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Revelation 15:5 talks about a covenant and a law:

After this I looked, and I saw in heaven the temple—that is, the tabernacle of the covenant law—and it was opened. (Rev 15:5 NIV)

Similarly, Revelation 11:19 talks about a covenant:

Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a severe hailstorm. (Rev 11:19 NIV)

What covenant are these passages talking about? The old covenant or the new covenant? And what is the "covenant law" Revelation 15:5 is alluding to?


Context: I came up with this question after reading this answer (tl;dr; this answer claims that the 10 commandments are still binding for Christians, and cites these two passages from Revelation as supporting evidence)

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  • Whoso partakes of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is a debtor to the whole Law and is obliged to keep all of it, absolutely, without fail. Whoso has ceased from works and believes in Christ, is entered into eternal rest. 'Binding' Christians will leave them in bondage. Make no mistake. But up-voted (+1) for a perceptive question, nonetheless. – Nigel J Oct 15 '20 at 6:10
  • the 10 commandments are still binding for Christians - Christianity, following in the line of thought of Hellenistic Judaism, sought to (re)interpret the Law and its commandments along a spiritual dimension, rather than a literal or physical one, as the Pharisees have done, and as Rabbinic or Talmudic Judaism still does until this very day. – Lucian Oct 15 '20 at 15:29
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These verses are a direct reference to the Israelite covenant as referenced below.

In Ex 19 Moses is instructed in the Covenant directly by God. Moses then conveys the content of the covenant to the people which is recorded in Ex 20:1-17 as the 10 Commandments, and then explained and amplified in Ex 20:22-23:33. The people answered, three times, “whatever the Lord has said we will do”, Ex 19:8, 24:3, 7, thus creating the Israelite covenant.

God promises to “save” Israel from Egyptian slavery and deliver them to the Promised Land as stated in the preamble to the 10 commandments, Ex 20:1, 2, 23:23, Deut 5:6. This was to fulfil God’s earlier promise to Abraham and others to give the Promised Land to Abraham’s descendants, Ex 2:24, 6:4, 5, forever, 1 Chron 16:15, Ps 105:8, 111:9.

The purpose the Covenant (Ex 20:1-17) is stated clearly in Ex 19:5, 6 – to make the Israelites God’s peculiar treasure, his special people, distinguished by the way they conducted themselves. Ps 50:16-18, 74:20, 78:36, 37.

The benefits/promises of the covenant are also clearly set out in Lev 26:1-13, Deut 28:1-14 (blessings for obedience), and, Lev 26:14-39, Deut 28:15-68 (curses for disobedience).

The requirements of the Israelite covenant are the 10 Commandments as recorded on the tablets of stone and amplified in Ex 20:22-23:33, the book of Deuteronomy and elsewhere such as Lev 17-19, 26. This is shown by the following facts:

  • Ex 24:7 introduces the “Book of the Covenant” (which see) as already existing, ie, Ex 20:22 – 23:33. It served as an expansion and legal context in which to place the Israelite Covenant of the 10 Commandments.
  • These tablets of stone with the 10 Commandments are called “the covenant” (Ex 34:27, 28, Deut 9:9, 11, 15) and placed inside the ark (Ex 25:16, 21, 40:20, Heb 9:4). [The tables of stone were also called “the tables of Testimony” (Ex 31:18, 32:15, 34:29), or just, “The Testimony” (Ex 25:16, 21).]
  • The “Ark of the Covenant” (Num 10:33, 14:44, Deut 10:8, 31:9, 25, 26, Josh 3:3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17, 4:7, 9, 18, 6:6, 8:33, etc) or, “Ark of the Testimony” (Ex 25:22, 26:33, 34, 30:6, 26, 31:7, 39:35, 40:3, 5, 21, Lev 16:13, Num 4:5, 7:89, Josh 4:16, etc) is described thus precisely because it contained the stone tablets inscribed by the finger of God (Ex 31:18, Deut 9:10) with the Israelite Covenant of the 10 Commandments. 1 Kings 8:9, 2 Chron 5:10.
  • The ancient sacred “Tabernacle”, also known as the “tent of meeting” (Ex 39:32, 40:2, 6, 22, 24, 35, Lev 17:4, Num 3:7, 8, 4:25, 31) was also called the “tent of covenant law” (Num 9:15, 1:50, 53, Ex 38:21) because it housed the Ark of the Covenant containing the Covenant Law.
  • The re-statement and expansion of the 10 Commandments as the covenant in Deut 4:13, 23, 31, 5:2, 3 includes a reference back to the Covenant at Horeb, ie, Mt Sinai (See Ex 3:1, 17:6, 33:6, etc, and the statement of the covenant in Ex 19, 20, and restated in Ex 24).
  • The 10 Commandments Covenant is distinct from the Levitical law (sometimes called the ceremonial covenant Lev 1-9, 16, 21-27 , Num 3, 4, 8, 18, 25:10-13, Deut 33:8-11, Neh 13:29, Jer 33:18, 21, Mal 2:4-8, Isa 54:10, Eze 34:25) and Davidic Covenant (2 Sam 7, 23:5, 1 Kings 6:11, 12, 8:25, 1 Chron 17:11-14, 2 Chron 6:14-16, 7:17, 18, 13:5, Ps 132:11, 12, Eze 37:15-28).

The New Covenant (Matt 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, 1 Cor 11:25, 2 Cor 3:6, Heb 8:6-13, 9:15, 10:16, 29, 12:24, Jer 31:31, 33) a large subject in itself, but the NT makes several things clear about this. The New covenant uses the same language and same promises as the Israelite covenant, eg,

  • The purpose of the Old Covenant is exactly the same as the New Covenant: Specifically, God said of the Christian community, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, to proclaim the virtues of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” 1 Peter 2:9, 10 (Compare Ex 19:5, 6, Hos 1:9, 4:6).
  • All the promises God made under the Old Covenant to Israelites find their fulfilment in Jesus as mediator of the New Covenant to Christians, Matt 5:17, Gal 3:14, 16, 22, 29, Eph 1:18, Col 3:23, 24, 2 Cor 1:20, Rom 9:8, Heb 9:15, 11:18, 1 Peter 1:4. Thus, the New Covenant promises to save all people. For example, The Old Covenant was to save people from slavery, Ex 20:1, 2, 23:23, Deut 5:6; the New Covenant is also designed to save people from slavery (of sin), Luke 4:18, 19, John 8:32, 34-36, Gal 3:22, 5:1, 13, 14, Acts 8:23, 13:38, 39, Rom 6:14, 18, 22, 8:1-4, 20, 21, James 1:25, 1 Peter 2:16, 2 Peter 2:19, etc.
  • The Jerusalem council resolution in Acts 15:28, 29 is a specific set of requirements that were repeated from the Old Covenant for the New Covenant.
  • Hebrews discusses the same idea that the Moral Law of God is to be written on our hearts, Heb 8:7-13, 10:16, 17, exactly as it should have been under the Old Covenant (compare Deut 6:5, Jer 24:7, 31:33, 34, 32:38-40, 36, 26-28). Significantly, when Heb 8:10, 10:16, “I will write my law on their hearts” quotes Jer 31:33, the word used for “law” is “Torah”. This further reinforces the idea that it was the Torah and its Israelite Covenant that is to be kept.
  • Christians were to be “called by my Name” as confirmed in Acts 11:26, just as under the Old Covenant (2 Chron 7:14, Isa 43:7, 65:1). Matt 10:22, 24:9, Mark 13:13, Luke 21:17, Acts 15:17.
  • Jesus is the promised King of the new Christian Community, ie, the Kingdom of Heaven, or, Kingdom of God, Luke 1:33, John 1:49, Acts 13:23, Rev 11:15. Compare Jer 33:14-17, Eze 37:22. Thus, Jesus inherits the Davidic Covenant. He is also the “Son of David” (Matt 1:1-16) and “Son of God” as predicted in the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam 7); and His kingdom will never be defeated and is eternal, Luke 1:33, Heb 1:8, Rev 11:15, compare Ps 61:7, Isa 9:7, Psa 146:10.
  • Jesus is now seated on the eternal throne in heaven at the right hand of God, Matt 26:64, Mark 14:62, 16:19, Luke 22:69, Acts 2:33, 7:55-56 (standing), Rom 8:34, Eph 1:20, Col 3:1, Heb 1:3, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2, 1 Peter 3:22. See also Ps 110:1, Matt 22:44, Mark 12:36, Acts 2:34, Heb 1:13.
  • Jesus is the high priest of the New Covenant Heb 4:14-16, 7:23-28, 8:1, 2, 9:1-28, 10:1-18. Thus, Jesus inherits and was the fulfilment of the Levitical Covenant (See Mal 3:1).
  • Jesus was the fulfilment of what the sanctuary/temple typified, John 2:19-21, Heb 9:1-28, 10:1-18
  • Jesus represented the foundation of the temple as well, 1 Peter 2:4-8 (Compare Isa 28:16, Ps 118:22)
  • Jesus was the bread of life, John 6:35, 41, 48 (compare Ex 25:23-30, Lev 24:8).
  • Jesus was the light of life, John 8:12, 9:5 (compare the lampstand Ex 25:31-39, Lev 24:3, 4, Isa 53:11, Ps 56:13, etc)
  • Jesus provides the water of life, John 4:13, 14 (Compare the laver Ex 30:17-21. See also 1 Cor 6:11)
  • Jesus is the promised seed of the woman Gal 3:16 (compare Gen 3:15, and the Abrahamic Covenant)
  • Jesus was the Passover Lamb and thus the promised Messiah, John 1:29, 1 Cor 5:7, 1 Peter 1:19 (compare Ex 12:1-14).
  • Jesus is the High Priest of the New Covenant in fulfilment of the Levitical covenant, Heb 4:14-16, 7:23-28, because He was “pure, blameless, set apart” exactly as the Levites were. See also Heb 9:15, 12:24.
  • Jesus provided the blood of the new covenant of which the communion ceremony was to be a memorial, Matt 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, 1 Cor 11:25, Heb 13:20, 1 Peter 1:19 (compare Ex 24:5, 8).
  • Jesus did not abolish the Israelite Covenant and Moral Law but came to fulfil them, Matt 5:17-20, Gal 3:21. The moral law still applies to Christians BUT Jesus fulfils the Levitical and Davidic covenants by being the eternal High Priest and the eternal King of the Kingdom of Heaven.
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  • Thanks for the comprehensive answer. I have a few questions: 1) So can we conclude that the "covenant law" is referring to the set of 10 commandments only? Then what about all other 603 commandments of the Mosaic Law? 2) Are the 10 commandments still binding for Christians in the new covenant? 3) What about the Sabbath? – Spirit Realm Investigator Oct 15 '20 at 2:51
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    Up-voted (+1) for a comprehensive discussion but Paul (in Galatians and Romans) makes it clear that the Law is not part of the New Testament and your splitting of Law into three parts, discarding two parts and retaining one part : is unlawful. – Nigel J Oct 15 '20 at 6:06
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    @NigelJ - be very careful here. We cannot say that Christians are not bound by any law. What Romans and Galatians condemns is legalsim - earning righteousness by works of the law. BUT that does not excuse anyone from obeying the law. The NT is full of lots of laws - all 10 commandments are repeated and numerous others as well. Keeping these earns us nothing, BUT not keeping them proves that we are not saved. hence Paul's discussion in Rom 2, 4, 5, etc. If there is no law binding Christians, are we free to steel, covet, murder and blaspheme? Obviously not. – Dottard Oct 15 '20 at 6:25
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    @Dottard I know of only two covenants that Paul (and the writer to the Hebrews) teaches - the old covenant and the New Testament. I know nothing of your 'five covenants'. I do not partake of such 'theology'. The old covenant is not a 'mechanism' to 'carry out' a 'plan of salvation'. The old covenant demonstrated (in artifact and ritual) that which would be later inaugurated : the Everlasting Testament. We are not of one mind on this, sir. Our mentalities differ. I shall pursue this with you, Dottard. But not here, it is not suitable. Regards and farewell for now. – Nigel J Oct 15 '20 at 7:54
  • Dottard - Thank you for your excellent effort in answering a complicated question. * Curious about the point "Jesus was the Passover Lamb [and thus the promised Messiah] " --- Where in the Tanakh is Meshiach / Messiah synonymous with the Pesach Seh ( שֶׂ֥ה )? - blessings – חִידָה Oct 15 '20 at 11:34

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