The Two Covenants
For the first 2,000 years of man's history, God worked with individuals. Adam and the birthright holders after him ruled as kings over the earth, and there were no false kings to divide the earth into more than one nation. So God could only work personally, rather than nationally. The Holy Spirit of God worked on a personal level until the time of Noah, when the people's iniquity was full.
At the Flood, the Holy Spirit was removed from the earth in a general sense, and this state of affairs continued up to the time of Pentecost in the second chapter of Acts, when the Church received the downpayment (earnest) of the Spirit. This history of the Holy Spirit begins in Genesis 6:3. The Concordant Version literally reads this way:
3 And saying is Ieue Alueim [or Yahweh Elohim, "the Lord God"], "Not abide shall My spirit in the human for the eon, in that moreover, he is flesh. And come shall his days to be a hundred and twenty years."
On the surface this verse speaks of the breath (Spirit) of God that was to be removed from mankind, literally by drowning them. See also Genesis 6:17 and 7:22. These verses tell us that all wherein was the breath of life died.
There is a deeper significance to these statements. The word for breath in Hebrew is ruach, which has a double meaning. It means both "breath" and "spirit." Hence, on another level of meaning, God's Spirit was also to be removed from men "for the eon," or for the age. Looking back on that event, we today know that this is why the Holy Spirit had to be sent to indwell us on the day of Pentecost. On that day God again breathed into the Church the breath of life that had been removed in Noah's time.
On the highest level of fulfillment, this inbreathing of the Holy Spirit will not be fully completed in the sense of the Feast of Tabernacles until the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth as the waters (again) cover the sea (Hab. 2:14). By judgment (the Flood) the Holy Spirit was removed; and by judgment (the Lake of Fire) the Holy Spirit shall once again be poured out upon all flesh. (See Appendix 2.)
The flood was the earth's baptism of water; the lake of fire shall be the earth's baptism by fire. Both are for the purpose of cleansing and purification.
God's Restoration Covenant to Noah
The plan of God is revealed in a progressive fashion throughout the Bible. The plan is legally established in a formal manner by means of God's covenants. It is commonly understood that the first covenant was established in Genesis 3:15, when God said He would crush the serpent's head. However, this is better understood as a promise, rather than as a formal, legal covenant. There are many promises, but only a few actual covenants as such.
The first time God specifically says that He was establishing a formal covenant was with Noah in Genesis 9. We read in verses 8-17,
8 Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying, 9 "Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and with your descendants after you; 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you; of all that comes out of the ark, even every beast of the earth. 11 And I establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth." 12 And God said, "This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations; 13 I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth. 14 "And it shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud, 15 and I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth." 17 And God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth."
This covenant went far beyond Noah and his descendants. It was a covenant that God made with every living creature on the face of the earth. The nature of this covenant is often misunderstood, because so many teach that God only promised not to destroy the earth BY WATER. They say that this leaves a loophole, and that God will simply destroy the earth BY FIRE next time. This violates the spirit of the covenant.
The intent of God was to promise restoration to all. It was not to limit the way in which He would destroy the earth next time. The flood destroyed "all flesh" in Noah's day; the coming fire will destroy all flesh again-but this time, it will be "the flesh" destroyed in order to save them. Physical flesh was destroyed the first time by water; but the works of the flesh will be destroyed the second time by fire. Even as baptism of water is a washing of the flesh, so also is the baptism of fire an internal cleansing of the heart and spirit. Both forms of baptism purify and cleanse, but on different levels.
The covenant in Genesis 9:10 was made with these four specific categories of living creatures:
- Noah and his sons,
- The fowls,
- The cattle,
- The beasts of the earth.
These four categories of living creatures symbolically represent "all flesh." The king of the fowls is the eagle; the king of the cattle is the ox; the king of beasts is the lion; and man is the overall king on earth, given dominion in Genesis 1:26-28. These are the four living creatures around the throne of God in Revelation 4:6 and 7. These are also the four living creatures in the vision of Ezekiel 1:10. These are also the four beasts pictured on the banners of the four leading tribes of Israel.
In the encampment of Israel around the tabernacle of God in the wilderness, the four leading tribes carrying banners were located on each of the four sides around the tabernacle. In the SOUTH the tribe of Reuben carried the banner of the man. In the NORTH the tribe of Dan carried the banner of the eagle (carrying a serpent). In the EAST the tribe of Judah carried the banner of the lion. In the WEST the tribe of Ephraim carried the banner of the ox.
This is a lengthy study in itself and is outside the scope of this book. For further information on this subject, we suggest that the reader see Bullinger's notes for the second chapter of Numbers in The Companion Bible. It is sufficient for our purposes to see that the four beasts around the throne in Revelation 4 are the heavenly reality of what was pictured under Moses around the tabernacle.
The prophet Ezekiel had a vision in the heavens as he looked to the north (1:4). As the "whirlwind" moved south toward the prophet, he saw first the face of a man (1:5) on the south side of it. Then on the right side (east) he saw the face of a lion. On the left side (west) he saw the face of an ox. Finally, as the vision came close enough for the prophet to see the far north side, he saw the eagle. This is all stated in Ezekiel 1:10.
10 As for the form of their faces, each had the face of a man, all four had the face of a lion on the right and the face of a bull on the left, and all four had the face of an eagle.
The position of each creature matches the positions of each banner of the tribes of Israel in their encampment around the tabernacle in the wilderness. Ezekiel was seeing a vision of the throne of God, as he tells us in 1:26. John saw essentially the same kind of vision in Revelation 4.
But what does all this mean? Genesis 9 shows us that these living creatures represent and signify all flesh, or every living creature. In Revelation 4:9 their job description is to "give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne." The final destiny is to say AMEN to God in His plan to restore all of creation to Himself. Hence, we read in Revelation 5:11-14,
11 And I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing." 13 And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, "To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever." 14 And the four living creatures kept saying, "Amen."
God created this earth to manifest His glory in physical flesh. He gave man dominion over the earth-authority under God-in order to give man opportunity to say AMEN to all that God does. At present, we do not see all things put under His feet, as Hebrews 2:8 makes clear, and for this reason the four categories of living creatures do not yet say AMEN to the plan of God. Enmity yet exists. Men yet disagree with God, thinking they have a better way to govern the universe. But the day is coming when the four beasts will say AMEN, for the whole earth will be filled with His glory.
The plan of God, as covenanted in the days of Noah, will not be fulfilled until every living creature in heaven, in earth, under the earth, and in the sea can give glory to the Father and speak the words that John heard in Revelation 5:13 (above). When all can do so, then the four living creatures will shout joyfully with a resounding, "Amen." This is the true Jubilee trumpet that God is waiting to hear.
Abraham and the Purpose of Election
The covenant with Abraham was to establish THROUGH WHOM the Kingdom of God would spread throughout the earth. With Abraham, God began a new method of operation in the earth. He "elected" and began to form His own nation, designated as the means by which "all the families of the earth" would be blessed (Gen. 12:3).
God's idea of election was never meant to be an exclusive salvation for the benefit of just a few. Election, as clearly portrayed by God's dealing with Abraham, shows it to be more on the line of political election. In other words, it is a part of God's government, a hierarchy of authority levels on the earth. God elects men to fill those positions of authority in order to serve mankind. Election and calling determines one's ability to serve mankind, for God equips His servants to do the job He calls them to do. Hence, the highest callings are upon those who are servants of all.
All authority comes with an equal measure of responsibility. This is because authority is not a privilege to be enjoyed in and of itself. It has a purpose. It is given in order to empower men to bless others with salvation (in its broadest sense). And so God's election cannot be viewed as most people have in the past. God does NOT elect a few to be saved, and elect others to be tormented or annihilated eternally. Rather, He elects a few to bring the blessings and the word of reconciliation to the greater mass of people.
And so God elected one man, Abraham, and his descendants after him as a beginning point. God's plan was to employ them first to bring His Word and His Spirit to the rest of the world, to "all the families of the earth." Of course, over the years many of them came to view themselves as slave owners, rather than as servants of God called to serve humanity. This is unfortunate, and such people will find themselves unemployed in the coming age of Tabernacles. God is not looking for rulers; He is looking for servants.
Four hundred years after Abraham's call, God made another covenant under Moses in order to establish accountability in the restoration process. In other words, it was not in God's plan to save all of mankind by putting away the law and ignoring their disobedience. God established the law covenant in order that we might know that He will bring all men into accountability. He will certainly restore all of mankind, but not apart from the judgments of the law. The purpose of the law is to teach and train mankind by means of discipline, so that men may grow up into the full maturity of the stature of Christ.
This is surely a wise and marvelous plan, lest men be rewarded for rebellion and disobedience.
Abraham and Moses: The Two Covenants
The Bible records a number of covenants, but there are two covenants that deal directly with man's salvation. They are commonly called the Old and New Covenants. The Old Covenant was instituted through Moses, who was its "mediator." The New Covenant was mediated by Jesus.
The Old Covenant made man fully liable for all sin. The New Covenant made Jesus fully liable. But in order to understand the relationship between these two covenants, we must take note of Paul's commentary on them in the third chapter of Galatians. It is extremely important that we understand the relationship between these two covenants in order to comprehend the process of man's salvation. Galatians 3:15 reads:
15 Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man's covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it. 16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed.
In other words, if you draw up a contract with someone, once it has been signed and witnessed by both parties, you cannot change it or refuse to abide by it. It is absolutely binding upon all who sign their names to it. God made a contract (covenant) with Abraham and to his seed. It was by "promise." In modern terminology, we could say that God made an unconditional covenant with Abraham. It was like a "promise to pay," a check that bore only one signature-God's.
If you recall, in Genesis 15 God told Abraham to take five animals and cut them in half. This was a "blood covenant." Although men normally used only one animal, God used five in order to bind Himself five-fold to the fulfillment of its promise. Five is also the number of grace.
No doubt Abraham expected to walk between the animal halves with God, thus making the covenant binding upon both of them equally. In those days, this was how men made blood covenants with each other; they would link arms and walk between the halves, signifying, "may God cut me in half if I break this covenant."
However, God had a better idea. He knew that imperfect men could not be perfectly obedient. He knew that men would always break any covenant they made with God. Thus, men would always be liable, and God would have to cut them to pieces. So God put Abraham to sleep (Gen. 15:12), and as he slept, God alone passed between these pieces of flesh (Gen. 15:17).
Thus, the Abrahamic covenant was unconditional in nature. Only God bound Himself to perform certain things. This is what Paul means when he says that this covenant was made "by promise." It is not "by agreement," which is two-sided. It is "by promise," which is one-sided, a check to Abraham written and signed by the hand of God alone.
The only problem was that if Abraham could not sign his name to it, then who was going to ratify it? Recall in Gal. 3:15 above, it says that no one can annul it once it has been ratified. As we shall see, the promise was given to Abraham, but it was ratified nearly 2,000 years later by Jesus. Verse 17 says it was "previously ratified by God" (i.e., before the time of Moses); however, one must remember that in the spirit there is no past or present. And so in the sight of God, Jesus had already died from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8) to ratify the covenant that was, in human terms, yet to come. And so the law is satisfied on this point.
Now Paul contrasts this one-sided, promise-covenant with the two-sided, obligation-covenant, which God later made through Moses:
17 What I am saying is this: the law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.
You see, Paul is dealing with an apparent contradiction in these two covenants. The first said, "I promise to save all your seed and give them the Kingdom." The second said, "I will save you ONLY IF you are obedient." Listen to the conditions of the Mosaic Covenant, which we read in Exodus 19:5 and 6.
5 'Now then, IF you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, THEN you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; 6 and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
If anyone doubts the conditional nature of this covenant with Moses, just read Leviticus 26, where God spells out the blessings for obedience and the curses (penalties) for disobedience. This was a covenant (contract) that BOTH God and Israel had to sign. It was totally unlike the Abrahamic covenant, where God was both Promiser and Ratifier through Jesus.
And so the problem that Paul raises in Galatians 3:17 is this: Which covenant shall we follow in order to obtain the inheritance, or the promises? More than that, what is the relationship between the two covenants? If God already unconditionally promised the inheritance to Israel in the time of Abraham, then why institute a second covenant under Moses, a conditional covenant at that, which seemed to nullify the Abrahamic covenant?
The answer is that God, in His wisdom, did not wish to raise up children who were rebellious or disobedient. If He had promised to save all mankind regardless of their actions, then God would be saving unrepentant children who had not learned the lessons of obedience that He desired. And so, the covenant under Moses established the judgments of God upon the disobedient and set the standard of righteousness in the earth that men would ultimately attain. The law covenant, spoken out of the midst of fire, established not only the discipline to bring believers into maturity, but also established and defined a future "lake of fire" for the disobedient unbelievers.
God's Last Will and Testament
Suppose you were to go to your attorney and draw up your will. You decide to will your house and property to your son. It is done of your own free will, just because you love your son. Then you return home, tell your son what you have done, and promise that you will never revoke that will.
A year later, you make another trip to the attorney's office, this time taking your son with you. There you draw up a contract whereby you will give your son his inheritance, but he first must build a barn on the property. Both of you sign your names to this second contract, for he must be in agreement with this.
The next year, you die. The attorney calls your son and reads the will to him. He is the inheritor of your house and property. This is a fact that cannot be nullified. However, since he has not yet completed the building of the barn, as specified in the second contract, he is unable to lay claim to his inheritance for the time being.
Do you get the picture? The first covenant was unconditional. The second covenant was conditional. Does the second nullify the first? Never! Your son WILL receive the inheritance. The only question is WHEN. The second covenant has power only to delay the inheritance until he learns patience and obedience.
When God covenanted with Abraham, He gave the inheritance of the Kingdom to him and to his seed. Then He instituted another covenant under Moses to delay the inheritance until such time as the people learned obedience.
But there is another, more universal level of meaning to this story. God chose Abraham and his seed to be a blessing to all families of the earth. Abraham was to be God's attorney to call together all families of the earth (after the death of Jesus Christ) for a reading of His will. They are called to inform the world of their inheritance, now that the Testator has died. This covenant cannot be annulled for any reason. However, under Moses, God set a condition before that promise could be inherited. The condition is obedience. And so, we ask people to make a decision to follow Christ. What does this mean? It means, essentially, that we are to ratify, or sign our names to the Mosaic Covenant, promising to make Jesus the Lord of our life and obey His law (i.e., refrain from sin).
This is what it means to place our faith in Him. They have faith if they truly believe that God is able through Jesus Christ to fulfill His promise. Israel in Moses' day, as they stood at the foot of the mount, believed that Yahweh was the true God and was able to bring them into the Promised Land. They believed that His laws were righteous. And so, by faith, they decided to follow Him.
But did they follow Him? The Bible says that they failed God at almost every step of the way, just as we too fail to be perfectly obedient. Does this mean that the Abrahamic covenant has failed? Was God not strong enough to bring His people into the Promised Land? Was man's will strong enough to make God's promise fail to bring blessing to all families of the earth? No, a thousand times no. Salvation is not dependent upon the will of man, but of God. The will of man is never more powerful than the sovereignty of God. Man's disobedience only delays the final outcome of grace-and even then, it is only because this was part of God's plan from the beginning.
And so, our decision to follow Christ-which is without question the most important decision we can make-is nonetheless NOT the true basis of our salvation. It was not the basis of Israel's salvation either. We are not saved by the will of man, for the will of man has its roots in Moses, not in Abraham. This decision to follow Christ might save us only if we had the ability to fulfill that decision (vow) and never sin again. Even so, making a decision for Christ was important enough in the eyes of God to send Moses to Israel and mediate that decision-making covenant.
Our inheritance with God is instead based upon a better covenant, the new and unconditional covenant signed by Jesus in his own blood. Jesus' death was the only condition by which the Abrahamic covenant could be obtained. A "last will and testament" is not in force until the death of him that made the will, as we read in Hebrew 9:16 and 17.
16 For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. 17 For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives.
The blessings of our inheritance were spelled out in both the Abrahamic and the Mosaic covenants. However, with the Mosaic covenant the inheritance could be obtained only by the will of the flesh to be perfectly obedient and by the blood of bulls and goats to atone for disobedience. On the other hand, the Abrahamic covenant (will) was made "valid" by Jesus' death. The inheritance is obtained by the will of God alone, and by the blood of the true Sacrifice for sin-Jesus Christ.
Those who believe that their own "decision" will save them, those who believe that salvation comes by the will of man, are in the same position as the majority were in the Old Testament. This opinion led quite naturally to the idea that keeping the law could save men. And so throughout history, from ancient Israel and even throughout the history of the Church, we find men seeking the perfection of the flesh through self-discipline. With it came the idea that doctrinal perfection ("orthodoxy") was also necessary to salvation, for one had to be perfected in both body and soul (mind).
These misconceptions have put a great burden upon the Church. Christians everywhere are driven to seek personal perfection in order to be saved. Many are full of guilt for not fulfilling their vow to be perfect. Christianity for them has become a performance-based religion. So long as they see in themselves personal imperfections, they walk in guilt and fear, rather than in forgiveness and faith. The solution is to see that our salvation and justification, is based upon the decision of God Himself. Our ability to be obedient is a sanctification process by which we-as Christians-learn to hear God's voice as He leads us to the Promised Land, the perfection of the Feast of Tabernacles.
Jesus never advocated breaking the law, nor did the Apostle Paul. But Paul very carefully explains to us that it is impossible for us to obtain our inheritance ("salvation") by means of the law covenant. It comes instead by the death of Jesus, which validated the Abrahamic covenant, the unconditional promise that we shall receive the inheritance. And what He has promised, He will see to it that it shall be done, for this is His Will.
How Shall We Build the Barn?
In our illustration earlier, we said that the second covenant was a condition that the son should build a barn before he could receive his inheritance. This is a conditional provision, which cannot nullify the first covenant, yet it DELAYS the inheritance for a time. Thus, it is not really a question of IF, but of WHEN the son inherits the promise.
We answered the question of WHEN in our previous chapters, where we deal with the three harvests. Different people inherit at different times. Or to put it another way, some people "decide" to build their barns before others do. Christians are people who have left Egypt on the way to the Promised Land. (This is the real "barn" that God is telling us to build.)
To continue our illustration, let us say that your son decides to start building the barn immediately. You are pleased. However, he does not know how to build a barn. He is unskilled and unlearned. In fact, the reason you made that covenant was because you wanted him to learn this art. The purpose of this covenant was to teach him something he did not know.
So first you point to a barn that has already been built. "See that barn, son? There is your model. Build one for yourself just like that one. If you have any questions, just study that barn."
Well, in pouring the foundations, he gets too much gravel for the amount of cement, and the concrete is somewhat weak. He comes to you and asks what he did wrong, and you instruct him. Then he re-lays the foundation. Quite a delay, but then, the best way to learn is by trial and error.
Next, he tries to construct the walls, but they are not quite plumb. Once again, you show him the right way, and this time he does better-still not perfect, but you are pleased that he continues to learn. Finally, when the barn is finished, he comes to you and says, "I have finished the barn; now may I have my inheritance?"
You come to inspect the barn. You notice that the floor is not quite level, and the walls have some cracks in them. The roof leaks a bit, but after all, it is sturdy enough to provide shelter for the cows. "Well done," you tell your son. "It looks perfect. The inheritance is now yours."
As a good carpenter, you know that the barn is far from perfect. But as a good father, you also know that you have trained your son, and he has learned a great deal. And so you overlook what is, and call what is not as though it were (Rom. 4:17). You impute perfection to the building. You reckon it perfect, even though the roof leaks.
Then you call your son to your side and tell him, "I had you build this barn in order that you might know how difficult it is to construct perfectly. I also wanted you to become skilled in building barns. But in actual fact, the barn that you have been using as your model is the only barn that I require as a finished product. This perfect barn I now give to you to replace the imperfect barn. And now, all that you see before you is yours. You may have your inheritance."
We are Imputed Righteous
I heard it said once that we are justified by faith, but that we are sanctified by the law. He who made that statement was trying to motivate the people to obey God's law, because this is God's standard of sin and righteousness. However, he fell into the same trap that men have fallen into for thousands of years. Paul made a profound statement in Galatians 3:3. It reads,
3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
The "model barn" in our illustration is Jesus Christ Himself. We are to pattern our own lives after His. However, we must recognize that imperfect people cannot build perfect barns. Though we have been endowed with the earnest of the Spirit, an in-part spiritual endowment has not the power to make us into the perfect image of Christ. No matter how sincere we are in our "decision" to follow Jesus, no matter how austere we become in our asceticism and beating down of the flesh, all our efforts fall short. This mortal flesh is simply incapable of perfection, and it requires the fullness of the Spirit to bring it to incorruption and perfection. This fullness has yet to be given to men, except for Jesus Himself.
Paul explains in Romans 4 that we have been imputed righteous. The definition of imputation is found in verse 17: God calls what is not as though it were. Paul's illustration of this is Abraham. While Abraham was yet childless, God said, "A father of many nations have I made you" (Rom. 4:17). In other words, God imputed millions of descendants to Abraham, calling what was not as though it were. Abraham believed God, and so it was imputed to him for righteousness (Romans 4:3 and 22).
Likewise, when we believe our Father in heaven and have faith that our righteousness is in Christ, God imputes Jesus' righteousness to us. We are no longer our own. Our own righteousness has a leaky roof, a weak foundation, and shaky walls-even under the best conditions. Our own righteousness is important insofar as learning obedience is concerned; but only Christ's righteousness will cause us to inherit the promise. God instituted this promise in the beginning with the Abrahamic covenant; and He has also built the perfect barn ahead of time and without our help in order to guarantee that we shall indeed inherit all things.
And so, while the Mosaic covenant has delayed the promised inheritance, the delay is not eternal. God is not only the Author, but also the Finisher of our faith. He is both Alpha and Omega. He is both our Justifier and our Sanctifier. We have an external righteousness, for it is not in us, but in Christ. Yet while we are here on earth, it is the will of God that we do our utmost to incorporate that external righteousness. Let it be our daily bread, that it may begin to be a part of us, and so may we be called the children of Abraham and the children of our Father in heaven.
Abraham Limits our Liability Under Moses
Liability for sin comes by means of the law, for it is the law that condemns us for its transgression. Paul tells us that the law is weak in that it could only condemn to death, but never save anyone, for the law cannot acquit any sinners, and we are all sinners.
Fortunately for us, the law has another weakness. It was covenanted AFTER the Abrahamic covenant. The law of contracts says that if any contracts contradict each other, the prior one takes the precedence. Thus, the Mosaic covenant is limited in its ability to exact its due of sinners. It can only collect a debt insofar as it does not infringe upon the prior covenant. The promise must come, not only to all of Abraham's seed, but also to "all the families of the earth" (Gen. 12:3). It is only a question of WHEN. And so the Abrahamic covenant is limited only by time.
How to Inherit the First Resurrection
The imputation of righteousness to our accounts is something God initiated with His covenant to Abraham. Thus, righteousness is to come to all men unconditionally at some point in time. Peter tells us in Acts 3:21 about the restoration of all things and links it to Abraham's job description to bless all the families of the earth. Most importantly, Peter then defines the word "bless" for us, so as to leave no doubt of its meaning:
25 It is you who are the sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, "And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. 26 For you first, God raised up His Servant, and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways."
Peter tells us here that all the families of the earth will be BLESSED, but that this blessing was coming upon "you first," that is, his present audience of Israelite Christians. The blessing was "turning every one of you from your wicked ways." If, then, this is the blessing that came upon Israel first, it must of necessity be the same blessing that should come upon all the families of the earth. We can only conclude that God will bless ALL the families of the earth by turning ALL of them from their wicked ways.
Yet not all will turn to God in this present age. A few turned to God during the Passover Age. More turned to God during the Pentecost Age. There will be repentance and turning in the coming Tabernacles Age. But even if everyone alive on earth repents, there are still many from the past who died without ever repenting, and countless people who never even heard of Jesus Christ. These must be raised from the dead at the Great White Throne judgment, in order for them to receive the Abrahamic blessing.
As we said earlier, there is a distinction between the Church and the overcomers. Believers in general will receive their reward at the same time the unbelievers are raised (Luke 12: 46; John 5:29; Acts 24:14, 15). Those who have been justified by faith in the blood of the Lamb (Passover Christians) will be given their reward in the general resurrection. Their obedience, or works, is not a factor in their justification. However, there is a special reward to overcomers for their hearing and obedience to God in the sanctification process of Pentecost. Such obedience is defined by Moses in the law and, of course, interpreted more completely by the New Testament writers.
Simply stated, those who are obedient will inherit the special salvation, which John calls the first resurrection. Those who truly hear God's voice and are led by the Spirit during their "wilderness journey" here on earth will ultimately come to know the great secret of being an overcomer. The secret is NOT that we must be sinless or perfect. It is NOT that we must hear the voice of God correctly at all times. It is NOT having one's membership in a particular Church. The secret is to be a forgiver.
The law of Jubilee is to be eaten, assimilated, and written on our hearts. The final qualification for entering the Feast of Tabernacles and receiving the fullness of the Spirit is to live the principle of the Jubilee. In the feast days of Israel, the Jubilee was observed on the Day of Atonement, which is the tenth day of the seventh month on the Hebrew calendar. It was the preparation day for the Feast of Tabernacles five days later. This shows us that one must fulfill the Jubilee before one can truly fulfill Tabernacles.
In the Lord's Prayer we read in Matthew 6:12, "And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." In Luke 11:4 the wording is slightly different: "And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
Notice that sins and debts are treated as though they are the same. In the law all sin is reckoned as a debt to be paid the victims. The law of God does not sentence men to time in prison, but to work off their debts. And so, Jesus expounded upon this principle in Matthew 6:14 and 15.
14 For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
Jesus was not speaking of our justification, which comes by faith to Passover-level Christians. He was speaking of the Jubilee principle, which applies to the final stage of salvation that comes in the Feast of Tabernacles. He was referring to the difference between the Christian and the overcomer. Those who do not live the principle of the Jubilee-those who do not learn to forgive-will be held accountable for their own sins in like manner at the Great White Throne judgment. They will be saved, yet so as by fire, for God will hold them accountable even as they have held others accountable. God will judge them by their own standard of measure.
Another very striking illustration of the Jubilee principle is found in Matthew 18, where the man who owed ten thousand talents appealed to his creditor for more time to pay the debt. The creditor, who represents God in the parable, gave the debtor a full dose of grace, canceling the entire debt. This speaks of Christians, who have appealed to God for grace to cover their sin.
However, that same ex-debtor then refused to forgive the debts of another man who owed him a very small amount. The conclusion of the parable is found in Matthew 18:31-35.
31 So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. 32 Then summoning him, his lord said to him, "You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you entreated me. 33 Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, even as I had mercy on you? 34 And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers [basanistes, "jailers,"] until he should repay all that was owed him. 35 So shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.
Many have taught that this parable indicates that Christians can lose their salvation if they do not forgive their brother. The fact is that they can lose their Jubilee and be disqualified from the Tabernacles salvation. They can lose part in the first resurrection, but they will not lose their justification, or their Passover-level salvation.
Not understanding this distinction has caused much misunderstanding and heartache among Christian people for centuries. The early Christian Church developed this problem quite early-with serious consequences. The Greeks were concerned with the ideal, or perfect man. They pointed to Christ as the prime Example of this, yet they also preached the doctrine of sinless perfection in such a way that man became responsible by his own will and works to attain that state of sinlessness.
Soon the idea of justification by faith was replaced by faith and works. But when coupled with the doctrine of the total depravity of man, Christians were left with a sense of futility and discouragement. Attaining perfection was very nearly impossible for the average working person to attain. There were some who left society and became hermits or monks in order to pursue the dream of absolute perfection. There were literally thousands of such people living in the deserts of Egypt and Syria, trying desperately to mortify the flesh and come into full "sainthood."
It did not take people very long to discover that reaching such perfection by man's will required far more self-discipline than they were capable of mustering. As a consequence, the ordinary Christian gave up trying. He settled for the goal of attaining salvation by means of the lake of fire ("purgatory"). And so the historian, Peter Brown, writes on page 249 of his book, Augustine of Hippo,
"A society that admires nothing less than a saint can be demoralizing for the ordinary sinner. The tendency was to be content with a vicarious holiness by isolating and admiring a recognizable caste of "holy" men and women, who lived a life, the demands of which were conceived of as so superhuman as to be safely unrelated to one's own life as a man of the world."
A statement this long needs some interpretation. He is saying that the "holy" men and women of the early Church were those who were determined to attain to perfection in order to attain the first resurrection. But to do so, they became hermits in caves of the desert, or monks who lived in communities in the desert.
These hermits and monks would eat barely enough to live on. They possessed only one set of clothing, and they slept on the bare ground with no blanket. They gave away all their money and possessions to the poor. They spent almost all of their time in absolute silence, even while in a community of monks. They would cultivate a small garden of vegetables, which they ate raw and made just enough baskets each day to support their other basic needs. But most of their time was spent in prayer and contemplation of God.
It was certainly not wrong to do this. In fact, many of these men were quite remarkable in their wisdom and knowledge of God. Many had great gifts of healing, miracles, and prophecy. But I fail to see how escaping the world's temptations can help us overcome them. An army does not overcome its enemy by fleeing to the mountains. It seems to me that while it is valuable to spend time alone with God, it is even more important to then return to the world in order to put the lessons learned into practice. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness, but he returned to preach the Kingdom of God. Paul spent three years in the wilderness, but he returned to take his revelation of God to the world. How many Greeks and Romans might have been converted to Christ if all those hermits and monks had returned from the desert and the caves to preach to them?
Not everyone could drop everything and head for the desert to contemplate God for the rest of their lives. And so the ordinary Christian had a tendency to content himself with a "vicarious" holiness-that is, the super-spiritual caste proved the validity of Christianity, but at the same time made it impractical for the ordinary Christian to ever hope of being an overcomer.
In their belief in Christ these Christians were zealous, but also demoralized and discouraged. Without going to the desert for the next 60 years, many believed they had to go to the purifying fire anyway. So if a temptation came their way, well, a few more sins would not much matter! Little by little, the Church became a necessary but irrelevant part of their lives.
We cannot live this way. Look at the example of Peter, when he walked on the water to go to Jesus. He was far from perfect, but so long as he kept His eyes on Jesus, he stood on solid footing. When he began to look at the wind and the waves around him, he began to fear that it would carry him away. Then he began to sink.
We began this walk by the Spirit. His grace was a free gift to us, apart from our works. We got out of the boat by faith. But then we become aware of all the winds of the earth, the temptations of the flesh, and suddenly we become afraid of them. That fear casts out our faith, and we are in danger of sinking. Our focus must be on Jesus, and if we look to Him and follow His voice, we will overcome the wind and the waves, not consciously, but almost as a by-product of life.
If we simply follow His voice as Peter should have done, He will lead us through many different circumstances of life with the purpose of purifying our hearts. He will lead us through the fire, not that we might be burned and injured in body, soul, mind and emotions, but rather that we might overcome all things in love.
I have found that when I strive most to perfect my flesh, I always fall short. But when I just follow Him in simple obedience, taking all things as coming from His loving hand, thanking Him in all things (1 Thess. 5:18), rejoicing in the Lord always (Phil. 4:4), knowing that all things work together for my good (Rom. 8:28)-when I have this attitude and faith in God, He refines and purifies my heart in a way that I could never do by myself.
Comparing the Authority of Abraham and Moses
We have already shown how the Abrahamic covenant takes precedence over the Mosaic covenant. The Abrahamic covenant, in essence, promised salvation to all of Abraham's seed, and through him to "all the families of the earth." This covenant forever settled two questions: (1) IF salvation would indeed come, and (2) HOW MANY beneficiaries are there?
The Mosaic covenant that God made with Israel 430 years later (Gal. 3:17) has not the lawful power to nullify the Abrahamic covenant, even though it appears to conflict with it. Moses, being a descendant of Father Abraham, must pay homage to the elder. And so, the Mosaic covenant with its blessings limited by conditions of obedience has the power only to DELAY the inevitable. Or, as we said earlier, the Abrahamic covenant was dated prior to the Mosaic covenant; and Abraham has a lien on all the property that limits Moses' judgment.
God's purpose in instituting the covenant with Moses was to give us a "tutor" (Gal. 3:24), that the heirs of salvation might learn obedience and righteousness before inheriting the promises. Put simply, God wants us to grow up into maturity first. Yet the extent of the Mosaic covenant's authority is only in the area of TIME. It can never nullify the "IF" and the "HOW MANY" that were established under Abraham's authority. Moses only has authority in the area of "WHEN."
This is well illustrated by Israel's experience. Under Moses, they gave their confession of faith in Exodus 19:8 with the following vow: "All that the LORD has spoken we will do!" Their faith sounded good, but it turned out to be just hot air. God tested their faith ten times, and they failed every test, finally refusing to enter into the land of Canaan. And so they died in the wilderness not having received the promises.
Fortunately, however, their lack of faith could only DELAY the nation's attaining grace (entering into the Promised Land). The next generation entered under Joshua. We know that God uses the same principles in dealing with nations as He does with individuals. And so we stand on solid ground when we say that if men do not have faith in God in this age, God will see to it that they repent by means of judgment in the restoration.
We have also seen that God has made a covenant with "all flesh," which Paul says goes all the way back to Adam (Genesis 9, Romans 5, and 1 Corinthians 15). It is the grace of God extended to all creation, for Jesus was sent to be the Savior of the whole world (1 John 2:2). Yet He still requires that we come to Abraham's bosom by means of the door of faith. We are saved by grace, yet it is through faith.
Only by understanding this principle can we see the true relationship between grace and faith as they work together to bring about our salvation.
The Relationship Between Grace, Faith, and Works
Paul says in Ephesians 2:8, 9
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast.
Grace was established by God's covenant with Abraham, though we must hasten to add that it could not be put into force until the death of the Testator, Jesus. (Thus, John says that grace came through Jesus Christ-John 1:17.)
Grace is an act of a sovereign God. Grace is therefore "irresistible," because it did not originate in the mind of man, nor has it any basis in flesh or the will of man. It may be delayed by Moses' covenant, but through Abraham God has bound Himself unconditionally by a five-fold blood covenant to bring all mankind to salvation. The only question is when, in what order, and by what judgments (if any) shall they be resurrected.
Grace is something that God does for undeserving people simply because He loves them. It is something He does out of the council of His own will, and it has nothing to do with the will of man. In this way, grace has the same basis as election, although these are different in that election has to do with the ORDER in which men receive their inheritance, as well as their level of authority in the Kingdom. Men are not "elected" to be saved or unsaved forever; the "elect" are those whom God in His sovereignty has chosen to save FIRST. He is setting up His government in order to prepare the Kingdom for the Church. Thus we find in Rev. 20:4-6 that these officials of the divine government are raised up first.
Not understanding this has caused much friction throughout the centuries between various schools of thought. Those in the past who have recognized God's sovereignty (predestination and election) have often brought it into disrepute by insisting that God deliberately decides NOT to save 99% of mankind, and then to torture them for all eternity! It is little wonder that so few people have been able to stomach such injustice. This has brought the doctrine of election and predestination into disrepute.
In fact, some years ago a well-known theologian plainly stated that he could not believe in election and predestination, because God's justice would then demand that He reconcile the whole universe unto Himself! His analysis was absolutely correct, but he chose to retain the torture theory, rather than Bible truth.
But we must at least give this theologian credit for his consistency, unlike (for instance) John Calvin. Calvin taught that God had predestined a tiny few for salvation and predestined the rest for eternal torment. He was inconsistent in that he recognized God's sovereignty in the matter of grace, but then taught it in such a way as to portray God as an unjust tyrant who judges men by a law not found in the writings of Moses. To know the mind of God, we must understand both the absolute sovereignty and the absolute justice of God.
In the final analysis, we are not saved by faith; we are saved by grace. That is, grace is the basis of our salvation. Works are the result, and between these two things is a great gulf fixed. On the other hand, faith is the bridge between grace and works. Because God has promised to bring all to the land of grace, He will, like a Good Shepherd, lead all men from the land of their own works, across the bridge of faith. Grace to all is the goal of history. Faith is the narrow bridge leading to that ultimate goal.
In the story of Abraham, we see that first came grace-God's promise. Second came Abraham's faith, for we read that he "believed in God." By way of contrast, in the Mosaic covenant, God first required Israel to have faith in Him, to believe that their Deliverer was indeed the God of the Universe who was able to lead them to the Promised Land. Second came the works, the obedience that naturally followed their faith.
With Abraham, it was first grace, then faith.
With Moses, it was first faith, then works (obedience).
The interesting thing about faith is that it has characteristics of both God's sovereign grace and man's works. Paul associates it with God's sovereign grace by saying, as we read earlier in the second chapter of Ephesians:
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast.
That is, faith itself is a gift from God and does not originate in the mind or will of man. Yet at the same time God must implant faith into the heart of man by means of His call, or voice, for faith comes only by "hearing" (Romans 11:17).
Faith calls for a response, a decision to follow God, made by the will of man, even as Moses asked Israel to decide. Thus, faith is the most sacred part of the Mosaic covenant and is, in essence, the wellspring of all our works of obedience. It is the first act of obedience toward the life of faith which we, like Israel of old, are expected to perform in our journey to the promised inheritance.
Thus, faith is the bridge between grace and works. Abraham begins with grace and leads us to faith; Moses begins with faith, and leads us to a life of obedience. Paul uses a unique Greek term in Romans 1:5 to express it. In the Concordant Version, it is translated "faith-obedience." The word "obedience" is from the Greek word, hupakoe, which literally means "under hearing." In fact, in both the Hebrew and the Greek, the word for "obey" is the same as "hear." To hear is to obey. Without obedience, there is no true hearing.
Just as Abraham reveals God's grace-faith to us, so also does Moses teach us the life of faith-obedience.
By pondering the wanderings of Israel under Moses, we see the manner in which God leads us as well from our faith decision to our perfection. It is the life of hearing the voice of God, which alone can increase our faith in Him. Each time we hear His voice and obey, whether we understand or not, we take another step toward maturity and grace, the Promised Land. The journey begins as an act of faith to follow God out of "Egypt," and it ends with a final act of faith to enter Canaan. In between are the trials and testings that teach us to hear and obey the leading of the Spirit.
We know, of course, that there have been many in past millennia who lived and died without so much as beginning the journey to the Promised Land. Many have never heard of Jesus Christ and therefore had no opportunity to place their faith in His work on the Cross. They had no opportunity to learn to hear His voice. Others did have opportunity, but they rejected Jesus Christ, even as the Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus' day rejected Him. These will all be judged according to their works by the divine law, that they might also learn righteousness.
Then, at the end of the final Age of the Ages, when the sinners have been disciplined and purified by the Divine Fire and have learned righteousness (Isaiah 26:9), when the Great Shepherd has constrained them in Love to cross the bridge of faith, then they too will be brought into the incorruptible state of God's fullness, "that God may be all in all" (1 Cor. 15:28).
What a fantastic plan God has for His creation! I marvel daily at His wisdom. I revel in His love that gives purpose to His judgments. I stand in awe at His knowledge by which He was able to draw up such a plan from the beginning. And I give glory and magnify His power to carry out that plan without deviation down to the last detail. Romans 11:32-36.
32 For God has shut up [sugkleio, "locked up"] ALL in disobedience that He might show mercy to ALL. 33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? 35 Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are ALL THINGS. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.