SERIES: Christ at the Center: The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism –
7. Christ in Biblical and Systematic Theology: Part 7a,
Christ and Systematic Theology
From the things we have already said it is not difficult to see that by placing Jesus Christ at the center of Biblical Theology – a position advocated in these posts and called “Biblical Covenantalism” – it becomes natural to move on to formulating doctrines.
Many both within and without the evangelical tradition have written about the connection between Biblical and Systematic Theology. In fact, perhaps most scholars who are not evangelicals are less than confident that Systematic Theology is a viable exercise at all. The reason for this is their findings in Biblical Theology.
The first post stepped right into matters of Christology (unsurprisingly), Creation, and Ecclesiology. By the end of the second we were on firm Eschatological ground. In the third post I could write:
Hence, the Plan of God outlined in the biblical covenants converges on the crucified Jesus and emerges from the resurrected Jesus!
My contention in Part Two was that the other unconditional covenants were channeled through the New covenant, because the salvation realized under the New covenant ensures covenantal continuity into the kingdom era. Thus, both Soteriology and Providence were in view.
In Part Three: “The Covenant God Incarnate,” I of course dealt with the Incarnation. But I also referred to the interesting surmise of Meredith Kline that the pre-incarnate Christ was the antitype of the bodily form of Adam. Hence, we were dealing with Anthropology.
My discussion of Christ as the Logos in Part Four brought me round again to Creation and the doctrine of God. Included in this chapter was something about the connection of the Word as God with the Bible. I was writing concerning biblical interpretation (Hermeneutics), and so was in the realm of Bibliology. The hermeneutical question; tied as it is with the Person of Christ as Revealor and New covenant; with the Person of the Father as covenant-Maker; and with the Holy Spirit as the Author of Scripture and agent of eschatological new life, points inevitably to the doctrine of the Trinity, and the doctrine of the veracity of God.
In all this I was always on Eschatological ground, as every good Theology is. This led into the important theological issues to do with Israel and the Church, as well as the Nations, and their part in reflecting the Triunity of God (Part Five).
Then in Part Six we returned to the Cross and the offices of Christ. Finally, the Resurrection was viewed as “a glorious anachronism” which points us all to the fervent hope of His appearing and Kingdom.
Although this series could not go into much detail in connecting Biblical Theology to Systematic Theology, I truly hope that I have done enough here to arouse the interest of those who want the Lord Jesus Christ to be central to both disciplines, but who, like me, are not impressed by the pretensions of Covenant Theology, with its overwhelmingly inferential way of “Christotelic” formulations – stuffing Christ into texts where He doesn’t fit; and most Dispensational Theology, where Christ only pops His head in now and again under certain categories of the system.
Biblical Covenantalism brings Christ forward in both disciplines in two main ways. Firstly, by simply paying heed to what is plainly said about Him in the Bible. To recall something said in Part 4a:
I want to make sure that we have established a very strong connection in our minds between the Bible, the world, and the personal Savior who is our Lord. Just as the Bible is His, this world is His and we are His; and all these things exist, in the first place, for Him. He is the judge of all of His creation and He shall rule over all of the creation. This world is of Him, for Him, by Him, to Him. If we’re going to have a scriptural doctrine of the Creation it will bear some correlation to Jesus Christ. I don’t say we must “find Him in it,” only that we must relate it to Him.
The same applies then to the doctrine of the Revelation of God. Here the danger of abstraction becomes a very real one. The teaching about the Bible has got to be in accord with the worldview which springs from the Bible. And, as we hope we have begun to make clear, a world and life view that is a truly biblical one will have to be centered in the Person of Christ.
The Bible puts the Lord Jesus in the middle of everything!
In the second place, and this point calls for some reflection: Christ has been “set forth” (cf. Rom. 3:25) by the Father and exegetes Him (Jn. 1:18). Christ is witnessed to by the Spirit; so that to know the first and third Persons one must go through the second Person. What this yields, I believe, is a starting assumption of doing Systematic Theology first Christo-centrically. Many theologians have started Trinitarianly, and I am not decrying that. But the makeup of Scripture places the access to the Divine Trinity through Jesus Christ. He is the Designer, Creator, Sustainer, Archetype, Savior, Covenant Guarantor, Restorer, King and Judge over all Creation. The Father has willed it be so. The Spirit makes sure it is so. So the Lord Jesus is the means by which Biblical and Systematic Theology live in harmony. As Word and Covenant Jesus Christ puts all around Him in its proper place!
SERIES: Christ at the Center: The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism –
Jesus Christ in Biblical and Systematic Theology
Christ and Biblical Theology
As I bring this study to a close I want to do two things. First, I want to recap on where we’ve been, and to show how Biblical Covenantalism is extremely Christ-focused, but not through any forced theological predetermining or eisegesis. Christ fits within the Story of the Bible so naturally because of His function at the very core of it from beginning to end. One doesn’t have to go looking for Him in every verse, determined to see Him whether He is present or not. I am not advocating such a fallacious course of action. And we must guard ourselves from those who, with pretensions to piety, speak to us about finding Jesus in each verse of each Book of Scripture. Our imaginations were not given us to overlook the obvious while collecting a useless and confusing melange of types, allusions, and the like. These things we have often brought with us and our searching will inevitably be productive if we pretend to discover those things which we have spread so liberally. The truth is, Christ is not in every verse. Nor indeed is he to be found in very many chapters and verses. It is not impious to speak the truth. But the truth can sometimes sound impious to those with a manufactured piety.
These studies have sought to show that Christ’s Person and offices lie behind the Plan and Purposes of God, and that though there are many verses where He is absent, still He cannot be removed from any Act in the Story.
I started out in Colossians 1, There I aimed to show how Paul makes Jesus Christ preeminent, not by employing religious rhetoric, but by simply stating the reality of who Christ is: Creator, Upholder, Owner. Further, the future regeneration of the whole of creation depends on Christ. Thus far the Introduction. But although the apostle is writing of the church’s relation to its Head in Colossians 1, it would be a mistake to limit the fallout of his words to the Church alone. There is more to the Plan of God than the Church, and Christ’s relationship to the New Covenant in His blood proves this (Part 2). We saw that the covenant promises of the Old Testament are guaranteed literal fulfillment through their association with the Coming of Christ to reign on earth. The Second Coming is more important fulfillment-wise, than the First coming, crucial as that was. This is because covenant fulfillment centers in Jesus Himself, who encapsulates the New covenant upon which the other covenants rely. Since the covenants name this world as essential to their purposes, the roles of Christ as covenant guarantor and Christ as Second Adam combine in His earthly reign.
Here we encounter our main thesis (Part 3):
Our main thesis is that Christ will perform all this restorative and promissory work by the New Covenant, which in Him (Isa. 49:8) provides the requisite cleansing unto righteousness that obligates God to fulfill His covenants. This Christ-centered approach is what I call “Biblical Covenantalism.”
The incarnation does more than just make it possible to “kill” the Second Person of the Trinity. It highlights the importance of creation to God, especially God’s image-bearer. Simply put, if there were no incarnation there could be no resurrection. If no resurrection, then no hope would remain for us, and God’s telos in making the world would have fallen into nothingness.
Part Four now displays the worldview implications of all this. He is the measure of all things. But He is also the way of seeing all things correctly. The last two posts in Part Four try to tie together the outside world as created and upheld and redeemed by Christ with the actual hermeneutics of Christ as found in the Gospels; the one confirming the other. This sets us up for Part Five where the teleological and eschatological goals of creation and redemption take on a triadic appearance in the coming Kingdom. This is in line with covenant expectations too. The triadic peoples of God image the Trinitarian God whose stamp appears on everything.
In Part Six I rehearsed the Cross and Resurrection work of Jesus to remind us that all our value and all our hope is in Christ.
Thus, Christ is ubiquitous, even if He is not in every verse of Scripture. Big things as well as small things find there anchor in His Person and covenant work. And it is this fact of the pervasiveness of Christ in a Biblical Theology built mainly upon the covenants of Scripture that lends ‘Biblical Covenantalism’ its coherence and its power. These two things, as we shall show, make it natural to go from biblical Theology into a Christ-centered Systematic Theology.
SERIES: Christ at the Center: The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism –
Jesus and the Restitution of All Things: Part 6a
Jesus is supremely an eschatological Figure. By “eschatological” I have in mind a broad definition including God’s Plan in Christ, not just a message about End Times. Eschatology is bound to teleology and should therefore be studied progressively.
The resurrection, although it occurred in our space/time, does not “belong” in this history, but in our future history. It signals the future. The glorified body of the man Christ Jesus awaits the time when the Lord returns and brings to pass the “regeneration.” This regeneration will see the 12 Apostles seated on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. The need for judgment in the regenerated kingdom is seen in many OT places, like Isaiah 11 and Micah 4. The regeneration cannot be the New Heavens and Earth, because no judging is required in that perfect kingdom.
The Logic of Resurrection
The resurrection of Jesus Christ does not really belong in this age. In an important sense, it is an anachronism. When the atheist assures us that people do not rise from the dead we have to agree with him – at least in general. Of course, if they assert it like some scientific law we will beg to differ. Jesus is risen! But what a strange declaration. Amid the countless human beings who have come and gone upon the stage of history only One has had His physical Body resurrected. This singular event; which occurred very many years before we were born, is the anchor of our Christian hope. Without it, as Paul says it, “we are of all people the most pitiable.” Contrary to some points of view, the uniqueness of an event does not invalidate its credibility. In the strictest sense, every event, or, if that is too much to contemplate, very many events, are unique, just because they often include things which are not repeated in similar events. Just so, as there is only one Savior of the world, and all restoration hope is tied to Him, one would not expect another to be resurrected independently of his resurrection or, indeed, His timetable. The Christian Story is predicated upon such a simple logic.
But the resurrection does not merely fit nicely inside the Christian Story as a necessary article of faith; it actually fits within a necessary world and life view. I might say it is pivotal to any accurate world and life view. This is not at all to say that the resurrection is recognized for what it is in the world, any more than Christ Himself is accorded the recognition which is His due. It is just to say that the explanatory value of the Empty Tomb, at the level of the Big Questions of Life is immense.
This earth is cursed and will stay cursed. God’s curse on the material realm cannot be ameliorated. Notwithstanding, the resurrection of Christ does counter its affects. Resurrection is from death. It follows from this that the resurrection only makes sense in a cursed world. Its necessity and powerful counter-influence are only needed in this world. No resurrection is necessary in the New Creation. While it is true that the resurrected body must go into the New Creation, the New Heavens and Earth are maximally physical, as well as maximally spiritual. Thus, God doesn’t need a reason to create another pure physical realm to replace the present cursed one other than the fact that He has to do away with what He had cursed.
Could God make a new material realm by fiat and create glorified bodies for the saved souls of the saints in conjunction with that creative work without the requirement of resurrection? Conceivably yes, but then there could be no place for the resurrection. The logic of Resurrection requires a state of physical imperfection which is renovated or restored by dint of its connection to resurrection.
Some systems of eschatology treat this present material realm as a mere transportation system for the bodies of the elect. Or, more pointedly still, it is treated as a stage for the outplaying of history with no primary importance to God other than to deliver the elect into heaven. After that it is to be cast off and destroyed. Hence, in amillennialism particularly, wherein the planet serves in a reductionistic sense only as a mere carrier, the Christian worldview is impacted in the area of the purposes of this present earth.
A Glorious Anachronism
It could also be shown that any proper acknowledgement of Jesus as Lord and Christ brings with it a corresponding acceptance of and exalting in His bodily resurrection in heavenly glory. And it is just this fact which makes the resurrection a sort of anachronism.
Jesus is the only Savior of sinners because He Himself is without sin. Moreover, to no other man could Divine attributes be spoken about. It is these attributes of full deity which qualified Jesus to bring sinful mankind to God. But bringing mankind to God must include God’s original intention for man and woman. Nothing can be left out. Human beings were created to combine spiritual and physical qualities in a unique combination, and in so doing, to reflect the spiritual and material realms of creation within the image they had been given. But the material was cursed, and death has wrought its dismal effects upon our physical frames until they can be remade.
As I write this I look out at a great many various changing shades of green – in the leaves and the grass and the surrounding hills. But for all its splendor I look at bearers of the curse with which God struck the ground for Adam’s sake. Created from that earth, his body was doomed to fall back into it, until the time the material creation was ready to be restored. That event would itself be triggered by the physical glorification of the Church when the savior came for it near the end of this “present evil age.” But the transformation of believing humanity and the repristination of our environment does not have its source in a mere decision to act from the Throne of Glory. It finds its source in the historical fact of the empty tomb and the declaration “He is not here, but is risen!” And because He is risen we shall rise and this earth shall be pervaded with peace and its languishing beauty, so rarely glimpsed as its Creator wanted it to be experienced, shall come through under the hand of the King who reigns from Jerusalem. Read more »
SERIES: Christ at the Center: The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism –
Jesus and the Restitution of the All Things
Grace has to be present where God is present in His covenants. Because the “Seed” of Genesis 3:15 would endure a crushed heel (at the Cross), and will eventually inflict a deathblow upon the serpent, grace rests upon all of human history after the Fall until this world is presented to the Father prior to the New Creation. Grace carries the world through.
Grace did not first emerge at the Cross, but it was procured at the Cross. Calvary is the source of all the hope for the world. It represents the reason why THIS fallen world still exists. The Cross was seen from the beginning. God knew that the humans He made to reflect His own image would seek to do that image to death in His Son. Jesus would have been murdered in any era and by any people. Men would ever have done it willingly, without any push from the outside, so that they could remake themselves after their own image.
But why was Jesus crucified? Why not thrust through or shot? To ask this is not the same thing as asking why He died. Aside from the obvious need for the blood of Christ to be shed, I am not in any position to give a complete answer to that question. But surely these facts are involved in any which could be provided:
- Crucifixion was humiliating
- Crucifixion was denigrating
- Crucifixion was open and public
- Crucifixion was lingering
- Crucifixion bore all the appearance of the most abject defeat.
I could add to this that in handing over their Messiah to be killed by Gentiles, the Jewish leaders were representatives of all that fallen mankind had become. Instead of showing themselves to be God’s sanctified people, they proved that they belonged to the same ungodly “world” they outwardly despised. Think about their hypocrisy; they would feign worship God right after murdering His Son (Jn. 18:28). The Cross of Christ epitomizes human history. Being lifted up in humiliation (Jn. 12:32; cf. 3:14), becoming a spectacle to be scoffed at by men and demons, His suffering nevertheless covered the sins of humanity. Crucifixion lifted its victims up between earth and sky as curses (Gal. 3:13). But the blood shed there (better, offered up there) fits believers for the kingdom of glory to come.
The depth of sin which crucified Christ has not passed us by. We are all children of the Fall. We must take the Fall that seriously. This is what makes Calvary our only refuge. If sinners are to be finally saved it must be through the travail and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Because salvation is centered on Christ (Acts 4:12; cf. Gen. 3:15), and because the world was made for Him and is upheld by Him (Col. 1:16-17), it comes as no surprise to read that He has special rights concerning this world’s future.
In Revelation 5 we read,
And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. 2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven, or on the earth, or under the earth, was able to open the book, or to look into it. 4 And I began to weep greatly, because no one was found worthy to open the book, or to look into it; 5 and one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.” (Rev 5:1-5)
No one is found worthy, not even among the exalted sinless beings in heaven, to open the seven sealed scroll. Only the Lamb, Jesus Christ is finally found to be worthy of the task. Why?
“Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. 10 “And Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” (Rev 5:9-10)
I bypass the question of whom the 24 elders represent (they might represent the Church). My main interest is with two truths found within these verses. Firstly, Revelation 5:1-5 make Christ the only One in creation who is qualified to open the seals of the Book. The Book is filled with calamity for the earth-dwellers, and is best seen as a prophetic overview of the time from the revealing of the antichrist till the second advent (read ch.6 and study Tony Garland’s exegesis of the chapter). None of these judgments happen until the Lamb opens the seals. Thus, their occurrence is contingent upon Christ’s timing. It is Christ who controls this history.
In the second place verses 9-10 record praise for redemption wrought by the Lamb, but they also speak of what Christ has “made them” to be in the future kingdom on earth. Therefore these kingdom blessings are tied to the redemption mediated by Christ along with the blessing of salvation. This brings up two further considerations. In the first place we must recall that the blood of Christ is New Covenant blood. So we must repeat emphatically: all redeemed sinners are saved by New covenant blood! Secondly, the mediation we have spoken of relates to His priestly office.
It is clear enough that the priestly office of Christ was inaugurated at the Cross (Heb.9:11-12) and continues with His intercessory work on behalf of the saints (Heb.4:14-16; 7:25). But Messiah is a king-priest (cf. Zech. 6:12-13), just as His precursor (Heb.7:1). The two functions can be seen in Psalm 110:1 and 4. It is very important to pay attention to the occasion when these two roles will be assumed. The NT makes it quite clear that Jesus is now functioning as our High Priest.
But Isaiah 49:8 says,
Thus says the LORD, “In a favorable time I have answered You, And in a day of salvation I have helped You; And I will keep You and give You for a covenant of the people, To restore the land, to make them inherit the desolate heritages – Isaiah 49:8
This is a New Covenant passage. But notice how Christ’s covenant function includes restoration of the land. As He is, like Melchizedek, a Priest-King who combines both roles, we must ask whether the two functions are coterminous. Read more »
SERIES: Christ at the Center: The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism –
A Summary of the One People in Three Concept
A triad is a group of three. As used by theologians like John Frame it refers to the three-in-oneness of an entity. In Appendix A of his The Doctrine of God, Frame lists many examples, some of the most obvious being:
1. Length, width, height
2. Beginning, middle, end
3. I, you, he
4. Faith, hope, love
5. The world, the flesh and the devil
6. Thought, word, deed
7. Liquid, solid, gas
8. Past, present, future
9. Husband, wife, child
10. Melody, harmony, rhythm
Some of the more interesting ones have to do with Speech-Acts: locution, illocution, perlocution; Ethical perspectives: teleological deontological, existential; and Divine disclosure: revelation, inspiration, illumination. Frame himself has become known for his triad of “Lordship Attributes”: Control, authority and presence; as well as his viewing of things from situational, normative, and existential perspectives. These are all Three-in-one and One-in-three. They reflect the world as it is in both its material and immaterial aspects. All I am calling attention to in this section of the series highlighting the central place of Jesus Christ in Scripture is that it should not seem surprising to anyone that those made in His image would compose a triad of peoples.
I have explained that the Father’s particular connection with Israel and the Son’s particular relation to the Church is set forth quite plainly in the Bible. I can find no similar teaching concerning the relation of the Nations to the Holy Spirit, but since in the age to come “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD As the waters cover the sea” (Isa 11:9), it is feasible at least that a special Spirit – Nations relationship will be revealed in the future. If not, the silence cannot be used as an argument against the Father – Israel relation (Isa. 54:5), or the Christ – Church relation (Eph. 5:25, 29).
Saying all this does not mean that the Father does not bear a loving relationship with the Church, nor that the Son does not bear a loving communion with Israel. We are not forced by any of this to regard the Divine affections as split between competing parties. The Trinity loves and blesses all His elect. The unique relations which at least two of the Divine Persons have toward Israel and the Church respectively should perhaps be seen as expressions of the unique attributes of each hypostasis: paternity, sonship, procession in an extra-trinitarian movement.
The covenantal relation of both groups to Christ is a fundamental fact of salvation and hope. Christ is “set forth” by the Father and the Spirit to bring humanity to the Godhead, and I am suggesting that this will be done with Israel, the Church, and the gathered Nations enjoying special (though not exclusive) relationships with Father, Son and Holy Spirit respectively.
Be that as it may, let us not miss the main point. The Bible reveals that three people-groups from human history will be present in the eschaton. This is assured by the covenants which God has made and shall make with these parties; covenants which He has placed Himself under obligation to fulfill. And God will certainly fulfill His own covenant word in accordance with His truthful and unchanging character. The means by which this three-in-one scheme will be achieved is through the Lord Jesus Christ, who is Israel’s Messiah, the Church’s Head, and the Nations’ Light (another triad).
SERIES: Christ at the Center: The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism –
Let me start Part 5c by repeating my main thesis:
My main thesis is that Christ will perform all this restorative and promissory work by the New Covenant, which in Him (Isa. 49:8) provides the requisite cleansing unto righteousness that obligates God to fulfill His covenants. This Christ-centered approach is what I call “Biblical Covenantalism.”
I have gotten as far as showing that there is a solid case, given the promises of God vouchsafed to the nation Israel (especially in the OT), and to the Church (exclusively in the NT), together with the separate “betrothals” of Israel to God the Father (e.g. Isa. 54:5), and the Church to the Lord Jesus (Eph. 5:31), to distinguish between them in the eschaton. I see no reason to paper over these distinctions for the sake of some forced union. The passages I have called attention to are as authoritative as anything else in the Word of God and must not be ignored simply because they make people uncomfortable. Attempting to force together biblical texts which point to a plurality of redeemed people-groups and make them refer to one group for the sake of perceived theological tidiness always results in the debasement of “uncooperative” texts. Either this or else a plain avoidance of them. As David Allen wrote recently, “There is a difference between union and unity. Two cats with their tails tied together have union. They sure don’t have unity!” I believe Christ brings covenantal unity but in plurality.
If the Bible, which is one Book, declares that God will save and restore Israel nationally (and it certainly does), after which time Israel will act as a magnet attracting the nations (cf. Isa. 2:2-4; Ezek. 37:20-28; Zech. 8:22-23; 14:16-19), and this turn of events is yet to occur, then that teaching must find a place within a person’s theology. A man who will not make peace with the passages we have adduced, but who instead enters into a kind of skirmish with them, is not placing himself under their authority. I am not saying counter-arguments cannot be brought forward. If they can be then they should. But when clear declarations of Scripture are passed over because they do not square with a certain theological preference, we cannot say that there is a true commitment to the whole counsel of God.
a. Before Israel
There was a lot of time which passed and a multitude of people who were saved before the call of Abraham. Prior to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the twelve tribes there was no “chosen people” whom God singled out for His own (Psa. 114:7; 1 Ki. 8:48, 53; Isa. 2:3; 43:1, 21). Sinners were saved but they were not within Israel. This hardly requires any proof. Since these saints were not part of Israel (which was not yet in existence), which people-group will they be in at the close of history?
Job was probably contemporary with Isaac and Jacob, and he certainly entertained hope of a resurrected life (Job 19:25-27). Was he an Israelite without knowing it? Is it not more likely that he joins those like Noah and Melchizedek within another set of saved humanity?
b. Before the Church
We have shown that the Church was not in existence until after the Resurrection of Jesus (e.g. Eph. 1:20-22; 4:7-12). We cannot therefore avail ourselves of the rather too convenient remedy of placing the saints of all ages into the Body of Christ. This answer can have absolutely no warrant unless someone can demonstrate how this can be (see the last post). Nobody yet has; although many unsatisfactory arguments have been used to try to accomplish it. If the Church is not in the Old Testament and there are people outside of Israel who were saved (before or during the era of the Abrahamic and the Mosaic Covenant), they can neither be in Israel or in the Church.
c. After the Church
We realize that there is no salvation outside the Body of Christ (Eph. 2:20-22), but we must also realize that the Body of Christ hasn’t always been here. nor will it be here after it has been removed once “the fulness of the Gentiles has come in.” In fact, Paul’s argument in Romans 11:11-30 is of great importance here. I reproduce it with some notations:
I say then, they did not stumble [cf. Rom. 9:32-33] so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. 12 Now if their transgression be riches for the world and their failure be riches for the Gentiles [the world is "the Gentiles", who we have said are the main peoples to comprise the Church], how much more will their fulfillment be! [there is to be a future "fulfillment" for Israel]13 But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. [Paul is aware that only some Israelites will be saved now] 15 For if their rejection be the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? [Though Israel has been "rejected" they will be "accepted," which fits Hosea 2] 16 And if the first piece of dough be holy, the lump is also; and if the root be holy, the branches are too. [this begins the Olive Tree metaphor, which is so often misunderstood] 17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you [Gentiles], being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, [since Israel are the branches broken off, the "root" cannot BE Israel] 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. [whatever the root is, it is firstly Israel's root] 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; 21 for if God did not spare the natural branches [Israel], neither will He spare you. 22 Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.[which may perhaps allude to the future apostasy in 2 Thess. 2:3?] 23 And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again. [how can Israel be grafted into Israel?] 24 For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree,[probably the world system] and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more shall these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree? [the question to be answered, then, is, "what is the olive tree?"] 25 For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel [the natural branches] until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in; [Israel must wait for this "until," which awaits the "fulness of the Gentiles"] 26 and thus all Israel [the nation, see 11:1-3] will be saved; just as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, [Jerusalem; more precisely, the city of David - 1 Kings 8:1] He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.” [again showing the nation is in view] 27 “And this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.” [this is the New Covenant since that is the covenant which takes away sins] 28 From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; [Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob] 29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. [When God gifts a people and makes covenant promises He will ensure the gifts get to those to whom they were given, and the covenants will be fulfilled in precisely the way He made them. IT IS THESE COVENANT PROMISES WHICH ARE THE OLIVE TREE - Rom. 9:4-5; 11:26-27].
Israel will receive its covenanted gifts through first receiving salvation via the New Covenant (11:26-27). The Church will receive those covenant blessings meant for it (Gal. 3), again through the New Covenant. But is there a third people group?
SERIES: Christ at the Center: The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism –
Christ and the Triadic People of God: Part 5a
Due to Christ’s central role as the Redeemer, and owing to the fact that His redeeming blood is wholly “the blood of the New Covenant” (Heb. 12:24), all who will ever be redeemed – whether they live before or after the Cross – will be redeemed under the terms of the New Covenant. As I have been at pains to emphasize, Christ is Himself the New Covenant!
Saying that He is the New Covenant does not mean that it is all Christ is. He is far more than that. But as pertains to the salvation of sinners, I have stressed Jesus’ unavoidable role. And unless someone can show that Christ’s blood is only partly the blood of the New Covenant (with part left over to apply elsewhere?), we must conclude that all redemption is, in the end, New Covenant redemption.
This does not mean that all the redeemed are incorporated within the Christian Church however (nor indeed within Israel). Such a teaching is alien to Scripture and is sustained only by inferring doctrine in spite of Scripture.
In the previous article in this series I said that in the end, at the consummation of history, there will be one humanity reflected in three differentiated peoples of God: Israel, the Church, and the Nations. We are now ready to look at the second of these groups – the Church.
The Church is a New Testament Institution
First of all we must dismiss this view, held by many pious men throughout history, that the Church is in the OT. No New Covenant was made in the OT. The NT records the making of the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood (Lk. 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). This is why Jesus spoke of the Church as future in Matt. 16:18 (Jn.7:39). The Christian Church is the Body of Christ and is inescapably joined to the resurrection of Christ (Eph. 2:4-6; Col. 2:12; cf. 1 Cor. 12:13; Rom. 14:9). Thus, it was quite literally impossible for the Church to exist prior to the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The Apostle Paul writes,
Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. – Rom. 7:4
The Great Commission could not be given until “all power” was given to the Risen Christ (Matt. 28:18f.). The preaching in the Book of Acts relies on the resurrection (Acts 2:14, 24; 4:2; 10:40; 13:22-23; 15:6-11; 17:18, etc.). Paul’s admonitions to holiness in Romans 6 are predicated on our vital connection to the resurrection. Moreover, the Church is built upon Christ (1 Cor. 3:11. Cf. Rom. 10:9), and “the apostles and [NT] prophets” (Eph. 2:20). If the Church is a New Covenant community (as it is in 2 Cor. 3), it stands to reason that it could not be in existence before the New Covenant was made.
All this means that those saved before the inauguration of the Church, both among the Nations and in ancient Israel, are separate from the Church. Israel was (cf. Hos. 2:2; Jer. 3:8) and shall be (Hos. 2:19) married to Yahweh – whom we equate in most instances with God the Father. The Church shall be married to Christ (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:25, 32; Rev. 19:6-9). We cannot entertain a theology which has these OT saints in some suspended animation until Jesus has died and risen, and then joined to the NT Body of Christ. Though we insist that their salvation was firmly grounded in the foreseen merits of the Cross, that is not the same thing as declaring them all within the sphere of the Church. There is no necessity forced upon us by Scripture to include the saints of all the ages within the Church.
The Church is Intentionally Gentile
Another thing which is often overlooked but which ought to be thought about, is the frank truth that the Church, although it has its seeds in Jewish soil (Acts 1-7), is intentionally predominantly Gentile in constitution. The Apostolic teaching is that the Church’s design is to bring the Gentiles into relationship with God. This can be viewed along at least two related lines:
- The Jews rejected Christ and are judicially blinded to this very day (Rom. 11:8-10, 25, 28).
- We are awaiting “the fulness of the Gentiles” (Rom. 11:25). Once this period has concluded God will once again turn to Israel – the natural branches (one of the worst exegetical foul-ups is to equate the Olive Tree with its branches!).
Although any Jew who today repents and receives Jesus as Savior is incorporated into the Church (Eph. 2:12-16), Paul teaches that God will yet deal again with the nation of Israel, “the natural branches.”
What is the Church?
It is, at its core, a called together population of redeemed peoples, Jew and Gentile, but mostly Gentile, permanently indwelt by the Spirit, and betrothed to the Risen Christ. Because this conception is unknown within the pages of the Old Testament, the Church as “the Body of Christ” is called “the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints.” (Col 1:26). It is not, contrary to some, that the concept of the Church was known by OT saints but not realized until the New Testament era. That blatantly contradicts Paul’s statement in Colossians 1. Rather, the idea of the Church was “hidden in God” (Eph. 3:9); it was a secret (musterion) that no one but God knew about until God disclosed it.
Everyone understands that the OT is filled with promises of salvation for the Gentile nations. It is the presence of these promises which smooth out the transition between the Testaments and explain the “lack of surprise” at the church’s existence in the Apostolic writings. But this turning to the Gentiles because of the neglect of Messiah by Israel is no more foreseeable from an OT perspective than a huge time gap between the first and second advents was foreseeable. Read more »
SERIES: Christ at the Center: The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism –
Christ and the Triadic People of God
As the One by whom and for whom everything was created, and who holds it all together for Himself, Jesus’ place in the middle of the Biblical Worldview should be obvious. As well, He is the Word – the organizing and rational principle in the world – a personal principle (rationality is a product of personality). So Christ is the “Hermeneutic” to God’s world. He is the right way of seeing the world, or, I might say that He is the high mountain from which God’s creatures correctly see and understand their lives (Satan took Jesus to a high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, but his vantage point was off. Satan didn’t see the world through Christ’s eyes).
But Jesus is “the Word made flesh” (Jn. 1:14), and so unites the immaterial and material realms together in Himself. That is what His work is!
God made this world with humans in mind. He will restore it with us in mind. But the restoration will be gradual. First He must die and be raised in glory (Lk. 24:26), having instituted the New Covenant in His blood and made it with the Church (1 Cor. 11:23-26). At His second advent He will make it with the nation of Israel (Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:22-28), and then with the Nations. Through the New Covenant, which is inseparable from the Person and Work of Jesus Himself, the covenant promises of God will finally find their literal fulfillment. In this Jesus draws the two Testaments together.
I shall say more about this further on. But this brings us to the hope promised to “the Jew, the Gentile, and the Church of God” (1 Cor. 10:32). I want to show how Christ’s role in history necessitates His interaction with humanity, though distinctly organized into three distinct people groups in the consummation. Thus, one humanity will be represented by three humanities – a triadic three-in-one that reflects the Creator eternally.
I shall explore this relationship one by one beginning with Israel.
Jesus and Israel
God’s promises to the people of Israel – the literal descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, are about as strong and clear and unequivocal as anything that God has spoken to non-Israelites in the Church. I have documented this elsewhere (e.g. here). But I may say in brief that God’s covenant with the Patriarchs was confirmed and re-affirmed by covenant oaths by which God bound His Name to their eventual fulfillment (e.g. Ezek. 36:22-24; Dan. 9:18-19). These covenant promises to Israel, in which the land is so conspicuous (Gen. 15; Psa. 105:6-11), cannot undergo transformation or eventuate in unexpected and equivocal fulfillment without God impugning His own character. God does not use false balances. He will not require others to stick to “the words of the covenant” (Jer. 34:18), while exempting Himself from the same obligation. That is why Israel has hope. That is also why we have hope (1 Thess. 5:24).
The promise God made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their descendents contained temporal conditions in regard to occupation of the land and eschatological blessing (e.g. Lev. 26), but the core ingredients of the promises were unilateral and binding upon God alone. This is why I have made so much of Jeremiah 33:14-26 in my writing. The Royal grant to Israel was never a grant to a shadow of the Church but to a separate called out entity, and God through Messiah must fulfill it. As one non-evangelical scholar has put it,
Then covenant is initiated by the suzerain who is obligated, not the vassal. The covenant is initiated by the suzerain, and is unconditional in the sense that no demands are imposed upon Abraham.”- David Noel Freedman, Divine Commitment and Human Obligation, Vol. 1: Ancient Israelite History and Religion, 173.
Therein lies another important teaching of Jesus in Mathew 22:32:
But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.
The Patriarchs today are living witnesses to God’s covenant promises to them now and in the future. In his day Abraham saw Christ’s day and rejoiced (Jn. 8:56). He knew the Redeemer would come, and He knew that that would someday mean full covenant blessing through Him. That blessing happens when “Shiloh” comes and claims the king’s scepter (Gen. 49:10. cf. Num. 24:17; Psa. 2:6-10; Zech. 6:12-13; 8:3; 14:9). The Apostle places this occurrence at the second coming of Christ when He makes the New Covenant with the Remnant of Israel (Rom. 11:25-27 – Paul cites two Isaianic New Covenant passages). Thus, the redemption of all peoples has been achieved at Calvary. This is in all cases a New Covenant redemption or it is not a redemption at all. The application of the merits of Christ’s sacrifice to the nation of Israel is a second coming event, occurring after the “days of vengeance” of Isa. 61:2b, at which time the outstanding covenant promises of peace, safety, prosperity and land inheritance will come to fruition, which is why so many times in the OT Israel’s salvation is seen in terms of ethnic and geographical/agricultural blessing as well as spiritual salvation (e.g. Deut. 4:29-31; 30:5-6; Isa. 11:1-10; Hos. 2:16-20). Read more »
Christ at the Center: The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism –
The Hermeneutics of Jesus (Part Two)
The Lord Jesus constantly assumed His hearers could grasp His meaning and, where necessary, do it (e.g. Lk. 9:44; 10:26-28; 11:28; 18:17). John ends his Gospel with a grand hermeneutical lesson which usually has remained unheeded:
Peter therefore seeing him said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!” 23 This saying therefore went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?”
The lesson is simple: Jesus means what He says!
d. Jesus’ Kingdom Teachings
Anyone writing about Jesus’ interpretation of Scripture has to mention the subject of the kingdom. The kingdom was important to Him:
Before the Cross: From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 4:17)
Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. (Matt. 6:10)
Truly I say to you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (Mk. 14:25)
“So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near. (Lk. 21:31)
After the Cross: to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3)
The question before us is how Jesus Himself interpreted the subject of the kingdom. I have already shown in the foregoing installment, that the prospect of the kingdom in the first years of Jesus’ life and ministry did not deviate from OT expectation. I want to show how this expectation is only intensified as Jesus ministry continued.
First. in Luke 19:12-27 Jesus tells a parable about a nobleman who goes into a far country “to receive a kingdom.” (19:12. cf. Dan. 7:13-14). While he is away, some of the people say they will not have him to reign over them (19:14). Eventually the nobleman returns – though now as a king (19:15), and judges his people, including meting out recompense on those who had refused to acknowledge his rule (19:27). The parable was told shortly before Christ was crucified. The interesting thing about this parable is the reason it was given:
Now as they heard these things, He spoke another parable, because He was near Jerusalem and because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately. (Lk. 19:11. cf. 21:9).
Clearly, the kingdom would not appear immediately, but awaits the return of the nobleman! Therefore, anyone who teaches that this kingdom came after the Cross is gravely mistaken.
“The Days of Vengeance”: Concentrating again mostly on Luke’s account we come to Jesus’ clipped quotation from Isa. 61:1-2a in Lk. 4. In verse 21 the Lord announces, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” If He had continued with the quote past the point where He left off He would not have been able to say that. The reason being, the details contained in the scroll reading truly were fulfilled by Him at His first coming. But the reference to the “days of vengeance” which directly follows in the Isaiah passage bore no resemblance to anything in the Lord’s earthly ministry. They refer, as anyone can see, to the second coming. But Jesus uses this phrase, “the days of vengeance,” again in Lk. 21:22, and there He refers to phenomena strongly reminiscent of OT prophetic passages speaking of His second advent. The passage reads (I have supplied some cross references):
19 “By your endurance you will gain your lives. 20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is at hand. [see Zech. 14:1-4] “Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are in the midst of the city depart, and let not those who are in the country enter the city; 22 because these are days of vengeance, in order that all things which are written may be fulfilled. 23 “Woe to those who are with child and to those who nurse babes in those days; for there will be great distress upon the land, and wrath to this people, [Israel] 24 and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot [Zech. 12:18-20] by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. 25 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. [Isa. 63:1-3; Rev. 19:11f.] 27 “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory [Dan. 7:13-14, cf. 7:24-27]. 28 “But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption [Isa. 61:2b-3; 62:11-12; Jer. 31:31-36; 33:14-16] is drawing near. – Luke 21:19-28.
No Jewish hearer of Christ would have had any trouble at all in understanding precisely what He was referring to – and it wouldn’t be the idea of the church!
Some Old Testament Background: The “day” or “days of vengeance” is a phrase found in several crucial eschatological contexts. Isaiah 34:8 speaks of “the day of the LORD’s vengeance,” linking it to “the year of recompense for the cause of Zion.” The same chapter mentions heavenly disturbances and phenomena reminiscent of second coming passages (see 34:4, after a great battle in v.3). The reference to “Edom” and “Bozrah” in vv.5 and 6, together with the bloody sword (v.6) connect it to the second coming passage in Isa. 63:1-4; a passage that once more speaks of “the day of vengeance…in my heart.” (Isa. 63:4). Then one finds a referral to “the book of the LORD,” which can be checked to ascertain whether God’s Word has come to pass (34:16). Then there is the partitioning of the land to those who “shall possess it forever” (34:17), reminding one of Ezekiel 48, after the battle of Ezek. 38-39.
Returning to the synagogue in Nazareth in Luke 4, we witness Jesus reading from Isa. 61:1-2a and claiming literal fulfillment in his ministry. Are we to believe He cut off mid-sentence because “the day of vengeance of our God” (Isa. 61:2b) would not be fulfilled literally? Notice again that after the pouring out of vengeance comes comfort and consolation “for all who mourn in Zion” (61:3). This is the kingdom which follows the day of God’s vengeance: the second coming of Christ. It ought to be unnecessary to prove that Isa. 63:1-6 refers to the second coming (cf. Rev. 14:14-20; 19:11-16), but some people will never be persuaded.
Jesus Corroborates OT Expectations: What does Jesus say about the phrase we are studying? I have already shown that in Lk. 21:19-28 He puts the fulfillment of “the days of vengeance” at the time of His second advent. This corresponds with His interpretation of the Parable of the Wheat and Tares:
Then He left the multitudes, and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.” 37 And He answered and said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, 38 and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. 40 “Therefore just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. 41 “The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, 42 and will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 “Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. (Matt. 13:36-43.
The parable comes to a crescendo with eschatological judgment in verses 40-42 and blessing upon the righteous in the kingdom in verse 43. It is worthy of note that these predictions of vengeance are often accompanied by overtures of peace and salvation for God’s people. This pattern of judgment and blessing can also be seen in 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 as well as Revelation 19:11-20:6. Read more »
Christ at the Center: The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism –
The Hermeneutics of Jesus (Part One)
We have seen that everything in the biblical outlook is centered on Jesus Christ. Naturally, I’m not the only one who says such a thing, but virtually all non-dispensationalists fix on the first coming of Christ as the time of fulfillment of OT covenant promises, whereas I believe this to be a significant interpretative error which leads to them drawing unwarranted hermeneutical conclusions. It is about time we examined the words of Christ in relation to how He expected those to whom He was speaking to interpret what He said to them, and what had been written in the only Bible they had: the Old Testament. Any hermeneutical connections they would make would be confined to that revelation, not any NT revelation to come. I shall start with what the angels said about Him:
a. The Birth Narratives
In the Lukan account we read the about angel announcing to Zacharias, a priest, that a son would be born to him who would “turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God” (Lk. 1:16). He would go forth “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (1:17 – He would state emphatically that he was not Elijah in Jn. 1:21). This, of course, was John the Baptist.
Six months later the angel Gabriel is sent to the house of Joseph, who is said to be “of the house of David” (and addressed as such in Matt. 1:20), to speak to Mary. The angel’s message had as its main theme the birth of One who would sit upon the throne of David (1:32) over “the house of Jacob” in a kingdom that would have no end (1:33). In Mary’s ‘Magnificat,’ with its echoes of Hannah’s praise-hymn, she mentions Israel (1:54) and “our [Israel's] fathers,” and alludes to the Abrahamic covenant (1:55). A few verses later it is Zacharias’s turn to prophesy. In the ‘Benedictus’ he mentions Israel who are “[God's] people” (1:68) who are to be redeemed through One born to “the house of David” (1:69). To a Jewish priest, just as to a Jewish maiden, this reference would be construed as a reference to the Davidic covenant. But there is a pairing of the Davidic promise with the promise of redemption not found in the terms of that covenant. This pairing is found in Jer. 31:31f. in reference to the New covenant! Zacharias also speaks of the Abrahamic covenant (1:72 – at the apex of a chiasm), and the long hoped-for time of peace and safety so often run across in the Prophets.
In the next chapter it is important that Jesus is born at Bethlehem (2:3-7. cf. Mic. 5:2). Then the angels announce His birth to shepherds nearby and speak of a hope for “all people” (2:10). When the child is presented at the temple we run into Simeon, who has been waiting “for the Consolation of Israel” (2:25). Simeon’s words gather up the joint hopes of the nations (2:31) and the nation of Israel (2:32), but he is careful to distinguish the two.
Please note that what had been promised by God happened exactly as was predicted. The promises had a literal interpretation in line with the wording of the OT covenant expectations. Thus, the “problem” of interpreting the OT in any other way than what it says is not restricted to the OT!
b. Jesus and Satan
Remaining with Luke, we see Jesus’ temptation by Satan in 4:1-13. The first temptation Luke records is repelled by the statement that God’s Word is at least as important to life as bread (4:4). The third temptation (in Luke’s order) involves the misapplication of Psa. 91:11-12 and Jesus’ reply that Satan’s interpretation is false because it flatly contradicts a plain command not to tempt God (4:9-11). We don’t read of Satan trying to convince Christ of multiple interpretations or anything of the sort. He knew better.
But it is the second temptation in Luke 4 which is crucial from a hermeneutical standpoint. Satan shows Christ “all the [physical] kingdoms of the world” (4:5), and then says,
all this authority I will give you, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. (4:6).
The Devil then requires worship in exchange for these earthly kingdoms.
Now the question must be asked, “what sort of temptation was this to Jesus?” It is useless to answer that Satan was lying, because that would be known to the Lord and there would have been no temptation at all. So what, we repeat, was the power within the temptation?
The only sensible answer to this question is that Satan did indeed have the authority to hand over the earth to Jesus (notice that the Lord doesn’t question or dismiss the Tempter’s assertion), and that Jesus could have had a literal throne on this earth if He had wanted it there and then. But this brings up another question. If Jesus plan for this earth did not include Him reigning over it (as amillennialists have argued), then why was He tempted?
Any response which implies that He was tempted to do something He had no mind to do seems ridiculous. Why would Christ be tempted to do something He didn’t want to do? He didn’t have a sin nature remember! Therefore, we maintain that the strength of this particular temptation, and Jesus’ response to it (in 2:12 – which shows, I think, that He was tempted), present proof that it is indeed within His plan to reign over this earth one day; and this is in-line with Lk. 1:32-33 and OT expectations in Mic. 5:2; Isa. 11:1-10; Jer. 33:15f., Zech. 14:9 etc.
Additionally, these texts are covenantally linked texts. Thus, we are once more dealing with a covenant-regulated hermeneutics which will not budge and cannot be warped by typological subterfuges. Read more »