Jeremiah 31:31–34, in accordance with passages such as Deuteronomy 30:1–10, foresaw a day when, after Israel suffered the curse of exile, the Lord would make a new covenant that would succeed where the old covenant failed in producing love for God and obedience to His will in the hearts of the people. Hebrews 8 teaches us that this covenant has come in Jesus, proving His superiority to the old covenant that the original audience of Hebrews was thinking about returning to. In today’s passage, the author quotes Jeremiah 31:34, reminding us of some of the central new covenant blessings.
First, Hebrews 8:11 highlights the universal nature of the new covenant, which is made with all classes of people and shows our utter dependence on the Lord for knowing Him. John Calvin’s comments are worth noting here: “By saying, From the least to the greatest, he first intimates that God’s grace would be poured on all ranks of men, so that no class would be without it. He, secondly, reminds us that no rude and ignorant men are precluded from this heavenly wisdom, and that the great and the noble cannot attain it by their own acuteness or by the help of learning.” In the history of Christianity, some have taught that the true saving knowledge of God is available only to an elite few, to those who have access to secret revelation or have a special ability to comprehend it. However, that all can know the Lord from “the least of them to the greatest” demonstrates that God’s truth is available to more than just the most intelligent or the most educated. The gospel is universal, intended for people of all intellectual abilities, and is made effectual not in our own power but only through the grace and Spirit of God (see John 3:1–8). In these words of Jeremiah about the universal scope of the Lord’s saving knowledge, quoted in Hebrews 8, we also get an allusion that the gospel is for all nations. This idea is worked out more fully in other prophecies (e.g., Mic. 4:1–5), but that everyone will know the Lord from the least to the greatest hints that God “shows no partiality” with respect to national or ethnic origin (Acts 10:34). He accepts all people who turn from their sin and trust in Christ alone for salvation.
Gentiles could be and were saved during the old covenant period, but it is happening in greater measure under the new covenant because the new covenant is more clearly universal in its scope. Christ the Davidic Messiah has come, and as foreseen in Psalm 2, all who take refuge in Him find God’s blessing.