Is the New Covenant vital to our relationship with Jehovah?
Summary of Article
This article seeks to answer the question:
A covenant relationship with Jehovah – vital or unnecessary; personal or by association?
- It gives some of the history of the Society’s use of Zechariah 8:23 ‘proving’ that certain Jehovah’s Witnesses do not need to be in covenant relationship with Jehovah in order to gain eternal life on a paradise earth.
- It shows from Scripture that the Jewish people are still God’s chosen people and therefore are entitled to be considered within the new covenant through repentance and faith
- It proves, again from Scripture, that the new covenant is not limited to 144,000 special people, but is open to all who believe, both Jew and Gentile
- It reviews Zechariah 8:23 in the context of the whole of chapter eight and draws conclusions as to what it meant at the time of its writing and for later fulfilment
- It shows the all-important need for covenant relationship with God through individual repentance and faith; that one person cannot be considered righteous simply by associating with another so-called righteous person
- It concludes with suggestions as to how Christians can help sow seeds of doubt in the minds of Jehovah Witnesses at the doorstep, which the Holy Spirit may then use to convince them of the error of the Society’s teaching on the subject of covenant relations with God, and hopefully lead them into a right relationship with Jehovah.
[The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania is the official title of the organisation to which Jehovah’s Witnesses belong. Its sister corporation, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society Inc. of New York (Society) prints all the material that Jehovah’s Witnesses distribute.]
In the Spring of 2004 I was taking part in a weekly ‘Bible study’ with two Jehovah’s Witnesses and I was invited to attend the yearly Memorial observance of the Lord’s Evening Meal at the local Kingdom Hall (Sunday April 4, 2004). True Christians will celebrate this event on a regular and frequent basis, and will call it Lord’s Supper, Breaking of Bread, Holy Communion, Eucharist or something similar.
In connection with this yearly event The Watchtower of 15 March 2004 contained an article entitled “The Lord’s Evening Meal How Observed?” This article forms the basis of the argument that the Watchtower Society has misled its followers.
It has led them to believe that members of the Great Crowd of believers (Rev 7:9), i.e. those who have joined the Society since 1935 and all future Witnesses, do not need to be in covenant relationship with Jehovah God, but are still “covered by Jesus’ sacrifice and receive everlasting life on earth” [page 7].
The Society’s teachings about life on a future paradise earth are a distortion of Scripture, but the point to be made is that the Great Crowd believe that they will have such a future without a covenant relationship with Jehovah.
In order to develop the argument it will be necessary to go back to the year 1984.
Survival into a New Earth
In 1984 the Watchtower Society published a slim green book entitled Survival into a New Earth [Survival]. Chapter 19 of this work is entitled “We Have Heard That God Is With You People,” a quote from Zechariah 8:23 as read in the New World Translation [NWT]. The whole verse reads:
“‘This is what Jehovah of armies has said, “It will be in those days that ten men out of all the languages of the nations will take hold, yes, they will actually take hold of the skirt of a man who is a Jew, saying: ‘We will go with YOU people, for we have heard [that] God is with YOU people'”‘” – NWT, p.1206 [square brackets in original].
This chapter seeks to identify who is the ‘Jew’, and who are the ‘ten men’ who will take hold of the skirt of the ‘Jew’.
The ‘Jew’ is alleged to represent the Anointed Class of Jehovah’s Witnesses,
“…the remaining ones of the ‘little flock’…The Israel of God…They are the spiritual Jews” – Survival, p.147.
These are the 144,000 who alone are said to be born again and have the heavenly hope ahead of them. They have,
“faithfully fulfilled their responsibility as Jehovah’s Witnesses, [and] millions of sincere persons around the globe have been helped to ‘seek Jehovah'” – Survival, p.147.
These millions are said to have come to the realisation that Jehovah is really with the Anointed Class, who bear Jehovah’s name [Jehovah’s Witnesses]. In Watchtower terminology the millions are known as the ‘Great Crowd’ (or ‘Other Sheep’) who, as noted above, hope to gain everlasting life on a paradise earth. They do not have a heavenly hope; they do not need to be born again and indeed they do not want to be born again. The ‘ten men’ are identified as those millions who are,
“taking up true worship now in company with Christ’s spirit-anointed ‘brothers’. They do not merely associate with the remnant [of the ‘little flock’] at their meetings but identify themselves as worshippers of their God, Jehovah. They dedicate their lives to him through Jesus Christ and symbolise this by water baptism, thus demonstrating that they want to ‘become joined to Jehovah'” – Survival, p.149.
The final sentence of this quote is of critical importance. The Great Crowd of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which number in the millions, and to which the Jehovah’s Witness at your door will almost certainly belong, believe that by associating with the remnant of the Anointed Class and identifying themselves as worshippers of the same God; by dedicating their lives to Jehovah through Jesus Christ and by being baptised, that they have become “joined to Jehovah”.
This is all that is necessary to be “joined to Jehovah”. There is no stated need for repentance, no need to be born again by the Spirit and no need to enter into covenant relationship with God.
In case there may be doubts that members of the Great Crowd are not in covenant relationship with Jehovah an article in The Watchtower 1 February 1998 (p.18) said,
“Members of the great crowd are not participants in the new covenant.”
This teaching was still current in 2001 and as will be seen below, is still current today (Spring 2004).
The Memorial Meal – Who Are To Partake?
After I had attended the Memorial observance of the Lord’s Evening Meal I became deeply concerned with some of the teaching found in an article relating to the yearly Memorial event in The Watchtower 15 March 2004. I questioned the study conductor at the next ‘Bible Study’ concerning the relevance of entering into covenant relationship with Jehovah, with particular reference to articles contained in that Watchtower (pp.4-7).
The section headed ‘Who Are to Partake?’ seeks to identify those who may take the bread and wine at the Memorial. It refers to Jeremiah 31:31-34 where Jehovah is telling of a coming new covenant to be made, initially with the house of Judah, in which their sins will be remembered no more.
This of course, presupposes the old covenant, which we know was solemnised at Mount Sinai by the shedding of blood (Exodus 24:6-8). We know that this covenant involved only Israel and any who identified themselves with Israel (Numbers 9:14) . Thus the people of God related to Him through and only through a covenant, ratified only by the shedding of blood.
“A Certain Group of Individuals” Only in the New Covenant
Looking at The Watchtower article again it says that,
“The new covenant makes possible a special kind of relationship with Jehovah God. By means of this covenant, a certain group of individuals become his people and he becomes their God.”
Only members of this group are allowed to partake of the Memorial emblems of bread and wine. All others must pass it to the person next to them without partaking. This, therefore, begs the question: Who is this certain group of individuals?
Obviously it includes individuals from the Jewish people because (i) Jeremiah 31:31-34 states that the new covenant will be made with the house of Judah, and (ii) because of what Paul says at Romans 2:29,
“a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code” (NIV).
Paul, and the other apostles, as we know, were amongst these. So from Romans 2:29 we can say that the opportunity to enter into covenant relationship with Jehovah included people of the Jewish nation. Does this, however, include Jews living today?
According to Watchtower Society teaching God has finished with Israel once and for all.
“On Pentecost 33 C E, the Christian congregation of God [i.e. those of the Anointed Class throughout the period from Pentecost to 1935, and thereafter those of the Great Crowd] replaced the congregation of Israel.” – Jehovah’s Witnesses Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, p.28.
“…God is not with non-Christian Israel” – Survival, p.146.
However, Jeremiah 31 shows that God has not and never will totally reject Israel. Verses 35 and 36 tell us that as long as the sun shines by day and the moon and stars by night; as long as the seas roar, the seed [descendants] of Israel will be a nation before Jehovah.
What sort of nation are they? Exodus 19:6 tells us they are “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
In Jeremiah 31:37 we read that until the day when the heavens can be measured and the foundations of the earth below could be searched out Jehovah will never reject the entire seed of Israel on account of all that they have done.
Thus, although Israel may have been punished by Jehovah for rejecting His Messiah (Matthew 23:37-39), they have only been temporarily disregarded not utterly discarded . We may, therefore, assert without fear of contradiction that any Jewish person today who is circumcised of the heart (Jeremiah 31:31-7; Rom 2:29) may be a member of that ‘certain group of individuals’ who may partake of the Memorial emblems.
The Israel of God that Paul speaks about (Gal 6:16) includes all those Jews who are circumcised of the heart, by the Spirit.
It is also obvious, however, from what Paul says in Romans 2:29 and from Acts 10 (the account of the conversion of Cornelius) onward, that the new covenant was not restricted to only the Jews but to all people who were ‘inwardly circumcised’.
Does not Isaiah 49:6 foretell that Jesus, the servant of Jehovah, would be a light to the nations (the Gentiles) as well as to the Jews? Indeed, the Scriptures speak of:
- whoever confesses Jesus (Matthew 10:32)
- whoever does the will of the Father (Matthew 12:50)
- whoever believes and is baptised will be saved (Mark 16:16)
- whoever believes in Jesus will not perish (John 3:16)
- whoever believes in Him is not condemned (John 3:18)
- whoever believes in the Son has eternal life (John 3:36)
- whoever hears my [Jesus’] word (John 5:24)
- whoever comes to Jesus will not be driven away (John 6:37)
- whoever follows Jesus will never walk in darkness (John 8:12).
The opportunity for inclusion into the new covenant is for all, not just a privileged 144,000, as The Watchtower article under discussion (p.6) tells us. Consequently as all are in the New Covenant, all are entitled to partake of the emblems.
Two Biblical Covenants
The above Watchtower states on p.6 that:
“On his last night with his disciples, Jesus himself also made a different covenant with them. ‘I make a covenant with you,’ he told them…Luke 22:29).”
In fact Jesus was not making a different covenant, unless this means different from the old covenant, because Jesus says, on the very same occasion:
“This cup means the new covenant by virtue of my blood” – Luke 22:20 NWT. [italics mine].
There are, therefore, only two covenants in Scripture, for relating to, and approaching Jehovah God, both through the shedding of blood. These are the Sinai covenant (Exodus 24:6-8), and that which has superseded it – the new covenant in Jesus’ blood (Luke 22:20).
Covenant relationship means acceptance by Jehovah, through the shedding of blood. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22 NIV). Jehovah has stipulated this throughout the Scriptures and He is not a man that He should change His mind (Numbers 23:19), even to accommodate Watchtower Society theology.
It is of great importance and significance that when Jesus inaugurated the new covenant during His final Passover meal He put no limitation on the number of those who may enter it.
What About the Great Crowd and the New Covenant?
So now what about those who are not permitted to partake of the Memorial emblems? The same Watchtower article (p.7), in a section entitled ‘What Meaning For You?’ tells us that it is not necessary to partake of the Memorial emblems in order to be covered by Jesus’ sacrifice and receive everlasting life on earth. According to Watchtower teaching, these ones, who are known today as the Great Crowd, are not included in the New Covenant.
When I asked the study conductor about this, the reply given was that ten men out of all the languages of the nations will take hold of the skirt of a man who is a Jew, saying ‘We will go with you people for we have heard that God is with you people’. In this way those of the Great Crowd are said to relate to Jehovah without the need of covenant.
This brings us back to the teaching from the Survival book mentioned above. The study conductor was quoting from Zechariah 8:23. It is to this verse that we now turn in order to determine whether it is legitimate to claim that it teaches that all those Jehovah’s Witnesses who profess to be in relationship with Jehovah, even though not in covenant relationship with Him, really are in relationship with Him.
Zechariah Chapter Eight
Zechariah chapter eight contains ten promises each introduced by the phrase “This is what Jehovah of armies has said” (NWT). What has Jehovah said and what is the correct context of His utterances?
Verse 2 – Jehovah is jealous for Zion – the place where He promised to dwell with Israel
Verse 3 – Jehovah will return to Jerusalem, to Zion His holy mountain
Verses 4, 5 – Jerusalem will be filled with people once again
Verse 6 – All this may seem impossible to the few remaining Israelites who have returned from Babylonian exile, but Zechariah reminds them that it is not impossible with Jehovah
Verses 7, 8 – Jehovah will bring His people back to Jerusalem; the people He has never discarded. Israel will be His people. He will be their God. (Notice the covenant formula in these ten words). They will return from all the places into which He has scattered them.
Here the prophecy takes on a larger perspective
Verses 9-13 – Jehovah wants His temple restored in Jerusalem. And by doing so Judah and Israel, which have been an object of malediction, will again be blessed. Jehovah is still the God of the Jews. Here we have the promise that Israel will be a blessing to the Gentiles, as already noted with the story of Cornelius in Acts 10.
Verses 14-17 – Jehovah will again do good to Jerusalem and its people. Just as His threats of punishment had become a reality in the exile to Babylon so His promises of blessings will also become a reality. His promises to Israel will never fail [Joshua 21:45].
Verses 18-19 – Israel’s fasts and festivals (Passover, First Fruits, Trumpets, Day of Atonement, Tabernacles) as well as its fasts over past misfortunes (the fourth month, the fifth, the seventh, the tenth) all of which are in remembrance of the desecration of Jerusalem and its people, will again be celebrated and be joyous occasions
Verses 20-22 – The joy of the Jews will be complete when the nations gather at Jerusalem to seek Jehovah. This is another reference to the future conversion of the Gentiles
Verse 23 – People from all the Gentile nations will recognise that Jehovah is once again with His people the Jews and want to be a part of that. From being people who despised the Jews, the Gentiles will recognise that, once again, Jehovah is with His chosen people. From being people whom Jehovah had sent away from their land the Jews will once again be seen to be His own people.
Jehovah, Covenant, and the Shedding of Blood
This chapter from Zechariah is speaking verse by verse about an actual Jerusalem, a physical Israel, and the Jewish people returning to an actual location from an actual, historical exile in Babylon.
It states how Jehovah will restore His people (the people He has never yet discarded and never will – Jeremiah 31:35-37) under a covenant that He has never actually rescinded, although His people have suffered the consequences of disobedience to that covenant (Lev 26:33; Deut 28:64).
It then speaks of a greater fulfilment of Isaiah 49:6, beginning at Pentecost with the sending of the Spirit. Acts 2:5-12 says that Jew and Gentile converts to Judaism (proselytes, NWT verse 10) gathered in Jerusalem to worship Jehovah. Thereafter, as the gospel was preached further afield, the Gentiles entered the kingdom in their thousands.
The whole context of Zechariah chapter eight is obviously a physical one and there can be no room to “spiritualise” one verse, taken totally out of context, to prove that the Great Crowd can associate with the Anointed Class and be acceptable to Jehovah that way. There is no sound basis of scriptural interpretation to allow this. Even the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost was an actual, physical event located in the city of Jerusalem.
As already noted, there are two Biblical covenants, the old with physical Israel and the new with spiritual Israel, which includes Jew and Gentile, through repentance and faith. The Bible is absolutely clear that there is no other way to approach and be acceptable to Jehovah other that by covenant through the shedding of blood. There is no scriptural basis for saying that one person is declared righteous through the alleged righteousness of another. Psalm 49:7 in the NWT reads,
“Not one of them can by any means redeem even a brother, Nor give to God a ransom for him.”
Each one of us can and must approach Jehovah through individual repentance and faith (Mark 1:15,) through and only through the shed blood of Jesus. There is:
- Redemption though the blood – 1 Peter 1:18-19
- Forgiveness through the blood – Ephesians 1:7
- Justification through the blood – Romans 5:9
- Peace through the blood – Colossians 1:20
- Cleansing through the blood – 1 John 1:7
- Sanctification through the blood – Hebrews 13:12
- Access to Jehovah in the holy place through the blood – Hebrews 10:19
- Victory through the blood – Revelation 12:11
- Safety and protection everlasting through the blood – Rev. 7:14-15.
As soon as someone acknowledges their need of rescue from the consequences of sin (ROM 6:23) through repentance and faith they immediately enter into covenant relationship with God through the shed blood of Jesus (Luke 22:20).
Redemption, forgiveness, justification, peace, cleansing, ongoing sanctification, access to God, victory over sin and eternal safety and protection are immediately received.
The believer is now entitled to partake of the Memorial emblems as often as his church or fellowship celebrates the Lord’s death and resurrection (1 Cor 11:24-5).
This article began with the question:
A covenant relationship with Jehovah – vital or unnecessary, personal or by association?
In investigating the issue of covenant relationship with God, several truths have been itemised:
(i) How this can only be made available by the shedding of blood.
(ii) How it may only be entered into by individual repentance and faith
(iii) How it is open to all who come to God in that way and through no other.
In so doing it is hoped that the Watchtower’s false teachings and assumptions have been exposed for what they are – false doctrine that minimises the importance of a personal response to the Bible’s teaching about Jehovah God and the need of entering into a covenant relationship with Him – the only way that sinful people may approach Him.
That kind of relationship is vital, not unnecessary; it is personal and not accomplished through the alleged righteousness of any other. There is only one mediator between Jehovah and sinful humankind – Jesus Christ (1 Tim 2:5).
How To Respond
There is no instant, foolproof argument that will immediately convince Jehovah’s Witnesses that they are wrong. They will never suddenly admit to having been deceived by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.
Having said that, it must not be imagined that Witnesses can never be freed from the spiritual darkness and deception in which the enemy has enmeshed them. They can and do come out! They do receive that personal assurance of salvation that all true Christians may know. This, almost without exception, however, takes a great deal of time, prayer and effort on the part of concerned Christians.
Sowing seeds of doubt, which I sought to do during the weekly ‘Bible’ studies, is an effective way to cause Witnesses to question what they have been taught by the Society. In due course, under the prompting of the Holy Spirit, they may gradually begin to see the light.
This is not intended to mean, however, that all Christians should begin Bible studies with Jehovah’s Witnesses. So what, then, can ordinary Christians, who find Jehovah’s Witnesses at their doors, do to begin sowing those seeds of doubt?
It is important, first of all, to show interest in what they have to say and to try to lead the conversation round to having a personal relationship with God. This can be done by speaking about one’s own relationship with God through the shed blood of Jesus.
Do not get side tracked into arguments about whether Jesus died on a cross or a torture stake. Do not get involved in discussions about Biblical covenants if you are not knowledgeable about them.
Try to show from the Scriptures that each one of us has the individual responsibility to come to Jehovah on His terms, not our own. Do this by asking them to read Psalm 49:7 and ask whether it teaches that an individual may be in relationship with Jehovah through the efforts or goodness of another. It clearly does not!
Above all, politely insist that you know that you have a relationship with God through hearing His Word and believing; that your sins are already forgiven through the death of Jesus; and that you will not face a future judgement because you have already passed from darkness to life (John 5:24).
Many Jehovah’s Witnesses have admitted that, in combination with other events, it was as a result of Christians sharing their personal testimonies on the door step that eventually led them out of Watchtower Society darkness and into Jesus’ marvellous light, sometimes ten, twenty or even thirty years later. For specific proof of this see Fearless Love by Anne Sanderson.
In all events pray without ceasing.
1 In any discussion that refers to the right of those who identified themselves with Israel to belong to the Mosaic Covenant and thus to partake in the Passover celebration, the Witness may direct you to Exodus 12:43 which says: “No foreigner is to eat of it (the Passover)“. This is said to prove that only true Israel was in covenant with Jehovah and therefore only true Israel could join in the Passover. However, in verse 48 of that same chapter it says that:
“An alien living among you who wants to celebrate the LORD’s Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may partake like one born in the land.”
The Hebrew word translated ‘alien’ is ger; the Hebrew word translated ‘foreigner’ is nekar. This shows that the writer of Exodus had two specific and different groups in view. To say, therefore, that no foreigner was to eat the Passover is correct but it is incorrect to liken that group to the Great Crowd of Jehovah’s Witnesses who are forbidden to partake of the bread and wine, because, in fact, they claim to associate with those who are said to be the true Israel (the Anointed Class). It is correct to say that aliens were allowed to partake in Israel’s Passover celebrations; indeed they are permitted to ‘celebrate’ the Passover, not simply to be passive bystanders. It is therefore logical to declare that members of the Great Crowd who have joined themselves to the true Israel should partake of the Memorial emblems and not to be simply passive bystanders. This, however, is not to be read as if endorsing any Watchtower theology, or that the Great Crowd have inwardly circumcised themselves, but simply to show the illogical position in which the Watchtower places itself through its false teaching. [Return to text]
2 In reference to Matthew 23:37-39 it is Watchtower practice to only quote verses 37 and 38, ending with the words “Look, your house is left to you desolate,” in order to give the impression that God has totally abandoned Israel, whereas, in fact, verse 39 shows that this abandonment is only until Israel repents and acknowledges that Jesus was and is the Messiah. See Reasoning from the Scriptures p. 221. [Return to text]
Anne Sanderson, Fearless Love, (Fearn, Rossshire: Christian Focus Publications, 2000)
T V Moore, Zechariah, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1958)
The following are Watchtower p
ublications and are published anonymously;
Jehovah’s Witnesses Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, (New York: WBTS, 1993)
New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, (New York: WBTS, 1984) [NWT]
Reasoning from the Scriptures, (New York: WBTS, 1985)
Survival Into a New Earth, (New York: WBTS, 1984) [Survival]