The Old Covenant & The New Covenant

As followers of Judaism and Christianity worship the same God, it’s often assumed that their beliefs are very similar. But there are many differences. Because the Jewish ‘Tanakh’ and the Christian ‘Old Testament’ are almost identical (apart from the order in which the books appear - see The Old Testament & the Jewish Tanakh) it’s often assumed that Christians follow all the teachings contained in the Old Testament. But this isn’t so.

While Jesus was a Jew, living in a Jewish society, it’s quite clear from reading The New Testament that he interpreted the Jewish scriptures very differently from many contemporary Jews. And while all the earliest Christians were Jews, their beliefs differed so radically from most Jews of their day that they were soon ejected from the Jewish synagogues and regarded with hostility as followers of a different religion.

This section of The Bible Journey sets out to explore some of these differences between Judaism and Christianity.

 

Judaica (by Gila Brand) - candlesticks, etrog box, shofar, Torah pointer, Tanach, natla

Judaica - candlesticks, etrog box, shofar, Torah pointer, Tanach, natla  (Gila Brand)

 

What’s the Old Covenant all about?

The theme of the Old Testament (literally, the ‘old covenant promise’) is God’s agreement with Abraham and the people of Israel. God promises to bless and prosper Abraham and his descendants. He declares that Abraham will be the father of ‘many nations’:

“I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you. I will make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others… And all the people on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2-3)

“I am making my agreement with you: I will make you the father of many nations.” (Genesis 17:4)

 

God promises that Abraham’s descendants will occupy the ‘promised land’ of Canaan – but only if the people are faithful to God, and follow his commands:

“All this land that you see I will give to you and your descendants for ever… Walk through all this land because I am now giving it to you.” (Genesis 13:15-17).

“Obey me and do what is right. I will make an agreement between us, and I will make you the ancestor of many people.” (Genesis 17:1-2)

 

Later, God renews his covenant agreement with Abraham’s grandson Jacob at Bethel:

“I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your grandfather, and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are now sleeping… and all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants.” (Genesis 28:13-14)

 

Looking across the Jordan Valley near Deganya

The 'promised land' of Canaan - The Jordan Valley near Deganya

 

What’s the New Covenant all about?

In contrast to the ‘Old Covenant’ agreement between God and the people of Israel, the New Testament tells of the ‘new covenant agreement’ made by God with both Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews) through his son, Jesus Christ.

“For this reason Christ brings a new agreement from God to his people. Those who are called by God can now receive the blessings he has promised, blessings that will last for ever. They can have these things because Christ died so that the people who lived under the first agreement could be set free from sin.” (Hebrews 9:15)

 

In this New Covenant agreement, God promises to forgive and bless anyone who follows his commands. Jesus said to Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish Council (the Sanhedrin):

“God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

 

When teaching the crowds on a hillside in Galilee, Jesus said:

“Those people who know they have great spiritual needs are happy, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to them,” (Matthew 5:3)

“Don’t worry and say, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’… The thing you should want most is God’s kingdom and doing what God wants. Then all these other things you need will be given to you.” (Matthew 6:31-33)

“The only people who will enter the kingdom of heaven are those who do what my Father in heaven wants.” (Matthew 7:21)

 

A hillside at Korazim in Galilee (Bukvoed)

A hillside in Galilee - Korazim, Israel   (Bukvoed)

 

Jesus taught that entering ‘the kingdom of God’ depends not on your race or family background, but on your relationship with God:

“I tell you the truth; whoever hears what I say and believes in the One who sent me has eternal life.” (John 5:24)

“The Father is the One who sent me. No one can come to me unless the Father draws him to me, and I will raise that person up on the last day.” (John 6:44)

 

Later in the New Testament, Paul compares the written regulations of the Old Covenant agreement with the spiritual relationship with God embodied in the New Covenant agreement:

“He made us able to be servants of a new agreement from himself to his people. This new agreement is not a written law, but it is of the Spirit. The written law brings death, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:6)

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