Israel's New Covenant and the Body of Christ

by Jerry Shugart

XIII. Earthly & Heavenly Things

Earthly Things

Craig A. Blaising wrote the following concerning the Traditional Dispensationalist's view on the New Diatheke promised to Israel: "The new covenant (a covenant prophesied in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel) was interpreted primarily or solely an an earthly covenant, even though it promised that God would put His Spirit in His people. Darby believed that when it appeared in the Bible, the new covenant always referred to Israel and consequently had nothing to do with God's heavenly people" [emphasis added] (Blaising & Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism, 28-9).

When we examine the Nicodemus sermon it becomes clear that John Nelson Darby was correct when he taught that the things of Israel belong to the earthly sphere while the things of the Church belong to the heavenly sphere. The Lord Jesus' words spoken to Nicodemus addressed regeneration in connection with the "individual" sinner as well as with the "nation" of Israel. He told Nicodemus:

"I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again" (Jn.3:3; NIV).

To this Nicodemus asked how he could be born again when he is old, and the Lord Jesus said: "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit" (Jn.3:5-6; NIV).

Previously the Lord had been speaking of an individual's regeneration but He now begins to speak of the nation of Israel's regeneration. The Lord shifts from using the second person "singular" pronoun "you" to the second person "plural":

"You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again. The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit" (Jn.3:7-8; NIV). [A footnote in the NIV at verse seven says, "The Greek is plural."]

Nicodemus still did not understand, asking, "How can these things be?"

By the Lord's reply we can understand that Nicodemus should have been aware of some truth in the OT Scriptures which spoke of a regeneration by the Spirit: "Art thou a teacher of Israel, and knoweth not these things?" (v.10).

Sir Robert Anderson writes, "Here we must keep prominently in view that the truth involved ought to have been known to Nicodemus. 'Art thou the teacher of Israel, and knowest not these things?' the Lord exclaimed in indignant wonder at his ignorance. Therefore in speaking of the new birth by water and the Spirit the Lord referred to some distinctive truth of the Old Testament Scriptures, which ought to have been familiar to a Rabbi of the Sanhedrin" (Anderson, The Bible or the Church? [London: Pickering & Inglis, Second Edition], p.224).

In The Bible Knowledge Commentary Edwin A. Blum wrote: "Nicodemus asked...how this spiritual transformation takes place. Jesus answered that Nicodemus, as the teacher of Israel (the Gr. has the article 'the'), ought to know. The Old Testament prophets spoke of the new Age with its working of the Spirit (Isa.32:15; Ezek.36:25-27; Joel 2:28-29). The nation's outstanding teacher ought to understand how God by His sovereign grace can give someone a new heart" (The Bible Knowledge Commentary; New Testament, 281).

Let us look at one of the passages which Blum cited which does speak of the water and the spirit:

"Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them"(Ezek.36:25-27).

Nicodemus should have been aware of that prophecy as well as the prophecy found in the very next chapter of the book of Ezekiel that foretells of the corporate regeneration of Israel. There we see the prophet taken to a valley full of "dry bones" and these bones are described as "the whole house of Israel":

"The hand of the LORD was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones...Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts" (Ez.37:1,11).

Charles H. Dyer says, "To what did this vision refer? God said it was about the nation of Israel (the whole house of Israel) that was then in captivity" [emphasis added] (Walvoord & Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary; Old Testament,1298).

Then in the verses which follow we see the two elements which will be instrumental for the future corporate regeneration of Israel:

" Again he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause spirit to enter you, and you shall live" (Ezek.37:4-5; RSVCE).

Here Sir Robert Anderson explains the "typical" teaching of the prophecy of the dry bones and how it relates to the teaching of the Lord Jesus to Nicodemus:

"How can sinners, helpless, hopeless, dead - as dead as dry bones scattered upon the earth - be born again to God. "Can these bones live?" is the question of Ezekiel 37: And the answer comes "Prophesy unto these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.' Preach to dead, lost sinners call upon them to hear the word of the Lord. This is man's part. Or if there be anything more, it is, 'Prophesy unto the Breath. Pray that the Spirit may breathe upon these slain that they may live.' The rest is God's work altogether, for 'the Spirit breathes where He wills.' Not that there is anything arbitrary in His working. God is never arbitrary; but He is always Sovereign. Men preach; the Spirit breathes; and the dry bones live. Thus it is that sinners are born again to God" (Anderson, Redemption Truths [Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1980], pp.137-138).

Heavenly Things

Because Nicodemus was ignorant of these prophetic passages that speak of the corporate regeneration of Israel under her New Diatheke the Lord said the following to him:

"I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?" (Jn.3:12; NIV).

The "earthly things" to which the Lord refers is the regeneration of the "nation" of Israel. The "heavenly things" are in regard to the blessings received by those in the Body of Christ.

Lewis Sperry Chafer wrote that "Every covenant, promise, and provisions for Israel is earthly...every covenant or promise for the church is for a heavenly reality, and she continues in heavenly citizenship when the heavens are recreated" (Chafer, Systematic Theology; IV:47).

Since those in the Body of Christ are "born of God" their citizenship is in heaven:

"But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ..." (Phil.3:20; NIV).

Believers are told that they have been raised up with Christ and are sitting with Him in heavenly places:

"Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph.2:5-6).

How is it possible that the "New Covenant" promised to the nation of Israel can have any efficiency in regard to those with an heavenly citizenship since that covenant is in regard to earthly things? The simple answer is that it can't.

XIV. Israel's New Diatheke as "Type"

Earlier I demonstrated that when speaking to Nicodemus the Lord Jesus employed a "type" in regard to the future regeneration of the "nation" of Israel to picture or illustrate the "individual's" regeneration. It is widely recognized that the history of the "nation" of Israel in regard to her redemption is a "type" which illustrates or pictures the "antitype," the redemption of the "individual" believer. The LORD has given us a picture of redemption where He uses the things in regard to the "nation" of Israel to illustrate this blessings which the "individual" Christian receives. With that in view let us look at the following verse:

"And what one nation in the earth is like thy people, even like Israel, whom God went to redeem for a people to himself, and to make him a name, and to do for you great things and terrible, for thy land, before thy people, which thou redeemedst to thee from Egypt, from the nations and their gods?" (2 Sam.7:23).

In a lecture addressed to Dallas Theological Seminary on the subject of Typology Charles Fritsch stated that "the exodus, the deliverance of a nation, becomes a type of the redemptive work of Christ--also clearly adumbrated in the exile--where the individual is brought to realize his own tremendous guilt and need of redemption" [emphasis added] (Fritsch, "Principles of Biblical Typology," Bibliotheca Sacra 104, 1947, 220).

Type: Promises for the Nation of Israel

The "nation" of Israel will receive all of her promised blessings through the operation of a diatheke:

"For this is the covenant (diatheke) that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people" (Heb.8:10).

Antitype: Promises for the Individual Believer

All "individual" believers, even those who lived under the law, are saved and receive the promise of eternal life through the operation of the Lord Jesus' Last Will and Testament:

"And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament (diatheke), that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance" (Heb.9:15).

Other Typological Connections

The author of Hebrews points out another typological connection, that neither the "New Testament" nor the "Mosaic Covenant" or the "New Covenant" can be made operational apart from a "death": "For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives. Therefore not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood" (Heb.9:17-18; NKJV).

We can see a typological relationship between the New Diatheke promised to Israel and the New Diatheke which is in regard to the Body of Christ. This typological relationship includes the fact that the diatheke promised to Israel is established on the grace and promises of God and therefore it is immutable. That can also be said about the Church's New Diatheke. The blessings of Israel's New Diatheke, including the future forgiveness of sins and the spiritual regeneration of the nation of Israel, picture the forgiveness of sins and spiritual regeneration experienced by the individual believer today. In both cases the New Diatheke resulted from God's own instigation and in both cases God chose to bind Himself to fulfill what was promised in each diatheke.

The design of these types is exactly the same design of the various types which are in regard to Israel's journey from Egypt to the promised land. Even though the types are not exact in every single detail, the broad outline is so clear that one cannot fail to see a typological relationship between Israel's future New Diatheke and the New Diatheke that is operational in the Body of Christ.

Traditional Dispensationalists Saw This Typological Relationship

Some of the earlier Traditional Dispensationalists saw a typical relationship between the two. In his book Progressive Dispensationalism Craig A. Blaising points out that C.I. Scofield taught that the blessing of the Spirit under Israel's New Covenant "typified" the blessing of the Spirit that is in regard to the Body of Christ: "Scofield...interpreted the New Covenant in the same manner as he did the Abrahamic covenant: literally it had to do with God's earthly plan for Israel; spiritually it revealed God's spiritual plan for the church (the blessing of the Spirit for Israel in Ezekiel 36 typified the church's blessing of the Spirit)..." [emphasis added] (Blaising & Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism, 28-9).

Blaising continues, stating that "Classical dispensationalists believed that the biblical covenants would be fulfilled for earthly people in the Millennium and eternal state. Since the covenants did not concern heavenly people (except in a typological or spiritual sense) it was not proper to say that they were being fulfilled in the present dispensation (except in a spiritual or typological manner)" [emphasis added] (Ibid., pp.29-30).

The typology of Israel's New Diatheke answers to today's New Diatheke, as Sir Robert Anderson would say, "As exactly as a key fits the lock it is intended to open."

XV. The Everlasting Diatheke

Here we see that the New Diatheke promised to Israel is described as being "everlasting":

"And I will make an everlasting ('owlam) covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me" (Jer.32:40).

Here the Hebrew word 'owlam is translated "everlasting" and that word does not always refer to endless time. When that word is used as referring to the future, as at Jeremiah 32:40, then the meaning of that word is "defined by the nature of the thing itself": "It more often refers to 'future time,' in such a manner, that what is called 'terminus ad quem,' it is always defined by the nature of the thing itself" (Geseniu's Lexicon).

The context in which the word 'owlam is found determines the length of the "age" to which it refers. For instance, consider the following verse:

"And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever ('owlam)" (Ex.21:5-6).

Here it is said that if a servant desires to stay with his master for the rest of his life then "he shall serve him for ever." By the context we can understand that the servent will not serve his master for eternity or for an endless amount of time but instead for the remainder of his life.

In order to illustrate this principle let us look at what is said in regard to the land that God gave to Jacob:

"And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers have dwell...My tabernacle also shall be with them: yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And the heathen shall know that I the LORD do sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore (`owlam)" (Ez.37:25-28).

It is not possible that the Lord will shall be in the midst of them throughout eternity since the land which God gave Jacob is going to be destroyed at some time in the future:

"But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved...Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness" (2 Pet.3:10-11, 13).

"And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: They shall perish; but thou remainest" (Heb.1:10-11).

Of course that will not happen until after the Millennium is over and that kingdom is delivered up to the Father in the eternal state:

"Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power" (1 Cor.15:24).

Craig A Blaising acknowledges that both Charles Ryrie and John Walvoord believe that the "everlasting" promises in regard to things in the "earthly" sphere will come to an end. He says that both these men "claim that promises about an earthly kingdom forever do not really mean 'forever.' Or, they say that they only apply to time and history such that when time and history have come to an end and give way to a timeless eternity, then the 'everlasting' promises, which only apply to time and history, will be considered as having been fulfilled" (Blaising & Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism, 32).

Blaising continues, writing that "at the end of the Millennium, Walvoord sees the earthly (Davidic) kingdom coming to an end. The universal and spiritual kingdoms will be united forever. Although he sometimes uses the new earth language of Revelation 21, Walvoord makes a radical distinction between the millennial and eternal states. He does not relate the everlasting promises of Old Testament hope to this eternal state, but sees them fulfilled in the Millennium. In fact, Walvoord is insistent that they 'cannot' be fulfilled on the new earth. This is due to the 'radical differences' between the two states, such that the latter does not possess the conditions for the fulfillment of these promises" (Ibid., p.43-44).

The believer's final state will be in heaven because that is the place of His citizenship:

"But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil.3:20; NIV).

Both Ryrie and Walvoord were right when they say that some of the "everlasting" promises and covenants spoken of in the OT only apply to time and history and when time and history have come to an end and give way to a timeless eternity then those 'everlasting' promises and covenants will cease. That means that Israel's "everlasting" New Covenant will end and therefore it is not the same "eternal" diatheke of Hebrews 13:20.

The Eternal Diatheke

Let us now look at a passage which speaks of the eternal Diatheke that is in operation today in the Body of Christ:

"Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the eternal testament" (Heb.13:20-21; Jubilee Bible 2000).

The word "eternal" is translated from the Greek word aionios, and that word means "without end, never to cease, everlasting" (Thayers Greek English Lexicon).

With that in mind it is not surprising to see the "gospel" described as being eternal:

"Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth--to every nation, tribe, language and people." (Rev.14:6).

It is clear that the New Diatheke which applies to the nation of Israel will indeed come to an end and therefore that Diatheke or Covenant has absolutely nothing to do with the eternal New Diatheke which is in effect now, the gospel.