Christ at the Center (Pt. 2c)
Series so far: Christ at the Center: The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism –
Christ is the New Covenant! (Isa. 49:8)
Several passages in the Bible are crucial for studying the New Covenant. In the OT, along with Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 there is in particular Ezekiel 11 and 37, as well as early notices of the need for inner renewal in Deuteronomy 30:5-6. The NT references include Luke 22, 1 Corinthians 11, 2 Corinthians 3 and a number of chapters from the Book of Hebrews (viz. chs. 7-13). Important supplemental passages would be found in Isaiah 44, 54, 62, Hosea 2, Micah 5, Zephaniah 3, and 1 John, although there are plenty more salient passages which might also be considered.
One very important reference which interests us is found in Isaiah 49:8:
Thus says the LORD: “In an acceptable time I have heard You, And in the day of salvation I have helped You; I will preserve You and give You As a covenant to the people, To restore the earth, To cause them to inherit the desolate heritages…
Here in this verse, included in one of the so-called “Servant songs” of the prophet, is a prediction of a Servant who will “restore the earth” and bring blessing to Israel in line with her covenant expectations. We must recall that to be in covenant with God is to be in relationship to God. When that covenant is one-sided, putting the Divine Initiator also under obligation to ensure fulfillment of the terms, then God Himself will mend the relationship with those with whom He covenanted. He will do this through the “promised Seed” – the Messiah.
Many interpreters have commented on the Messianic import of this verse (Cf. also 42:6). For instance, Motyer says,
…the Servant is more than a covenant officiant or instigator; he is in his own person the Lord’s covenant….To speak of the Servant as the covenant means that while, as we know, it is through his work that covenant blessings become available, it is only in him, in the union of personal relationship, that these blessings can be enjoyed. Prophets preached the covenant and pointed away from themselves to the Lord; the Servant will actualize the blessings and point to himself. – Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, UK edition, 391.
We would in places expound the features of these points differently than Motyer by tying the literal fulfillment of the unilateral covenants to the ” New Covenant Man” (Christ), but we fully concur with the author’s words.
In a similar vein P. R. Williamson writes,
This individual will be the very embodiment of God’s covenant; hence the agent and guarantor of God’s covenant love and blessing to all the people.” – Paul R. Williamson, Sealed with an Oath: Covenant in God’s unfolding purpose, 160.
Paul’s use of part of the verse in 2 Corinthians 6:2 links it closely to the New Covenant which he has been talking about previously in that epistle. But we must not miss what is being said here. Jesus Christ doesn’t just bring about the New Covenant; He is the New Covenant. This is what we have already taught in the previous installment, but here it is spelled out for all to see.
Although he was not dealing with this passage, my conclusions on this agree with the statements of Karl Barth when he insisted that,
[Christ] brings, and in His whole existence He is, the evangel, good news for all…
He Himself was and is the event…He speaks for Himself whenever He is spoken of and His story is told and heard. – Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV.1.225, 227.
This prophetic linking of the coming Christ as the personification of the New Covenant, when it is understood to be the means of fulfillment of the other unilateral covenants, cannot be overstated. Everything must “go through” Christ just as everything is for Christ and will be subdued by Christ.
On the back of what we have seen so far it seems to me that to hold a system of theology which places any important prophetic covenant word beyond the directing influence of the New Covenant in Christ’s blood is to have a half-system – a system which somewhat relies on a flat fiat of God sending out the renewing Spirit of God without involving the immanent work of the Son of God. I believe, therefore, that without the New Covenant it is not possible for God to join this world or anyone on it to the full realization of the Noahic, Abrahaimic, Priestly, or Davidic covenants.
More than this, to attempt to circumvent the Person of Christ, not just as the Mediator of the New Covenant, but as Isaiah has it, the New Covenant in Himself, is to inadvertently deprive Him of the glory which is rightly His as the central figure in our history. That history shall not come to an end when Jesus returns to earth. It will move into a new and better phase under His direct kingly presence, but it will still be the history of this world – the world made for Him, and not the world to come.
More next time…