Tag Archives: Regeneration

Christ: Mediator of the New Covenant, Part 1

In my last few posts here, we’ve been looking at eschatology, or the study of end things.  We’ve taken a parenthesis in this study to examine some thoughts on what the Bible says about covenants.  This is necessary because of the eschatological system that we paused at, dispensationalism.  If you need a quick review of that system, see here Understanding Dispensationalism.  Dispensationalism is more than just a particular view of the end times.  As stated before, it’s actually a hermeneutic, or science of interpretation.  While hermeneutic might sound like a technical, complicated word, it’s really not.  It’s simply describing the way in which one interprets a particular literary work.  As it relates to the Bible, it is the way, or science/system, of interpreting the Bible.  For a more thorough discussion, see here http://www.bible-researcher.com/baugh1.html

In this post, we continue our look at the New Covenant and its membership by concentrating on the Mediator of this covenant, the Lord Jesus Christ (For an excellent summary of Christ as Mediator see this post: 1689 Chapter 8)  By Mediator, it is meant that Christ “mediates” or acts as an arbitrator, between God (the Father) and man.  1 Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”.  John Owen, in his commentary on Hebrews, writes “A mediator must be a middle person between both parties entering into the covenant; and if they be of different natures, a perfect complete mediator ought to partake of each of their natures in the same person.”

We are first introduced to this idea of the mediatorial work of Christ in Mark 14 during the upper room Passover meal of Jesus and His disciples,

“And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it.  And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.  Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”  And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”

From this passage we can begin to see the connection between the covenant (New) and the death of Christ, i.e. the shedding of His blood.  This is even more explicitly stated in Luke 22:20, “And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”  Here we see Jesus making specific reference to the New Covenant and its direct connection to His death.

Similarly the Apostle Paul references this connection outlined by our Lord in his first letter to the Church at Corinth,

“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.  Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.  That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” 1 Corinthians 11:23-30

In this particular passage, Paul also references Jesus’ words from the Passover prior to His death.  We see not only the relationship between the New Covenant and Jesus’ death, but also the association with communion, or the Lord’s Supper, with both the New Covenant and remembering Jesus’ death.  This will be important in helping to determine the membership of this covenant.  We have previously asserted (Regeneration) that membership of the New Covenant is limited to the regenerate as evidenced by their repentance and faith in Christ and at this point we must return to that particular question from several posts ago specifically regarding membership in the New Covenant.  As previously stated, only the regenerate belongs to the New Covenant, as seen in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 (It is common language, particularly within Reformed Baptist tradition to assert membership of the New Covenant is limited to the elect, but it would seem clear that it should be more specific, i.e. the regenerate elect).

Despite the promise of the New Covenant in these Old Testament passages, we do not see the inauguration of this covenant until the New Testament, specifically through the death of Christ as noted in the passages above.  So while Jeremiah and Ezekiel inform our understanding of what is to come, it really is incomplete without seeing greater detail that the New Testament provides.  Which brings us to our passage earlier from Paul.  Paul not only quotes Jesus’ statement about his blood and body represented by the wine and bread, but specifically references the New Covenant connection to this communion time.  He follows with this warning, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.  Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.  That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”  Paul is writing to the Church, i.e. believers, and he is warning them against partaking of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner.  Just what this unworthy manner has been of some debate, but what is clear is that Paul is exhorting believer’s to do a spiritual examination of their hearts before they share in communion with Christ, remembering His death and longing for His second coming.  This is important guidance for determining who should partake in Lord’s Supper, which has been identified as a sign of membership in the New Covenant.  By way of implication of this passage, it must be exclusive of believers only, those we have who have been regenerated in their hearts by the Holy Spirit.

Some have argued that membership in the New Covenant is extended to all Israel or all those who are believers and their children.  But this cannot be.  We’ve seen that the New Covenant benefits are for the regenerate and now, on the basis of the New Covenant purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ, we see again that only believers are to partake in the Lord’s Supper because for them and them alone it is a sign of their inclusion in the New Covenant.

Regeneration and the Necessity of Faith and Repentance

In the last post, we looked at several New Covenant promises as detailed in 2 Old Testament passages, Ezekiel 36 and Jeremiah 31.  Summarizing some key aspects of the New Covenant promises we focused on the gift of a new heart, i.e. regeneration, and the gift of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.  Additionally, we observed that Ezekiel 36 was the likely background for Jesus’ statement to Nicodemas in John 3 that “you must be born again to see the kingdom of God.”  The conclusion was that regeneration is necessary to entering heaven.  Now with that in mind, we turn in this post to the necessary evidences of regeneration: faith and repentance.

In the Gospel of Mark, we find a fascinating account of Jesus unlike the other Gospels.  Much like the headlines of a newspaper, Mark is concerned with focusing on the details of our Lord’s ministry and rapidly advances his narrative with the phrase “immediately” (used at least 9 times in Chapter 1).  Whereas Matthew and Luke provide the genealogy of Christ along with details of His birth and childhood, Mark’s approach is to commence with the 3 year earthly ministry of Christ.  For this reason, we read Jesus inaugurating His ministry with the words, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:15 So much could be said about this, but we’ll look briefly at the first two phrases before resting on the imperative statement of Jesus to “repent and believe in the gospel.”

“The time is fulfilled” – It’s not a mere coincidence that Jesus’ ministry begins just as John the Baptist’s is ending.  In fact, we learn that John the Baptist has just been imprisoned in the verse prior to this one.  John is the last of the Old Testament prophets.  He’s the one whom the prophets of old have foretold, “one crying in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord.” (Mark 1:3 quoting Isaiah 40:3) In the sense of fulfilled here, all that the Old Testament, both the Law and the Prophets, has foretold reaches its fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ.  Similarly, the time that God had planned to bring forth His son has come as well.  (See Galatians 4:4).  The time of waiting is over, the King has arrived.

“The kingdom of God is at hand” – Up to this point, John has functioned much like a herald for a king, “Hear ye, Hear ye, now comes the King!”  In Medieval times, a herald was one who preceded the king’s entrance to make the announcement of his arrival.  A working definition is “an official formerly charged with making royal proclamations and bearing messages of state between sovereigns.”  This is precisely the way in which John the Baptist performs his ministry, especially as seen in Mark 1:2, 3, 7.  Now that King Jesus is on the scene, He can officially state that the kingdom of God is at hand, or perhaps more literally in your midst.  Jesus’ use of kingdom of God here is significant in that it provides continuity with the Old Testament idea of kingdom.  William Lane points out that kingdom, “links his [Jesus’] proclamation to the self-revelation of God in the OT and stresses the continuity between the new and older revelation.”   It’s likely that Daniel 2:44 can be seen in the background here with the inauguration of Jesus’ kingdom, “And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever”

“Repent and believe in the Gospel” – We usually hear that the Gospel is “Jesus died on the cross for our sins” but here we see Jesus command belief in the gospel at least 3 years prior to His death, burial, and resurrection.  Is He demanding a future looking faith?  Is He calling people to believe that He will die on the cross?  Or is He properly defining the term Gospel for us?  It would seem to be more of the latter.  The Gospel here is an announcement, that the “good news” has arrived.  This gospel, or good news, is none other than Christ Himself.  Jesus is commanding repentance and belief in Him.  Repentance is more than simply turning from sin.  There must be a hatred of it, a rejection of past ways.  But repentance must be connected with faith, for to turn from sin without setting one’s gaze on Christ is pointless.  Repentance and faith can only be commanded in conjunction with the Gospel.  The Gospel must be announced, it must be preached (Romans 10:14).  Jesus is commanding repentance and belief in His Gospel, i.e. the very person that He is as the Son of God.

Some have tried to separate the necessity of faith from repentance resulting in easy believism.  Others have so over emphasized repentance that it would appear faith takes a backseat.  On some level, a logical order might seem to apply to these demands, i.e. faith first and then repentance.  But no such distinction is necessary because they are two sides of the same coin and to separate one from the other violates both.  Instead, a far more sane approach to understanding how repentance and faith are ordered is to view it as believing repentance and repentant faith.  Spurgeon comments:

“The repentance which is here commanded is the result of faith; it is born at the same time with faith—they are twins, and to say which is the elder-born passes my knowledge. It is a great mystery; faith is before repentance in some of its acts, and repentance before faith in another view of it; the fact being that they come into the soul together.”

As we’ve seen, a new heart is necessary, but so is repentance and faith in the gospel.  It follows then that the new heart given by God is the soil, the Gospel is the seed, and repentance and faith are the first fruits.

Regeneration: A New Covenant Promise

regeneration-a-new-heartIn my last post, we briefly examined Jesus’ interaction with Nicodemas as recorded in John 3.  It’s likely that the background for this passage, in which Jesus explicitly states to Nicodemas that everyone “must be born again” to enter the kingdom of God, comes from Ezekiel 36:25-27 

25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

Most commentators write, and I agree with them, that Jesus is expecting Nicodemas, who is a Jewish leader, to know his Old Testament and be familiar with the concept of rebirth or regeneration as described in Ezekiel’s passage above.  To the contrary, Nicodemas’ confusion is evident, whether it is of a genuine or sarcastic nature it is clear that he does not understand how a man can be born again (John 3:4).

The passage from Ezekiel defines much of what is called the New Covenant.  A simplistic, though not comprehensive, way to think of the Bible’s covenantal structure is Old Covenant (Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic) = Old Testament, operating largely in types and shadows pointing toward the reality of the coming Messiah and the New Covenant = New Testament, legally inaugurated with the shed blood of Christ on the cross.  This does not mean that New Covenant benefits were absent during the Old Testament, just as shown above with the New Covenant language in Ezekiel.  There is even more explicit language of the New Covenant found in Jeremiah 31:31-34:

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 For 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.”

Here we see similar language conveyed as that in Ezekiel, only this time we see the term “New Covenant” explicitly used.  While the background for regeneration in John 3 most likely comes from Ezekiel (due to some similar themes carried forward by John) we can really examine both of these Old Testament New Covenant passages together to see what the component promises of this covenant are.  It may help to know that the context for Ezekiel and Jeremiah are really similar.  Jeremiah is writing from Jerusalem to those who remained in the city after the various stages of exile (605 B.C., 597 B.C., 586 B.C.) implemented under the direction of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.  Ezekiel, a contemporary of Jeremiah, is among the exiles in Babylon (597 B.C. ).  As a side note, During the first siege on Jerusalem (605 B.C.), Daniel was among those taken from Jerusalem and brought to the palace at Babylon.  

Combining the passages from these 2 major prophets, we can see various aspects of the New Covenant (at minimum the following):

  1. Contrast with the Old Covenant (Jer. 31:31-32)
  2. Cleansing from uncleanness and idolatry (Ezek. 36:25)
  3. A new heart (Ezek. 36:26)
  4. Law written on the heart (Jer. 31:33)
  5. The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit (Ezek. 36:26-27)
  6. Causal Obedience (Ezek. 36:27)
  7. A people of God (Jer. 31:33)
  8. Universal knowledge of God (Jer. 31:34)
  9. Forgiveness of sin (Jer. 31:34) 

Jeremiah states explicitly that this new covenant will not be like the old.  This covenant will not have laws written on stone tablets, but will have the law written on the heart, i.e. the new heart of flesh.  Accompanying this new heart will be the indwelling Holy Spirit that will “cause” those who have been born again to “walk in [God’s] statutes and be careful to obey [His] rules.” From this, we can see that the promise of a new heart, i.e. regeneration or rebirth that is a central tenet of the New Covenant.   This promised new heart, and corresponding removal of the heart of stone, is accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit and is the resultant to the imperative statement given by Jesus to Nicodemas in John 3, “You must be born again.”  Pushing this conclusion further, we see that the promise of a new heart in the New Covenant ultimately results in entrance into the Kingdom of God.

New Heart/Regeneration/Rebirth/Born Again = Entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven/God

This however brings us to an important question, the people.  Or stated more directly, “To whom do these new covenant benefits belong?”  Note in Ezekiel the direct object of the New Covenant benefits is “you” (plural) and in Jeremiah it is introduced as a covenant with the “house of Israel and the house of Judah.”  Who comprises these two houses?  It would seem, at least on the surface that they will be the beneficiaries of the New Covenant.  Without taking the space in this post to answer that difficult and disputed question fully, there is one final note I’d like to add.  In the passages above, what benefit is being explicitly discussed with respect to the New Covenant?  Ezekiel and Jeremiah state clearly that the new heart (regeneration) and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit are guaranteed promises of the New Covenant.  So the short answer to the question of, to whom do these new covenant benefits belong is: The Regenerate.

Finally, we see that tied directly to the people will be forgiveness of sins and a universal knowledge of God.  Lord willing, in a future post we’ll answer more fully the question of, “To whom do these new covenant benefits belong?” with a look at what the New Testament has to say about the New Covenant, particularly in it’s quotation of the Jeremiah 31 passage in Hebrews 8:8-12