The Unity and Continuity of the Covenants

Written by Stephen G. Myers |
Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Covenant is woven throughout Scripture. Why? Because in God’s covenantal work, He has been working to bring His people to Himself and He has made them His own.

If you sat down and read the entire Bible from cover to cover, you would notice that one theme surfaces repeatedly: covenant. A covenant is a binding relationship between parties that involves both blessings and obligations, and throughout Scripture, one finds God working to gather a people to Himself through these covenantal relationships. This understanding of Scripture is called covenant theology.

In Genesis 3:15, God first announces His intention to save His people through His covenant of grace. Working through this covenant, God would raise up a messianic Seed who would destroy the serpent and win God’s people to Himself. In advancing this covenant of grace throughout history, God entered into a covenant with Noah (Gen. 6–9), with Abraham (Gen. 12; 15; 17), with Moses (Ex. 20–24), and with David (2 Sam. 7), all the while pointing forward to a new covenant inaugurated by Jesus Christ (Luke 22:20). In each of these covenantal administrations, God was incrementally accomplishing His purpose to gather a people to Himself. In fact, Revelation pictures all redemptive history in precisely this way, as the entire course of redemption is symbolized by a dragon who is pursuing the child of a woman (Rev. 12). All redemptive history has been the fulfillment of God’s promise of the covenant of grace in Genesis 3:15.

As God has brought this covenant of grace to progressive fulfillment, He has used what Hebrews 8:5 calls a “copy” and a “shadow” to teach His people and prepare them for Christ. A “copy” or a “shadow,” in this sense, is an act, an institution, or even a person that, while it has its own meaning, has its ultimate significance in fore­shadowing how God will save His people. For example, in the judgment and deliverance of the Noahic covenant, God was pointing to His ability, at the appointed time, to bring His covenantal purposes to their perfect completion (2 Peter 3:6–7). In His covenant with Abraham, God was showing His people that, by their faith in Him, He would gather them into an eternal city (Heb. 11:8–16). In the Mosaic covenant, God made clear the holiness that He desired in this redeemed people and showed what would be required to take away their guilt (Lev. 19:2; 17:11). In the Davidic covenant, God showed His people that His Messiah would be a righteous King who would reign over them (Ezek. 34:23–24). Finally, as the prophets foretold the new covenant, they revealed that this Messiah would change, from the inside out (Ezek. 36:26), a people from every nation (Isa. 9:2).

All these copies and shadows inject tremendous continuity into Scripture. In Romans 4, Paul uses Abraham as an example of the faith that Christians are to have (vv. 1–5). In Galatians, Paul refers to Christians as “Abraham’s offspring” (3:29); he writes that God’s promises to Abraham envisioned Christ (v. 16); and he refers to the Galatian Christians as “the Israel of God” (6:16). Repeatedly, Paul simply assumes that God is doing in the New Testament precisely what He was doing in the Old Testament.

Other New Testament authors make this same assumption. Peter suggests that God’s work in the Noahic covenant anticipated the coming fulfillment of the covenant of grace (2 Peter 3:5–7), and he uses Old Testament descriptions of Israel to describe the Christian church (1 Peter 2:9–10). In Hebrews, the faith of God’s people in every generation is surveyed so that “so great a cloud of witnesses” might encourage Christians to persevere in the faith (Heb. 12:1; see 11:1–12:2). God has one people, and He saves them through a shared faith; hence, the “cloud of witnesses” is relevant for Christians. Again, continuity within God’s covenant of grace is assumed.

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