“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
The most blessed facet of the New Covenant is the promise of forgiveness of sins. This may be one of the most misunderstood aspects of the new covenant. Many Christians believe that forgiveness of sins did not occur until Christ came and died for the sins of mankind. This is not true. When Jeremiah foresaw that God would “forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more”, it was in the context of something larger, something often overlooked.
Forgiveness of sins was available all throughout the time of the law and the prophets. This is evident from Romans 4:1-12. Paul writes that David wrote of the blessedness of forgiveness of sins in Psalm 32. Paul’s point is that a righteous standing comes from forgiveness of sins, not from any righteous act that we accomplish. Abraham is the main example in this section receiving his righteous standing based on his faith in the LORD’s promise. Abraham received his righteousness while he was uncircumcised, meaning a Gentile heathen. So we can go back to David, then Abraham, and see that they both had forgiveness for their sins. But we can go back even further. Hebrews 11 begins with the very first hero in the fall of faith being highlighted for his more acceptable sacrifice. Was it the sacrifice that Abel offered that made him acceptable? No, it was evidence that he was already righteous, Hebrews 11:4. Every hero in this hall of faith received their righteousness (forgiveness of sins) by faith. All throughout the OT no one could stand before the LORD on account of their sin, yet there was forgiveness with the LORD resulting in an overwhelming reverential awe of God on the part of those who were forgiven, Psalm 130:3-4.
In this final installment of the series on Jeremiah’s Covenant Revelation, we will examine what was meant by the terminology that God would forgive iniquity and remember sin no more. Then we will come to the New Testament to see how this has been, is being, and will be fulfilled. My foundation is quite orthodox when it comes to exactly how sins are forgiven. Those whose sins were forgiven before the sacrifice of Christ on the cross (i.e. Abel, Abraham, David) were counted as such because of God’s gracious nature in looking forward to Christ’s blood shed in conjunction with His death on the cross. We (after the cross) are forgiven because of God’s gracious nature in looking backward to Christ’s blood shed in conjunction with His death on the cross. The Passover was a ritual feast looking forward to that redemption while the LORD’s supper is a ritual looking backward to that redemption.
If we examine Jeremiah 31:31-34 we will see that there is something more to this language than just individuals receiving forgiveness of sins. Remember that this New Covenant is the new covenant arrangement by which Israel will be in relationship with the LORD. Let’s break it down into two basic components. The first component is that instead of a written law to follow which could be broken, the law will be engrafted upon the hearts of the people. Therefore there will be no more breaking of the law since the entire motivation by which these people will live will be to fulfill their hearts’ desire [which desire will be to do God’s will]. The second component consists of an arrangement which is the result of a relationship which is the result of God’s unilateral action. The arrangement is listed in Jeremiah 31:34a, the relationship is described in Jeremiah 31:34b, and the unilateral action is described in Jeremiah 31:34c. Here they are:
Arrangement: No longer shall each one teach his neighbor saying “Know the LORD”.
Relationship: They shall all know Me from the least to the greatest.
God’s Action: I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.
Jeremiah sees it like this.
No more evangelism within this new covenant people
All of these new covenant people will know the LORD
God will forgive their sins.
If we list this in reverse, which would be the order of occurrence, we could see it like this:
God will forgive their sin
A people that know the LORD, not just some of them, but all of them
A society where there is no evangelism.
Let’s apply just a little bit of logic. Forgiveness of sins existed before the new covenant. This new covenant arrangement will result in forgiveness of sins on such a level that no one will evangelize any more. The church is evangelizing now. The nation of Israel is in a state of partial unbelief according to Romans 9-11. All Israel will be saved sometime in the future resulting in the words of the LORD never leaving the offspring of the children of Israel, Isaiah 59:20-21, Romans 11:25-27. What we have is a prophecy which has yet to be fulfilled for the nation of Israel, but a down payment has been made which is proof of God’s future plan to consummate his relationship with Israel.
What we need to wrap our minds around is that Jeremiah foretold of a society in which the entire people would be forgiven for their sins. This is not simply people being forgiven for sins, this is a community of people functioning as if their compatriots no longer have sins in the sight of God. Jeremiah’s vision opens up a new world, or perhaps a new age on this same world would be a better way to describe it. Same God, same nation, same earth, different arrangement. This arrangement is what will be in place when the Davidic Messiah reigns over the nation of Israel. At the beginning of the new covenant oracle, Jeremiah foretold that the nation of Israel would be delivered out from the time of Jacob’s trouble leading into the time when the Messiah would reign, Jeremiah 30:5-9. The new covenant arrangement at the end of the oracle tells exactly what Israel’s state will be when the Messiah reigns, Jeremiah 31:33-34, see also Jeremiah 23:5-6, 33:14-16.
When John the Baptist and Jesus came preaching saying, “The Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the gospel,” we must envision Jeremiah’s prophecies as imminent. The society in which the people who have no sin was about to be established here on earth. Any Israelite was invited to repent in light of the coming community of those who would function as if sin was entirely in the past. The utopian world where no sin exists was about to move from the noumenal to the phenomenal.
In order to function in this society, you would need to treat those around you as if their sin were entirely forgiven, both by God and yourself. This is why so much of Christ’s teaching focused on forgiving others. So intent was Christ on the prerequisite of forgiving others in order to function in this society that He went so far as to say that unless you forgive others God would not forgive you, Matthew 6:14-15. This would be the defining mark of one who had repented and submitted themselves to the kingdom rule in advance of its actual establishment, namely that they forgive and love others as God loves and forgives them, see John 15:8-12. God never intended to save individuals so they would function individually, He intended to save the human race as a whole so they could continue to collectively glorify His name. This is the language in John 14:1-3, one house with many rooms (carried over into Paul’s teachings as well, Ephesians 2:13-22, 4:4-6).
After the New Covenant was made with the house of Israel by way of the cross, the promised baptism of the Holy Spirit began the work of establishing this community of those who would live as if sin were a thing of the past. Another related facet of this community living is mentioned in conjunction with the everlasting covenant in Jeremiah 32:39. These people would have one heart and one way which would result in them living for God forever. This was manifested in the way the New Covenant believers lived their lives in Acts 2:42-47. This demonstration of people living together in true unity was nothing short of a miracle of God. This was a manifestation of God’s New Covenant work. There was no longer a need to hold grudges, be stingy, or hold back praise for someone else. They were forgiven and they were living in that reality. So close were these new relationships that they were now considered family, Ephesians 3:15, I Thessalonians 2:7, 11, Hebrews 2:11.
Yet this was only the first step in God’s covenant plan to establish a society in which there was no need for evangelism. This was the beginning of the evangelism as outlined in the great commission, Matthew 28:18-20. It was also a sign that the kingdom of God should shortly appear in physical form since the believing remnant of Israelites were now living according to that future reality by the power of God’s Spirit. Without this background, Peter’s announcement in I Peter 4:7 seems out of place. “The end of all things is at hand,” leads us to ask, the end of what? Just before this, he speaks against the lifestyle that they had left in order to participate in the kingdom work, I Peter 4:3-6. This society of sinful indulgence was about to come to an end. The society of those completely forgiven was about to be established. In light of the fact that the end of all things was at hand, this prompted an even more strict adherence to the law of love, I Peter 4:8-11. Unity within the body, ministering to other believers with their spiritual gifts, and charity which covers a multitude of sins are preached here because that is the reality to be established here on earth quite shortly. The end of all things is at hand, so begin living according to that future kingdom rule in the here and now.
Exactly how will this community live out their relationship with the LORD in this future kingdom? We don’t have to guess. Revelation tells us the answer. The New Jerusalem will descend from heaven to earth, Revelation 21:2. Only those who belong to the LORD who are a part of the body of Messiah will be allowed with the bounds of this city, Revelation 21:27. The light of this city [which will function as a perfect society] will be a model to the nations existing outside the city allowing a time of healing for them, Revelation 21:24, 22:2. Just think, an entire metropolis of people who treat you as if you have never sinned. Wouldn’t you want to live there or find out how their ways could be the ways of your people? This will be during the millennium as Satan is bound, Revelation 20:1-3. The saints will reign here on earth alongside the Messiah whose judgment seat will be established in Jerusalem, Psalm 50:1-6, 102:12-17, Revelation 5:9-10, 20:4-6. Some nations will submit to Messiah’s rule and stretch out their hands toward the LORD, Psalm 2:10-12, 33:8-12, 68:28-35, Isaiah 19:21-25. Others will be indifferent or hardened and permit Satan to deceive them once again when he is released at the end of the thousand years, Isaiah 24:21-23, Ezekiel 38:8-23, Zechariah 14:17-19, Revelation 20:7-9.
How accurately are you portraying the kingdom reign in your life? Remember that this city whose builder and maker is God will not allow anything that even reminds us of sin within its walls. There can be no bitterness, no grudges, no impatience, no unkind words, no selfishness, no cockiness, only the perfect law of love. Every single person that you deal with within your home will be completely forgiven, cleansed, and perfected; and you will be expected to treat them as such. Can you begin living according to that reality in the here and now? Obviously, we must still call things that go against God’s Word to be sin. But sinners who have repented must be treated as God sees them, without sin. Are you doing that? Can you do that? I realize this is lofty language that I am using, language of which I am unworthy; but that age is our destiny and we are being fitted for it now.
The more accurately we live out the nature of the kingdom in our lives, the more accurately we pronounce judgment upon this sinful world. We cannot rail against the sins of our generation if we have strife in our churches. What qualifies us to condemn our contemporaries will be the fact that we have been delivered out from this wicked generation and are currently experiencing that blessed kingdom-come fellowship with other believers in the here and now. The world should be able to look at us as Christians, see a glimpse of the light of the New Jerusalem through our love, and realize their own doom based on the goodness of God in our lives. The aroma of Christ in our lives will be the fragrance of life to those whom God will call to repentance and the fragrance of death to those who will be hardened and not repent, II Corinthians 2:15-16.
The kingdom of God was announced by John the Baptist. The kingdom of God was introduced by Jesus Christ. The kingdom of God is being established on earth now through the lives of Christians. The kingdom of God will be shortly established when Christ returns. Woe to those who stand in the way!
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman