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Last time we looked at Isaiah 42 and saw that Jesus is being referred to prophetically as a “covenant.” I insert here that when Isaiah 42:6 says “I will give You as a covenant to the people” it is not saying that Christ will be like a covenant; it is not a simile. It is better to read it as as an identification. It is like saying, “This knife can be used as a can-opener” or “I will give my van as a moving truck.” The knife is the can-opener and the van is the moving vehicle.
The NET Bible renders the place in question “I protect you and make you a covenant mediator for the people.” The word for “mediator” does not appear in the text. The reason the NET Bible gives for this is that “A person cannot literally be a covenant.” (N. 15). We know of course that Jesus is “the Mediator of the New Covenant” (Heb. 9:15). So shouldn’t that suffice? I don’t think we can leave it there. There are a few problems with it.
The first problem with claiming that Isaiah 42:6 refers to Christ as the Mediator of a covenant for the people is that the text simply does not say that. Neither does it say it in Isaiah 49:
‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant
To raise up the tribes of Jacob,
And to restore the preserved ones of Israel;
I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles,
That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ” (Isa. 49:6)
It may be correct to supply the noun in these passages, but we should not be too hasty here. We might ask, “Why can’t a person be a covenant?” The answer one is likely to receive is that a covenant is an agreement external to the parties making it. That is certainly true is the cases of the covenants with Noah, Abraham, and David. But is it true of the New Covenant?
Sticking with Israel for the present, we may ask just what future Israel will believe so that they become a New Covenant people? The writer of Hebrews puts Jesus at the center of the picture. In Hebrews 2:9-13 this is so, with verse 13 declaring “I will put my trust in Him.”
The Argument of Hebrews 9
Then in Hebrews 9 the argument is carefully constructed to point attention to this very thing. The first 10 verses of the chapter set up the reasoning with their depiction of the limitations of the Levitical High Priest in entering yearly (yet recurringly) into the most holy place at the Day of Atonement. The next 5 verses (Heb. 9:11-15) describe how Jesus as the Melchizedekian High Priest entered the true tabernacle in Heaven with His own blood once for all. He is rightly called “the Mediator of the New Covenant” in verse 15 because He is the High Priest.
The next 2 verses (viz. Heb. 9:16-17) will have to be dealt with later, but the passage continues down to verse 22 with teaching about the importance of the blood in the “first [Mosaic] covenant.”
As the argument continues we read of the necessity of blood to be sprinkled in Heaven (Heb. 9:23-24). And then the point is made that Christ did not have to offer Himself often as with the animal sacrifices in the OT. In fact we are assured that the reverse was true: “not that He should offer Himself often” (Heb. 9:25a). Rather,
but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. (Heb. 9:26b)
Please take note here: In the Mosaic Covenant (as with the other covenants) the covenant sacrifice was external to the parties, as was the content of the solemn oath which was to be believed. But that is not the case with the New Covenant! With the New Covenant the sacrifice is not external to the One making the covenant. It is God Himself (cf. Heb. 1:1-3, 6, 8, 10; Acts 20:28). Whatismore, neither are the terms to be believed external. Hebrews 9:28 states,
so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.
Those who eagerly wait for Him are those who believe that “Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many.” They are those who exercise faith in Him:
For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. (Heb. 4:2)
The Terms of the New Covenant Are About Christ
I am saying that the content of what is to believed in order to be included in the New Covenant is Jesus Christ Himself! His Person and work form the faith-content of the oath. Can a person be a covenant? Why not, so long as faith in that person is the essential ingredient of it? We are to believe in Jesus, not in a set of propositions separate from Him.
This is why Paul can refer to his ministry as being one of “ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit” in 2 Corinthians 3:6.
If we examine 2 Corinthians 3 we come across language remarkably close to the New Covenant language of Deuteronomy 30:4-5; Jeremiah 31:33, Isaiah 59:21 and Ezekiel 36:26-27. Paul writes to the believers at Corinth without missing a beat:
clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart. (2 Cor. 3:3)
Then the Apostle anticipates the argument of the author of Hebrews when he contrasts the difference in access to God between the Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant ministry of the Spirit which he is commissioned to preach! (2 Cor. 3:7-18).
There is more to say (and more to come), but in my opinion I don’t think these connections have been fully considered and appreciated by many Dispensationalists.
Paul Martin Henebury is a native of Manchester, England and a graduate of London Theological Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary (MDiv, PhD). He has been a Church-planter, pastor and a professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics. He was also editor of the Conservative Theological Journal (suggesting its new name, Journal of Dispensational Theology, prior to leaving that post). He is now the President of Telos School of Theology.