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.
The NT Church is a covenant entity. In Galatians 3 Paul explicitly relates the Church to the Abrahamic Covenant. In a former article on this I wrote:
The illustration of a man’s covenant [in Gal. 3:15] is being used to show the incontrovertability of such covenants; something to be revisited in verse 17 (cf. Rom. 11:28-29) where the AC is the subject.
Now, in verse 16 the Apostle writes:
Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He
does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to
your Seed,” who is Christ.
In order to connect Abraham and the AC to the promised salvation through faith Paul fastens on the Messianic implications of the “seed-promise” to Abraham in Genesis 12-22. He is well aware of what he is doing. The word “seed” in Hebrew and Greek, as in English, is a collective noun. As we have already shown in part one, the collective sense is right there in the Genesis record. So what is Paul doing? How can he be so insistent on the singular meaning here? We must straight away recall that he does not dispense with the collective sense, which he needs to ground his argument (see 3:29).
What he is doing here is including the collective within the singular (Christ). It is through Christ that the promises – all the promises – of the AC will find their fulfillment and consummation. Believers from Abraham to the end of the age are connected to the AC through the Seed, Jesus Christ, and this connection, I believe, is forged through the New covenant!
It is essential to carefully note the particular part of the Abrahamic Covenant which the Apostle assigns to the Church. Both in Galatians 3:8 and in Romans 4:16-17 Paul assiduously picks out the promise of Genesis 12:3 and 22:18. He is not like those unconcerned exegetes who carelessly ascribe all the covenant promises contained within the Abrahamic Covenant to the Church.
From what is written about New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:2. Cf. 3:12), it appears to be closely connected with the Church. The description only tells us that New Jerusalem descends out of heaven to earth, but it doesn’t satisfy our curiosity as whether it orbits the new earth or settles upon it. Still, there are some matters we may clear up with more warrant.
Revelation 19:7-9 speaks of the Marriage of the Lamb:
Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” 8 And it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. 9 And he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.'” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.”
Since the Church is espoused to Christ (Eph. 5:25, 32) I am confident that this text refers to the Church. Since the next mention of a bride in Revelation 21 is to New Jerusalem, I conclude that the bride of Rev. 19 is the bride of Rev. 21; the Church in its eternal home. We read:
And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband… And one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues, came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I shall show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper. 12 It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are those of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. 13 There were three gates on the east and three gates on the north and three gates on the south and three gates on the west. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. – Rev. 21:2, 9-14
There are many whose theology acts as a universal acid on this passage, reducing the City to a mere symbol, and, in utter disregard of the context, bundle together the Church with the Nations that are said to be on the earth in the chapter (Rev. 21:24-26). But it is clear enough that there is a distinction made between the peoples in the City and the Nations on earth. And although Israel is not named in the chapter, the fact that its land-grant is “everlasting” (Gen. 17:8; Psa. 105:10-11; Ezek. 37:26) surely means that it has its own distinct position among the nations in eternity. For present purposes it is enough for us to say that the Church has a special relationship to the Second Person of the Trinity in the same way that national Israel does to the First Person of the Trinity (since “salvation is of the Jews” we should not be surprised to read of the gates of the City being named after the 12 Tribes of Israel – of which more later). But ALL the saved are redeemed and reconciled by Jesus Christ.