Apologies for the frequent shifts in LAH’s visual theme. My longest lasting layout died on me, producing numerous quirks that are probably due to some of the recent WP updates. I think I’m settled on this one, Dialogue, and hopefully it’ll stick well.
From my paper “Covenant Theology As Grasped By A Regular Guy”
Continuing on, from last time, we get down to the tacks and tape of CT: covenants.
My conviction is that God has dealt with His creation, throughout eternity, in the framework of covenants. From the first breath of Adam, God has operated within a covenant relationship with Man. Before that, God in the three Persons of the Trinity even made the Covenant of Redemption. Ephesians 1:3-14 illuminates this concept using the terms “before the foundation of the world,” “predestined,” “His will,” “purpose.” As an aside, this passage also affirms the Trinity as a fact, that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, which is fundamental to the Christian faith.
So CT can be divided into three basic covenants. Redemption, Works and Grace. Redemption is the governing covenant, made within the Trinity, wherein God would create a people to redeem for Himself. Following are the two subordinate covenants. Works is the covenant made first with Adam and actually satisfied in Christ’s obedience unto death. Grace is the covenant that, based on Christ’s satisfaction and atonement, is made with all who are predestined to believe.
Within the two subordinate covenants are other supporting covenants from God, including the Noahic, Mosaic, Davidic and so-on. These, if taken as relative to Grace and Works, are connected either to God’s requirements for His people (law/works), which will be accomplished in Christ, or as related to promise of the advent and accomplishment of Christ Himself. All of this finds its fulfillment in Christ in the New Testament (New Covenant) wherein the covenants are restated from the perspective of that fulfillment (as opposed to the hope and expectation looking forward to God’s fulfillment of redemption in the OT).
I was thinking on all this today and how the Bible ties everything in, building and refining all at once. You see Adam and Eve as the first “holy people” of God in creation’s history. Then there is Noah, then Abraham, then Moses and Joshua and David and so-on. Ever notice how it all expands, in the Old Testament, that manner in which God deals with His holy people? It starts out in a garden and ends in a garden. Starts out with simple fellowship and worship, service and relationship between God and His humans. Then it all ends up with the same thing, only more majestic and glorious than before, but still just like the beginning. The complexity of God’s relationship with us and the manner in which we relate to Him, approach Him grows over time. There is a basic sacrificial system at first (Cain and Abel) which eventually turns into an entire system of ritual worship with specific guidelines for everything from sacrifice to utensils in the elaborate worship facilities. Worship grounds grow from a tabernacle, or tent structure all the way to a massive temple that is fascinatingly complex in architecture as well as proper use. God developed the Old Testament system of worship over time, mounting work upon work to increasingly expose our inability to worship Him in righteousness, faithfulness and truth while repeatedly demonstrating His grace and mercy upon all His people.
Repeatedly found throughout the Bible is this statement: I will be their God and they shall be my people. This is what makes me convinced of Covenant Theology. God hasn’t changed His message. He’s promised something and it translates right through the OT to the NT and it applies not to specific nations or nationalities but to one specific type of people: God’s Holy People — those people who are redeemed by Christ. Though God speaks in context of Israel in the OT, His prophets are not supplied with Old Covenant speech flavors, but New Covenant language.
Jeremiah and Ezekiel are flooded with the idea. Ezekiel, which we are studying during Sunday evening services, is especially awesome because of the temple that is entirely built in Ezekiel’s vision to point the hearers to Christ. Christ is that awesome, perfectly measured and full temple that is the Glory of God. It’s amazing. And it’s only feasible to have this “temple” in the New Covenant.
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jeremiah 31:33)
They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 37:23 ESV)
What happens throughout the progression of God’s redemptive plan in history, and I have to maintain here that this redemptive plan is the center that finds its own epicenter in Christ, is a continual building up of the complexity of a Holy view and handling of God. What I mean by view and handling is a holistic, life-long and life-deep approach to all of God. His worship, glorification, provision, all of it, including His created things. God is complex in that He created complexity. I think in some respects, our Creator is very simple, in the way a tree is simple (roots, trunk, branches, leaves, fruit and that’s it). But the immensity of His qualities is like the immensity of a vast mountain forest, which is like a life-form of its own kind. Some scientists, I read, classified the sequoia forest as a living organism that is way more than just a bunch of huge individual trees. That’s more God-like in my mind.
So this complexity bore down, gradually and ever more in detail upon God’s people. And yet God’s covenant promise remained essentially the same: I will be their God and they shall be my people. He made the new covenant from the start. Later on, that complexity became the death-march of Israel as the pharisees and legalism finally set like the mortar round a set of mobster boots. It dragged the people down until there was nothing left but the ritual. God always designed for us to worship Him in thankfulness and lovingkindness, but we, even today, fail to see that most of the time. So as the complications persisted, the undercurrent, the melody of God’s will remained: I will redeem you. Read it in Ruth, read it in Genesis, read it in Isaiah, in the Psalms.
So in the New Testament, Jesus arrives on the scene. For us it’s not surprising — we saw it coming while reading the OT. And He appears to shake the foundations of the whole system God built up. In all reality, He did not. He revealed, over and over again through four different Gospels, the simplicity of God’s message. He came to claim His people, just as promised from the very beginning. What was shaken was the system Israel had built up, like hard-water deposites on a spigot, of rules within rules and rulings within rulings. Christ challenged the Pharisees not because the OT was wrong or too much or a failed system but because they turned the teacher into a law. The Law was the teacher, paving the way. I hope that makes sense.
Jesus didn’t change God’s message. God was and is sovereign and He never changes. He set about to redeem a people for His own satisfaction and glory and did just that, in the course of thousands of years of history. Sometimes this was a slow building of a message and gathering, but there were the lightning-strike moments like the Exodus and conquest of Canaan, the flood and return from exile. And the biggest strike hit in Jerusalem just 2000 years ago, when Christ did what God had all-along promised. He died to redeem us. It’s entirely covenantal what was promised, followed, worked on and done. And now we’re in a slow-phase again, waiting for that last lightning strike that takes fulfillment to a final conclusion which is inevitable as an avalanche in the Rockies: Christ’s return in full glory to claim us, wipe the entire slate clean and get what He’d originally designed just the way has been ordained all along. The promise is kept.
I feel such sorrow now for those who do not believe and come to the Sovereign of the Universe in repentance and faith, for they will not be a part of that clean-slate. The unbelievers will receive the other promise: eternal punishment for their sins for they did not trust Christ for the satisfaction of their debt. And there hasn’t been a day past in almost 8 years that I haven’t looked for, wished for, prayed for a way to communicate the warning of Christ’s judgment and the blessing of His forgiveness to many friends and family of mine. I still do, today, have a long list of those I’d love to drag with me into paradise. But that’s ultimately God’s will and business. I’m just here, trying.
See how many times God promises in the Scripture? How many times He promises redemption? That’s the center! Promise = Covenant. It’s not a series of dealings or phases of plans, it’s one plan, one people, one universe and one Savior with one kind of salvation.
I think this is enough for one night’s work. I really love writing about this and I hope it serves up some good thinking and even more hopefully some encouragement and mud-clearing. If God is glorified here, then my work is done (at least until next time).
Recommended by my pastor, and something I’d really like to read real soon is G. K. Beale’s The Temple and the Church’s Mission. It apparently does a great study on the idea of the types of temple throughout the Bible.
Oh, one more thing. A notable from this morning’s sermon, which was on Luke 23:32-38: Pastor said this:
This is the place where Jesus is crushed.
This is the place where the serpent’s head is crushed.