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The Covenants: The Covenant of Redemption

Covenant and the Meta-Narrative of Scripture:

To understand the storyline of the bible, one must become aware of the skeletal structure that binds the parts into one dynamic whole.[1] Some such parts can be condensed down to what Scriptures calls covenants. Comprehending the covenantal component not only assists in grasping the “how” of redemptive history but also the “why.” Meaning, salvation afforded to the elect is rooted upon the basis that we serve the covenanting Lord Himself. Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum conclude winsomely that,

God’s one, eternal plan unfolds in history through a plurality of interrelated covenants, starting with Adam and creation and culminating in Christ and the new covenant. The creation covenant serves as the foundation that continues in all the covenants, and it, along with all the covenants, is fulfilled in Christ and his obedient work. As God’s eternal plan is enacted on the stage of human history, it moves from creation in Adam to consummation in Christ.[2]

The backdrop, then, in understanding the doctrinal formation of the Christian faith is rooted upon the notion of covenant (cf. Noahic Covenant, Abrahamic Covenant, Mosaic Covenant, Davidic Covenant, and the New Covenant). The triune God is grounded upon His covenantal (intra-trinitarian and, thus, relational) nature. The Scriptures are themselves the covenantal documents (cf. Deut. 8:18; Ex. 2:24) for the covenantal community, the church (cf. Eph. 2:20). The Savior is the covenantal means (cf. Lk. 22:20). The Spirit is the covenantal seal (cf. Eph. 1:13-14). The eschaton is the formation of the covenantal promise. The conceptual framing of covenant is no small task in capturing the outworking of redemptive history.


Inter-trinitarian Covenant:


Yet, amid God’s work in Christ to redeem a people for Himself, we see that Jesus is also involved in a covenant. Luke 22:29 (italics mine) asserts, “and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom,”. The term “assign” in the ESV is better rendered as “covenant” (Gk. diatithemai); that is, the Father has covenanted with the Son a kingdom. It begs the question: When did God the Father covenant a kingdom with God the Son? Is this covenant grounded within history? If so, where can it be found within Scripture and redemptive history? If not, how are we to formulate its construct? In navigating through the road map of this article, the argumentation will be identified under the three headings: (1) definition, (2) distinction, and (3) depiction.


Defining Covenant. As presented by Thomas R. Schreiner, “Covenant can be defined as follows: a covenant is a chosen relationship in which two parties make binding promises to each other.”[3] In accords to the functional definition given, we will examine the core tenets of covenant; that is, in sidetracking all the technical jargon and in-depth concepts, we will layout the basic nature of covenant and move toward a more comprehensive understanding as the series progresses forward.


The description of chosen or elect is centered upon the notion that the relationship is not generic; that is, a sheer casual friendship. Rather, the relational terms are congruent with the intimacy and formalization of marriage. Meaning, marriage is a covenantal choosing or election that is holy distinct from all other natural relations. It is a public declaration which changes the status of the individuals into a single-family unit. These elements not only transform the individual’s perspective but reconstructs the civic or social prospect. Covenant, then, has familial implications with civil ordering. Notice the electoral nature of God’s relationship with Israel in Deuteronomy 7:6-8,

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

Thus, the elected relationship consists of two parties. In the ancient Near Eastern (ANE) context these parties are made up of kingdoms. The suzerain would be the stronger of the two and the covenanter while the weaker party is called the vassal. These covenants are established in large part for the sake of life; that is, for protection, provision, and security.[4] Each covenant, then, has built-in standards and regulations to its nature. Stipulations are the terms of the covenant in which the vassal is to uphold and confirm. Thus, curses follow in light of disobedience while blessings accrue amid faithfulness. Genesis 15:9-10 visualize the predicament for the covenant partner who unfaithful to the stipulations of the relationship.

He said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.’ And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half.

What comes along with an adherence to the stipulations or an obedience to the terms established is promises and blessings. Generically, the suzerain grants life, protection, and vitality; for Israel, God promises land and an inheritance in progeny; for the church, God grants eternal life and the establishment of His kingdom reign. Genesis 15:18-21 (italics mine), following the imagery of covenantal infidelity, speaks to the rewards of obedience by saying,

On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”

By understanding the definition and structure of covenants, we prepare the structural skeleton in furnishing a Gospel home. Thus, a covenant is a chosen relationship between two parties bound by promises to each other.


Distinction of Covenants. After establishing a definition, we need to make distinctions between the nature of covenants found within Scripture; that is, in the grand scheme of the biblical storyline, we can categorize the idea of covenant into two broad settings, the Covenant of Redemption and covenants within history. The Covenant of Redemption, according to J. V. Fesko, is the “pre-temporal intra-trinitarian agreement to plan and execute the redemption of the elect.”[5] Meaning, the pre-temporal notion is before the creation of time. It is eternity past in which the triune God communed perfectly and joyfully with Himself to bring about creation and the salvation of His people prior to the foundation of the earth. The intra-trinitarian sentiment is the internal relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit where the Father covenants with the Son in redeeming a people to Himself. The Spirit, in turn, affirms the covenant by empowering the Son to faithful fulfillment.


In short, the Covenant of Redemption is the covenantal establishment between the Father and the Son which was affirmed by the Spirit prior to the creation of the world. This, in turn, is distinct from the following covenants which are grounded and established within redemptive history, or rather amid the confines of creation.


Depiction of the Covenant of Redemption. As creatures created and confined by time, we will need to expand our minds toward eternity past in order to grasp the logic found within redemptive history. Placed in question form: how are we able to peer into eternity past in order to grasp the plan of the triune God? More simply, how do you know what God did before creation? Answer: we will examine the inferences communicated through the whole of Scripture; that is, we will look at how the bible communicates these truths throughout the broader narrative of redemption.


The first text we will examine is Psalm 2:7. The initial context is the inauguration of the kingly Davidic reign; that is, it is indicative of an installment of a president, a leader, or a ruler into an official office of rulership. As Fesko states, “Psalm 2 is a royal coronation psalm and, as such, should be associated with the monarchy of Israel. All royal psalms share a common term, king. The inauguration of Israel’s kings involved setting a crown upon the king’s head, presenting a formal document to the king, anointing him, and heralding the king’s installation.”[6] In Psalm 2:7 (italics mine) there are two central observations,

I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you.’

First, the language of “decree” is connected to the idea that God has covenanted with the One to whom it would be king.[7] In this instance, the textual horizon is directly referencing David himself and, in particular, 2 Samuel 7:14a (italics mine), “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.” The kingship quality has as its foundation a covenantal promise in bringing about God’s reign and rule as well as His redemptive aim; that is, it is through the kingly throne that God will redeem and save the world. Secondly, the one who sits on the throne will be a son to God. From the initial interpretative layer or horizon, the text is referencing the person of David. Psalm 2 is speaking of a son and, similarly, 2 Samuel 7:14 conveys sonship through a covenantal promise. Sonship, then, is tied to a covenanted kingly order established by God.


On the initial study, this psalm is about David; that is, David is the key figure referenced in the original context. Yet, when the New Testament apostles come onto the redemptive scene they begin to reinterpret the messianic texts from a canonical horizon, or rather Christocentric perspective, and, thus, do not see David as the only character connected to sonship. Rather they identify the sonship motif upon the greater messianic king, Christ Jesus! This is confirmed by the public declaration of the Father at the baptism of Jesus prior to the start of His earthly ministry. Matthew 3:17 (cf. Mk. 1:11; Lk. 3:22; Jn. 1:34) reads, “and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Jesus’ baptism signifies His representative nature of humanity as well as His kingly role as Son of God. It was a coronation of sorts (cf. Matt. 3:2; Mk. 1:15). Furthermore, the author of Hebrews affirms this notion by citing Psalms 2:7 and 2 Samuel 7:14 successively in propping up Christ Jesus as Lord. Hebrews 1:5 (italics mine) says, “For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’? Or again, ‘I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son’?”


The charge of kingship through covenant on one layer, then, speaks to the historic figure David. Yet, in a fuller sense, the word spoken in Psalm 2:7, according to the apostolic interpretation of the New Testament, is spoken directly about Jesus Christ. Simply put, the Father has promised the Son a kingdom for the faithful obedience in fulfilling the covenantal terms of redemption. Now, the question is this: when did God the Father promise God the Son a kingdom? Was it captured within time, history? If we say, yes, in Psalms; well, Jesus was not yet incarnate or rather embodied in human flesh! If we say, no; well, the text clearly conveys that the Son is given a kingdom. Therefore, the question remains: when did God the Father promise God the Son a kingdom? The answer: in the depth of eternity past prior to the foundation of the world. To this, we turn to the book of Ephesians.


The election of the redeemed people of God is not arbitrary nor generic in its formation; that is, it is not random nor senseless. Rather, He has chosen us covenantally in Christ to be His particular people. And the emphasis that Paul places upon the title of Christ is not mere happenstance nor is Christ His last name. The title of “Christ” points to the notion of the Anointed One which was prophesied to fulfill the mantle of what Psalms 2:7 spoke of. Clearly, yes, it was given to David, but it was meant to be savored by the Davidic descendent, the coming Christ. This is the contextual foreground to Ephesians 1:3-5 (italics mine) in saying,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,

By placing the choice of election prior to the foundation of creation, Paul situates God’s decree and plan in the pre-temporal sphere where the triune God exist; that is, it was amid the divine counsel of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Thus, all things functioned “according to the purpose of His will” (Eph. 1:5). Salvation and the election of His people were not achieved by accident but came to fruition through the triune decree of God. Salvation and redemption, then, was centered upon the Covenant of Redemption; it was the eternal plan of God in accords to His divine purpose that atonement would come to the people of God for the glory of God.


To wrap up our biblical study, the salvation of a people into the kingdom of God was sealed in covenant by the covenantal Lord Himself before the foundation of the world. It is through this covenantal structure, then, that we find our relational tie and intimate bond in the covenantal Lord, Christ Jesus, who seals us with the covenantal Spirit to the glory of the covenantal Father. As Jesus says in John 15:15-16 (italics mine),

No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

The Implications of a Sacred Covenant:


In conclusion, so what? Why is the Covenant of Redemption important? Why is it essential to understanding in our study of covenants the intra-trinitarian relationship between the Father, Son, and Spirit? How does this shape and form our understanding of the narrative of Scripture and, more practically, our Christian walk in the here and now? Three practical responses.


The Love of God. First, the love of the covenantal Lord is not static nor merely ethereal. Rather it is dynamic and transformational; that is, before the foundations of the world God knew and sought after you through the sacrificial blood of Christ to make you “holy and blameless before Him” (Eph. 1:4b). Thus, if we have a robust understanding of the sovereignty of God, you are not in your circumstance by mere chance nor coincidence. Rather, it is through His tireless pursuit in redeeming a people for Himself that is effectively calling forth such people. If God is sovereign, the world is not a purposeless array of atoms bumping into one another, but rather a beautiful display of His divine wisdom functioning amid the canopy of creation itself.


An Active and Gracious Father. Some may be questioning the goodness and faithfulness of God. Maybe your own biological father left you; your husband; your wife; your friends. Maybe you are that father, that husband, that wife, or that friend that has abandoned your responsibility and, thus, question the “redeemableness” of your soul. Maybe you are in a place where all the people who were called to love and care for you have failed, and you wonder if there is any good purpose left in this world. In the midst of your doubt and apprehension, realize that Christ who was sent by the Father has opened His arms upon that old rugged cross by the power of the Spirit, and has willfully and purposefully accomplished your redemption, restoration, and validation. He has assured you that though you are far more sinful than your heart could have ever imaged; you are more loved in Christ Jesus than you could have ever imaged. Our heavenly Father will not and has not failed us! He has sought after us like a good and gracious Father should in Christ Jesus. Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice!


The Commandments of God. Through Christ’s covenantal fulfillment, the commandments of God are not markers to obtain salvation; it is not a works righteousness paradigm. We are not left to ourselves to climb a moral latter in order to save and redeem ourselves. Rather, Christ has taken that feat upon Himself for us and, in so doing, has given us His righteousness in order that we may stand before a holy and infinite God. Therefore, the commands of God in Christ Jesus are not wielded as a means to earn your identity. Rather, the commands of God are an invitation into the joy and satisfaction of God. John 14:21 (italics mine) says, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” His commandments are a means to love Him. John 14:23 (italics mine) follows, “Jesus answered him, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.’” The commands of God are an expression of our covenantal union with Him. John 15:10-11 (italics mine) contends, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” The covenantal commands are an invitation to share in the joy and satisfaction that can only be found in Christ Jesus our Lord. Soli Deo Gloria!

 

***footnotes***

[1] This introduction is taken with permission from a previous article I written titled, “What is Covenant?” You can find the article here.

[2] Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom Through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants, 2nd Edition (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 36. italics mine.

[3] Thomas R. Schreiner, Covenant and God’s Purpose for the World, SSBT (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 13.

[4] See Michael S. Horton, Introducing Covenant Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006), 23-34.

[5] J. V. Fesko, The Trinity and the Covenant of Redemption (London: Mentor Imprint, 2016), xvii. Italics mine.

[6] Ibid., 80.

[7] Ibid., 81-84.

 

McYoung Y. Yang (MDiv, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; ThM, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the husband to Debbie and the father to McCayden (12), McCoy (11), McColsen (9), and DeYoung (5). He is a Teaching Pastor at Covenant City Church in St. Paul, MN and a homeschool dad to his four children. McYoung is continuing his doctoral studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO. His ambition is to use his training as a means to serve the local church in living life through the Gospel lens.

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