“I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers. . . .” (Jeremiah 31:31-32)
When did this covenantal change occur? There is universal agreement that the new covenant began with Christ’s first advent. Some would say that it began at the cross. It seems more precise to say that it began, officially, at the Last Supper when Christ declared “This is the new covenant in my blood.” (Matthew 26:28; Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25)
However, when did the old covenant (Mosaic Covenant) finally end? Most Christians would probably say that it ended at the cross, but that would merely be an assumption since no passage of Scripture specifically states that. Many theologians argue that the it ended in AD 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Let’s take a look at some passages to determine what is correct.
“In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” (Hebrews 8:13)
This passage from Hebrews is clear. The old covenant had not yet completely passed away, but was in the process of passing away when Hebrews was being written, perhaps as late as the early to mid- 60’s AD. Let’s explore further to see if there is any confirmation, using Scripture to interpret Scripture. See also Galatians 4:21-31.
“The end of all things is at hand.” (1 Peter 4:7)
Of what “end” was Peter speaking? Well, it was not the cross, which was in Peter’s past. Nor was it the end of the physical universe, or else Peter was wrong. So, he was speaking about something to happen very soon in his future—the END of the old covenant age, which Jesus placed at the destruction of the temple (Matthew 24:2-3). Their “LATTER END” had been on the minds of the Jews since the days of the Moses (Deuteronomy 28-32) and the prophets (Daniel 12). Now the end was at hand. It was coming soon. Not quite yet, but just around the corner. The Apostle Paul agreed:
“The appointed time has grown very short. . . . For the present form of this world is passing away.” (1 Corinthians 7:29, 31)
What was the “form of the world” that Paul said was passing away? Could it have been anything other than what the writer of Hebrews and Peter were speaking—the old covenant age: the world the Jews had known since Moses, beginning about 1600 years earlier? Consistency is verifying, wouldn’t you agree? Next, let’s compare what the Apostle John said, as AD 70 grew even closer:
“The world is passing away. . . . It is the last hour.” (1 John 2:17-18)
John, in this passage, is clearly not speaking about an event in his far-distant future. Nor was he speaking of something in his past. The only thing that fits his time-line is that he was confirming the other New Testament writers’ expectation of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, as Jesus predicted would happen in their generation (Matthew 24:2, 34). The “world” of old-covenant Judaism was about to fall. Where did these writers get their ideas? They got them from Jesus himself. Jesus spoke about the covenantal change in various ways, including in his parables. Here is an excerpt from the Parable of the Tenants, also called The Parable of the Vineyard or of the Wicked Vinedressers:
“When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants? They said to Him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death. . . . Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. . . . When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them.”
(Matthew 21:43, 45)
In this parable, Jesus made it clear to the Jews of his day that the blessings of the old covenant would be taken away from them, and given to another people, obviously the church. They got the message. Did this happen at the cross? No, because there was no judgment at the cross. The statement “put to a miserable death” was not about Jesus’ death, but about the death of the “wretches.” That judgment happened in AD 70. In the very next Parable in Matthew’s gospel, the Parable of the Wedding Feast, we find this amazing and blunt pronouncement, only slightly veiled in parable form:
“The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy.’” (Matthew 22:7-8)
Who was invited to the “wedding feast?” Christians sometimes assume that Jesus was talking about us today, 2000 years later. We should understand that the Bible was written for us, but not to us. While it certainly has implications for us, the context of this parable shows that it was the first-century Jews to whom his warning was addressed. The Jews had just admitted in the previous parable that Jesus was talking about them! There is a clear warning to the Jews that their beloved Jerusalem would be burned. “Burning” is biblical language about judgment, yet Jerusalem was literally burned in AD 70. Just as in Old Testament times, God sent an army to effect his judgment on a group of people. In AD 70, God sent the Roman army to crush the Jewish nation, ushering out the old covenant order. But a question must be answered: Why was God so angry at Old Covenant Israel? Emphasizing the context of Jesus’ parables in Matthew 21 and 22, let’s go to the very next chapter in Matthew, where we find an astounding curse placed by Jesus on the Jews of his day:
“So that upon YOU may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom YOU murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to YOU, all these things will come upon THIS GENERATION. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it. How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, AND YOU WOULD NOT.” (Matthew 23:35-37)
This passage clarifies when and to whom the coming wrath was against, as foretold in such passages as Malachi 4:1-3; Luke 1:17; 3:7; etc. In this frontal assault upon the Jews of his day, Jesus made it clear that there were two reasons for the coming judgment on them. (1) They were exceedingly guilty of sin. (2) They refused to accept Him as Messiah. The judgment would not happen thousands of years later. It did not happen at the cross. It happened in AD 70.
Let’s shed some important light on this from the Old Testament. The foundation for the prophecy of the final judgment upon Israel is found in Deuteronomy 28-32. In this passage, Moses predicted that there would come a time in Israel’s future when they would be so disobedient that they would forfeit their covenant relationship with God (Deuteronomy 31:16; 32:5) and be DESTROYED (Deuteronomy 28:20, 45, 48, 51, 61, 32:26; etc.). Some might think that this destruction was about the Assyrian or Babylonian destructions of Israel in the 8th or 6th centuries BC. But that doesn’t work because of the further context in both the Old and New Testaments.
This destruction would happen in their “latter end” (Deuteronomy 32:20, 29), at which time God would take VENGEANCE upon them (Deuteronomy 32:35, 41, 43) as they would have become a “CROOKED, TWISTED, PERVERSE GENERATION” (Deuteronomy32:5, 20). But, how do we know that the first century was that generation of vengeance foretold by Moses? Well, because Jesus said so:
“THESE are the days of VENGEANCE to fulfill all that is written.” (Luke 21:22)
“O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you?” (Luke 9:41)
“This generation is an evil generation.” (Luke 11:29)
“And Jesus answered, ‘O faithless and twisted (perverse) generation.” (Matthew 17:17)
Jesus was teaching that all Old Testament prophecy about the “Days of Vengeance” was about to be fulfilled. The context of Luke 21 is the destruction of temple. Both Peter and Paul also identified their own generation as that of the prophesied crooked generation as well:
“Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” (Acts 2:40)
“that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation” (Philippians 2:14)
Moses’ warning about the end of the old covenant was echoed by most, if not all, of the prophets (Isaiah 2-4; 24-25; Ezekiel 38:8; etc.) For example, here is what we find in the book of Daniel:
“But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the TIME OF THE END. . . . and when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end all these things would be finished. . . . And from the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that makes desolate is set up. . . .” (Daniel 12:4, 7, 11)
Notice that Daniel speaks of the “time of the end,” not the “end of time.” How could anyone miss the time-line? When was the power of the holy people shattered—and the burnt offering taken away? Clearly this happened in AD 70 with the destruction of the temple. But if there is any confusion about the timing, Jesus put an exclamation point on it being in his day. Speaking to his disciples (“YOU”), He declared that those in the first century would live to see Daniel’s “time of the end” prophecy fulfilled:
“So, when YOU see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel [when YOU see Jerusalem surrounded by armies per Luke 21:20], standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. . . . Truly, I say to YOU, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”
(Matthew 24:15, 34)
The “time of the end” would happen in Jesus’ own generation. This is perfectly clear and allows for no other time. The Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:21) had to be the Jewish-Roman War, which the first century Christians could avoid by fleeing to the mountains (Matthew 24:16). To assume a far distant future fulfillment of these things—or a world-wide tribulation—would be reading something into the text that is simply not there.
The Jews continued their practice of temple rituals, ceremonial law, and other aspects of the Mosaic Covenant until the temple was destroyed during the Jewish-Roman War in AD 70. But elements of these things even continued among converts to Christianity during the first century between AD 30 and 70. In Acts we see that there was considerable discussion among the disciples about this. In Acts 15:20 and 21:25 we see that a compromise was reached that even Gentile Christians should observe certain aspects of the Mosaic Law. In Acts 21:17-26 Paul took four Jewish believers into the temple to observe sacrifices for them. While Paul emphasized that salvation no longer rested on the Mosaic-age customs (Galatians, etc.), all elements of Jewish ceremonial law were not abandoned until after AD 70 when the temple was destroyed.
There was a transition period from AD 30 to 70 in which the old covenant and new covenant existed side-by-side in some respects. It is noteworthy that this period was about 40 years long. Is it merely a coincidence that it parallels the 40 years of wandering of the Jews in the Old Testament? I don’t think so. It’s too obvious. Jesus and all of the New Testament writers looked forward to the final dissolution of the Old Covenant. Much more evidence could be offered about this, as it is simply all over the Old and New Testaments. But this should be adequate to conclude that there was a transition period between the beginning of the new covenant and the final end of the old covenant. This transition period was a “new exodus” leading to a new spiritual “promised land.” AD 70 ended the Old Covenant for all time, allowing the New Covenant to come to its fullest glory.
The old covenant dispensation would come to a final close in AD 70. Why?―because the Jews broke the old covenant (Hebrews 8:8-9). Not only did temple sacrifices for sin end in AD 70, but the priesthood ended at that time, and the genealogical records were destroyed. Christians often overlook the importance of what happened in AD 70. Jesus replaced the temple per John 2:19-21; Revelation 21:22. No longer could anyone claim salvation through the temple rituals, the priesthood, or by genealogy. Salvation rests only in Jesus. We have entered the new Promised Land.
See also my article “Confusing the New Covenant with the Old Covenant” here: