Question: I was reading the article " I Will Make A New Covenant". Can you explain Jeremiah 31 and could it be that Jeremiah was prophesying the return of Israel from Babylon? I understand that the two sticks being put together sounds like the Nation would be reunited, but National unbelief had thwarted GOD’S plan for the Jew in the past also?
Answer: I think that we have to realize several things about the nature of O. T. prophecy.
1.) Most of the time, there was a specific historical situation that was present that the prophecies had an application to in some way. However, This is not always the case, because sometimes the writers tell us that they were foretelling the last days, or days far off, etc.. Deuteronomy 32 and many, many other passages emphatically tell the readers that the prophecy speaks of time far off, for many generations to come (Deut. 32:7-14; Joel 2:28-3:1ff, etc.).
2.) In the case before us, when we compare Jeremiah with other passages, I think that it becomes clear that the time of the New Covenant was indeed for those far off days. Comparison especially with some of the Isaianic passages makes this clear (Is 50-65) contains numerous New Covenant promises, and the great majority of them are definitely messianic.
3.) The N. T. writers appeal to Jeremiah over and over again, and apply it to their times, and the contemporary work of Jesus (Matthew 26:26f; Romans 11:27; Hebrews 8; 10, etc.). This seems to demand one of a couple of things:
A.) That we view Jeremiah in a typological manner. I.e. that there was a near fulfillment of sorts in the return from Babylon, or,
B.) That we view Jeremiah as a last days prophecy. This, incidentally, seems to be the way not only the first century Christians viewed Jeremiah, but, it is the way that the Jews had viewed the prophecy for centuries.
It is very important to understand that the New Testament writers clearly saw the events of Israel’s history as typological of the first century work of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 10:11 Paul, after listing several events from Israel’s O.T. history says these things happened as "types of us" (literal translation). See Hebrews 3-4 and the author’s use of the Exodus motif and its application to the first century church as well. So, when the N. T. writers appeal to O. T. prophecy we must honor their inspired perspective, authority, and use of the scriptures.