Rhyming Covenants

Augustine once pointed out that the New Covenant is hidden in the Old, and the Old Covenant is only fully revealed in the New. He didn’t come up with that himself. Both the Old and New Covenant say the same.

So, for instance, as the People of God near the terrible judgments of the Babylonian Captivity, Jeremiah assures them that the imminent disaster for the nation’s failure to keep the Old Covenant is not the end of the story, but a prelude to a miraculous and gracious work of salvation that will be even greater than the failed covenant of Sinai:

“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt — my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband — says the Lord. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:31-33).

It is this new and everlasting covenant that Jesus inaugurates in his own blood, and he looks back to the first covenant just as the first covenant looks forward to him. The ways in which he does this are too numerous to count, but we will look at just a few examples.

Take the Triumphal Entry. Everybody knows Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. However, many people don’t know this was not simply a sudden artistic inspiration. Rather, it was a very definite statement to his countrymen that he was “the son of David” (aka “the Messiah” or “Anointed One”). How do we know? Because it’s exactly what Solomon, the original “son of David,” did a thousand years before when he too rode upon a donkey and proclaimed himself the (“literally anointed with oil”) king of Israel and son of David (1 Kings 1:32-39).

And it’s what the prophets after Solomon taught Israel to look for when the Christ, the Messianic Son of David, finally came:

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass” (Zechariah 9:9).

In short, when he rides that donkey, Jesus isn’t just doing something picturesque and humble-looking: He is rhyming a New Covenant fulfillment with the Old Covenant to underscore that he is the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17).

In the same way, Jesus insists that the manna in the wilderness (Exodus 16) is really an image of him. St. Paul declares that the passage through the Red Sea is really an image of baptism (1 Corinthians 10). Both John the Baptist and John the Apostle declare that the Passover Lamb offered in the Old Testament is an image of Jesus the True Passover Lamb offered on the cross (John 1:35-36; John 19:31-36). Luke subtly reminds us that the power of the Most High overshadows Mary in just the same way that the power of the Most High overshadowed the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament. For, just as the Ark is associated with the tablets of the Law, the jar of manna, and the staff of Aaron the great high priest of the Old Covenant, so from Mary’s womb sprang the Word Incarnate, the Bread of Life, and the Great High Priest of the New Covenant.

So the New Covenant rhymes with the Old. And we rhyme with Christ. Of which, more next time.

Mark Shea blogs at NCRegister.com.