God’s Covenant, Part 8 – The Temporal Nature of Everything Created

C-Change is measured in increments of time

The covenant of God was conceived in eternity, yet, effectively it is brought to pass in history. When we study covenant works as they are revealed in Scripture we are brought face to face with both the events of history as they relate to God, and their practical import as they relate to man. Natural man has one idea of what constitutes historical significance, but Gods word reveals something quite different. Yet, both of these concepts of history natural and supernatural are brought together as one thing under Gods will. A case in point can be made of ancient history concerning the empires of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. These are the major world empires that are looked at by the world for an understanding of ancient history. But rarely if ever, except in a religious context is the ancient empire of Israel looked at as significant among the others. The kingdom of Israel historically speaking is totally insignificant to the modern secular historian compared to these other kingdoms, yet, Scripture asserts that Israel is at the very center of ancient history. Israel, according to the Bible is set by God as primarily important in relation to the other major empires, all of whom was greater and mightier than it in terms of power and prosperity. Of course, everyone in the world practically speaking does know of the ancient kingdom of Israel, but they through the machinations of academia dismiss its importance precisely because of its biblical significance. All of these other nations are mentioned in Scripture too, as having a part in Gods covenant dealings with Israel. But Israel, not these other nations were the focus of Gods interest in history. This makes redemptive history true history.

The same thing is true of the Christian church as is true of Israel. While it is true that the Christian church is not a nation as such in a civil sense, it is at the same time a nation in a spiritual sense, and as such a counterpart to ancient Israel (Ex. 19:6; I Pet. 2:9). The Christian church also has a visible presence in the world which is distinguishable from every other body or institution that exists. What we mean by this is that the Christian church has been a historical reality in the world among the nations for the last two thousand years. The Christian church has existed in virtually every known nation as a public assembly of worshiping people in one denominational form or another, in every era and among every generation of people who have lived since the days of the apostles. And even though it has taken all of this time for the gospel to reach every tribe of people on earth, in the past it has reached every part of the known world in every generation to the fullest extent of the Lords’ intention (Col. 1:3-6). Yet, modern man does not consider the Christian church to be of any importance whatsoever in the world. There is in history books mention of those early Christians whom Rome persecuted, and most people know this. And certainly the name Martin Luther is known by many today as a hero of the Protestant reformation and as a villain of the Roman Catholic church. But by and large Christian church history is insignificant to the modern man. Even the recognition of our Lords birth in history by the abbreviation AD for “Anno Domini,” which is Latin for “In the year of our Lord” has been changed to CE which stands for “Common Era” in dismissal of it. Any mention made today of the Puritans is usually met with disdain by the average person.

Both Israel and the Christian church as visible theocratic institutions have been at the very center of the historical acts of God in the world for thousands of years. God the Almighty, ruler of heaven and earth, has made it so through His sovereign superintendence of all things that have come to pass. The people of Gods interest are those whom He is dealing with at all times according to His covenant. All other people outside of the covenant are being dealt with too in whatever prospective nation they may inhabit. But these nations of the earth, no matter how great or powerful they may be, pale in comparison to the people of God in terms of their historical significance. Since this is so, we ought not to tremble at this or that nation or its ruler which may seem to threaten or dominate any particular region of the world. Every one of these empires of the ancient world, and even those closer to us in terms of time, has risen up and then have fallen. Where is ancient Egypt, or Babylon, or Greece and Rome? These all disappeared from the world scene while ancient Israel, even though it was at one time an empire that vanished, yet its people remained until the Messiah, the Savior of the world finally appeared. And where are Napoleon and his empire today, or Hitler’s third Reich, or the Soviet Union, all of which threatened the world and the people of God at one time or another? These empires are gone and the Christian church remains, and it does so because of Gods Covenant.

Natural history represents a process of change relative to time. Within history God brings to pass all of His works which He has conceived of in eternity. We as people see and experience the change that natural history brings, for this is relative to us in whom we are as created beings. This is important to understand, for we live in a paradigm of reality that revolves around change. The circumstances of our life usually dictate to us how we think. The Scripture says that Christians have the mind of Christ (I Cor. 2:16b), but that truth we only know theoretically until it becomes real to us. It is through a combination of events brought to us through the providential experiences of life, closely wed to our learning of God and His covenant that we are strengthened and able to persevere in faith. If we are Christians then our thought process should really be centered on God and His covenant, not on the experiences of life that seem to be either positive or negative in scope. This is what it means to develop a Biblical paradigm or world view. When people threaten to undo us through the loss of our property or even our life, remember what God says “For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” this is covenant language (Heb. 13:5b). God will preserve and keep us until which time we are with Him in glory never to be troubled again by the world.

God’s covenant requires the preservation of all nature until the end of time, thereby preventing certain catastrophic historical changes from ever happening (Gen. 8:20-22). This text in Genesis informs us of two things about historical change that affect all people on earth. The first is that there can never be a total destruction upon earth due to any manmade circumstances such as nuclear war, for such a thing as this would circumvent Gods Covenant. The second thing is that there can never be a total collapse of the environment due to natural causes that will destroy the earth and its people, for this too would circumvent the covenant purpose of God. We should not be intimidated by what the world says about these things, for the world does not know God, nor do they glorify Him in any way by their foolish, unbelieving claims about the end of the world (Rom. 1:21,22). What should concern the world is the covenant commitment that God has to His people which will usher in the end of the world some day at the return of Jesus Christ (II Pet. 3:10-12).

God’s covenant does involve the implementation by Him of many cosmic disturbances that affect us as Christians, as well as all other people on earth (Matt. 24:1-14). God’s covenant includes the destruction of Jerusalem and the end to temple Judaism (verses 1,2). God’s covenant includes a delay in the establishment of Jesus’ physical kingdom on earth (verse 3). God’s covenant realizes that there will be many deceptive religious ideas concerning the Messiah that His people must contend with (verses 4,5). God’s covenant anticipates the troubling reality of perpetual wars in the world that will come to pass while the church is on earth (verses 6,7a). God’s covenant encompasses many sufferings due to cosmic providential disturbance on earth such as “famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.” (verses 7b,8). But perhaps the most troubling prediction Jesus could give to His disciples regarding His covenant was the rejection that would come against Him and His people in the world (verses 9-14).

The disciples did not at the time of this saying understand that Jesus would be crucified. Nor did the disciples understand that upon Jesus’ resurrection and their subsequent witness of it to the world that they would be persecuted by both Jews and Romans, even to the point of being put to death themselves. The disciples did not comprehend the rejection of the Messiah Jesus Christ by the Jews, and instead the acceptance of Him by the Gentile world (John 1:11,12). Nor did the disciples know that there would be more than two thousand years of history to come following these events before the Lord would return again to establish the eschatological fulfilment of His kingdom. All of this is part and parcel of Gods Covenant.

But why is all this trouble, all this suffering and all of these providential changes throughout church history the experience of the people that God has predestined unto eternal life? There are many reasons to this that we could explore but for now will leave to another time. There is one that does concern us now however and that is the calling and saving of every one of Gods people that His eternal covenant is concerned with. The span of human history with all of its change is taken up with this one thing, the gathering of the covenant family of God through the regeneration of each individual, each one with which the predestinating purpose is concerned (John 1:13). The family of God which He elects to eternal life is born in space and time over the course of many generations. Jesus predicted that the gospel would bring division within the families of the world even though God told Abraham that it would bring blessing to them too (Gen. 12:3b, Gal. 3:8). The gospel sword is the cause of this division that all change and turmoil of every sort hinge upon (Matt. 10:34; Heb. 4:12,13).

1. Resurrection and change

God’s covenant anticipates the force of dramatic change in the world affecting its humanity by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Death itself was the first dramatic change to occur within creation. When Adam died he did so as a result of a defection from God through sin. Though it was through a single act of rebellion sin is much more than just that. Sin is the corrupting absence of righteousness or, the absence of a right principle at work by which a man conducts himself. Sin simply stated is a lack of conformity to a Holy God. As such, sin separated man from God. When Adam sinned, he brought the curse of death upon himself, the result being that he lost his standing with his Creator that was founded upon righteousness. Not only this, but when Adam died so did all his posterity die with him too, that came after him (Rom. 5:12-14). God imputed Adams sin, the curse and the guilt of it upon mankind. When Adam died, then all mankind died even though none but he had as yet lived upon earth. God’s covenant anticipated the fall and death of mankind.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead established a change for all men on earth too, past, present and future, just as Adam’s sin did (I Cor. 15:20-22). The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the firstfruit of this change, establishing the fact that all men will undergo resurrection too. Now before Jesus died and rose again those who underwent physical death were kept in store for this very thing in one of two places. Either, they went to a place called hades separated from the blessedness of the Lord, or, they went to a place called Abraham’s bosom, enjoying the blessedness of the Lord (Luke 16:19-23). The fact that this truth is brought forth in a parable is no impediment to the point whatsoever. Hades, or sheol as it is known in the Old Testament is a word that denotes the grave, a place under the earth that receives the dead. As such, the word hades give us a good, even though it is a vague picture of hell, the place of eternal torment, which all the lost end up in. Abraham’s bosom on the other hand immediately points to the covenant rest of the redeemed, again a picture of heaven and its bliss, the place and circumstance by which all the redeemed look to. Abraham is an important figure in covenant history, one which will be explored in full later. And so the figure of Abraham’s bosom also conveys the fact that those who are in covenant relationship to God are exceedingly close to Him. What better picture than this could be supplied from the Lord for the change which resurrection brings upon the death of an individual? Following the resurrection of our Lord which He accomplished in an exact time and place in history, these two sorts of people spoken of in the parable were then changed into a deeper experience of either one of the two places mentioned (Matt. 27:51-54).

But first, this truth needs some explanation if the full picture of it is to come into view, for it may be argued that first Corinthians fifteen and Matthew twenty seven are talking exclusively about Christians as though there was no actual resurrection for anyone before Jesus. This matter of sequential events involving a transition between time and eternity is something that becomes muddled, like much of what is believed about Gods Covenant and its eschatological implications. For many have a confused idea at best in this interpretation because of thinking that equates the eternal God with ourselves as though He were living within time and space. In other words, thinking of events of change in reference to God as though they were entirely chronological in nature, as though God were acting in sync with us and our perception of reality which is limited by nature. That is why God gave us His revelation so we would know how to think. Nature is insufficient to determine what constitutes truth or true knowledge. When men die they enter into eternal time. As we have already shown, that which is created and that which is not can never mix in any way. Any synergy of Deity corrupts it, and any synergy of humanity deifies it. But as we have also shown, God spans eternity and time through the Hypostatical union of the two natures in the one Person of Jesus Christ. Therefore, when a person enters a state of physical death, he also enters a state of permanent life albeit different, spiritually suited to its nature in its new abode. They who die now enter into a state of eternal existence that is and ever will be conducive to what God in His covenant has determined for them beforehand. This is a state of weal or woe, a state that is not static for it will increase in intensity and scope over the course of eternal time.

As can be seen in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, men receive a resurrection body upon their transition from this life into the next, this is how each one of them, the rich man and Lazarus recognized one another. There is no such thing as a disembodied spirit in the eschatological kingdom of God, either before or after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. In the earliest pages of Scripture mention is made of Enoch who died and went to be with the Lord (Gen. 5:24). The exact wording in Genesis is “And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.” The obscurity of this statement might leave us wondering exactly what was meant by it. But God left us no doubt about what happened to Enoch when the inspired writer of Hebrews remarked “By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, “and was not found, because God had taken him”; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God.” (Heb. 11:5). Enoch was immediately translated from this life into the next, and by what means did it happen? Enoch underwent a resurrection change from one state of natural life into another state of eternal life. And if anyone might balk at the idea that this meant that Enoch obtained a body suited to this new state, we are given more specific revelation about from Job (Job 19:25-27). Job under inspiration understood that when he died in this life that he would live in the next. And not only would Job live, but he would obtain a body, a resurrection body like that of his Redeemer Jesus Christ whom he would see in that body (I John 3:2). Now there is no argument that Job would not have known the Lord in the same way as us in the Person of Jesus Christ. But that Job did know the Lord as his eternal Redeemer there is no dispute.

Another example that is illustrative of this truth is in the transfiguration of Jesus on the mount (Matt. 17:1-4; Mark 9:1-5). How do we explain in any other way the fact that Elijah and Moses appeared in a heavenly vision, perfectly embodied and talking to Jesus before He died and had been resurrected? This was a heavenly vision, yet, all three of them appeared to the disciples in discernibly recognizable bodies. The knowledge that this was Elijah and Moses whom the disciples had never seen before was also a matter of spiritual discernment given to them by the Lord. We know this because there were other times when spiritual perception was given to the disciples from the Lord that enabled them to perceive who He was after His resurrection in an instant (Luke 24:13-16, 28-31). In one other case before His resurrection, Jesus even declared to a disciple that the spiritual perception that recognizes Him as the Christ is that which comes from God (Matt. 16:13-17). This matter of the resurrection presents an unexplainable mystery to us in reference to Jesus’ first and second coming within history and the resurrection, it does so by showing us a contrast that exists between redemptive events accomplished in history and our realization (fulfillment) of them eternally.

The Scriptures suggest to us in certain places (Rev. 20:5,6) that the resurrection of the dead awaits the second coming of the Lord and the end of the age. There are some who neatly dissect and arrange time and events here on earth, then connect them to scripture texts in an attempt to explain chronologically what seems to them to be otherwise conflicting statements concerning this. The book of Revelation itself has forever been popularly treated as a literal, chronological compendium of eschatological events. Consider what Jesus said to His disciples, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth — those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” (John 5:24-29). Jesus made it sound like the resurrection from the dead is both now and future in these words to His disciples. And at this time Jesus had not died, nor had He been raised Himself from the grave. The question then becomes, does Jesus mean these things are true now when we die or will they be true sometime in the future? Those who hear the word of Jesus now are said to have passed from death and judgement into eternal life already, implying that those who don’t believe also have a settled state that awaits their physical death (John 3:36).

Another thing that arises from the passage in John (5) is an obvious connection to Matthew (27) in the words “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth — those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” (John 5:28.29). Matthew tells us that Jesus died “and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.” (Matt. 27:52,53). No mention of the lost is given here although they were in John. And so the resurrection in first Corinthians fifteen (verse 21) that states Jesus is the firstfruit of the afterlife for believers must also be understood in connection with these other statements as including all people at all times.

Yet, in spite of all the present language of Scripture concerning death, life, resurrection, judgement, and condemnation it is also clear that there is a finality to this present time in this present world, which will then be followed by all that which will be hereafter. It should be clear then that there is both a present and a future reality to these things that exist, but they don’t always fit together so neatly in our scheme of thinking as we would like them to be. This is because God as He is revealed in Scripture transcends space and time. Peter reminds us again, “But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (II Pet. 3:8). God who is eternally present has spanned this material world as well as the other spiritual world in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. How two seemingly different things can coincide, how they can be true at the same time in reference to two different realms is certainly a mystery to us.

And what do we make of the language that talks about the dead sleeping, such as in first Corinthians fifteen and other places?[1] Certainly the larger context of the passage previously quoted (I Cor. 15:20-22) is primarily interested in the redeemed, even though verses 20-22 addresses the subject in a general way. An interesting theory has been around for a long time called soul sleep. It refers to those who have passed on before the final conclusion of things has come to pass. The apostle Paul repeatedly used this term sleep in his letters creating the basis for the theory from Scripture (Rom. 13:11; I Cor. 11:30; 15:6,18,20,51). This theory attempts to reconcile the difficulties that Scripture presents in talking about a future resurrection and judgement, albeit one based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (Acts 17:30,31). And to add to it, Scripture teaches that believers will be judged in the future too (II Cor. 5:10). But again, we have demonstrated that the dead are not simply sleeping while they await the future. Use of the word sleep can reasonably be seen as simply a metaphorical term used to express the imagery observed in the physical death of someone who appears to be sleeping. This is the very same way that the term hades and Abraham’s bosom are used in Luke’s parable.

There can be no better example of the wrongness of the idea of soul sleep than in viewing the Lord Himself and His own death. When Jesus rose from the grave He assumed a new resurrection body, seen by the disciples before He ascended into heaven indicating that the promised future life is a present reality. When Jesus was on the cross He told the believing thief when asked about His future kingdom, that He (Jesus) would see him (the thief) that day in it, again showing the present reality of future bliss or torment (Luke 23:42,43). It is impossible for us to quantify with accuracy those things that exist beyond our present reality because no one other than Jesus has ever spanned it. Yet, we are told by the inspired apostle, John “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (I John 3:2). This is of course, first and foremost a reference to Jesus’ future manifestation in His eschatological kingdom, a place where all believers will eventually reside. Has anyone seen Jesus after His ascension and before His return? Of course they have when they die; John says that when anyone dies in Christ they are like Him in His resurrected state with a resurrected body. Most people who are the Lords will see Him sooner than later. What this proves to us is that these things concerning resurrection change are both present and future. Admittedly, they are hard to pin down concerning the timing and chronology of historical eschatological events, but know assuredly that they all reside within Gods Covenant.

2. The spiritual change of the believer

The main point, is that while change is irrelevant to God it is most definitely relevant to us in our domain as creatures of time and space. Of the two most extreme examples of change given, that being death and resurrection, the latter being the greatest in terms of what it represents. Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the grave is what make His death effective in terms of our justification, for without it we who believe would have no basis for faith. “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.” (I Cor. 15:13,14). The resurrection of Christ has an immediate consequence for the believer here and now which relates to future life in the hereafter.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the effective power of God involved in salvation. The covenant relationship that exists between Jesus Christ and His people unite them to His life, His death, and His resurrection, and it does so in more ways than one. God created all things including mankind through Jesus Christ (John 1:1-3). The image of God in man is directly received from Christ at creation, consisting of innate spiritual knowledge which reflects the unseen moral qualities of God (John 1:4,5). The image God that was imparted to man through Jesus Christ was radically scarred in the fall, rendering him a creature who is but nature only in principle, the Lord withdrawing His presence from him by his fall into sin. This meant spiritual death for all mankind.

The revivifying of mans nature (Eph. 2:1) is what the resurrection change is about, making the believer in Christ once again truly reflective of his Creator, but also of his Redeemer too. This is explained by the apostle Paul in first Corinthians chapter fifteen. “And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” (I Cor. 15:45). Jesus communicated life, spiritual and physical to all men in the beginning of creation. The first man Adam lost that spiritual life and for that he died, but it was recovered in Christ. How was this done? This is done by the application of Jesus Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice and the resurrection from the dead unto him. This is the change that Gods covenant envisions, it is resurrection change which transforms His covenant children who died, bringing them all back to life in a process relative to all the realities of time and space, nature and creation.

This leads to another important aspect of the matter. That is, order is necessary to the change that Gods covenant process envisions. We come into this world being dead in sin having lost our original spiritual life in our parent Adam. “However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual.” (I Cor. 15:46). The restoration of spiritual life to a believer, wrought by the resurrection of Jesus Christ through the impartation of the new birth, is the preparatory work that precedes the eternal state of the redeemed. In other words, the new birth which is affected by Jesus’ resurrection is the outfitting of a soul for eternal life, for a transition into a new and different state when the physical life has ended. “The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.” (I Cor. 15:47-49). The process of change means progress in covenant redemption; Scripture reveals change through events within time that are relative to both time and eternity as Gods way of doing things.

There is a discernable pattern in Scripture to all of Gods covenant work. It is progressive in nature, a historical process that He accomplishes within the framework of history. God’s covenant is a framework that ties every detail of every event related to every aspect of Gods eternal will together. Creation is said in Scripture to be the foundation of the heavens and the earth (Heb. 1:10), but Gods covenant redemption precedes it (I Pet. 1:20). A covenant framework is then what created history is built upon. So then, what are the specific elements that this covenant framework consists of, how do we define it according to Scripture? There are three fundamental points of doctrine that define the covenant of God, purpose, promise and fulfillment. These three doctrines form the triunity of a covenantal framework from which hang all other doctrine in the word of God. The purpose, promise and fulfillment of Gods Covenant create a conceptual triangle that is reflective of the triune God in terms of receiving a rational understanding of Him. Like the triune God, a three-point theology of His covenant framework is a distinct three in one revelation, eternal and unchangeable just as He is. All three points of Gods covenant form an organic unity with itself that cannot be twisted or pulled or separated in any way from its theological perfection, lest it ceases to be Gods Covenant and misrepresent Him.

Notes

[1] We are tempted at this point to comment on the meaning of the widely referenced passage in first Corinthians fifteen, verses 50-52. But this we intend to address in a future article in this series where it can be dealt with more adequately than it can be done now.

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