There are several passages of Scripture which compare and contrast the Old Covenant with the New Covenant. Let’s look at some of those now and see what God has to say about both of these covenants. I will use red (for the bloodiness) for the First Covenant and green (for the new life) for the Second Covenant. This first one is written specifically to those who still want to follow the Law of Moses. Remember that “the Law” is always treated as one unified code of law all throughout Scripture, so let’s see what God says about those who desire to be under that Law:
Gal. 4:21-5:1 “Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar— for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children— but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written:
“ Rejoice, O barren,
You who do not bear!
Break forth and shout,
You who are not in labor!
For the desolate has many more children
Than she who has a husband.”
Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.” So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free. Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.
This passage is speaking directly to those who desire to be under the authority of the Law of Moses, which includes the Ten Commandments. Paul tells us right up front that this is symbolic of the two covenants. Let’s observe how he describes the covenant of the bondwoman:
from Mount Sinaigives birth to bondage
is Mount Sinai
the Jerusalem which now is (at the time of Paul)
is in bondage with her children
was born according to the flesh
persecutes him who was born according to the Spirit
shall not be a heir with the son of the freewoman
a yoke of bondage
That is the first covenant, the old covenant, the Mosaic Covenant, the law of Moses.
Paul describes the second covenant, the New Covenant, the covenant of the freewoman:
the Jerusalem abovewhich is free and the mother of us all
children of promise
born according to the Spirit
the son of the freewoman
Do you see the clear contrast between these two covenants? For contrasts and comparisons, I like using charts, so we can also look at it this way:
Let’s look at another one:
II Cor. 3 “You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it. For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory.
Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech, and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away. But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”
As we compare and contrast these same two covenants, notice that the terms of the New Covenant are being laid out in all these various passages. This chart speaks for itself:
All Christians recognize Hebrews as abrogating at least part of the Law, but let’s look at it to see what it really says. Here we see the clear terms of the New Covenant as well (bolded in green). I know this is a long passage, but it is very important to see the continuity from the beginning where it speaks of the first and second covenant to the very end where it concludes this section on the first and second covenant. The chart below the passage helps compare and contrast these two covenants more clearly.
Heb. 8:6-10:10 “But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.
For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when 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 when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”
In that He says, “A new covenant, ” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.”
Then indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary. For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lampstand, the table, and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary; and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All, which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.
Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance; the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing. It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience— concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation.
But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.
For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives. Therefore not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you.” Then likewise he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry. And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.
Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another— He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, 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.
For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.
Therefore, when He came into the world, He said:
“Sacrifice and offering You did not desire,
But a body You have prepared for Me.
In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin
You had no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come—
In the volume of the book it is written of Me—
To do Your will, O God.”
Previously saying, “Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them ” (which are offered according to the law), then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.” He takes away the first that He may establish the second. By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Let’s compare these two covenants: that first faulty covenant and the second faultless covenant.
What could be more clear? These two covenants are contrasted over and over throughout Scripture. The old covenant brought death, the New Covenant brings life. The old covenant was with Israel. The New Covenant is with the elect. The old covenant brought bondage. The new covenant brought freedom in Christ.
Let’s look at a few more passages, just to double-check. Here’s one that tells us the purpose of the old covenant (the Law) and what happens when that purpose is fulfilled:
Gal. 3:19-25 “What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one.
Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.”
Paul tells us that the Law (the old covenant) was added till the Seed should come. That sounds like a definite stopping point. The Law here is contrasted with faith, the faith that came in Jesus Christ. Before, (the Israelites) were kept under guard by the Law. Since the old covenant was only given to the Israelites, this passage is not speaking about the Gentiles. The Law was a tutor, or a guardian in other translations. A tutor was a slave in New Testament times who was placed in charge of the boys while they were growing up. The tutor was in authority over the boys, just as the Law was in authority over the Israelites. The tutor was not the teacher, but he brought the boys to the teachers, just as the Law brought the Jews to the Teacher.
After the Seed came, faith came, and the Law was no longer in authority over the Israelites. They no longer had any need for that tutor — the Law, the old covenant. It was time for them to grow up and they no longer needed a tutor. In a sense, Paul is telling us that it is time for us to grow up in faith in Christ. We don’t need the Law; we have something better.
Here is another passage directed to the Israelites regarding the Law, the first covenant:
Rom. 7:4-6 “Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.”
“My brethren” is a common term used throughout Scripture meaning “fellow Israelites.” It later was sometimes used to mean believers as well. In this case, verse one of this passage tells us that he is referring to the Jews — “to those who know the Law.” Paul is pretty clear here that they are dead to the Law, that they have been delivered from the Law, that they died to that Law that held them. Those are some fairly strong words. He also tells us when this happened — through the body of Christ — which we can see was the cross. But he doesn’t leave them hanging by telling them that the Law is dead to them now, but that they are to be married to Christ, which is the new and better covenant.
This next passage tells us exactly when this change took place:
Col. 2:13-14 “And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”
What is that handwriting of requirements? Well, which requirements were handwritten? Were they not the Ten Commandments, the very essence of the Old Covenant, the ones written on tablets of stone? And here Paul tells us that not only was that one complete code of Law against us, contrary to us, but that Christ wiped it out, took it out of the way, nailed it to the cross.
This thought of the Law being wiped out was just as hard for the Jews in the New Testament times as it is for some Christians today. Some Pharisees were teaching that the Gentile converts had to be both circumcised and to keep the Law of Moses. A council met in Jerusalem to consider this matter, and here is the gist of what happened:
Acts 15:5 “But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them, and to commandthem to keep the law of Moses.'”
v. 10 [Peter] “Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?”
v. 19, 20 [James] “Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols,from sexual immorality,from things strangled, and from blood.”
v. 24 [Letter from the apostles and elders] “Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, ‘You must be circumcised and keep the law‘—to whom we gave no such commandment—”
v. 28, 29 [Letter cont.] “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.”
So the final outcome was that the apostles never gave any commandment that Gentiles had to obey the Law of Moses, but that they should obey four laws: abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. They didn’t even tell them to obey the Ten Commandments! Now this was at the very beginning of the apostles’ instructions, so many more commandments were added later, but it is notable that these were the only four original requirements and not the Ten Commandments!
I saved this one until nearly the end because it uses that controversial word — abolish:
Eph. 2:14-16 “For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.”
First, this passage is talking about two groups of people: the Jews and the Gentiles. They were enemies.
What was between them? The middle wall of separation.
What was that middle wall of separation? The law of commandments contained in ordinances.
And what was that law of commandments contained in ordinances? The Law. The first covenant. All that set Israel apart from all other nations, from all other peoples. All that made them holy and different.
That Law caused great enmity between Israel and all those they were commanded to kill, did it not? History tells us that they didn’t get along very well with their neighbors outside of Israel. But Paul tells us that Jesus came to bring peace between the Jews and Gentiles by abolishing that enmity between us, abolishing it through the cross, putting it to death.
The word “abolish” in this passage is the Greek word “katargeo,” which basically means to make of no effect, to take away the power or the influence, or to end the relationship. In other words, at the cross, the Law no longer had any authority over the Israelites. Remember that it only applied to Israel to begin with. So, the Law, the first covenant, that which was causing enmity between the Jews and the Gentiles, no longer was in effect when Jesus died on the cross. When that veil was torn in two, the two enemies were made one in Christ.
And since I know the next question would logically be “What about Matthew 5:17?” we will go there next. But let’s look a bit further in the text as well.
Matt. 5:17-20 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.
The phrase “the Law or the Prophets” is an all-inclusive term basically meaning the whole Old Testament. So the first thing we see is that Christ did not come to destroy any of the Old Testament, including the Law. Instead, He came to fulfill all of the Old Testament, including the Law. The word “destroy” in this passage is the Greek word “kataluo,” which means to utterly destroy. Notice the difference between this passage and that last passage in Ephesians. Christ did not come to (kataluo) utterly destroy the Law, but He did in fact (katargeo) make the Law of no effect. To abolish (katargeo) is not the same thing as to destroy (kataluo).
The next thing we see in Matthew is that nothing will happen until all is fulfilled. No part of the Law will change until all the Law is fulfilled. It does not say that the ceremonial part of the Law will pass before all is fulfilled. It does not say that no part of the Law will change until the ceremonial part is fulfilled. It simply says that no part of the Law will change until all the is fulfilled. Has the Law changed? Yes. We have seen that over and over and over again here today. Then has everything been fulfilled? Did Jesus fulfill the Law? Did He keep it perfectly? Yes. Did Jesus fulfill the prophets? Did He fulfill all the prophecies? He must have because this tells us that no part of the law will change until all has been fulfilled and we all agree that the Law has changed. So have heaven and earth passed away yet? No. They did not pass away before the law changed. They did not pass away before all was fulfilled.
The Law was fulfilled by Jesus. The Prophets were fulfilled by Jesus. They were not destroyed; they were fulfilled. But the Law was also abolished — made of no effect any longer.
So why does Jesus tell us not to break even the least of these commandments? Let’s save that, and what this all means for us as Christians today, for next time.
(Again, a huge thanks to Mike for teaching me all this.)