The  Two  Covenants

by
Jack M. Lane



Part 1:  The Old Covenant and the Law

This article is an attempt to explain, in non-technical language, something about what the Old Covenant and the New Covenant really are.  We often think in terms of living today in "New Covenant times," while people like Abrahm and Moses lived in "Old Covenant times."  This might be a convenient way of placing things in time order, but in reality, the Old Covenant was an agreement between God and somebody (ancient Israel), and the New Covenant is an agreement between God and somebody.  But who is it that makes the agreement with God in the New Covenant, and what exactly IS the New Covenant?

Many denominations teach that the Old Covenant has ended, and there really isn't much evidence to say that this is not the case.  The position taken in this article is that the Old Covenant is over from our standpoint.  Our starting point is that it's not something we are striving to enter into, the nation of Israel doesn't exist as it did back then, and we are heirs to better promises in the New Covenant.  But this is where this article takes a turn away from much of today's prevailing theology.  Many say that, since the Old Covenant is done away, it somehow follows that God's law is done away.  That's where we'll begin the deeper points of this discussion.  

Have the laws of God been repealed?  And which laws?  All laws?  God made all the laws; are we living in a state of universal anarchy now?  We might imagine a conversation between two Bible students along these lines: 

Person A:  "Has the law of gravity been canceled?" 
Person B:  "No, of course not," they reply.

A:  "The law of thermodynamics?" 
B:  "No, biblical laws." 
A:  "Oh, like animal sacrifice?" 
B:  "Yes, those are definitely done away."

A:  "The Ten Commandments?" 
B:  "Oh, absolutely."

A:  "Circumcision?" 
B:  "Oh, yes!  You'd better believe it!"

A:  "Love your neighbor?" 
B:  "Well, that's in the New Testament, so that one's okay."

A:  "What do you mean it's okay?" 
B:  "Well, Christ gave us a NEW commandment, that we love one another." 
A: "Is that it?  Just one law?" 
B;  "Yes, if we just go around loving one another, having the love of God spread abroad in our hearts, that's all we need."

Some folks will go so far as to say that the Ten Commandments were done away, but then Christ (or Paul, or "the New Testament theologians") brought back some of the Ten Commandments in the New Testament.  Most of the commandments, but not all of them.  Actually, nine out of ten.  But definitely not the fourth commandment.  That was part of the Old Covenant (somehow), so that one is done away, or Jesus changed it, or the church changed it, or something. 

And they will teach that the application of these nine remaining commandments is now also different somehow.  Now it's just love.  Love your neighbor.  It gets a little difficult to define that love without the law to define our actions and behaviors.  And from what I have seen, God gave us His laws out of His love for us, and to show us how we can demonstrate love to each other. 
 

What is the Old Covenant?

But back to our original topic.  Sadly, many people are simply not aware that the Old Covenant and the Ten Commandments are not the same thing, have never been the same thing, and could never be the same thing. Then, what was the Old Covenant?  A covenant is an agreement.  It's not the law.  The Old Covenant was, in fact, an agreement between God and Israel about the law!

Let me use some invisible visual aids to help you see the picture more clearly.  Picture here (in our visual aid that you can't really see) a table top.  Picture on one side of the table top the two tablets of stone.  These represent the law in general, and the Ten Commandments in particular.  On the other side of the table top, picture a scroll, all rolled up and tied with a ribbon.  On that scroll is a contract.  The contract is between Israel and God.

The contract reads, "I, God (the party of the first part), do hereby propose a contract with Israel (the party of the second part).  If they will obey My law, My statutes, and My judgments, particularly as embodied in the Ten Commandments, I will be their God, and they will be My people, and I will give them the following blessings...."  And it goes on to list what God will do for Israel if they obey Him.  And God has signed it, and Israel has signed it.  It's a contract, between Israel and God, that they will obey the Ten Commandments, as represented by these two stone tablets over here.

Let's suppose that one of the parties to the contract -- Israel -- fails to live up to their responsibility to fulfill the contract.  We now have a breach of contract.  Let's suppose they violate the terms of the contract repeatedly.  It is then God's right, as the offended party, to break off the agreement and cancel the contract.

All right, let's suppose He does that.  God cancels the contract.  Not the law -- God cancels the contract!

Okay, now the contract has been dissolved.  We can pick it up off the table and throw it away.  We have now done away with the contract.  Have we cleaned off the top of the table?  No?  What's left?  The tablets of stone!

The lesson from this illustration is this:  Even after the contract (the covenant) is done away, the Ten Commandments are still there!
 

The nature of the law

But let's suppose for a minute that the Ten Commandments were somehow done away, as so many churches teach.  Do the various churches teach that it's now legal, permissible, moral and beneficial to lie, cheat, steal, kill, and commit adultery?  No, they don't teach that.  Why?  Because it's still wrong to do those things.  And because it's wrong to do those things -- and it has always been wrong to do those things -- God established laws against doing those things.

Maybe you never stopped to consider this, but something isn't wrong because it's against the law.  It's against the law because it's wrong!  You see, laws are written to legislate against behavior which violates our overall principles of morality.  This concept is anchored in by 1 John 3:4:  "Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness," or the transgression of the law.  If you go outside the bounds of behavior established by the law, you are in the realm of sin.  And certain things were sin long before God put finger to stone and gave the law at Mount Sinai.

Consider what Paul wrote in Romans 3:20:  "... by the law is the knowledge of sin."  And in Romans 7:7, he wrote:  "What shall we say then?  Is the law sin?  Certainly not!  On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law."  This is what I was referring to a little while ago.  We need the law in order to identify what sin is, and what misbehavior is, so we can avoid it.  So, even in the absence of the Old Covenant, we need the law simply to define sin for us, and to guide us away from it.

A related point is found in James 1:22-25:  "But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.  But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty -- and continues in it -- and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does."

Here's an illustration to help us better understand this principle, and to tie it back into Romans 3:20: "... by the law is the knowledge of sin."  Suppose a woman has a spot of dirt on her face, but she isn't aware of it until she takes out her compact and looks in the mirror.  Then she sees the dirt on her face.  The analogy is, "By the mirror is the knowledge of the dirt."  Now the woman is faced with the choice of using the mirror to help her clean the dirt off her face, or putting her compact away and forgetting the dirt is there.

We're faced with the same choice, when the law convicts us of sin.  Do we go our way and forget, or do we hear the word and become doers, continuing in the perfect law of liberty, and doing the work?

When the Eternal God of Israel thundered the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, that wasn't the first time those laws were known.  God was simply reiterating those laws in order to install them as part of the contract that He made with Israel.  God made a contract, a covenant -- a marriage vow, if you will -- with Israel.  Yet the Israelites violated the terms of the covenant, repeatedly, over the centuries, until God finally gave Israel a bill of divorcement, ending the covenant, and sent her into exile.

But tell me:  Because the Israelites violated the covenant, did that do away with the law?  No, of course not.

God finally dissolved the contract between Himself and Israel.  The covenant was over.  Did that do away with the law?  No.

God was now, in effect, a divorcee, and He sent His ex-wife into captivity.  Did that do away with the law?  No.

The Word was not only with God, but it also was God (John 1:1).  So, when the Word became flesh and died for us, in a way that was God dying.  So one could imagine that Christ's death also got the covenant, the marriage contract, completely out of the way.  That might seem far-fetched, but it could be a useful analogy in this discussion.  But even if we accept this idea, did that do away with the law?  Of course not!  Christ died because of the law!  He died because you and I broke that law!

Jesus our Messiah is alive today.  Does that do away with the law?  Doesn't it sound silly to keep asking?  The two have nothing to do with each other, in that regard.  God's law is the law.  It stands forever.  The existence of the law doesn't depend on an agreement between two parties about the law. 

Our covenant with God

But now, where does that leave us, the members of the body of Messiah?  The New Covenant is a new contract.  It's the time when God writes His laws on people's hearts.  The prophecies point to the Millennium as the time when this will take place.

We enter into a covenant with our Creator when we repent, are baptized for the remission of sins, and receive the Holy Spirit to help us obey God's law.  When Messiah comes again, He will marry His bride, spiritual Israel, which is the resurrected church.

The New Covenant will be a marriage covenant between Messiah and the resurrected church.  So the New Covenant will encompass both the marriage of the Lamb to the church, and the restoration of Israel, when God will be their God, and they will be His people.

But that's all to take place later.  Where are we now in the New Covenant?

Jeremiah 31:31:  "Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with ..."  With whom?  The church?  "... with the house of Israel and the house of Judah"!  The fulfillment of this prophecy of the New Covenant will be an agreement, a contract, with entire nations of the earth!

Verse 33:  "But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD...."  This is talking about the house of Israel, the Israelitish nations that descended from the twelve tribes.  He said, "... I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people."

Like the Old Covenant, the New Covenant is also to be an agreement between God and people -- nations!

Verse 34:  "No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD."  This has not happened yet.  This is a prophecy for the Millennium.

Many people also miss another important point:  God's law will be an important feature of the New Covenant, just as it was in the Old Covenant!  Maybe it'll be even more important, since Christ came to magnify the law and make it honorable, and God will write His law on people's hearts!

It was an early gnostic heresy that God's law was done away, that Christ came to do away with the law, and that we can live any way we please, flaunting our disobedience in God's face.  It was a heresy in the first and second century A.D., but it has become a central doctrine in many of today's mainstream churches.  Read about this grievous mistake many Christians are making in our article, "Are We Under Bondage to the Law?".

For those who mistakenly think that the New Covenant does away with God's law, Jeremiah 31:36 pounds it home even more:  "If those ordinances depart from before Me, says the LORD, Then the seed of Israel shall also cease from being a nation before Me forever."  This is a poetic way of saying that neither of those things will happen!

But what about us, today?  Are we, right now, in the New Covenant?  If the New Covenant is between God and the nations of Israel and Judah, why would we think we are "in" the New Covenant today? 
 
 

Are We In The New Covenant?

We'll attempt to answer that question, to a certain extent, as we look at several perspectives of the New Covenant, and where we fit into it.

We just saw the prophecy in Jeremiah 31, which plainly says that God will make the New Covenant with nations -- literal nations -- specifically, the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  We also read in Jeremiah 31 that part of the New Covenant will be that God will write His laws in people's hearts.  But where do we fit in?  Most of us are not descended from the literal, physical house of Israel or house of Judah, and much of the church is definitely Gentile in nature, so that's not where we fit in. 

What about the second part of the covenant?  Are God's laws written in our hearts today?  Let's look at that concept a bit more closely.

There are still three spirits at work in us:  (1) The spirit in man, which gives us that pesky human nature we have to fight all the time; (2) The spirit of "SBS" ("Satan's Broadcasting System, going out over the airwaves, at every position on your dial"), which gives us more than enough downward pull to destroy us; and (3) The Holy Spirit of God in His baptized children, which can and does give us the power and the ability to overcome the other two spirits and to triumph.

But the Holy Spirit doesn't force us to succeed.  It's a helper.  The Greek word is parakletos, an intercessor or consoler.  I've often heard the idea of a parakletos as "one who comes alongside to help."

We have to desire the Kingdom of God badly enough to beat down the other two spirits which are at work in us.  At least we as Christians have that third spirit in us to help us.  The rest of the world only has the first two.  But throughout the ages, many adherents of the faith have fallen by the wayside, victims in this great struggle against human nature, sin, and Satan.  Even in our own time, so many people have left the body of Christ and have followed false ministers. People have gone away from the church of the living God, the spiritual organism throughout the world, and have gone after something else.  Satan has won many battles.
 

Written on our hearts

When we think about people who have left the faith, we need to consider this:  If God's laws had truly been written in their hearts, I daresay none of them would have turned away!

Yes, God's laws should be in our minds and in our hearts, and we should be able to stand up for the truth and against Satan.  But many have not, because God's laws were not written in their hearts!

Are they written in ours?

1 John 5:18:  "We know whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him."  The church is not yet to this point.  The wicked one has touched many of us.  That's why we have to stay vigilant!  We can fall, we can drop out, as too many before us have already done.

Jesus plainly said that we can, of our own free will, without any problem at all -- let go of the plow, turn back, and give up the most wondrous, fantastic future, beyond anything we can imagine, forever.  We can do it.  We can walk away.  He'll let us.

Messiah said many are called, but few are chosen!  We're called; we're chosen, if we're among the very elect.  But we're still human.  We don't have God's laws written indelibly on our very being yet!  We still have a struggle to face.

But in spite of all this, it's still astounding to think that, yes, God's laws can be written on the human heart.  Right now.  In fact, they need to be.

But, as it says in Jeremiah 17:9:  "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked...."  The margin says "incurably sick"!  Can God's law co-exist in a heart, a mind, a soul, a life, that is incurably sick?  To be desperately wicked means that there is a desperation, a need, to be wicked.  There is a deep need to be evil that can never be satisfied.  Several of the proverbs talk about this.

Something needs to be done before God's law could ever be written on such a heart.  Something will be done!  In Deuteronomy 30:6, Moses said to Israel, "And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live." 

The Apostle Paul brought it over into a New Covenant Church of God application in Romans 2:28-29:  "But he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, and not in the letter...."

Then, if we use this figurative language, the spiritual Jew, the New Testament Christian, will indeed have a circumcised heart, a heart of flesh, and have God's laws written on it.

You may be aware of the principle of multiple, partial fulfillments of prophecies before their final fulfillment in the last days.  We are partially fulfilling the prophecy of Jeremiah 31 right now, to the extent that God's laws are written on our hearts.

But because we are not yet born spirit sons of God, we need to remember one thing:  God can write His law on our hearts, but we still hold the eraser! Yes, we have an eraser in one hand:  the world, the lusts of the flesh, and human nature.  In the other hand we hold an engraving tool: the Bible, prayer, fasting, meditation.  When God writes His law on our heart, we can rub it out.  We're free moral agents.  That's what the parable of the sower and the seed is all about!

Or, we can take that engraving tool and trace over the law, re-writing the law on our own heart, over and over and over, etching it in deeper and deeper, until God's law is so deep in our heart that the Devil himself, with all the buffers and sanders in town, can't obliterate it!

Then, if some clever person entices you to go away from God, even just a little bit -- to believe something else, a false gospel about a false Jesus -- you can check with your heart, and you'll know what to do.

But if the New Covenant will primarily be made with nations of the earth, and God will write His laws in people's hearts, what needs to be done to people's hearts?

In Ezekiel 36:25-28, the prophet is writing about the restoration of Israel during the Millennium.  He writes:  "Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.  Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God."

This scripture is referring to humans -- the nation, or nations, of Israel -- not to the resurrected sons of God.  God will need to change the hearts of mankind before He can write His laws on them.  That's what He will do in the future, on a large scale.  That's what He is doing now, on a small scale, with individual Christians.

So, from these scriptures, we can see that God's laws will be written on two sets of human hearts:  (1) The hearts of truly converted and obedient Christians today; and (2) the hearts of truly converted and obedient Christians during the time following Christ's return.  And because we know that the human heart is desperately wicked, we also know that any human, either now or in the future, can decide to wipe God's laws off their heart.  We've seen some people change so fast you'd think their heart was a child's slate board, and they had simply lifted up the page and erased everything God had written on it!  It isn't hard to do, and it doesn't take long to do it!  We must remain vigilant!

And we have seen from Revelation chapter 20 that, when Satan is released from his chains for a brief period, it will be child's play for him to sway countless millions of people away from God, even during the Millennium, and gather them together for battle.
 

The resurrected church

When Messiah comes again, crowned King of kings, and the church is raised from the dead, and the marriage of the Lamb is come, the bride will be Israel.  But it will be spiritual Israel, the resurrected church, the Kingdom of God, not the human nations of Israel.  Messiah will be marrying the resurrected church, not the physical human nations of Israel.  Our Messiah will not have two wives!

The Old Covenant was both a theocratic contract with Israel and a marriage covenant with Israel.  The New Covenant will apparently be both a theocratic contract with the physical nation of Israel, and a marriage contract with spiritual Israel, the resurrected church.

In that regard, the New Covenant has not yet begun.  In that regard, we are not yet in the time of the New Covenant.  We are being called and trained to be the firstfruits, to be resurrected when Messiah returns.  Those who come into the faith later, during the Millennium or the Great White Throne period, will never be the firstfruits, pictured in the feast days of God by the spring harvest.  That honor is reserved for us.  They will instead be the great fall harvest, symbolized by the great fall festival, the Feast of Tabernacles.  (For more about these holy days of God, read Leviticus chapter 23; be sure to return to the home page of this web site and click on the links regarding the various holy days.)

Here's another question:  When Christ marries the church (not literally, but as an allegory of ultimate union at the spirit level), who will be the children of this marriage?  Ah, this is where physical Israel, the house of Israel and the house of Judah, come into the picture, reunited as the mighty nation of Israel, under the parenting (if you will) of the Messiah, who was the firstborn from the dead, and the church, the firstfruits who came back to life at Messiah's return.

This Family of God will rule the nations with a rod of iron.  And in many cases, the physical humans in the nations of Israel might even be our own, personal children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so on.  I've often heard people say, the only regret they have in dying is that they won't be able to see their grandchildren grow up.  See?  God has made provision for that, too!

So, the human descendants of Israel, living as human nations on the earth, will not be the bride of Christ, but will  be a part of the New Covenant.  And once again, since this has not yet begun to take place, we can say that this part of the New Covenant has not yet begun, either.
 

The church today

But what about the church today?  The question I posed was,  "Are we in the New Covenant now?".  We, the members of the church, the firstfruits whom God has called ahead of time, are leading the way, setting the example.  We are living under the terms and conditions of the New Covenant today.  We don't dwell in the land God gave our fathers, but we're not to be physical Israel, either.  That part of the plan isn't what constitutes the promise to us.  We are spiritual Israel, "the Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16), today.  We have a different "job description," and a different inheritance.  We are in training to become the firstfruits.

In that regard, those who are walking in the true faith of God are living in the New Covenant.  To be firstfruits, to be in the first resurrection, to be the bride of Christ, we must have God's laws written in our hearts.  If we don't, there is reason to question our status.  And, as it was with the Old Covenant, we can choose to live up to the New Covenant, or we can choose to turn away from it.  Those who overcome and are faithful, who endure to the end, show that they indeed have God's laws written on their hearts.

At the resurrection, our status will change.  We will no longer be flesh, but spirit.  We will no longer be "the church," but we will be very members of the Family of God.  We will no longer be humans who also have the Holy Spirit, but we will be immortal sons of God, composed of Holy Spirit, just as our Father and elder Brother are.

Remember what it says in Hebrews 8:7-8:  "For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second.  Because finding fault with them, He says:  'Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah....'"

But the best part is in verse 6:  "But now He [Messiah] has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises"!

Not only did God plan a better covenant, with better promises, but He is also planning on correcting the problem with "them," by making a few changes in the people to whom He will be proposing His covenant:  He will give them a change of heart, a change of mind, a change of spirit, a change of status, a change of government.  He does that with us now, and He will do it with the nations in the future.

Only God could make such a thorough plan to completely correct the problems with the first covenant, by making the promises better, and by making the people better!  No wonder it says in verse 13:  "In that He says, 'A new covenant,' He has made the first obsolete."

In the next section of this article, we'll go into the depth and detail of how it is we are in the New Covenant right now, and what all of that means.  And I can tell you already, this is the most exciting part!

Remember that many of the prophecies of the Millennium, the Kingdom of God, the restoration of Israel, the New Covenant, the peaceful and happy world we envision, begin with the words, "In that day..." or "In the last days...".  That's the time when our Redeemer returns, when He and the resurrected church together will rule, as the Lamb and His bride, fulfilling the prophecies of the New Covenant to and for the children of the kingdom, who are the nations of Israel.

But add to that the nations of the Gentiles, whoever wishes to join with Israel, because they also will be able to enter into the New Covenant relationship with the King of the earth and with the Father.  At that time -- "in that day" -- all the inhabitants of the world will have the opportunity to have God's laws written on their fleshly hearts, under the terms and conditions of the New Covenant, just as we have today.  And it should be our hope that all nations will wish to join us, as children of the Kingdom, in the household of faith, receiving the blessings and benefits of the New Covenant relationship with the Family of God, in that wonderful, peaceful world after our Messiah returns.
 
 

To Be A Part of the New Covenant

We have been addressing the question, "Are we, the members of the New Testament Church of God, in the New Covenant now?"  We determined that we are.

We saw how God is assembling His firstfruits in order to prepare them for their role after Christ returns.  God has called the members of His church, written His laws in their hearts, and brought them into their "land" -- spiritual Zion, the church -- early.  He is our God now, and we are His people now.

The rest of mankind will be called later.  We're being called ahead of the rest, not instead of the rest.  But the very fact that we are in the New Covenant, and the way we are, deserve more attention.  We need to understand some things about (1) the New Testament church, (2) the New Covenant, and (3) the Kingdom, and how these three work together.
 

What is the Kingdom?

Remember how Christ came, "preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand'" (Mark 1:14)?

And the time Christ told the Pharisees, "The kingdom of God is among you," or "in your midst" (Luke 17:21)?

What did these things mean?  Was Jesus about to set up the kingdom in men's hearts?  Is that how we're in the New Covenant?

Actually, the ancient Greek-speaking God-fearer in Judea would have understood these words differently than we do today.  The Greek word translated "kingdom" is basileia (bas-il-I-ah), which at that time did not mean, as we often think, a territory with a king and subjects.  Basileia, according to Strong's, means "royalty," and derives from basileus (bas-il-YOOCE), which means "a sovereign."

Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words says, "Basileia is primarily an abstract noun, denoting sovereignty, royal power, dominion...."  Over time, the word became associated with the "concrete noun, denoting the territory or people over whom a king rules...."

What all this means is that Jesus was telling His listeners, "The King of the kingdom is at hand.  The royal Sovereign is in your midst."  The Moffatt translation says, "The reign of God is at hand" (Mark 1:14).  That's really what the word means!

This is important in helping us to understand what the Kingdom is, so we can understand how we, in the church today, fit into the Kingdom, and into the New Covenant.

Here's a novel question:  Was Jesus in the New Covenant when He walked the earth?  Was He living by the terms and conditions of the New Covenant as a human?  No, He wasn't.  He was an observant Jew.  But, why would Jesus, of all people, not be living as part of the New Covenant?

For one thing, He hadn't died yet.  But the King of the kingdom was actually here.  Was He here to set up the kingdom then?  Not the way we usually picture it.  Daniel 2:44 says, "And in the days of those kings [that is, in the last days] the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed...."  The actual kingdom of God was never intended to exist in power and strength during the time of Satan's 6,000-year rule of the earth, except right at the end of the age, when the "Day of the Lord" ushers in the seventh 1,000 years, the Millennial rule of Christ.

Then what was the King of the kingdom doing 1900 years ago?  What was He talking about?  He came "preaching the gospel of the sovereignty of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the royalty of God is at hand'" (Mark 1:14)!

The rulership or the reign of God was at hand.  Who did God begin to rule, or reign, over?  His church!  His brand new New Testament church He was just beginning to put together.  That's why the rulership of God was at hand, and in their midst.

What else did Messiah do?  He taught and trained His disciples, and sent them to go, and teach, and make disciples out of all nations, and He would be with them to the end of the age -- which is when the God of heaven will set up the kingdom (Matt. 28:19-20).

When Christ returns, Satan will be chained, the Kingdom of God will rule the earth, and the Gentile nations will be invited to participate in the New Covenant with the Family of God and with Israel.

The New Covenant is based on better promises than the Old Covenant was (as we saw in Hebrews 8:6), and the problems with the "party of the second part" will be corrected.  Because during the Millennium, and during the Great White Throne period, God will remove people's stony hearts, and replace them with hearts of flesh, and God will write His laws on people's minds and hearts (Ezekiel 36:25-28; Hebrews 8:10).  That's the only way He can be their God, and they can be His people.

And we also know that, even during this frightening, sickening, dangerous age, we can walk with God, be baptized into His family, be His sons, be in the world without being of the world, and, most importantly, be heirs of everlasting salvation!

"For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God" (Romans 8:14).

"The Spirit [it]self bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs -- heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together" (verses 16-17).

That's a really good future!

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.  For the earnest expectation of the creation [the universe! Everything!] eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God" (verses 18-19).

The sons of God will be revealed at Messiah's return.  At that time, Messiah will marry the resurrected church.  That's our part in the New Covenant, forever.
 

How can we know?

We have a foretaste of eternity, a "foot in the door" of the New Covenant, right now.  How do we know?  First of all, we have received the Holy Spirit as an earnest, a down payment.

"Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a deposit" (2 Corinthians 1:21-22).

"Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee [a down payment]" (2 Corinthians 5:5).

That's one way we know we have a foretaste of the future.

Secondly, we have been bought with a price.  You may have heard that scripture already, but I don't know if you're aware that we were bought as a bride is purchased!

"Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?  Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot?  Certainly not!  Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her?  For 'The two,' He says, 'shall become one flesh.'  But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him" (1 Corinthians 6:15-17).

This passage applies to us today because we already have a marriage relationship with Christ -- we're betrothed to Him already!  And it shows that we will be the spiritual equivalent of "one flesh" with Christ in the resurrection.

"Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit [which] is in you, [which] you have from God, and you are not your own?  For you were bought at a price [and it was a very high price]; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's" (verses 19-20).

Isn't that amazing?  God owns us.  We're already betrothed to Christ, as much as Joseph and Mary were betrothed before they came together.  And we've seen that being married to Christ is our part in the New Covenant.  As members of the body of Messiah, we are already, in one sense, married to Christ!

Thirdly, we're being prepared throughout our daily life and religious experiences to be the Bride of Christ -- and we are to make ourselves ready!

There are several places in the epistles where family relations are taught, especially the relationship between husband and wife, because in doing so, as Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:32, "This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church"!

The reason Paul wrote about the husband/wife relationship was to prepare the church to be the Bride of Christ!  And Paul took his responsibility very seriously.  He wrote:  "For I am jealous of you with godly jealousy.  For I have betrothed you to one Husband, that I may present you a chaste virgin to Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:2).

When does this take place?  At the time of the resurrection and Christ's return:  "Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready" (Revelation 19:7).

Are we taking our responsibility seriously?
 

Putting it all together

How does the New Testament church fit into the New Covenant?  You'll recall that one part of the New Covenant is that Israel will be God's people; another part is that God will be their God.  We can picture Israel on one side of the equation, and God on the other.

The New Testament church has the unique ability to be on both sides of that equation, but not at the same time.  Let me explain.

What are we now?  We are the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16).  We are His people, and He is our God.  We live under His laws, and also under the terms and conditions of the New Covenant.  But even though we can rightfully be called the sons of God, even now (1 John 3:2), the church is, in reality, the Family of God in embryo.  We're in a gestation period as mortal humans.  We're not yet born sons of God, living in the same eternal spirit realm where He lives.

The church has not yet been born from the dead (1 Peter 1:23; Colossians 1:18).  Until we are, we are human beings.  He is our God, and we are His people.  Once we are born from the dead, translated into the kingdom of His dear Son (Colossians 1:13), we will be true, literal, spirit-born members of the Family of God!

We will be the Family of God, the sons of God, and, as the Bride of Christ, we could even be considered God's daughter-in-law!  There's no escaping it!  We will be members of the God Family!  And as such, we will be ruling the nations.

Now, if we will be God's children at that time, and we will be ruling the nations, which side of the equation will we be on?  Will we be Israel?  No, the nations of Israel are the human beings.  They will be governed by the Kingdom of God, which is the Family of God.

Who are we, then, at that time?  We are sons of God!  We will be shining as the stars of heaven (Daniel 12:3).  The false church will be brought before us to kneel down and worship us (Revelation 3:9).  We will have inherited what Christ inherited (Romans 8:17).  We will be like Him, and see Him as He is (1 John 3:2).  And this is just a part of what it means to be children of the kingdom.

This is God's plan for us.  It's a good plan.  This is our part in the New Covenant.

And it's been God's plan from the very beginning!  In Matthew 25, in the parable of the sheep and goats, the sheep are told, "Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25:34).

How will we inherit this kingdom?  Through the New Covenant!

"And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance" (Hebrews 9:15).

And, since this is Christ's will, and His testament, He had to die to make it happen, as it says in the very next verses:  "For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.  For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives" (verses 16-17).

Christ died so that we, (1) the New Testament church, would be able to (2) inherit the Kingdom, (3) through the New Covenant.  These were the three elements that go into God's promises, which we discussed earlier.  And this is how those three aspects of God's promise fit together!

Now, about the inheritance.  Who are your heirs?  Usually, it's your children.  Who are the rightful inheritors of God's kingdom?  The sons of God -- God's family!  But here's the catch to this inheritance:  Not only did the Testator have to die to make the testament of effect, but we have to die to collect!

So, at this time, in this life, we are the heirs -- heirs of salvation, heirs of the kingdom, heirs of eternal life.  We are heirs of God because we are sons of God, because God ordained it as part of His New Covenant!

It's the most mind-blowing, head-spinning, unbelievably beautiful thing that could ever happen to anyone, anywhere, and God is giving it to us, on a silver platter!

It's there.  It's free.  It's a gift (Romans 6:23).  He wants us to have it.  All we have to do is go get it.
 

Taking the free gift

How do we go get it?  It involves standing and walking.

What kind of standing?  Standing in grace (Romans 5:2), standing steadfast (1 Corinthians 7:37), standing perfect and complete (Colossians 4:12), standing fast in the faith (1 Corinthians 16:13), and in the Lord (Philippians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:8), standing fast in one spirit (Philippians 1:27), standing fast and holding the biblical traditions we were taught (2 Thessalonians 2:15), standing against the wiles of the devil (Ephesians 6:11), taking up the whole armor of God, that we may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand (Ephesians 6:13), because we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ (Romans 14:10).

It also involves walking:  Walking with God (Genesis 5:22-24; 6:9), walking uprightly (1 Kings 3:6; Psalm 15:2; 84:11; Proverbs 10:9; 15:21; 28:18; Micah 2:7), walking in the light (1 John 1:7), walking in newness of life (Romans 6:4), walking by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7), walking in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16), walking worthy of the calling (Ephesians 4:1), so that we may at last walk with Christ in white (Revelation 3:4).

Are we part of the New Covenant?  You'd better believe it -- we're right at the center!  Right now, we're the "party of the second part," spiritual Israel.  But then, in the future, in the resurrection, we're going to be chidlren of the "party of the first part" -- we're going to be sons of God!

The rulership of God, the sovereignty of God, the reign of God, the kingdom of God -- is the Family of God, ruling the earth -- at first over cities, over all Israel, then over all nations, then over everyone who has ever lived, and then, finally, on out into the universe, forever!
 

You can have this reward!

You know, if somebody offered me a future like that, I'd want to go get it.  I'd want to be a part of it.  And I'd want to put away all the petty little squabbles, the annoying distractions of human nature, the little disagreements, anything that stands in the way, and concentrate on going to get what God has promised me.

And I'd try really hard to overcome whatever was hindering me from being in the first resurrection.

And if God wanted me to suffer the pains of Job, and the trials of Christ, and the Great Tribulation itself, to make me fit for the Kingdom -- I'd probably complain very bitterly, and wonder why I had to go through all those things.  But you can bet I'd be able to look back from the other side of the resurrection and appreciate everything it took for me to be there.

Because the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).  Because all things work together for good to those who are called according to His purpose (verse 28).

This is the promise of God through His New Covenant.  Isaiah was able to look forward to that day and catch the vision:

"Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this" (Isaiah 9:7).




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