In the last two posts I’ve been making a simple observation: arguments defending a literal millennium that depend on the unconditionality of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants are poor. The reasons are twofold: (1) each of those covenants also have clear conditional elements, and (2) Both covenants may be viewed as fulfilled, though this second item is subject to debate. But that’s the point: the premillennial view cannot be defended as self-evident. Possible, yes; self-evident, no.
I’ll be hitting on the land fulfillment issue in subsequent posts, thus returning to the Abraham covenant. But before that, we need to look at one more important covenant that is typically viewed as unconditional and ultimately future, but which is subject to the same two elements above: it has conditions and it can be viewed as fulfilled.
The covenant I speak of is the New Covenant. Here is the prophecy from Jeremiah 31:
31 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, 32 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. 33 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. 34 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.
Let’s note the elements of importance:
1. The covenant is made with “the house of Israel” (v. 33).
2. The law of God is written on the heart of the believer/faithful person (v. 33)
3. “All” will know the Lord – How should “all” be taken? Premillers and pretribbers want to see this as millennial language, but in that case, “all” cannot mean “all” as in “every person in the kingdom” since Rev 20 tells us there are evil people in the millennium (the people who rebel with Satan after the millennium). Therefore “all” is really a subset. Amillers who would take this as already fulfilled in the Church would say this subset = believers (i.e., everyone who has the law written on their heart will know the Lord). The “all” in this view = the true Israel of Paul — *any* and every believer.
4. The covenant with the house of Israel is made “after those days” (v.33). “Those days” refers to the time of exile, as any outline of Jeremiah 30-31 will make evident (meaning the question is “how long after the exile is the rest of this fulfilled?”). Here’s one (you can check your own Bible or study Bible too):
a. Return from captivity (Jer. 30:13)
b. The time of Jacobs trouble (30:47) – note that this section is *assumed* to be future by premillers and pretribbers, but verses 4-7 could easily be viewed as a “flashback” to what the Lord had said *earlier* about Israel and Judah, prior to the promise of return. Again, a future interpretation is not at all self evident.
c. Freedom from bondage to oppressors (30:811)
d. Israels wounds healed (30:1217)
e. Rebuilt Jerusalem and her ruler (30:1822)
f. Judgment, then blessing (30:2324)
The new covenant (31:140)
a. Gods mercy for Ephraim (31:16) – Since the northern kingdom of Israel (“Ephraim”) no longer existed in Jeremiah’s day, *any* fulfillment view would be future to Jeremiah’s time. While the premill / pretrib view assumes this refers to a future regathering of Israel, it could also refer to the presence of Ephraimite tribes returning back to the land (there are such tribal affiliations mentioned after the returns of Ezra and Nehemiah, and the tribes are numbered at 12 after the return – see Ezra 6:17; 8:35; Luke 2:36 [Asher]; Neh 10:28ff. [Levi]). Nevertheless, the fact that this passage (see v. 4) talks about the rebuilding of Israel and Paul equates the true Israel with *any* believer, Jew or Gentile, may make the whole subject moot.
b. The restoration of Israel in joy (31:714)
c. Israels lamentable present (31:1522)
d. Judahs bright future (31:2326)
e. National increase in the future (31:2730)
f. Gods new covenant (31:3134)
g. The perpetuity of Israel (31:3540)
Now for some discussion. The conditionality aspect with the new covenant is the law of God mentioned in Jer. 31:33. The law refers back to the Law of Moses. Thus the New Covenant relationship presumes obedience to the law. And yet the history of God’s people shows that they cannot keep it. God must do something that makes that possible. He puts the law “in” their heart. In effect, the New Covenant is God’s way *not* of removing conditions to be his people, but of meeting the conditions for obedience he set long ago for the true children of Abraham (see my earlier post on the Abrahamic covenant) and any descendant of David who would sit on the throne (recall that they would be removed if they were ungodly, despite the Davidic covenant). God meets the demands of his own covenantal requirements through a remnant that he himself calls and instills his law.
So when is the New Covenant fulfilled? The New Testament uses the phrase “new covenant” several times: