There are several issues I have not made clear that I will try and clarify. One thing I am finding is that the more I study the gospels and the rest of the NT the consensus between the two is much deeper than it appears on a casual reading. The Apostles’ main themes have their basis in what Jesus both taught and lived as revealed in the gospels. Further, they find meaning through the lens of Calvary.
Let me say first that I find it confronting that Marcion is brought into this discussion in the context of my comments. I have not knowingly minimised the role of the OT, any of the gospels or any of Christ’s teachings or His life. The clear distinction between the old and new covenants originated first with Christ and was taken up especially by Paul. To imply, deliberately or inadvertently, that Marcion originated the clear distinction between the two covenants is unfortunate.
John sums the gospels up in John 20:21, “…but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” This is new covenant truth.
The distinction between the old and new covenants is essential to this discussion of Jesus’ life and teachings in the gospels otherwise it side-lines the key to understanding the NT in my opinion. Jesus made a significant statement about the passing of the old covenant at the Passover feast. “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”
Hebrews confirms this new covenant in Christ’s blood in significant detail. 2 Cor 3 is also very specific. “… but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
The old covenant is a ministry of death in letters engraved on stones. This old covenant has lost it’s glory and when it is read a veil descends that can only be removed in Christ. Ex 34:28 undergirds Paul’s statement. “And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.” This old covenant is the covenant from Sinai.
The Law was given through Moses - old covenant. Grace and truth were realised through Jesus Christ - new covenant. Although the gospels were written many years after Calvary they tell the story of Christ’s life and teachings as He lived His life. However, from time to time there are snippets that reflect their later understanding of the gospel under the new covenant. John 7:39 seems to be an example of this. “But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”
The Holy Spirit was not given to anybody living under the old covenant in the way that we now experience Him under the new covenant. It was Christ’s death and resurrection that opened the way for the full presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Pentecost was the realisation of the gift of the Holy Spirit as promised by Christ after His sacrifice was complete. (John 14:16+ and 16:12+).
Both Jew and Gentile have full, not just fuller access to the Holy Spirit under the new covenant. In 2 Cor 3 Paul is very clear on the inadequacy of the old covenant based on the ten commandments written on tablets of stone. This was a ministration of condemnation and death. Under the new covenant we now live by the ministration of the Spirit of life. Growing up in the 50s we still spoke of the Holy Spirit as “It.” The subject of the covenants, old and new, was viewed with great suspicion. People had left the church over that subject!
I am more and more convinced that there is so much more to learn from the four gospels about Christ’s life and teachings that were aimed at transforming the minds of people from the Law, the old covenant, to the new covenant in His blood, the covenant of grace and truth, as ministered in the lives of believers through the Holy Spirit. This I believe will teach us to love one another, not as we love ourselves but as Christ loved us. Big difference.
I am more and more convinced that the deep need of the Christian church today is a clearer understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives as it relates to the finished work of Christ on the cross, His resurrection and ministry for us in the presence of His Father. I’m not talking about praying for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the latter rain. The Holy Spirit already lives in us which also means that Christ lives in us. We need to recognise who it is who lives in us and act on it.
But there is one more work of the Holy Spirit that is often neglected or misunderstood and it is a key to understanding what Christ taught throughout the gospels and the message that the apostles preached in full power. The Holy Spirit also is responsible for the new birth. For every believer, our old sinful nature has been crucified with Christ. It’s dead and buried. The Holy Spirit then created a new spirit, a new heart within us. In this way we have put off the old self and put on the new self. Yet we still contend with sin in the flesh as a foreign invader.
Christ taught what follows before the cross but Paul makes it just that much clearer because he had the benefit of looking back to the cross and recognising what Christ had already established. In Ephesians 4:20-24 we are to be renewed in the spirit of our mind and put on the new self. Paul’s explanation that follows is a glorious description of the new birth which is a new creation. “… put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” Christ also spoke about the heart. Paul understood it.
For me, this passage in Ephesians and a similar one in Colossians, has been a major breakthrough in understanding the truth of the new covenant. Put bluntly, for Christians to claim that they are dirty rotten sinners and they do daily battle with their sinful human nature is a denial of both Christ’s teachings and the life He lived and is a denial of the gospel as taught by Paul and the other apostles.
Yes, we battle with sin in our flesh but we have a new identity and our new heart at the core of our being has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. This is why the glory of the sacrifice of Christ and the work and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives reveals the glory of the new covenant that completely outshines any glory that the old covenant once had.
On this basis, John was able to redefine the commandments of the new covenant, again based on what Jesus had already given us as the new commandment; to love one another “as I have loved you.” Note how John puts it in 1 John 3:21-24. “…because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight. This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.” i.e. "… as I have loved you. We know all this by the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
There is so much more to be said on this topic but I submit that to study the gospels, Christ’s life and teachings and the meaning of His death and resurrection without a clear understanding of the new covenant in Christ’s blood is to miss the main point of our study. The old covenant has lost its glory. Christians find their mission to follow in the footsteps of Christ through the glory of the new covenant, the ministry of the Spirit of life. Only this can lead to a life of loving service as exemplified in the life of Christ.