Like the Trinity, this vital truth is clearly implied.
If I wanted to prove my athleticism I might go for a jog. If I wanted to prove my stupidity I might enter a marathon. If I wanted to prove my intelligence I might do a PhD. If I wanted to prove my humility I might buy a Hyundai Excel. And if I wanted to prove that I’m secure with my masculinity I might wear a pink shirt, while driving my Hyundai Excel. But if I wanted to prove the biblical veracity of covenant theology how might I do that?
I mean, so what that everyone from Spurgeon to Middleton thinks the Bible teaches an eternal covenant made between the Godhead that manifests itself in time in both the Covenant of works and of grace? The real question is where does the Bible explicitly teach there was an eternal covenant between the Godhead? Or for that matter, any of the other theological covenants referred to in covenant theology?
It doesn’t. There is no single bible text that can support all that covenant theology teaches. They are theological truths, inferred and deduced from Scripture, just like we do for the doctrine of the Trinity.
“There is no single bible text that can support all that covenant theology teaches. They are theological truths, inferred and deduced from Scripture.”
For example, we have no problems inferring the Trinity from texts like Genesis 1:26 when God says, “Let us make man in our image…” or in Genesis 3:22 when we read God saying, “the man has become like us…”Now, none of those verses directly teaches the Trinity, but nonetheless we should ask, who are the “us” in these passages?
Now we haven’t deduced the theological truth of the Trinity yet, but as we add these inferences together, the “us” passages, the “Angel of the Lord” passages (Gen. 16:13, Ex. 3:2ff; 23:20ff, Num. 22:35 etc), as well as the references to the Holy Spirit (Isa. 46:16, 63:10; Ps. 110:1; Hos. 1:7; Mal. 3:1) we begin to understand the theological truth of the Trinity.
Of course, there is also the greater clarity of New Testament revelation of the Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19; John 1:1-2; Eph. 4:4-6, Jude 20-21) that allow us to confirm previous inferences, and ultimately deduce the truth of the Trinity. The same could be said concerning the incarnation.
In a similar way, covenant theology through inference and deduction teaches that there is an eternal covenant, a covenant made between the members of the Trinity where the parties agreed to save the elect. For example, we infer from Ephesians 1:4 that this covenant or plan of redemption included God the Father choosing a people to be saved (the elect).
It seems a reasonable inference based on this text: “even as He (the Father) chose us in Him (Christ) before the foundation of the world”. We can also deduce that this covenant included not only the choosing of a people for redemption, but also One through whom their redemption would be accomplished.
In Ephesians 3:11 we read that redemption is “according to His eternal purpose that He has realised in Christ Jesus our Lord…” In addition to this, we note that the Holy Spirit also had work to do as the one through whom this redemption would be applied. In 2 Thessalonians 2:13 we read that “God chose you as the first fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit, and belief in the truth”.
This deduction seems to be confirmed by way of inference in Hebrews 13:20 where the writer says, “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant…”
“Apparently, Jesus wasn’t on a visit; He was here fulfilling the work of the eternal covenant that the Father had commanded Him to do.”
Next we ask, what then is the relationship between Jesus’ blood and this eternal covenant?
Well, let’s look at what Jesus says about why He came. In John’s 4:34, when the disciples asked Jesus if anyone remembered to bring a picnic, the Lord responds: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” So Jesus is a man who has work to do, the work of the one who sent Him.
When Jesus is arguing with the Pharisees about his divine mission he says in John 5:36, “For the works that the Father has given Me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about Me that the Father has sent Me.”
Apparently, Jesus wasn’t on a visit; He was here fulfilling the work of the eternal covenant that the Father had commanded Him to do. So Jesus says in John 14:31, “But I do as the Father has commanded me.” And although Jesus doesn’t say, “My work is that of fulfilling the eternal covenant”, He does say His goal on earth was obedience to the Father through the completion of His redemptive work. That’s why we read in John 17:4, “I glorified You on earth, having accomplished the work that You gave Me to do.”
So far we have deduced that there was an eternal covenant in Jesus’ blood, and that Jesus was given work to do on earth that led Him to obey the Father and go to the cross. Therefore, we can infer that the eternal covenant had an express purpose, that is, the redemption, or salvation of God’s chosen people (the elect). Concerning the purpose of Jesus’ work, we read in John 17:2, “…since You have given Him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom You have given Him.”
God’s eternal purpose through His Son was that they may have life eternal vicariously through His life and work. That’s why Paul says the Church must declare God’s eternal purpose of redemption to the whole world: “through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that He has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph.3:10-11).
Moreover, the reason the Son is to receive glory is that the eternal purpose of God to redeem a people to Himself was accomplished through Jesus. Not might be accomplished, not hopefully accomplished, but actually accomplished though the work of Jesus.
One other important aspect of the Eternal covenant is that Jesus was promised a reward for His covenant obedience. In Luke 22:29-30, when the disciples were arguing over who might be greatest in the Kingdom to come, Jesus said this to them: “I assign (covenant) to you, as My Father assigned (covenanted) to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (parentheses added).
Jesus’ reward was that all those He represented would be welcome in the Kingdom to come. That’s why Jesus said, “I assign (covenant) to you, as My Father assigned (covenanted) to Me, a kingdom”.
Consequently, Jesus was “appointed the heir of all things” (Heb. 1:2), as the last Adam who defeated sin and death (Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:21-28), and as the true Seed of Abraham (Rom.4:13; Gal.3:16), and as the Son of David who inherits the throne of the kingdom (Is.49:8; Dan.7:13-14; Heb.1:2-14). Consequently, the eternal covenant may be a theological covenant, but it is also deeply biblical.
Darren Middleton ministers at North Geelong Presbyterian Church, Vic.