and set it up as a marker. He poured oil on top of it 19 and named the place Bethel, though previously the city was named Luz. 20 Then Jacob made a vow: “If God will be with me and watch over me on this journey, if He provides me with food to eat and clothing to wear, 21 and if I return safely to my father’s house, then the LORD will be my God. 22 This stone that I have set up as a marker will be God’s house, and I will give to You a tenth of all that You give me.” (HCSB)
Once again, quid pro quo. I’ll do this if you do that. It is kind of like saying “you first”. I’ll serve you as God if you prove that you are God.
I’m getting somewhere with this, but it still doesn’t synch up with Jesus at the Lord’s Supper.
What is the “new covenant” that Jesus speaks about? The prophet Jeremiah speaks of a new covenant that God is to make in Jeremiah 31:31-34. Jesus would have known this writing, and expected his disciples to know it too.
31 “Look, the days are coming”—this is the LORD’s declaration—“when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 This one will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant they broke even though I had married them”—the LORD’s declaration. 33 “Instead, this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days”—the LORD’s declaration. “I will put My teaching within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people. 34 No longer will one teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least to the greatest of them”—this is the LORD’s declaration. “For I will forgive their wrongdoing and never again remember their sin.” (HCSB)
This is what Jesus is referring to when he speaks about his blood being the blood of the new covenant. His blood was like an offering on the altar in the Temple that was used to atone (pay for) sins. People would bring bulls, sheep, and other prescribed animals if they had broken a commandment. The animal would be ritually slaughtered by the priest and the blood poured out on the altar. The animal would die, and their sins would be erased.
If we accept the blood offering of Jesus as paying for our sins, then God will forgive them. Everyone in the world who accepts Jesus’ offering will know the Lord in their hearts, completely, without having to be taught. All sins will be erased.