A Covenant-keeping God
The Bible is replete with agreements, promises, oaths and covenants. Common and agreed understandings are essential in daily life. A sovereign and unchanging God has made promises to those of His creation which impact on our theology and the course of world history.
Covenants and Theologies
Get the Covenants wrong, and much of a Christian's beliefs, actions and views about both the Christian life and future events can become badly skewed.
'Then the LORD said to me, "You have seen well, for I am watching over My word to perform it." (Jer 1:12). So shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. (Is 55:11). For I am the Lord, I change not." '(Mal 3:6)
Seven Major Covenants
Two Theological Systems
Concluding remarks on Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism
I first determined to produce a short piece on ‘Covenants’ away back at the start of the summer, but here I am in the last week of the year (of 2009) still typing away.
Some of the delays have been because of busyness; some because of the distraction of an obscure problem with my main (and fairly new) desktop computer. However, over the last 5 months or so I have been grateful to receive – from a variety of sources – input to the subject of ‘Covenants’. In fact coupled with my own reference material and the Web, the problem has certainly not been lack of information.
The on-going temptation has been to do ‘just a little bit more research’, but there would be no logical end to that process. And aside from that, many (more theologically-accredited then me) have hacked their own trails through this particular jungle, beating down a multitude of paths and (confusingly) reaching a wide range of differing destinations.
Accordingly – and I am being neither facetious, nor patronising nor smugly simplistic in this – I am just going to start with the Bible.
With the exception of the following paragraph, I will not be quoting from theologians (past or present) as it is very easy for any writer, myself included, to find a pet theologian somewhere who will support a particular position. Inasmuch as this is the case it is therefore unwise for any lover of the Truth of God's Word to ultimately depend on any one person’s opinion, or even on any one theological cohort.
But why bother with this subject in the first place?
Prof. I.A Busenitz writes:
“When God enters into a unilateral covenant guaranteed only by His own faithfulness; when God enters into a covenant void of any human requirements to keep it in force; when God establishes a covenant that will continue as long as there is day and night and summer and winter, then great care must be taken not to erect man-made limitations that would bankrupt the heart and soul of these covenants and annul the glorious full realization of all that He promised through them. Their significance cannot be overestimated.”
We are all aware that throughout the centuries since Christ walked the earth there have been debates, arguments and disagreements amongst followers of Jesus. Very often these conflicts are spontaneous – arising from some circumstance or event which thrusts a related (and often deeper issue) into the forefront of Christian awareness. Yet almost invariably the attention (and heat) becomes focussed on the transient issue rather than – in a more sanguine and diligent fashion – exploring the deeper issues which have lain conveniently buried until abruptly exposed. It was in this context that the Stornoway Sunday sailing controversy resurrected questions about legalism and whether Sunday is the Sabbath. This prompted me to produce a page entitled ‘Drilling down on Christian Issues’, and I will use this outline (see below) as template for tackling the subject(s) contained therein. However I will be starting at the bottom (the foundational level) and working upwards to the issues that can arise.
So while I say “Here goes,” please see what will emerge below as a ‘work-in-progress’, requiring much refining and embellishment (not to mention amendment and correction).
Click on the table (below) to access original article (with hot-links)
Covenants, oaths and promises
The Word of God is shot through with agreements, pacts, promises, oaths, deals and covenants. Whether in a conventional concordance or in a Bible computer programme a search on the word ‘covenant’ will produce a list of references which goes on forever. There are covenants between men e.g. David and Jonathan (1 Sam 18:3); promises that men have made to God (Ezra 10:3); a covenant which a man makes made with himself (Job 31:1), and even a covenant with the agencies of darkness (Dan 9:27). However for the purposes of this study the focus is on those covenants which God has instituted with men.
What is a Covenant?
The term ‘covenant’ can sometimes be regarded as a ‘deal’ between two or more parties, but it is – at once – not that, and also much more than that. A covenant might be described as a solemn oath; and is much more than (say) a casual commitment. It is a profound undertaking. For instance when I took my wedding vows I made a covenant with my wife to remain faithful to her ‘for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health’. She didn’t force me into taking these vows, neither was she capable of enforcing them. Yet I attached no qualifying conditions to them. However, if I pledge to cut the grass before the weekend – well that is an altogether different level of commitment (as my wife can testify). Sometimes a covenant is completely one-sided and sometimes – like a ‘last will and testament (covenant) – only comes into play after the death of the one who made it. (Interesting in the context of the new covenant in Christ – it required his death for the promise to come into effect.)
Additionally, when we look at covenants which God has made, we need to recognise that He is Sovereign: He is Lord. We are not considering a pact amongst equals. We also need to understand His character, and the profound nature of the agreements and understandings that he chooses to enter into with his creatures. He takes the initiative, creates the arrangement and determines any terms and conditions attaching to any covenant which he instigates. The outworking – as distinct from the agreements themselves – of these ‘God’ covenants can be conditional or unconditional. However the covenants themselves are all unchanging – reflecting the character of God. The Almighty is not fickle to say (as we would in the vernacular) “the whole deal is off”. Whilst the consequences (e.g. in the Mosaic Covenant with Israel) may differ according to the nation‘s behaviour, the arranged agreement sits unchanged on the table. (As an important aside, it is worthwhile here noting that some theological gymnasts argue that the word ‘everlasting’ doesn’t mean ‘forever’. And of course at one level they are right as we know from God’s word that the present heavens and earth will ultimately disappear to make way for God’s truly eternal kingdom. But they use the argument to distort the plain meaning that the Bible seeks to convey. So for the purposes of our short study I will use the word ‘everlasting’ to mean as Scripture intends it to mean – that is ‘as long as this present age endures’ and of the period prior to the marriage of the Bride and the Lamb and that final consummation.)
In order to ‘focus down’ I will list just seven covenants - all initiated by God and all operative between the Almighty and men/mankind. However, for five of these I will merely sketch an overview – not because they are unimportant, and of course the New Covenant is supremely so – but to focus more closely on the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants (the former now, and the latter at a later stage). I do this for the reason that while our understanding of all of the covenants impacts on the whole spectrum of our basic beliefs and behaviours, there is perhaps more debate on these two than the others. So while the following list is arranged chronologically, the emphases – with relation to ‘word count’ – vary. The important point to note is that all of these covenants are explicitly described in the Bible as the inerrant Word of God.
Seven of the Covenants God has made with man
There is a reference to God having made a covenant with mankind through Adam (Isa 24:5; 33:8). However the first Covenant which I will address is that of the covenant with Noah, or to be more precise, the covenant which God made via Noah as a representative of all mankind, and for as long as this present world endures (Gen 9:11-12). This was and is the promise by God never again to destroy the earth by flood, and the rainbow reminder of this pledge can be seen often in our skies (Gen 9:13-14).
The covenant is eternal, but The Noahic covenant, while eternal, is also unconditional i.e. there are no ifs or buts or maybes. There is nothing – good or bad, fleshly or spiritually – that man(kind) can do to overturn or nullify the outworking of this promise from God.
The Abramic Covenant
(Gen 12:1-2; 12:5-7; 17:7-8)
There are really three promises (covenants) that God instituted with Abraham. The first of these is in relation to all the earth being blessed through his offspring (Gen 12:2-3). (There is little disagreement within the body of Christ regarding this particular promise; however it is vital to understand to whom this and other promises were made i.e. who are the heirs/children/seeds of Abraham, and to whom exactly do the covenant promises pertain? This will be covered in later notes.)
As just stated, there is little dissension relating to the blessings coming on the world through Abraham (Gen 12:3) and his unique seed who is Christ (Gal. 3:16). However with regards to God’s promises and purposes with relation to ‘the land’ (Gen 17:7-8) we have a very different situation. And, at this point in our analysis, I will go into much more depth.
It is worth noting that there were various means used in Bible times to seal an agreement. For instance Boaz used the giving of a sandal to mark the handover of property (Ruth 4:7-8). On other occasions two persons on a journey might make a covenant; and exchanging one’s favourite footwear in these situations would not be very wise. Hence it was common to enact a ‘salt covenant’ (Num. 18:19). (Travellers would invariably carry a small sack of salt on their journeys and exchanging a pinch of salt between pouches symbolically marked the irrevocabiity of the transaction: once the exchange was made it would be impossible to recover the respective grains from each other’s pouches.) Salt was also present at every meal; and eating together was also an important part of the ‘sealing’ of an agreement. The covenant with David concerning the nation was a salt covenant (2 Chron 13:5).
However the covenant that was (first) made with Abraham was sealed as a blood covenant. (Moses also used blood to seal the Sinaitic covenant (Exodus 24:8)). And in normal circumstances BOTH parties would walk together through the ‘wall of blood’ to solemnise the agreement; with the gory death of the animals symbolising the grave consequences for either party if one or other broke the agreement. But as we read, during this episode God sent Abraham into a deep sleep (Gen 15:12). By so doing He indicated that this particular covenant had everything to do with God and nothing whatsoever to do with Abraham’s worth or subsequent behaviour. It was an unconditional and everlasting covenant (see earlier note).
But God did not stop there: He reaffirmed His promises to Abraham’s son Isaac (Gen 26:3) and then to his grandson Jacob (Gen 28:13; Exodus 2:24). And if these were not enough, God later declared through the Psalmist:
“He remembers (and the word ‘remembers’ doesn’t mean that God forgets; rather that He brings a promise to mind in order to put it into effect) his covenant forever, the word he commanded, for a thousand generations. The covenant He made with Abraham, the oath He swore to Isaac. He confirmed it to Jacob as decree, to Israel as an everlasting covenant (Ps. 105:8-10).
And what was the Almighty affirming so robustly and repeatedly? “To you I will give the land of Canaan as the portion you will inherit” (Ps 105:11) (emphasis added throughout).
Please note that although there is reference to circumcision being the ‘sign of the covenant’ (Gen 17:11; Acts 7:8) we need to treat this with care, asking ‘Which covenant?’ and ‘To whom does it apply?’ Both Ishmael and Isaac were circumcised, with Sarah and Hagar representing two different covenants – slavery and freedom (Gal. 4:24-26).
Accordingly circumcision cannot be assumed to be the sign of the above-mentioned covenant promises of ‘blessing to the nations’ and ‘the land’. Otherwise Ishmael would also be a beneficiary of all of God’s promises to Isaac, and this of course is not the case (Gen 17:19; Gen 22:2). So circumcision was neither exclusive to, nor the hallmark of God’s chosen people; indeed the nation was only formed at the time of the Exodus. It was at later time – in the desert – that the unique and distinguishing feature which differentiated God’s chosen race (the Jews) from the Gentile nations came into being. This was the Sabbath rest, which forms part of the Decalogue. And this brings us to the next Covenant in our list.
The Mosaic (or Sinaitic) Covenant
(Ex 34:28; Deut 10:4)
The covenant was made exclusively with Abraham’s (special and selected) natural children (seeds): that is through Isaac to Jacob and his off-spring (Ex 31:17). [More on this subject (d.v.) in a later article.] It was not made with the sons of Issacher, neither was it made with any of the other (gentile) nations; then or since. It was/is an eternal covenant (Ex 31:16) and the term ‘conditional’ only relates to the two main outcomes (blessing for obedience/punishment for disobedience). It has never been rescinded. It may be considered obsolescent but it is not obsolete (Exod. 31:16-17a; Matt 5:18; Luke 16:17). Outside of the new covenant in Christ, the Jews remain under the ('curse' of) the law (Deut 29:21; John 1:17; Acts 13:39; Rom 3:20; Rom 5:20-21; Rom 7:20; Gal 3:10 -13). Accordingly religious Jews who have not responded to the New Covenant (John 1:17), continue – and with good reason – to regard the OT laws as being ‘in effect’ (Rom 2:12). [We will return to this covenant in later notes.]
Whilst the Sinaitic Covenant was made with Moses and the people, it is not the only covenant that was made with them during Moses' time. In fact just as they were about to enter the land, and just prior to Moses' death, the Lord made an additional covenant (Deut 29:1) which reinforced (Deut. 29:13) the promises made in the Abramic Covenant regarding regathering to the land (Deut 30:3-5) and pre-figures the promises later made through Jeremiah relating to spiritual restoration (Deut 30:6; cf Jer. 31:33).
The Phinehas (Priestly) Covenant
The Priestly Covenant is set at the end of Israel’s forty years of wilderness wanderings. Here, God tells Moses that He is “giving” the covenant (Num 25:12) to Phinehas. First of all, the promise made with Phinehas is said to be a “covenant of peace” (Num 25:12). Additionally, the covenant given to Phinehas included his descendants (Num 25:13) to whom God also promised a perpetual priesthood, designating the covenant’s enduring nature. The perpetual nature of the Priestly Covenant suggests that it should stand as a separate covenant and not a part of the Mosaic Covenant. The language of Jeremiah 33:20-21 places its permanence alongside the Davidic Covenant (below).
The Land Covenant
This covenant – sometimes wrongly described as the 'Palestinian Covenant' – is spelled out in detail at the end of Deuteronomy on the eve of entering into the Promised Land. It is called an "eternal covenant" in Ezekiel (as in Ezek 16:59 - 63), who based much of his own prophecies about the Land on it, and it is again predicted that God will sovereignly fulfill it after the captivity in Babylon. It crystallizes certain elements of the Abrahamic Covenant as applying to the land of Israel. It has never been fulfilled in its final form as provided for by Ezekiel and Zechariah, and cannot be fulfilled in the present Church era. The mere existence of the modern State of Israel does not satisfy it's provisions. A final fulfillment of Restoration to the Land is therefore to be expected.
The Davidic Covenant
(2 Sam 7:16; 2 Chron 13:5)
The Davidic Covenant centres on several key promises that are made to David.
1) God reaffirms the promise of the land that He made in the first two covenants with Israel (the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants). This promise is seen in 2 Samuel 7:10, “Moreover I will appoint a place for My people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own and move no more; nor shall the sons of wickedness oppress them anymore, as previously.”
2) God promises that David’s descendant or “seed” will succeed him as king of Israel and that David’s throne will be established forever. This promise is seen in 2 Samuel 7:12-13, "I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” This is a reference to the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ – the unique natural but supremely supernatural seed of Abraham; the Son of Man and Son of God.
It is interesting to note that the covenant with David also extends to the Levites
The New Covenant
I will not dwell on the New Covenant in Christ (which is generally well-understood and agreed) other than to say that it is not a two-tier covenant. There is only one means of salvation: that is through Jesus Christ. There is no other way for the natural children of Abraham (the Jews) or the natural children of Gentiles (non-Jews) to find true communion with God.
Neither is there any biblical justification for holding the view that the children of believing parents have any alternative spiritual provision or favoured standing with the Almighty regarding their salvation. Whilst these children enjoy the privilege of being raised in a Christian home, this also leaves them with even less of an excuse – not that there are any – in terms of (not) knowing the way of salvation. (See 'Covenant Theology' below.) Jews, at a personal level, have no promise of salvation because they have Abraham as their father, and children of believers have no promise of salvation through their parents' faith.
Moving now from Biblical covenants to theological systems.
Theological constructs; frameworks of interpretation
(aka Systematic Theology)
Having outlined the principal features of these seven covenants, we come now to interpretational systems and frameworks or – to use the fancy term – hermeneutics. And it is important to note the distinction between terms which are ‘theological’ and those which are ‘biblical’. Theological terms need to be treated with great caution. Whilst they might be convenient in the discussion of key biblical themes and concepts (e.g. the term ‘Trinity’ as used in reference to the triune Godhead) these are essentially – in the grand sweep of history – neologisms.
They are essentially religious rather than biblical terms or, to use another word, ‘inventions’. They are often lacking clear definition and, across the Christian spectrum, experience differing levels of (dis)agreement and common understanding. An example is the word ‘sacrament’. It is not found in the Bible and theologians have differed regarding the precise nature of a ‘sacrament’ and also what is (and isn’t ) covered by the term. See - http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Sacrament
And the different opinions are not confined to the clichéd Roman Catholic/Protestant divisions. The Reformers Luther and Zwingli were famously in disagreement over Communion.
It is also important to differentiate between inductive learning and deductive reasoning. The former derives a view directly from (out of and formed by) the Bible text (exegesis): the latter is arrived at by a process of logic. For instance (and only for the sake of illustration) if it is held that God predestines some to salvation, then logic should dictate that God must, by extension, predestine some to a lost eternity. The use of logic can produce doctrines that are arrived at by eisegesis (reading into a Bible text from a particular and pre-suppositional theological framework).
Clever murder mysteries use 'deduction' to lead the reader or viewer on a false trail and to suspect the wrong person of the crime. (But of course Hercule Poirot's incisive and 'out-of-the-box' thinking shames the logic of we armchair sleuths every time.)
This is not to detract from the benefits of Systematic Theology which (in plainer language) is merely a themed approach to Bible study, but rather to highlight that theological suppositions should never be placed on a par with or, infinitely worse still, sit above the Word of God.
Two major theological systems -
(which contradict each other whilst also failing the Berean test: Acts 17:10-11).
Caveat: Whilst focussing on particular interpretations, this is an 'equal opportunities' document in that it offers scope for upset across the theological spectrum.
At this point I feel rather like a child sitting the middle of motorway with two eighteen-wheeled juggernauts heading towards me at full tilt. In truth they are on a collision course with each other but the danger of being sandwiched in the crash is very real. And if past experience is anything to go by, any challenge to pre-suppositional and deeply-embedded theological positions tends to elicit angry reactions rather than rational responses. Maybe this occasion will be an exception.
So, I take a deep breath and continue...
In the Christian community across the world there are a variety of theological positions. However two of these have gained widespread support and – whilst disagreeing with one another – have both been highly influential in the formulation of belief. And it is important to stress again that these are theological constructs. The earliest of the two has been termed ‘Covenant Theology’ (mainly formulated and codified in the 17th century): the other being ‘Dispensationalism’ (with its origins in the 19th century).
The former is a central plank within Presbyterian churches around the world and across the (Presbyterian) denominational spectrum. The latter originated in the UK (pioneered by those within what became the Plymouth Brethren), but crossed the Atlantic to become hugely influential in the late 19th century. Dispensationalism informed the belief of the pentecostal churches at the start of the 20th century and has, since then, expanded both denominationally and geographically.
Covenant Theology (CT) developed two principal terms to describe its dual covenant interpretational framework viz. a Covenant of Works and a Covenant of Grace. (Some argue that there is a third covenant; the Covenant of Redemption between the Father and the Son.) These theological terms have been employed to develop a whole range of doctrines and, because of the influence that they have had, we will (d.v.) come back to these later in more detail.
However, for the moment and with reference to the most common 'dual-covenant' view – developed first by Dudley Fenner, an English Puritan, in 1585; and then Scottish theologian Robert Rollock (1555 - 1598) – it is sufficient to say that the (theological) Covenant of Works is used to denote the period prior to the Fall in the Garden of Eden. In simple terms the Covenant of Works would say: “If Adam and Eve had obeyed the instructions given to them then they would have been OK. “ However Adam and Eve didn’t, so God had to embark on Plan B – the Covenant of Grace.”
This term – again simply speaking, but remembering that it is a theological expression, not a biblical, one – covers the continuous period from the Fall until the final consummation and Kingdom come.
However this span of time is (it is argued) split into two ‘administrations’ (again a non-biblical term); basically delineated by the Old Testament (OT) and the New Testament (NT) periods. In these two ‘administrations’ (it is said) God applied the same principles but in two different situations and in two different ways to the one people of God. These were Israelites in the OT and believers (Gentile and Jewish) in NT times.
Whilst this is a convenient hermeneutic, it is not biblical. The nation of Israel was in effect a theocracy within which some were in communion with God (cf Heb. 11) while others were very obviously not. In contrast the church (in the true sense of the bride of Christ) comprises solely of people in blood-bought communion with God.
So 'OT Israel = OT expression of church' is both overly-simplistic and grossly misleading . As a corollary, 'Church = Israel' is also untrue. (More on this below.) But as Covenant Theology has been widely accepted as ‘biblical’ it has led directly to (for instance) infant baptism. Accordingly paedobaptism is claimed to be the NT equivalent of circumcision – even though circumcision was never the symbol of salvation and union with God; and was only ever applied to males. [Again, more on this at later date (d.v.) when looking at 'Who are Abraham's seed?']
One of the other principal, and even more serious, mistakes deriving from Covenant Theology has led to what is commonly called ‘Replacement Theology’. This ‘theology’ – also termed Supercessionism – teaches that the Jews have now been ‘replaced’ by the mainly-Gentile church and (therefore, by deduction and logic) the promises to the Jews have now either all been fulfilled or spiritualised;or will find any contemporary or future fulfillment in the church. (So for instance many older Bibles have chapter headings for Isaiah 59 as “God’s curses on the Jews” and Isaiah 60 as “God’s blessings on the Church”.)
The ‘replacement’ view is most emphatically rejected by Paul in his letter to the (Jewish and Gentile) church at Rome. In fact this is his core message (Rom 11:1-2; 11-12) and the underlying reason for writing this – his longest – letter.
In contrast to Covenant Theology the other system of interpretation that has attracted widespread support is that of Dispensationalism.
There is a view that Dispensationalism (as distinct from, but embracing pre-millennialism) has its genesis in a Scottish believer (Margaret Macdonald; 1815-1840) and a Church of Scotland minister (Rev. Edward Irving; 1792-1834). What is undisputed is the fact the John Nelson Darby (founder of the Plymouth Brethren as a distinct grouping with its roots in the wider Brethren movement) is the latter-day father of this theological system. Darby took his pre-tribulation rapture teachings (the removal of believers from the earth prior to the return of Christ and before the ‘great tribulation’ of Matt. 24) to America where they were enthusiastically embraced by a lawyer called Cyrus I. Scofield (1843-1921).
Scofield in turn produced the Scofield Reference Bible (first published 1909) which is annotated throughout in support of Darby’s interpretations – especially with reference to eschatology, the end-time prophecies and events regarding Christ’s return. The Scofield Bible has been hugely influential right through to the present day – in America and right around the world. The teachings are now being propagated through the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Dallas Theological Seminary, and more than 200 other lesser-known Bible institutes..
Dispensationalism divides history into sections, covering the periods of Innocence, Conscience, Civil Government, the Patriarchs, the Law, Grace (the church age), the Millennium and the final consummation leading to the everlasting kingdom. However, and perhaps because this theological system lacks biblical warrant, there is a range of opinions (disagreement) on how many dispensations there are (varying from three to eight) and where, in history and in Scripture, the dividing lines lie.
But irrespective of the number of dispensations, the agreed assumption is that God has dealt differently with his world and its people in each of these different dispensations. Accordingly then a different hermeneutic needs to be applied to the different portions of Scripture which cover these different periods of time.
What is also generally agreed is that the church age is a parenthesis – a defined interlude – in God’s overall plan of salvation i.e. in the OT is God dealing through the Jews while the NT is the time of the Gentile church until Jesus’s rapture of the saints (with a pre/post/mid-Tribulation rapture range of views) . This will usher in a further period of God again dealing with and through the Jews.
Dispensational teaching has been greatly popularised and adopted through hugely-influential and best-selling books like Hal Lindsey’s ‘The Late Great Planet Earth’ (1970) and the ‘Left Behind’ series of novels by Tim LaHaye. The Left Behind books – the first in the series appeared in 1995 – have sold over 50 million copies, and have been turned into a cinema production. The books are freely available from and often prominently displayed in Christian bookshops.
As stated earlier, the core element of these novels is the ‘pre-tribulation rapture’ which, as already stated, teaches that all Christians will be suddenly and without any warning removed from the earth prior to the return of Christ. However, and apart from the wider Christian community, even within the Brethren camp there was disagreement. George Mueller (of Bristol Orphanage fame) broke with Darby over this issue. The great Baptist preacher C.H. Spurgeon also declared the teaching to be unscriptural. Nevertheless the doctrine has persisted.
So finally on Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism...
IN summation, both Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism have been and continue to be highly influential in formulating Christian belief, but both are disputed.
Covenant Theology dismisses swathes of end-time prophecy as irrelevant or allegorical, and sees no place in God’s final purposes for the Jews other than (perhaps) a final ingathering as outlined in Romans. In terms of latter-day expectations prior to the return of Jesus, the former implicitly teaches a universally positive response to the Gospel (reading more into Matt. 24:14 than the verse allows; cf Matt 7:14).
Meanwhile, though recognising the prophesied 'time of great trouble' (Dan 12:1; Matt 24; 2 Tim. 3:1-12), Dispensationalism (in pre-tribulation rapture form), teaches that believers will be spirited away, leaving the Jews to face the music of Satan’s final onslaught.
So while the Gentile believers look down from a safe vantage point in heaven (as God's 'heavenly people'), the Jews will be God's latter-day 'earthly people' who will suffer greatly but endure through the Great Tribulation. Within the Dispensationalist view, Matthew 24 (et al) and, for some, Revelation chapters 4 - 22 are seen as only of academic interest – given that the Gentile saints will be in heaven during that period.
Regarding God’s end-time purposes for the Jews, Dispensational Theology cannot get the church and Israel together, whereas Covenant Theology cannot get the church and Israel apart. The former sees the Jews and the church as totally different entities separated by ethnicity and end-time progression, whereas the latter see Israel and the Jews as essentially an earlier expression of the church, differentiated only by two separate and distinct ‘administrations’ of time (OT/NT) in God’s grace. In fact Israel was/is a physical nation comprising the saved and the lost (Rom 9:7), whereas followers of Christ are a spiritual nation made up exclusively of the redeemed (Gal 3:7,8; 1 Pet 2:9).
At the very least it can be confidently stated that because these two systems disagree markedly with one another, they cannot both be completely right. (And it could be argued that in critical issues they are both wrong.) Yet both of these systems have created expectations and assumptions which could leave believers scripturally askew; vulnerable through false hopes; and ill-prepared to understand the times and the purposes of God in our day as the cosmic upheavals preceding Kingdom Come drawn ever nearer.
The covenants between God and man still stand today. However of all of the above, with the exception of the (OT) covenant delivered via Noah and the (NT) covenant in Christ, were essentially and exclusively made with the Jewish people for the Jewish people. This in not to say that the implications do not extend to other (Gentile) nations, but the primary application relates to the Jews.
Although the consequences contained in (for instance) the Mosaic /Sinaitic Covenant are dependent on Israel’s behaviour, the covenant agreements themselves are instituted and defined by God alone and are (in that sense) unconditional and eternal in terms of their standing. But we need to be very clear about with whom each covenant was made. The Mosaic Covenant was made with the Jews, not with other nations. (More on this later d.v.)
At the risk of vain repetition, the theological systems of Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism lack Biblical support in major areas of doctrine, theology and eschatology. Moreover they profoundly disagree with each other on very significant points – especially concerning the times preceding the coming again of Christ; the place of, and God’s purposes for the Jewish people; and the establishment of His everlasting kingdom.
In the course of preparing the above I have looked at material from a wide variety of sources and covering a range of opinions. This has been very helpful. However, I would like to make seven assertions regarding the Abramic Covenant and Scripture references to Israel.
1. The ten northern tribes which were overrun and taken away into captivity in 722BC have not disappeared (Isa 11:12-13; Ezek 37:21-22; James 1:1).
It is therefore wrong to say that the joining of the two sticks (Ezek 37:16-17) is an allegorical reference to a then-future uniting of Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ. The twelve tribes will be and are being re-gathered into one nation. This is the primary message spoken to the Jewish people in that day. And this is how it would clearly have been understood by those for whom it was first spoken.
2. The twelve-tribed nation still exists spiritually (Jer 31:33; Jer 32:39; Ezek 37:5), ethnically (Hos 1:11; James 1:1) and geo-politically (Isa 43:5-6; Jer 32:37). Though the majority are still separated from God spiritually He will not reject them utterly (Lev 26:44-45; Isa 49:15-16; Jer 31:35-37). There will be a great ingathering of a remnant (Jer 31:33; Ezek 37:19-22; Ezek 37:26-28; Zech 12:10; 13:9) to the glory of God (Ezek 36:23; 37:28) and the blessing of the whole world (Zech 14:16-21; Rom 11:12,15).
3. The land promise to Abraham’s chosen natural seed (the Jews) is everlasting (Gen 17:8; Ps 105:9-11).
See also - Gen 24:7; Gen 26:3; Gen 50:24; Exod 6:8; Exod 13:5; Exod 13:11; Exod 32:13; Exod 33:1; Num 11:12; Num 14:16; Num 14:23; Num 32:11; Deut 1:8; Deut 1:35; Deut 6:10; Deut 6:18; Deut 6:23; Deut 7:13; Deut 8:1; Deut 9:5; Deut 10:11; Deut 11:9; Deut 11:21; Deut 19:8; Deut 26:3; Deut 26:15; Deut 28:11; Deut 30:20; Deut 31:7; Deut 31:20; Deut 31:21; Deut 31:23; Deut 34:4; Jos 1:6; Jos 5:6; Jos 21:43; Judges 2:1; 1 Chron 16:15-18; Neh 9:15; Ps 105:8-11; Jer 11:5; Jer 32:22; Ezek 20:6; Ezek 20:28; Ezek 20:42; Ezek 47:14.
4. The return from the Babylonian captivity was not the second and comprehensive re-gathering outlined in Isaiah’s prophecy (Isa 11:11-12).
The passages concerned make it quite clear that the re-gathering – still far-future in Isaiah’s day (cf Jer 30:18-24) – will be from the four corners of the earth (Isa 11:11-12; Jer 31:5-8). The prophet Jeremiah foretold: ‘Again you will plant vineyards on the hills of Samaria; the farmers will plant them and enjoy their fruit.’ (Jer 31:5).
This was never fulfilled in the return from Babylon. Indeed the Jews spurned the initial offers of help from the Samaritans regarding re-building the temple (Ezra 4:1-3) and that sealed the enmity between the Jews and their adversaries in Samaria (Ezra 4:4-5; Neh 4:1-4).
Right up until the time of Jesus, Samaria was normally a no-go area for the Jews (Matt 10:5; John 4:4,9). The Jews didn't live in Samaria and planting vineyards there in those days would have been inconceivable. It is only in the latter days that the comprehensive re-gathering of the Jewish people to the re-born land of Israel has been and is being fulfilled.
[Note: Samaria is today referred to as the West Bank or more often as the so-called 'occupied territories'. The Jews call the area Yesha (an acronym for Judea, Samaria and Gaza). However God speaks of the 'Mountains of Israel' (Ezek 38:8) as part of what He calls 'My land' (Isa 14:25; Ezek 36:5; Joel 3:2). ]
5. All the promises to and prophesies regarding the Jewish people still stand (Num 23:19; Rom 11:29).
There are 16 major prophesies regarding the Israelites (Israelis in modern parlance). And twelve of these have been fulfilled since the nation was first established. Two are presently outworking themselves before our eyes. All these things will come to pass and the final two will surely come to pass as the consummation of God's purposes in this present age.
Already fulfilled –
1. Enslavement in Egypt (Gen 15:14)
2. Deliverance from Egypt (Gen 15:14)
3. Possession of the land of Canaan (Gen 15:18-20)
4. Turning to idolatry there (Deut. 32:15-21)
5. Centre of worship in Jerusalem (Deut. 12:5-6; Ezra 6:12; Psalm 102:21; 132:13-14)
6. Assyrian captivity (Amos 5:27; 6:14; 7:17)
7. Babylonian captivity (Jer16:13; 21:10)
8. Destruction of the first temple (2 Chron. 7:19-22)
9. Return from Babylon (Isa 6:11-13; Isa 48:20)
10. Destruction of the second temple (Matt. 24:2; Luke 19:43-44)
11. Scattering among all nations (Lev 26:33-34; Ezek. 12:15)
12. Persecution and oppression among all nation (Lev 26:36-39)
Being fulfilled in modern times –
13. Regathering from all nations (Isa 11:11-12; Ezek 38:8; Zech 10:9-10) and increasingly -
14. All nations gathered against Jerusalem (Zech 12:2-3; 14:1-2; Joel 3:2)
Yet to be fulfilled –
15. Supernatural revelation of Jesus the Messiah (Yeshua Ha Mashiach) (Zech 12:10-14)
16. Jesus Christ comes in glory (Zech 14:3-9)
'And He said to them, "O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! "' Luke 24:25
6. Every mention of Israel in the Old Testament is primarily addressed to Israel and the Jews.
It is inconceivable that just as God literally fulfilled the twelve of the above prophesies that He will not literally fulfil the remainder. Indeed He already is.
If we cannot trust God to honour His ancient covenants to the Jews then we cannot trust in the promise of the New Covenant for our salvation.
It seems trite and superflous having to make and emphasise this point, but such is the embedded hold of Replacement Theology that it needs to be re-stated.
Whilst in many respects the church may be regarded as a 'type' of Israel and vice versa, that is most certainly not the same thing as saying that they are one and the same entity. The courageous pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi might be described as 'Burma's Nelson Mandela'. But self-evidently that does not mean that she is Nelson Mandela; she is but a 'type'.
7. Every mention of Israel in the New Testament refers to 'Israel' and not 'the church'.
Matt 2:6; Matt 2:20; Matt 2:21; Matt 8:10; Matt 9:33; Matt 10:6; Matt 10:23; Matt 15:24; Matt 15:31; Matt 19:28; Matt 27:9; Matt 27:42; Mark 12:29; Mark 15:32; Luke 1:16; Luke 1:54; Luke 1:68; Luke 1:80; Luke 2:25; Luke 2:32; Luke 2:34; Luke 4:25; Luke 4:27; Luke 7:9; Luke 22:30; Luke 24:21; John 1:31; John 1:47; John 1:49; John 3:10; John 12:13; Acts 1:6; Acts 2:22; Acts 2:36; Acts 3:12; Acts 4:8; Acts 4:10; Acts 4:27; Acts 5:21; Acts 5:31; Acts 5:35; Acts 7:23; Acts 7:37; Acts 7:42; Acts 9:15; Acts 10:36; Acts 13:16; Acts 13:17; Acts 13:23; Acts 13:24; Acts 21:28; Acts 28:20; Rom 9:4; Rom 9:6 (Note 1); Rom 9:27; Rom 9:27; Rom 9:31; Rom 10:1; Rom 10:19; Rom 10:21; Rom 11:1; Rom 11:2; Rom 11:7; Rom 11:11; Rom 11:25; Rom 11:26; 1 Cor 10:18; 2 Cor 3:7; 2 Cor 3:13; Gal 6:16 (Note 2); Eph 2:12; Eph 3:6; Phil 3:5; Heb 8:8; Heb 8:10; Heb 11:22; Heb 11:28; Rev 2:14; Rev 7:4; Rev 21:12.
Note 1: 'Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel'. (Rom 9:6).
This verse is often interpreted to mean that the term 'Israel' refers to more than just the Jews i.e. to include Gentile believers also. However, as the succeeding verse (Rom 9:7) shows, what Paul is saying is that not all who are physical descendants of (Abraham, Isaac and) Jacob can be classed as being heirs to the promise of God i.e. Paul is restricting the meaning of 'Israel' rather than (as many commentators suggest) expanding the scope of the term. A similar dynamic was seen when John the Baptist addressed the self-righteous and complacent Pharisees who had placed their status and security in their geneological line (Matt 3:9).
Note 2: Galatians 6:16 is differently translated in the NIV (and other modern paraphrases) to that found in the KJV viz.
And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. (KJV)
Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God. (NIV)
The Greek word kai (translated as 'and' in the KJV, and 'even' in the NIV) appears over 9,250 times in the NT and is translated 'and' or 'also' on 8,687 occasions. It is translated 'even' on 108 occurences.
The word is used in a copulative (joining together) or cumulative (adding to) sense rather than affirming or reinforcing something that has already been said. Within the one verse itself (KJV) the two other uses of 'kai' have been rendered as 'and'.
Paul was writing to address a Judaising influence which was forcing circumcision on Gentile believers (Gal 6:12) and reassuring his readers that their standing was neither helped by circumcision nor hindered by remaining uncircumcised. He proclaimed peace upon those abiding by this principal – on the Gentiles AND on Jewish believers also.
Based on the above, it therefore would seem that the change in translation from 'and' to 'even' has been made on theological rather than linguistic grounds i.e. in order to class all believers – Gentile and Jewish – as the 'Israel of God'.
1. As the above is a 'work in progress' any comments should be made directly to the Editor at this stage and these will be taken account of in the final version. Indeed considered responses made at this (earlier) stage are viewed as being much more helpful in order to facilitate an ordered discussion at a later stage if this indeed transpires.
It would be helpful in any responses to quote Scripture rather than what any one theologian or sub-Scriptural creed says.
2. The use of 'hot-links' has been minimised so as not to disadvantage anyone reading the text in hardcopy form. Having said that, reading the above 'on-line' allows 'pop-up' Bible texts to appear on 'mouse-over' of Scripture references.
3. For those with access to the Internet, Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, is a very convenient and quick reference source. It is not a 'biblical' reference neither is it exhaustive; but while it may lack in these areas, it gains in neutrality.
4. Further articles will be prepared (d.v.) dealing with other topics in the 'Drilling Down' template - including the Mosaic Covenant and the Decalogue (Ten Commandments).