Skip to main content

When did the New Covenant begin?

Quick Answer: When did the New Covenant begin? The New Covenant began at the death of Christ (Luke 22:20; Hebrews 9:16). This means Jesus lived and ministered under the Old Covenant (Galatians 4:4). This is why some of Jesus’ teachings expose the true spirit of the Old Testament law. 

Diving Deeper: Once we have finished reading the Old Testament, we come to the New Testament which starts in Matthew 1. But did you know that the New Testament era, or new covenant, does not really begin in Matthew 1? That’s right. It’s not baby Jesus in a manger that brings in God’s new way of grace. The new covenant didn’t begin until 33 years later at the death of Christ (Luke 22:20; Hebrews 9:16).

Note that the words “testament”, “covenant”, and “will” are all the same Greek word diathéké. This is important because it’s a death, not a birth, that is required to activate a will or testament. Therefore, the New Testament era (also known as the new covenant) actually begins at the death of Christ, not at His birth. Hebrews 9:16-17 says: In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living.”

A will does not go into effect until the death of the one who made it. Likewise, the new covenant did not go into force until Jesus died. In fact, even the old covenant did not go into effect without blood: “Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words” (Exodus 24:8). For this same reason, at the Last Supper, Jesus told His disciples the new covenant would be coming through His blood (not His birth): “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:20b).

This means that Jesus’ entire earthly ministry was under the Old Covenant (Galatians 4:4). Jesus was born under the Law, and we draw the dividing line of human history at the cross, not at the manger: “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law” (Galatians 4:4-5). Both Jesus and His audience lived during the old covenant Law. This is why we see so many harsh teachings from Jesus in which impossible standards are taught – cut off your hand, pluck out your eye, be perfect like God (see the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 for examples).

Have you ever wondered why Jesus taught that forgiveness was conditioned upon forgiving others first (Matthew 6:12-15)? Or why Jesus said we must be perfect like God (Matthew 5:48)? This was Jesus teaching the perfect standard of the Law so his hearers would see their need for God’s grace instead (Galatians 3:19-23). So, when you’re reading the Bible and come across verses in the four Gospels that seem to make rightness with God difficult or burdensome, remember that Jesus was showing the proud Jews of His day the impossibility of Law-based living and the fallacy of self righteousness.

This does not mean that all of Jesus’ teachings before the cross were only relevant to those living under the old covenant. Jesus knew the new covenant was imminent, and the goal of His teachings was twofold: (1) to show people the futility of trying to keep the Law and (2) to prepare them for a new way of grace. These are the two main messages we see in the teachings of Christ.

When we realize the cross is the dividing line between the old covenant and the new covenant, the impossible law-based teachings of Jesus finally make sense. And the message of God’s grace found in the Gospel becomes clearer than ever!

Let’s Make It a Conversation!
1. How does knowing the true beginning of the new covenant help you understand Jesus’ teachings better?
2. React to this statement: Not everything Jesus said applies to you.
3. Why is it important to recognize that Jesus had two messages, not just one? What were they?
4. What do you love the most about being a new covenant believer?

Have more questions about the New Covenant? Check out:
101 Bible Questions - Book101 Bible Questions: And the Surprising Answers You May Not Hear in Church is now available on Amazon!

Tags: , , , , , , , ,