Author: Ron Graham
How was the New Covenant Instituted?
—Law With Promise and Penalty
This study is about how the New Covenant was instituted. We will see that the new covenant came through a unique mediator, from a unilateral origin, with universal application.
UNIQUE: One of a kind. There is no other like Jesus.
UNILATERAL: One sided. God did not negotiate his covenant. He made it without any help from his created beings.
UNIVERSAL: For the whole wide world, all humankind.
1 A Unique Mediator
The main point in a correct understanding of the new covenant is that Jesus Christ "has obtained a more excellent ministry, because he is the mediator of a better covenant, which is based on better promises" (Hebrews 8:6-8).
Humanity got at odds with God. Humanity was helpless to reverse that situation. So God had a plan. His unique Son would become man, and would mediate a covenant to humankind. He would shed his blood as a unique sacrifice without which there could be no such covenant.
Jesus said,"This is my blood of the covenant, to be shed for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28).
2 A Unilateral Origin
God’s covenant is God’s covenant. It was not formulated by us, or in consultation with us. In this sense it is unilateral or one-sided.
There is a sense, of course, in which God’s covenant is bilateral or two-sided, because under the covenant God is not the only one required to do anything. Having formulated and initiated the covenant by himself, God now requires us to act in obedience to the terms of that covenant.
The Old Covenant an Example
Regarding the old law of Moses, God said, "Now then, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, then you shall be my own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation..." (Exodus 19:5-6).
Moses pleaded with the children of Israel to "enter in to the covenant with the Lord your God and into his oath which the Lord your God is making with you today" (Deuteronomy 29:12).
You will observe that the children of Israel, even Moses himself, had no input into the formulating of the covenant. It was a unilateral directive from God. Their part was to obey.
New Covenant From God
The new covenant is also unilateral, in the sense that it came from God and we had no part in initiating or formulating it. Jesus "has obtained a more excellent ministry, because he is the mediator of a better covenant, which is based on better promises" (Hebrews 8:6-8).
Although the new covenant is vastly different from the old, it was nevertheless instituted by God unilaterally as a law with promise and penalty.
Jesus didn't come into the world to help humankind negotiate a covenant with God. He came to mediate a covenant already prepared by God without human input.
Jesus understood that the covenant he mediated was unilateral in its institution. "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me." (John14:23-24, ESV).
You will observe that Jesus says, "Keep my word". He doesn't say, “Keep the agreement we made together”. The covenant Christ mediated to us was unilateral in its origin. Remember, however, that the covenant is bilateral in the sense that we are required to “keep” (believe and obey) that word.
3 A Universal Application
Under the new covenant, everyone in the world has a “covenant relationship” with God. A person is in a relationship either of condemnation or of grace, being made accountable to God by the covenant.
The new covenant divides the world in two. It is a covenant of magnificent promises to those who by faith keep its commandments. For those who don't, it has dire warnings.
God has revealed his will in the new covenant, so that anyone can become heirs of God. His will promises certain blessings, stipulates certain conditions, and decrees the penalty for non-compliance.
"Jesus the mediator of a new covenant... See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven" (Hebrews 12:24-25, ESV).
God did not negotiate the new covenant with human beings. He mediated it to them through the appointed High Priest Jesus who offered himself as the necessary sacrifice.
Through the authority of Jesus, every person has a “covenant relationship” with God. Everybody is subject to the new covenant.
The new covenant is a law, because it is conditional, with either of two outcomes for each person —namely grace or wrath. Which of those alternatives is the outcome for any individual, depends on whether that person complies with the terms or commandments of the covenant.
That is how the new covenant was instituted.