The Everlasting Covenant


1 The Everlasting Covenant

by Hubert F. Sturges. www.everlastingcovenant.com , December 2013

Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. Hebrews 13:20, 21.

The focus of the everlasting covenant of God is the life and sacrificial death of Jesus.1 It is through the cross that God has blessed us and given us hope for restoration and eternal life with Jesus. The holy Son of God is the "lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8). Because of His great sacrifice, the hosts of heaven grant Him seven-fold praise, crying, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing" (Rev. 5:12).

The Story of Jesus Christ

In the eternity before the creation of this world, God made the everlasting covenant.2 When God created humans in His image, He gave them free will, accepting the risk that they would use that will wrongly. In His foreknowledge, God knew what they would choose to do. However, God loved His creation and highly valued the freedom of choice He gave humankind.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

God made the plan of salvation to save and restore humankind and to support His creation. The Father gave His only begotten Son to live a sinless life as a human being and to die to pay the penalty for sin (John 3:16; 10:17, 18). The Holy Spirit brings to the human family the knowledge and power of grace. Grace is the focus of the everlasting covenant of God, and it is the basis for all the covenant interactions of God with the family of man: "This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time" (2 Tim. 1:9, NIV).

The story of Jesus Christ, "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8), is the golden thread that runs throughout Scripture.3 Was Jesus actually slain before the Creation? No, He was not. Yet, God laid the plan at that time as a mystery hidden through the ages.4Why would God keep hidden the mystery of Christ and the plan of salvation? It seems that, in spiritual things, human beings cannot grasp all truth at once. Moreover, they must have a willing mind in order to understand the things of God (1 Cor. 2:7–14; John 16:12). Now when the time was right, God desired that His human children understand the mystery of Christ.
"For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will" (Eph. 1:4, 5, NIV).

"In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began" (Titus 1:2).

The Godhead: Divine Agents in the Everlasting Covenant

"For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (Col. 2:9). Who and what is this "Godhead"? From the beginning of the Old Testament, we find God described in the plural term Elohim. (El is singular.) Genesis chapter one uses this plural form for God thirty-two times! Here, the Creator says: "Let us make man in our image" (Gen. 1:26, emphasis supplied). Who is the "us"? The first person of the Godhead is God the Father. He is a Spirit who desires that His creatures worship Him "in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24).

The second person of the Godhead is Jesus Christ. He is the Creator, Jehovah and the lawgiver of the Old Testament, humankind's Redeemer, and the "Friend of sinners." Of the members of the Godhead, it is Jesus whom we know best. It is He who came to this earth, lived a sinless life, and died that humankind might be redeemed.

The Holy Spirit is the active agent in applying grace to change lives. In Genesis 1, it was the Spirit who "moved upon the face of the waters" (Gen. 1:2). It is the Holy Spirit who also moves upon human beings, giving them power to do the will of God, and who makes plain what God has said in His Word (John 16:13).

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit worked together to establish the plan of salvation.5 The Bible uses the plural form of God (Elohim) in the Old Testament but does not explain it, nor is the concept of three persons in one God made clear. Since idolatry was prevalent in the Old Testament, had the triune nature of God been clearly declared, it likely would have led the people to think they were worshipping three gods.

What then does it mean that God exists as the Trinity? It is a basic principle of biblical faith that there is only one God. "Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God the Lord is one!" (Deuteronomy 6:4).6

The Jews call this verse the "Shema" because of its first word in Hebrew, which, according to Strong's Concordance means to "hear intelligently, attentively, and with consent and obedience." The word for "God" is the plural "Elohim"; "the Lord our Elohim is one!" "The unity of the Godhead cannot be questioned. God does not consist of parts. He is one. Scripture reveals that there are, in that one divine essence, three eternal distinctions. Those distinctions" are "best described as Persons, known as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. All three have identical attributes; therefore, they are one—not merely one in mind and purpose," but one in essence (Deut. 6:4).7 As human beings, we can understand God only through what He has revealed. Beyond what God has revealed, we must say with Job, "Canst thou by searching find out God?" (Job 11:7).

The Covenant of God, the Response of a Man

Within the council of the Godhead, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit developed the plan of salvation. Jesus, the second person of the Godhead, volunteered to come to earth as a human being, live a sinless life, and take on Himself the sins of humankind. He would submit to death on the cross to pay the penalty for the sin of every person. Sin is so offensive to God that the Father's face would be hidden from the Son as He hung on the cross. Jesus, as a man, could not see beyond the grave.

Satan challenged the government of God and the principle of freedom, which God gave to humanity. He claimed that the earth and everyone who walked upon it was his to do with as he pleased. If Jesus failed, humanity would be lost, and sin would become a blot on the universe of God.

It was a difficult decision, even within the Godhead. It became more difficult when Adam sinned and the covenant became a reality. It was a crisis in Gethsemane when Jesus as a man, alone, weighed the final decision. Fortunately, Jesus' faith and resolve to do His Father's will saved the human race, enabling anyone to choose to accept the gift of salvation.

Abraham's call to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah shows that an "only begotten Son" would be the true sacrifice (Gen. 22). When Abraham experienced an "horror of great darkness" (Gen. 15:12), it was a foretaste of Jesus' experience on Calvary. The Passover ceremony on the eve of the Exodus emphasized that people are saved through the blood of the Lamb (Exod. 12:13, 23).

The term "my covenant" pointed to a covenant already in existence. It was made in heaven by God,8 and presented to Abraham (Gen. 17). At Sinai, God gave Israel the Abrahamic covenant, and the people responded with promises of dedication.9 Their intentions were good, yet the people bypassed God's grace, refused to come into His presence, and, within forty-six days, violated the covenant they had made with God.

When God gave His covenant to the people, the faith response was required to complete the covenant. The faith response is a human response, a commitment that must be renewed daily and for each generation.


Only One Way Humanity Could be Saved

Could God not simply forgive sin and let the sinner start over? To forgive and forget would trivialize the gravity of sin. Sin is a serious matter. Even a small sin, like eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, manifested rebellion and a distrust of God. Sin separates from God, and, in that separation, there is death (Gen. 2:16, 17; Rom. 6:23). Christ came to this world to suffer that death for humankind.10 God cannot accept sin, for it brings disorder and unhappiness into His government. Could God not start over with a new creation? If God should destroy all sinners and simply start over with a new creation, it would not be an act of love. God loved the world, even this world. Because of His love, we have God's assurance that He will not abandon His creation. By love and persuasion, He will reveal His character. He permits sin to run its course to prove to all that in the very nature of sin is death, and all will see ever more clearly the mercy and justice of God.11

God is holy; sin cannot exist in His presence (Hab. 1:13). God commands His people to be holy, even as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16). It is Christ who cleanses sinners from all sin, makes them a new creature, and gives them spiritual new birth.12 "The gift of God is eternal life" (Rom. 6:23).
 
"But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8).


Jesus Lived Out the Father's Will

Scripture speaks of Jesus' coming to do the pre-determined will of the Father (Isa. 53:3; Heb. 10:7, 9). Though He was equal with the Father through eternity, Jesus willingly became His servant, even taking the form of humanity, accepting poverty, humiliation, and death (Phil. 2:5–8). When Jesus said "And truly the Son of man goeth, as it was determined" (Luke 22:22), He referred to the covenant with the Father. He referred to the covenant again, when He said,

"For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me: and this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day" (John 6:38, 39).

Through His sacrifice Jesus made a claim upon the Father, that those who believe in Him, "them also I must bring" (John 10:16). In His high priestly prayer, Jesus pled, "Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me, be with me, where I am" (John 17:24). Christ was claiming something that was due Him in return for the work He had done. Jesus' statement, "I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do" (John 17:4), reveals an arrangement with the Father for which Jesus was putting in His claim and for which He was Himself the surety. He could make His claim only because a promise had already been made. This is one reason why, immediately afterward, Jesus addressed God as "righteous Father" (John 17:25), acknowledging the Father's faithfulness to the heavenly agreement. Jesus is the Creator, the Redeemer of the human race, and the new head of the human race for all eternity. Because of His sacrifice on the cross, He has bought back the human race. Jesus made His sacrifice, knowing the joy that the redemption of humankind would bring. Paul wrote:

"… for the joy that was set before Him [Jesus] endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12:2).

He willingly endured the suffering, knowing "the glories to follow" (1 Peter 1:11, NASB). The prophet Isaiah wrote:

"As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities" (Isa. 53:11, NASB).


Jesus Is the Champion of the Covenant

The Bible calls the agreement He made before the foundation of the world, the everlasting covenant.13 The Father gave His Son, and the Son willingly came to live as a human being and pay the penalty for the sins of humankind by dying as our sacrifice.14

The everlasting covenant focuses on Jesus, using a number of covenant titles. The Father speaks of the Son:

"I, the Lord, have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles" (Isa. 42:6).

All blessings Christ gives to the human family come through the cross (Rom. 8:32).15 Christ is the "messenger of the covenant" (Mal. 3:1) because He came to earth to make known its contents and proclaim its glad tidings. Christ is "the surety of a better covenant" (Heb. 7:22), which means that He legally represents humanity and thereby acts in our name and for our benefit. Christ paid the debt of His bankrupt people, settling all their liabilities.

Christ is the mediator of the new covenant (Heb. 9:15; 12:24) by His effective sacrifice on the cross. He is the High Priest in heaven, and, by His intercession, God brings His children into relationship with Himself, giving grace, power, and freedom from sin (2 Cor. 5:18; 12:9; 1 John 2:1).

Living as a human being on earth, Jesus looked to the Father as "my God," giving expression to the covenant made within the Godhead. Christ took the role of a creature, a servant, depending on the Father for guidance, power, and fellowship. Through the prophetic word of David, the Savior declared,

"I have leaned on you since the day I was born; you have been my God since my mother gave me birth" (Ps. 22:10, NCV).

From the cross He called out, "my God." On the resurrection morning, He told the disciples He would ascend to "my God" (John 20:17). Once in heaven, having become the glorified Redeemer, He spoke of "my God" four times in a single verse (Rev. 3:12).

His God is our God, the God who has made a commitment to humanity in the everlasting covenant through Jesus.


Endnotes

1. The term "everlasting covenant" is used in this book as a description of God's plan from eternity for the redeeming of the fallen human race (e.g. Heb. 13:20; Gen. 17:7, 13, 19; 1 Chron. 16:17; Ps. 105:10; Isa. 24:1). The bow in the cloud reminded God of His "everlasting covenant" with "every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth" (Gen. 9:16). Providing the ingredients for the shewbread was an "everlasting covenant" for Israel (Lev. 24:8). God's daily provisions are an "everlasting covenant" (2 Sam. 23:5). "Everlasting covenant" also describes binding contracts between God and His people (Isa. 55:3; 61:8; Jer. 32:40; Ezek. 16:60; 37:26). From the above, it is apparent that God's everlasting covenant was given to save and to preserve human life, all creation, and to support creation on a daily basis.

2. The plan of salvation was made before Creation. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love" (Eph. 1:3, 4; see also Micah 5:2, which says His "goings forth" are "from everlasting"; John 17:24, which says that the Father loved the Son "before the foundation of the world"; and 1 Peter 1:19, 20, which says that Jesus' role as the sacrificial "lamb" was "foreordained before the foundation of the world"). The Father and Son are pledged to fulfill the terms of the everlasting covenant. "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). Christ's death on the cross has made it possible for God to receive and pardon every repentant soul. It was the fulfillment of the covenant made between Him and His Father before the foundation of the world was laid. "The salvation of the human race has ever been the object of the councils of heaven. The covenant of mercy was made before the foundation of the world. It has existed from all eternity, and is called the everlasting covenant. So surely as there never was a time when God was not, so surely there never was a moment when it was not the delight of the eternal mind to manifest His grace to humanity" (Ellen G. White, The Signs of the Times, June 12, 1901).

3. Jesus is "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8; 1 Peter 1:19, 20; Rev. 5:6–9; 12–14). Jesus knew, delighted in, and fulfilled the "will of the Father" (John 5:30; cf. Ps. 40:7, 8; Matt. 26:39, 42; Luke 22:22; John 4:34; 5:19; 6:38; 8:16, 28, 42; 14:10; 17:4; 18:11). Jesus is the center and focus of the everlasting covenant, a plan formulated before the creation to redeem humankind if he should sin (2 Tim. 1:8, 9; Titus 1:2; 1 Peter 1:20). The term "from the foundation of the world" refers to what God did in eternity past (Matt. 13:35; 25:34; Luke 11:50; Heb. 4:3; 9:26; Rev. 13:8; 17:8; cf. "since the world began," Rom. 16:25; and "from the beginning," Prov. 8:23).

4. The mystery kept secret since before the creation of the world is now revealed in Jesus Christ, who dwells in human hearts by faith (Col. 1:26–28; Rom. 16:25, 26; and Eph. 3:9–11, 17–19).

5. "Two central passages bring the three members of the Godhead together in providing for man's eternal salvation"— Heb..9:14 and 1 Peter 1:1, 2 (Michael Houdman, "What is the Godhead?" available at: http://www.gotquestions.org/ Godhead.html, accessed 8/27/12). The Bible also relates the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in Isaiah 11:2; 48:16; Matthew 3:16, 17; 28:19, 20; 1 Corinthians 12:3, 4; 2 Corinthians 13:14; and Ephesians 2:18. Godhead is a term used in Acts 17:29; Romans 1:20; and Colossians 2:9.

6. "What is the Godhead?" http://www.gotquestions.org/Godhead.html (accessed 1/16/13). The author quoted Deuteronomy 6:4 from the NIV.

7. "What is the Godhead?" http://www.gotquestions.org/Godhead.html (accessed 1/16/13). For more on the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, see Fernando Canale, "Doctrine of God," Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2000), pp. 140–151.

8. The term "My covenant" occurs fifty-one times in the Bible and is associated with words such as "establish," "remember," "make," "keep," "take hold," "give," "break," "transgress," and "this is." The possessive "My" shows that this covenant uniquely belongs to God. It is equivalent to the terms "the everlasting covenant" and "the new covenant."

9. God remembered His pre-arranged covenant (Exod. 2:24; 6:5; Lev. 26:45; Ps. 105:8).

10. Christ died for the sins of the human family; we are ransomed, redeemed, and bought back by His cross (Rev. 13:8; Col. 1:26–28; Isa. 53:11; Matt. 20:28; Rom. 3:24; 5:9, 18; 1 Cor. 6:19, 20; Heb. 9:28; 12:2; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18; Rev. 5:9).

11. Sin must run its course to establish the mercy and justice of God before the inhabitants of the universe—fallen and unfallen (1 Cor. 4:9; Eph. 3:10; 1 Peter 1:12).

12. Jesus gives spiritual new birth (John 3:3; 1 John 5:11; 2 Cor. 5:17). God's people are cleansed that they need not sin (1 John 1:7–9; 2:1, 5, 6; 3:3, 5–9, 24; 5:18).

13. "Christ was not alone in making His great sacrifice. It was the fulfillment of the covenant made between Him and His Father before the foundation of the world was laid. With clasped hands they had entered into the solemn pledge that Christ would become the surety for the human race if they were overcome by Satan's sophistry" (Ellen G. White, Youth's Instructor, June 14, 1900, p. 186).

14. The Father gave His Son (John 3:16), and Christ "gave himself " for us (Gal. 1:4; 2:20; Eph. 5:25; 1 Tim. 2:6; Titus 2:14) and "offered himself " to God (Heb. 9:14).

15. There is life in the Son (John 6:35, 40, 47, 54, 63; 8:51; 11:25, 26; 14:1–3, 6; 17:11).