Christ: the Fulfillment and Center of all Biblical Covenants
Earlier this evening, while teaching a small group study, I mentioned how the Biblical covenants serve as the backbone of the entire Biblical-theological narrative. To understand how the covenants work and how they point to Christ is to have an understanding of how the Bible is put together, and how God’s plan of redemption has been played out over thousands of years. Well as I was reading this evening in Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum’s excellent book ‘Kingdom Through Covenant’, I found a nice summary of this idea and wanted to post it here for those who might be interested. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
…The covenants, then, reveal first and foremost the incredible sovereign-personal triune God of Scripture who is our covenant Lord, who makes and keeps his promises – and as such they can never be thwarted. It is for this reason that all of the biblical covenants are unconditional or unilaterally guaranteed by the power and grace of God. Whether it is with Adam in the garden or with other covenant heads, God’s commitment to his image-bearers and creation, tied to his promise in Gen. 3:15, will never fail. That same promise runs across the entire Canon, and it is developed through the biblical covenants until it comes to its most profound fulfillment in the coming of God’s own dear Son. It continues in the Noahic covenant; it is given more definition and expansion in the Abrahamic; it undergirds the old covenant and the Davidic, and, as noted, it reaches its crescendo in the person and work of Christ.
On the other hand, all the biblical covenants also demand an obedient partner. God as our Creator and Lord demands from his image-bearers, who were made to know him, complete devotion and obedience. In this sense, there is a conditional or bilateral element to the covenants. This is certainly evident with Adam as he is given commands and responsibilities to fulfill, with the expectation that he will do so perfectly…Furthermore, in the Noahic covenant, obedience is also demanded, which is also true of Abraham, the natio of Israel, David and his sons, and in the greatest way imaginable in the coming of the Son, who obeys perfectly and completely, in every aspect of his life and especially even unto death on a cross (Phil. 2:6-11).
Yet, as the biblical covenants progress through redemptive-history, this tension grows, since it becomes evident that it is only the Lord himself who remains the faithful covenant partner. From his initial promise in Genesis 3:15 to reverse the effects of sin and death; from his increasingly greater promises made through the covenants; from the beautiful picture of covenant initiation in Genesis 15, which demonstrates that he takes the covenant obligations solely upon himself; from the provision of a sacrificial system to atone for sin (Lev. 17:11); from repeatedly keeping his promises to a rebellious and hardhearted people, God shows himself, time and time again, to be the faithful covenant partner. By contrast, all the human covenant mediators – Adam, Noah, Abraham, Israel, David and his sons – show themselves to be unfaithful, disobedient covenant breakers – some to a greater extent than others. As a result, there is no faithful, obedient son who fully obeys the demands of the covenant. Obedience must be rendered, but there is no obedient image-bearer/son to do so. How, then, can God remain the holy and just God that he is and continue to be present with us in covenant relation? How can he remain in relation with us unless our disobedience is removed and our sin is paid for in full? As one works across the covenants and the tension increases, there is only one answer to these questions: it is only if God himself, as the covenant maker and keeper, unilaterally acts to keep his own promise through the provision of a faithful covenant partner that a new and better covenant can be established. It is only in the giving of his Son incarnate that our redemption is secured, our sin is paid for, and the inauguration of an unshakeable new covenant is established.
It is only be maintaining the dual emphasis on the unconditional/conditional in the biblical covenants, leading us to their fulfillment in the unbreakable new covenant grounded in God’s obedient Son, that we appreciate Scripture’s incredible Christological focus. The story line of Scriptures told by the covenants leads us to him. He is the one, as our great prophet, priest, and king, who accomplished our salvation. It is in Christ alone, God the Son incarnate, that the covenants find their fulfillment and this built-in tension finds its resolution.