In the light of such NT Scriptures as 2 Cor. 3: 6 surely the new covenant is made with the Church?
Details of the new covenant are given in Jer. 31: 31–34 where we have the only occurrence of the term new covenant in the OT. However, comparison of this passage with Ez. 11: 19, 20; 36: 24–30; 37: 15–28 clearly shows that Ezekiel also speaks of the same covenant. Jer. 31: 31 explicitly states that this covenant is to be made “with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah”—not the Church. From Ez. 37: 15–28 we learn that one day God will “take the children of Israel from among the nations” (v21) and the two houses of Ephraim and Judah will be united again as one nation to form a single kingdom on earth with “David my servant” as “their prince for ever” (v25). All this is clearly in view of the “age to come” (Heb. 6: 5), not the present time. Again, Ez. 36: 24–30 reiterates the return to the land by the nation (see v24) and further states “And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God” (v28). The Church has nothing to do with the land of Israel.
In Jer. 31: 31–34 God says seven times what He will do— for this covenant is unconditional, unlike that given at Sinai, and depends on God alone for its fulfilment. Under the new covenant, God’s law would be written on the hearts of the children of Israel, their sins forgiven and not remembered any more, and the whole nation would know Jehovah (see vs 33, 34). God would give them a new heart and a new spirit, and put His Spirit within them (see Ez. 36: 26, 27). The Lord’s insistence to Nicodemus “that ye should be born anew” (John 3: 7, my emphasis) will be realised nationally when the “dry bones” ... “shall live” (Ez. 37: 4, 5). Now much of what will be realised nationally by Israel in the day to come under the new covenant is realised now by the Christian believer individually. He is born again (see 1 Pet. 1: 23), he knows God (see 1 John 4: 7, 8), he is indwelt by the Holy Spirit (see Rom. 8: 11) and his sins are forgiven (see Eph. 4: 32). However, there are also features of the new covenant, such as the land, that have nothing whatsoever to do with the Christian.
Turning to the NT and the institution of the Lord’s Supper, we read “This cup [is] the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22: 20; see also Matt. 26: 28; Mark 14: 24). Now we must always avoid reading the present into the past. Those who heard the Lord were Jewish disciples and not Christians. They would associate what the Lord said with the Kingdom on earth as the attendant details in Matt. 26: 29, Mark 14: 25 and Luke 22: 29, 30 show. Later, when hope of Israel’s repentance and the establishment of the Kingdom in power on earth was fast fading, Paul, as a result of revelation, put the Lord’s Supper in the context of the Church. Accordingly, in the passage of 1 Cor. 11: 17–34 there is no mention of the Kingdom.
Like 1 Corinthians, Hebrews was written during the transitional period of the Acts when there was still a possibility of the Lord’s speedy return (see Acts 3: 20) and the Kingdom being set up on earth. It was written to Jewish Christians who were in danger of going back to the Judaism that they had professed to have left. The writer uses the fact of the existence of a new covenant in the OT to show that the old covenant of Sinai was defective and near to disappearing (see Heb. 8: 8, 13). As the old covenant of Sinai was inaugurated by blood (see Heb. 9: 18–22) and had a mediator (see Gal 3: 19), the writer of Hebrews uses these facts to show what the OT did not reveal, namely that the new covenant would be established in the Lord’s blood (see Heb. 9: 14) and that He would be its mediator (see Heb. 8: 6; 9: 15; 12: 24). However, there is no thought whatever in these verses that the new covenant was in force at the time Hebrews was written.
Finally, to 2 Cor. 3: 6: “who has also made us competent, [as] ministers of [the] new covenant; not of letter, but of spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit quickens”. Now the absence of the definite article in Greek before the word covenant makes it characteristic. This needs more in the way of explanation, for the English reader could be forgiven in thinking that Paul and others were claiming to actually be the new covenant ministers. An example may help: the writer once visited Tripoli in Libya where the architectural style of many of the buildings is Italian. Looking at such buildings and nothing else, the writer could have been forgiven for thinking that he was actually in Italy. Now in a similar way, many of the features that marked the apostle’s ministry were also those contained in the new covenant—making his ministry characteristically that of the new covenant. It was thus a new covenant ministry, though “not of letter”, that is literally, “but of spirit”—that is, having that spirit or character.