Peter Sammons reflects on the interconnectedness of the Biblical covenants
In the previous instalment, we reflected on the wonderful truth that through the covenants, God’s salvation purposes are progressively revealed. We conclude in reflecting on the realities of continuity and discontinuity as expressed in The New Covenant, of which all Gentiles are today potential beneficiaries.
As we said in the preceding article, Disciples of Jesus are grafted-in to the covenantal promises. If they happen to be ethnically Jewish their journey to salvation is precisely the same as that of a non-Jew: they must repent and believe. To repent means to turn away from all sin. To believe means to trust in the achievement of Jesus at Golgotha through the crucifixion AND to live a righteous life. Belief is never mere mental assent to the truth of Jesus – it is a belief that acts; it is a belief that proves itself in action.
We might then ask, at what point in history did this grafting-in actually happen? We can say that the in-grafting became possible at the point of the resurrection, when the Lord arose from death. He had proved his Lordship even over death, He had proved the claims He made about Himself during His three year ministry leading up to His crucifixion, and He had proved that God’s promises are to be trusted. At this point and from then on, all who place their faith in the Jewish Messiah Jesus are grafted-in as wild olive shoots (yes, in reality even if they are ethnically Jewish – like people everywhere they have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and so need to be reconnected to those covenantal promises). We can characterise this definite point in history in the simple diagram below:
All of history, in a very real sense, had been leading up to this point. The wedding invitation, if you like, is now issued to everyone on earth. The wonderful covenant promises are now available to all. Whilst we do not want to get too bogged down in theological detail, we can make some simple supportive observations: the first is that, at this point of in-grafting, there was a definite reconfiguration of the potential relationship of individual people with their God. There was a clear break with the past. No longer do people have to become Jewish in order to be blessed by these covenant promises. Once they place their faith in the Jewish Messiah they have, in a sense, become ‘honorary Jews’ and are now beneficiaries of all the covenantal promises. Prior to this point a person had to become a Jew in order to follow the God of the Jews. This is no longer the case. Historically we can see that God foreknew the events that would follow the Resurrection. Soon enough the Second Temple in Jerusalem would be laid waste and the Levitical priesthood would be obliterated forever. Second Temple Judaism would morph into Rabbinical Judaism, and would lose sight of the Messianic promises. So there was a definite point of departure from the past in the resurrection event.
As this diagram summarizes, there is now no longer a separate ‘priesthood’ because God’s family is a priesthood of all believers. By allowing the destruction of the Second Temple and the loss of the Levitical priesthood, God simply underlined the reality of this discontinuity with the past. We should note clearly that there is a degree of continuity with the past. Some Christians make a song-and-a-dance about discontinuity, but refuse to acknowledge continuity within God’s covenantal promises, especially as it relates to Israel. Rather they seek to “spiritualize” them and say that the covenant promises are somehow completed in “the church”. This unbiblical idea effectively – and I choose my words advisedly and carefully – makes God out to be a liar, to say that the promises He plainly and straightforwardly gave, He later abrogated. This is the error known as “Replacement Theology”. Readers should, at least, be aware of this error and be alert to it. In this early twenty-first century period, Replacement Theology is emerging as a key fault-line in theology and praxis amongst those who call themselves “Christian”.
So we see, in the above, that there is a degree of continuity with the Old Testament promises – and we need to hold this continuity in holy tension with the discontinuity that we considered earlier. They are, if you like, two sides of the same coin.
There is a ‘pattern’ in the covenants. They are consistent. They are incremental. They are ‘legal’ and have ‘legal’ force. They build towards an over-arching promise that Jesus will successfully assemble for Himself a family of those who truly love Him. The relationship of this family to its Lord is likened to a marriage in the Bible. In the Old Testament God is said to be married to Israel. In the New Testament Jesus is the bridegroom of His bride – the family of all those who repent of sin and instead place their faith and trust in Him. Entry into this (multi-ethnic) family is identical for all; it is through faith and by grace.
Does it matter?
All that we have been considering matters profoundly today in the twenty first century. Firstly, because God’s promises have been worked out with precision and exactitude in the past, so we can have sure faith that His as yet unfulfilled promises will likewise be worked out in practice in the future. These issues help to explain the sometimes fraught and troubled relationship between Jew and non-Jew, as well as between believing Jew (Messianic Jew in today’s parlance) and believing Gentile. These issues are becoming more pressing, given the reestablishment of Israel in 1948, in conformity with Biblical prophecy, and the global growth of the Messianic Jewish movement, which seems to be a sign of the closing of the Age. Perceiving the Covenants as a multi-layered “stream”, with progressively enhanced detail depicting God’s salvation purposes is surely today’s special message. Never forget the profound words of Jeremiah 30:24, which seem particularly to speak to today’s generation: “In the latter days you will understand this”. That is in the context of chapters 30 and 31 where there are ten references to “those days” and “in that day”. Nine of the ten remain yet in the future. It is only Jeremiah 31:31 (prophecy of a New Covenant) that we can say is being fulfilled in this day! Praise be to our wonderful Saving God!
Alex Jacob’s seminal book “The Case for Enlargement Theology” explores these themes in great depth. Highly recommended! His shorter book “Receive the Truth” explores these questions at the popular theology level. In addition, the interconnectedness of the Covenants is explored in greater depth in “The Messiah Pattern” by Peter Sammons (Christian Publications International, 2017, £10). The diagrams illustrating this article are taken, with permission, from that book. See: http://www.christian-publications-int.com/default.aspx?ID=142 for details.
This subject is explored in-depth in Peter Sammons’ book “The Messiah Pattern”, available here: https://christian-publications-int.com/default-23.html?ID=142
A Prophecy Today Review is here: https://www.prophecytoday.uk/study/resources/item/712-review-the-messiah-pattern.html