Jesus: New Covenant Exemplar and Teacher

By Sean Finnegan

Even while keeping the old covenant, Jesus also exemplified and taught his disciples how to live out the new covenant.  Just like Moses before him, Jesus explained the covenant requirements prior to ratifying the covenant with a blood sacrifice.  Following Christ’s example means embracing the future kingdom culture as a foretaste of what is to come.

1. New Covenant Review

Jeremiah 31.33–34  For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD:

  1. I will put my law within them,
    and I will write it on their hearts.
  2. And I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
  3. 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.
  4. For I will forgive their iniquity,
    and I will remember their sin no more.”

Comments on #1: “write it on their hearts”

NET: “Two contexts are relevant for understanding this statement. The first context is the Mosaic covenant, which was characterized by a law written on stone tablets (e.g., Exod 32:15-16; 34:1, 28; Deut 4:13; 5:22; 9:10) or in a “book” or “scroll” (Deut 31:9-13). This material could be lost (cf. 2 Kgs 22:8), forgotten (Hos 4:6), ignored (Jer 6:19; Amos 4:2), or altered (Jer 8:8). The second context is the repeated fault that Jeremiah has found with their stubborn (3:17; 7:24; 9:14; 11:8; 13:10; 16:12; 18:12; 23:17), uncircumcised (4:4; 9:26), and desperately wicked hearts (4:4; 17:9). Radical changes were necessary to get the people to obey the law from the heart and not just pay superficial or lip service to it (3:10; 12:2). Deut 30:1-6 and Ezek 11:17-20 with 36:24-28 speak of these radical changes. The LORD will remove the “foreskin” of their heart and give them a circumcised heart, or take away their “stony” heart and give them a new heart.” [1]

J. A. Thompson: “Yahweh himself proposes to bring about the necessary change in the people’s inner nature which will make them capable of obedience. He will set his law (tôrâ) within them and write it on their hearts, that is, on their minds and wills…[T]here could be no obedience and no recognition of Yahweh’s sovereignty as long as the covenant was externalized. It needed to touch the life deeply and inwardly in mind and will.” [2]

Comments on #3 “they shall all know me”

J. A. Thompson: “The extent of the transformation in those days would be that intermediaries like Moses, priests, prophets, teachers, would no longer be needed to instruct people and say “Know Yahweh,” because all of them shall know (yāḏaʾ) him, young and old, from the least to the greatest. The verb know here probably carries its most profound connotation, the intimate personal knowledge which arises between two persons who are committed wholly to one another in a relationship that touches mind, emotion, and will.” [3]

Summarizing Jeremiah 31.33-34

  1. heart to obey
  2. loyalty
  3. intimacy
  4. forgiveness

2. Jesus, New Covenant Exemplar

  1. Did Jesus have a heart to obey?
    “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” (Jer 31.33a)a. John 4.34; 5.30
  1. Was Jesus loyal to his God?
    “And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jer 31.33b)a. Matthew 4.8–10; Mark 1.11; 9.73. Did Jesus have intimate knowledge of God?
    “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.” (Jer 31.34a)a. Matthew 11.27; John 10.14-15

    4. Did Jesus have forgiven sins?
    “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer 31.34b)

    a. Hebrews 4.15; Mark 2.5, 10; John 20.23

Jesus embodied the age to come in lots of ways: when he began his ministry (Luke 4.21), when John’s disciples came to ask if he was the messiah (Luke 7.22), when the Pharisees said he cast out demons by Beelzebul (Matthew 12.28), when he received the spirit, when he restored outcasts from society, when he healed the sick and raised the dead.  Encountering king Jesus gave you a taste of the kingdom.  There was a kingdom bubble wherever he went.

Mark 2.18-22 His ministry had a distinctive newness to it.

“The meaning of the saying new wine is poured into new skins is that the presence and teaching of Jesus was something new and signaled the passing of the old. It could not be confined within the old religion of Judaism, but involved the inauguration and consummation of the kingdom of God. [4]

“The presence of Jesus inaugurates the messianic time of joy when fasting is rendered superfluous, so long as he is in the midst of his people. The images of the wedding, the new cloth and the new wine are distinctly eschatological in character, like that of the messianic banquet in Ch. 2:15–17…They stress the element of fulfilment which is marked by the presence of Jesus. His person is both the sign that the old situation has been radically altered and the pledge that the reality described by these images shall be experienced in the appropriate time. [5]

3. Jesus, New Covenant Teacher

Moses taught the old covenant before he ratified it.
Moses lived the old covenant as an example.

Jesus taught the new covenant before he ratified it.
Jesus lived the new covenant as an example.

Jesus taught & lived out new covenant while also obeying old covenant, because he lived during the overlap.  He was still obligated to keep old while also bringing out new.

Even so, it’s clear that Jesus was a new Moses, bringing the new covenant teaching to God’s people.  For example, in the Gospel of Matthew, we find five blocks of teaching, just like the five books of the Torah.

  1. Matthew 5-7
  2. Matthew 10
  3. Matthew 13
  4. Matthew 18
  5. Matthew 23-25

Jesus’ signature lifestyle teaching—the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)—provides a ready summary of new covenant commands.

NT Wright: “God is acting in a through Jesus to turn the world upside down, to turn Israel upside down, to pour out lavish ‘blessings’ on all who now turn to him and accept the new thing that he is doing.  (This list is sometimes called ‘the Beatitudes,’ because the Latin word ‘beatus’ means ‘blessed.’)  But the point is not to offer a list of what sort of people God normally blesses.  The point is to announce God’s new covenant.

In Deuteronomy, the people came through the wilderness and arrived at the border of the promised land, and God gave them a solemn covenant.  He listed the blessings and the curses that would come upon them if they were obedient or disobedient (chapter 28).  Now Matthew has shown us Jesus, coming out of Egypt (2.15), through the water and the wilderness (chapters 3 and 4), and into the land of promise (4.12-25).  Here, now, is his new covenant.

[T]hose who follow Jesus are to begin to live by this rule here and now.  That’s the point of the Sermon on the Mount, and these ‘beatitudes’ in particular.  They are a summons to live in the present in the way that will make sense in God’s promised future; because that future has arrived in the present in Jesus
of Nazareth.

…Throughout this chapter, Jesus is not just giving moral commands.  He is unveiling a whole new way of being human.  No wonder it looks strange.  But Jesus himself pioneered it, and invites us to follow.”[6]

In Christ, all the covenants find their fulfillment.

Stephen Wellum: “In Jesus’s life and work, the desperate plight begun in Eden now finds solution, and the new creation begins to dawn…In fact, the conception of Jesus is evidence that in him the new creation has come; literally, Jesus is the first man of the new creation…Thus, all that Jesus taught, all the miracles he performed, and all that he accomplished in his cross work was tied to the dawning of God’s kingdom, which in turn, is bound up with the fulfillment of the covenants and the inauguration of the new covenant age.”[7]

The new covenant lifestyle is the way of the kingdom.  This is exciting as we can live out the future now, and give the world a foretaste of what is to come, just like Jesus did

4. Preparing Disciples for the Spirit

Not only does Jesus exemplify the new covenant lifestyle and explain how to live it out, he also prophecies the outpouring of the spirit on his disciples to equip them to be new covenant people.

John 14.15–17 When the spirit comes, it will enable them to keep his commandments.

We will return to the spirit later to see how integrally tied it is to the new covenant.

[1]W. Hall Harris, eds. The NET Bible Notes. 1st, Accordance electronic ed. (Richardson: Biblical Studies Press, 2005), paragraph 54363.

[2]J. A. Thompson, The Book of Jeremiah, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 581.

[3] ibid.

[4]W. Hall Harris, eds. The NET Bible Notes. 1st, Accordance electronic ed. (Richardson: Biblical Studies Press, 2005), paragraph 67466.

[5]William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark, New International Commentary on the New Testament. Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 112.

[6] N. T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Louisville: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 37-38, 49.

[7] Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, 2nd ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 714, 716, 719.

9 Responses

  1. Sean, That's a nice quote from The NET Bible Notes re: the "new wine into old wineskins" saying. But could you explain your thesis that Jesus kept both covenants ("because he was still obligated to keep old while also bringing out new") in light of the meaning behind the metaphor to not mix the 2 covenants ("no one pours new wine into old wineskins") and the overall context of Mark 2? For example, in Mar 2 Jesus is breaking purification laws by touching the sick; Jesus breaking food laws by eating with "sinners" (perhaps even Gentiles); the Apostles not fasting (cp. Lev 16:29; Num. 29:7-11); the Apostles breaking the Sabbath ("yet are innocent" as Matt 12 adds).
  2. Sean Finnegan
    Hello Carlos, I would like to have a longer discussion with you and Anthony et al. about your *new* teaching that Jesus did not keep the law, but this is not a very good place to do that. Nevertheless, here are some thoughts in response. That Jesus did keep the law is plain in scripture and generally recognized throughout Christianity. That is not really a question most of us have ever asked ourselves or wrestle with, since we know that Jesus as a Jew was born under the law (Gal 4.4) and kept it from the time he was circumcised on the 8th day and his Jewish parents raised him in the keeping of the Jewish law. You mention that Jesus broke the law by eating with sinners, not fasting, touching the sick, and breaking the Sabbath. This is not true. There is no law against eating with sinners. The fasting law you quoted in Lev 16 only applies to the Day of Atonement. There is no law against touching the sick. Lastly, Jesus did not break the Sabbath as he plainly explained that rescuing someone on Saturday was a well understood exemption. This new teaching of Restoration Fellowship that Jesus was a law-breaker disqualifies him from being our sacrifice for sin, since it makes him a sinner. Jesus was not a sinner as Hebrews 4.15 makes plain. I wish I had more time to engage on this, but this at least provides some response. As I said in this teaching, Jesus did both. You can love your enemies while not working on Saturday. Plenty of people throughout Christian history have done both.
    • Hi Sean, thank you for taking the time to respond. Yes, I would like to have a conversation with you as well to discuss this matter. (I sent you an email days ago.) First and foremost, of course Jesus was not a sinner. Restoration Fellowship is not proposing a "new" teaching. The simple point is that Jesus, as the messenger and practitioner of New Covenant Law (Heb 9.15; 12.24), taught and lived by his own Law, i..e, the Law of Messiah (Gal 6.2; 1Cor 9:21). Paul is right to say "imitate me as I imitate Messiah" (1Cor 11.1). And of course Jesus was "born under the Law" but so was Paul, "circumcised the 8th day, a Hebrew of Hebrews" (Phil 3). But neither Paul nor Jesus lived under Torah their whole life (1Cor 9.20). The point about Jesus eating with "sinners" is that the word can only apply to two classes of people, non-religious Jews and the uncircumcised, i.e., Gentiles. So it would make sense that Jesus broke Kosher laws, similar to the allegations against Peter in Acts 11:3; Gal 2.12. You're right there was a once a year fasting Torah mandate. The point is that the Apostles likely broke this commandment, if we read Jesus' response to the charge in Mar 2.19: "They can’t fast while the groom is with them." The ministry of Jesus lasted for years. As for the sick, in Num. 5 we see God commands the removal from their midst people with all kinds of illnesses "so that they will not defile their camps." Similarly, in Num 9.10 God commands anyone who has been in contact with the dead not to take the Passover. Re: the Sabbath, I recently did a study trying to find where in the Torah God authorized breaking the Sabbath for "good" humanitarian reasons. As you know, the only evidence we find is one clear and very scary story of what happened if ANY work was done on the Sabbath in Num 15:32-36. Could you please point me to any scholar who says that Jesus kept both Old and New Covenants at the same time? I have never heard/read of such a thing before. True, "You can love your enemies while not working on Saturday." But no one can work on the Sabbath yet not work on the Sabbath at the same time (John 5:17). Just as you cannot love your enemy (Ex 22.2) and not love your enemy at the same time (Mat 5.44).
  3. This is not a new teaching. In fact no commentary known to me ever said that Jesus kept both covenants! Restoration Fellowship is entirely in line with all commentary that Jesus did not keep the Law of Moses perfectly. Jesus was absolutely not a sinner!! We all know that the point is that he overrode the Mosaic law on some points. Jesus abolished the food laws and “declared all foods clean” (Mark 7:19). That is “breaking” the Law of Moses, and is not sin, just as Jesus said “the priests BREAK the Sabbath and are innocent” (Matt. 12:5). I suggest that it is impossible to keep two contradictory covenants at the same time! The New Covenant is “NOT like the Old Covenant”! (Heb. 8:9). You cannot keep both, just as you cannot be dead and alive at the same time. To state that Jesus kept the old Mosaic covenant is false, because Jesus “declared all foods clean” (Mk. 7:19). He also undid and reversed a provision for divorce, thus discounting Moses directly on that point. Jesus also said that he and his disciples could disregard the Mosaic law of temple tax. Jesus also pointed out that even in OT times the priests in the temple could “break the Sabbath and be innocent” (Matt. 12:5). In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus often discounted the “what you have heard was said,” by contradicting and reforming it: “But I say to you…” If we say that Jesus kept the Mosaic law in the letter, then we remove Jesus from being our Christian exemplar: He is no longer our model! Jesus would no longer be a biblical Christian. Jesus is defined as the new Moses, not the old. He gives the new Torah by going up the mountain to give his sermon. “The Law and prophets were until John the Baptist” (Luke 16:16), not until the death of Jesus, or until Jesus finished his work. The Law and prophets were until the Gospel of the Kingdom which John began to preach. John the Gospel writer said the same thing with “the Law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus” (John 1:17). We dare not lose that contrast and shift. If we say that the Gospels belong in the Old Covenant we dismiss the teaching of Jesus! This is the danger warned against in 1 Timothy 6:3, 2 John 7-9. Hebrews is written to prevent us from losing the Gospel, ”the great salvation which had its beginning in the words of Jesus and was confirmed to us by those who heard Jesus [preach the Gospel]” (Heb. 2:3). God spoke to us finally in His Son (Heb. 1:2). Are we listening?
    • Sean Finnegan
      Anthony, As I mentioned in my previous response to Carlos, this is not an optimal format for this discussion. I would rather have the conversation/debate with you on Zoom to post on YouTube for all to see both sides since that would give us real time interaction. Although I listened to your 2 hour panel presentation, I'm still hoping I'm simply misunderstanding your position. I keep thinking to myself, "Maybe they're not really saying Jesus broke the law." But, so far as I understand it, that is what you are saying. As I mentioned before this seemingly *new* teaching of Restoration Fellowship (RF) is taking many of us from other groups by surprise. Scholars, commentaries, systematic theology textbooks, etc. all teach that Jesus as a Jew born under the law (Gal 4.4) kept the law. For the range of evidence, you can consult Alva Huffer, Wayne Grudem, Amy-Jill Levine, F. F. Bruce, William Hendriksen, William L. Lane, and, of course, Bill Schlegel just to name a few from widely different backgrounds. They all recognize that Jesus was bound to obey Torah as were all Jews prior to the inauguration of the new covenant. I'm not sure why RF is breaking with historic Christianity on this point. My guess is there is a concern that if Jesus kept the law then we too should. However, this argument doesn't hold water since (as we both agree) Christ's death brought the old covenant to an end and inaugurated the new. If you agree to debate on the subject, I will do my best to address the few places where Jesus operated in the gray area, claiming exemption for healing on the Sabbath along with Mark's editorial parenthetical comment in Mark 7.19, etc. Even so, perhaps it would be helpful for you to see my next teaching in this series, where I explain that Christians do not need to keep the law because of what Christ has done. <a href="https://lhim.org/lhim-class/christs-death-inaugurates-the-new-covenant">Here's the link</a>.
  4. Sean, the scholars that you list certainly do not propose what you are proposing - that Jesus kept both covenants at the same time! Since the two covenants are unlike, it is impossible to keep both. You are getting rid of the awkward information that disagrees with you, namely that Jesus rendered invalid the Mosaic law of foods, and expressly contradicted Moses on the issue of divorce. How did Jesus affirm and at the same time not affirm the Mosaic food laws?
    • Sean Finnegan
      You said no scholars teach that Jesus kept the law. I provided you a list. Stop saying that no scholars think Jesus kept the law. This point is clear even within your own denomination. The interesting work is on the other side with respect to the new covenant. I know we already agree on that so I haven't been focusing on it, nor do I feel inclined to the leg work to generate another list of scholars since I fear such work would prove fruitless in this discussion. I've asked for a debate (via Zoom), so we can discuss this in depth and others can also benefit. Carlos has declined on your behalf.
      • Sean, when you have time, please provide a list of those who agree with YOUR position, I.e., Jesus kept BOTH Covenants AT THE SAME TIME? And we know that majority consensus is not always right but it would help us to know. Thanks, carlos@thehumanjesus.org
        • Sean Finnegan
          Carlos, I'm not going to do the leg work to generate a list of scholars who believe Jesus taught and exemplified the New Covenant. You can do this yourself since you already agree with me on this as does Anthony. As a side point, you may like to read Kingdom through Covenant by Gentry and Wellum since they do also address Jesus' ministry in the context of the new covenant. I provided a list of those who believe Jesus kept the law. That is the point on which we disagree. At this point, I'd prefer not to continue this conversation.

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