Module 4 | The New Covenant of Jeremiah 31 and its corporate-solidarity characteristic

Concerning the Covenant of Consummation, we’ll examine a key Scripture passage, Jeremiah 31:31-34.

“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. For 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.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

A prophecy that features prominently in the New Testament, we might say Jeremiah 31 functions as the “linchpin” of the Old and New Covenants and displays the majestic nature of the covenant provided in Christ. What makes this prophecy stand out among many related and surrounding Old Testament prophecies is that at least three New Testament authors, Luke, Paul and the writer of Hebrews, explicitly said that the Christian faith was the fulfillment of Jeremiah 31:31-34. The prophecy is quoted partially or completely no less than seven places in the New Testament.

First, at the Last Supper, Jesus said, (Luke 22:20) “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” This verse and its counterpart verse (Matthew 26:28) have a rich grounding in the Old Testament, specifically the instance when the Israelites promised obedience to the Ten Commandments, and then Moses took the blood and threw it on the Israelites as a symbolic act of their sins being cleansed by the Lord (Exodus 24:7-8). Additionally, the situation emphasizes eating and drinking when they beheld God, which strongly correlates with the words and actions of Jesus at the Last Supper, and it foreshadows the communion of Christians in the New Covenant.

Next, Apostle Paul referred to himself and his entourage as “ministers of a new covenant” because they proclaimed Christ’s gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit. Continuing this ancient language of the “new covenant,” Paul echoed Jeremiah’s illustration when he contrasted the Old Covenant as (II Corinthians 3:7) “the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone …” with (II Corinthians 3:6, 8, 9) “a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit … the ministry of the Spirit … the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory.”

Finally, the author of Hebrews claimed the superiority of the Christian faith over Old Testament practices by verbatim quoting Jeremiah’s prophecy, (Jeremiah 31:31-34, cf. Hebrews 8:7-13) “For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. For he finds fault with them when he says: ‘Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant …'” and then, (Hebrews 10:15-16) “… the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds.'”

He further identified that same Christian faith as the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy with, (Hebrews 9:15) “Therefore he [Christ] is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant,” and, (Hebrews 12:24) “to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”

Both the Old Covenant and the New Covenant had external dimensions, and the New Covenant sign, baptism, specifically signified inward transformation. Where the Old Covenant ended with its fulfillment in Christ, Jeremiah 31 showed that this New Covenant would secure — has secured — the successful reception of divine, eternal blessings that are found in Christ, (II Corinthians 1:20) “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.”

According to Dr. Pratt,

“This passage [Jeremiah 31:31-34] indicates that internalization of faith and the granting of forgiveness for sin will be true of all who are counted as the people of God in the new covenant, but a vital qualification must be added. Although it is true that we are now in the age of the new covenant (Luke 22:20; 2Co 3:6; Heb 9:15; 12:24), it is also true that none of the promises of the new covenant have been completely fulfilled. Even members of the new covenant are now threatened with eternal judgment (Heb 10:26-30). When Christ returns in glory, the visible church will be one and the same with the invisible church. But until that time, the new covenant has only been inaugurated. Right now, there are unbelievers in the visible church. Until consummation of all things in Christ’s return, the distinction between the visible and invisible people of God remains.” (Baptism as a Sacrament of the Covenant, p. 10)

“It helps to think of this NT perspective on the fulfillment of restoration prophecies in three stages: the inauguration of fulfillment in the first coming of Christ; the continuation of fulfillment between the first and second comings of Christ; and the consummation of fulfillment at the return of Christ.” (Jeremiah 31: Infant Baptism in the New Covenant)

In one context or another, each of the New Testament passages mentioned show that Jeremiah’s New Covenant has been realized thorough the advent, the life of active obedience, the death, the resurrection, the ascension, the coronation, the session, and the intercession of Jesus Christ. The only remaining event is Christ’s return for His kingdom to be consummated and the New Covenant to have complete fulfillment.

In Jeremiah 32, the prophet referred to the New Covenant at the same time he alluded to the ancient covenant made with Abraham:

(Jeremiah 32:39-41) “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. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.”

On this point, Dr. Robertson notes,

“By the intertwining of these references, the prophet combines the Abrahamic with the new covenant. These two covenants unite to form a single expectation for God’s people. … No possibility exists for an annulment of the new covenant. It cannot fail to achieve its intended goal of heaping redemptive blessing and restoration on its participants. Yet a proper balance must be maintained. While ‘annulment’ and ‘newness’ are contrasted in the prophecy of Jeremiah, it must not be forgotten that the old covenant also is characterized as an ‘eternal’ covenant. While the form of the old covenant administration may pass away, the substance of blessing which it promises remains. God’s torah will be written in the hearts of his people. God shall redeem his people in an ultimate sense, as it was done typologically under the old covenant. That forgiveness of sins which was foreshadowed under the old covenant can be understood in no other way than as a bringing to fruition of that which was anticipated under the old covenant. Continuity as well as newness must be recognized in the relationship of the new covenant to the old.” (The Christ of the Covenants, pp. 41, 285-286)

So that we can clearly see in view the corporate-solidarity feature of Jeremiah’s New Covenant, let’s cross-reference it with one of Jeremiah’s prophetic contemporaries, Isaiah:

“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness,
you who seek the LORD:
look to the rock from which you were hewn,
and to the quarry from which you were dug.
Look to Abraham your father
and to Sarah who bore you;
for he was but one when I called him,
that I might bless him and multiply him.”
(Isaiah 51:1-2)

I ask the reader’s patience with the amount of block quotes, but the following observations about corporate solidarity by Dr. Robertson are especially profitable for us to understand how the prophetic substance of Jeremiah 31 should be carefully imported to the New Testament.

What is biblical corporateness? Biblical corporateness must be understood first of all as an essential reality of the covenant. God covenants corporately and not simply individually. The concept of the covenant inherently presupposes a people with whom the covenant is established. The communal aspect of the covenant relationship is forever present.
Secondly, biblical corporateness refers to a gracious promise to be claimed by faith. The promise-dimension of biblical corporateness appears plainly in the provisions made along genealogical lines. By entering into the covenant relationship, God not only makes promise concerning the salvation of the individual believer; he also offers promises with respect to the ‘seed’ of the covenant participant.
This genealogical dimension of the corporate concept of the covenant occurs repeatedly with respect to the various covenants of Scripture. It is not lacking in the prophetic development of the new covenant. In Jeremiah 32:39, the genealogical promises of the covenant find explicit repetition with respect to the ‘everlasting covenant.’ This particular verse appears in the context which parallels most closely the new covenant prophecy of Jeremiah 31. This section restates essentially every element of the new covenant found in Jeremiah 31. According to Jeremiah 32:39, the Lord promises that he will give Israel one heart and one way that they may fear him forever, ‘for the good of them, and of their children after them.’ The promise of the covenant relates to a community of people. It includes not only the participant himself, but also his children. Corporateness obviously is a part of the new covenant community. The genealogical principle is an integral aspect of biblical corporateness. It is a gracious promise to be claimed by participants in the new covenant. It is an essential reality of the covenant.” (The Christ of the Covenants, pp. 289-290)

It’s not possible here to give Jeremiah 30 and 31, often called “The Book of Restoration,” the full exegesis it deserves in its historical context, so for thorough treatments of this passage in both its prophetic setting and its New Testament fulfillment, I commend to the reader Jeremiah 31: Infant Baptism in the New Covenant and also Out with the Old and in with the New by Pratt; The Christ of the Covenants, Chapter 13: “Christ: The Covenant of Consummation,” by Robertson; and Calvin’s Commentaries on the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah and the Lamentations.

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Covenant theology, sacramentology, systematic theology