The New Testament is the message of the New Covenant; a brand new arrangement between God and man. The new covenant is not an add-on to the old covenant (the old arrangement of the Law) that we discussed last time. It is something brand new, never before seen or imagined.
Jesus introduced us to the idea of the new covenant in the gospel of Luke. “Jesus took the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood’ ” (Lk 22:20). In this one sentence, we learn that the new covenant will be ushered in somehow through Jesus’ blood. And the rest of the New Testament unpacks the how’s, what’s, why’s, and promises of the new covenant.
In summary, the new covenant has two parts. In part 1, Christ’s shed blood on the cross set us free from the penalty of sin. When we agree to God’s new arrangement by acknowledging our guilt, accepting the free gift of Christ’s death in our place, and embracing what Jesus says as true, we have been set free from the requirements of the old arrangement (the Law). We have been set free to eternal life.
In part two of this new arrangement, Christ’s shed blood on the cross set us free from the power of sin to live a new life in the freedom and the power of the Spirit and the new nature God has given us. And we have been set free from the ongoing condemnation of the old arrangement. We have been set free from the, “you are never going to be enough, never going to do enough” to win God’s favor.
You have a new identity, a new purity, a new disposition, and a new power as part of the promise of the new covenant. The condemnation of the Law as it affects living the life is over. “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1).
With that in mind, let’s turn now to a comparison of the two covenants – the old and the new – in II Corinthians chapter 3. Paul uses the words “New Covenant” in verse 6 to describe his ministry. Then the apostle goes into a long comparison where I have added parenthetical labels to help us identify when Paul is talking about the old covenant and when he is referring to the new covenant.
“God made us ministers of a New Covenant, not of the letter (Old Covenant), but of the Spirit (New Covenant); for the letter (Old Covenant) kills, but the Spirit (New Covenant) gives life. But if the ministry of death (Old Covenant), in letters engraved on stone (Old Covenant), came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how shall the ministry of the Spirit (New Covenant) fail to be even more filled with glory? For if the ministry of condemnation (Old Covenant) has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness (New Covenant) abound in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory (Old Covenant) has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory (New Covenant) that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end (Old Covenant) came with glory, much more will that which remains (New Covenant) have glory” (II Corinthians 3:6-11).
The old covenant is a ministry of the letter, the law, of death, of condemnation; and has come to an end. The new covenant is a ministry of the Spirit, of righteousness, of life, of surpassing glory; and is ongoing. “Brought to an end” in verse 11 is a powerful Greek word, katargeō. And it is a clear picture that the old covenant has ended.
So what does the “old covenant ended” mean? And specifically, what does it mean for us today? We will investigate next time.