The inauguration of the new covenant was the focal point of history. The old covenant, with its continual sacrificial offerings looked forward to that day. As Phillips observes, “The blood of the [old]covenant [sacrifices] showed the penalty for breaking the covenant, but it also pointed forward to Christ and the new covenant in him.”1
The time in history arrived when Jesus laid down His life for sinners (Galatians 4:4). We are in the “end of the ages” (Hebrews 9:26). And the world has never been the same. But the best is yet to come, both in history as well as in eventual glory (9:28; Romans 8:19, 23). It is this subject that I want to address in this study.
Those who have experienced new covenant conversion, those who have the blessing of a new covenant conscience,those who are true members of the new covenant community (congregation), are to live with a new covenant confidence about new covenant change. We are to believe God, first of all, for profound change in our own life and then to believe God for change in all other areas of life.
With the introduction, ratification and implementation of the new covenant in history a “time of reformation” was inaugurated—literally, a time of “corrections”; a time of “setting right.” The covenant did not need to be corrected: We did!
With the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, God began a radical work of setting things straight. These are the days in which we live. We need new covenant conviction concerning the power of God and His gospel to set things right. This will empower us with new covenant confidence that God’s revealed promises of change will occur. My goal today is to plant this biblical seed that it might grow in your life, both individually and corporately as a church.
Yes, believer, because of God’s gracious gift of the new covenant you can change.You can have victory in areas where you feel like a constant failure. For those of you in a believing marriage, you can experience change to the glory of God and to the good of, not only yourselves, but of your children.
For us to experience authentic, legitimate confidence from this text and this teaching, there are several areas that we must be clear about.
The New Covenant Community
We need to appreciate to whom the new covenant applies. I do not want to belabour this point but we need to understand that, with the ushering in of the new covenant, there was a dramatic shift from the focus on a kingdom of one to a kingdom of many nations.
When God promised that, in the new covenant, He would reunite Israel and Judah He did just that. Ever since Pentecost, the Lord has saved Jews who could record their genealogy back to the ten northern tribes and He has saved Jews who could trace their lineage back to the two southern tribes. No doubt, this is still occurring and, as we recently remarked concerning Romans 11, this will one day happen in a larger way.
But what makes this promise even more remarkable is that this “united nation” of Israel includes peoples from all nations. The “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16) is far larger than a number of ethnic Jews.
Now, this is important, for the promises related to the times of reformation have reference to this new people, this new “nation” (Matthew 21:43). It is this new “Israel of God” that is the object of God’s attention, not geopolitical Israel. Especially in these days, we need to understand this.
The question many Christians are confused about with reference to the current crisis in Gaza and Israel is,whose side should I take?
Many evangelicals assume that this is a no-brainer, for of course the Christian will side with Israel. Some would go so far as to argue that they are our “brothers” in some kind of a spiritual sense. That is wrong. Jesus made it clear that those who do the will of His Father are those who make up the family of God (Matthew 12:50). And those who reject His Son are certainly not in the family. This is the case for the vast numbers of the modern state of Israel.
Now, it must be said that there are indeed Christian Jews in Israel. We are related to them. They are our brothers and sisters. We are to empathise with them. To live surrounded by terror must be a horrific thing. May they be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. May the Lord use this horrific situation for the spread of the gospel and for the growth of His church in Israel—in a myriad of ways.
But we must immediately also point out that there are many Palestinian Christians living in Gaza. I read this week a report of Christian Palestinians who had been killed in the shelling. Tragic. Heart-wrenching. The church, you and I, should pray for our brothers and sisters in Gaza.Likewise, as we do for the church in Israel, let us pray for gospel and church growth in Gaza to the glory of God.
The question of whom should we support is, like any other issue, one that needs to be addressed biblically. I don’t mean biblically in the sense of some supposed “divine land rights” issue. Israel has none. And neither do I mean the supposed biblical principle that we are to bless Israel so that God will bless us rather than curse us. (I will come back to that.) No, I mean the biblical issue of property rights, justice, governmental civil responsibility and just warfare. And since I don’t know all of the issues my specific judgement on who is right and wrong would be useless. But based on biblical principles I would simply say that a nation has the right, even the responsibility, to defend its citizens. However I want to emphasise that this is a political/national security issue. Whether or not you should support Israel is not—in any way—a specifically biblical issue with reference to Israel. Israel is not the issue!
But what about the promise that God made to Abraham (which nations have been exhorted throughout history to respect), the promise recorded in Genesis 12:3: “I will bless those who bless you and I will curse him who curses you”?
When I lived in Australia, Bob Hawke was serving as Prime Minister. There was nothing about this man that indicated he was a lover and follower of Jesus Christ. Yet I remember him being interviewed at the time about some contemporary conflict in Israel. He made the statement that he would always support Israel because he would not want God’s judgement upon Australia. In fact, one of the potential candidates for the US Presidency is the Governor of Texas, Rick Perry. This verse from Genesis 12 also guides his foreign policy. That is completely wrongheaded. Such an approach leads to not only more conflict but also to grave injustices as well—all in the name of Christ. It brings disrepute to the gospel and to the church.
So what do we do with this verse? We believe it! But we exegete it correctly as we believe it.
The Scriptures make it abundantly clear that, under the new covenant, all of those who share in Abraham’s faith are Abraham’s children (Galatians 3:6–9, 14, 26–29). In fact, Paul makes it abundantly clear in Romans 9:30–33 that ethnicity has nothing to do with regeneration.
Though clearly, under the old covenant, this promise would have had much relevance, the same does not apply in our day. No. Ever since the commencement of the “time of reformation,” the promise now applies to a different kind of Israel. It applies to the new covenant Israel of God, the church. Having said this,Israelought to be very careful how she treats the true Israel. That would be a good foreign policy for her to follow. And likewise with Hamas. And likewise with those in Syria, Iraq and Iran.
So, the new covenant community, and the new covenant confidence, is for the church of the living God.
The New Covenant Commencement
It is essential that we understand the times in which we live. If we don’t, then we will probably be less fruitful and perhaps even less faithful than we should. This, of course, was a fundamental problem faced by Jewish Christians in the early decades of the new covenant church. Because they failed to understand the huge chronological and soteriological shift in history, they were being tossed to and fro and were in danger of drifting aimlessly and even damningly out into the sea of unbelief.
We too face the same challenge. We need to be like the men of Issachar who “understood the times” and therefore knew “what Israel what to do” (1 Chronicles 12:32). The true Israel, the “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16), surely ought to know what to do.
Our salvation is rooted in nothing but the blood of Jesus (vv. 15–28). The new covenant, ratified with the blood of Jesus, brought to a close one era (the former, or the old, covenant) while also inaugurating a new era (the new covenant or Christian era).
This “new age” is remarkable in many ways, not the least in that the old covenant shadows have been fulfilled in Christ. And with this has come the power to live out the commitment that such a covenant demands (see vv. 18–20).
With the new covenant has commenced “the time of reformation.” We live in an era in which God is “setting things straight.” He is straightening out a very “crooked” world (Acts 2:40; Philippians 2:25). If I understand this passage, and the overall thrust of the New Testament, correctly, we should expect things to be straightened out.
A (foreordained) change was needed and the new covenant was both the agent of change as well as the change itself.
The New Covenant Continuity
The Messianic era has commenced and it continues. This age will be here until Jesus returns. That will be the era of perfection, the era of glory. Until that time, we can expect, or perhaps better, anticipate, a time when things will become more glorious. Both individually and corporately—globally.
What I want to highlight is that what was announced and anticipated in the early days of the new covenant is precisely what we should be anticipating. There is a continuity between the early new covenant days and what we might call our “latter” new covenant days. Though, as we learned in our study of Acts, there is also some discontinuity (apostolic era, etc.), nevertheless there is also much that is continuous. Let me explain.
I don’t have all of the eschatology figured out, but it is clear in Scripture, at least to me, that there are many space-timehistory promises yet to be fulfilled. Though I am a preterist, I am not a pantelist. That is, I do not believe that all prophecy has been fulfilled. The “time of reformation” is ongoing and that means that further change is to be expected. We have a couple of passages that feed this expectation.
First, there is Matthew 19:28: “So Jesus said to them, ‘Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’” This is not a promise of some latter day, after-the-end-of-history era. Rather this “regeneration” began with the gospel era andcontinues in the gospel era.
The word “regeneration” simply means “genesis again.” It refers to a new beginning. We often use the term to refer to being born again (see Titus 3:5, the only other New Testament use).
In Revelation, we read of Jesus who says,“Behold I make all things new” (21:5). And He does what He promises. Jesus was promising His disciples that, though the cost would be great as they followed Him, nevertheless the reward of reigning with Him will make it more than worth it. The same theme is found in Revelation 1:5–6 as well as in 1 Peter 2, where the apostle tells us that believers in Christ are a “royal priesthood” (v. 5).
To understand what Jesus meant, it will be helpful see a similar expression in Acts 3:19–21.
There, Peter and John were confronted by an amazed crowd who hadseen a lame man healed. Peter then proclaimed the gospel to them. He was quick to point out (v. 12) that this healing was not by them but rather by the one whom they had rejected and crucified just some few months earlier (vv. 13–16).
While this begins to weigh heavy (hopefully) on their conscience, Peter assures them that they can be forgiven. He is sure that they had committed this horrific deed ignorantly, but that God would forgive them if they would“repent” (v.19a). As they, by God’s grace, turned from their sins (“be converted”),they would know of their sins being “blotted out” (v.19b). The result would be to experience “the times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord” (v.19).
This word for “refreshing” means “to catch ones breath so as to be refreshed.” The idea of being “revived” is inherent in the word. It is used one other time (2 Timothy 3:16) with reference to the refreshing fellowship enjoyed with Onesiphorus.
The word “times” is kairos rather than chronos. It refers to an epoch or to an era rather than to a chronological click of the clock. The next verse helps us to understand something of what Peter was promising.
The condition of repentance is matched with the consequence of times of refreshing, which are now defined in v. 20: “and that He may send Jesus Christ who was preached to you before.” Does this refer to the final coming of Christ? I don’t believe so. The promise is that if they would repent then the times of refreshing, the times of renewal,would accompany Jesus coming to them in salvation. Verse 26 confirms this interpretation (see also John 14:20–21).
In v. 21 Peter speaks of Jesus being in heaven until “the times of restoration of all things.” To what does this refer? Perhaps what follows is a clue.
Peter said that these “times” were prophesied, in fact, as far back as Moses. Quoting Deuteronomy 18:15, 18–19, hemade it clear that the prophet that Moses spoke of was none other than Jesus Christ. He had come and had been rejected. Those who continued to reject Him would suffer judgement. This occurred with the destruction of Jerusalem, as foretold by Jesus (Matthew 23–24; etc.). Peter also said that “all the prophets” foretold these days. This is especially true in the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. In v. 25 Peter encouraged them that the covenantal promises were theirs and that, finally, now in their days, the promise to Abraham was being fulfilled (see Genesis 12). And before all the nations were blessed in Christ, He had graciously given them opportunity to be among the first.
It is quite clear that Jesus has not returned to earth, and so we can conclude that we are currently living in “the times of restoration.” The book of Revelation refers to this as the new heaven and the new earth (21:1). Though there is still to come a day of completed consummation of this restoration, nevertheless in our day the restoration work continues. This “time of restoration” is the same period to which the writer of Hebrews refers as “time of reformation.”
The word translated “restoration” means “reconstitution” or “restitution.” The root word means, “to restore,” in the sense of “to bring back” (see Matthew 12:13; 17:11; Mark 8:25; Hebrews 13:19; Acts 1:6).
The disciples wondered at His ascension whether the Lord would “restore” the kingdom to them by judging Jerusalem there and then (Acts 1:6). Some have suggested that the disciples were asking about a political restoration of geopolitical Israel, and that the Lord effectively ignored their question in reiterating the Great Commission. I don’t think this is the case. Instead, I believe that their question was motivated by an understanding of Jesus prophecy in Matthew 23:36–24:51. They understood “restoration” or “restitution” in the context of the judgement of Jerusalem. They were correct in their understanding. But they were wrongheaded in thinking that they needed to know when the judgement would fall.
In other words, they understood that the kingdom would be restored in line with the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31–34). They understood that God would make a covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. But they were a bit muddled about the vast scope of this restitution. They were still a bit ethnocentric and therefore they needed the exhortation of Acts 1:8 to help them to grasp that the new covenant restitution would be of a new Israel; the multi-ethnic “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16). In other words, the time of restoration would be global. And, in fact, for much of history, the nation of Israel would play a very little role. Just read the book of Acts.
It is clear that most Jews rejected the gospel and that the greatest global impact of the gospel was among the nations. This is clear as you read Acts. And history has made this point very clearly. The history of the world has, in fact, been church history. It has been the history of the restoration of all things. That is the consummation toward which all of history is headed (see 1 Corinthians 15:20–25).
Now, many would object to this and would claim that we are actually seeing “deformation” rather than “restoration.” I suppose that depends from one’s point of view. Often, things do need to be deconstructed before they can be properly reconstructed. Is it possible the Lord is bringing things to rock bottom so that when the restoration arrives He will receive all of the glory?
With reference to this, the point must be emphasised that when “reformation” or “restoration” or “time of refreshing” or “restitution” does come, it will happen by nothing but the blood of Jesus. This is the work of God, it is not the work of the will of man, though the will of man will be a means. It will not be the result of politics, though politics will be involved. Such times of reformation are the work of God through the gospel. This brings us to a very important observation.
New Covenant Change
The power of the gospel in the lives of saved sinners is the agent that God uses to transform individuals, families, workplaces, governments, churches, societies and nations. We must grasp this truth. We must believe it and must behave like we believe it.
Let me put it this way: The gospel of the new covenant changes lives. So, if you are one of those blessed to be included in the new covenant, then you have every reason to believe God for change in your own life.
Let me encourage you that if you have had the “law of God put into your mind and heart,” if your spirit cries out “Abba Father” because you know that you are His and that He is yours, then you have every reason to be confident that you can partake of the benefits of this “time of reformation.”
Please note that many live in these times who have no access to the agent of these times. They are mere bystanders—and blind ones at that. But we who have been born again by the grace of God know that we can change. We need this biblical hope.
The word “hope” occurs seventeen times in the sixteen chapters of Romans. Romans, of course, is a doctrinal thesis on the gospel. It is the great explanation and application of the gospel. No wonder the theme of hope looms so large! The gospel, “the power of God for salvation,” is the promise of change. It changes our relationship with God and it changes us. So Christian, take seriously this “time of reformation.” As long as you are alive, you face the hopeful challenge of change, the promising hope of being corrected. Don’t fight it. Embrace it. Believe it!
Second Corinthians 5 is a profound chapter dealing with this very theme. Paul notes that Christians await that day when they will “be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven” (v. 2). We are given the assurance that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (v. 8). But Paul does not write this in order to remove us from living responsibly in this world. On the contrary, he reminds us that such a promise of eventual “reformation” is every motivation for us to live righteously in our “body” now (v. 10). In other words, the promise of a glorified body then is the motivation for glorifying God in our body now.
And how do we do this? By living like the new creations that we already are (v. 17). That is why Paul makes the profound statement in v. 16 that “from now on we, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet we know Him thus no longer.” What did he mean?
Simply put, what you see is not what you get! Paul had known about Jesus of Nazareth as a mere person. He did not view Him as anything more than a man—and a sinful imposter at that. But once he was converted he came to see the glories of Christ. He saw beyond the flesh and blood and saw the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).
Likewise, Paul is saying that those who are in Christ are far more than mere sinful flesh and blood. They are in fact new creations. Their destiny is glory. And that destiny is now their duty. They are to so live, and they can so live, as those whose old things have passed away because, all things have become new!
Paul was deeply troubled that these believers, who by the grace of God had every potential to live a life of reformation in this time of reformation, were in fact living as though they were estranged from God. Is it not sad that so often Christians find themselves in this sad predicament? Paul offers hope. He appeals to them to “be reconciled to God!” He reminds them of Christ’s work of redemption (v. 21) and that today is the day (the “time,” the “epoch”) of salvation (6:1–2). Paul is appealing to them to embrace the gospel as the agent of change. He is appealing to them to become what they are—not because they are super people in and of themselves, but rather because of nothing but the blood of Jesus (v. 21). And that is enough.
We need fresh encouragement that we live in the era of salvation. We live in the time of correction and therefore we can change to the glory of God. It is true that the Christian will one day be glorified upon death and the Lord’s return. But what a wonderful testimony of that future reality when others see in us something of that change now. You are a new creation in this era of the new covenant. May our new covenant community live with new covenant confidence concerning new covenant change. And may we do so increasingly until the new covenant consummation.