If we are to understand the New Testament correctly, we must immerse ourselves in the Old Testament. There we find all the necessary foundations for understanding the person and work of the Messiah. The Old Testament provides the basic categories for approaching the New, one of these crucial categories being covenant. In The Bible’s Covenant Story, we consider 13. Luke 22:20 The New Covenant in my blood.
1. The covenant
The words Jesus uses in v20 draw explicitly on the prophecy of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31, in particular v31 ‘I will make a new covenant’. As noted in the last study, the need for this covenant was due to the failings of the people. The Old Covenant, in biblical terminology, was the Mosaic Covenant, with its sacrifices, ceremonies and laws, given as God’s temporary provision, since these could not change the hearts of people. The need was for a new covenant that could not be undone by man’s sin. Now is the time of fulfilment – ‘This cup is the new covenant’. The New Covenant is being established in the person and work of the Messiah. It is vital to understand the New Covenant is essentially the same Covenant of Grace that goes back to the promise of a Deliverer in Genesis 3:15. The core promise is ‘I will be their God , and they will be my people’ (Jeremiah 31:30).
2. The blood
At the heart of the Messiah’s work to establish the covenant is ‘my blood, which is poured out for you’. In Scripture ‘blood’ speaks of life poured out in death. It is sacrificial blood that effects atonement for sin and the necessity for blood to be shed is stated in Hebrews 9:22. If sin is to be forgiven and sinners are to enter the Covenant of Grace, the blood of sacrifice is essential. This principle is evident at the Passover (Exodus 12), where the blood of the substitute lamb marks the houses of God’s people and his judgment passes over them. The blood of the lamb was atoning and redemptive. The blood of an animal, however, could not remove the sin of one of God’s image-bearers (Hebrews 10:11) – these were temporary provisions until the coming of ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). His blood is ‘poured out for you’ – both as the representative of his people and as their substitute. The one who is both God and man is fully equipped to do all that is required for entrance into ‘the new covenant’. He was made to be sin for us – 2 Corinthians 5:21.
3. The cup
The meal in the Upper Room is a Passover, recalling the former deliverance through the shedding of the blood of the lamb. The focus was always to be on the Lord’s grace – Israel’s privileged position was ‘because the Lord loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your forefathers’ (Deuteronomy 7:8). We can have a place in the New Covenant because of the Lord’s covenant love that we remember in the transformed Passover – the Lord’s Supper. The sacrament is a means of grace God has given the church – ‘a participation in the blood of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 10:16). As we eat and drink, we enjoy covenant fellowship with the Lord and with fellow believers on account of the shed blood of the New Covenant Lamb.