SOME THOUGHTS ON COVENANT THEOLOGY
There are, in my opinion, three basic problems with Covenant Theology, all of which will be discussed in this paper. They are:
1) The lack of Scriptural evidence
2) A lack of understanding of the place of works and faith in God’s plan of salvation
3) God’s plans for the ages include more than man’s salvation
1) THE LACK OF SCRIPTURAL EVIDENCE
Because there is not one view that represents the thinking of all those who hold to Covenant Theology I will quote from Wikipedia because it states the basic views of most.
The Covenant of Redemption as defined in Wikipedia is “the agreement within the Godhead that the Father would appoint his son Jesus to give up his life for mankind and that Jesus would do so (cf. Titus 1:1–3)”. Let us consider the passage that is given as a reference to the “Covenant of Redemption”, i.e. Titus 1:1-3. “Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness; in hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began; but hath in due times manifested His word through preaching, which is committed unto me according to the commandment of God our saviour”.
There is no mention in this passage, nor is there a hint, of a covenant between the Father and the Son. I do not mean to suggest that Christ did not give up His life for mankind, nor do I mean to suggest that He was not sent by the Father to do so. But if, as those who believe in Covenant Theology profess, the Covenant of Redemption is the framework of all other covenants, but is not mentioned in God’s written Word, what does that say of the entire theology?
2) A LACK OF UNDERSTANDING OF THE PLACE OF WORKS AND FAITH IN GOD’S PLAN OF SALVATION
I will quote again from Wikipedia: “The second, called the Covenant of Works, was made in the Garden of Eden between God and Adam and promised life for obedience and death for disobedience. Adam disobeyed God and broke the covenant….”,
Again, there is no Scriptural evidence that God made a covenant with Adam, but God certainly did tell Adam that he would die if he ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, so let us continue from there. The question is: were Adam and Eve cast out of the Garden of Eden because they disobeyed God, as Covenant Theology suggests? In order to answer that question we must consider God’s plan of salvation as given in the entirety of His holy Word.
Let us begin with a consideration of James two because I am convinced that one cannot fully understand the relationship of faith and works in regard to God’s plan of salvation without a careful consideration of that chapter. As the reader will see as we continue in this study, James tells us of the connection between faith and works that is so profound as to suggest that faith does not exist without works, and works without faith have no place in God’s plan of salvation. And, as we shall see, Hebrews 11 gives us examples of that inter- connection.
We read in James 2:21, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works.…..”. And in verse 24 we read, “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only”. But in verse 23 we read, “and the Scripture was fulfilled which saith, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness… ‘”. Abraham’s belief was, of course, his faith in God’s message to him concerning his seed (see Gen. 15:5-6). If we see faith and works in regard to God’s plan of salvation as one existing without the other, there is a contradiction in these verses. That is to say, if Abraham was justified by works, as we read in James 2:21 then his faith has no place in God’s plan of salvation. Conversely, if Abraham had been justified by faith, as we read in verse 23, then his works would have had no place in God’s plan of salvation. But if we see the inexorable connection of faith and works, i.e. they cannot be separated, it is all very clear. In point of fact verse 22 explains that very thing, “seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect“. The Greek word translated “perfect” means, according to the Appendix number 125, in the Companion Bible “to make a full end, consummate”. In other words, James 2:22 tells us that Abraham’s faith was consummated by his works.
Hebrews 11 is often referred to as “the faith chapter” because it is a discussion of many of the great people of faith. There is also a very important lesson to be learned from this chapter in regards to God’s plan of salvation.
Let us begin our study of Heb. 11 with Abel. We read in Heb. 11:4, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead speaketh“. What does it mean that Abel speaks, even though he is dead? This question is answered by the context. That is to say, Abel’s actions tell those of us who are alive long after Abel’s death of God’s plan of salvation. What is that plan of which Abel speaks even though dead? In order to answer that question let us consider another, i.e. what does it mean that “by faith” Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain? Evidently, Abelbelieved something that Cain did not, and that belief influenced Abel to do something which Cain did not, i.e. Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice But Abel would not have “obtained witness that he was righteous” if had offered a better sacrifice without faith because “without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Heb. 11:5). And Abel would not have been righteous if he had not acted in accordance with his faith. In short, faith and works are inseparable in God’s plan of salvation.
As we put this all together we see that this one verse explains God’s plan of salvation. That is to say, Abel speaking though dead, was an example of righteousness through faith that is consummated by works. Abel believed and did something based on that belief that testified to his faith. But if he had believed and not acted according to that belief, he would not have been righteous. Conversely, if Abel had acted but without faith, he would not have been righteous. Faith and works are inseparable in God’s plan of salvation.
So we learn from Abel that God’s plan of salvation has always been that one is saved by faith that is completed by his works. But was this true of Adam and Eve? Certainly we know that they were cast out of the Garden of Eden. We learned that Abel acted in accordance with something that he believed. Isn’t this true of the very basic nature of man, i.e. that we act according to what we believe? If we believe, for example, that we will be killed by jumping in front of a moving bus, we avoid that behavior. If on the other hand we believe that stepping in front of a moving bus will not harm us, we may do just that. In other words, our actions don’t come out of a vacuum, they come as a result of what we believe. I suggest therefore, that Adam and Eve disobeyed God becausethey did not really believe that they would die if they disobeyed. Let us consider the passage that tells us of the disobedience of Adam and Eve to see if this suggestion has any validity.
“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of the trees of the garden thou mayest freely eat; But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die’” (Gen. 2:16-17). Now let us consider Gen. 3:1-6, “Now the serpent was more subtitle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the man, ‘Yea hath God said. ‘Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?’ and the woman said unto the serpent, ‘we may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, ‘Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it lest ye die’. And the serpent said unto the woman, ‘Ye shall not surely die: for God knoweth that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil’. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat”.
Eve was told by the serpent that she would not die when she ate of the tree, and even though God told her that she would indeed die, she believed the serpent rather than God. It is not reasonable to assume that she ate of the tree believing that she would die. She ate of the tree believing what the serpent told her, i.e. she would not die. That is to say, when Eve and subsequently Adam, ate of the tree they proved by their actions (works) that they did not believe God when He told them that they would die if they ate of the tree. So first came the lack of belief (faith) and then came the works that proved that lack of belief/faith.
My point is that Adam and Eve died because they, unlike the saints written about in Hebrews 11, did not believe God and they proved that disbelief by their works. That tells us there is no such thing as a Covenant of Works by which Adam may have inherited eternal life. There is no such thing becausefaith and works cannot be separated in God’s plan of salvation.
3) GOD’S PLAN FOR THE AGES INCLUDES MORE THAN MAN’S SALVATION
C.H. Spurgeon wrote, “The doctrine of the covenant lies at the root of all true theology. It has been said that he who well understands the distinction between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace, is a master of divinity. I am persuaded that most of the mistakes which men make concerning the doctrines of Scripture, are based upon fundamental errors with regard to the covenant of law and of grace. May God grant us now the power to instruct, and you the grace to receive instruction on this vital subject.”
But God’s plans also includes a plan for heavenly beings. How do we know that? We read in Eph. 3:10, “To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God”. If the church is to be a witness to these heavenly beings it must be for some purpose. As far as I can tell we are not told in the Bible why or to what purpose the church is to be a witness to spiritual beings in heavenly places, but that does not mean that God does not have a plan or a purpose for them. Covenant Theology does not allow for that plan or purpose, therefore, it can not claim that it is “the root of all true theology”.
ISRAEL AND THE CHURCH OF GOD
Having considered what I believe to be a few basic errors in Covenant Theology, let us continue with our study of Covenant Theology by considering what I believe to be specific problems. One of those problems is that Covenant Theology equates Israel with the church of God. And a related problem is that Covenant Theology suggests that Israel has been permanently set aside as God’s chosen nation. I believe that if we consider the second question i.e. whether Israel has been set aside permanently, we will then be able to determine if the Bible equates the church with Israel.
But let us begin by considering every occurrence of the term “church of God” in the New Testament because as we do so, the reader will see that the term is used of believers of a certain locality and also of believers throughout the ages. In other words, in one sense, as we shall see, when the Bible speaks of people as human beings, as opposed to people of a particular nation or nations, there is no difference between the church and Israel. That being the case, there is some truth to the Covenant Theology view that there is no difference between Israel and the church, but it is not the whole truth and therefore, not true.
Acts 20:28, “Be shepherds of the church of God which He bought with His own blood“. All believers were bought with the blood of Christ.
I Cor. 1:2, “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”. In point of fact the church of God is defined in this very verse. The church of God are all those who are sanctified, called to be holy and who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I Cor. 10:32, “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews of Greeks-nor the church of God“. The Greek word translated”nor” in the phrase, “nor the church of God” is “kai” and is often translated “even”, as it should, in my opinion, be translated here. Paul’s point is that nothing we do should be the cause of any believer to stumble. Here again, the phrase “church of God” is used to indicate all believers.
I Cor. 11:22, “Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing…….?”. The phrase “church of God” could refer to the local church at Corinth, but because of the way it is used I believe that Paul’s point is not limited to the local church.
I Cor. 15:9, “…..because I persecuted the church of God“.
II Cor. 1:1, “Paul…..unto the church of God which is at Corinth….”. Here Paul is writing to believers of a specific location. But the very fact that he wrote, “the church of God which is at Corinth” tells us that the phrase “church of God” does not refer to a specific location. Here too, the phrase refers to believers of every age and dispensation.
Gal. 1:13, “…..I persecuted the church of God“. Paul went to many cities to persecute believers. So here the phrase “church of God” refers to believers of several specific locations.
I Tim. 3:5, “For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how can he take care of the church of God“. I believe that this is a general statement. That is to say it does not refer to a particular gathering, but refers to the fact that if any man cannot rule his own house, he cannot take care of any congregation of believers. Here too then, the phrase, “church of God” refers, in my opinion, to believers regardless of location.
The point is that the phrase “church of God” is sometimes used of a church of believers throughout all ages. Again, when the Bible speaks of believers as human beings, as opposed to people of a particular nation or nations, it includes believers of all ages and the term “church of God” is often used of those believers.
Now let us consider the question of whether Israel has been set aside permanently because I believe that a consideration of that question will show that in another sense, Israel cannot be equated with the church.
HAS ISRAEL BEEN PERMANENTLY SET ASIDE?
Rev. Jack Brooks describes the Covenant Theology view concerning Israel as, “ethnic Israel is entirely and permanently disenfranchised, or cut off from their special relationship with God”.
Certainly Israel is not God’s chosen nation today, and has not been since She was set aside almost 2,000 years ago. But is that situation permanent or is it temporary? I could point to several millennial prophecies concerning Israel that have not been fulfilled to prove that Israel must be taken back in the end times as God’s chosen nation in order for those prophecies to be fulfilled. But I believe that Covenant Theology would counter that those prophecies concern the church, not Israel. So the two questions (was Israel permanently set aside, and does the Bible equate Israel with the church) are connected. Let us consider the new Jerusalem in our search for the answer to these questions.
Rev. 21:9-10 reads, “And there came unto me one of the seven angels……..saying, ‘ Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife”. What John was shown by this angel is described in verse 10, “And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city the holy Jerusalem descending out of heaven from God”. Let us consider Rev. 21:2 which also speaks of the new Jerusalem, “And I John, saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven….”. Should these verse be understood literally or figuratively? E. W. Bullinger has written a highly praised treatise on figures of speech. Let us consider his note in the Companion Bible on figures of speech. “A figure of speech is a designed and legitimate departure from the laws of language, in order to emphasis what is said. …..Figures are never used but for the sake of emphasis”. In one sense the new Jerusalem is used figuratively. That is to say, we read in verse 9 that John was to see the bride of the Lamb, and in verse 10 he was shown the new Jerusalem. Obviously, the city itself is not the Lamb’s bride, it represents the Lamb’s bride, i.e. Israel (that Israel is the bride of Christ will be proven below). But that proves that we must understand that a literal city will come down to earth. In other words, the city represents the bride of Christ, so John must have seen a literal city because he didn’t see the literal bride of Christ.
So these verses tell us that the new Jerusalem, which represents the bride of Christ, will descend out of heaven to the new earth. Please note the phrase, “descending out of heaven”. We are told from where it is coming, “from God out of heaven”. In other words the new Jerusalem will not be inheaven, it will come from heaven to be on the new earth.
Let us apply what we have learned about figures of speech to a few specific phrases of Rev. 21:10. Is the phrase “coming down out of Heaven” a figure of speech? No, it cannot be a figure of speech because if we understand the phrase “coming down” to mean something else, that would not emphasize a truth, it would demolish what the truth is. In point of fact, Rev. 21:10 is not a figure of speech. It must be understood literally if we are to do justice to the Word of God. So the new Jerusalem, which represents Israel as the bride of Christ, will descend from heaven to be on the new earth.
But let us continue with our consideration of the new Jerusalem to see if we can learn who will occupy it. We read more of the new Jerusalem in Rev. 21:12, “And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels. and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel”. The gates of this wall in the new Jerusalem will have the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. Is the number twelve an allegorical number? If so, what truth does it emphasize? That is to say, figures of speech are used to emphasize a truth, therefore if we are to understand the number twelve as representing something else, we must determine what it represents, i.e. what truth does it emphasize? In point of fact to change the number is to disregard it entirely and does not emphasize the truth stated in this verse, it only destroys that truth.
And what about the fact that we are specifically told that the gates are named after the twelve tribes of Israel? Is that a figure of speech? It cannot be a figure of speech because to change what names are written on the gates is to nullify the truth as it is given by the Holy Spirit
In short, we have learned that the new Jerusalem will be on the earth, and that it will beoccupied by Israel.
Let us consider one more aspect of the new Jerusalem in our search for the answer to our question: was Israel set aside permanently or temporarily. Who is the bride of Christ which the new Jerusalem represents? But before we address that question we must digress slightly so that we might understand the Hebrew culture of Old and New Testament times concerning marriage.
In the present day western culture when a man marries a woman that woman becomes his wife. So she becomes his wife after the marriage ceremony. But in the Hebrew culture of Old and New Testament times, the woman was called the man’s “wife” when they were engaged, and she became his bride after the marriage ceremony. The man is called “husband” before and after the marriage ceremony and the engaged parties are spoken of as being married, even though they are only engaged. That is why we read, for example in Matt. 1:19 where Joseph is referred to as Mary’s “husband” even though they had not yet married. Also, when two parties are engaged, but do not want to go through with the marriage ceremony, the man may divorce his “wife”.
Who was the “wife” of God in Old Testament times? A few Old Testament verses should suffice in answering that question. Consider for example, Jer. 3:14 which reads, “Turn O backsliding children, saith the Lord; for I am married ( this is in reference to the engagement) unto you: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion”. It is Israel that God will bring to Zion. It is Israel to whom the Lord is married (engaged). Therefore, it is Israel that will be the bride. It cannot be the church that is referred to in this passage because the wife will be brought to Zion, i.e. Jerusalem and the church is called to heaven. (We will consider below the objection that the church is equated with Israel.)
Consider also Isaiah 54:5-6, “For your Maker is your husband- the Lord Almighty is His name- …..The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit- a wife who married (engaged) young, only to be rejected,’ says your God”. Verse 3 gives us a clue as to whom this passage is addressed. That verse reads, “…….thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles.…”. Obviously, the contrast is between the Gentiles (should read “nations”) and Israel. So Israel will inherit the nations. It is Israel to whom this passage is spoken and it is Israel that will be the bride. Again, it cannot be the church that is the subject of this passage because the church was never “rejected” as was Israel (” a wife who married (engaged) young, only to be rejected”).
Let us also consider Hosea 2:15b-18, “……and she shall sing there as in the days of her youth and as in the day when she came out of the land of Egypt. And it shall be at that day, saith the Lord (Heb. “Jehovah”), that thou shalt call Me Ishi, and shalt call Me no more Baali…..”. Verse 15 refers to the “day she came out of Egypt”. It was, of course, Israel that came out of Egypt and it is Israel that will call Jehovah “Ishi”, i.e. “my Husband”.
But some believe that the church is the bride of Christ and point to Eph. 5:25-32, “Husbands love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it……so ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: for we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. for this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery; but I speak concerning Christ and the church”.
Does this passage say that the church is the bride of Christ? I believe that if we consider Paul’s point in this passage we will have our answer. The point is that husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. The relationship of the church to Christ is used as an example of what the relationship is between husband and wife. That is to say, the church is called the “body of Christ”. So the church is one with Christ just as the husband is one with his wife.
In short, the mystery spoken of in this chapter is not that the church is the bride of Christ, it is that the relationship of the church to Christ is the same as the relationship of the husband to his wife, i.e. they are one body.
We have learned above that Israel was, in Old Testament times, God’s wife, i.e. God was engaged to Israel. We are now ready to address the question of whether Israel was permanently or temporarily set aside as God’s chosen nation. Rev. 21:2 tells us that the new Jerusalem will represent “a bride adorned for her Husband”. We have learned that Israel was the wife of (espoused to) God. God cannot be engaged to Israel and then take a different group to be His bride. We must conclude that Israel is the bride of God. So because the new Jerusalem (which will represent God’s bride) will come down to earth from heaven and it is obviously a yet future event, we must, conclude that Israel will be once again in a yet future time God’s chosen People.
But some might object that the church will be Israel in the end times. And that brings us to our second question of this section, i.e. does the Bible equate the church and Israel? We are now ready to address that question.
I have shown that in the future, Israel will be on the new earth, living in the new Jerusalem. But we read in Eph. 2:6 that the church is called to heavenly places, not to earth (“and He hath raised us up together , and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus”). If one equates the church and Israel we have one group. But one group cannot be called to both the new earth and to heavenly places. Therefore, we must conclude that God has two different bodies, one is Israel which is called to the new earth and the other is the church which is called to heaven.
WILL CHRIST REIGN FOR A LITERAL ONE THOUSAND YEARS?
From Rev. Jack Brooks “(1) Most Reformed thinkers do not believe that the reference to a 1000-year reign of Christ should be taken as a future event (Rev. 20:1-5). They regard this section of Revelation as a symbolic “recapitulation” of Christian church history, with Satan spiritually “bound” through Christ’s resurrection, the resurrection of souls being a symbol of new birth, and so on (see Box’s booklet Amillennialism Today, Presbyterian & Reformed Pub.; also L. Berkof’s standard Systematic Theology, A. Hoekema’s The Bible and the Future)”.
Let us consider the suggestion that 1,000 year reign of Christ is a “symbolic “recapitulation” of Christian church history”. What I find most unfortunate about this interpretation is that the so called “Christian church history” is not recorded in the Bible. That is to say, the Covenant Theology view of the millennium is that it should be interpreted and understood not from the Word of God, but from the historical records of man. This contradicts the very heart of Biblical study which is that we must interpret Scripture with Scripture.
Why do most Bible believing Christians believe in interpreting Scripture with Scripture? They believe as they do because Scripture is the only book in creation of which we may say with absolute certainty, it is true and it is perfectly accurate. No one can assume that an historical record of man is perfectly true and perfectly accurate, that is just not a conclusion based on reason. Because there is no recorded history of the church in the Word of God past approximately 64 A.D. we cannot know with any certainty that that history is accurate. And that is why we must not interpret Scripture with man’s tainted record of history.
Let us consider the comment that Satan is now “spiritually bound”. That means that Satan is not now at work. But we read in I Peter 5:8, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour”. I believe therefore, that Satan is not spiritually bound.
Now let us consider the suggestion that the 1,000 year reign of Christ is “symbolic”. Does the Holy Spirit intended for this thousand years to be understood literally or figuratively? We read in Rev. 20:2-3, “And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years: and cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season”. These two verses are obviously prophecies of what God will do. Let us consider the reason God would tell us in advance that Satan would be bound and then released.
Prophecy is given, in large part, so that when it is fulfilled everyone would know that God determined it to be so. Consider for example, Ezek 20:33-38. This passage tells us that God will gather Israel to be judged as to who will enter the land. But my point is proved in verse 38, “…...that ye may know that I am the Lord”. The note in the Companion Bible tells us that this phrase is used 23 times. Let us also consider I Kings 20:28, “And there came a man of God, and spake unto the king of Israel, and said, ‘Thus saith the Lord, Because the Syrians have said, ‘The Lord is God of the hills, but He is not God of the valleys’, therefore will I deliver all this great multitude into thy hand, and ye shall know that I am the Lord”. My point again, is that prophecy is given and fulfilled so that we might know that the Lord is God.
If God had not told us in advance that Satan would be loosed after a literal thousand years, those living at the time may very well be deceived into believing that Satan had escaped, i.e. that God was powerless to hold him. But if one understands that Satan will be loosed, according to the Word of God, after a specific period of time, i.e. “a thousand years” they will know that his release proves the veracity of the Word and of God Who gave it, and some may not be deceived by Satan.
If, however, we take the term “thousand years” as figurative, i.e. it could be any number of years, then the prophecy has no purpose and no meaning, and Satan will be at an advantage. Figures of speech are used to increase the power or force of what is being expressed. If we take this term as a figure of speech we do just the opposite, i.e. we diminish the power or force of what is being expressed to the point that it becomes meaningless.
I have tried to show that in regard to the two verses that speak of Satan being bound and then loosed for a thousand years, we must take them literally. Now let us consider the other four verses that speak of the thousand years.
Verse :4, “……they (those who had not worshipped the beast) lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.”
Verse:5, “But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished”.
Verse 6, “……they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years”.
Let us consider verse 5, “But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished”. In verse 7 we read that Satan was loosed “when the thousand years are expired”. In verses 8-9 we read what Satan will do after he was loosed, i.e. bring together any army against Jerusalem. Then in verse 10 we read that Satan will be cast into the lake of fire. It is not coincidental, in my opinion, that some of those who will be judged at the great white throne will also be cast into the lake of fire. That is to say, when Satan is finally and eternally conquored by being cast into the lake of fire, so too will those who worshipped the beast be cast into the lake of fire. As I tried to show above, Satan will be cast into it at the end of a literal 1,000 years. The most logical conclusion is that those who worshipped the beast will be cast into the lake of fire at the same time. So we have both Satan and his followers being cast into the lake of fire at the end of a literal thousand years.
We have considered four of the six verses that speak of the thousand years. We have seen that the reason that prophecy is given (so that we might know when it is fulfilled that it was God’s doing) demands that the thousand years must be understood literally. We have also seen that logic suggests that in verse 5 the thousand years should also be understood as a literal thousand years.
To say that the thousand years in verses 2, 3, 5 and 7 should be understood literally, and interpret the thousand years of verses 4 and 6 as figurative is illogical. In short, the context does not suggest a figurative interpretation of verses 4 and 6.
IS THE KINGDOM OF GOD LITERAL OR FIGURATIVE?
We read in Romans 14:17, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”. Obviously, this is a spiritual kingdom. That is to say, it has no literal geographic limitations. It is a kingdom in which believers enjoy the spiritual blessings of peace and joy, i.e. it is a spiritual kingdom. But as we continue in this study, the reader will see that while it is true that the kingdom of God is indeed spoken of in terms of a spiritual kingdom, that is only half the truth concerning the kingdom of God. And as we all know, half the truth is not truth. So let us continue with a consideration of God’s promise to Israel of a literal land
We read in Ezek. 47:15, “And this shall be the border of the land toward the north side, from the great sea, the way of Hethlon, as men go to Zedad“. We even have in this verse the added description of the border being “as men go to Zedad”. If literal men (and there is absolutely no reason to assume that they are not literal) go to a literal area, i.e. Zedad (again, there is absolutely no reason to assume that Zedad is not a literal area), obviously the boundaries are literal boundaries. Verses 16-20 describe the borders as literal cities, and literal bodies of water. Therefore, there is every reason, i.e. logical and Scriptural, to conclude that Ezek. 47 records God’s promise of a literal geographic location.
Some have argued that the land God promised Israel is a type of heaven, i.e. a metaphor. Let us examine that thought. A metaphor is, of course, a figure of speech. May I respectfully remind the reader of the definition of figures of speech from Dr. E. W. Bullinger, “A figure of speech is a designed and legitimate departure from the laws of language, in order to emphasis what is said. …..Figures are never used but for the sake of emphasis”. With that in mind, we must ask, how does the description of boundaries “increase the power or force” of the concept of heaven? In point of fact, the mere mention of boundaries decreases the concept of heaven. Figures of speech are used to enhance a truth, not diminish it. Therefore, logic does not permit the suggestion that the land promised to Israel is a type of heaven.
My point is that the geographic boundaries of Ezek. 47 are literal, and proves that there are geographic constraints, thus proving that while it is true that the term “kingdom of God issometimes used as a spiritual one. the term is also used to indicate a literal kingdom.
THE NEW COVENANT
The following is a quote from a Covenant Theology web-site:
“This is the new covenant of the Messianic age where the Law of God would be written upon the hearts of men. “The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people” (Jer. 31:31,33).
It was Promised in Eden: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen. 3:15).
It was Proclaimed to Abraham: “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you,” (Gen. 12:3).
It was Fulfilled in Christ: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us — to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace,” (Luke 1:68-79).”
The most complete explanation of the new covenant and the character of the times of the new covenant is given in Jeremiah 31:31-37. “The time is coming’, declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them’, declares the Lord. ‘This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time’, declares the Lord. ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their heart. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying ‘Know the Lord’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord. ‘For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more”.
What exactly is the new covenant? The answer to that question is quite obvious, i.e. it is God’s promise to write His law on the hearts and in the minds of Israel. Was that a promise given to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden? There is no mention of law or of a covenant in Gen. 3:15. Was it proclaimed to Abraham in Gen. 12:3? Again there is no mention of a law. Was it ratified by Christ? Yes it was, but not as recorded in Luke 1:68-79. Let us consider that passage.
Let us consider, for example the phrase, “salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us”. Is the salvation spoken of in this phrase salvation from the grave. No, it is salvation from “all who hate us”. Who is it that is hated? The next phrase speaks of “our fathers”. That tells us that it is Israel who is hated and it is Israel about whom this passage was spoken. But more to the point, again there is no mention of a law being written on anyone’s heart and mind. Now let us consider the new covenant from Scripture.
In my opinion, most studies of the new covenant do not recognize the importance of the fact that the new covenant is very closely connected to the old covenant. As we consider Hebrews we will see that connection. Note Heb. 8:6 that Christ is the Mediator of a better covenant”. A “better covenant” than what? The previous verses speak of the old covenant. See for example verse 3, “For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices…..”. My point is that because the new covenant is “better than” the old covenant, the two are connected.
The fundamental connection between the old and new covenants is that both are centered on the Mosaic Law. The old covenant is God’s agreement with Israel that if they obey His law they will be blessed, and if it is not obeyed, Israel will be punished (see Lev. 26). The new covenant, as we have seen from Jer. 31 quoted above, is that God will put the law into the hearts and minds of Israel. To which law does this refer, i.e which law will God put in their minds and write on their hearts? The only law mentioned in the Word of God to which this could possibly refer is the Mosaic Law.
But some might object that a good part of the old covenant was the sacrificial laws and surely there are no sacrificial laws connected to the new covenant.
Let us look at Is. 56:6-8, “Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the Lord, to serve Him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be His servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of My covenant; even them will I bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon Mine altar; for Mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people”. This passage tells us unequivocally that there will be sacrifices during the millennium.
Let us consider also Ezekiel’s description of the law of the millennial temple (see Ezek. 43:12) We read in Ezek. 43:18, “And he said unto me, ‘Son of man, thus saith the Lord God; ‘These are the ordinances of the altar in the day when they shall make it to offer the burnt offerings thereon, and to sprinkle blood thereon’”. And verse 25 of this same chapter reads, “Seven days shalt thou prepare every day a goat for a sin offering“.
My point is that it is the Mosaic law (sacrifices included) that will be put into the hearts and minds of Israel.
It is important to understand that the new covenant is indeed God’s covenant with Israel. There are several statements in Jer. 31 quoted above that tells us that it was made with Israel. Note for example, the very clear statement, ” I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah”. If words mean anything at all I believe we must conclude that the new covenant is made with Israel. Let us also consider the statement that the new covenant “will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt”. The phrase “their forefathers” refers, of course, to Israel because it was Israel that God led out of Egypt. Note also the phrase “will not be like the covenant”. Here again the old and new covenants are connected. Just as the old covenant was made with Israel, so too is the new covenant made with Israel.
Let us now establish when the new covenant will be put into effect. Note the phrase quoted above from Jer. 31 which reads, “they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord”. The new covenant is made with Israel. It is clear that all Israel does not now know God, so the new covenant is not yet in effect. When will it take effect? Let us consider Ezek. 11:12-21, “Therefore say: ‘this is what the Sovereign Lord says; I will gather you from the nations and bring you back from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you back the land of Israel again. They will return to it and remove all its vile images and detestable idols, I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God”. Note the key phrases “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them”. Also, “I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws”. It is clear that this passage refers to the new covenant, even though it is not mentioned as such. Also note when this will go into effect, “I will gather you from the nations and bring you back from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you back the land of Israel again”. So the new covenant will go into effect when Israel is gathered from the nations.
The new covenant, unlike the old covenant, is an unconditional promise. What is the promise connected to the new covenant? It is, as stated in Jer. 31, that God will put His law in their minds and write it on their hearts and that He will be their God..
We have learned that the new covenant is: 1) made with Israel; 2) that it will be put into effect in the millennial reign of Christ; 3) that it centers around the law of Moses and 4) it is God’s promise to put His law in the hearts and minds of Israel and He will be their God
Let us now consider what the new covenant is not. Unfortunately, many believe that the new covenant will save Israel. I believe that notion comes from the phrase in Jer. 31, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more”. Does this say that all Israel will be saved because God will forgive their wickedness and sins? I believe that as we consider Ezek. 20:37-38 and compare that with Ezek. 36:24-25 we shall see that only believers of Israel will participate in the new covenant.
We read in Ezek. 20:37-38, “And I will cause you (the gathered of Israel from out of the countries in which they had lived prior to the second coming of Christ -see vs. 34) to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant. And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against Me: I will bring them forth out of the country where they sojourn, andthey shall not enter into the land of Israel…..”. And in Ezek. 36:24-25 we read, “For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. ……..A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stoney heart of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put My spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments, and do them, and ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and ye shall be My People and I will be your God”.
What we learn from comparing these two passage from Ezekiel is that God will purge Israel so that only believers will enter the land of Israel for the millennial reign of Christ and that only those in the land (i.e. only believers) will have a new heart and a new spirit so that they may keep the commandments. In short, God has made the new covenant with believers, and only believers.
But how are we to understand the statement in Jer. 31 which reads, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more”? Let us consider the word “for” in this phrase. The same Hebrew word is used in the previous phrase and is translated “because”. That passage reads, “No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying ‘Know the Lord’because they will all know me”. So let us reconsider this passage translating the Hebrew word with a greater consistency. “No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying ‘Know the Lord’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord. ‘Because I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more”. In other words, the Lord will forgive their sins because they will know Him, i.e. because they are all believers. There is, in my opinion, no Scriptural or logical reason to disregard the consistent message all throughout the Word of God that one must be a believer in order to inherit resurrection life. There is, therefore, no reason to assume that the new covenant will save unbelievers. Again the new covenant is God’s promise to put the law into the hearts and minds of believing Israel, those in the land for the millennial reign.
This paper was written by Joyce Pollard. If you would like to respond please e-mail me at:firstname.lastname@example.org