III. The Centrality of Covenant

We have been narrowing the field in our effort to establish that the New Testament interpretation of the Lord's Supper (in particular) has come to us not out of any sort of sacramental tradition but precisely out of the unique Jewish tradition of historical recital. Consequently, we now undertake the task of identifying the basic content of what it is gets "remembered" in that tradition. (And recall, we are talking of that fine quality of "remembering" in which the "rememberers" put themselves back in time to become actual participants in the event they are remembering.)

For the Jewish people, of course (and for Christian people not that much "of course"), their Bible is both the record of events and the instrument of their communal remembering. So, in effect, we are now setting out to spot and elucidate the one central and best-remembered theme of Scripture (if such there be). Our proposition, now, is that such there be indeed. Here at the outset, we will present it as a dual theme--and then show that it is actually a mono one. So, in the first place, the overall structure of the Bible is what we shall call Historical Eschatology. In essence this means that the Bible presents the dynamic narrative-sequence of what God has done, is doing, and will do to bring his creation out at the end-state he has in mind for it.

Through the Old Testament, a variety of terminology is used; but it seems to have been Jesus himself who established "the kingdom of God" (better translated: "the kingly rule of God") as the standard term identifying that sought-for end. Thus, the biblical account as a whole could be titled "The Story of God's Gaining His Kingdom." So in the following--whether or not we keep you reminded--be alert to the fact that at every point we are telling a story the entire significance of which lies in the accomplishment of its projected outcome.

The second aspect of our theme is as essential as the first. God's chosen means of advancing history toward the kingdom is that of making COVENANT with one partner and another. The content of Theme One's story is the covenant-making of Theme Two. And a "covenant," as we will use the term, is a deliberate and formal action by which two parties make an irrevocable and profoundly personal pledge to share their lives and fortunes at a deep level. Of course, God's covenant with his creatures stands prior to and takes priority over all covenants else. Nevertheless, whenever, for our benefit, Scripture needs to define and describe "covenant," it turns to human marriage as the best available analogy. Thus, right off the bat in Gen. 2:24, we are told that "a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh one body]."

Whether in the New Testament or the Old, of whomever we may be speaking, on whatever level--it would seem the case that covenant always is implied as the means by which the two (the several, or the many) become one body. "Body" talk is as much as invariably "covenant" talk and vice versa. Accordingly, biblical theology would seem to demand (and even ordinary discourse might advise) that we not use such terms as "commitment," "agreement," "deal," "understanding," "contract," "pledge," etc., synonymously with "covenant." "Covenant" needs to be reserved for identifying a relationship much more serious and profound than any of these others. In our depreciated language, we call "covenant" many things that should not be so named.

We don't want to introduce the confusion of foreign tongues; but we do need to say a word about the biblical terminology. The Old Testament Hebrew word for covenant is based on the verbal root "to cut"--and the proper wording is to speak of "cutting a covenant" (rather than "making" it, "pledging" it, or whatever). We must think the ancient Hebrews out of their minds to speak of "cutting" a covenant when they obviously meant "joining" one. But stay with us; everything will come out all right within the next few pages.

For its part, in the New Testament, the Greek word for covenant stresses the irrevocability of the relationship--and indeed, this is to point up a covenantal constant, no matter what language one is using. It was after the Christian Bible had been around for centuries, while he was preparing his Latin Vulgate, that St. Jerome chose the Latin equivalents of our terms "The Old Testament" and "The New Testament" to identify the two halves. Yet very few people know (and even fewer care) that "testament" is simply the Latin word for covenant. Our understanding of the Bible would be truer if we were to bear in mind that we are recognizing the old covenant and the new covenant every time we say "Old Testament" or "New Testament." That pervasively is the idea of covenant grounded in the very structure of our Bibles.

The actual word "covenant" appears with some regularity throughout Scripture. Yet many times covenant-talk may be going on even without the word itself being used. There are other biblical terms and concepts so closely related that we can soon learn to read "covenant" even in the absence of the technical term. For instance, wherever the talk is about God's promise, the implication is likely that the promising goes on within a covenant setting. Just so with God’'s blessing. When the talk is of God's command, the idea is probably that of his expectation from us as covenant-partner. And almost certainly, the Hebrew word torah implies covenant.

Torah is the word commonly translated "the Law"--though it should be taken in the positive meaning of "counsel," "teaching," or "instruction" rather than in the negativity we usually give to the word "law." Nevertheless, biblically, it is definitely within the framework of God's "covenant" with his people that he has given them his torah. The torah is itself the content (both the promise- and the command-content) of God's covenant.

And grace, too, is essentially a covenant idea--in that inviting different human parties into covenant relationship with himself is the most gracious thing God has ever done (or could ever do) for them.

Finally, the Hebrew term hesed is a special case--in that it is a technical term of specific reference to God's covenant-making. Hos. 2:16-20 is perhaps Scripture's most revealing use of the word. The King James Version translates it "lovingkindness" (which is not really adequate at all). Most modern versions, I think, have it "steadfast love." One scholar has suggested "dogged love" (which would hardly do, for its bias against cats). My personal preference is for the line from the hymn, "O love that wilt not let me go" (which will hardly do, either, for the fact that taking whole lines to translate one little word is strictly prohibited). Yet, essentially, hesed denotes that quality of God's covenant love that simply will not quit--no matter how total the failure of the human partner in honoring the covenant. So hesed has reference primarily to God's love. When--as happens in the Bible--are commanded to practice hesed, there is clearly implied a Hebrew reading of 1 John 4:19, "We practice hesed (to whatever degree) because he first practiced hesed toward us." So if earlier we posited the necessity of holding "covenant" and "body" together as one idea, here we must make it a threesome by adding hesed is the glue that covenant uses in cementing the joint that holds us together with God as his body.

And I think the story of hesed continues beyond its appearance in the Old Testament. The hero of this new chapter most likely was Paul, he being (as far as we know) the earliest Christian writer. Of course, as a Jewish rabbi he had been thoroughly trained in the Hebrew scriptures and would have been instructed about God's hesed from kindergarten. Later, then, as a Christian apostle writing to his churches, he would as much as immediately feel a need to tell them about this hesed of God.

My guess is that he actually dictated the word, only to have his amanuensis say, "What was that word you just said? How do you spell it?" To which Paul must have responded, "Oh shucks, that won't work. I'm writing in Greek to an audience that understands only Greek; hesed won't serve--it's the wrong language. So what under the sun am I to do? The Greeks, never having known God and his covenants, certainly don't have a word that means 'O covenant love that wilt not let me go.' We'll just have to find some little-used and noncommittal Greek word for 'love' and arbitrarily designate it as the equivalent of "How about agape?" the amenuensis suggested. "Fine," Paul said, "and include a footnote indicating that what I really mean is God's own word hesed!" (Whether that story is fully accurate or not, I submit that the New Testament won't read right until one learns to back-translate: love = agape = hesed).

The diagram gives us an outline of the end-seeking history of God's covenant-making with his people. It is also our agenda for the remainder of this chapter. The chart represents the eschatology of an historical progression from top to bottom, from "beginning" Creation to "end-state" New Creation. The "bow tie" shape indicates that God’s covenanting starts with the widest possible spread, all-inclusive in terms of the whole of his creation. Successive covenants then are stepped down to smaller and smaller groups until they reach Jesus Christ, from which point they are stepped up until eventually (eschatologically) they return to the all-inclusiveness from which they started.

The Biblical Saga of God’s Covenant-Making

What our scripture passages themselves will make abundantly clear should perhaps first be stated here: The stepping-down of covenant does not in any sense mark God's rejection of the prior groupings and his covenants with them. Quite the opposite, it represents God’s search for a truly loyal covenant-partner through whom he can get back to his covenant-accomplishment for the many. But his promise and commitment are always inclusive. (I make no claim of this diagram's being totally original with me. I have seen at least something like it from a number of New Testament scholars--most notably W.D. Davies. Nevertheless, the choice of scriptures and their development is my own.)

It immediately will be noticed that the first two covenants on the chart are paired (A-B & C-D). This is to indicate that the two members of a pair are actually the same covenant involving the same partners. Yet the two covenant-actions are widely separated in time, the second marking a reaffirmation of an earlier covenant that had been allowed to degenerate and die. In each case, the pairing will be made clear when we get to it.

A. The [Implied] Covenant of Creation

Gen. 1:26-30; 2:8-9, 2:15-17

The word "covenant" is not used here. However, I will argue that it is very much implied--and that, in some respects, Scripture launches us with its one best picture of "covenant."

God, of course, is the one and only initiator of this covenant, the recipient partner being the totality of creation. The wording is emphatic that the whole world of nature is included, even though humanity is addressed specifically as that one member of the body capable of voluntary, moral response--and thus bearing responsibility for the whole. (This covenantal reading, by the way, immediately takes care of the modern calumny that the Genesis account actually encourages us to exploit and abuse nature. No way; such a reading is utterly perverse. The truth is that, through this Covenant of Creation, we are held morally responsible to God for what we do with his creation.)

The covenant-maker is God. The recipient partner is the created universe, with Man as spokesman. The covenant blessing is our possession of this wonderful world. The covenant command is that we direct and care for this world just as God himself did before giving the responsibility to us (and will do again if we force him back to running things on his own). The covenant promise is that, if we will behave ourselves, the universe will continue to be as "very good" as God originally declared it to be.

Plainly, there are in that text as many "implications of covenant" as one could ask; yet I maintain that Scripture's very best "description of covenant" comes in the fact that God creates humanity "in his own image, in the image of God, male and female he created them."

I had long understood this language the way I would guess most people do--picturing God as a great big one and Man as an itty-bitty, pint-sized version standing alongside. Accordingly, we are "the image of God" in the same way a little boy is the spittin' image of his daddy. However, there are big problems with such an understanding. For one thing, it leaves our relationship to God basically one of competition (the spittin'-imaged little boy always holds the potential of growing up and displacing his daddy)--which is just what Adam and Eve tried to pull. And that just can't be right for the God/Man relationship. Further, I was aware that, in Genesis 3, the deceitful, conniving word of the serpent (history's arch-liar) is "You shall be like God." And those two words ("God's in my image" and the Serpent's "like God") simply cannot point to the same relationship; they have to be diametric opposites if the texts are to make sense at all.

So I had been trying to explain "created in God's own image" as pointing to compimentarity rather than competition--but wasn't communicating too well. Then, right in the middle of a church presentation it came to me: Consider a ball-and-socket joint. The concave curve of the socket must really and truly "image" the convex curve of the ball if there is to be the "fit" which will truly join the two pieces as one. God created humanity with a concave curve that "images" his convex one--so that humanity can nest around and fit with him in a way that creates one body.

And what do we call this sort of relationship in which the two become one? Well, we just defined it as covenant. God created us in his image precisely that we might serve as covenant-partner to him. How could Scripture have put it any more beautifully?--particularly when it right there also adduces the human-marriage analogy of a man and woman becoming one body? Ball-and-socket joint, for sure.

But don’t stop now. Consider, if you will, how common to our experience are joinings of this sort. Think, for instance, how precisely the threading of one end of a hose coupling must "image" (not "duplicate") the threading of the other if they are to have any hope of forming a one-hose covenant. Think of the trouble you have when trying to screw the catsup-bottle cap onto the neck of a differently-imaged bottle. Hose couplings, phone plug and jack, and so on down the line. Why, we even have a terminology for distinguishing between one sort of connector and its counterpart. And we didn't invent it; God did. "Male and female he created them."

If we may put it so, male humans and female humans were created (just as hose connectors were) to couple with each other in becoming one body--one covenantal body. They were not created to be in competition with each other, as is currently the fashion.

Are we suggesting, then, that God created humanity as "feminine" in relation to his own "masculinity"--precisely in order that both God and Man might leave their aloneness to be coupled into the covenantal union of one body? You've got it! That's what the Good Book says--and not only here but all the way through, wherever it uses masculine/feminine coupling as representative of God and Israel, Christ and the church, deity and humanity in general. As God, of course--as Creator, Lord, and Initiator of Covenant--God is always the superior member of the combine. But when speaking on the human level, don't even raise the question as to whether the male member or the female is more important to the coupling. Unless you have both, you don’t have a coupling, period.

And it is just here I get so nervous about the modern propensity to tamper with the biblical gender of God. Once God's masculinity goes, so does humanity's femininity--and so does the understanding of our being created in the image of God, as does our appreciation of covenant (marriage and otherwise), as does the entire biblical thematic of covenantal eschatology, as does everything uniquely Christian regarding "the new covenant." So I conclude (this passage) as I began: This initial covenant-account of Genesis (in which the word "covenant" doesn't even appear) may be the richest and most significant of the bunch.

B. The Noanic Covenant

Gen. 9:8-19

The covenant God here makes with Noah is shown on our chart as paired with the earlier Covenant of Creation. That is to say that this one is still a covenant God makes with the whole of creation, through humanity as creation's representative. Yet, though it is essentially one with that earlier covenant, the happenings of the interim give it new significance.

God’s original covenant, of course, was met with humanity's "sin of Adam"--in which both God and his covenant were treated with absolute contempt: "We have no intention of being an 'image of God,' coupled into covenant with (and thus dependent upon) him. We are going to be 'like God' in a competition that will put him clear out of business."

Yet, here, coming back with the same covenant (this time to Noah), is the word: "But I am the God of hesed, of the love that will not let you go. No matter how you have treated the covenant and insulted me, here it is again. All of its promises, blessings, and commands still stand." A covenant re-offered following massive human failure and betrayal is grace, is Covenant-Squared in comparison to its first offering.

Notice that our present passage appears, not as an integral part of the action narrative, but rather as a theological interpretation regarding the root "meaning" that lies behind the narrative. Thus, regarding Adam before, Noah now, and perhaps Abraham who lies ahead--our interest is not in determining whether those individuals, at their own time in history, had a personal understanding of "covenant" and how God meant it to apply to them. Our thesis is rather that the away-down-the-line writers who put the early stories into written form were inspired to present them as examples of Cod's covenant-making with humanity. At what actual point in history Israel first developed a sophisticated theology of covenant, we are not able to say. But what can be said with great definiteness is that the Bible as a whole was written out of a clear consciousness of such theology.

Notice that, immediately preceding our passage of Gen. 9:8ff, there is significant talk about the shedding of blood. I don't see that any particular connection is made here; but in covenants to follow "the shedding of blood" will play a central role. We can take this instance as a preview of what is to come.

I think I am correct that our passage of Gen. 9:8-17 marks the first covenant-talk in Scripture (not necessarily the first to be written, but the first to be encountered upon reading through). The writer's over-and-over repetition shows how concerned he is to make his covenantal point.

God, again, is the only possible initiator and offerer of covenant. His covenant, this time, is specified as everlasting and irrevocable. The recipient partner, once more, is the totality of creation, with humanity as nature's spokesman. The blessing, again, is our possession and enjoyment of the good earth. The promise, this time, is that God shall never again work the destruction of the world he created. (I find it a sophistry when some people argue that God commits himself only to not destroy by water, while reserving the right to destroy in some other way. That would be a promise that is no promise at all.)

The command in this instance is .... And that's the funny one; there isn't any. This makes the Noanic specimen an exception among the covenants. Perhaps we have a slight oversight on the part of the writer. Perhaps the Gen. 9:1 command of "Be fruitful and multiply" is meant to be part of the covenant passage. Perhaps it is simply assumed that the command of the Creation Covenant carries over. There is no real problem in any case.

However, the brand new and very important feature is the "sign of the covenant" which is given in and with the covenant itself--in this cane the rainbow. And catch the function of that sign; it is for "remembrance" (or what we have been calling "historical recital"). God says that it will remind him that he is in covenant with us. And surely, what is much more needful is that it remind us that we are in covenant with him. Yet right here is another funny one--a much more serious funny one.

We will discover that most of the signs, or symbols, introduced in Scripture get picked up and carried along by the tradition. The rainbow may be the one exception; but I know of no biblical evidence that the rainbow ever served a reminding function again.

C. The Abrahamic Covenant [proleptic]

Gen. 12:1-3 (the theme: liberation, people-hood, & land)
Gen. 15:6-21 (the ritual: cutting, with its shedding of blood)
Gen. 17:1-13 (the reminder-sign: circumcision)

The Abrahamic Covenant will be paired with the Mosaic one--each representing God's covenant with Israel. One difference is that the Mosaic Covenant is made with an Israel that is actually on the scene--whereas, with the Abrahamic Covenant, it exists only proleptically (as a future reality) in Father Abraham.

Perhaps this is a good place for making a crucial, overall point: None of God's covenants out of the whole biblical sequence is presented as a personal arrangement with a private individual. Even though only a single person may be on the scene, that individual is regularly addressed as representative of a broader community. Thus God’s covenant-partners are always "communities" rather than discrete "individuals." Yet always it is discrete individuals who ultimately are held responsible for the performance of the covenant community. For instance, although addressed to a covenanting community, the covenant-command to honor one’s mother and father can be obeyed only by particular individuals showing honor to such other particular individuals as are their parents. Biblical covenant (for Christians as for Jews) will not work either as a rugged individualism that ignores community or as a bloc-collectivity that ignores the essential individuality underlying community. The biblical alternative must always consist in the dialectic of "individuals in community."

Back to Abraham, most of our covenant accounts from here on will open with a "theme scene" that may not so much as use the word "covenant." Nevertheless they develop the basic content of the covenant whose "making" will then shortly be recounted. With remarkable consistency, this "theme" is a three-part statement involving

  • liberation, or freedom;
  • peoplehood, or the becoming a people of God; and
  • land, the possession of which makes possible the individuals being "a people."

The Abrahamic theme-scene may be a bit weak on Point One but comes through beautifully on the other two.

The reading may stretch things a bit; but "Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house" could be taken as spelling "liberation." Such an action would amount to Abraham's being freed from his former paganism and all the ties of his old life, being made free to follow God. You can decide for yourself whether we have here a "liberation theme."

"I will make of you a great nation" certainly qualifies as a promise of peoplehood. "The land that I will show you" is the promise of a homeland that will make possible true peoplehood.

The covenant-command directed to the recipient is "Go, following me into the land that I will show you." With great regularity the biblical covenant-commands take the form of a call to discipleship, asking us to follow God in what he is already doing on his own. Later references will make it clear that, though the word "covenant" is not used here, we are indeed treating God's covenant with Abraham. And in that regard, the final line of the passage is of utmost importance. "In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" [better, "bless themselves"] is proof positive that God’'s covenantal step-down from "the whole of creation, with humanity as its representative" to "Abraham and his descendants" (and some step-down that)--yet that step-down is not at all to suggest that God has rejected his prior, larger covenant. Quite the contrary, he has chosen to go with Abraham precisely in the hope of using him as a means of getting back to that larger covenant through which all the families of earth will bless themselves. So, through all the covenant-talk to follow, keep this wonderful verse at the forefront of your thinking.

With Gen. 15:6-21, then, we (for the first time though hardly the last) meet an entirely crucial aspect of covenant-making. This is the formal rite by which a covenant is the author of the Letter to the Hebrews would say inaugurated ("Hence not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood"--see Heb. 9:18); the Hebrews themselves would say cut; and I would say initialized (as a computer is initialized when first prepared for and put into operation).

What must be understood is that the rite initializing a covenant is not at all the same thing as that subsequently used as a covenant reminder. The essential difference is that the first is done once for all (never needing to be repeated), whereas the latter is meant to be repeated just as often as the covenanters need reminding. A wedding ceremony is one thing; a subsequent anniversary celebration is something entirely different from a new wedding.

With Genesis 15, we are talking about covenant-initializing and not covenant-reminder. The early verses reiterate what we have already spotted as the covenant-content. Then Abraham is directed to perform a sacred rite that involves, first, the cutting of animals. Covenant-initialization regularly involves a ceremony of "cutting"--and that explains why the Hebrew word for "covenant" came to be built upon the root "to cut."

Yet I now want to argue that cutting is not the ceremony's end-in-itself. No, the cutting is simply the means to the bleeding that inevitably follows. "Shed blood" is what is so crucial to covenant-initialization. In biblical thought, "blood" is understood to represent "life" (livingness)--and "shed blood" (as against "taken blood," or killing) represents "blood freely given" (which is to say "life deliberately opened out and shared"). Thus Abraham's action is the forming of a "blood alley," with the through-passing of the flaming torch representing God’'s presence, involvement, and commitment. Yet surely we are to think of the animal halves bleeding toward each other into an intermingling--as it were, God and Man opening their lives to each other to where (in the covenant relationship of God with his "image") they become coupled into one body.

Consider how fundamentally God has built this pattern into our human experience. The human ovenant of marriage is initialized as a man and a woman couple--with an intermingling of precious life fluids, if not actual blood--in the process of becoming one body and giving start to the new life of a child. No wonder Jesus opposed divorce as being the reversal of covenant, an anti-covenantal action--as, for the same reason, the Apostle Paul opposed the idea of sexual intercourse outside any covenantal setting. Either of these is indeed a desecration of that which covenantal theology knows to be the one human experience (namely, "covenant" on one level or another) rightly to be called "holy."

Gen. 17:1-13, then, gives us the sign of covenant-remembrance which, used recurrently thereafter, is designed to keep the community reminded that it is indeed a covenant-community and to give newcomers a way of "remembering" themselves into that covenant and its community--this, even though they had not been on the scene for the initializing. The sign in this case is circumcision--and that, of course, is a ceremony of cutting (which is what the word itself means) and of consequent blood shedding. Yet plainly, the blood involved is that of recurrent reminder and not at all that of covenant-initialization. Certainly, it is quite proper that the reminder carry a likeness to and overtones of the initialization itself (as a wedding anniversary often involves explicit overtones of the original wedding ceremony. Thus, the blood of the circumcised baby is meant to remind people of the actual blood of the covenant--and just so is the contents of the communion cup meant to remind us of Jesus' blood of the covenant, even though it is no way claimed to ~ that blood of the covenant.

Yet notice the clarity with which this passage expresses that circumcision is performed for the benefit of the covenant-community rather than for the baby boy involved. Even verse Gen. 17:14 must mean that the community will be punished for failing to circumcise the baby rather than that the baby will be held responsible for not getting himself circumcised. But in this recital the baby himself isn't a participant (not even having the capacity for "remembering" anything except, perhaps, one awful pain). No, the baby (poor kid) is only the sacrificial animal providing the blood which serves to remind the adult "rememberers" of their covenant status.

Yet this original, Abrahamic explanation of circumcision does take care of some problems For one thing, it keeps God's covenant with us communal in character--rather than letting it degenerate into the individualism of people having private covenant-relationships of their own. For another, there is now no prejudice against girl babies for lacking circumcision; it is not claimed that circumcision does anything for the baby. Finally, this puts an end to circumcision being an argument for the baptism of infants; baptism does call for more from a person than just a contribution of blood. Yet, whether it be circumcision or not, covenant-living does need a reminder-sign, just as covenant-marriage needs wedding anniversaries.

D. The Mosaic Covenant

Ex. 3:4-12 (the theme: liberation, peoplehood, and land)
Ex. 19:17-20; Ex. 24:3-8 (the ritual: cutting, with its bloodshed)
Ex. 24:9-12 (the reminder-sign: a meal that becomes Passover)
Ex. 31:12-17 (another reminder-sign: the Sabbath)

God's covenant through Moses is a seconding of the one with Abraham--so we pair the one as a later reaffirmation of the former. A conspicuous difference between the two was that the first was made proleptically through that single individual Abraham, whereas the later one is made with an actual community of Israelites. Also (in this case as previously) something ignificant had transpired between the time of the original covenant and its reaffirmation.

Although, in the Bible, the four hundred years of Egyptian slavery (between the time of Abraham and that of Moses) is represented only by the partially blank page separating Genesis and Exodus, the evidence indicates that this was a time of serious religio-cultural deterioration. The Hebrew people seem to have become as much as totally assimilated to the ways of their Egyptian overlords. Moses' questions at the burning bush suggest that these slaves needed to be reminded even of the name of their God, let alone that they were in covenant with him. Thus--as with the Noah Covenant following the Creation Covenant--so with the Mosaic one following the Abrahamic one, it must be a case of God in his gracious hesed saying, "Yes, you did utterly mess up on the covenant I made with you. But I am ready to forgive and forget, ready to try again as though nothing had happened, ready to try it as though you were not the no-goods we both know you actually are."

The theme scene of Ex. 3:4-12 again does not use the word "covenant" but speaks often enough of promise, blessing, and command ("Go down, Moses, down into Egyptland!"). The three promises of liberation, peoplehood, and land are explicit and easy to spot. In verse 10 (as regularly throughout Scripture), for God willingly to address as "my people" those who are behaving as anything but--well, that is what is meant by God's hesed. And for us to accept that of God as a matter of course, as something entirely unexceptional--well, that is what is meant by "man’s ingratitude." There is no point at which we come off looking any worse.

In Ex. 19:17-20 is set the dramatic confrontation of Yahweh and the people Israel. And by the way, the familiar Ten Commandments of Ex. 20 stand as nothing other than the command-content of the covenant that is here to be initialized.

Our passage from Ex. 24, then, gives us the cutting/bloodshed ceremony we have come to expect. The procedure is different here from what it was with Abraham; but the significance of the rite is even clearer in this instance. The altar, of course, represents God. The twelve pillars and the people standing among them represent Israel. The fact that sacrificial blood is sloshed both ways undoubtedly is again meant to say that God shares his life with them while they share theirs with him--in what (at least from God's side, if not ours) is a true coupling. Against the background of this ceremony and Abraham's, it certainly can come as no surprise or mystery for Jesus in his turn to speak of "the new covenant in my blood."

It is something ironic that the people so eagerly affirm, "All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do"--when in perhaps a mere matter of hours they will be worshipping the golden calf. Yet there is no doubt regarding the people’'s sincerity--for about as long as it takes them to speak the words. This detail proves that the story is dealing with "human beings," that's all--it's us all over. Even so, God goes into the deal with his eyes open. He is a God of hesed who will be faithful to his end of the covenant in spite of all.

The new and different reminder-sign of Ex. 24:9-11 certainly is not meant to suggest that circumcision has been dropped. Rather, we add to the Jewish tradition a recital of crucial importance and lasting effect. The elders (representative of the people as a whole) gather with God, where they eat and drink. We Christians do our eating and drinking at what we call "the Lord's Table"--but it is certain that ours is a covenant-reminder meal in direct line with this one.

Scholars agree that this meal on Mt. Sinai (along with some other strands of tradition) gradually evolved into Jewish Passover. And Jesus as much as said that his Lord's Supper was an evolution from Passover. The constant theme all the way through is that of covenant-recital.

Finally, Ex. 31:12-17 does several things for us.

  • It is made explicit that Sabbath observance is also a reminder-sign of God's "perpetual covenant" (Ex. 31:16). I don’t know whether modern Jews still use their Sabbath so. It is evident that modern Christians have forgotten that the Sabbath is anything more than "a day off"--let alone a precious covenant-reminder.
  • Ex. 31:17 substantiates our hypothesis that God's creation of the world was actually a making of covenant, even though that never got quite said in the account itself. Nevertheless, the Jewish writer is a bit off the mark in calling it a covenant with Israel--when the account itself makes clear that, if it is a covenant, it is a covenant with the whole of creation.
  • Ex. 31:13-14 adds another to our list of key-words signaling that we are in the presence of covenant-making. God, of course, is called holy (holy in and of himself) in virtually each and every strand of Scripture. However, when the talk is of that which is "holy" for us, that by which we are made "holy" (here worded as our being "sanctified"), the chances are that the reference is to God’s covenant-making and the effect that has upon us.

E. The Davidic Covenant [proleptic]

2 Sam. 7:1-29; 23:1 & 5
2 Chr. 3:5;
2 Kings 8:16-19
Isa. 9:6-7; 11:1 & 10; Isa. 55:3-5

This covenant is proleptic in that its recipient-partner is the entire Davidic dynasty although it is made only with the one person David. It marks another big step-down on our chart. Just previous, God's covenant was with the whole of Israel; now it is with that slim line of Davidic kings within Israel. Yet no more than before does the stepped-down covenant mark God's rejection of the larger covenants that went before. He is still working toward the accomplishment of total covenant.

The seventh chapter of 2 Samuel does not use the word "covenant"; but our subsequent references make clear that that is what's up. The full-fledged covenant-pattern of the Abraham and Moses examples will not be found again, though none of the essential meanings of covenant will be lacking. And 2 Sam. 7 does amount to a theme scene. There is here a deliberate play on words to which we should be alert. Between the covenant-partners there is an argument as to who will build a "house" for whom. However, when David speaks of building a house for God, he has in mind a temple of cedar. But when God speaks about building a house for David, he has in mind a royal dynasty, a "house" that consists in a succession of kings. Early on, God makes it clear that he isn't all that interested in a house of cedar; so the passage comes out concentrated upon the dynastic house of David.

By the grace of God and the biblical writer, 2 Sam. 7:10 gives us a compact statement of our previous tri-partite covenant-theme: "I will appoint a place [homeland] for my people Israel [peoplehood: though the covenant is with just the Davidic dynasty, it is for the good of total Israel] so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more [liberation]." Likewise, the everlastingness and irrevocability of God's covenant-promises are emphasized repeatedly.

The reference of 2 Sam. 23:1 says that these are the last words of David (and thus particularly crucial) and then verse 5 specifies that the matter of a house for David is indeed to be understood as one of God's covenant-promises.

The passing remark in 2 Chron. 13:5 says that God's covenant with David was one of salt. We are thus introduced to a new covenant-reminder sign--one that made at least a bit more of a mark on the tradition than the rainbow apparently did (cf. Lev. 2:13; Num. 18:19). The significance of "salt" as a covenant-sign probably comes from its power as a preservative. Modern science also knows that salt is one of the most stable of our natural compounds, one least likely to turn into something else through chemical reaction. Thus there is the possibility that Jesus had in mind covenant-loyalty when he called his followers "the salt of the earth." By being covenantly stable and true they are actually helping advance the covenant that is destined to accomplish the salvation of the world. Also, interestingly enough, there is extra-biblical evidence that, at least in some cases, the Lord's Supper of the early church involved a ritual use of salt as covenant-reminder.

From 2 Kings 8:16-19 we get an idea of what was the subsequent history of the Davidic Covenant. Following his affair with Bathsheba and his resultant frustration in disciplining his own children, King David's personal career goes from bad to worse. And that is even more truly the case with the sons who reigned after him--until, our text tells us, the dynasty deserved nothing but extinction, was kept going solely on the grounds of the covenant-promise God had made to David.

Yet with the Babylonian exile of the sixth century BC, the Davidic dynasty actually did come to a final end. There has not been an Israelite throne with a Davidic king upon it since. Is this, then, the instance of which we must admit that God did revoke one of his irrevocable covenant-promises (not that he didn't have more than sufficient cause)? By no means. Even before this exile, the prophets of Israel had been coming to see that the track of the covenant was through something other than the miserable performance of David's kingly successors. No, the covenant's true trajectory was to be traced through the faith that, in the latter days, there would appear a son of David, a messianic king who, in himself, would realize the full intent of God’s covenant-promise to David. The whole of Old Testament messianic prophecy belongs within the context of the Davidic Covenant.

Our citations from Isaiah make the point, though the final one tops them all. There, Isa. 55:3 specifically links the Messiah with the irrevocable covenant of God’s hesed for David. And then Isa. 55:5 states that it is through the fulfillment of that covenant there will be the total covenant fulfillment of all peoples coming to God.


F. The Remnant

Isa. 10:20-23

It may be questioned whether this item belongs on our chart; yet it does beautifully fit our step-down sequence. Almost all the Hebrew prophets employ the concept of the remnant (the left-over handful, the little flock, the survivors) that nevertheless will be saved--and through whom the nation itself will eventually find salvation. Our Isaiah passage is entirely typical of the whole "remnant tradition." Though this remnant clearly is that of God's covenant people and its preservation part of God’s overall covenant-plan, the difficulty is that I find no scripture actually linking "remnant" with "covenant." You can decide for yourself whether you want this step in or out.

G. The Prophecy of "The New Covenant"

Jer. 31:1-34)

This item is crucial to our picture even though it does not quite fit the movement of the chart. The covenant here is totally proleptic in that it is described and talked about even though its reality is to be entirely of the future. We do not know at just what point in his career Jeremiah spoke this oracle. We do know that the man himself lived through and was an eyewitness to the Babylonian devastation of the Israelite nation. And this has to have been the absolute low point of Israel's covenantal fortunes. The sacramental system was gone--temple, ark of the covenant, practicing priesthood, the whole bit. The covenant-promise of liberation was a mockery, with the Babylonian military holding complete dominance. The promise of peoplehood was likewise a thing of naught--with a greater part of the citizenry dead and the rest scattered in foreign exile. The promise of a homeland, same thing. And the Davidic Covenant was a farce, with David's house come to nothing.

Yet it was likely right out of the midst of this hopeless situation that Jeremiah stood up to proclaim: "No, all is not over for us. God made irrevocable covenant-promises; and those still stand no matter what the mess we have made of things. Even if the case is that we have shown ourselves morally incapable of covenant loyalty, God will make us a new sort of covenant that is workable. But our failure shall not be read as a failure of God."

Particularly if the whole of Jeremiah 31 (and not just the passage that uses the wording) be read as referring to the New Covenant, then all the familiar covenant-content is present. Admittedly, there is no recognition of the ritual aspects--either the cutting/bloodshed ritual of covenant initializing or the reminder-signs of covenant-recital--but everything else is in place and accounted for. Verses 1 and 33 give us the tag line of all covenant: "I shall be your God and you shall be my people." Verse 3 immediately establishes that covenant is based upon and guaranteed by the hesed of God that will "continue in faithfulness" in spite of anything that might happen. And verse 32 (a most intriguing one to me) simply takes for granted that the hearers already know that the only possible analogy for divine covenant is the male/female coupling, the two-become-one, of husband Yahweh and wife Israel. Is it not a little strange that the uneducated "primitives" of antiquity could so easily understand how human and divine) gender is meant to work, when we sophisticated moderns find it an unmanageable problem?

The chapter, then, is shot through with the common themes of covenant: liberation (verses 7-8); peoplehood (verses 10-14); and homeland (verses 5-6 & 27-28). Yet it is the explicit covenant talk of Jer. 31:31-34 that explains these (rather than vice versa). It is verse 33 that spots the difference between the Old Covenant that has failed (or "old covenants"; either the singular or plural is correct) and the New Covenant that will succeed. The old covenants were too external to the human covenanters: the command-content directed to them was entirely appropriate and just--yet simply beyond the inherent moral capability of the covenanters. Human failure, failure, failure has been the story all the way through.

Of necessity then, the New Covenant will have its law, its command-content, "put within them, written upon their hearts." That is to say (as I understand it) that the very cutting of the New Covenant will carry in itself the power so to work the inner transformation of the covenanters as to make them morally capable of that of which they were not capable previously. Call this "the power of the Holy Spirit" and I think you'd be pretty close to Jeremiah's mark.

And Jer. 31:34, with its "they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," I do not understand as a new individualism which in any way threatens the old sense of community. Rather, it is a new egalitarianism before God that not simply "threatens" but wholly "displaces" the old sacramentalism which decreed that the great mass of laity must have recourse to the sacramental services of an ordained priest if they are truly to "know God." At least the book you are now reading has endeavored to show that the New Covenant of the New Testament shows no hint of any hierarchical sacramentalism that would be in violation of Jeremiah's egalitarian rule.

Yet in effect, the Old Testament covenant-history does end with Jeremiah standing in a ruined Israel. In historical actuality, that is the absolute low point of covenant crashed--though, in proleptic promise, it is the absolute high point of insight into what God's covenant can and will yet be.

H. Jesus the Messiah

Here is the turning-point both of our chart and of covenant-history itself. Here, as the finale of the Old Testament development, is the chart's ultimate step-down. The covenant-making that had its start in a covenant with the whole of creation has now come to a covenant-partner of one sole and single individual. Yet because that individual is who he is, all of those old covenants find their end and fulfillment in this One. And likewise, from this One can begin the new movement of covenant expansion and inclusiveness.

Yes, although in some cases it may be only by implication, the New Testament does suggest that each of our foregoing covenants finds its goal and terminus in Jesus. Run through the chart. The initial Covenant of Creation began with Adam, representative of humanity as a whole though representative also of covenant-failure and death. Yet that covenant ends with the new Adam, representative again of humanity as a whole but also, this time, of covenant-life and success. "For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ" (1 Cor. 15: 21-22). The Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants were made with the people Israel. They have been fulfilled, however, in that one Israelitish individual, Jesus. He constitutes a pretty small Israel for sure. But because he is a true Israel, that is as much as God needs for getting back to covenant-success with total Israel.

The Davidic Covenant was with a succession of kings. Though he certainly didn't look the part, peasant-preacher Jesus was the one and only king out of the line who came through as God intended. So, strange sort of king though he be, the New Testament clearly identifies him as the one "son of David" who came to be crowned "Lord of all"--the One through whom God fulfilled "his everlasting covenant, even his steadfast, sure love for David."

And Jesus qualifies, too, as the faithful remnant (a remnant of one) through whom God will yet work the salvation of the whole.

I. "The New Covenant in My Blood"

Lk. 22:14-30,
1 Cor. 11:23-32,
Heb. 7:22, 8:6-7, 9:12-26, 10:15-22, 11:1--12:24, 13:20-21

Our pattern for this New-Covenant half of the chart will not be a distinct sequence of separate covenants as it was for the first half. Nevertheless, the idea of stepped-up covenant-spread and inclusiveness will be just as clear as "stepped-down" was earlier.

While we may be seeking out "Lord's Supper" material elsewhere, our interest in this chapter is solely in "covenant" references. So there has been no subtle engineering of things to make them come out as they do now. It is the New Testament itself that draws "covenant" and "Lord's Supper" into a common focus. Yet here is the thesis lying behind our book as a whole: Covenant-recital (and not at all priestly sacramentalism) is the one and only setting proper for Christianity’s "the Lord's Supper" (and more incidentally, its "baptism").

Particularly in the long version of Luke (one shorter manuscript does not include verses 19b and 20 of Luke 22) that Gospel presents the fullest account of Jesus' last supper with his disciples--which is why our study now confines itself to Luke 22.

In Lk. 22:15, Jesus calls the meal a Passover, which is explicitly to say "covenant recital." In both Lk. 22:16 and Lk. 22:18, Jesus relates this meal to the coming of the kingdom of God. ("The kingdom of God" figures very prominently on our covenant chart, as the end-state toward which all God's covenants are driving.) Thus Jesus' references to the kingdom are very "right" when the context of the meal is covenant. Otherwise, however, they would make no sense if the context were sacrament. Sacramental thought simply has no place for the historical eschatology of a coming kingdom.

We will in due course argue that "This is my body" (Lk. 22:19) can very well be read as a reference to the gathered disciples themselves coming into union as "the body of Christ." And that way, of course, we are deep into the covenant concept of a sharing and intermingling of life in which process the two (the several, the many) become one body. The talk is still entirely covenant-consistent. In that same verse, "Do this in remembrance of me" fits the pattern precisely: the meal is a reminder-sign of covenant recital. And the cup-word of verse 20 as much as guarantees our interpretation of the whole: "This cup ... is the new covenant in my blood." Surely it must have been the case for both Jesus and his disciples that the term "new covenant" would have been spoken and heard as a conscious and deliberate reference to the Jeremiah prophecy. And the "in my blood" must be just as conscious and deliberate a reference to the ancient blood ceremonies of covenant-cutting.

Finally, then, the uniquely Lukan passage of Lk. 22:29-30 tops anything that has gone before. Unfortunately, for some reason modern translators have conspired to hide its true significance. So I here quote it from the Concordant Literal Version, the translation that lets everything show in the fullness of the original Greek text: "I am covenanting a covenant with you, according as my Father covenanted a kingdom to me, that you may be eating and drinking at my table in my kingdom."

That Jesus is lord of the kingdom means that he has a unique standing within it. Specifically, that kingdom is the promise-content of the Father’s personal covenant with him. And what Jesus is about in speaking these words (and even more particularly in the covenant-cutting rite of the next day) is to bring the disciples, as his body, into this same covenant along with himself. This is what the Luke passage says. And that movement is just what our chart shows--namely, the One (of the New Covenant) expanding and up-stepping that covenant to include more and more people in the direction of totality. And that reminder-meal is meant to remind us, not only of the New Covenant's past and of its present, but most particularly of its future--our remembering ourselves forward to that end-state in which we actually wind up eating and drinking at his table in his kingdom.

Paul is cited from 1 Cor. 11 for the fact that his is the earliest account of the last supper--antedating Luke's by as much as two decades. Paul's account is not as full as Luke's but does serve to corroborate Luke's understanding of the "covenant" emphasis--right down to Paul's eschatological "until he comes" being echoed by Luke's "eating and drinking at my table in my kingdom."

The Letter to the Hebrews (we will see) is very strong on "covenant"--yet apparently without making reference to "the Lord's Supper" at all. That makes it particularly valuable to our study--in showing that covenant history has a much broader and deeper tie into New Testament than just that of the Lord's Supper.

The first two Hebrews references simply proclaim Jesus as the mediator (or surety) of that New Covenant which is vastly superior to anything that has gone before. Then the passage Heb. 9:12-26 is of particular interest--in that, whether he was fully cognizant of what he was doing or not, the author relates Jesus to two quite different Old Testament "blood ceremonies." Yet, also, the nature of Jesus' relationship to the ceremony is quite different in either case. In Heb. 9:12-14, Jesus is portrayed as the Jewish high priest who comes to the holiest place in the temple to perform the sacramental act of blood-sacrifice for the purification of sin--using, in his case, his own blood rather than that of animals.

However, with Heb 9:15--and then particularly verses Heb. 9:18-22--the writer switches to the blood of covenant-cutting and the Mosaic method of representing intermingled life through a two-way sprinkling of blood. And though this author gives no notice to the Lord’s Supper, he is in complete agreement with what we found there: the bloodshedding that initializes the New Covenant is confined to the cross of Good Friday and thus ought not be considered as an agent active in the Lord's Supper the night before. Yet because the role of Jesus is quite different in each case, there is no particular conflict or competition between the author's two different blood ceremonies. As we noted in the previous chapter, Jesus (here in Hebrews) is the high priest who, in his own blood, climaxed, completed, and topped everything the priestly sacramental tradition had been intended to accomplish. Thus, in this action of Jesus the sacramental mode has reached its terminus, is finished for all time; there is nothing more to be done (or that even could be done) in that regard.

However, as mediator of the New Covenant, although the blood-work of initializing that covenant is once and forever done with, the covenant itself--and its Lord--are very much alive, active, and in motion (as the writer will be quick to recognize). If we may put it so, even though there is only the one all-crucial bloodletting of Good Friday, regarding it we can thank Jesus both for having ended the old sacramentalism and started the New Covenant. Both ideas are there in Heb. 9:12-22.

In Heb. 10:15-22, then, the Jeremiah prophecy is quoted to make explicit the covenant-connection (and thus verify our chart). Also, we are called to draw near to Jesus (becoming his body) in an ongoing relationship to him as covenant Lord. The Hebrews' great "Roll Call of the Faithful" (I suggest) should be seen as running from Heb. 11:1 clear through Heb. 12:24. And dividing things so, the word "covenant" appears only in the very last verse. Nevertheless, that reference is the key to the whole. Read the passage through and consider how closely it parallels our chart of covenant history. Indeed, wherever the author wrote "faith," read "covenant faithfulness" and you will see what I mean. Obviously, for this author, covenant history has an on-goingness (a past, a present, and a future) that sacramentalism simply can't touch.

Heb. 13:20-21 is, I think, the only biblical benediction that speaks of the New Covenant and the bloodshedding by which it is secured. Hear it as being spoken to you.

Out of all this New Testament scripture we can draw some general conclusions regarding the parallels between the New Covenant and the old ones (and thus regarding the integrity of our chart itself). The old covenants looked toward fulfillment in purely "this worldly," socio-political terms. The New Covenant knows that such could be only a very partial and imperfect fulfillment at best and so points beyond to the total, transhistorical fulfillment of the kingdom of God. Yet the parallels stand, in any case.

The New Covenant reiterates the old theme of three-part promise: now,

  • liberation--though from the more fundamental enslavements of self, sin, and this world;
  • peoplehood--in that unrestricted people which is the body of Christ; and
  • homeland--in that better country, the heavenly one, the kingdom of God.

With the New Covenant, of course, it is clear that the initializing blood-ritual is that of Jesus’ death on the cross. This blood-covenant features a blood much better than that of animals. If, then, it is a question of a covenant-partner who can "image" God with sufficient precision that the two join together as one body, that person obviously is Jesus.

If the question is that of blood-intermingling, of God sharing his life with us, giving his life for us--and if, simultaneously, we are to think of the answering blood of a true representative of humanity giving his life back to God in covenant obedience--then, again, such a bloodshedder (bleeding both ways) can be no one other than Jesus. Just where the rites of old covenant had to be symbolic (and thus not quite actual) the New Covenant comes up with the solidly real, the-thing-in-itself.

Finally, as the old covenants needed something people could do as a recurrent reminder of the fact that they had participated in covenant-making and were committed to a living-out of the same--just so does the New Covenant have such a need. And as the old reminder was the Passover meal, the new is that other Passover which Jesus said he earnestly desired to eat with us and which Paul said we should continue to eat "until he comes." The New Testament is just as fully a book of covenant history and recital as the Old Testament ever was.

J. The Geographical Spread of the Church (Acts 1:7-8)

One way of tracking the step-ups of the New Covenant is through the graduated geographical spread of the New Covenant people. Luke is the only one who can be of help in this regard--in that he is the only one to supplement his Gospel with a second volume (Acts, of course) continuing the covenant history on into the early church.

As the opening, theme statement for the book of Acts, Jesus speaks in obvious terms of graduated geographic expansion: "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." That is a pretty fast hop, skip, and jump by which to get from Jerusalem to the end of the earth; but the pattern is clear in any case. However, when Luke slows down to tell the story in more detail, geographical spread obviously is one means by which it is outlined. It runs step-by-step through Palestine until the Apostle Paul comes on as carrier of the gospel. Then, through his missionary journeys the spread eventually takes in Rome--with a suggestion that it might extend even to Spain (there being surely no farther-out "end of the earth" in those days).

K. The Numerical Growth of the Church

Lacking, as he did, computers or calculators or nearly enough fingers, this one had to be next to impossible for Luke. But he gives it the big try anyhow. I am convinced his numerical sequence must be deliberate.

The New Covenant, of course, begins with the One who shed his blood in ratifying it. Lk. 22:29, then, says explicitly that the last supper represented an opening out of that covenant from the One to include the Twelve--the movement of covenantal step-up thus being launched. Next, in Acts 1:15, following Jesus' resurrection and ascension, Luke tells us that "together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons." [Scholars agree: Jesus&eachuo; choice of twelve disciples correlates so neatly with the twelve tribes of covenant-Israel that this number of disciples likely reflects a deliberate move on Jesus’ part. But whether Luke wants now deliberately to posit a ten-fold jump between the 12 and the 120--well, that's anybody's guess.]

In any case, Acts 2:41 then jumps the 120 by about 3,000--which is what a visitation of the Holy Spirit can do for a church. And in Acts 2:47, Luke gives up the chase by admitting that the Lord kept adding faster than Luke himself could keep counting. The covenant community grew by leaps and bounds, as we say.

L. The Inclusion of the Gentiles (Eph. 2:14-22)

Luke--in his Acts account--does recognize this most noteworthy step-up of the New Covenant. Yet he keeps his composure in the process. It is rather the Apostle Paul whose mind is boggled every time he thinks about it--which is quite often. Frankly, whenever he talks on the subject he "gushes." Certainly geographical spreads and numerical counts are nice; but, top-drawer Old Testament scholar that he is, Paul understands that the New Covenant has already worked its way back past the Mosaic and Abrahamic Covenants to be addressing the primary and ultimate covenant of the New Creation. After all,

Jew + Gentile = Anybody & Everybody.

Eph. 2 is absolutely Paul's best statement of the matter. In Eph. 2:12 he actually uses the word "covenant," identifying the Gentiles as those who--prior to the inclusiveness of the New Covenant--were considered as "strangers to the covenants of promise." But Paul’s covenant-talk does not stop with that. In Eph. 2:13, that the far-off have been brought near "in the blood of Christ" shows that we are dealing with the same covenant-scholar who reported Jesus' upper-room saying as "the new covenant in my blood." And again, the talk in Eph. 2:15-16 about Christ's creating in himself "one new humanity in place of the two" (better: "a single new humanity in himself") and about reconciling both to God "in one body through the cross" [covenantal bloodshedding again]--well, Paul just has to be thinking clear back to the Genesis definition of "covenant" as the two becoming one body. This passage is New Covenant all the way.

M. The New Creation as the Culmination of All Covenant

2 Cor. 5:16-20
1 Cor. 15:20-28
Rev. 5:13, 15:4, 21:1-5, 24-26; 22:1-5

In Lk. 22:29-30, Jesus made it explicit to his disciples that the ultimate goal of his covenanting them into the same covenant by which the Father had covenanted to him the kingdom--that the ultimate purpose of the move was that the disciples might be eating and drinking at his table in his kingdom. The kingdom of God is the goal-line of all biblical covenanting.

The scriptures now cited all describe that end-state. None of them uses the term "covenant." However, the hallmark of all of them is their emphasis upon universality and inclusiveness--which, of course, was also the hallmark of God's original Covenant of Creation and of his ultimate covenant-promises all the way through. Particularly in light of Jesus' statement that the kingdom is his by virtue of its having been covenanted to him by God--by this token we can confidently accept these scriptures as portrayals of the outcome of the Bible's covenant-history.

2 Cor. 5:17 can as well be taken to read that "there is a new creation" as that "that person is a new creation, or a new creature." Yet, note well, that of which Paul speaks is a new creation--not simply a "heaven" to which nice people can resort in getting away from it all. No, "a new creation" is just what is wanted in our charting of the Bible's covenant narrative; and that new creation will have to be at least as big and glorious and all-encompassing as the original creation of God's first covenanting. In any case, we are told that it is a matter of the old order passing away and the new coming to be.

Further, the consummation is here presented primarily as a matter of reconciliation--whether between an individual and God, between God and the human community, between one individual and another. And "reconciliation," of course, could as well be the term for the covenantal process of the separated two becoming one body. Obviously, it would have been no trick at all for Paul to have stated this view of "the new creation" in the language of culminated covenant. And indeed, in verse 19 Paul says that the party, the body, which God is reconciling to himself is the world (a rather inclusive term that). He decidedly does not say that God is reconciling to himself only a number of select individuals.

It would have taken even less of trick for Paul to have stated 1 Cor. 15:20-28 in covenant terms. Paul here does speak in terms of Jesus' accomplishing the kingdom and then delivering it to God the Father. Yet, there in Luke, Jesus himself had spoken of the kingdom-assignment having been given him by covenant with the Father. The difference is merely one of terminology. However, the line that fits our covenant-history as perfectly as any could is Paul's final description of the kingdom: "that God may be all in all"--which is just where the covenant-promise began in Genesis 1.

The Revelation passages pick up the same themes. With both Rev. 5:13 and Rev. 15:4, it is the note of totality and final inclusiveness that comes through. With Rev. 21:1-5 begins the Revelator's description of the end-state, which he portrays as a New Jerusalem. The predominant emphasis is its "newness," its radical contrast with the broken dyingness of all that has gone before. Yet when the first aspect of this newness is that "he will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them"--that is to hark back to what has been the language of covenant ever since Sinai. Surely we must believe that the Revelator knew what language he was speaking.

Finally, the passage 21:22 through 22:5 is chock full of symbols of eschatological reconciliation and covenantal inclusiveness. Here is the M-line of our chart, a "consummated totality" almost beyond believing:

The city, we are told, is a city of light and its gates are ever open--always and forever ready for in-traffic, never ever forbiddenly closed to anyone. And prominent among that in-traffic are the people we would least expect to see--the nations, or Gentiles, that we have thought to be (as Paul had it) "strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world." Yet there they are, being led in by their "kings," whom the Revelator consistently has pictured as the greatest enemies of God's covenant people. Then, hard by the river of life stands the tree of life. And its leaves, we are told, are for "the healing of the nations (the Gentiles)."

How far that healing, that reconciliation, that covenantal inclusion might ultimately go is certainly not for us to say, not for us to limit. God's original covenant-promise was for the totality of his creation; and who are we to say whether or how far he ultimately can achieve it? Our chart has it right. As the beginning of God's covenant work involved the totality of creation, its end and goal can involve nothing less than the totality of redemption. He surely is as great a Redeemer in the second instance as he was Creator in the first. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

The hope is that the very long study of this chapter has been a worthwhile effort in and of itself--giving us a better understanding of the essential integrity of Scripture (Old Testament and New), providing us a basic theme and development by which we can tie things together. However, regarding the special purposes of this particular book, the intention has been more limited. We have wanted to show that the recital traditions of both Judaism and Christianity are dedicated specifically to the reciting ("remembering") of God's covenant-history with his people. And what should be quite obvious by now is that neither Jewish Passover nor Christianity's Lord's Supper will fit in any other context.