I have been re-reading the book by O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants (Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 1980). In it he discusses two topics I wish to address: the role of teachers in the new covenant; and, did the OT saints have regenerating faith.
First, Isaiah 54:13 states, “and all your children shall be disciples of the LORD, And great shall be the happiness of your children;” (TNK). One could read here, “taught of the LORD.” Jesus quotes this passage in John 6:45. It is a time when the Prophet was looking at the new covenant age. It follows on the heels of Jeremaiah 31:34: “No longer will they need to teach one another and say to one another, “Heed the LORD”; for all of them, from the least of them to the greatest, shall heed Me — declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquities, And remember their sins no more” (TNK). We, at this point, need not consider the ramifcations of the term “all”. It is the same “all” that is given to Jesus (John6:37) and the “all” that shall be raised at the last day of history. “Who has wrought and achieved this? He who announced the generations from the start — I, the LORD, who was first And will be with the last as well” (Isaiah 41:4, TNK).
However, Jeremiah 31, in envisioning the new covenant (which brings us into the “latter times” – Jer. 30:24) in which “all” know the LORD as fully as they can know him. This is what Paul states in prayer: “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:17-21). Paul is looking at the ultimate realization of the new covenant work of the Spirit. Again, in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” When we understand the New Covenant backdrop against these and like statements, we understand that Paul was envisioning a progressive unfolding of the knowledge of God. Second, this dispensing of the knowledge of God by the Spirit does not take place just among the individual members of the People of the God, but also corporately. The “you” in Paul’s prayer is plural. Knowledge comes through the members of the community as the community is being fitted and joined together, so more does the knowledge become fuller until the community reaches perfection. This progressive understanding of the role of teaching and teachers would appear to contradict Jeremiah 31:34, but it does not when the whole picture is seen.
The importance of Robertson’s little book is that he sees the issue that one might get from having “no teachers” in terms of the New Covenant. I mean, that’s what Jeremiah says! However, in the NT we see that Jesus, having already inaugurated the new covenant in his blood, also gives gifts to the People of God, and one of them is “teachers” (Ephesians 4:11). How can, then, on one hand the Prophet proclaim that we will have “no need” for “anyone” to “teach” us concerning “knowing (knowledge)” of the LORD, and yet, on the other hand, Jesus, who inaugurates the new covenant, gives us teachers who are “to speak as if the oracles of God”? What gives?
First off, Robertson understands the role of teacher in the OT as mediatorial. God spoke, the teachers (Moses, the Levites, or the Prophets) expounded what God said, sometimes even teaching the very word of God Himself (“thus saith the LORD”). “But under the new covenant,” he writes, “no mediator would be necessary for communication of the will of God to his people. From the smallest to the greatest, all would know the Lord, im-mediately” (293).
However, “the presence of teachers today in the context of the new covenant does not deny the principle propounded by Jeremiah and underscored by Paul. Every believer today is his own priest and interpreter of Scripture. Teachers function in this interim period only to assist every believer in realizing the direct oneness they now experience with god through the provisions of the new covenant.” Further, “In the present stage of the fulfillment of the new covenant, teachers function within the covenant community. In a limited sense they serve as mediators of the new covenant” (Italics mine, 296).
For Paul, then, the new covenant has arrived, yet it arrives through the agency of the Holy Spirit poured out “in our heart” (Romans5:5). The eschatological Spirit has two tasks: drawing all those who are “taught of the LORD” (this is the expansion of the knowledge of the LORD in all the nations, taking place over the span of “all the generations” from beginning to end); and 2, bringing this community into the complete knowledge of the Son. In turn, this has two aspects by which the Spirit works: 1. Direct reception to the believer that, “Jesus is Lord, and God has raised him up on the third day” (the confession of the People in unity); and 2, by the sub-agency of “teachers” and other “offices”. Teachers are mediatorial in this limited sense that Robertson stated in that they cannot do the im-mediate work the Spirit does (regeneration, faith, conviction in the Scriptures), yet they do the mediatorial work as agents of the very message upon which the Spirit convicts and regenerates. It is in this second sense that Paul has in mind in Ephesians 4, “until we all come to the unity of the Faith.” The “all” here are all the People of God who are “taught of the LORD”.
Another thing to realize here is that Jeremiah refers to the “ultimate situation” (293). That is, from the Prophet’s perspective of the total finished work to be performed on all those who call on the LORD in the new covenant era, there finally will literally be no need for teachers. At the restoration of all things, we will not be having theological debates, arguments and conferences over what this or that text means. We will know what it means, individually, and together as the people of God. From this aspect, the offices of “presbyter” (teaching or ruling), “pastor”, “teacher”, “evangelist”, “apostle” and “prophet” serve “in the world” until the restoration of all things, when God has finally called all generations, from the first of them to the last. Until then, the arguments, debates, misunderstandings and “seeing through a glass darkly” prevail – yet, we know that “all things” are working to the greatest end and good: perfection. Thus, we are able to give an account for why, over the last 2,000 years, the “church” has seemingly been blown to and fro from every wind of doctrine, whereas at the same time, the truth, the “deposit of the faith” has once and for all been delivered – not to any single individual, but to the collective wisdom progressively amassed by the true believers in Yeshua YHWH (“Jesus is LORD”). As we go through the ages we realize that by bearing the fruits of the Spirit with “one another”, we are learning the things of God. This is not only in a person’s “own salvation” that they are working out, but also collectively and corporately in the True People of God, for the individual is but a “member” in the “body of Christ” (as Paul used that phrase metaphorically).
I will pick up the second part to this in answering the question concerning regeneration in the OT.