Saturday, June 24, 2006

Two Covenants - Two Kingdoms

"Is the New Covenant essentially different from the Old? Are we not still to carry a sword AND a trowel?"

The New Covenant

The New Covenant and its relationship to the Old is far too broad and detailed a topic to study in depth here, but we will attempt to take a brief look at what the New Covenant is, what the natures of both Covenants are, and how they relate to each other, before applying that to the two kingdoms involved, and finally to the issue of Christians in politics. A rather round-about route, I must admit, but we must of necessity lay the foundation before putting on the roof. First, though, a look at the New Covenant.

Perhaps the most concise summary of the New Covenant is stated in the well-known verse, John 3:16--
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Another concise description, albeit with slightly more detail, is given in the form of a prophecy in Jeremiah 31:31 - 34--
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:... this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

A third summary that describes God's part in more detail is found in Hebrews 9:14 - 15--
How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.

Finally, man's part in response to God is summarized in 2 Corinthians 5:14 - 15--
For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.

Notice in the second passage quoted above that the very core of the New Covenant is essentially the same as that of the Old: "I will be their God, and they shall be my people." The working out of that relationship, however, is radically different. To establish the New Covenant, God Himself became a man in the person of Jesus Christ, and gave His life for sinful man, becoming the spotless Lamb who was slain so mankind could be restored to a right relationship with a Holy God. Man's part is to acknowledge his need of redemption and accept Christ's sacrifice as the free gift that it is; and, as the last passage describes, to live thereafter for the One who died for him.

The Natures of the Covenants

Although we have already briefly touched on the nature of the Old Covenant[s], let's take a little deeper look at the natures of both Covenants, and see how they compare to each other. [In this section, Old Covenant refers primarily to the covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David.]

First off, we see that the Old Covenants were very specific and limited in scope. The promise was to Abraham and his descendents only, the nation of Israel and proselytes only, and David and his descendents only. The New Covenant, on the other hand, is universal in nature. "God so loved the world."
And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely. Revelation 22:17

All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.

The Lord is...not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
2 Peter 3:9
John 6:37

While being specific in nature, the Old Covenant was also corporate--an entire group of people was included, usually by no choice of theirs. The covenant was to all of Abraham's descendents [through Jacob], the entire nation of Israel, and David's descendents as a group. The New Covenant, on the other hand, is made on an individual basis. You have to personally choose to become a part of the New Covenant, you cannot be born into it or inherit it.

Part of the reason for this difference is that the Old Covenant was primarily physical, while the New is primarily spiritual in nature. Abraham was promised a physical son, a geographical parcel of land, and physical blessings. The children of Israel were promised a physical nation in a physical territory and physical blessings conditioned on obedience to physical rituals, rules, and guidelines. David was promised a physical son to sit on a physical throne over a physical nation. Included in each of these was a promise with a future spiritual fulfillment, as we shall discuss later, but the primary concern was physical. Under the New Covenant, however, Christians make up a spiritual nation, one without geographical boundaries or civil governments. The commands of Jesus in the New Testament deal primarily with our souls and spirits, and issues of a spiritual nature. The blessings we are promised are also primarily spiritual in nature. Again, the physical is also involved, since Jesus died a physical death and physically rose from the dead, but the victory accomplished was spiritual in nature. His commands often deal with the physical, but only as the outworkings of the spiritual. His blessings are sometimes physical, but depend on our spiritual condition.

Because the Old Covenant dealt primarily with the physical, it was also temporary in nature. Isaac is no longer living, the entire land of Canaan no longer belongs to the nation of Israel, the temple no longer exists in Israel, the rituals and ceremonies are no longer all observed, the Jews are no longer God's chosen people [more on that later], the laws are no longer in effect, Solomon is long dead, the ruler of Israel is no longer a direct descendent of David, nor even a king. In short, many, if not most, of the promises involved in those covenants no longer hold true in the physical sense. We will look at what happened to them later, but for now let's just say the immediate concern of the Old Covenant has already been fulfilled or dealt with, and it is no longer in effect. The New Covenant, however, is eternal in nature. It will never pass away or become obsolete. "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away." Matthew 24:35 The spiritual promises of the New Covenant hold true for all eternity. Jesus said, "It is finished" on the cross--God has made His final covenant with man. We either take it or leave it--it will not be changed. (Galatians 1:8)

One aspect that both covenants share is the double-fulfillment principle. Each promise contained both an immediate and a future fulfillment. God's promise of a seed to Abraham pointed both to Isaac, and to Christ. His promise of land pointed both to Jerusalem and the New Jerusalem. The rituals and laws of Moses served both to draw men to God in that time and to point forward to Christ. The promises of blessing conditioned on obedience were both to the nation of Israel for their time and to the church for our time. God's promise to David of a son on the throne was referring to both Solomon and Christ. In the same way, Jesus promises us under the New Covenant both present freedom and ultimate deliverance from sin, both present redemption and ultimate redemption, both present blessings and ultimate rewards, both present freedom and ultimate deliverance from corruption, to sup with Him both now and in eternity.

So we see that for the most part the Old and New Covenants deal in entirely different realms and have [at least on the surface] decidedly different goals and methods. What relationship then do these Covenants have with each other? How do they interact and mesh? Or are they mutually incompatible? We will look at this in some detail in the next post.