One distinctive feature of the biblical view of history is that time is moving in a straight line towards a goal ordained by God. History is the unfolding of God’s plan to redeem a people for himself and bring them into covenant with himself. In The Bible’s Covenant Story, we finally consider 14. Revelation 21:1-8 Covenant consummation.
1. New creation
Note v1 ‘Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth’. The Lord is going to bring about a renewal of the material universe, envisaged in e.g. Isaiah 65:17ff. It will be a renovated universe, not a replacement. The material creation shares in man’s fall (Genesis 3:17) and will share in ‘the glorious freedom of the children of God’ (Romans 8:21). Satan will not triumph. The Lord is going to provide a suitable home for his covenant people. Body and soul they will live in a transformed world – ‘the home of righteousness’ (2 Peter 3:13).
2. Covenant fellowship
John sees ‘the Holy City, the new Jerusalem’ (v2). This symbolises the perfected church – ‘a bride beautifully dressed for her husband’. The Lord is ‘married’ to his people (see 19:9) in a covenant of marriage. The basic covenant promise is repeated (v3). This is the greatest blessing of life in the new creation. We have covenant fellowship with the Lord, the life for which he made and remade us. Knowledge and fellowship will continue to grow eternally.
3. Complete transformation
The sovereign Lord ‘seated on the throne’ (v5) proclaims ‘I am making everything new’. No part of creation will be untouched by his powerful and gracious work. All the effects of the fall will be removed. The hard and sad experiences will be gone for ever. He will ‘wipe every tear’ (v4), whatever the cause. We can rejoice that there will be ‘no more death or mourning or crying or pain’. He says, ‘Come and share your master’s happiness’ (Matthew 25:21).
4. Full satisfaction
‘It is done’ (v6) – a perfect tense, indicating that the work is completed and will never be undone. The Lord expresses his satisfaction in bringing his eternal plan to a perfect conclusion. At his death which sealed the covenant Christ cried, ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30). A glorious outcome is guaranteed. We share in the satisfaction – ‘I will give to drink’ – the Lord slakes our spiritual thirst with his presence. We enjoy an inheritance and sonship (v7).
5. Righteous judgment
In the midst of the joy and anticipation of glory there is a word of warning. After a diverse list of sinners, the Lord says, ‘their place will be in the fiery lake’. No-one enters the new creation with sin unforgiven. We must make sure we are truly members of the Covenant of Grace through faith in Christ alone and are thus on the path to glory in the new creation.
If we are to understand the New Testament correctly, we must immerse ourselves in the Old Testament. There we find all the necessary foundations for understanding the person and work of the Messiah. The Old Testament provides the basic categories for approaching the New, one of these crucial categories being covenant. In The Bible’s Covenant Story, we consider 13. Luke 22:20 The New Covenant in my blood.
1. The covenant
The words Jesus uses in v20 draw explicitly on the prophecy of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31, in particular v31 ‘I will make a new covenant’. As noted in the last study, the need for this covenant was due to the failings of the people. The Old Covenant, in biblical terminology, was the Mosaic Covenant, with its sacrifices, ceremonies and laws, given as God’s temporary provision, since these could not change the hearts of people. The need was for a new covenant that could not be undone by man’s sin. Now is the time of fulfilment – ‘This cup is the new covenant’. The New Covenant is being established in the person and work of the Messiah. It is vital to understand the New Covenant is essentially the same Covenant of Grace that goes back to the promise of a Deliverer in Genesis 3:15. The core promise is ‘I will be their God , and they will be my people’ (Jeremiah 31:30).
2. The blood
At the heart of the Messiah’s work to establish the covenant is ‘my blood, which is poured out for you’. In Scripture ‘blood’ speaks of life poured out in death. It is sacrificial blood that effects atonement for sin and the necessity for blood to be shed is stated in Hebrews 9:22. If sin is to be forgiven and sinners are to enter the Covenant of Grace, the blood of sacrifice is essential. This principle is evident at the Passover (Exodus 12), where the blood of the substitute lamb marks the houses of God’s people and his judgment passes over them. The blood of the lamb was atoning and redemptive. The blood of an animal, however, could not remove the sin of one of God’s image-bearers (Hebrews 10:11) – these were temporary provisions until the coming of ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). His blood is ‘poured out for you’ – both as the representative of his people and as their substitute. The one who is both God and man is fully equipped to do all that is required for entrance into ‘the new covenant’. He was made to be sin for us – 2 Corinthians 5:21.
3. The cup
The meal in the Upper Room is a Passover, recalling the former deliverance through the shedding of the blood of the lamb. The focus was always to be on the Lord’s grace – Israel’s privileged position was ‘because the Lord loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your forefathers’ (Deuteronomy 7:8). We can have a place in the New Covenant because of the Lord’s covenant love that we remember in the transformed Passover – the Lord’s Supper. The sacrament is a means of grace God has given the church – ‘a participation in the blood of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 10:16). As we eat and drink, we enjoy covenant fellowship with the Lord and with fellow believers on account of the shed blood of the New Covenant Lamb.
In important areas of life, we are familiar with the principle of representation. Usually in a democracy citizens entrust decision-making to elected representatives, so that a government acts on behalf of its citizens. What the government does commits the whole nation, as for example in the declaration of war. The decision of their representatives implicates every individual. The principle of representation lies at the heart of God’s dealings with the human race. In The Bible’s Covenant Story, we consider 12. Romans 5:12-21 Adam and Christ.
1. Death in Adam
(i). Representation. Paul makes clear the relationship between Adam and the human race – ‘the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men’ (v18). By God’s decree Adam represented the whole human race. Adam in Eden stood in a covenant relationship with God. In the Covenant of Works Adam was our covenant head. We are ‘in Adam’.
(ii). Disobedience. Paul speaks of ‘the trespass of the one man’ (v15). The nature of Adam’s sin, according to Genesis 3, was refusal to submit to his covenant Lord in his thinking and his acting. Refusing the place assigned him in the Covenant of Works, Adam fell to Satan’s temptation (‘You will be like God’) and became a covenant breaker.
(iii). Consequences. ‘The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation’ (v16). The whole race was implicated in covenant breaking. The result is ‘death through sin’ (v12) and ‘the many were made sinners’ (v19). The result is death of soul and body, leading to eternal death in hell. We are covenant breakers under the holy wrath of God.
2. Life in Christ
(i). Representation. Our relationship to Christ is based on the same principle of representation. Thus ‘through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous’ (v19). Christ acts as the representative of his people, the head of his elect in the Covenant of Grace (see Genesis 3:15 for the foreshadowing of his work). His people are beneficiaries of all he does. By God’s grace, we are ‘in Christ’ (1 Corinthians 15:22).
(ii). Obedience. The heart of the work of Christ is obedience – ‘through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous’ (v19). He supplies the obedience that we have not rendered: he keeps the covenant. There are 2 elements in his obedience:
He lived the life of perfect obedience to God’s law that we have not lived.
He died the death on the cross that is the penalty for our covenant breaking.
This is the ‘one act of righteousness’ (v19) that supplies all we need for salvation.
(iii). Consequences. The results of Christ’s work for us can be summed up as ‘life’ (v18). It is a wide-ranging blessing that includes both body and soul, salvation in all its richness. Here Paul focuses on justification – our righteous status before a holy God. It is in this sense that we are ‘made righteous’. The ‘gift’ (v17) we receive is the very righteousness of Christ. Alive in Christ, by the Spirit’s working we may now live as covenant keepers.
The speech of Stephen when on trial before the Sanhedrin (Acts 7) is a deeply significant survey of the history of Israel. It provides a theological interpretation of the historical unfolding of God’s plan of salvation from Abraham right through to the arrival of the Messiah. In the course of his speech Stephan also provides many inspired insights into the people and events of the Old Testament, such as Moses (v20ff). Consider Acts 7:22 Powerful in speech and action.
1. Moses – powerful in speech and action
The OT shows that, as God’s appointed leader, Moses was a man who exercised great power:
(i). In speech. He was the channel of God’s revelation, chiefly the one who brought God’s law to Israel (Exodus 32, 34). He was the pattern for how later prophets were to minister, and God promised one day he would raise up a prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15).
(ii). In action. By the power of the Lord Moses did many mighty acts, beginning with the plagues in Egypt (Exodus 7-11). Powerful physically, mentally and spiritually, he did ‘wonders and miraculous signs’ as Stephen says in v36.
2. Jesus – powerful in speech and action
It is Jesus, the anointed Messiah, who fulfils all that the ministry of Moses foreshadowed. To a degree impossible to a sinful mortal like Moses, Jesus was ‘powerful in speech and action. Note:
(i). In speech. Note the testimony of the temple guards – ‘No-one ever spoke the way this man does’ (John 7:46). He was the final perfect Prophet, speaking with authority (Mark 1:22). With his powerful words he could still a storm (Mark 4:39), raise the dead (John 11:43) and forgive sins (Mark 2:5). His word is life-transforming.
(ii). In action. He performed ‘miracles, wonders and signs’ (Acts 2:22) as testimonies to his identity. His most powerful works relate to his death on the cross by which he provided salvation (2 Corinthians 5:21) and defeated the powers of evil (Colossians 2:15), and also to his resurrection which testifies to his victory and places him at the Father’s right hand (Romans 8:34).
3. Believers – powerful in speech and action
Believers are not called to repeat those actions of Jesus that relate to salvation, but they are called to serve him, above all as his witnesses. Thus, we are to be ‘powerful in speech and action’:
(i). In speech. We are to speak only what will build others up (Ephesians 5:29). Above all speech is to be used to communicate the gospel, as in Acts 8:4. A ‘silent witness’ is not enough – sinners need to hear ‘the word of Christ’ (Romans 10:17).
(ii). In action. We must put the Word into practice (James 1:22). If godly living is not evident, a profession of faith is empty. This is linked to gospel witness, where care for bodily needs expresses genuine love, that also requires sharing the gospel. Word and deed go together.
Imagine a prisoner who has served a long sentence in harsh conditions. Finally, he is pardoned and released. What will he want to do? He will not walk back to prison and ask to be readmitted. To return would be utter folly. The Galatian Christians had been set free. The bondage they had been living under was broken, yet they were beginning to return to the old ways. Paul was deeply concerned about them and wrote to address their problem. We consider Galatians 5:1 Freedom in Christ.
1. Freedom from
We begin with the negative aspect of freedom. Paul refers to a ‘yoke of slavery’ to which Christians are not to become subject again. In the context of Galatians, it is freedom from:
(i). The law. It is not that we have been freed from an obligation to love God and our neighbour (Mark 12:30-31). We are, however, freed from the curse of God that rests on the breakers of his law (3:13). The Saviour has paid the price for our release. We are also set free from the ceremonial law of the Old Covenant which Christ has fulfilled. We are also freed from trying to establish our righteousness by law-keeping.
(ii). Sin. In Christ we have redemption from sin in all its aspects: the guilt of sin, since the atonement he made at the cross deals with our debt of sin (Ephesians 1:7), and the power of sin, since we have died to sin in our saving union with Christ (Romans 6:11).
2. Freedom for
Freedom in Christ has also a wonderful positive aspect. We have been set free to enjoy life ‘to the full’ (John 10:10). We are under the light ‘yoke’ of Christ (Matthew 11:29-30). We are freed for discipleship, following the king who freed us. Note 2 key elements:
(i). Holiness. We are to ‘strive’ for holiness (Hebrews 12:14), because our God is holy (1 Peter 1:16). Holiness is likeness to Christ, best summed up in the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ (v22-23). Where the Spirit is, there is true freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17).
(ii). Service. Freedom is never an excuse for idleness. The Lord gives gifts to his people that are to be used (like the talents of Matthew 25:14). Whatever the gifts entrusted to us, our responsibility is to use them fruitfully, in his service, by the enabling of the Spirit.
3. Freedom preserved
It is possible to lose our freedom, not in principle, but in practice. We may not realise its value or we may regard it as restrictive since it prevents indulgence in sin. To forsake freedom in Christ is to return to the ‘yoke of slavery’ which is nothing but a burden. We must ‘Stand firm’ – holding fast to freedom. We have the responsibility to preserve the freedom – ‘do not let yourselves be burdened’ – of course with the help of the Spirit. In the context of Galatians, Paul sees 2 threats:
(i). The law. We may begin to think our obedience earns God’s favour.
(ii). Tradition. We may add manmade rules to try to enhance our merit with God.
Both produce bondage since we never obey well enough. We are to live free in the saviour who promises, ‘I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28).
The core of the Christian faith is that God has revealed himself finally and perfectly in Jesus Christ, who is himself God (John 1:18). Our faith is based on historical events which are themselves miraculous. Without the person and work of Christ there is no Christian faith. The coming of Jesus into the world is often sentimentalised, but it is one of the greatest events in history and full of meaning. We want to consider John 1:14 The Word became flesh.
1. A new nature
‘The Word became flesh’ is one of the most amazing statements in the Bible, full of wonder and mystery. Who is ‘the Word’? We have a magnificent description in v1ff. He had no starting point – he simply ‘was’. The doctrine of the Trinity is clearly present here – the Word ‘was with God, and the Word was God’ (v1). The early church took much debate to establish the language to be used to describe God’s being, but concluded that there is one God in three eternally existing, equal persons. The Word is the Son, who exists eternally with the Father and the Holy Spirit. He is also the Creator (v3), involved in all that God has made. The eternal Son ‘became flesh’ – God shares our nature. The use of ‘flesh’ indicates human nature in its weakness, such that Jesus became tired and hungry and was subject to death. He ‘became’ flesh – without ceasing to be God, he took a new nature into union with his divinity and is God and man in one person. In Jesus we have a Saviour who shares our nature. In him God has come as close as possible to us, a testimony to his love and compassion.
2. A new dwelling
In Jesus God ‘made his dwelling among us’. Literally John says that he ‘tabernacled’ among us. The tabernacle was the place where God in a special sense dwelt among his people. This echoes the covenant promise of Leviticus 26:11-12 and Jeremiah 31:33. God had previously visited men in visible form (eg Genesis 18), but the tabernacling of the Incarnation is final and permanent. In his coming ‘among us’ we see God’s condescension, coming into a world of sinners. Thus ‘his own did not receive him’ (v11). He came knowing that the path he was to walk required humiliation, suffering and death (Philippians 2:8). The tabernacle was the place where offerings were made and Jesus is the perfect offering who brings full salvation – he is ‘the Lamb of God’ (v29). His dwelling among us opened the way into God’s kingdom and ensures the fulfilment of Revelation 21:3 ‘the tabernacle…is with men’.
3. A new revelation
The tabernacle was associated with God’s glory (Exodus 40:34). Hence we read in relation to Jesus, ‘we beheld his glory’, a glory he shares with the Father. It is to the incarnate Son that John refers, the One who suffered and died. Those with the eyes of faith could see his glory. His true nature was evident in the miracles (eg at Cana, John 2:11), at the transfiguration (Mark 9), but especially at the cross. We see ‘grace’ – free favour providing salvation, and ‘truth’ – the final revelation of the trustworthy God. Note ‘we beheld’ – close scrutiny, either to seek a saviour or to learn more of him and so obey and love him more.