A covenant, simply put, can be understood as the terms on which God agrees to have a relationship with mankind. We will look at key covenants so we can reach an understanding of how they work.
Covenant of Works
The first covenant with man is the covenant of works. God created Adam and Eve and established a relationship with them as expressed in Genesis:
‘The LORD God took the man and put him n the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.’ (Gen.2:15, cf 1:28-30)
From the beginning it is clear these are not covenants of equal partners, they rested on the initiative of God’s divine authority. Adam transgressed the covenants (Hosea 6:7) and was banished from the Garden and from God’s presence.
Covenant of Promise
Another key covenant is the covenant of promise. This covenant God made with Abraham. God called Abraham to be separate and trust God for countless offspring, to make him be a blessing to all the families of earth. (Gen.12:3) ‘to be God to you and to your descendants.’ (Gen.17:17)
In the Sinai covenant God, through Moses, called Abraham’s descendants Israel out of slavery in Egypt, where they had become the numerous offspring promised to Abraham, to live for him and be a light to the nations. (Ex.19:3-6; Is.49:6)
Covenant of Grace
Finally, we have the covenant of grace. In Luke’s gospel we read:
Christ came, ‘to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve [God] without fear.’ (Lk.1:72-73)
Old Covenant/New Covenant
The main divisions of our Bibles are Old Testament and New Testament. Testament is from the Latin testamentum. It came about because of some confusion in translating the Greek diathḗkē, which means either a last will or a covenant. In biblical terms diathḗkē means covenant but unfortunately it was translated testamentum, blurring the two definitions.
Note it is diathḗkē and not synthḗkē. The latter defines terms between two equal partners, the former terms defined by one party and adhered to by another. The two covenants are the Old Covenant, represented by the Law given through Moses, and the New Covenant, which is the Covenant of Grace given through Jesus Christ.
The Law, we are told, was put in place to bring us to Christ:
‘For as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Christ. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.’ (Gal.3:23-29)
It is important to recognise that God is the initiator of these covenants:
- He created Adam
- He called Abraham
- He saved Israel
- He sent Jesus
The consummation of this sovereign work of grace is described in Revelation:
‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man, He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.’ (Rev.21:3)
The Watchtower’s Two Covenants
In a January 2022 Watchtower we read:
“Each year, anointed ones look forward to attending the Memorial as partakers .Why do they appropriately partake of the bread and the wine? To answer that, consider what happened on the final night of Jesus’ earthly life. After the Passover meal, Jesus instituted what has come to be known as the Lord’s Evening Meal. He passed the bread and the wine to his 11 faithful apostles and told them to eat and drink. Jesus spoke to them about two covenants, or agreements—the new covenant and the Kingdom covenant. (Luke 22:19, 20, 28-30) These covenants opened up the way for those apostles and a limited number of others to become kings and priests in heaven. (Rev.5:10; 14:1) Only the anointed remnant, who are in these two covenants, may partake of the bread and the wine at the Memorial.” (Watchtower 2022, January 22 Study article 4, emphasis added)
This quote shows that the official teaching is that there are TWO covenants. The “Covenant for a kingdom” is said to be from these verses:
“However, youaretheones whohave stuckwithmein my trials and I make a covenant with you, just as myFatherhas madea covenantwith me,fora kingdom, so that youmayeat and drink atmytable in myKingdom, and sit on thronesto judge the 12 tribes of Israel.” (Luke 22:28-30 in the NWT)
Yet Luke 22:29 does not say this in other Bibles:
‘and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom,’ ESV
‘And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me…’ NIV
‘And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed me…’ KJV
‘And just as my Father has granted me a kingdom, I grant you…’ NASB
Comparing verses 19,20 with verses 28-30 in this same chapter, we can see that a different Greek word is used, both of which are translated as “covenant” by the NWT. Significantly, in other Bibles the first word is “covenant” (v20) and the second word is “assigned”, or “Granted” or “appointed” v29 (see quotes above).
The Watchtower have deliberately altered the Bible text in Luke 22 to make it appear that there are two covenants. One is the covenant which Jesus said was symbolised by his blood and the other is the “covenant for a kingdom”.
Yet for Christians, we have the new covenant entire, symbolised by Jesus blood shed for us, which fulfils every previous covenant promise. Jesus’ words in verse 29 are simply Jesus promising the disciples that those in the new covenant will participate in the Kingdom, referring to the future consummation of God’s plan in history. The disciples will begin to participate in this kingdom when Jesus is enthroned through his resurrection and ascension (Acts 2:34–36).
Jehovah’s Witnesses are Outside Both Covenants
The Watchtower asserts that both of their covenants are only for 144,000 Christians and, therefore, that 99% of Christians are not part of either the New Covenant, or the covenant for a kingdom in any real sense today.
The JW organisation totally misunderstands the New Covenant. They assert that the New Covenant is merely for the ones who will go to heaven and is a promise of their heavenly reward and status.
‘Spirit-begotten Christians are certain that they have been taken into two special covenants…The new covenant provides for all spiritual Israelites to be brought to glory by being resurrected to immortal life in heaven. Being “an everlasting covenant,” its benefits will last forever. It remains to be seen whether this covenant will also play a role in other ways during the Millennium and thereafter.—Hebrews 13:20. – (Watchtower 1998 February 15th page 12)
They teach that the New Covenant
- makes some individuals into “spirit anointed” ones
- makes some Abraham’s seed and children of God
- promises some heavenly glory alongside Jesus Christ.
- That the “Covenant for a kingdom” began at Pentecost when they were spirit anointed
- promises that some will sit on thrones and judge those on earth
“The parties to the new covenant are Jehovah, on one side, and “the Israel of God,” the spirit-begotten ones in union with Christ, making up his congregation or body, on the other side. (Heb8:10; 12:22-24; Ga 6:15, 16; 3:26-28; Ro 2:28, 29) The new covenant is made operative by the shed blood (the sacrifice of the human life) of Jesus Christ, the value of which was presented to Jehovah after Jesus’ ascension to heaven. (Mt26:28) When one is selected by God for the heavenly calling (Heb3:1), God brings that one into His covenant over Christ’s sacrifice. (Ps50:5; Heb 9:14, 15, 26) Jesus Christ is the Mediator of the new covenant (Heb8:6; 9:15) and is the primary Seed of Abraham. (Ga3:16) By means of Jesus’ mediatorship of the new covenant, he assists those in the covenant to become part of the real seed of Abraham (Heb2:16; Ga 3:29) through forgiveness of their sins. Jehovah declares them righteous.—Ro5:1, 2; 8:33; Heb 10:16, 17. “ (Insight on the Scriptures under ‘Covenant.’)
Why Two Covenants?
Of course. only the 144000 have Jesus as Mediator “of the covenant” according to the Watchtower. In suggesting two different covenants, It seems the following purposes are served:
* Jesus is downgraded because he is not God in flesh (dwelling with his people), rather he is an angel carrying out a task for God.
* His death isn’t the central part of the new covenant for them, rather, their own glorification is. The covenant for them is about their thrones in heaven and being elevated to the same position as Christ Jesus. This is demonstrated by the constant reference to the 144000 as “co-rulers” with Christ as though they are on the same level! (See A Government to Bring Earth-wide Peace — Watchtower ONLINE LIBRARY)
* The covenant is said to be for 144000 only, therefore MOST Christians are denied it. As such, they are denied all of the blessings of the covenant relationship. This means that millions of people are being taught that:
- they do not have a mediator
- they are not born again
- they are not spirit anointed
- they will never see Jesus or the Father
- they are not even God’s child, therefore God isn’t really their Father.
* If the reality of the new covenant were taught, they would know that the PROMISE of God is that they are forgiven because of Jesus. But this deceptive and unbiblical teaching of JWs makes them try to earn salvation and gives them a distorted view that association with the anointed is required to be in a right standing with God.
* JW writings tend to mix up the so called two covenants – so that the distinction between them isn’t clear. This is purposeful. It means that, in the mind of a Jehovah’s Witness, the new covenant is purely to promise a kingdom government and is for the 144,000 only. It literally doesn’t include Jesus because these promises existed before Jesus ever came to earth.
Watchtower Teaching the Bible and Christian Beliefs
Whilst they understand that a “Covenant” is a promise or agreement, it is very rare for the Watchtower to clearly outline exactly what the promise is. If you ask a Jehovah’s Witness, they will have differing answers regarding what the New Covenant is. Some think the New Covenant was made by Jesus to promise the “anointed ones” that they would rule in heaven as kings over the earth.
This fits with their false gospel (as outlined in their brochure “Good News from God”) which says that the good news is that God is bringing a kingdom government and we can live on paradise earth. Of course, the Bible doesn’t use the world ‘government’ it says ‘kingdom.’
Important Things missing from Watch Tower Doctrine
1. Jesus clearly said that the (new) Covenant was for forgiveness of sins.
They quote Luke 22 all the time when speaking of covenants because in Luke 22 Jesus doesn’t mention the forgiveness of sins. If they were to reference the Matthew account, they would see this.
‘Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’ (Mt.26:27-28)
At it’s core the New Covenant is for forgiveness of man because of the sacrifice of Christ Jesus. The promise is that any human putting faith in Jesus (and what he did) for salvation is forgiven. It’s a promise that God will always forgive a person truly putting faith and trust in Jesus Christ, as made clear in John 3:16.
If this point was acknowledged by the Watchtower, this would mean that the person would realise that they do not need the Watchtower organisation for salvation. As it remains, the JW thinks that only some elite people are in the Covenant relationship with God, therefore, we must associate with these covenant people to get God’s approval.
‘We need to obey the faithful and discreet slave to have Jehovah’s approval.” Watchtower2011 Jul 15 p.24 Simplified English Edition” Since Jehovah God and Jesus Christ completely trust the faithful and discreet slave, should we not do the same?’ (Watchtower2009 Feb 15 p.27)
“[A mature Christian] does not advocate or insist on personal opinions or harbor private ideas when it comes to Bible understanding. Rather, he has complete confidence in the truth as it is revealed by Jehovah God through his Son, Jesus Christ, and “the faithful and discreet slave.” Watchtower 2001 Aug 1 p.14
2. Angels are not parties to the covenants. God directly makes covenant bonds with mankind. Jehovah’s witnesses have an angel as a party to the covenant (their created Jesus angel).
3. It’s the Atonement that is new. The so called “Covenant for a Kingdom” of Luke 22 could not have been a new promise from Jesus, because the Kingdom had already been promised (Old Testament)! What was NEW was the atonement of Christ Jesus on behalf of the world.
4. JW theology has it’s roots in a total lack of understanding in regard to what Jesus death achieved. Their theology assumes Jesus didn’t change anything except making a “legal basis” to ask for forgiveness because he paid for Adam’s sin as a perfect equal to Adam. Therefore, their “covenant” ignores his sacrifice and says that the covenant was to promise the 144,000 that they would be anointed to rule as kings and priests. Not one Bible verse says that the covenant is for the purpose of humans ruling in heaven.
5. The new covenant is completely consistent with all the previous covenants. This is such a key point. There is a thematic continuity wherein each covenant builds on the last – the New Covenant brings something new and overarching. The JW idea makes no sense because God had already promised a Kingdom, but it is Jesus Christ who made that Kingdom possible, and only in him do we see something truly new. His blood is the symbol of this new covenant “for forgiveness”. The apostle Paul spoke of the time before the new covenant as “before faith came” Gal 3:23,25.
6. The ingrafting of the gentiles is fulfilled John10 where Jesus speaks of a little flock (Jews) and other sheep (gentiles) who will become one flock under the one shepherd. Gal.3:13, Rom 11:17.19, but JW teachings suggest that the “other sheep” only came in after 1935 and they are not party to the covenant (which teaching of course has no basis in scripture)
7. JWs suggest that the inauguration of the Covenant “for a kingdom” happened at Pentecost. However, we’ve seen that only one covenant exists (from Luke 22) and that is the one which is symbolised by Jesus’ shed blood. Jesus verbally agrees or declares the covenant and says what it is for (Matt 26:28) – his ascension inaugurates the covenant.
8. The kingdom was a present reality for the disciples and is a present reality for Christians. We celebrate this reality in communion. Hebrews 8:6-13 and Hebrews 10:14-22 make it clear that the New Covenant is for NOW and that all believers are party to it.
Colossians 1:13 shows that ‘the Kingdom of the Son of God’ was already established in the 1st century. The JW however thinks that the kingdom wasn’t established until 1914 (for no apparent reason Jesus did nothing for 1900 years) and that they personally are still not part of the kingdom.
9. God promised to dwell with or tabernacle with his people. In Jesus, God tabernacles in human flesh (John 1:14) and thereafter the body is the dwelling of God (Eph 2:21). The Great Crowd serve God in his temple with the tabernacle over them (in God’s presence) Rev 7:15 and finally Revelation 21:3. God will ultimately dwell with mankind forever in the one realm of new heaven and new earth.
The JW teaching however does not permit any of this, in particular those not in the covenant and with an earthly hope will never see God (or Christ) and are eternally separated from him. The concept of God tabernacling with the people is not realised for them.
10. God’s purposes for mankind are misunderstood by Jehovah’s Witnesses. The new covenant gives us something more than what God gave to Adam. God knew before the foundation of the world what would happen and chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. Our glorification through Christ offers more than Adam had.
However, in JW theology, they say that the entire purpose is that Eden is restored on earth. (They cannot explain however why 144,000 are needed to ‘rule’ in heaven since they were not needed to rule over Adam originally).
In all this it is worth remembering:
We are not witnessing to the mistaken, we are witnessing to the lost. We are not putting people right, but showing them how to be right with God. We are bringing light to a people chained in darkness.