Historical Context of the New Testament
Surrender! That was the prophet Jeremiah’s message to the people of Judah. God was going to use Babylon to judge His people, and the Israelites’ disobedience meant nothing could stop the disaster to come. But in one of their darkest moments, God made a new promise to His people. This week we’ll begin our series analyzing this New Covenant that changed the way God deals with humanity forever.
In the Old Testament, Israel’s primary focus was to keep the Law. Yet the Israelites couldn’t keep the Law perfectly—no one could! So God spoke through Jeremiah and Ezekiel to promise hope in the form of the New Covenant. God said He would write His law on the hearts of the Israelites. He promised to return them to the land of Israel and to put His Spirit in them. How comforting to know that even though we can’t be perfectly obedient we can still have fellowship with God!
Chris Katulka: If you want to understand Jeremiah, the prophet Jeremiah, in one sentence, you can sum it up really in one sentence. It's a big book. It's this: Jeremiah is telling the people of Judah to just wave the white flag to surrender to Babylon. Babylon is going to be used by God to judge his people. So instead of fighting Babylon, put up the white flag and surrender to them.
Steve Conover: Welcome to The Friends of Israel Today. I'm Steve Conover, and with me is our host and teacher, Chris Katulka. I'd like to encourage you to visit our website, foiradio.org, to keep up with all things related to The Friends of Israel Today Radio program. There, you can listen to all of our broadcasts, five years' worth of content with links to our feature products highlighted in the show, or you can support our ministry by clicking on the donate button to help continue teaching biblical truth about Israel and the Jewish people. Please visit us at foiradio.org.
Chris Katulka: Today, we're going to start a brand new series. It's all about the New Covenant. Now I think when most people think of the New Covenant, they automatically think of the New Testament. That's where Jesus talked about the New Covenant. That's where the Apostle Paul talked about the New Covenant.
But the amazing thing about the New Covenant is that it was actually something that was promised in the Old Covenant. So we're going to look at the historical context of what was going on when God promised a New Covenant. So I'm really hoping that you'll enjoy this new series. It's called “Understanding the New Covenant.”
Now also, I want to thank our podcast listeners, those who listen online. I want you to be sure to go to Apple, Spotify, Google, TuneIn, and Stitcher, listen to our program the Friends of Israel Today and while you're there, be sure to rate our program. We would love to hear from you. Your ratings and your comments will help others find the Friends of Israel Today. So if you value our program, please be sure to let us know. And thanks for listening online.
Steve Conover: And now in the news, Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi remarked that she is concerned about a possible Israeli move to annex parts of the West Bank. She said, "It undermines our national security, interests, and decades of bipartisan policy." She added, "We always want it to be bipartisan." Pelosi said, "Democrats still take pride in President Obama's security assistance for Israel and that Trump's peace plan has nothing in common with the word peace or plan."
Chris Katulka: Here's my take, Steve. Nancy Pelosi is right when she says Israel's unilateral move to annex sections of the West Bank will undo decades of U.S. bipartisan policy in Israel. And that's exactly the problem. The decades of bipartisan policy have produced bupkis, which is a Yiddish word that means “absolutely nothing.” The West Bank, land Israel wishes to annex is actually not occupied territory. It's disputed land and international law favors Israel's right to the land and even better, the Bible favors Israel's right to annex sections of the West Bank.
I'm excited to be starting this new series on the New Covenant. It's such an important study because if you believe that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world, then you are saying that you're a part of the New Covenant community of believers bound together by the Spirit of God. And we know that Jesus ushered in this New Covenant when on the night of the Last Supper, he said, concerning the cup that we take during communion, he said, this, "Take and drink, drink from it all of you. For this is my blood, the blood of the New Covenant that is poured out for many, for the forgiveness of sins."
This is a study that I hope opens your eyes to the fullness of the New Covenant, because the New Covenant was something that was promised by God in the Old Testament. I have to tell you this story. I have an Israeli friend, who's a believer in the Lord Jesus. And he placed his faith in Jesus many years ago. And he tells me that one of the major factors to him coming to faith in Christ is that as a Jewish person, he always believed the New Covenant, the New Testament was a Gentile thing that's for those Christians and as Christians, they are Gentile. So it's a Gentile thing. So the New Covenant is for the Gentiles.
Well, then he was reading through Jeremiah and the Old Testament prophet from the Hebrew Bible said this to the Jewish people, Jeremiah 31:31 and on, it says this, "Indeed a time is coming," says the Lord, "When I will make a New Covenant with the people of Israel and Judah, and it will not be like the Old Covenant that I made with their ancestors when I delivered them from Egypt for they violated that covenant, even though I was like a faithful husband to them," says the Lord. "But I will make a New Covenant with the whole nation of Israel after I plant them back in the land," says the Lord. "I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts and minds. I will be their God and they will be my people."
My Israeli friend was flabbergasted when he read right in the Hebrew Bible that God said, "He would establish a New Covenant with Israel and Judah." That in the Old Covenant, God promised a New Covenant. As this verse washed over him, it struck him that his friends who had been ministering to him and trying to get him to see the truth about who Jesus is, that they weren't lying to him. God was going to usher in a New Covenant, and it was actually something completely based with the understanding of who the people are.
It wasn't just a Gentile thing. It was Jewish through and through. It was a New Covenant made to Israel and to Judah, that God was going to do something new with Israel and Judah. And it was because of that verse that he placed his faith in Jesus Christ. It's just amazing how God works in the lives of those he's calling to himself. But see, this is what I want to focus on. Over the next few weeks, I want to look at the biblical history of the New Covenant. Jesus didn't invent it on the fly during his life. It was a promise that went back to the prophet Jeremiah. It was a promise that went back to Ezekiel who lived nearly 600 years prior to Christ.
Jeremiah prophesied that the New Covenant would be established. So let's go back to Jeremiah. Jeremiah says, "Indeed a time is coming," says the Lord. "When I will make a New Covenant with the people of Israel and Judah." So we have to ask ourselves, "What's going on in the world that is surrounding Jeremiah that would lead him to say that God is going to establish a new covenant that's unlike the Old Covenant?"
Well, first we have to go back to the surrounding events. Jeremiah is a prophet that is writing during one of Israel's darkest moments in their history. God was judging the kingdom of Judah and the city of Jerusalem. And God had already judged the northern 10 tribes of Israel in 722 BC. And now after years of disobedience to the Lord and his commands, God was going to judge the citizens of Judah and Jerusalem. The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar was used by God to judge Judah for their sin.
Now, if you want to understand Jeremiah, the prophet Jeremiah, in one sentence, you can sum it up really in one sentence. It's a big book. It's this: Jeremiah is telling the people of Judah to just wave the white flag to surrender to Babylon. Babylon is going to be used by God to judge his people. So instead of fighting Babylon, put up the white flag and surrender to them.
Now other voices in Jerusalem at that time were trying to convince the king to fight against the Babylonians. And they were arguing that God was on their side. They encouraged the king to throw Jeremiah in a pit because his prophecies were too negative. And that's exactly what they did. They threw Jeremiah in a pit to keep him quiet, but see Jeremiah's words were right. The Babylonians were being used by God to judge the Jewish people.
And Jeremiah was confident in God's judgment because of what God said in his law. Jeremiah was no fool. He understood the law of God. That's all he did. He went back to the law. Listen to what Deuteronomy 28 says here when God talks about his judgment of Israel for their continued disobedience to the Lord. Listen to what it says:
"The Lord will drive you and the king you set over you to a nation unknown to you or your ancestors. There, you will worship other gods, gods of wood and stone. You will become a thing of horror, a byword, an object of ridicule among the peoples where the Lord will drive you. Then the Lord will scatter you among the nations from one end of the Earth to the other, there you will worship other gods, gods of wood and stone. Neither you nor your ancestors known. Among these nations, you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There, the Lord will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing and a despairing heart."
That all comes from sections of Deuteronomy 28. See, Jeremiah knew judgment was coming because he knew God's law and God communicated with him that his patience had worn thin on Israel and Judah's disobedience. So God was fulfilling the punishment of the Old Covenant law. He would kick his people out of the land temporarily. God through the law and the Covenant relationship that he had with Israel demanded obedience. And as long as Israel continued to sin, God would have to remove his people from the land just as Deuteronomy 28 said.
Even if they come back, think about this. Even if they come back into the land, which they did under Old Covenant Mosaic Law, if Israel continued to disobey, God would kick them out again. God made an eternal Covenant with Abraham. Genesis 12, Genesis 15, that eternal Covenant promised land. It promised descendants. It promised a blessing. God wanted to use the Jewish people in the land of Israel to fulfill a purpose, to bring blessing to all of the nations of the world.
But see, here's the problem. How can Israel fulfill her divine purpose if they continually get kicked out of the land? The land and the people and the blessing are all wrapped into one promise. Something has to give because if Israel continually gets kicked out of the land because they repeatedly break the Covenant relationship with God, their purpose will never be fulfilled.
It's here in this conundrum that Jeremiah receives a word from the Lord. God is going to devise a plan to make sure his people never leave the land again, and that they remain obedient to the Covenant he made with Israel. And it's there the promise made to Abraham is finally realized. Because here's the truth. Israel's problem is a problem that the entire world deals with to this very day and it's the problem of sin.
Now, when we return, I'm going to show you how God planned to make sure this cycle, this destructive cycle of Israel getting kicked out of the land doesn't continue to happen.
Steve Conover: We invite you to join us for our Online Prophecy Conference from the comfort of your own home this year, July 12 through July 15th. With all that's happening in the world, social unrest, racial tensions, economic turmoil, and a pandemic that's affected every nation, everyone is looking for something to hold onto.
The theme of our upcoming online conference is Anchored: Hope Secured in Turbulent Times. We'll be discussing the presence of God in our trials as we cling to our Anchor who provides peace when we need it most. You'll hear from my co-host, Chris Katulka, along with Friends of Israel's executive director, Jim Showers, and our frequent guest, Steve Herzig and other great speakers.
If you're familiar with the Friends of Israel, maybe you've joined us in person at one of our annual Prophecy Conferences, but this year with COVID-19 restrictions, we're excited to bring you hope from God's word online. To learn more about our free online conference this July 12 through July 15th, head over to foiconferences.org. Again, that's foiconferences.org
Chris Katulka: Welcome back everyone. We started a new series on the New Covenant. I like that, a new series on the New Covenant. And in the previous segment, I set the stage that the Mosaic Covenant, the Old Covenant, wasn't working for Israel. Not that it's bad, the law wasn't bad. The Apostle Paul talks about that. It's that Israel continued to sin, which broke the Covenant relationship God had with his people. And as a result, God punished his people by kicking them out of the land according to the stipulations of the law.
Following the law, listen to this. If Israel would have just followed the law, blessings would have occurred in the land. Blessings upon blessings and the fulfillment of their divine purpose would have been realized. But see, instead, disobedience brought about destruction and exile according to Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26. God wanted to break this destructive cycle.
And really it's the destructive cycle that comes from sin. So listen to what God says through the prophet Jeremiah here. "Indeed a time is coming," says the Lord. "When I will make a New Covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. It will not be like the Old Covenant that I made with their ancestors when I delivered them from Egypt, where they violated that Covenant, even though I was like a faithful husband to them." Says the Lord. "But I will make a new covenant with the whole nation of Israel after I plant them back in the land" says the Lord. "I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts and minds. I will be their God. They will be my people."
First, do you see how God viewed the Covenant he made with Israel? God said, "I was like a faithful husband to them." God is implying that Israel was like an unfaithful spouse in the relationship, but notice God doesn't let them go. Instead, look at this. He's going to make a New Covenant with them. He's going to enter into a New Covenant with his people. Look what it says in verse 32. "It won't be like the Old Covenant that I made with their ancestors when I delivered them from Egypt." This Covenant isn't going to be like the one from the past. It's a New Covenant.
And look what it says here. "I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts and minds. I will be their God and they will be my people." The law will no longer be written on tablets like the Old Covenant was, it will be a law written on their hearts and minds. The law will be internalized. Ezekiel 36 talks about how the Spirit of God will fill them and they will be washed clean from their sin. And I want you to notice the original meaning for the New Covenant here. Notice the original meaning.
God wanted to deal with the issue of sin that prevented the Israelites from fulfilling their divine purpose. He wanted to keep them in the land so that he didn't have to kick them out again. And notice what the text says. "The promise of the New Covenant is connected to Israel being planted back in the land. "God will return them to the land and look at what God says in verse 34. "For I will forgive their sin and will no longer call to mind the wrong that they have done."
The New Covenant in Jeremiah is all about planting Israel back in the land, returning them to the land, forgiving them of their sin and changing the dynamics of where the law is located. It's no longer located on tablets. It's now internalized. And it's being worked out by the promise of what will become the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, working in his people. This is going to change everything. The original intent, the original meaning of the New Covenant was for Israel. And this is why you need to return next week because this promise of the New Covenant made for Israel becomes a promise to all believers when Jesus sheds his blood for everyone.
So I hope you come back to see how Israel's promise also becomes a promise to all who believe.
Steve Conover: Chris, my thoughts go to Hosea and the unlovable Gomer who Hosea married in the illustration of how God pursues us. And we end up seeing that he doesn't stop pursuing us. And it's not just about obedience, but it's really about him wanting a heart relationship with his people, isn't it?
Chris Katulka: It really is. What it comes down to is that God made any eternal promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 and Genesis 15, that his name is connected to it. It's his holy reputation on the line. It's his desire to pursue us. It's his compassion. It's his mercy, all getting worked out in the way that he continually fights for us. And that's what you see, not only in the Old Testament as he's fighting for Israel, but you see that in how fighting for Israel also becomes God's passion for fighting for everyone to bring redemption and forgiveness, to all who believe.
Steve Conover: Israel, on the verge of becoming a state, a teenage Holocaust survivor arrives on her shores alone. His name is Zvi Kalisher. Little did he know his search for a new life in the Holy Land would lead him to the Messiah. Zvi, enthusiastic to share his faith, engaged others in spiritual conversations, many of which can be found in our magazine Israel My Glory. While Zvi is now in the presence of his Savior, his collected writings from well over 50 years of ministry continue to encourage believers worldwide. Now, Apples of Gold, a dramatic reading from the life of Zvi.
Mike Kellogg: Recently, I was waiting for the bus for Jerusalem when two young men asked me for directions to a synagogue, which I gladly gave them. One replied. "We want to pray, but we've already been to that synagogue and it is locked up tight." I asked, "If every synagogue were locked, would you not pray?" They look strangely at me. And then when asked, "How can you pray without a minyan?" A minyan is 10 people required to conduct a Jewish worship service. I responded. "God is not looking to see if you pray in a synagogue. He looks at your heart. If you pray to him from your heart, your prayer will be heard in heaven."
As we were talking, more people joined the conversation. Some of the men belong to the synagogue that was locked and because they know me when asked, "Why are you trying to brainwash these young men?" I said, "My duty is to bring them closer to God—not according to the old traditions, but according to Zechariah 1:3: "Return to me," says the LORD of hosts "and I will turn to you." Zechariah also refers to your old traditions: “Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets preached, saying "Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Turn now from your evil ways and your evil deeds.’” But they did not hear nor heed Me."says the Lord.”
It was like a small miracle to be able to give them facts from the Bible. It was also a small miracle the bus was late, giving me more time to share the truth with them. Eventually, the two young men said they wanted to repent and they asked me to take them to the rabbi. I said, "If you really want to repent, you do not need a rabbi. Go before the Lord and open your hearts before him, then you will know you are saved from your sins." God is pleased when you come before him and say, "Lord, save me." You can say, just as King David did in Psalm 25:1-2.
"To you O Lord, I lift up my soul. Oh my God, I trust in you. Let me not be ashamed." I read the remainder of Psalm 25 along with some other passages and including Jeremiah 31:33. "But this is the Covenant that 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." And as soon as I spoke the word “Covenant”, some of the older men said to the young men, "You must fear him. He is speaking from the New Testament, the book, those Christians believe!"
I told them how blind they were as I showed them I had read from the prophet Jeremiah, all were surprised. This was the first time most of them had seen that the Jewish prophets spoke about the New Covenant. I then showed them some Old Testament passages that clearly speak of the Lord Jesus. I pray I will have more opportunities to meet with them, especially the two young men and tell them how they can truly repent by putting their faith and trust in Messiah.
Steve Conover: Thank you for being with us today. Chris, what's coming up on next week's program?
Chris Katulka: Next week we're going to be looking at how Jesus understood the New Covenant, how Jesus took what Jeremiah promised to Israel and what he's saying to his disciples at the Last Supper. Also, I want to encourage our listeners to be sure to go to foiradio.org, that's FOI as in “Friends of Israel” radio.org. And there you can find information on our upcoming Online Prophecy Conference: Anchored: Hope Secured in Turbulent Times. Again, be sure to visit foiradio.org to find out about our online conference.
Steve Conover: Our host and teacher is Chris Katulka. Today's program was produced by Tom Gallione. Mike Kellogg read Apples of Gold. Our theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong. And I'm Steve Conover, executive producer. The Friends of Israel Today is a production of the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. We are a worldwide evangelical ministry, proclaiming biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah while bringing physical and spiritual comfort to the Jewish people.
Apples of Gold: ‘Return to Me’, Says the Lord
Two young men asked Zvi for directions to the nearest synagogue after they explained to him that their synagogue was locked and they could not pray. Zvi asked them, “If every synagogue were locked, would you not pray?” The men were shocked by his disregard for Jewish customs that they felt were necessary to earn God’s favor. Though some of the older men warned the younger men not to listen to Zvi, they received more than directions when he used the opportunity to share truth and God’s love with them.
Zvi’s story is available in Elwood McQuaid’s book, “Zvi: The Miraculous Story of Triumph over the Holocaust,” available at our online store.
More stories from Zvi are also available in his book, “The Best of Zvi,” available at our online store.
The Friends of Israel Today and Apples of Gold theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong.