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).
a. Jesus is not Replacement Israel
At this juncture it is necessary to debunk a recent ploy by supercessionists to arrogate Israel’s covenant blessings for the Church by altering the names of the designees. Foremost among those who have done this are Graeme Goldsworthy and Greg Beale, but it is also the path taken by advocates of New Covenant Theology like Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum (whose book, Kingdom through Covenant will be reviewed here dv). How is this switch achieved?
The basic idea is that since Jesus is a Jew and He, unlike His countrymen, was obedient in all things, He is the only representative of Israel to inherit the covenant promises. Ergo, He stands in Israel’s place as Israel and all the promises are fulfilled in Him – at His first coming! The Church fairs better than national Israel because of our union with Christ. This means we can foul up and still inherit the blessings through Him. If anyone points out that this is both very unfair and disingenuous based on what God has promised Israel, the favorite nominalist proof-text, Romans 9:20 (“who are you to reply against God?…”) is quoted to stop the complaint in its tracks.
The arguments about whether the Church is in or not in the OT is often less than crystal clear and the answer differs depending on who is doing the explaining. What none of these people can do is locate a text in Scripture which says anything like what they would like it to say. The best passage is Isaiah 49:3 which says,
And He said to Me, “You are My Servant, Israel, In Whom I will show My glory.”
In this verse it is possible, even probable, that Messiah is referred to as “Israel.” (I am also inclined to think Jn. 15:1 with Jer. 2:21 & Psa. 80:8 corroborate this). But the context of Isaiah 49 makes it clear that He is not the nation, but rather He ensures the salvation and restoration of the nation (49:5-6). Hence, Messiah is not ethnic Israel but “the Redeemer of Israel” (49:7). But verse 6 also asserts,
He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.
Not only will the Servant (Messiah) “raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the preserved ones of Israel” He will bring salvation to the nations also. Verse 7 tells Israel that God will do this because He is faithful! Then we get this:
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.
We have commented on this previously when we used it to show that Jesus IS the New Covenant (see also Here). By this I mean to say that He becomes the New Covenant because He is the One who is the Sacrifice and He is the One who Mediates it. To be connected to Christ’s resurrected life is also to be connected to the New Covenant. Notice also how “the land” promise to Israel is alive and well. Consider this in the context:
But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, And the Lord has forgotten me.” 15 “Can a woman forget her nursing child, And have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. 16 “Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me. – Isa. 49:16
This is spoken to national Israel – in particular to “the preserved ones” (the Remnant) of verse 6. The upshot is that those who identify Christ as Israel yet fail to read how He is their Surety have plundered a text for their own aims and been willfully careless about reading in context. Jesus ensures the covenant survival of national Israel in their God-given land (cf. Matt 19:28; Acts 26:6-7). No wonder, since like it or not, Israel is still the apple of God’s eye. (Zech. 2:8).