Yesterday we looked at the first characteristic of the New Covenant which God promised, namely that instead of writing his Law on stone, he'd write it on our hearts. Once we place our faith in Christ, God the Holy Spirit starts the process of changing our attitudes which will eventually overflow into our actions. Your thoughts will--sooner or later—express themselves in how you live. Only the New Covenant as initiated by Jesus Christ can actually change you from the inside-out.
But there’s a second characteristic, and it deserves a day of its own, since it can be a little confusing. What does the Lord mean when he promises that "No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest"?
First, let’s clear this up by clarifying what it does not mean. It doesn’t mean that under the New Covenant (under which we live right now), there’s no further need for teachers. Teaching is listed multiple times as one of the gifts the Spirit gives the Church. Until Christ returns, there will always be a need for people to take God’s word and help God’s people understand and apply it. I’d like to think I have this gift; if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be doing this blog.
So what is the verse referring to? Think about the situation under the Old Covenant and contrast that with today. The Holy Spirit didn’t come inside and make each individual believer a permanent residence like today. He came upon certain individuals for a certain length of time for a specific purpose, and then he might or might not leave. The average believer didn’t have the Spirit to illuminate the Scriptures for him. That’s what the priests were for. They studied the Law (or were supposed to) and were God’s representatives among the people. If you had a question, you went to a priest.
Or if the nation needed a new word from God, that’s what the prophets were for. They were God’s messengers, and the words from their mouths had equal weight and authority to the Torah. But unless and until one of them showed up, the regular believer just had to go with what the priests told him. Keep also in mind that most people would be illiterate and would have little or no direct access to a copy of the Torah anyway. So do you see why the Lord was so hard on priests who went astray?
All that changed when the New Covenant in Christ was initiated. Now every believer has direct access to God through Jesus, our great High Priest. We can come to him anytime day or night to his throne of grace and ask him for answers or direction. Through his complete word and through the guidance of the Spirit, we can know everything we need to know. No earthly priest is needed! That's the sense in which there's no more need for teachers in this age.
And in the next age, I think this verse will be completely fulfilled. Everyone on earth will know God on a personal level, so there really won't be any need ever again for anyone to tell his neighbor "Let me tell you about the Lord!" Witnessing will be obsolete once Christ comes back.
Before we get to the last characteristic, I’d like to make a quick application here. Maybe we need a reminder of this sometimes: You have as much access to God through Jesus Christ as I do. I’ve been a leader in my church, and for some reason some people have seemed to think my prayers carry more “weight” than those of a lay person. Absolutely not. I’m more than happy to pray for them, but I’m not a priest, at least not one as distinguished from anyone else. We have only one priest here, and we need only one. You have access now. Use it.
Finally there’s the one aspect of all this which really is essential. There’s a Latin phrase that’s actually pretty helpful here: Sine qua non. It literally means “Without which, not.” Without this one thing, nothing else works. It’s there in the last phrase of the passage: “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” Notice that little preposition here: “For.” All the other benefits of the New Covenant (knowing God personally, having his Law written on my heart, etc.) only can take effect if the one problem is taken care of: my sin. Once that’s dealt with, once my sin is forgiven and forgotten, then we can have the intimate fellowship these verses describe. This is a little off-topic, since the Agent of this is mostly Christ instead of the Spirit, but I thought we could all use a little reminder. Our sins are forgiven and forgotten. He’s not going to bring them up again. Ever. Aren’t you glad?
Father, thank you for your Spirit, which is the connection between you and me. I have an intimate relationship with you that the believers in the Old Testament could only dream of. Let’s take advantage of that, shall we?