By Les Fleetwood
Over 30% of the New Testament (NT) is composed of OT quotes and allusions (Hill and Walton, A Survey of the OT. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991; p. 435). Much of this refers to OT covenant material. This statistic alone should motivate one to study the OT more diligently. Specifically, God's eschatological (endtime) program began in specific OT covenants He made with the nation of Israel. These covenants provided Israel with a hope, a certain future based on the faithfulness of God. Anyone serious about understanding the Endtimes must begin their study with the OT covenants as they are "the basis of Biblical Eschatology" (Pentecost, Things to Come, p. 65).
How do I interpret the OT Covenants?
As explained in a previous article on this site, the literal or normal method of biblical interpretation is the only method to assure consistency and accuracy when it comes to studying the OT covenants. As we study the covenants, we shall see that they are literal, that is they are contracts written in common language, conveying a plainly expressed straightforward meaning. As such, reading and interpreting these covenants in the most plain and normal sense (i.e.; literal interpretation) becomes obvious.
What's the focus of this article?
This article is not intended as a comprehensive study of biblical eschatology. Rather it is intended to focus on the OT covenants, and how they relate to the Endtimes. It is hoped that this article, along with the accompanying resource list, will provide you a solid foundation with which to confidently dig more deeply into the rich field of biblical eschatology.
OT Covenants or Covenant Theology?
It is necessary to begin this article with some clarification. The OT covenants (biblical covenants) are not to be confused with Covenant Theology (theological covenants). What is the difference?
Covenant Theology refers to the theological system that views history primarily through two covenants between God and man: the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. For more information on Covenant Theology, refer to the article on this web site by Jack Brooks. As a theological system, Covenant Theology is unable to provide us with an adequate understanding into God's endtime plan. The OT covenants, on the other hand, are mentioned explicitly in the OT and as promises of a future hope for the nation Israel, are directly concerned with God's endtime plan. It is these biblical covenants that we will be dealing with in this article.
What does "covenant" mean?
The word "covenant" is used many times in the OT, and it refers to an agreement or a contract between two parties such as man to man, or God to man. The Hebrew word from which "covenant" is translated is "berith". "Berith" probably originated from the Akkadian word "biritu" meaning "to clasp or bond," which adds the nuance of "a binding agreement or contract" to the word "covenant." In the covenants we will be looking at, the contracts were made between God and people.
What are the OT covenants?
There are several OT covenants, the five major ones including the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3), the Mosaic Covenant (Exodus to Deuteronomy), the Palestinian Covenant (Deuteronomy 30:1-10), the Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7:12-16), and the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Each of these represents an agreement that God initiated with people. Each represents promises that He made to the nation of Israel (as such, we cannot transfer national promises given to Israel onto Gentiles). But not all of these five covenants relate to the Endtimes. Which do and which don't? Read on!
There are two types of covenants: Conditional and Unconditional.
As Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost has observed, within these five specific covenants, there are two types: conditional and unconditional (Ibid, p. 68). A conditional covenant is one in which God has required the people to fulfill certain obligations before He fulfills His promise(s). A key phrase/formula to look for would be one such as "IF you do this...THEN I'll do this" (eg., Exodus 19:5). You could say conditional covenants are "IF Covenants." Conditional covenants are also temporary. They deal with a specific people and duration of time. It is important to note that if a conditional covenant is broken, that is if the receiving party breaks one of the obligations, the covenant itself is broken and the promises do not necessarily have to be fulfilled.
The Mosaic Covenant exemplifies a conditional covenant. Read for yourself; throughout the covenant God made with Moses (Exodus to Deuteronomy) you will repeatedly come across conditional phrases like "IF/THEN" and "WHEN/THEN." It was a temporary contract that detailed God's laws for the nation of Israel, and it was to only continue until the coming of the Promised Seed, i.e., Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:16). As such, it is not determinative for the Endtimes.
The remaining four covenants (Abrahamic, Palestinian, Davidic, and New) are unconditional covenants. More on them in a moment. An unconditional covenant is one in which God does not attach any "IFs" for it to be fulfilled. It is a promise God makes that is not dependent upon the merit of the receiver. A key phrase/formula to watch for is "I WILL... ." This is an important statement. In Hebrew, this phrase appears in the imperfect tense. This means the speaker (in our case, God) is referring to a future action he will certainly complete. As such, an unconditional covenant is eternal, an agreement God promises to eventually yet certainly fulfill regardless of the receiver's actions. Please note that disobedience on the part of the receiver may postpone the full realization of God's promise, but it is a covenant that nonetheless will be fulfilled, based solely on the merit of God's perfect faithfulness (an example of this is found in relation to the Palestinian Covenant, in that while the nation Israel was reborn in 1948, her heart of unfaithfulness to the Messiah prevents her from occupying all the land God promised her. For further details, refer to "The Palestinian Covenant" section of this article). It is this type of covenant that we are concerned with, for an unconditional covenant is eternal, and therefore determines our eschatology.
Evidence for the unconditionality of the Abrahamic, Palestinian, Davidic, and New Covenants.
As the Mosaic Covenant was shown to be a conditional, temporary covenant, it can be established that the Abrahamic, Palestinian, Davidic, and New Covenants are indeed unconditional, eternal covenants. Remember, an unconditional covenant employs the "I WILL..." formula spoken by God, and is eternal. Notice these elements in the following covenants (John F. Walvoord, "Millenial Series," Bibliotheca Sacra, 109:38-40, October 1951; and C. H. Lincoln, The Covenants. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, TX, 1938:29, 181):
Abrahamic Covenant: uses/implies the "I WILL..." formula seven times in Genesis 12:1-3, and is called "eternal" in Genesis 17:7, 13, 19; 1 Chronicles 16:17; and Psalm 105:10.
Palestinian Covenant: uses/implies the "I WILL..." formula twelve times in Deuteronomy 30:1-10, and is called "eternal" in Ezekiel 16:60.
Davidic Covenant: uses the "I WILL..." formula seven times in 2 Samuel 7:10-16, and is called "eternal" in 2 Samuel 7:13, 16, 19, and 23:5; 1 Chronicles 17:12 and 22:10; Isaiah 55:3; and Ezekiel 37:25.
New Covenant: uses the "I WILL..." formula seven times in Jeremiah 31:31-40, and is called "eternal" in Isaiah 24:5 and 61:8; Jeremiah 32:40 and 50:5; and in Hebrews 13:20.
Since it has been shown that these four covenants are literal, unconditional, and eternal (thus having endtime relevance), they shall be the focus of the remainder of this article. Each covenant will be introduced, as to its content and its eschatological significance. As we shall discover, the three endtime elements of the Abrahamic Covenant ("land," "seed," and "blessing") are amplified in the successive three covenants: the Palestinian Covenant amplifies the "land" element, the Davidic Covenant amplifies the "seed" element, and the New Covenant amplifies the "blessing" element.
The Abrahamic Covenant
Content: Initially stated in Genesis 12:1-3, and confirmed in Genesis 12:6-7, 13:14-17, 15:1-21, 17:1-14, and 22:15-18, this covenant which God made with Abraham and the nation Israel is the most significant of the four covenants we will be studying, for it is the basis of God's entire covenant program . The entire Bible abounds with references to this covenant, from the OT prophets to the NT writings of the Apostle Paul (Pentecost, Thy Kingdom Come, pp. 72-81). As we shall see, it is the foundation of the other three covenants (Palestinian, Davidic, and New).
A plain reading of the Abrahamic Covenant reveals three central aspects. First, God promised a national land to Israel (Genesis 12:1; 13:14-15, 17), the exact boundaries of which are recorded in Genesis 15:18-21 and Deuteronomy 11:24-25. Second, God promised numerous descendants from Abraham who would form a great nation to live and rule in this land (Genesis 12:2; 13:16; 17:2-6). Third, God promised Israel would be a blessing to all the nations of the earth (Genesis 12:3b; 22:18). These three central aspects make up the eschatological portion of the Abrahamic Covenant. But how do we know we are to take these as literal promises? We can know they are literal by looking at other aspects of the covenant that have already been literally fulfilled, as follows.
There are other aspects to the Abrahamic Covenant that were literally fulfilled. Look, for example, at the individual promises made directly with Abraham (e.g., Genesis 12:2 - God would bless him, make his name great, and make him a blessing to others). Within Abraham's lifetime and throughout the OT and NT, we can see how these promises were literally fulfilled: God made him a rich, powerful man with a great reputation. He is known as an outstanding example of faith, and he is mentioned close to 300 times in the Bible (Walvoord, Major Bible Prophecies, p. 42)!
Further, God gave national promises to Israel, such as dealing with other nations as they dealt with Israel (Genesis 12:3 - "I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse."). Again, this has been literally fulfilled down through history. Notice that every nation which has mistreated Israel (beginning with Egypt, then Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, Russia, Germany, and Spain) has "suffered diminished power and world prestige. In contrast, America and the countries that have been relatively kind to Israel have enjoyed continued power and prosperity." (Walvoord, Prophecy, pp. 73-4). Since these aspects of the Abrahamic covenant have been literally fulfilled, it is logical to consider the central aspects of land, descendants, and blessing as having a literal fulfillment as well. Consistency in our interpretation demands it.
Remember: the promise of land is further developed in the Palestinian Covenant (Deuteronomy 30:1-10); the promise of descendants is further developed in the Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7:12-16); and the promise of future blessing is further developed in the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Details of these covenants will be dealt with later. For now, it is sufficient to notice that these three aspects of the Abrahamic Covenant were unconditional promises, resting solely on the faithfulness of God to fulfill them.
Point of clarification: This is not to say that there wasn't a conditional element prior to the Abrahamic Covenant. God required just one condition before the covenant was made, and that was for Abraham to leave his homeland and go to the place God would show to him (Genesis 12:1). God required this single act of obedience to establish the covenant, but obedience wasn't required from that point onward to uphold or maintain the covenant, just as any disobedience would not nullify the covenant.
The key question we must now ask ourselves is: "Have these three central promises of the Abrahamic Covenant been literally fulfilled?"
Eschatological Significance: The answer to the question of fulfillment must be "Not yet." Let's look at each of the three central promises of the Abrahamic Covenant and find out why.
Land: As previously mentioned, God promised Israel a national land in Genesis 12:1 and 7; "To your descendants I will give this land." Some interpret "this land" as referring to heaven, thereby eliminating the need for a literal fulfillment altogether. But this does not make sense when the text is plainly read. Further, when this promise is repeated in Genesis 13:14-15, 17 - "Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and your descendants forever...Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it to you." - it is quite clear that "this land" refers to literal property and that Abraham understood God as saying this was land that he could see, walk about in, and live in. Finally, in the entire OT the phrase "this land" is never symbolic, never refers to heaven, but always literally means "land." (Ibid, p. 75).
Since a literal promise was made, has it been fulfilled? The answer is "Not yet." 1,878 years since the worldwide scattering of Israel following the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the nation of Israel was officially reborn at midnight, May 15, 1948, after Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion read a "Declaration of Independence." Many see this as the fulfillment of God's land promise. While it is true this spectacular event certainly shows God hasn't forgotten the nation Israel, it isn't the complete fulfillment of what God promised. In Genesis 15:18-21 - "From the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates...", and Deuteronomy 11:24-25 - "your border shall be from the wilderness to Lebanon, and from the river, the river Euphrates, as far as the western sea [the Mediterranean]...", God lays out the specific boundaries of the Promised Land. Clearly, Israel does not occupy all this territory...yet!
Point of clarification: "Didn't King Solomon occupy all the land that was promised?" Some would attempt to argue that the boundary of the land promised in Genesis 15:8 - "From the river of Egypt" - was already fulfilled under King Solomon. It is posited that 1 Kings 4:21 - "from the border of Egypt" - indicates the land was at one point possessed to its fullest extent. But herein lies the problem; "from the river Egypt" and "from the border of Egypt" are not equivalent geographical phrases. Furthermore, Solomon did not occupy all this land, but only collected tribute from it. "Obviously, temporary overlordship is not everlasting possession" (Pentecost, Thy Kingdom..., pp. 147-148). One can confidently assert that as of yet, Israel has not fully inherited the entire region of the land promised to them.
Further, read Jeremiah 23:7-8, Ezekiel 39:25-29, and 47:13-48:7, where prophets predicted that God would bring an exiled and scattered Israel back from other nations to their Promised land, and apportion it out among the twelve tribes of Israel. This also has not yet completely happened. But the fact that national Israel exists at all 4,000 years after the promise to Abraham should remind us that God has not forgotten His promises to Israel and that He will fulfill them. As a literal promise partially fulfilled in 1948, we can expect a literal and complete fulfillment in the future. A literal millennial kingdom would make this possible.
Descendants: In Genesis 12:2, 13:16, and 17:2-6, God promises Abraham that he will be the beginning of a great nation as he starts a long line of descendants with Isaac (Genesis 17:19). Some Bible translations render the word "descendants" as "seed." Actually, this is literally what is expressed in the Hebrew. The noun "zera" means "seed", the context determining whether plant seed, spiritual seed, or human seed (i.e., semen/ descendants) is being referred to. In the context of the Abrahamic Covenant, the plain, normal meaning of the above texts is referring to the physical descendants (human seed) of Abraham.
Interpretational issue: Could "seed" be interpreted to refer to the spiritual descendants of Abraham, that is the covenant community of heirs to the Abrahamic promise? After all, doesn't Genesis 12:3 say that through Abraham "all the families of earth shall be blessed?" And isn't this re-affirmed in the NT in Galatians 3:7-9: "...those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham...?" Only if one interprets the scriptures figuratively can this be the case. A literal view of the scriptures requires that "seed" refer to a race of people (i.e., the Jews). Let me explain.
The unnecessary confusion on this point can be cleared up if we understand the three different senses in which the word "seed" is used in relation to being a child of Abraham (Walvoord, " Series," Bibliotheca Sacra, 108: 420). First, there is the natural lineage ("seed") of Abraham, limited to the descendants of Jacob, the twelve tribes of Israel who received the Law. These were literally the children of Abraham. We could refer to them as "Natural Children/Natural Israelites."
Second, there is a spiritual lineage of natural Israelites. While not literally Abraham's seed, as God-fearing Jews they are also called the children of Abraham. We could refer to them as "Spiritual Children/Natural Israelites."
Third, there is a spiritual lineage who are not natural Israelites. These are God-fearing Gentiles who comprise the "all the families of the earth" promise in Genesis 12:3, a part of what is called the "Church." We could refer to them as "Spiritual Children/Non-Israelites." These God-fearing Gentiles are the ones referred to in Galatians 3:7-9 - "it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. ...so then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham... ." In fact, Galatians 3:14 clarifies this by saying "...in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles...[emphasis added]."
Does this mean the Church has replaced Israel? No, for God's covenant with Israel through Abraham was unconditional. In Romans 11, the Apostle Paul clearly explains that God has not rejected Israel, but that He has grafted in Gentile believers through Christ as partakers of God's blessing of the Holy Spirit through faith, and that He will still fulfill His unique promises to Israel in the future. As we shall see, the Davidic Covenant further develops this particular promise of "descendants."
Blessing: In Genesis 12:3b and 22:18, God promised Abraham that all the people of earth would be blessed in his seed. In scope, this is certainly the greatest promise God makes with Abraham. What does it mean? How can Abraham's seed mediate blessing to the entire world? The key is in understanding what "seed" means in this context. It can be taken as a plural, i.e. "descendants," or as a singular "seed," implying that God had one person in mind as being the "seed" who mediates this blessing. The real question becomes, "How did Abraham understand "seed?"
If you read through the book of Genesis, it becomes clear that Abraham understood this promise as referring to his physical descendants. This is in fact what happens through Isaac, Jacob, and the twelve tribes. However, Abraham was not only the father of a great nation, "most important, he was to be the progenitor of the line that would lead to Jesus Christ." (Walvoord, Major Bible Prophecies, p. 41).
This is where Galatians 3:16 comes into play - "Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, 'And to seeds,' as referring to many, but rather to one, 'And to your seed,' that is, Christ." The Apostle Paul interpreted Genesis 22:18 as saying the "seed" referred to Christ.
Where do the spiritual children of Abraham fit in? "That Abraham would have spiritual children (Galatians 3:6-9) does not change the literal promise. Even the spiritual children of Abraham were a literal fulfillment of prophecy. The lineage from Abraham to Christ is a literal lineage, and Christ was literally born. The fulfillment of the literal promise was essential to God's purpose not only for the physical seed of Abraham but also for the spiritual seed. Without the literal, the spiritual could not have been fulfilled [emphasis added]. It is significant that Galatians 3:5 does not trace the promise to the covenant that made Abraham the progenitor of the great nation of Israel, but rather to the promise of blessings to all people (Genesis 12:3), which is literally being fulfilled by Christ as the Savior." (Ibid, pp. 41-2).
Jesus Christ, the promised "seed" of Abraham, is the Mediator of God's blessings to all the families of earth as their Savior. And it is He who will affect change in the hearts of Israel according to God's endtime plan (this will be further developed in the New Covenant, Jeremiah 31:31-34).
As the foundation of God's endtime plan for the nation Israel, the Abrahamic Covenant is clearly significant.
The Palestinian Covenant
Content: In Deuteronomy 30:1-10, God re-affirms and expands His land promise to ethnic Israel originally made in the Abrahamic Covenant. This unconditional promise to inherit the land is often called the Palestinian Covenant. This covenant is important as God intended to reassure a new generation of Israelites of their right to inherit the land of promise. Even the conditional Mosaic Covenant under which they were living did not nullify the unconditional land promise God made with them. As we read in Ezekiel 16:60-62, the Palestinian Covenant is an unconditional, eternal covenant that God will literally fulfill with the nation Israel.
The specific content of this covenant amplifies the land promise from the Abrahamic Covenant, and includes the following: (1) the nation is removed from the land because of disobedience and is sent into captivity (Deuteronomy 30:1-3); (2) the returned Messiah will restore the nation to the land (30:3-5); (3) Israel will be converted as a nation (30:6 and 8; cf. Romans 11:26-27); (4) Israel's enemies will be judged (30:7); and (5) God will bless the nation (30:9-10).
The Palestinian Covenant is unconditional and eternal. Notice that Israel's right to inherit the land, as expressed in the Palestinian Covenant, is expressed as an unconditional covenant. First, God says/implies "I WILL..." 12 times in Deuteronomy 30:1-10, binding Himself alone to fulfill the promise. Second, as mentioned earlier, Ezekiel 16:60 refers to this covenant as eternal and unconditional. Finally, as an amplification of the land aspect of the unconditional Abrahamic Covenant, it logically follows that this covenant must also be unconditional. (Does Israel's unconditional right to the land excuse some of her current treatment of Palestinians? This will be specifically addressed toward the end of this section.)
Point of clarification: Some see the Palestinian Covenant as conditional, based on the "when...then" statements found in Deuteronomy 30:1-3. In other words, "when" Israel converts, "then" God will fulfill His promise. Confusion can be avoided if we understand that the only conditional element in these verses is the time element. The land promise is certain; God will fulfill it. But the time when this promise is fulfilled depends on the conversion of the nation. "Conditional time elements do not make the whole program conditional, however." (Pentecost, Things..., p. 98). Also remember: Israel has already returned to the land, but still does not possess the full area promised to her in Genesis 15:18-21 and Deuteronomy 11:24-25. Israel has returned to the land, but once she turns back to the LORD as a nation will she fully inherit all the region God promised (more on this in a moment).
Eschatological Significance: It is important to notice that parts of this covenant have already been literally fulfilled. For example, Israel has experienced dispersion (Deuteronomy 30:1-3) under Assyria (722 B.C.), Babylon (586 B.C.), and Rome (A.D. 70) as judgment for disobedience. As previously mentioned, Israel experienced a restoration to the land of Palestine (Deuteronomy 30:3-5) at midnight on May 15, 1948 after Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion read a "Declaration of Independance." Finally, it has been previously pointed out how the enemies of the nation Israel down through history have been judged (Deuteronomy 30:7). Since these were all literal fulfillments, we can fully expect God to fulfill the rest of this covenant literally.
Which parts have not yet been fulfilled? First, even though the nation has returned to the land, it still is not occupying the entire territory promised to them in Genesis 15:18-21 and Deuteronomy 11:24-25. However, a literal fulfillment of initial return can lead us to fully expect a literal fulfillment of Israel occupying the entire region promised them. Second, the covenant is specific as to the time this will happen, i.e., when the entire nation converts back to the LORD, their Messiah. Has this happened? Not yet...read on...
"But the nation Israel was reborn out of human effort!" Clearly today's Israel is not entirely converted to the Messiah. This doesn't lessen the importance of the re-birth of the nation, however. Many contemporary Jews believe that it was through the human effort of the original pioneers that caused the nation to be re-established. They naturalistically fail to see God's hand in the process. It is therefore important to remember 4 things in relation to the nation's return and God's eschatological program (from "Is the re-birth of Israel a fulfillment of prophecy?", by Michael Rydelnik, in The Messianic Times, Spring 1998: p. 5):
1. The Bible predicts that Israel would return to her land in unbelief.
Biblical prophecy indicates that the Jewish people will turn to God only after returning to the land of Israel. Ezekiel 36:24 states, "For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands, and bring you into your own land." The next two verses (36:25-26) continue, "Then I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you... ." In other words, the national restoration of Israel will precede the spiritual regeneration of Israel.
2. The Bible predicts that Israel would return to her land in stages.
Ezekiel 37 contains the vision of the valley of dry bones. From verses 6-10, the bones come to life in stages, and in verses 11-12 God says this is a picture of how He will bring Israel into the land, and ultimately to Himself. From this prediction it is clear that Israel's regathering will not occur at one time in a single event, but as a process of stages continuing to the nation's conversion to the LORD. Historically, this has been literally fulfilled, beginning with the first immigration wave in 1882 (25,000 Jews immigrate to Israel from Eastern Europe) to the recent wave of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The final step of the entire nation turning in faith to the Messiah can also be expected to be literally fulfilled.
3. The Bible predicts that Israel would return to her land through persecution.
In Jeremiah 16:15-16, God states He will restore Israel to the promised land through the pursuit of her enemies and persecutors. This has been literally fulfilled in the rebirth of Israel. Since the birth of modern Zionism, the primary motivation for Jews to return to the land of Israel has been anti-Jewish persecution. In the last 100 years, God has used the Czars, Polish economic discrimination, Nazi Genocide, Arab hatred, and Soviet repression to drive Jews back to their homeland.
4. Finally, the Bible predicts that Israel would return to her land to set the stage for
Daniel 9:27 speaks of a firm covenant between the future world dictator and the Jewish people, which will unleash the final events of the Tribulation. This prophecy assumes a reborn State of Israel. The Jewish State had to be restored so this prediction (and many others) can take place.
At this point some may ask: Who has a legitimate right to control Palestine, including Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and Gaza? "The nation of Israel, and no one else. The potential for misunderstanding here is high, so let me explain. God's covenant with Abraham in Genesis 12 [amplified in the Palestinian Covenant] was unconditional, that is, God gave certain things to Abraham regardless of the behavior of Abraham and his descendants - and the land of Israel is one of those things. In fact, Israel's legitimate borders are much larger than what she currently occupies [Deuteronomy 11:24-25].
"Now while Israel has a right to the land, she does not, as yet, have the right to the blessing of God in the land. And just because Israel has retaken Palestine doesn't mean that her covenant with God has been fulfilled. Israel is in unbelief, and her title to the land doesn't mean that everything she does - particularly with regard to the Palestinians - is justified. As the Word talks about in Ezekiel 37, God is going to use the nations - including Palestinians and Arabs - to discipline Israel until she at last comes to believe in her Messiah and embraces God's conditions for blessing" (Lightner, Last Days Handbook, p. 8).
The Palestinian Covenant and related OT prophecies regarding Israel's restoration to the land (Isaiah 11:11-12; 14:1-3; 27:12-13; 43:1-8; 49:8-16; 66:20-22; Jeremiah 16:14-16; 23:3-8; 30:10-11; 31:8, 31-37; Ezekiel 11:17-21; 20:33-38; 34:11-16; 39:25-29; Hosea 1:10-11; Joel 3:17-21; Amos 9:11-15; Micah 4:4-7; Zephaniah 3:14-20; Zechariah 8:4-8) provide an expectation of a literal fulfillment. Since some of the elements to this covenant have been literally fulfilled, there is no reason to doubt that God will not honor His unconditional promise to the nation and fully restore her to the land. The Palestinian Covenant can therefore be understood as "a future, eschatological event finding fulfillment in Israel's appropriation of the land in the kingdom" (Enns, Moody Handbook of Theology, p. 59).
The Davidic Covenant
Content: 2 Samuel 7:12-16 records the Davidic Covenant, a covenant God made with King David after he purposed to build a permanent temple for the LORD. This covenant enlarged and confirmed the "seed/descendant" promises from the Abrahamic Covenant, and is further confirmed by God to David in Psalm 89: 3-4, 27-29, 33-37, and to the nation Israel through the prophets: Isaiah 9:6-7; Jeremiah 23:5-6; 30:8-9; 33:14-17, 20-21; Ezekiel 37:24-25; Daniel 7:13-14; Hosea 3:4-5; Amos 9:11; and Zechariah 14:4, 9. But is this covenant eternal and unconditional?
As previously mentioned, the Davidic Covenant is an eternal and unconditional covenant (the "conditional covenant/spiritualized fulfillment" position on this covenant is dealt with later in the "Eschatological significance" section). First, 2 Samuel 7:13, 16, 19, 23:5; 1 Chronicles 17:12, 22:10; Isaiah 55:3; and Ezekiel 37:25 all refer to this covenant as "eternal." It can only be called "eternal" if "it is unconditional and rests upon the faithfulness of God for its execution." (Pentecost, Things..., p. 104). Second, as an amplification of the "seed/descendant" portion of the eternal and unconditional Abrahamic Covenant (as has already been established), it logically follows that this covenant is likewise eternal and unconditional. Finally, this covenant was re-affirmed by God and offered to the nation by Christ (Luke 22:29-30) after generations of apostasy, an offer that could only have been made under an unconditional covenant unreliant upon any response on the part of the nation (Ibid).
The elements of the Davidic Covenant are: (1) David will have a son who will succeed him and establish his kingdom (2 Samuel 7:12); (2) this son (not David) will build the LORD's temple (7:13a); (3) the throne of his kingdom will be established forever (7:13b); (4) though the LORD disciplines this son for sins, his throne will not be taken away from him (7:14-15); and (5) David's house, kingdom, and throne will be established forever (7:16). As with the previous covenants, we must ask the question, will this covenant (i.e., these elements) be literally fulfilled?
Eschatological Significance: Before answering the question of literal fulfillment, notice that there are three major features of this covenant that are eschatologically significant: "house", "kingdom", and "throne" (2 Samuel 7:16). These three terms amplify God's original "seed/descendants" promise given in the Abrahamic Covenant, in that God is detailing His plan for the descendants of David.
Contextually, with a plain reading of the text (2 Samuel 7:12-16), the term "house" clearly refers to David's physical descendants. "This meant that a line stemming from David would continue indefinitely and would be the divinely recognized royal line" (Pentecost, Thy Kingdom..., p. 142). With a literal reading of the text, the term "kingdom" refers to the political body David would rule and over which his descendants would successively reign, and the term "throne" here refers not to a material throne for sitting upon, but to the right to rule, the authority as king vested in David (Ibid).
Notice in verse 16 the term "forever." "The word 'forever' must refer to any time during which the descendants of Abraham exist. Even though there might be temporary interruptions in the exercise of royal authority because of divine discipline, the authority would never transfer to another line" (Ibid). In fact, this is what we read in 2 Samuel 7:14-15 (where God is speaking in reference to His actions toward David's future son, Solomon, and all his descendants): "...when he [David's son] commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul... ."
What was taken away from Saul? God says "My lovingkindness." This is translated from the Hebrew word "hesed." "Hesed" implies favor and loyal love, and in the context of 2 Samuel 7:15 it relates to God granting the right to rule as king. This then is what God removed from Saul, his right to rule as king. God removed it due to Saul's disobedience. In contrast, this "throne", or right to rule, is something God said He will never remove from David's line, in spite of iniquity.
Now to the question previously asked: "Will the Davidic Covenant be literally fulfilled?" "At stake is the question of whether there will be a future Davidic kingdom on earth following the second coming of Christ" (Walvoord, Major..., p. 96). The answer is yes for several reasons (Pentecost, Things..., pp. 107-111; and in Thy Kingdom..., pp. 144-145; Walvoord, Major..., pp. 100-109):
1. Portions of the covenant have already been literally fulfilled.
The promises in 2 Samuel 7:12-16 which state that David would have a son succeed him, who would establish David's kingdom (the political body he and successive descendants would rule over) and throne (right to rule), who would build the temple, and who would be punished for disobedience were fulfilled with King Solomon, David's son (see 2 Samuel 12:24-25; 1 Kings 1:37-40; 3:1-4:34; 6:1-38; 10:26-11:1-13ff). "Solomon's throne was a literal, political throne; therefore the ultimate fulfillment through Messiah will also be literal and political" (Enns, Handbook..., p. 62). As has been previously emphasized, the way in which parts of a covenant are fulfilled determines the pattern of fulfillment for the whole. If parts of the Davidic Covenant have already been literally fulfilled, it is logical to assume that God will literally fulfill the rest of it. (Future implications of literal fulfillment will be addressed at the end of this section.)
2. David understood the covenant would be fulfilled literally .
This is attested to in 2 Samuel 23:5 and 1 Kings 1:30-37. Also notice that David understood the covenant to be ultimately fulfilled in the Messiah ("anointed one"), as seen in Psalm 89:27-29 (David would have a descendant who will rule over the kings of the earth). In reference to Psalm 89, Dr. John Walvoord comments, "No other passage makes quite so clear that the kingdom refers to David and the people of Israel and that the covenant is unconditional and certain of fulfillment" (Major..., p. 100).
3. The OT prophets expected a literal fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant through the Messiah.
Isaiah 9:6-7 - the Messiah's birth, government, and reign on David's throne are prophesied, along with God stating His own accomplishment of it.
Jeremiah 23:5-8 - a clear reference is made to David's throne, and the Righteous one who would reign.
Jeremiah 33:14-17 - another specific reference to the Messiah, the Righteous one, ruling from over an earthly kingdom.
Ezekiel 37:21-28 - the prophet refers to the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant after the nation Israel is regathered to the Promised Land.
Daniel 7:13-14 - refers to the "Son of Man", the Messiah, whose kingdom will never pass away.
Zechariah 14:9 - the Davidic throne will extend God's political authority as vested in Jesus Christ over the nation Israel, and also over the universal kingdom of God in the Millennium (Ibid, p. 104).
4. There is evidence for literal fulfillment from the NT references to the Davidic Covenant.
This is observed in the first church council at Jerusalem (Acts 15:14-17): after it is noted by James that God purposed to call Gentiles to Himself, and then that the Messiah (Jesus Christ) would return, James reminds the council that it is only then that God would re-establish the Davidic kingdom exactly as promised in the Davidic Covenant. The OT prophet Amos predicted this re-establishing of the kingdom in Amos 9:11 - "In that day [a phrase referring to the day of the Lord, the last days, the Endtimes] I will raise up the fallen booth of David... ." Also significant is the reference in Luke 1:31-33. In this passage Jesus Christ is announced to be the Messiah, the One to whom God will give the Davidic throne, that He will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and that His kingdom would have no end. Notice in this passage that the three elements of "house," "kingdom," and "throne" from the Davidic Covenant are all fulfilled in Christ.
How the lineage of Jesus Christ points to His ultimate fulfillment of the "house/kingdom/throne forever" promise of the Davidic Covenant (an expansion of the "seed/descendant" promises of the Abrahamic Covenant). "Solomon's line was to end physically in Joseph, the husband of Mary, a fact that would give Jesus Christ, his legal son, the legal right to the throne [Matthew 1:1-17]. Mary, however, was to descend from David through another son, Nathan (not to be confused with Nathan the prophet), and therefore would have a different physical lineage [Luke 3:23-38]. This is taken into consideration in the Davidic Covenant. Solomon was promised that his throne would continue forever but not that his house would continue forever, in contrast to David, whose throne and house were promised to continue forever. This covenant, accordingly, introduces the descending line from David to Christ and points to the conclusion that Jesus Christ is the ultimate fulfillment [legally through Joseph and physically through Mary] of this promise to David" (Ibid, p. 98). Further, in Galatians 3:16 the Apostle Paul affirms that the "seed/descendant" promise was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
Related Issues in the Davidic Covenant: while space does not permit us to examine every question as it relates to the Davidic Covenant , let us briefly look at seven of the key issues.
1. Is the Davidic Covenant conditional, and fulfilled spiritually in the Church?
This is a question from some theologians who argue for a conditional Davidic Covenant with a spiritualized fulfillment. For proponents of this view, the "throne" of the covenant is realized as the throne on which Christ is now seated at God's right hand, the "house" of the covenant is realized to be the household of faith, and the "kingdom" of the covenant is realized in the Church. Further, it is said that all the temporal aspects of the covenant were fulfilled by King Solomon and the eternal aspects are fulfilled by Christ's present reign over the Church. "This makes the church the "seed" and the "kingdom" promised in the covenant. The kingdom becomes heavenly, not earthly. The Davidic rule becomes but a type of the reign of Christ" (Pentecost, Things..., p. 103).
The problems with this view are three-fold:
(1) The proponents of this view admit that the terms of the Davidic Covenant require a literal fulfillment during the reign of King Solomon (referred to as "historical fulfillment"). So why do they then insist on a spiritual fulfillment as well? Claiming a literal fulfillment historically would seem to contradict their view that this covenant was fulfilled spiritually by the Church. "The two are mutually exclusive and make for an illogical and inconsistent theology all the way around" (Pentecost, Thy Kingdom..., p. 147).
(2) Proponents of this view claim Solomon fulfilled this covenant during his reign. They cite 1 Kings 4:21 as evidence that the Solomonic empire filled the region promised by God to Abraham. But as previously explained, there was no permanent possession of the land, and Solomon never fully occupied it. The phrase "From the river of Egypt" (Genesis 15:18) is not geographically equivalent to the phrase "from the border of Egypt" (1 Kings 4:21), and Solomon never occupied all this land, but only collected a tribute from it (1 Kings 4:21b). Certainly overlordship is not the same as everlasting possession (Ibid, pp. 147-148).
(3) Proponents of this view state that Christ is now seated on David's throne, citing such verses as Acts 2:34-35 and Acts 5:31. The problem here is that David's throne is never explicitly mentioned. Rather, we read in both of these passages that Christ is presently seated in heaven at God's right hand. The wording here is very significant: to be "seated at the right hand" of someone is a common metaphor for sitting in a position of prestige and power. Clearly we recognize that Christ is in such a present position, as this is what the NT teaches (Acts 2:34-35). But this should not be interpreted as referring to the Davidic throne. Acts 5:31 says, "...whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and Savior... ." Did you catch those key words? Christ is in a powerful position of heavenly rulership ("right hand"), as a "Prince and Savior" - the relational concept here between God and Christ is that of a vice-regent to the King; Christ is not yet presented as the King literally ruling from David's throne! This will not occur until His reign here on earth (Revelation 20:1-15).
2. Is Christ presently ruling from David's throne?
As previously shown from Acts 2:34-35 (cf. Colossians 3:1) and Acts 5:31, Christ is not presently ruling from David's throne. He is seated in a position of powerful heavenly rulership (seated at God's "right hand") as God's Prince and Savior ("vice-regent").
Psalm 110 tells us that Christ is presently seated on the heavenly throne at God's right hand, and that He will occupy David's throne from Jerusalem ("Zion") as King only after Israel's enemies have been subjugated at the end of the Great Tribulation.
Also significant to this question is this fact: this writer's personal search of the NT revealed 58 references to the Davidic Covenant, and many references to the present ministry of Jesus. One would expect that something as significant as Jesus presently ruling from David's throne would be clearly dealt with in the NT, but this is not the case. There is not a single reference which connects Christ's present ministry with the Davidic throne. David's throne is never pictured as heavenly, but always as a literal, earthly throne in Jerusalem (e.g, Psalm 2 and 110; Zechariah 14:4-11).
3. Is the "kingdom" present today?
Some believe that the "kingdom" promise in the Davidic Covenant (i.e., that David and his successive descendants would rule over a political body) is to be spiritualized and that it has been fulfilled on earth by the Church. But is the kingdom people enter into at salvation associated with the Davidic kingdom?
The answer is "No." Colossians 1:13 says, "For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son." Clearly this verse is speaking about salvation; the immediate context of Colossians 1 reveals as much. But the "kingdom of God's beloved Son" here is not associated with the kingdom promised in the Davidic Covenant, which has been previously shown to be a literal, political body.
In Acts 1:6-8, the disciples asked Christ if He was going to restore the kingdom to Israel. Christ does not say Israel forfeited the kingdom. Rather, He replies that they could not know the timing of such things, but that they were to proceed with the task of disciple-making. Don't you think that if something as significant as Israel losing their right to the kingdom was about to happen, that Jesus would've said something? The disciples' question in Acts 1:6 would have been an opportune moment for Jesus to correct their thinking about the kingdom. But He does no such thing!
The above conclusion is not an argument from silence, but is in line with Romans 11, where the Apostle Paul is very clear that there is a distinct future for ethnic Israel, apart from the Church.
Some bring up Matthew 21:43 as evidence that Jesus DID say the kingdom was removed from Israel - "Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it." But in the context of Matthew 21:23-45, it is crucial to note that Jesus was directing his reply in verse 43 at the chief priests and Pharisees, and that they knew He was speaking directly to them (verse 45). Of course, any Israelite who would disbelieve as the religious leaders would also lose the right to enter the kingdom (John S. Feinberg, Continuity and Discontinuity. Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1988; p. 343). Since virtually all Israel rejected Jesus as the Messiah, the kingdom was taken from them...but not forever.
Remember: the Davidic Covenant is promised to be fulfilled regardless of Israel's actions - 2 Samuel 7:14-15: "when he commits iniquity, I will correct him...but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him;" Psalm 89:30-37: "if his sons forsake My law, and do not walk in My judgments, if they violate My statutes...then I will visit their transgression with the rod...But I will not break off My lovingkindness from him...My covenant I will not violate...I will not lie to David, his descendants shall endure forever...[emphasis added];" Romans 11:1-36: "...God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite... ."
4. But didn't Jesus say the kingdom was "at hand"? Which kingdom was that?
Yes, Jesus did say the kingdom is at hand (Matthew 4:17). In fact, so did John the Baptist (Matthew 3:2), the twelve disciples (Matthew 10:5-7), and the seventy witnesses commissioned by Jesus (Luke 10:1-12). Which kingdom was offered? Contextually in each instance a genuine offer of the earthly Davidic kingdom was made to the nation Israel. However, they rejected the offer. In this way, we can understand that although the Kingdom was "at hand" in Jesus' day, it is presently not so, and will not be until after the second coming of Christ , when He is seated on David's throne (e.g., Psalm 2 and 110; Zechariah 14:4-11). This affirms the unconditionality of the Davidic Covenant as discussed earlier in this article.
5. If Jesus' offer of the Davidic kingdom was indeed genuine, what if Israel would have accepted it?
This hypothetical question is generally raised to present the following dilemma: "If Israel accepted Jesus' offer, this would affect the certainty of your endtime scheme, because the kingdom would then have been set up in Jesus' day." But this is an invalid hypothetical because of OT prophecies where God predicted Israel's initial rejection of Messiah's offer (e.g., Isaiah 50:4-7; 52:13-53:12; Daniel 9:25-26; Zechariah 12:10; 13:6-7) and future acceptance of it in the last days (e.g., Ezekiel 36:24-28; Hosea 3:4-5; Zechariah 13:9).
Those posing the hypothetical apparently fail to focus on the fact that Israel rejected the offer. The facts are that (a) God's sovereign plan for Israel's future predicted their rejection of Jesus' offer as recorded in the Gospels, (b) that God's endtime plan is on course, and that (c) we have His complete, revealed Word predicting how it will occur. Therefore, we can maintain our certainty about Israel's future.
Related to this are other apparent "dilemmas" raised by those who deny that the offer was genuine: "If you say the OT teaches that the Davidic kingdom will be fulfilled in the Millennium, and in no way in the Church today, then how could Jesus' offer of the kingdom during His earthly ministry have been genuine? Certainly He knew that it would not be fulfilled until He was ruling in the Millennium, so why offer it now? Doesn't this mean that His offer wasn't genuine?"
Is there truly a "dilemma" here? No. Again, the problem with all the above questions is that those asking them fail to focus on the fact that Israel rejected the offer. There is no "what if they accepted it" to ponder. Certainly Jesus knew their minds, and knew that Israel would reject His offer. Not only this, but Jesus also knew that Israel's repentance and acceptance of the kingdom would not happen until the end of the Tribulation, right before the Millennium (e.g., Ezekiel 36:24-28; Hosea 3:4-5; Zechariah 13:9). Does this therefore mean He deceptively made a hollow offer? Not at all. He simply did what God has always done, and that is to give people a choice. For God to give Israel a real choice means there had to be a real offer. This is necessary by virtue of God's holy character.
The bottom line is that God's sovereignty is never overruled by human free-will. Just because the OT predicts Israel's initial rejection of the offer, and because Jesus knew Israel would initially reject the offer, does not lessen the genuineness of the offer. The offer was real, the choice Israel had was real, and they chose to reject it, as God in His sovereignty had already anticipated. And in His sovereignty, God has established that Israel will not accept that offer until the Millennium.
6. Is the Millennium a literal, earthly kingdom?
Yes. Both the OT promises of spiritual, social, political, and economic blessing for the nation Israel (e.g., Isaiah 60; Zephaniah 3:11-20; Zechariah 12-14), and Revelation 20:1-10 require a literal, earthly kingdom of 1000 years. "The Millennium will be a 1000 year period in which Christ will set up a kingdom and rule over the entire earth (Revelation 20:4). It will begin about 75 days after the end of the Tribulation (Daniel 12:12). This 1000 year period is explicitly mentioned six times in six verses (Revelation 20:2-7)" (Lightner, op. cit., p. 35). A literal interpretation of the Davidic Covenant leads the interpreter to expect a literal millennium.
7. If the Millennium is literally 1000 years long, how can it be said that Christ will reign from David's throne forever?
The answer to this is not so complicated. Christ's eternal reign will continue after the Millennium into the eternal state, the period of eternity in the new heavens and the new earth, as related to us in Revelation 21:1-22:5.
Now that we have examined the Davidic Covenant, let us look at the future implications of a literal fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant (Pentecost, Things..., pp. 114-115):
1. Israel must be preserved as a nation.
2. Israel must have a national existence, and be brought back into the land of her inheritance. Since David's kingdom had definite geographical boundaries and those boundaries were included in the promise to David concerning his descendant's reign, the nation must possess all of that land as her national homeland.
3. David's Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, must return to earth, bodily and literally, in order to reign over David's covenanted kingdom. The claim that Christ is seated on the Father's throne reigning over a spiritual kingdom, the Church, simply does not fulfill the promises of the covenant.
4. A literal earthly kingdom must exist over which the returned Messiah will reign.
5. This kingdom must become an eternal kingdom. Since the "throne," "house," and "kingdom" were all promised to David in perpetuity, there must be no end to Messiah's reign over David's kingdom from David's throne.
Having examined the content and eschatological significance of the Davidic Covenant, one can clearly see how it is of extreme importance in understanding God's endtime plan.
The New Covenant
Content: The New Covenant, as an amplification and guarantee of the "blessing" promises of the Abrahamic Covenant, is found in Jeremiah 31:31-34, and is affirmed in Ezekiel 36:24-30. God made this covenant with the nation Israel as a guarantee that her repentance would be the foundation of all future blessings.
The New Covenant is unconditional and eternal. Since the Abrahamic Covenant was shown to be unconditional and eternal, this New Covenant, as an amplification of the "blessing" promises of the Abrahamic Covenant, is also unconditional and eternal. The fulfillment of an unconditional covenant does not depend on man, but is wholly based on God's affirmation to accomplish it. And as previously mentioned, an unconditional covenant is identified by God's "I WILL...," statements which affirm the certainty of His future actions. In the New Covenant, we find "I WILL..." used by God seven times in Jeremiah 31:31-40. Since the New Covenant is unconditional, it is necessarily eternal. This is confirmed in Isaiah 24:5, 61:8; Jeremiah 32:40, 50:5; and Hebrews 13:20.
It is significant to note that God did not make this covenant because of the nation's righteous behavior and obedience to the Law. Rather, this covenant was made with a stiff-necked nation (Jeremiah 17:23). This confirms its unconditional nature. The prophet Jeremiah delivered his message in chapters 30-33 when Nebuchadnezzar was invading Judah (606-605 B.C.) as an instrument of God's judgment. Jeremiah's message was two-pronged: (1) although the nation was going to be judged for her sin (Jeremiah 30:5-7, 14-15; 31:15), (2) God promised to restore the nation (Jeremiah 30:10-11, 18-22; 31:1-9, 17, 23-25, 31-34). God's New Covenant with the nation was therefore unconditional and eternal.
Point of clarification: notice that God says this New Covenant is "not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt" (Jeremiah 31:32). The passage goes on to show how the New Covenant will differ from the Mosaic Covenant. That little preposition "not" at the beginning of the verse is very significant. The Hebrew word here for "not" is "lo." It is a strong negation which can imply "the complete opposite of." The following example will help explain this.
In Genesis 2:18, God says "It is not ["lo"] good for man to be alone." The implication here is that it is very bad for man to be alone. Let's go back to our verse in Jeremiah 31:32. God said the New Covenant is not ["lo"] like the Mosaic Covenant, implying that it is the complete opposite of the Mosaic Covenant. This is significant because it confirms the unconditional nature of the New Covenant, in that it is not dependent on Israel's actions (Jeremiah 31:32b - the nation could break the Law, but they can't do anything to break the New Covenant).
The elements of this covenant are (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:24-30): (1) Israel will be regathered, (2) Israel will be regenerated and forgiven, (3) the Holy Spirit will indwell them, (4) the relationship between God and the nation is restored, (5) Israel is then fully restored to the Promised Land, and (6) Israel comes into the place of God's blessings. These are blessings in full, and include prosperity in the land as promised in the Palestinian Covenant and the blessings of the Davidic Covenant's rulership (Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 37:24-25) (Pentecost, Thy Kingdom..., p. 171). "The blessings Israel never found through the Law will at last be experienced" (Ibid). The question is, "When and how is this covenant fulfilled?"
Eschatological Significance: The question of "when" it is fulfilled can be answered if we recognize several distinctions (Pentecost, Things..., pp. 119-121, and Thy Kingdom..., pp. 171-173):
1. The New Covenant is specifically made with the "house of Israel and the house of Judah" (Jeremiah 31:31) - the Mosaic Covenant was made with Israel, and since this covenant supplants it, it must be made with the same people with whom the original Mosaic Covenant had been made. Isaiah 59:20-21; 61:8-9; Jeremiah 32:37-40; 50:4-5; Ezekiel 16:60-63; 34:25-26; and 37:21-28 affirm this fact.
2. The New Covenant was viewed as future - this was recognized from its first announcement onward throughout the OT (Isaiah 55:3; Jeremiah 31:31; Ezekiel 16:60, 62; 20:37; 34:25-26; Hosea 2:18-20). This means that at no time in its OT experience did Israel enter into any of the benefits of the New Covenant.
3. The New Covenant must still be viewed as future - since the sequence of events listed in the New Covenant have still not occurred with Israel, specifically her repentance and entrance into the fullness of the land and of God's place of blessing, ultimate fulfillment of this covenant must be seen as yet future.
4. The New Covenant must follow the return of Christ at the second coming - the blessings of the New Covenant will not be realized until Israel's salvation, and this salvation follows the return of Christ (the "Deliverer", Romans 11:26-27). This passage in Romans mentions "My covenant with them, when I take away their sins." We know this must be the New Covenant for it is the only covenant that deals with the removal of sins.
5. The New Covenant will be fulfilled during the Millennium - New Covenant passages place its fulfillment in the Millennium:
Jeremiah 31:34 - "And they shall not teach again...for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them... ." The Millennium is a time when everyone will have personal knowledge of the Lord, and will not need to be taught (e.g., Isaiah 11:9 and 52:15). Jeremiah links this feature with the New Covenant.
Ezekiel 34:25 - "And I will make a covenant of peace with them and eliminate harmful beasts from the land... ." Another feature of the Millennium is that wild animals will tamed (e.g., Isaiah 11:6-9). Ezekiel links this feature with the New Covenant.
We have dealt with "when" this covenant will be fulfilled, but there is still the question of "how" it is fulfilled. It is important to remember that God said this covenant would bring (among other things) forgiveness of sin and a regenerated heart (Jeremiah 31:33-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27). In the Mosaic Covenant, sins were atoned for with a system of blood sacrifice. The New Covenant then, which was to supplant the Mosaic Covenant, requires a blood sacrifice for sins to be forgiven, but it can not be the same sacrificial system as in the Law (remember: this covenant "is not like" the Mosaic Covenant). A better blood sacrifice was required.
This brings us to the gospels of the NT. In the Upper Room, Jesus prepared His disciples for His death on the cross. It is here that we find that better blood sacrifice. In Matthew 26:28 and Mark 14:24 Jesus says, "This is My blood of the covenant." Further, in Luke 22:20 and 1 Corinthians 11:25 Jesus statement is recorded as "This cup is the new covenant in My blood." Of course, the disciples understood that Jesus was referring to the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31, because He says that His blood was for the remission of sins, an element unique to the New Covenant.
Point of clarification: Did you notice the different word order between the Matthew/Mark statement and the Luke/1 Corinthians statement? The order is significant as it reflects on the two aspects of Christ's fulfillment of this covenant. The Matthew/Mark statement - "This is My Blood of the New Covenant" - emphasizes that Christ's death and shed blood was required by the New Covenant to provide the basis for the remission of sins. The Luke/1 Corinthians statement - "This cup is the New Covenant in My blood" - emphasizes that Christ's death and shed blood would lay the foundation for the New Covenant (this is in line with the principle in Hebrews 9:16-17, that this covenant would not be instituted while Jesus was alive but only after His death) (Pentecost, Thy Kingdom..., p. 172).
Before examining the future implications of the New Covenant, two final questions need to be addressed: first, has the Church replaced Israel in fulfilling the New Covenant, and second, what is the relationship of the Church to the New Covenant?
Has the Church replaced Israel? That the death of Christ instituted the New Covenant is clear from the above passages. This is also explicitly stated in Hebrews 8 and 10:19-22. However, there are some people who believe that Christ's death was not only the institution of the New Covenant but the initiation and realization of it as well, and that the Church, therefore, is now fulfilling the New Covenant. For example, they cite the use of Jeremiah 31 in Hebrews 8:6-13 to support their view, along with Hebrews 12:24 (Christ is the mediator of the new covenant). It is contended that since Hebrews 8 and 12:24 refer to a new covenant that has already been introduced through Christ, and that the old covenant is ready to disappear, that this must mean the Church is fulfilling the New Covenant.
But there are five considerations to believe that the Church has not replaced Israel and is not fulfilling the New Covenant (Ibid, pp. 173-174):
1. The term "Israel" is not used in Scripture to describe anyone but the physical descendants of Abraham - Since the Church today is comprised of both Jews and Gentiles without national distinction, it is impossible for the Church to fulfill promises God made specifically to the nation of Israel.
2. The purpose of Jeremiah 31 in Hebrews 8 - is not to equate the Church with fulfilling the New Covenant, but to prove that the old Mosaic Covenant was temporary from its beginning. Since Israel never could trust in something temporary, she had to look forward to that which was eternal.
3. The Church today has not and is not fulfilling the material portions of the covenant - while the Church has been privileged to be grafted into some of the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant, during the temporary suspension of Israel's national blessings (Romans 11:11-26: notice that Israel is not cut off completely; verses 1, 25-26), the Church was never promised inheritance in a land, material blessing on earth, or rest from oppression.
4. The Church can receive covenental blessings without being under or fulfilling the covenant - It is a mistake to say that because the Church is receiving some of the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant, that it is therefore fulfilling or somehow under it. Just as in Christ the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant have come to the Gentiles, specifically the reception of the Holy Spirit through faith (Galatians 3:14), so too may the Church receive some of the spiritual blessings from the New Covenant without being under it or fulfilling it. The apostle Paul affirms this in Ephesians 2:12-13, when he says that Gentiles have been "brought near" to the covenant by the blood of Christ.
5. The time element in the covenant (both as stated in Jeremiah 31 and Hebrews 8) precludes the Church from fulfilling it - The New Covenant is only fulfilled after Israel's deliverance by Messiah's second advent (also refer to Ezekiel 36:24-30, and Romans 11:26-27).
What is the relationship of the Church to the New Covenant? As we have shown, the Church did not replace Israel and can not fulfill the New Covenant. But it is equally mistaken to think that there is no relationship between the Church and the New Covenant (Romans 11; Ephesains 2:12-13). What is this relationship?
As we have seen in point 4 immediately above, the Church is receiving some of the spiritual benefits from the New Covenant, such as removal of guilt, forgiveness of sins, and the reception of the gift of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:12-13). This is also true from the Abrahamic Covenant (Galatians 3:14). But as we also discovered, this is not the same as fulfilling the covenant. Here is how to understand the relationship: the New Covenant is instituted (set up or established) on the blood sacrifice of Christ (Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25). This foundation sets the stage for Israel's future fulfillment of the New Covenant (Romans 11:26), but in the interim while Israel is temporarily set aside (but not cut off- Romans 11:1-2 and 25b), Gentiles are allowed to receive some of the spiritual benefits of Christ's blood (Romans 11:5-25; Galatians 3:14; Ephesians 2:12-13; Hebrews 10:19; 12:24) so that the universal aspects to the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenants can be met.
There are six implications of the New Covenant:
1. Israel must be preserved as a nation and must be restored to the land of Palestine, which they will possess as their own.
2. Israel must experience national conversion after the return of Messiah.
3. Israel must experience the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
4. Israel must receive material blessings from living in the kingdom.
5. Palestine must be reclaimed and rebuilt into a place of glory.
6. Christ, who came the first time to die and shed His blood as the foundation of this covenant, must personally return to earth to effect salvation, restoration, and blessing of the nation Israel (Ibid, pp. 175-176).
As stated in the beginning of this article, these four OT covenants (Abrahamic, Palestinian, Davidic, and New) provide the nation Israel with a sure hope of a certain future. These four covenants that God made with Israel were shown to be unconditional, eternal, and literal. As such, their fulfillment rests solely on the faithfulness of God.
"These covenants not only had a relation to the nation at the time of their inception and built a foundation on which God dealt with Israel, but they bind God to a course of action in relation to future events, as illustrated in Bible prophecy. Moreover, when these covenants are studied analytically we find seven great features which are distinct and determinative:
(1) a nation forever;
(2) a land forever;
(3) a King forever;
(4) a throne forever;
(5) a kingdom forever;
(6) a New Covenant; and
(7) abiding blessings." (Ibid, p. 177).
The study of Endtimes is certainly challenging and always exciting (check out the following resource list for further study). It is this writer's desire that this article has renewed your interest in the OT covenants, especially as it relates to the larger field of eschatology.
Bibliography/Resource List Enns, Paul. The Moody Handbook of Theology. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1989.
This book is a great tool for Bible students as it covers the entire range of theological studies, including biblical theology, systematic theology, historic theology, dogmatic theology, and contemporary theology.
Lightner, Robert. The Last Days Handbook, revised. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1997.
An easy-to-read introduction to endtime studies, covering the various theological viewpoints.
Pentecost, J. Dwight. Things To Come. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985.
This is THE standard in dispensational premillennial endtime studies. It provides a detailed synthesis of the entire field of biblical eschatology. This is a "must have" for every serious student of the Endtimes.
. Thy Kingdom Come. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1990.
This helpful volume clearly explains God's overall plan for mankind as related to the biblical kingdoms and covenants. Pentecost repeats some of the information from Things To Come.
Walvoord, John F. Major Bible Prophecies. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991.
A detailed study of 37 major prophecies.
. Prophecy. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1993.
This small book provides the 14 major keys to correctly interpreting biblical prophecy.