Covenant and the Israel of God

The Doctrine of the Church - Lesson # 2

I.Meaning of covenant and Old Testament background

A. Covenant is a relationship between two parties based on promises or sworn oaths. A covenant can be made between two parties considered equals or approximately so, but any covenant between God and man is not of this type.

B. Significance of the covenant

1. By God's choice based on his grace - Deut. 7:7-9

2. Inheritance promised - Deut. 4:20

C. Covenants in the Old Testament

1. With Noah - Gen. 6:18; 9:8-17

2. With Abraham - Gen. 12:1-3; 15:18; 17:1-21; Acts 7:8

3. Continued through Isaac and Jacob (Israel) - 1 Chron. 16:14-17

4. Mosaic covenant or law

II.The church as the new Israel

A. Who is the "Israel of God"? - Gal. 6:16

1. Explain Paul's redefinition of who is a descendent of Abraham - Rom. 2:28-29; 4:9-12, 16-17; Gal. 3:7, 9

2. Through Christ one may receive the promise given to Abraham - Gal. 3:15-29.

B. Jesus is the true heir (Mk. 12:1-11), and he has shared this inheritance with the church (Mk. 12:9).

1. We are joint-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17; Gal. 3:29; 4:1-7; Eph. 3:6; Tit. 3:7). An heir is one who already possesses something; yet, not fully. The full realization awaits a future fulfillment. Thus Christians are saved, but the fullness of their salvation awaits the return of Christ.

2. Christ has now inherited the throne of David. - Acts 2:30-32

C. Covenant also as a will or testament

1. "When the Jews translated their Bible into Greek, they faced the problem of how to express the Hebrew word for `covenant': berith. One possibility was synthēkē, which expressed the idea of mutuality, a compact or treaty. This word preserved one aspect of the Hebrew covenant, an agreement, but did not do justice to the predominant emphasis on God's initiative, so the translators chose diathēkē, a word meaning `disposition' or `arrangement'....The common Hellenistic usage of diathēkē was for a testament or last will" (Ferguson, The Church of Christ, 8).

2. How is this second meaning of "covenant" as a "will" or "testament" important in the epistle to the Hebrews? - Heb. 9:15-22

3. How does the death of Christ figure into the question of a new covenant? - Mt. 26:28

4. What has become of the Mosaic covenant or law? - Rom. 7:1-6

a. "Unlike the note of continuity sounded by the New Testament about the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, the Sinai covenant is placed in contrast to the `new covenant' in Jesus Christ. Many passages affirm that Christians, or at least Gentile Christians, are not under the Mosaic covenant as the basis of their relationship with God and, therefore, are not bound by its ceremonial and ritual stipulations" (Ibid., 11).

b. What is the unique nature of the new covenant? - Heb. 8:8-12

c. From the epistle to the Hebrews can you give some ways in which the will or covenant of Christ is "better"?

d. What differences are noted in the old and new covenants in 2 Corinthians 3:1-18?

D. The Gentiles have been grafted in or adopted and in this way been included as a part of the Israel - Rom. 9:4-8; Acts 15:12-18

E. Israel in the Old Testament was often called the "people," or more specifically "the people of God." Now the church is thought of in that way - Lk. 1:68; Acts 15:14; 18:10; Heb. 4:9; 1 Pet. 2:9-10; Rev. 18:4. What are the implications for the church in being the people of God? Study Tit. 2:14 in various translations on this point.

F. The church is God's elect, his chosen. We are chosen because God has called us.

1. "Broadly speaking there is no emphasis at all in the NT upon the individual's call, and certainly no suggestion that he ought to hear voices or undergo emotional experiences. The fact is that κλησις ["call" or "calling"] is a social conception: it is significant that except in the special case of Paul in Rom. 1.1 and I Cor. 1.1 the word κλησις is never found in the singular. Christians are corporately `the called' and corporately `the elect', and they are these things, as we shall see, because they are one body in Christ, the Elect One."

"A proper understanding of the NT doctrine of election in Christ will dispel the sombre and frightening mists of post-Reformation theories about predestination, double predestination, reprobation and the rest of the lingering errors of medievalism....We must note that in Rom. 9-11 St Paul is still speaking about groups and nations, not about individuals....Even if corporately or as a nation `the Jews' are rejected by the principle of εκλoγή ["choice" or "election"], this does not imply that individual Jews are not being numbered by thousands amongst the [called, saints, elect or saved]....The NT does not teach that any human beings whatsoever have been created for reprobation, or that they are now irredeemably predestined to damnation" (Alan Richardson, An Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament, 274-75).

2. "Statisticians can compute with astonishing accuracy how many people will commit suicide in London or New York next year: it would seem to be mysteriously predetermined that these unhappy events shall happen. But no one can predict which individuals will kill themselves; the categories of predestination, foreknowledge, and so on, are valid, as we have suggested, for the behaviour of groups, but do not apply to this or that individual person" (Ibid., 277).

III.Consequences of covenant thinking for the church today

A. What is the status or position of the Old Testament scriptures for the Christian today?

B. If the church is now the Israel of God, what hope does an Israelite (by birth) have?

C. Since the church is the lesser party in the covenant agreement with God, what sort of a bargaining position does this put us in?

D. What other covenants or agreements are we involved in as humans and what analogies can be drawn from them with the covenant we have with God?

E. Memory verse - Gal. 3:7