Introduction to the Bible: An Introduction to the Bible
by Rev. Ralph A. Smith
The New Covenant
Unlike previous "new covenants," the New Covenant in Christ truly "recreated" the world (cf. 2 Cr. 5:17). From the fall of Adam, the Adamic covenant had been renewed over and over, each covenant bringing a new Adamic leader, a new priesthood, a new temple, and a new Eden, but none of these brought about the salvation of the world. In every "new covenant" prior to the coming of Christ, the covenant head was a mere sinful child of Adam who broke the law like his father. Thus, the curse of the covenant which had been pronounced upon Adam and his race could not taken away, only postponed. None of the new "Adams" of the old covenant eras could fulfill the promise that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent, because they themselves were crushed, over and over.
But in "the last days" Jesus the Christ appeared (Heb. 1:2) and brought in a covenant that was really new. This covenant included a new sacrifice that would take away sins, a new temple not made with the hands of men, a new priesthood called from every tribe and nation, and a new people of God born from above by the Spirit. Christ, therefore, is the true antitype of Adam, the head of an entirely new race and a new world order, established upon the basis of His saving work (cf. Rom. 5:12-25).
In the original kingdom situation, man was placed in a Garden-sanctuary and given dominion over the world. There was a distinction between the Garden, Eden,and the rest of the world, but the difference between the three original spheres was not a matter of unholy versus holy, but one of holy, versus more holy and most holy. Man's dominion task was to fill the world and transform it all into a Garden of God that would manifest the praises of its Creator-King. The fall of Adam brought ruin. The world was defiled. Man was cast out of God's presence. And Satan took de facto control over everyday affairs among the race of Adam. Thus, the original creation was judged and the world remade in Noah's days, but still the problem of Adam's sin was not solved. Only the coming of the Messiah, the promised Seed of the Woman, could bring decisive change.
When Jesus was born, the world of the Restoration covenant had deteriorated to the point of final judgment. The land was defiled with the sins of an apostate people; the temple was defiled with the sins of an apostate priesthood. The people of God were in slavery to a foreign power, but in a newer and more subtle way than ever before, for they were in their own land and enjoyed a measure of external freedom and tolerance for their religious institutions, though this was mixed with contempt and oppression. Externally they were in subjection to Rome, and many of their leaders, the Saducees in particular, were spiritual slaves of the Roman worldview.
How unlike the early days of the Gentile era was its end! The age of the Gentiles commenced with men like Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah functioning as prophetic advisors to the kings of the Gentiles. For the age of the Gentiles, the ideal relationship between the Jews and their Gentile kings may be said to have been illustrated in Esther. The Gentiles were the God-appointed guardians of the land, but the Jews were supposed to share rule with them as queen, with Jewish wise men supplying advice to the court. So long as the Jews were faithful to God, the Gentile kings would favor them and take their advice seriously.
By the time that Christ came, however, the times of the Gentiles had almost reached their conclusion. As in previous apostate ages, the people of God were oppressed. But the Jews of Jesus' day embraced their slavery as if it were freedom. When Pontius Pilate, asked the Jews: "Shall I crucify your King?" the chief priests, the official leaders of the land, answered: "We have no king but Caesar!" (Jn. 19:15).
They spoke more truly than they intended for the children of Abraham and their leaders, the supposed heirs of Ezra and Nehemiah, had degenerated into legalistic nitpickers who were more concerned with worldly honor and riches than the kingdom of God. The real leaders of the Jews were the Pharisees, who were primarily responsible for leading the Jews astray. Thus, from the beginning of His ministry our Lord bore prophetic witness against them for their rejection of God's word. His primary word for them was hypocrite (Mt. 6:2, 5, 16; 15:7; 16:3; 22:18; 23: 13-15, 23, 25, 27; Lk. 13:15) -- they were not what they pretended to be.
The Pharisees not only deceived people in their own day, people in our day, too, ironically misunderstand them to have been zealous followers of Moses. Quite the contrary, the essence of Christ's charge against them was that they had forsaken the law of Moses and gone after the traditions of men. To expose their unBiblical hypocrisy, Jesus repeatedly asks them, "Have ye not read?" (Mt. 12:3, 5; 19:4; 21:16, 42; 22:31; Mk. 12:10, 26). The traditions of their Jewish ancestors were, no doubt, originally intended as an aid in the interpretation of the word of God, but these traditions had come to replace the authority of the God's word. That was the essence of Jesus' charge against them: "For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men . . . Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. . . . Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered . . ." (Mk. 7:8, 9, 13).
It was this bondage to the word of men that constituted the real slavery of the Jews in Jesus' day, just like it was bondage to the gods of the pagan lands that constituted the real slavery of previous ages. The power of Rome represented the word of man in its most impressive form. The Jews hated Rome, but they did not know the freedom that is found in obedience to God. Indeed, as much as they may have hated Rome, they preferred virtual slavery to her power than true service to the living God.
The Jews showed clearly that slavery to man, no less than slavery to idols, means slavery to demons. Thus, although the Jews were ruled by an essentially secular power for whom the worship of the emperor was not religion so much as it was a means of subjugating people, they were not merely without God in secular despair. The land was filled with demons. In the Gospel accounts of Jesus ministry, we read that everywhere Jesus went He was confronted with demons who cried out against Him. Repeatedly Jesus casts out demons to saved the oppressed. But casting out demons does not truly heal men who do not turn unto God, as Jesus told the Jews:
When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. (Lk. 11:24-26)
Israel as a whole, then, was apostate. Her leaders were hypocrites. Though she did not worship idols as she had in the days of Jeremiah, her worship was vain (Mr. 7:7). Jesus came to her as a prophet calling for repentance and promising the grace of God, but Israel rejected his testimony just as they did the ministry of Jeremiah.
However, even in this time of demonic apostasy, Jesus was able to find a remnant who believed in God and followed Him. This remnant had to be led out of Egypt -- which is what Israel had become -- unto a new land, the church of Jesus Christ. At first, this remnant was persecuted by the false church -- the circumcision according to the flesh -- but Jesus promised that they would eventually be vindicated by God and become the firstfruits of the kingdom harvest that extends to every land and tribe.
For the coming of the Messiah is the very center of history, the turning point in God's kingdom program. Though every covenant before this ended in failure because of the sinfulness of man, now at the end of the age of the Gentiles -- in "the last days" -- God granted a new covenant (Hb. 1:2) which changed history because it brought true redemption from sin. In a way radically different from any time before, the New Covenant in Christ ushered in a new world, created a new race of men, and established a new sanctuary with a new priesthood.
In order to truly bring in a new covenant in which man was once again restored to favor with God and could be His beloved child, Jesus had to fulfill the requirements of the old covenant perfectly. The law demanded death for the sin of Adam and his posterity (Rom. 6:23). Unless the price for sin be paid, there could be no question of a new covenant: "without shedding of blood is no remission" (Hb. 9:22b). The old covenant sacrificial system promised redemption through a substitutionary sacrifice. Jesus fulfilled the promise and therefore took away the condemnation of the law:
But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Heb. 9:11-14)
For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. (Heb. 10:14)
At the same time, the New Covenant may be regarded as a renewal of the old covenant, for it does not simply abolish the old covenant, it fulfills it (cf. Mat. 5:17-18). The New Covenant in Christ restores what Adam lost and makes it possible for his descendants to accomplish the work that he became unable to finish. Just as every renewal of the original Adamic covenant given in the old covenant eras involved a continuity, so does the recreation of the world in Christ. Man in Christ still has the responsibility to subdue the world to the glory of God (cf. Mat. 28:18-20). What is called the "Old Testament" is not abolished as God's truth to be replaced by what is called the "New Testament." There is in fact one book all of which is relevant and applicable to the Christian life as the books of the "New Testament" make abundantly clear: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
The good work that the new humanity is called to do is twofold, for the building of God's kingdom now not only means the fulfillment of the original creation covenant task that God gave to Adam and Eve, often called the cultural mandate (Gn. 1:26-28), it also involves the fulfillment of the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20). The first commission was given to the family, which is still the primary social institution for its fulfillment. The gift of children is to the family, the rearing of children is primarily a family responsibility, and economic activity again belongs to the family. Christ's great commission, however, was given to the Church, to which is belongs the responsibility of preaching of the Gospel, teaching and baptizing.
By teaching the word of God to individuals and families, the Church brings God's saving power to the world, for the Holy Spirit works through the Word. Families are renewed by His power. As the Church and the Family fulfill their God-given calling, whole nations will be transformed and the kingdom of God will eventually spread until the world believes in Christ. "All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn unto Jehovah; and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. For the kingdom is Jehovah's; and he is the ruler over the nations." (Ps. 22:27-28).
The Five Points of the Covenant
1) Transcendence: God's transcendence has been revealed in every covenantal era since the creation of the world, but never in so full and powerful a manner as it is revealed with the coming of the New Covenant. To begin with, there is a revelation of God's transcendent sovereignty in the rich and detailed fulfillment of all the Messianic prophecy of the old covenant. We read of the realization of hundreds of Messianic prophecies which pointed to the details of Jesus' birth, life, and death.
Just as other "new covenants" involved a greater revelation of God's character, the New Covenant reveals who God is so fully that previous teaching about God seems obscure in comparison. The New Covenant revelation of God comes with the incarnation of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The New Covenant teaches us that God is a Trinity. This truth is not altogether absent from the old covenant, for the Angel of the LORD is distinguished from the LORD at the same time that He is identified with the LORD (cf. Gn. 22:15-16; Ex. 3:2-6; 1 Chr. 21:15; etc.) and the Holy Spirit is spoken of (Ps. 51:11; Isa. 44:3; etc.). But the clarity of the new revelation is incomparable. As John said, "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." (Jn. 1:18).
2) Hierarchy: Christ became man and the Holy Spirit is given to man, thus uniting God and man in covenantal love and fellowship with an intimacy that surpasses all that man could imagine. Pagans saw themselves as becoming gods, but the gods of the pagans were neither transcendent nor righteous. The God of the Bible does not make us "gods" in the sense that pagans dreamed of, but He does make the Church His bride, bringing her into the covenantal fellowship of the Trinity, which was God's original purpose in creating man. In Christ, man is not only saved from sin, he is made an heir of God (Rm. 8:17). The new race of men in Christ is one with God covenantally in an eternal fellowship of love.
This means that God's covenant people can no longer be determined by racial relationship to Abraham nor through a bloody ritual like circumcision. Jesus fulfilled all bloody rituals through the cross. He opened a new way to God through faith in His death and resurrection. The new people of God are thus the people of faith (Rm. 4:1-25). Not that the people of God in the old covenant were people of works or people of unbelief. On the contrary, Abraham and David are the great examples of saving faith that Paul appeals to in showing us justification by faith (Rm. 4:1-8). The point is, rather, that faith is emphasized more fully than ever before because grace is revealed more fully than ever before. Thus, the new people of God are defined by faith.
Jesus fulfilled the meaning of man as prophet, priest, and king becoming all that Adam should have been and more. In Him, the new race of men are also made prophets (Ac. 2:16-18), priests (1 Pt. 2:5), and kings (1 Pt. 2:9; Rv. 1:6). This means the transformation of the individual into Christlikeness (Rm. 8:29) and, through the Holy Spirit's regenerating and sanctifying work in individuals, the transformation of the family (Eph. 5:22-6:4), the church (1 Cr. 12:13), and the State (Rm. 13:1-6). The State has priority in preserving peace, which is its primary responsibility. The Family has the exclusive right to bring children into the world and rear them for God. The family is also the institution in charge of economic growth. To the Church has been given the responsibility of teaching God's Word and administering the covenantal ceremonies of baptism and the Lord's Supper. From the perspective of building God's kingdom through the Word and Spirit, the Church has priority.
3) Ethics: Just as Jesus brought a new revelation of God and a transformation of God's people, He also brings a new ethic. He did not set asides the ethical teaching of the law of Moses, though He did bring about the end of the sacrificial system, the land laws, and other distinctively Jewish aspects of the law of Moses, such as food restrictions and dress codes. But the ethics of the law of Moses are taught with greater depth than ever before (cf. Mt. 5-7). The essence of the law of Moses as love to God and love to neighbor is contrasted with the Pharisaic perversion of the law into a mere outward ceremonial righteousness (Mt. 22:34-40). Above all, Jesus perfectly sinless life manifested the real meaning of God's law like no commentary ever could.
His great command expressed the central command of the law of Moses with His own example added as the perfect manifestation of that law: "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; even as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." (Jn. 13:34-35). Paul follows Jesus example and sums up the ten commandments in the word love (Rm. 13:8-10). The details of the law of Moses are profitable for our instruction, for they are part of God's word, all of which is inspired and profitable (2 Tm. 3:16-17). But the details of the law must be seen in terms of the purpose of the law which is to teach us how to love God and our neighbor. Christ showed us the way.
4) Oath: The curse of the old covenant, death to sinners, was fulled revealed and fully carried out on Christ. He bore the sins of the world (Jn. 1:29), satisfied the wrath of God (Rm. 3:25; 1 Jn. 2:2), and redeemed the world from the curse (Tit. 2:14; Jn. 3:16-17). Jesus death and resurrection constituted a final judgment against sin and the victory of righteousness over sin and death (cf. Rm. 5:12ff. 1 Cr. 15).
Because Jesus took away the curse, the way of blessing is opened up for men who believe in Him. Eternal life, the blessing of the covenant that was originally symbolized in the tree of life, is not given freely to those who simply believe in Christ (Jn. 3:16; etc.). The Gospel is the declaration that the curse has been taken away and that God is reconciled with man. The world is no longer under a curse and in need of cleansing for Jesus cleansed it once for all. Every place is clean. All food is clean. The way of salvation is opened and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus will save the world through the Gospel (Mt. 28:18-20; Jn. 3:17).
The Church follows Christ. It is normal, though not necessarily without exception, for the Church in any new area to go through persecution and death, just as Jesus did. The Church, too, wins the blessing through the curse. The early Christians won the victory against the Roman empire not by military conquest, but by the shedding of their own blood and the witness of Jesus (cf. Rv. 12:11, 17). The Church's confidence in God and her steadfast faith in the face of death eventually was used by the Spirit of God to convict the conquerors of their sin (cf. Jn. 16:7-11). When Christians take up the cross and follow Jesus, the power of His resurrection life is with them and they conquer the world (cf. 2 Cr. 4:10-12).
5) Succession: Jesus is the God-appointed "heir of all things" (Hb. 1:2) the true seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:16) to whom had been given the promise of the world (Rm. 4:13). But the Jews plotted to kill the heir and steal the inheritance for themselves (Mt. 21:38). What they accomplished, ironically, was the guarantee that Jesus would inherit all things, for it was in what appeared to be His greatest defeat -- death as a criminal -- that Jesus won the victory against sin, death, and the devil (Col. 2:14-15). The resurrection of Christ vindicated Jesus and proved that He is the Messiah, but for the most part the Jews did not believe. The destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, then, publicly vindicated Jesus as the true prophet who foretold the coming of the covenant curse (Mt. 23-25), just as Jeremiah and the prophets of old, and therefore also demonstrated that He is the Messiah and His followers the true people of God.
At His ascension Jesus sat at the right hand of God as King of kings and Lord of lords, but His rule was not really publicly manifest until the destruction of Jerusalem, which vindicated His person and teachings. Now that He has been vindicated, He leads His church in world conquest through the preaching of the Gospel (Rv. 19:11-16). The Church is called to live as followers of the King of kings. Her Lord is resurrected, ascended, and seated at the right hand of God. It was because Jesus inherited all things, that Paul could say to the Corinthians "Wherefore let no one glory in men. For all things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; and ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's." (1 Cr. 21-23).
Israel was given the land of Canaan as her inheritance, but she had to fight to make it her own. When, therefore, the Church of Jesus Christ has been given the world as her inheritance, she, too, must fight the spiritual warfare of the Gospel to bring the world into subjection to her Master (Mt. 28:18-20; Eph. 6:10-18; Rv. 19:11-16). The whole world is under Jesus dominion (Mt. 28:18; Eph. 1:20-23; etc.), but the whole world does not yet love and obey Him. By her own obedience to God, by prayer and preaching the Gospel, the Church of Christ will subdue the world so that a redeemed world will be able to fulfill the original commission that God gave to Adam and Eve in the Garden. God's glory will be seen in all the world and man's God-given purpose will be fulfilled.
Man's Covenantal Response
Man's covenantal response to God's grace is twofold. First is the response of Christ, the perfect man and the representative Head of the new race. Jesus obeyed God's word perfectly in His life and He rose to heaven to sit at the right hand of God as King of kings and Lord of lords. For the first time since the fall, there is a man who has loved God and kept His commandments so that the love of God might be revealed in history and a new humanity might be created by God's grace.
The Church is led by the Holy Spirit to obey Christ and will eventually win the world to faith in Christ. But she will never be perfect until Christ's second coming. History, therefore, will always be characterized by a warfare with sin, by human folly, selfishness, and pride. Indeed, the last generation of man will largely apostatize and reject the Gospel. When the God-hating men of this generation attempt to destroy the Church by violence, Christ will return and bring final judgment (Rv. 20:7-10).
God's Covenantal Judgment
God's covenantal judgment upon Christ at the cross opened the way of salvation so that the human race is saved from God's everlasting wrath. Although many men will reject the Gospel, the majority of men shall be saved (Jn. 3:17). In history God's covenantal judgment of individuals, families, and nations that reject the Gospel brings about the growth of the Church and her ultimate victory. But God judges and purifies the Church itself through covenantal discipline (Hb. 12:4-13). Persecution and suffering come from God both for the spread of the Gospel and the purification of His people, as by fire (1 Pt. 1:6-7).
The end of the present covenantal era will be with final judgment and the eternal states of heaven and hell (Mt. 25:31-46; Rv. 20:11-15). The final judgment is a judgment of works (Rv. 20:13) because it is man's works that manifest his faith and declare publicly what he really believes. It is also judgment according to works because both the rewards of eternal blessing and the degree of eternal curse are determined by the actual lives that men live in this world.
Judgment by works and salvation by faith do not conflict, for true faith works by love (Gal. 5:6). It always manifests itself in deeds (Jms. 2:14-26). That false faith and hypocrisy, too, manifest themselves in deeds was never more clearly shown than in the cross of Christ, for it was the religious leaders of His day who claimed to have faith in the true God who killed Him. The final judgment, then, will bring to light the true heart attitude of men and show how it was manifested in their works. God will judge and reward every man with perfect justice. But to His people, He will give more than justice, for God will reward them for good deeds which were never perfect and could never in any strict sense merit reward.
In eternity, the Church will glorify God and enjoy Him forever. She will grow in knowledge, love, and wisdom as she forever sees new aspects of the beauty and glory of God. God Himself and all the wonder of His infinite greatness is what makes heaven a place of the most perfect happiness. We do not know what works God has for us in eternity, but we do know that the Church of Christ looks forward to countless ages of new tasks to perform with and for Christ, that she will enjoy an eternity of activity in rest with her blessed Savior.
For those who hate God, heaven itself would be a sort of hell, for nothing is more loathsome to them than God Himself. The minority of men who have stubbornly rebelled against His goodness will spend an eternity in hell, writhing in endless pain. They will hate themselves for the foolishness that will be inescapably clear to them even as they hate God for making it clear to them. We would not recognize our former friends there anymore, for all of the sin and wickedness that is in their hearts, that had been graciously repressed by the Holy Spirit during their earthly lives will now be fully developed and manifest as much as it can be within the confines of the eternal prison.
The history of God's covenant is brought to an end as far as man's task on earth is concerned. But God's relationship with man continues to be a covenantal relationship and eternity will bring forth endless ages of glory and wonder. The essence of the covenant is love and the final purpose of the gift of God's covenant to man is that man be brought into the fellowship of the Triune Persons. That is where the Bible ends, with man in heaven with God, living in a sanctuary-city filled with every sort of blessing known to man.
The Covenantal Structure of the Bible: Introduction to
Berith.org is dedicated to applying the covenantal worldview to modern-day issues. It is a ministry of the Covenant Worldview Institute and the Mitaka Evangelical Church of Tokyo, Japan. The essays and books at Berith.org are (mostly?) written by Reverend Ralph Allan Smith, who has laboured as a teacher, pastor, and missionary in Tokyo since 1981, and as the director of the Covenant Worldview Institute since 1988. All feedback is welcome. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.