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20 May 2020

Promise of the Spirit and the New Covenant

SynopsisThe Church and the gift of the Spirit have been integral to the redemptive plan of God from the very beginning.

Photo by Diego Jimenez on Unsplash
By Diego Jimenez on Unsplash
In his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul refers to the “promise of the Spirit,” which he equates with the “blessing of Abraham.” The Law pronounced a curse on anyone who did “not continue in all things written” in it, therefore, Jesus came under its curse in order to redeem believers from it, so that, “The blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Genesis 12:2-3, Galatians 3:10-14).

Elsewhere, Paul writes that believers are “sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, the earnest of their inheritance until the redemption of the purchased-possession”. The gift of the Spirit that God promised in the past has now been given as a down payment to guarantee the full possession of the promised inheritance in the future. The reference to the “purchased possession” alludes to the original land promise given to Abraham (Ephesians 1:13-14):

(Genesis 17:8)– “And I will give to thee and to thy seed after thee the land of thy sojournings—all the land of Canaan, for an age-abiding possessionAnd I will be to them a God.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

Thus, the Apostle Paul links the gift of the Spirit to the covenant promises made by Yahweh to Abraham, including the possession of the promised land (Genesis 12:713:17).

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Jesus himself referred to the Spirit as the “promise of the Father,” a gift given freely by Him to all who ask. Before his ascent to heaven, he commanded his disciples to tarry in Jerusalem until they received the “promise of the Father,” which would be in fulfillment of the prophecy by Joel (“In the last days God will pour out His Spirit on all flesh” (Joel 2:28-32, Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4, 2:16-21).

The gift of the Spirit poured out on the Day of Pentecost began the fulfillment of this promise, the “promise of the Holy Spirit received of the Father.” In his sermon that day, Peter associated the promise of the Spirit with the promised “blessing” to all nations given by Yahweh to Abraham. The gift of the Spirit is the “promise for you, and to your children and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:1-4, 2:15-22, 2:38-39):

(Genesis 12:1-3) - “And Yahweh said unto Abram: Come thou on thy way, Out of thy land and out of the place of thy birth and out of the house of thy father,—Unto the land that I will show thee; That I may make thee into a great nation, And bless thee and make great thy name, And become thou a blessing; That I may bless them who bless thee, But him who maketh light of thee will I curse,—So shall be blessed in thee all the families of the ground.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
(Genesis 17:7) - “And I will confirm my covenant betwixt me and thee and thy seed after thee to their generations for an age-abiding covenant,—to become to thee a God, and to thy seed after thee.”

Therefore, what the first Christians received that day was a fulfillment of promises made previously to Abraham, and, consequently, to Israel.  However, the nation of Israel failed to live up to the requirements of the covenant. Although Israel swore to keep “all the words which Yahweh has spoken,” history attests to the failure of the nation to live up to its calling and covenant obligations (Exodus 24:1-8).

In part, the failure was due to the people’s disobedience; however, Israel lacked the ability to live up to the righteous requirements of the covenant because its members lacked Yahweh’s Spirit. In his weariness, Moses complained of the absence of the Spirit from the congregation. How could he, by himself, handle such a large and rebellious group (“I am not able to bear this people alone” - Numbers 11:1-15)?

In response, God commanded Moses to select seventy men to assist him and distributed the “spirit” that was upon Moses among them. As a result, they all prophesied without ceasing. However, two men who were not part of the seventy elders also received this spirit and prophesied within the camp of Israel.  Joshua asked Moses to forbid the two from doing so; however, Moses reacted -  “Would to God that all Yahweh’s people were prophets, and that Yahweh would put his spirit upon them all” (Numbers 11:24-29)!

Israel and the Golden Calf
The Mosaic legislation anticipated the need for something more in the people of God. After predicting the future dispersal of Israel for her disobedience, Yahweh promised that, one day, after Israel truly repented, she would “return to Yahweh and obey His voice with all your heart and soul.” Then God would gather the people from all the nations to which He had scattered them, and would then, “Circumcise your heart and the heart of your seed to love Yahweh your God with all your heart” (Deuteronomy 30:1-6).

The themes of renewal and circumcision of the heart were taken up by the prophet Jeremiah. A time was coming when God would “make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” However, NOT a covenant according to the one He made with their forefathers at Sinai, a covenant Israel wholly failed to keep but, instead,….:

Lo! days are coming, Declareth Yahweh,—When I will solemnize—With the house of Israel and With the house of Judah, A new covenant: Not like the covenant which I solemnised with their fathers, In the day when I grasped their hand to bring them forth out of the land of Egypt,—In that, they brake my covenant, Though I had become a husband unto them, Declareth Yahweh. For this is the covenant which I will solemnize with the house of Israel after those days, Declareth Yahweh, I will put my law within them, Yea, on their heart will I write it,—So will I become their God, And they shall become my people. Then shall they no longer teach, Every man his neighbour, and Every man his brother, saying, Know ye Yahweh,—For they all shall know me, From the least of them, Even unto the greatest of them, Declareth Yahweh, For I will forgive their iniquity, And their sin will I remember no more” – (Jeremiah 31:31-34 – The Emphasized Bible).

From the get-go, God promised to provide a new covenant in which He would write His laws in the hearts of His people. The circumcision-of-the-heart anticipated by Moses would be realized in a new covenant. The New Testament applies this promise to the church inaugurated by the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ:

(Hebrews 8:6-12) – “But, now, hath he attained unto a more distinguished public ministry,—by as much as, of a better covenant also he is mediator, which indeed, upon better promises hath been legislated. For if that first had been faultless, not, in that case, for a second had there been sought a place. For, finding fault with them, he saith—Lo! days are coming, saith the Lord, when I will conclude, for the house of Israel and the house of Judah, a covenant of a new sort: Not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers, in the day when I took them by their hand, to lead them forth out of the land of Egypt,—because they abode not in my covenant, and I disregarded them, saith the Lord. Because this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord:—giving my laws into their understanding, upon their hearts, also, will I inscribe them: and I will become their God, and they shall become my people; And in nowise shall they teach—every one his fellow-citizen, and every one his brother, saying,—Get to know the Lord! Because all shall know me, from the least unto the greatest of them; Because propitious will I be as to their unrighteousnesses, and of their sins, in nowise, will I be mindful any more.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

The prophet Ezekiel took up this theme but added the pivotal element of the Spirit. A day would come when Yahweh would re-gather the remnants of Israel scattered among the nations and write His Law in their hearts by means of His Spirit:

(Ezekiel 36:24-28) – “Therefore will I take you from among the nations, And gather you out of all the lands, And will bring you upon your own soil; And I will throw upon you clean water and ye shall he clean,— From all your uncleannesses and from all your manufactured gods will I cleanse you; And I will give you a new heart, And a new spirit will I put within you, And I will take away the heart of stone of your flesh, And will give you a heart of flesh; And my spirit will I put within you, And will cause That in my statutes ye shall walk, And my regulations ye shall observe, and do; And ye shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers, And ye shall become my people, And I will become your God” – (The Emphasized Bible).
(Ezekiel 37:25-28) – “And they shall dwell upon the land which I gave to my servant-to Jacob, Wherein your fathers dwelt,—Yea they shall dwell thereupon. They, and their children and their children’s children, Unto times age-abiding, And David my servant shall be prince unto them Unto times age-abiding. And I will solemnise to them a covenant of prosperity, A covenant age-abiding shall it be with them,—And I will place them, And multiply them, And set my sanctuary in the midst of them. Unto times age-abiding. And my habitation shall be over them, And I will become their God, And they shall become my people, So shall the nations know that I, Yahweh, am hallowing Israel, When my sanctuary is in the midst of them Unto times age-abiding.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

For His name’s sake, Yahweh would take pity on Israel and sanctify His name among the Gentile nations. Only then, would the nations “know that I am Yahweh.”  He would give Israel a new heart and put “a new spirit within her,” and, thereby, replace the stony heart of disobedience with a heart of flesh; furthermore, Yahweh would “put His spirit within the Israelites and cause them to walk in His statutes.”

Thus, the book of Ezekiel combines the promises of a new covenant, the Spirit, and the circumcised heart. Note well how the Apostle Paul applies these promises to the congregation at Corinth:

(2 Corinthians 3:1-6) – “Are we to begin again, ourselves, to commend? or have we need, like some, of commendatory letters unto you, or from you? Our letter ye are, inscribed in our hearts, noted and read by all men: Manifesting yourselves that ye are a letter of Christ, ministered by us,—inscribed—not with ink, but with [the] Spirit of a Living God, not in tablets of stone, but in tablets [which are] hearts of flesh. But such confidence as this have we through the Christ towards God. Not that of our own selves sufficient are we to reckon anything as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God;— Who also hath made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant—not of letter, but of spirit, for the letter killeth, whereas, the Spirit maketh alive.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
The prophecies of the Hebrew Bible point to the centrality of the Spirit to the promised New Covenant. Their application by Paul and the author of the letter to the Hebrews to the gift of the Spirit demonstrates the promises are fulfilled in the Church of Jesus Christ. 

With the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus, the long-awaited New Covenant with the necessary gift of the Spirit has arrived among God’s covenant community, and, with it, the time of fulfillment.

Especially in the writings of Paul, the connection of the Spirit to the “promise of the Father” and the Abrahamic covenant, and to the New Covenant promised to ancient Israel, stresses the continuity of what God is doing in His Church with the covenant Yahweh made with Abraham.

Thus, the Church and the activity of the Spirit are not interim stages unforeseen in the Old Testament or detours in the redemptive plan of God, but integral parts of it from its very commencement.

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