Baker’s New Testament Commentary says, “Jeremiah 30-33 should be read as a whole; they are the finest pages of a great prophet.” Similarly, Dr. B.H. Carroll, in Interpretation of the English Bible states, “In the blessings of the new covenant (Jer. 31:31-33) we have the climax, the greatest of all Jeremiah’s prophecies. This is indeed the high-water mark of all the Old Testament prophecy.”
The well-known prophecy states, “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
Strangely enough, this important promise, “the high-water mark” of prophecy, is the subject of great dispute as to the time of its fulfillment. The Keil and Delitzsch Bible Commentary shows this dichotomy. “The question which has before now been abundantly handled, whether the saying refers to the return of the exiles, or to the covenant of which Christ is the mediator, or to the future general conversion of the Jews, or whether some things in it to one of these, some to another, or whether the whole in its lower literal sense to the return of the exiles and in its higher spiritual sense to Christ and His kingdom.”
When will the New Covenant be fulfilled? By the return of the small number of Judah from Babylonian exile, or by the sacrificial death of Christ, or not until the establishment of a future millennial kingdom? The question is compounded by the standard belief that today’s unregenerate Jews constitute all of Israel. If so, Israel has not yet begun to manifest the prophetic turning to the Lord, for the author of Hebrews makes it clear that the fulfillment is centered on belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. Hebrews 10:15-22 affirms that Jeremiah’s prophecy is fulfilled by belief in Christ. This has led many Christians, especially Dispensational Futurists, to claim that the prophecy is millennial in the expectation that the Jews will all be converted then. Yet if Israel’s belief is postponed, then the New Covenant is postponed!
In contrast to a supposed future millennial fulfillment, the Pulpit Commentary sees the Old Covenant as obsolete in Jeremiah’s time: “In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. But that which is becoming old and waxeth aged is nigh unto vanishing away. ‘He hath made the first old’ (πεπαλαίωκε) refers to the time of Jeremiah’s prophecy, not of the writing of the Epistle. The very mention of a new covenant had even then antiquated the other. It thenceforth survived only under the category of old as opposed to new; and further marked with the growing decrepitude which is the precursor of dissolution…The temple, indeed, was still standing, with the old ritual going on; but it had become but as the stately shrine of a lifeless thing. As to the view of the antiquation having begun even in the prophetic age, we observe that the prophets themselves show a consciousness of this, in that their growing tendency is to depreciate rather than exalt the ceremonial Law, and to put mercy above sacrifice. In fact, the Old Testament itself, especially in its later parts, is replete with the principles of the new covenant, anticipated in part, though not to be fully revealed till Christ appeared.”
This presents a problem for the “unbelieving Jews are Israel” theology, for it creates a two millennium gap—or much longer—between the Old Covenant having become “defunct” and the establishment of the New Covenant. To avoid this problem, some theologians simply spiritualize the prophecy completely, with no literal meaning at all, making it a Church prophecy. For example, the Popular Commentary claims, “But the words of the prophecy, although addressed to Judah and Israel according to the flesh, in their real import concern the spiritual Judah and Israel only. Upon these the Lord wants to conclude a new covenant, one which would be fully sufficient for all needs of mankind.”
In total contrast with a spiritual Judah and Israel, Ironside Notes on Biblical Books says, “It is most important to realize that nowhere are we told of a covenant made with the Church. In Romans 9:4 we learn that the covenants pertained to Israel.” In addition, Barnes notes says, “The days come – The time is coming. There can be no doubt that as it is used by Jeremiah it refers to the times of the gospel,” and is therefore not millennial.
So, this most important prophecy, the high-water mark of prophetic understanding, could be either literal or spiritual, fulfilled in Jeremiah’s time, or Christ’s sacrifice, or else awaiting the coming millennium. Utter confusion reigns among leading New Testament scholars!
What is the source of the bewilderment? At the core of the New Covenant is the identity of Israel—the beneficiary of the promises. The problem, quite honestly, is that presumed Israel—the Jewish people—do not fit the description of God’s chosen people given in the prophecies. They did not accept the Gospel, nor are they taking that Gospel to the ends of the earth as prophetic Israel was to do! (Isa. 49:6)
Although we have often been accused of giving all of the blessings to the House of Israel and the curses to the Jews, the early respected leader of late nineteenth century British-Israel, Philo-Israel (Judge Edward Bird) explained, “The new covenant or testament of the Lord began at the same time to operate towards the two Houses of Israel—but in consequence of the refusal of the House of Judah to accept its benefits or to recognize the Lord Christ Jesus, the other House of Israel or Ephraim, who accepted it, is now in enjoyment of its benefits. The work has begun; but it is not yet fulfilled in regard to Israel of the ten Tribes (Heb. 8:8-11).”
Many Bible commentaries confirm that the New Covenant was centered wholly on Israel. The Biblical Background Commentary affirms, “Yet God specifically promised to make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. As mentioned previously, the new covenant has to do primarily with the nation of Israel and not with the church. It will find its complete fulfillment when Christ comes back to reign over the repentant and redeemed nation. In the meantime, some of the blessings of the covenant are enjoyed by all believers. Thus, when the Savior passed the cup of wine to His disciples, He said, “This is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me” (1Cor. 11:25).”
However, the New Covenant was not just given to Israel in general, but specifically to each of Israel’s two houses (Jer. 31:31; Heb. 8:8) who are prophetically confirmed as two separate literal entities in the latter days. Secondly, the rejoining of the two houses takes place when both branches are redeemed through faith in Christ. Confusion about Israel has caused untold confusion about the New Covenant and other prophecies of Scripture. Confusion will continue to reign about this high-water mark of prophecy unless we understand that the New Covenant’s identifying marks have been accomplished in Caucasian-Israel, the descendants of the lost Ten Tribes taken to Assyria who subsequently disappeared in the Caucasus region at the door-way to Europe.