Christ at the Center: The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism (Pt.1a)
Introduction To The Series
There are all sorts of places one can launch out from when writing about the grand scheme of things in the Bible. Certain passages are just packed with theology! This has been seen and utilized by many writers down through the ages. From John Calvin to John Stott men have built solid arguments from expounding a few verses and establishing connections with the Biblical worldview. For all his faults Karl Barth is often a master at this. Theology as exegesis as meditation!
While I cannot hold a candle to such men I would like to follow suit. I’m going to do a series of posts showing how the perspective I call “Biblical Covenantalism” is radically Christocentric. This is in contrast with most Dispensationalism which, although certainly not obscuring Christ, nonetheless does not place Him at the center of their systems (I believe this is another handicap of defining oneself by “dispensations”).
Biblical Covenantalism hinges on two main presuppositions. The first is that God means what He says. The Bible is a revelation to Everyman and therefore communicates its meaning in a straightforward manner. This is in contrast to what tends to be put across by covenant theology where often the Bible is portrayed as a revelation to the elect only. Or, on the other hand, scholarly opinions which rely upon modern extra-biblical materials or structural-linguistic findings only known to the very few, thereby obliterating any meaningful notion of Sola Scriptura and the Sufficiency of Scripture.
True, genres and figures of speech and structure must be appreciated, but they must never be made into the preserve of the scholars to argue over people’s heads about.
The second assumption is that the covenants we come across in the Bible are essential to a correct understanding of the Bible story; including its conclusion. This is something I shall bring out more in a future series on Teleology and Eschatology. I shall only say that neither presupposition is blind.
1. A Place To Begin: Colossians 1:13-20
He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, 14 in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. 19 For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, 20 and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. – (Col 1:13-20)
Now that I’ve said this about the centrality of revelation and the biblical covenants someone might ask themselves why I don’t begin the set of posts with John’s Prologue, which addresses somewhat both issues (the covenants indirectly as will be shown). I shall be going there in time, but I think this passage in Colossians gives me the grist I want to kick the thing off with.
Verse 13. In the thirteenth verse it is God the Father who has “delivered us.” So we see that the Father is the Deliverer and can be properly called the Savior (as in 1 Tim. 1:1; 4:10). Notice also that just as a human father requires a son or daughter in order to be a father, so God the Father requires a Son to be who He is. Therefore, we should understand that the doctrine of the eternal Sonship of Christ supports the doctrine of the eternal Fatherhood of God. God’s “paternity” is part of his eternal function in the Trinity, so Christ’s Sonship must be viewed as eternal in consequence. I don’t say that is all one can point to in support of the eternal Sonship of Christ; just that this text assumes the doctrine.
Now notice where the Father has “conveyed” us. It is into the Son’s kingdom. This kingdom is viewed by Paul in context as being both with us but ahead of us (cf. the “inheritance” language of v.12 and the “reconciliation” language of v.19). It is, as they say, both “already” but “not yet.” (This is not the same thing as allowing the “already/not yet” to determine our hermeneutics! The hermeneutics produce the idea). The “already” part is what makes us “strangers and pilgrims,” (Heb. 11:13), while being “citizens of heaven” (Phil. 3:20). The “not yet” is what makes us look up and gain perspective from our futures instead of the present (as in Col. 3:1-2).
Verse 14. Whether or not one accepts the reading “through His blood” in verse 14 (I do), it is plain enough in the context that the blood of Jesus secures our pardon and freedom (see v. 20). By the preposition “in” (en) Paul probably has in mind the “sphere” of Christ. Thus, to be “in Christ” is not only to be out of Adam (1 Cor. 15:22), but to be placed spiritually, not only in Christ’s Bride, the Church, but also to be put among those things which will comprise the culminating kingdom. It could be that this “kingdom” (v.13) makes up part of the whole reconciled reality which the apostle will soon speak about. But I think it better to see the kingdom in this setting as the finally restored Cosmos when the reconciling of all things is achieved by and through the Son after the Millennium when the Son delivers up the world to the Father (cf. 1 Cor. 15:20-26; Psa.2).
Verse 15. Even though Paul enters into a description of the preeminence of Christ it is important to tie this verse in with the previous two. We who are redeemed are a vital part of the work which the preeminent One is doing. Indeed, this fact, when understood in league with what is said next, is at the heart of Biblical Covenantalism, as will be shown.
As “the image of the invisible God” Jesus represents God in the physical universe in a unique way. We are “made in the image and likeness of God,” but He is the (eikon) Image! Hebrews 1:3 calls Him “the radiance of His [God's] glory and the exact representation (charakter) of His nature or substance.” Thus we are met with the miracle of the Incarnation. Not just with the event of it, but with the significance of it. God became man (cf. 1 Tim. 3:16 MT) in the world He made for man (Jn. 1:10).
Hence, Jesus Christ is what He is as King and Redeemer and Brother and even Image for us! The entrance of God as man into the material realm, to walk in it and eat in it and suffer and die in it; one day to reign in it, places a value upon the “natural world” and especially upon human beings, which cannot be arrived at through any other system of thought than a biblical worldview. As Barth never tired of pointing out, the humiliation of Christ is the exaltation of mankind. Not, for sure, in the corporate-universalistic terms envisaged by Barth, but in the representative sense of Exalter of those who have faith (as v.4).
Continued next time…
Series so far: Christ at the Center: The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism –
The Covenant God Incarnate: Part 3a