5 Things You Should Know about the Biblical Covenants
1. Covenants are the backbone of the biblical story.
Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum have argued that the covenants advance the storyline of the Bible in their book Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants and they are on target. If one comprehends how the covenants function in the Bible, one will have a good grasp of how the Bible fits together. If we see the big picture in Scripture, we will do a better job of interpreting the information, and the covenant plays a key role in seeing the big picture.
2. Covenant can be defined as follows: a covenant is a chosen relationship in which two parties make binding promises to each other.
A covenant should be differentiated from a contract because it is a personal relationship which people voluntarily enter. The definition of covenant here is rather broad, but that is because there are many different kinds of covenants in Scripture. Marriage is a good illustration of a covenant, for a man and woman decide to enter into a relationship with one another and make promises to one another. Not all covenants were alike in the ancient world. In some covenants a person with more authority made a covenant with those having less authority and power. Such was the case when a king made a relationship with his subjects.
3. The covenant with David fulfills previous covenants.
The covenant with David stands in continuity with previous covenants. The rule over the world initially given to Adam would be realized through a Davidic king. The promises of offspring, land, and blessing given to Abraham would be secured through the Davidic ruler. In likewise manner the blessings promised in the Mosaic covenant would come to fruition under faithful Davidic kings, but if they strayed from the Lord, then the curses would come. Despite the conditional elements, the covenant with David was ultimately unconditional. God guaranteed a Davidic king on the throne but the covenant promise would only be accomplished by an obedient king, and the New Testament claims that this person is Jesus of Nazareth. As David’s Son, he now reigns at God’s right hand and will come again to consummate his reign.
4. The covenant with Noah isn’t redemptive, but it is necessary for God’s redemptive plan to be carried out.
The covenant with Noah is a covenant of preservation, signifying a new beginning for human beings and the continuance of life on earth until the time of the end. In many ways, it repristinates the creation covenant. Despite the depth of human wickedness, human beings are still made in God’s image, and God continues to bless them as they are fruitful and multiply on the earth. The flood testifies to what human beings deserve on account of wickedness, and it is a type of the final judgment to come (Matt. 24:36–41; 2 Pet. 2:5). The bow in the clouds, the sign of the covenant, testifies that God has withdrawn his weapons of war, that he will preserve the world until redemption is accomplished.
5. The covenant with Abraham plays a central role in the biblical storyline.
God promised Abraham offspring, land, and universal blessing. The promise to Abraham finds its culmination in Jesus Christ as the true son of Abraham (Gal. 3:16). All those who belong to Jesus Christ by faith are children of Abraham. The promise of land was accomplished when Israel possessed Canaan under the leadership of Joshua and Solomon, yet Israel lost the land and went into exile because of sin. The promise of land was realized proleptically in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, for his resurrection shows the arrival of the new creation, and it will find its final accomplishment in the new creation—the new temple over which God and the Lamb will reign (Rev. 21:1–22:5). The promise of universal blessing is fully and finally fulfilled in Jesus Christ through whom people from every tongue, tribe, people, and nation are included in Abraham’s family.
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