Author: Ron Graham
When was the New Covenant Made?
—Christ as Testator
You may be aware that Jesus is the “mediator” of a new covenant (Hebrews 9:15-17). But in that same passage, Jesus is also called the “testator” of the covenant. This tells us when the new covenant was made.
¶“15Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, since there has been a death that redeems from transgressions under the first covenant. So now those who are called may receive the eternal inheritance that was promised.
16For where a will is involved, the death of the testator [the one who made the will] must be proven. 17For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive” (Hebrews 9:15-17).
In this passage, the new covenant of Christ is treated as a testament or will. There are two “musts” here: First, a will must be made while the testator lives. Second, the testator must be dead for the will to be in force.
According to the Hebrew writer, this is parallel with what Jesus did as testator of the new covenant. He made his will before his death, and when he died it came into force. (Some say that Jesus made his will after he died and was resurrected. But that does not fit the Hebrew writer’s parallel.)
1 Jesus Shared the Secrets
Jesus “came preaching the gospel of the kingdom” (Mark 1:14-15). This was a mystery in old testament times. But Jesus told his disciples “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God” (Mark 4:11).
It is normal for the testator of a will to keep its contents secret before his death, except to reveal some parts to a priveleged few. This is exactly how Jesus conducted his ministry, giving his disciples some of the secrets —although he did say, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” (John 16:12).
The point is he already had those things ready. As testator he had his will prepared. Some of its secrets he had shared. The rest would be revealed when the will came into force.
2 Jesus Preached the Principles
Jesus preached, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me will not hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst” (John 6:35). “Repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
Jesus told Nicodemus, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Jesus preached new covenant principles to Nicodemus, including “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son...” (John 3:16).
In his sermon on the mount (Matthew 5,6,7) Jesus preached new covenant principles. He made it clear, however, that the covenant in force at that time was the law of Moses. Jesus refrained from preaching anything that was against that law (Matthew 5:17-48).
Jesus also restricted his ministry to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). However he did not refuse non-Jews who sought him. He made disciples among the Samaritans who said, “We believe... for we ourselves heard him, and we know that he is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world” (John 4:39-42).
3 Jesus Kept the Keys
Jesus said to Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19, NASB).
The keys of the kingdom already existed in Jesus’s keeping. He would give those keys to Peter and the apostles through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:7-8).
These keys are a metaphor for the new covenant (or new testament). Jesus was the first keeper of the keys, being the testator of his new will. When he ascended to the throne of the kingdom at the right hand of God, his new covenant would already have been bound at his death, and the old covenant loosed.
Peter and the apostles would then become keepers of the keys and preach the gospel, the new covenant, to the whole world (Matthew 28:18-20).