Has the Davidic Covenant Been Initially Realized in the Church?

This is a slightly revised version of what I wrote as a response to a question from progressive dispensationalist Darrell Bock about the inauguration of the Davidic Covenant at the first coming of Christ.  

Darrell Bock: How can a dispensationalist see the current application of the Abrahamic Covenant and the New Covenant (see the Last Supper in procuring forgiveness we now experience) and not see the Davidic covenant being initially realized by what Jesus has done, as Luke 3:16 predicts and Acts 2:14-36 proclaims?

My Answer

With regard to the Abrahamic and the New Covenants, I think the NT is very clear about their application to the Church.  Galatians 3 and Romans 4 deal with the application of the Abrahamic Covenant to the Church; at least the parts of it which are appropriate.  1 Corinthinans 11:23-26, 2 Corinthians 3:6 (cf. also 2 Cor. 6:14-18) pin the New Covenant securely on the Church.  These explicit statements settle the question for the Abrahamic and New Covenants.  But the Davidic Covenant is quite another issue.  Here one is dealing with implications and inferences which can bend in different directions.

Firstly, in Luke 3 Jesus has not yet been baptized and presented as Christ. The two phases of Christ’s work are bundled together in the passage in typical OT fashion. The baptism with the Holy Spirit I take to be the New Covenant promise of the Spirit’s vitalizing coming to Israel with the kingdom. There is no Church yet in view as far as the context of the revelation goes. Jesus is rejected by Israel, but He has come, and that fact cannot be reversed. At His coming Jesus introduced the New Covenant (Lk. 22:14-20), yet in a context in which the kingdom is now driven into the future (Lk. 22:29-30).

Thus I see the first phase of John’s prediction; the baptism with the Spirit (Lk. 3:16) initialized in the New Covenant made with those who would be foundational to the Church (Cf. Eph. 2:20). This explains the use of Spirit language in Acts 2 where these ‘foundations’ (minus Paul) were present.

Yet the full realization of that blessing as it pertains to Israel (per John’s audience and context in Lk.3), awaits the Second Advent. At that time Jesus comes in judgment (the “fire” and “winnowing” language in Lk. 3:16 & 17), after which He inaugurates the New Covenant with Israel along the OT pattern.

That there is some sort of “already” aspect here is true, yet I would want to lay stress upon the object of that “already” – viz. the “new man”, the Church, not Israel. Here is where there is some chronological transition between “the Church age” and the “times of restoration” which Peter was holding out to Israel in Acts 3 (and in Acts 2 for that matter). I take Acts 3:19-21 as referring to the Davidic New Covenant Kingdom.

In the Acts passage (Acts 2:14-36) we face several issues, none of which I will pretend to give the final answer to. I will try to move through the passage briefly to bring out the logic of my position.

In Acts 2:14-21 there is the debated use of the Joel prophecy preceded by the “this is that” formula (v.15). The first thing to say is that whichever interpretation is brought to the use of Joel 2, nobody believes these extraordinary happenings (of vv.19-20) actually occurred at Pentecost (e.g. R. N. Longenecker). Further, the Holy Spirit was not poured out on “all flesh” (v.17). So we have to ask, what was Peter doing?

My answer is that Peter was still thinking within the basic framework of OT eschatology and Jewish expectation which we find in the Gospels and in Acts 1:6. His immediate concern in this setting was to point to the Cross and (especially) the Resurrection as the eschatological breaking- in of God into Israel’s history. The “this” of v.15 is answered by the references to the resurrection throughout Peter’s speech (vv. 24, 30, 31, 32). This is what proved that Jesus was “both Lord and Christ” (v.36).

The reference to the outpouring of the Spirit (vv.17-18, 33) is intended to show the Jews that the New Covenant has been inaugurated, and that there is still opportunity for them to repent and believe (in this sense the baptism of v.38 may be seen as a partial fulfillment of John’s baptism).

Of course, the nation did not believe this message. They rejected it again in chapter 3:12-26, where the expectation of the arrival of the Davidic Kingdom was still patently in the air (see esp. 3:19-21). In other words, these were good faith offers of the kingdom, referred to by Peter as “the times of refreshing” (3:19) and “times of restoration” (3:21), which were rejected by all but a relative few.

Viewed this way the one work of Christ in its two phases of Cross and Crown are still held together in Acts 2 and 3. If so, the “signs and wonders” of Acts 2:19 are in a real sense, still at the doorstep pending national acceptance of Jesus as Messiah; not only crucified Messiah, but Risen Messiah – bringing the two phases into close proximity.

Allowing this line of reasoning helps us with the Joel prophecy. How so? Because the “signs” and “wonders” which Jesus did prior to Calvary (v.22), portend the “signs” and “wonders” of v.19 which speak to the Second Coming. Here I again appeal to Acts 3:19-21 for help.

If I haven’t lost everyone, let me proceed to Acts 2:25-35 and try to fit it into my picture.

Jewish national acceptance in the fact of the Risen Christ ought to have come because the OT predicted it (vv. 25-28 cf. Psa. 16). For present purposes I shall forego verses 25-29 and pick it up in Acts 2:30. Progressive Dispensationalists like Dr. Bock appeal to this verse because it speaks about the “raising up” and the investiture of Christ upon the Davidic throne. If this was what actually happened in Acts 2 I would have to concede the point. But as I see it this “raising up” is a reference to Christ’s resurrection not installation (see esp. v.32). As I have said, the resurrection was uppermost in Peter’s mind in these verses. The next verse proves this by saying that David “spoke concerning (peri) the resurrection.” (2:31). In verse 33 the emphasis is now on the ascension “to the right hand of God”, which I do not take as a reference to the throne of David, for otherwise Acts 3:19-21 makes no sense to me (cf. also Rev. 3:21).

Acts 2:33 appeals to the coming of the Spirit, yet actual fulfillment of the Joel New Covenant prophecy awaits the condition of national repentance, which was not forthcoming. The quotation of Psalm 110:1 refers then to the present continuing session of Christ in heaven awaiting the fulfillment of the Davidic New Covenant kingdom announced, first by John the Baptist, and then by Peter.

I hope this rather convoluted explanation will be seen as viable. Whichever position is taken on Acts 2 and 3, it is easy to get ones theological wires crossed. This is my attempt to sort them out.

7 thoughts on “Has the Davidic Covenant Been Initially Realized in the Church?”

  1. very interesting. In your estimation, if national Israel had heeded Peter’s words, and in fact did corporately repent, what would that have meant? Would that mean that Israel would become the Church, or that there wouldn’t be a need for a “Church”?

    I understand God’s providence and foreknowledge comes into play here, but if inspired Peter was genuinely, and not just rhetorically, offering the Kingdom to Israel, is it possible that they could have actually capitulated? and if they did what would that mean for us?

    1. Good question Alex.

      My answer is first that the offer was as genuine as an offer of the gospel to a man whom God knows will reject it. But second, I believe God offered the kingdom while knowing of Christ’s rejection (think Psa. 118; Isa. 53), so that the “what would have happened question” is moot.

      That okay? ;-0

      1. Yes, I understand that my question carries with it loads of baggage, and your response is very appropriate. Thank you!

  2. But the question of what would have happened continues to linger in many minds and drives theological notions. I think the important thing here is that Acts 2 is all about fulfillment of prophecy regarding the New Covenant and how that is significant at that point in time for Israel. Of course, most of Dispensationalism sees this as significant in that it is the birth of the church (foundation). But that is not at all what is in view. As you show, it is significant for Israel’s covenant status. That is not to deny that this is the formation of the nascent church (mid-Acts and Acts 28 Dispensationalists would deny it). The church is simply not in the contextual outlook here even if it is first formed as the foundation Paul speaks of in Eph 1:20-23; 2:20. The pouring out of the Spirit here according to Joel and to which John the Baptist was always referring is unique and not the same baptism of 1 Cor 12:13 as per Ryrie, unless one is willing to ignore the differences (who is doing the baptizing with what). (Although there are actually Baptists who acknowledge these are two different baptisms as mid-Acts types are quick to point out.)

    The immediate result of accepting the offer according to Peter is 1) salvation (spiritual and I would suggest from the AD 70 consummation), 2) remission of sins 3) reception of the HS. That says nothing as to the timing of the kingdom but certainly would guarantee entrance into the kingdom when “the times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority” should occur. That seems to set the timing of the kingdom by God definitively for a particular time. Peter quotes the OT: “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” “Till” implies some period of time was going to pass before the return of Christ however long that should be. IT seems to me that the timing of the kingdom is not conditional at all on its reception by Israel and is rather dependent solely upon God’s predetermined set time.

    1. Ross,

      God has predetermined the time when Israel will “look upon Him whom they pierced” and when “a nation shall be born in a day.” Zechariah 12-14 is chock full of God’s sovereign decision regarding the time of cleansing, including the giving of the Spirit. Again, I cannot agree with your AD 70 timing. It mixes Israel with the Church and it confuses the OT covenantal passages.

      1. “It mixes Israel with the Church and it confuses the OT covenantal passages.”
        I don’t see mixing Israel with the church as a problem. It adds the church and Israel in the kingdom but what is the problem with that as long as their identities are still distinct? I also don’t see how it confuses the OT covenantal passages either. The Abrahamic covenant is applied to the church via the New Covenant. Anything else the church enjoys with Israel in the kingdom is according to Paul’s preaching that they would be fellow-citizens and fellow-inheritors. Is that really problematic? I seriously do not see how. I am wondering if I am missing something.

  3. The church is party to one aspect of the Abrahamic covenant, and that aspect is what Paul cites and what God is dealing with now. Israel is not party as such to this aspect as it concerns the nations. Hence, to have God dealing with Israel now (or during any part of the church period) is to have Him dealing with parts of the AC that He says He is not dealing with while dealing with the church.

    Likewise, God is not working with the Priestly or Davidic covenants right now for the same reason. We are not in the kingdom now so the only thing that one is left to mix is saved Christians with unsaved Jews! If Jews are saved today they are joined to the Church.

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