A Covenant of Marriage
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Few people realize that the Old Covenant was essentially a marriage covenant—by which God "was a husband" to Israel (Jeremiah 31:32 Jeremiah 31:32Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke, although I was an husband to them, said the LORD:
American King James Version×). In this covenant, Israel, the wife, had agreed to submit to God and obey His laws. But she did not. Israel's adultery with foreign gods was so heinous that God divorced His people except for a few who still tried to serve Him (Jeremiah 3:8-14 Jeremiah 3:8-14  And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also.  And it came to pass through the lightness of her prostitution, that she defiled the land, and committed adultery with stones and with stocks.  And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah has not turned to me with her whole heart, but feignedly, said the LORD.  And the LORD said to me, The backsliding Israel has justified herself more than treacherous Judah.  Go and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, Return, you backsliding Israel, said the LORD; and I will not cause my anger to fall on you: for I am merciful, said the LORD, and I will not keep anger for ever.  Only acknowledge your iniquity, that you have transgressed against the LORD your God, and have scattered your ways to the strangers under every green tree, and you have not obeyed my voice, said the LORD.  Turn, O backsliding children, said the LORD; for I am married to you: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion:
American King James Version×; Isaiah 50:1 Isaiah 50:1Thus said the LORD, Where is the bill of your mother's divorce, whom I have put away? or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you? Behold, for your iniquities have you sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away.
American King James Version×).
The people never had the right heart and mind to obey (Deuteronomy 5:29 Deuteronomy 5:29O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!
American King James Version×; Romans 8:7 Romans 8:7Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
American King James Version×). This fault of the people, the book of Hebrews explains, was the problem with the Old Covenant—and the reason a New Covenant was necessary (Hebrews 8:7-8 Hebrews 8:7-8  For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.  For finding fault with them, he said, Behold, the days come, said the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:
American King James Version×). The book of Hebrews actually quotes this important passage from Jeremiah twice (Hebrews 8:8-13 Hebrews 8:8-13  For finding fault with them, he said, Behold, the days come, said the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:  Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, said the Lord.  For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, said the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:  And they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.  For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.  In that he said, A new covenant, he has made the first old. Now that which decays and waxes old is ready to vanish away.
American King James Version×; Hebrews 10:16-17 Hebrews 10:16-17  This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, said the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them;  And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.
American King James Version×).
What, then, is the New Covenant? It is basically a new marriage contract God lays out with Israel and Judah.
A marriage proposal from Jesus Christ
We see this reflected in Christ's words and actions on the evening before His death. During the last Passover meal He shared with His disciples, Jesus introduced the symbols of broken bread to represent the sacrifice of His broken body and wine to symbolize His shed blood—His death. "Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, 'Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins'" (Matthew 26:27-28 Matthew 26:27-28  And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink you all of it;
 For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
American King James Version×).
Jesus was explaining that the shedding of His blood as a sacrifice for sin was required to make the New Covenant possible. Without it, there was no way to atone for the sins of all who would participate in the covenant.
Notice further that Jesus was here initiating the New Covenant with His disciples. This can be confusing since the setting of Jeremiah's prophecy of the New Covenant with Israel and Judah is after Christ's return to earth (Jeremiah 31:31-34 Jeremiah 31:31-34  Behold, the days come, said the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:
 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke, although I was an husband to them, said the LORD:
 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, said the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, said the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
American King James Version×). Furthermore, the "marriage of the Lamb" likewise does not occur until His return (Revelation 19:6-9 Revelation 19:6-9  And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunder, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigns.  Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife has made herself ready.  And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.  And he said to me, Write, Blessed are they which are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he said to me, These are the true sayings of God.
American King James Version×)—and this is clearly referring to Christ's marriage to the Church.
It helps when we understand that God's Church is spiritual Israel (Romans 2:28-29 Romans 2:28-29  For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:
 But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
American King James Version×)—a pioneer in the relationship God announced through Jeremiah. However, this does not explain why the Church is under the terms of the New Covenant marriage today even though the marriage does not take place until Christ's return.
Biblical marriage customs
To understand, we must know something about marriage customs in biblical times. Couples initially became engaged—betrothed—with a customary shared cup of wine. This betrothal was not like engagements today, which can easily be broken off. A Jewish betrothal was a binding contract with obligations on both parties. It required a divorce to break it.
During this betrothal period the couple was already considered married and regarded as husband and wife. We see this reflected in Matthew 1:18-20 Matthew 1:18-20  Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privately.
 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a dream, saying, Joseph, you son of David, fear not to take to you Mary your wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
American King James Version×where Joseph and Mary are "betrothed," but already referred to as husband and wife. Breaking that betrothal contract would have required a divorce (verse 19, NIV).
Although considered husband and wife, the couple did not live together as husband and wife until after a public wedding celebration, usually some months after the betrothal agreement. As happens today, the couple would use this betrothal period to prepare for their actual wedding and subsequent life together.
With this as background, we can better understand the New Covenant relationship. Jesus initiated the New Covenant—He proposed marriage, we might say—to His true followers. As we've seen, the Old Covenant arrangement was not good enough. Even Christ's disciples, the most faithful people of His day, were still carnal and condemned because of their sins. They needed to be changed into a new, spiritually converted people to enter into this new relationship with Jesus Christ.
This was accomplished through Christ's death and resurrection and their receiving God's Holy Spirit, which enabled this spiritual transformation to begin (Romans 7:1-4 Romans 7:1-4  Know you not, brothers, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives?
 For the woman which has an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he lives; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.
 So then if, while her husband lives, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.
 Why, my brothers, you also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that you should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit to God.
American King James Version×; 1 Corinthians 7:39 1 Corinthians 7:39The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.
American King James Version×; Galatians 2:20 Galatians 2:20I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
American King James Version×; 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 2 Corinthians 5:16-17  Why from now on know we no man after the flesh: yes, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now from now on know we him no more.  Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
American King James Version×; Romans 8:5-10 Romans 8:5-10  For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.  For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.  Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.  So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.  But you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.  And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
American King James Version×). This also made them the Church of God, the true "Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16 Galatians 6:16And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and on the Israel of God.
American King James Version×)—that is, the faithful remnant of Israel according to God's grace (compare Romans 11:1-5 Romans 11:1-5  I say then, Has God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.  God has not cast away his people which he foreknew. Know you not what the scripture said of Elias? how he makes intercession to God against Israel saying,  Lord, they have killed your prophets, and dig down your altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life.  But what said the answer of God to him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.  Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.
American King James Version×).
Having agreed to the New Covenant, the Church is now betrothed to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2 2 Corinthians 11:2For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.
American King James Version×). It is under the terms of the New Covenant but still awaiting the coming fullness of the New Covenant marriage to begin at "the marriage of the Lamb" (Revelation 19:6-9 Revelation 19:6-9  And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunder, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigns.  Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife has made herself ready.  And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.  And he said to me, Write, Blessed are they which are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he said to me, These are the true sayings of God.
American King James Version×). Being betrothed to Him, the members of His Church submit to His loving leadership and guidance as the head of that Church (Ephesians 5:22-32 Ephesians 5:22-32  Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body.  Therefore as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.  Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;  That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,  That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.  So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loves his wife loves himself.  For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord the church:  For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.  For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined to his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.  This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
American King James Version×), preparing for an eternity with Him.
The Church has grown to include more people since that original agreement with Christ's disciples. To be part of that Church and part of that covenant agreement requires partaking of the symbols of the New Covenant each year, reaffirming the terms of the marriage contract—a commitment to obey God and the acceptance of Christ's shed blood to atone for any failure to obey.
All mankind brought into that relationship
At Christ's return, those who are betrothed to Him prior to that time will then go through an actual wedding ceremony and celebration, as mentioned in Revelation 19. Glorified with spirit bodies, they will be perfect and will never sin again, having God's laws ingrained perfectly into their character—continuing in unbroken oneness with Jesus Christ thereafter.
This is the culmination and fullness of the New Covenant marriage—yet God intends to offer this marriage relationship to all human beings. All who will ultimately agree to surrender themselves and be spiritually transformed in the same way can receive it.
When Jesus returns and joins into the fullness of marriage with His Church, He will then also extend His engagement proposal to all mankind. Yet the covenant is still with Israel (Jeremiah 31:31 Jeremiah 31:31Behold, the days come, said the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:
American King James Version×), since all must become spiritual Israelites to participate in it. Eventually, all who ultimately choose to serve God and continue in His covenant will be changed into spirit to enter into the fullness of the New Covenant.
And as all of mankind is brought into this relationship, peace will extend to encompass the earth—all under the rule of Christ and His perfected saints, the glorified spiritual Israel.
Of course, people do not become perfect overnight. With help from God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit He gives them, they grow in obedience. God's laws will gradually be written into their character. But eventually, as Scripture shows, these people will be transformed into perfect spirit beings who will never sin again.
This is how sin—and the suffering and death that result from sin—will ultimately one day be remembered no more (Jeremiah 31:34 Jeremiah 31:34And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, said the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
American King James Version×). It simply will no longer exist.
To learn more about this process of spiritual transformation and how you may enter into that relationship with Jesus Christ, download or request our free booklet Transforming Your Life: The Process of Conversion.