Let me ask you a question.
Which covenant would you say we are in? The old? Or the new?
My guess is that, if you consider yourself to be a Christian, then you will say the New Covenant. And, if you are a Hebrew who is practising Judaism, you will say the Covenant.
Who would be right? After all, it can only be one or the other, surely?
Please read what follows carefully and prayerfully. Ask Ruach HaKodesh (The Holy Spirit) to speak to you through these words that follow. At the end I will ask the question again. You may find yourself surprised at your own answer.
I am on a journey. We all are. Life is a journey. Recently that journey has taken me through places that I didn’t even know existed. I would consider myself a Christian. And I have considered myself in that manner since 1988. Between 1988 and 2015, I have journeyed just as Christian from the classic book Pilgrim’s Progress did. I always felt fairly well assured of being a New Covenant Christian (that the law of Moses didn’t matter any longer), for that is what I was taught I am. However, recently, over the past couple of years, as we (myself and my wife Caz) have undertaken the mammoth task of setting up the Cornerstone Project, I have also undertaken seeking God about everything. And that is a journey all of its own.
It is very easy for us as humans to take everything at face value. I had been doing it for years, especially when it came to church. Over the years I have struggled with what was wrong with churches; whether it was the way we did certain things, or what was taught from the pulpits. After a while you just accept it all as ‘gospel‘. Then, one day, I woke up. I felt challenged by the Holy Spirit on all manner of issues. It was a personal challenge, and not about churches. As a result of these challenges I have embarked on a journey – a quest, if you like, to find out exactly where I really stand.
If you seek God, He will be found by you. The Bible teaches us that clearly throughout. Sometimes you can knock a long time on His door before He answers. But He always does. Persistence wins the day.
For many years I have been unhappy with several aspects that are commonly taught in churches. One was the teaching that the Sabbath was on a Sunday. Another was the discrepancy between what Y’shua (Jesus) said to the Pharisees when they asked for a sign. He said that the only sign would be the sign of Jonah who spent three nights and three days in the belly of the fish, and so too will the Son of Man spend three nights and three days in the earth (Matthew 12:38-40). Of course, what is taught in churches, and has been for years, is that Y’shua was buried on what we call Good Friday and was resurrected on Easter Sunday. Three days, yes. But only two nights.
For years I have had these questions, but without answers. Until now. These past few months have seen these mysteries revealed to me. The revelations that came from now understanding both issues are, in fact, much bigger than those issues themselves. So startling that I am actually nervous at the prospect of sharing even a part of them.
Let me explain.
In the process of understanding of the issues of both the Sabbath and the death and resurrection of Y’shua, I had to look at them from a different angle. For some time, as part of His challenges to me, God has led me to look at the gospels and the New Testament from a Hebrew point of view. After all, the story is all about the Hebrews. They are clearly God’s chosen people – regardless of any teaching to the contrary. In particular, I felt the need to remind myself frequently that Y’shua was a Hebrew, of the tribe of Judah; that He spoke Aramaic; that He was taught from the Tanakh (the Old Testament); that He lived and walked in the land of the Hebrews, Isra’el; that He was called to the lost sheep of Isra’el; and countless other examples.
The effect this had upon me was really quite astonishing.
Once I started using a different perspective, all sorts of things became apparent. Firstly, although Y’shua and His disciples were all Hebrews who spoke Aramaic, the common tongue was Greek. By the time the gospels were recorded in writing, Greek was the most obvious choice for the written word because more people would be able to read it. But, that doesn’t change the fact that not only were Y’shua and His disciples all Hebrews, so too were nearly all of the early church founders. Today we consider the notion of Messianic Jews to be a relatively new thing. The reality is that it was Messianic Jews that founded the church!
Now, there are two fundamental problems with Greek – firstly the transliteration from Aramaic to Greek wasn’t smooth and much could easily be lost in translation, and secondly, the influence of Greek philosophy on the early church was significant.
The language issues I will come onto, but let me first explain the philosophy issue. Everything in Hebrew teaching all agrees that our spirit is an integral part of us, alongside the body and the soul. Greek philosophy, however, takes the stance that the three parts of us are all separate. No big deal you might think, but imagine the trouble the likes of Paul were faced with when they tried to teach anything different to Greek converts. I shall come back to this in more detail shortly.
The language issue is more apparent when you start to dig beneath the surface. Nearly all of the texts available for translation of the New Testament were written in Greek, as you might expect. The chances are that the authors would have spoken Aramaic and dictated to Greek scribes to write it all down. No problem. Except that today we have a tendency to miss the cultural aspects of the Hebrew lifestyle that would have been taken as read by those alive in the first century. Let me give you an example. The gospel of Matthew was written by Matthew, a Hebrew writing to other Hebrews. This is commonly accepted because he refers to the Kingdom of Heaven, rather than the Kingdom of God, which would have been difficult for some of the more religious Hebrews.
“Do not lay up your treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, then how great is that darkness!
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon.” [Matthew 6:19-24 NKJV]
I don’t know about you, but I have always wondered about the middle of those three paragraphs. I mean, what does it have to do with the money and riches that the other two are so clearly about?
This is where an understanding of Hebrew culture is essential. In Hebrew the phrase, having an ‘ayin ra’ah, an “evil eye”, means being stingy or tight with money; while having an ‘ayin tovah, a “good eye”, means being generous. Y’shua is merely telling people to be generous and freely give and not to be tight. Make sense now? I am learning that this example is just one of a great many. And just to emphasise that particular example here’s how the text reads in the Complete Jewish Bible:
“The eye is the lamp of the body. So if you have a ‘good eye’ [that is, if you are generous] your whole body will be full of light; but if you have an ‘evil eye’ [if you are stingy] your whole body will be full of darkness.” [Mattityahu 6:22-23 CJB]
This research into the New Testament has left me quite speechless at times, especially as I consider the ramifications for the entire church. It is as if I have been staring at, and studying a particular gemstone for almost thirty years and now, suddenly, I am able to turn it in my hands and see facets of it that I had never been able to see before.
Part of my research more recently has been into the covenants. It struck me that the whole issue of covenants is a very particular thing. Right back to Noach (Noah), God has chosen to have covenants between Himself and the people He chose. In the Tanakh the word appears many times but on each occasion it is rendered from the Hebrew word ‘berit‘, which (according to the Strong’s Concordance of the Whole Bible) means a compact or confederacy. In other words, it is a joining of two parties by way of agreement. In the Greek, however, the transliteration from Hebrew goes somewhat further to produce the word ‘diatheke‘, which means deposition or contract. It appears to be a more formal or legal term than the Hebrew original. The reason for this may be found in the word ‘diatitemai‘, which is a more accurate version of ‘compact‘, but is the word that ‘diatheke‘ originates from. It is this word, in the New Testament, which renders as both covenant and testament. Covenant is clearly about agreement with two or more parties, whereas testament brings to mind the will of someone, as in the last will and testament. A legal term.
Now these things might not appear to be totally significant to any of this. You might be saying ‘so what?’ But, I would challenge such an approach in the same way that I feel God has challenged me. Much of the rendering from the Greek texts into English absorb a very legalistic style, mainly because the idea of a more spiritual approach was so alien to them because of their philosophy. Greeks are credited with the founding of civilisation, and it is probably true that they did. But their civilisation was based entirely upon the temporal world and never a spiritual one. The Hebrew approach clearly deals with both – the covenant was ultimately an agreement between God, who is spirit, and man, who is both temporal and spirit.
Now, let us just put a pin in those thoughts for a moment.
I felt led to start looking at the covenants that God made with His people; firstly with Noach, then with Avaraham (Abraham); and ultimately with Moshe (Moses). I realised a few very important points. Firstly, that all of them were forward looking and beyond the lifetime of the person that they were given to; secondly, that each had a sign to accompany it; thirdly, that none superseded the previous one; and fourthly, that none had been made fully obsolete by God.
Now, if you are still with me, that last point may have been hard to swallow. Surely the Old Covenant was made obsolete by the New? Well, that’s indeed what we are taught. Whilst it might well be what is taught in churches, I can assure you that there is nothing whatsoever in scripture to support such a notion. I will give you a moment to consider what you might think there is. You will probably be thinking about Y’shua on the Cross saying it is finished (John 19:30). Or maybe you will think of Y’shua saying that He came to fulfil the law (Matthew 5:17). Perhaps you will reach for the letter to the Hebrews and quote the first part of Hebrews 8:13. True, it does say in the NKJV that He has made the first obsolete. But then it says:
“Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” [Hebrews 8:13b NKJV]
Take a moment. Think it through. Where is it written that any of the covenants are truly obsolete?
Please, before you run me out of town with torches and pitchforks, stay with me on this. If at the end you are convinced this to be heresy then leave a comment to that effect and I will not delete it. But, you may find yourself, like I have, staring into the face of one of the greatest misunderstandings in scripture that suddenly explains why we are in the state we are in.
Let me start not with the Old Covenant, but with the New. The clearest text on what the New Covenant will look like comes in the pages of the prophet Yirmeayahu (Jeremiah). You will notice that it is exactly the same text that the writer of the letter to the Hebrews is referring to.
“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the with the house of Judah – not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD.
But this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD:
I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, “Know the LORD, for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD.” [Jeremiah 31:31-34a NKJV]
So, that is what the New Covenant will look like: God’s law will be in our minds and written on our hearts and there will be no need for evangelism because everyone will already know God. Clearly, we are not there yet.
Let us imagine for the moment that the nation of Isra’el are still on that journey from the captivity of Egypt to full possession of the promised land. They certainly possess part of the land that God promised them as an inheritance, but not all of it…yet. That is the temporal journey. They, as a nation, are still on that journey. And of course, God doesn’t just deal with the temporal side of things, He also deals with the spiritual. And so, the journey is paralleled in the unseen realm. Spiritually, God’s chosen people, Isra’el are moving from the captivity of the Torah, the law, to the promised land of the New Covenant as outlined in Jeremiah’s prophecy. It is still all about Isra’el. Us gentiles have simply been grafted in by the grace of Y’shua. We are part of the Hebrew caravan moving slowly from Egypt to Canaan. We are strangers to them and they are strangers to us, but we are all part of the same vine…God’s vine.
The writer to the Hebrews was making this very point. It is widely accepted that the letter to the Hebrews was written prior to the destruction of the 2nd Temple in AD 70, probably around AD 68. That is some 35 years after the resurrection of Y’shua and the writer is declaring that whilst the announcement of the New Covenant renders the first covenant as old, he also acknowledges that it is ‘becoming obsolete and growing old’ (my italics). That tells us clearly that it hasn’t yet passed and therefore the New Covenant is yet to come in to force – which we can see for ourselves by the absence of what it will look like according to Jeremiah.
Think about the previous covenants. Without exception all of them were a promise for the future. None of them were for a right now. They were all about the New Covenant and then ultimately, the heavenly promised land. But my point is that God doesn’t make covenants with His people when the things promised in the covenant have already been realised. He makes covenants with a promise for the future.
When Y’shua spoke of the wine being the blood of the New Covenant, He was showing us that what is promised, is coming, not that it is here already. The previous covenant is fading, just as Moshe’s face did when he came down from the mountain with it.
We are still, spiritually, wandering around the desert. We are waiting to cross over into the promised land. Did you know that the word Hebrew means to cross over? And cross over we will. We will cross over with the Hebrews into the true promised land if we remain in Him. We have to remain on the vine. There is a sense, however, that the modern church thinks that the New Covenant has already started – that it started at Pentecost, and that they are, exclusively, the guardians of it. But I believe that the entire Bible opposes that view. There is nothing whatsoever to substantiate it in scripture.
When I was praying about this the other day and I was trying to grasp what God was saying to me about the covenants, I asked the Holy Spirit to show me. He gave me a single word: transition. I immediately thought about a Triathlon. There are three disciplines in a triathlon – swimming, cycling and running. Between each stage there is a transition area where you prepare for the next discipline. I believe God is saying, and has been saying ever since Y’shua walked this earth, that this is the transition. That we are between the old and the new. Between the Torah and having God’s law in our minds and written on our hearts.
Just take a fresh look at Paul’s letters from this particular vantage point. Suddenly it makes more sense, especially the letter to the Galatians. He was encouraging people to follow the Spirit until we get to the heavenly promised land. Some of the Torah is still valid, but some has been replaced in preparation – we no longer have the need for animal sacrifices because Y’shua became the sacrifice once for all. Our hearts our now circumcised so that we no longer need physical circumcision to prove who we belong to – the Holy Spirit is our proof.
In fact, I challenge you for now just to read the letter to the Hebrews from the point of view that we are on our way to the promised land, to the New Covenant, and that Christ has made it possible for us by accomplishing certain aspects and leaving us with the sign of the covenant – the promise of what’s to come, in the shape of what we call the Lord’s Supper, and that we still have to observe the Torah until the fulfilment of the promise, but not through the legalistic eyes of the Pharisees, but through Y’shua, who is The Way. His example that He Himself says we should follow, is to live by the Spirit of the law and not the letter. Y’shua said that He came to fulfil the law and not to do away with it. He was saying that we can achieve torah, because He managed it. Do not forget that He chose to be entirely human (Philippians 2).
Look again at Paul’s letters. All of them are trying to prevent the church falling back into religious ways and he urged them to follow the spirit not the law. Y’shua showed us how, because He is The Way. The Way to the promised land. The way to getting from this wilderness to crossing the Jordan. In the Pilgrim’s Progress, the last obstacle before reaching the promised land of the Celestial City was crossing the river. In the book the river was passing from this life to the next. We are all going to have to cross that river.
Many modern churches preach that Torah was made obsolete at the Cross. As if Y’shua nailed it to the Cross, dead. There is nothing in scripture to support this. Not even John 19:30. Interestingly enough the word that many translations render as ‘finished‘, is rendered as ‘accomplished‘ in the Complete Jewish Bible.
Y’shua said to follow Him. He said that He is The Way. Throughout the gospels we see that He attended Temple and observed the festivals; that He attended the synagogues on the Sabbath (Saturday, not Sunday) and read from the Torah, exactly as the law prescribed; that He paid Temple Tax; and a lengthy list of other Torah based activities. When He faced down Satan in the Judean wilderness, He quoted the Torah. He didn’t speak of it becoming obsolete. Surely, if it was becoming obsolete then, it would have had no real power over Satan? If there was a new way ready for there and then, surely He would have used it and shown us how?
Well, He did, of course. He showed us that when we believe upon Him and the name that God gave Him – Y’shua, then we would be born again spiritually. Once alive to the Spirit we could live a life based upon Torah but through the Spirit of the law and not the letter. Often Y’shua would say ‘you have heard it said…but I say…’ – He was challenging the Oral Torah, the man-made laws that the Rabbis placed upon people as burdens. Y’shua in saying that He came to fulfil the law, was actually saying that He should be our target, the standard which we should aspire to.
Y’shua has made the way, this transition, possible for us. It is only by grace that we are even grafted into God’s true vine, and yet the modern church often appears to arrogantly suggest that we are now God’s chosen people. This cannot be right. Romans 11 tells us that. It is as if we, the modern church, have moved further and further away from the Hebrew standpoint, when we should really be trying to get closer and closer. We are in danger of the same legalistic approach that Y’shua warned his disciples to beware of – the yeast of the Pharisees. I am worried that unless the church stops and considers what it is doing then it will be what Y’shua was talking of in the Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25. I am worried that the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares is really about the modern church. Here’s how Y’shua explains the parable in the Complete Jewish Bible:
“The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world. As for the good seed, these are the people who belong to the Kingdom; and the weeds are the people who belong to the Evil One. The enemy who sows them is the Adversary, the harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up in the fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth his angels, and they will collect out of his Kingdom all the things that cause people to sin and all the people who are far from Torah.” [Mattityahu 13:37-41 CJB]
Most modern translations render ‘far from Torah’ as ‘lawlessness’. Of course, people who are far from Torah are without the law.
There can be no harm for any reader of this post in simply looking at everything we do in church as if we are not yet into the New Covenant. Imagine that we are in the wilderness between the Red Sea and the Jordan, on our way to the Promised Land. Y’shua is The Way; He has shown us the way and commanded us to follow Him. He was there in the wilderness too, leading the Hebrews by night and by day. The way.
I said I would ask again about which covenant we are in. Perhaps you need some time to think about it. I will welcome any comments on this matter. Please feel free to share this.