God’s Covenant Unfolded: Creation to New Creation
Rowland S. Ward
Adam was made a king or ruler of the earth under God, and placed in a central sanctuary garden reminiscent of later priestly sanctuaries in Israel. Since the moment of Adam’s disobedience restoration to God’s fellowship by our obedience is impossible; we are shut up to reliance on another, Jesus Christ. He is in fact called the Last Adam (1 Cor 15:45) as well as ‘the first born from the dead and the Ruler of the kings of the earth’ (Rev 1:5). This is as much as to say that there have been several Adams after Adam who did not fulfil the promise of the seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head (Gen 3:15). Eventually came one who did meet every requirement and who is not succeeded by any other. This one, Jesus Christ, brings the new humanity into its true position as ‘a kingdom of priests to serve his God and Father’ (Rev 1:6).
Given Adam’s breaking of the covenant of works, the covenant of redemption operates to provide a covenant of grace for us. In accordance with the terms of the covenant of redemption with the Father, Christ was fully obedient and thereby fulfilled Adam’s covenant of works and secured the Holy Spirit for his people. Paul speaks of believers having been under the curse of a broken law but, he says, ‘Christ redeemed us by becoming a curse for us’ (Gal 3:13). ‘God sent his Son, who was born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those who were under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons’ and that the Holy Spirit might be given to us (Gal 4:5-6).
Here follows a basic outline of the theme of God’s covenant purposes.
1. Adam – the covenant of creation
In Genesis 1-7 God brings forth the earth from water, reducing chaos to order. He appoints Adam ruler of the earth. The goal of creation is to share God’s rest. God places man in his presence in a sanctuary garden, under his covenant, showing him how his dominion must be exercised to be effective. Adam disobeys. The nakedness of this sin God covers by coats of skins, and he is expelled to the east. One is promised who will destroy the works of the devil. Meantime, we see the fruit of Adam’s sin in his descendants, and the ultimate judgment of the flood, a reversal of creation, with a remnant saved in the ark.
In the promise to Adam (Gen 3:15) God continues his commitment to creation: the Serpent will be crushed by the woman’s seed. But Cain turns out not to be that seed: he is on the side of the Serpent. Even Seth does not prove to be the foundation of a better future: his line also descends into wickedness. Productive achievements in terms of livestock management, music and metal-working are noted (Gen 4:19ff), but are associated with spiritual decline – Lamech’s polygamy and arrogant sword-song.
The judgment of the Flood means that creation returns to something like the watery formless mass at its beginning. Noah’s Flood is a picture of the ultimate judgment at the end of the world that Enoch spoke about (cf. Jude 14). The New Testament uses it to point to the end of this order and the introduction of a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness (2 Peter 3:6-7,10-13).
2. Noah – the covenant of the rainbow
Genesis 8-11 is a redemptive re-enactment. The world is recreated out of the waters of the flood, reducing chaos to order. God appoints Noah (Gen 6:18; 7:1) head of this new creation and continues his creation covenant with him (Gen 8:15-20). Noah’s name is from the Hebrew root nuah, to rest (cf. Gen 5:29). Noah plants a vineyard where he sins in drinking to excess. The nakedness of this sin two of his sons cover with a garment. The fruit of Noah’s sin is seen in his descendants, particularly the wicked citizens of Babel who aim to make a name for themselves through cultural achievements. However, ultimate judgment is postponed for it is God’s determination to fulfil his covenant with creation.
It is ‘righteous’ Noah (6:6; 7:1) who heads up a new creation as a kind of new Adam, but it was because he found grace in God’s sight (6:5), not that he was inherently righteous. God pledges to continue his covenant with him (6:18). God preserves him and his family in the ark, ‘remembers’ his covenant with him (8:1) and so, by a strong wind reminiscent of the moving of the Spirit on the face of the waters in 1:3, dries up the waters so that dry land appears. When Noah steps out on a new and cleansed earth, the covenant of the rainbow is confirmed in terms which echo unmistakeably the blessing of creation in Genesis 1:28, and which speak just as clearly of God’s unilateral determination to continue his purposes to bring creation to its goal. The rainbow is to ‘remind’ God of his purpose, a powerful way of saying that God will act to ensure his purpose is fulfilled.
There will be no further Noah-like Flood since it cannot eradicate the sin in the human heart (8:21). Noah offers a burnt offering in sacrifice. However, between the reiterated blessing of human fruitfulness in 9:1 and 9:7 are several new points. They amount to provisions to advance respect for human life by protecting it (vv2, 4-6) and sustaining it (v3). They are laws to be obeyed that will not be irrelevant for the later system of sacrifices in Israel.
But Noah is himself part of the problem (9:20-21). He is not able to bear the weight of the world’s redemption. Noah cannot bring that rest of which his name speaks and which is creation’s goal. As Adam’s sin had resulted in division among his descendants, so does Noah’s sin. As Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened unaided, so Noah seems to know what had happened without being told. Whereas God judged Adam and Eve, Noah exercises the authority given in 9:6 and utters predictions in terms of a curse on part of his family and blessings for others. The Serpent was cursed and so was Cain. Now Canaan is cursed too. It is as if the Canaanite peoples represent the Serpent’s seed, and thus their historic overthrow by Israel is justified and is a picture of the ultimate judgment of all workers of evil.
The other two sons receive blessings but Shem is given the pre-eminence without anything stated as the basis of the preference. This points to the sheer unmerited favour of God. He chooses Shem, apparently the youngest son (10:21), rather than Japheth. Shem means name. But if Shem’s line is the favoured one, progress still seems to be downward. The Tower of Babel episode is a re-run of times before the Flood: man without God is a clever devil. Men suppose to make a name for themselves. In effect they think that they can reach up to God’s throne and access the power and authority of heaven and use it for their own glory. The desire for unity and a city is not of itself wrong. God has a plan for unity and for a city too, but it does not come on the foundation of human sin but through its overthrow and the establishing of righteousness. In mercy and in judgment, God limits the cruel power of man and scatters the builders. Yet Shem’s descendants end up in the Babel-like civilisation of Ur as idolaters (Josh 24:2). Only the fact of God’s commitment to his creation means that all is not lost. There will be another new Adam.
3. Abraham – the covenant of circumcision
Genesis 11:27-50:26 records a more developed redemptive re-enactment in the events in the family line of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God’s choice of Abram occurs in the context of the disunity of humanity and the impression God’s creation covenant will fail. That would be a wrong impression for the choice of Abram is with a view to the fulfilment of the creation covenant. Abram and the descendants God gives him are to be a means of bringing the covenant blessings to the whole world.
Abram is like a dead man, his name (meaning proud father) a mockery, for he has no children and his wife is barren (Gen 11:30). But God calls into being things that are not (cf. Rom 4:17) and he commands Abram to leave his father’s house and go to a land he will show him. In contrast to the Babel builders, God will act to make Abram a great nation, to bless him, to make his name great, decide the fate of men on how they relate to him, and to bless the whole world through him (Gen 12:1-3). It will be 25 years before Abram has the child of the promise (Gen 12:4;17:1,21), and his faith was tested. Yet he believed the LORD and it was reckoned to him as righteousness (Gen 15:6). The thought is not that faith is meritorious, but that the one in whom Abram trusted provides for him the righteousness he needs as the basis of fellowship, a righteousness he receives as God’s gift through faith.
A year before Isaac’s birth God formalises his promise in the covenant of circumcision. Abram’s name is changed to Abraham, father of a multitude, because God’s blessing will result in him being the father of nations and of kings (Gen 17:1ff). Whereas in 1:28 God had said to Adam and Eve, ‘Be fruitful and multiply’, and similarly to Noah and his sons in 9:1, the emphasis now is different. God says to Abraham, ‘I will make you very fruitful’ (17:6). The heart of the covenant is God’s total commitment: ‘I will be your God and the God of your children after you’. The New Testament does not provide any greater promise, but rather discloses the implications of God’s commitment. Abraham is also assured of possession of the land of Canaan as a free gift.
We find therefore no total lapse in Abraham. He is kept by the power of God. God does not favour him because he is worthy but because God is gracious and provides righteousness for him. He is promised greatness by God, not rewarded for already existing greatness. God’s total commitment to Abraham is shown ultimately in the gift of God’s son as the true and Last Adam.
Adam was given the whole earth to subdue whereas Abraham is promised the land of Canaan as God’s gift (15:7; 17:8). Nevertheless, all nations will be blessed through Abraham (12:3 cf. Gal 3:8). When the writer to the Hebrews speaks of Abraham looking beyond Canaan to a new creation (Heb 11:9-10,16), he writes perceptively, for Canaan has replaced the whole earth only temporarily and typically. Abraham is the inheritor of the creation covenant as a new Adam. As Paul puts it, Abraham inherits the world (Rom 4:13). The inclusiveness of the church composed of both Jews and Gentiles, which is so insisted upon in the New Testament, reflects the reality of all believers, all true children of Abraham, as God’s new human family.
There is a dramatised curse ritual in connection with the covenant with Abraham. It is seen in Genesis 15 when God confirms his promise of the land (15:8-20). The Lord will be dismembered if he does not keep his promise! There is also obligation on Abraham. He is to walk before God Almighty and be perfect (17:1), and the rite of circumcision is the sign of God’s covenant, the expression of his obedience and the call to continue walking before the LORD.
The creation covenant formalised with Abraham continues through Isaac (26:3f) and on to Jacob (35:11). The continuation of the covenant is of God’s grace, for Isaac’s wife is also barren (25:21) and so is Jacob’s wife, Rachel (29:31), ultimately the mother of Joseph; it is also contrary to nature since the birthright is carried on by the younger: Jacob not Esau, Joseph not Reuben, Ephraim not Manasseh.
In Joseph’s life in particular, there is the beginning of a provisional fulfilment of the promise to Abraham: God is with Joseph in everything (Gen 39:20-23). Although he has many trials and his name seems to be cut off, yet his name is made great, and he becomes a blessing to the nations of ‘all the earth’ (Gen 41:56-57). Reckoned as the first born of his many brothers (49:22ff), he delivers and protects the children of Abraham. But as yet they are a nation only in embryo. Nevertheless, they prosper numerically and materially during their time in Egypt (47:27; Ex 1:7) until a Pharaoh came to the throne who cared nothing for Joseph’s work. He makes the Hebrews slaves, and orders their male babies to be killed at birth. It looks like the end. But then there is another new beginning. God’s covenant word brings hope.
4. Moses and the covenant at Sinai
The Book of Exodus speaks of God’s acts in terms of a new creation. Moses, like Noah, was saved in an ark from drowning so as to bring salvation to others. [The rare Hebrew word teba is used only of Noah’s boat and Moses’ basket.] Israel is God’s firstborn son (Ex 4:22) like Adam (cf. Luke 3:38), created by God (Isa 43:1) and saved from the waters of judgment that engulfed the Egyptians at the Red Sea after the plagues had reduced their ordered world to a waste (cf. Gen 12). Israel is God’s new Adam, God’s new humanity.
We read that God ‘remembered’ his covenant with Abraham (Ex 6:5), and therefore delivered the Israelites from their oppressors in Egypt: he cursed the Egyptians but blessed his people. It is important to note that this act of grace was not apart from the provision of a sacrifice in the Passover lamb. In the houses of the Egyptians the first-born died; in the house of the Israelites a lamb dies. Israel as a whole, God’s firstborn son, exits the bondage of Egypt into freedom under God.
The initial goal of their journey is Horeb or Mt Sinai (Ex 3:1,12). When they arrive Moses receives God’s law, which the people affirm they accept and will obey. Then the people are sprinkled with the blood of the covenant (Ex 24:1-9). Those who are already covenant people are thus committed to God’s law, but their inevitable failure in obedience will not overthrow the covenant because of the provision of the sprinkled blood.
God brought them to the land he had promised to Abraham generations before, giving them victories over the Canaanites so that they could settle in the land and experience rest (Deut 12:10; Josh 21:43-45). The curse of Canaan is being worked out, and God’s determination to put emnity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent is demonstrated (Gen 3:15), as also his determination to make for Abraham a great name and a great nation. It is all of grace.
Prior to Exodus 19:3 Scripture is a kind of prologue to the covenant then made at Sinai by which Israel, already belonging to God, is committed to become a kingdom of priests, a fully sanctified nation Ex 19:4-6). A detailed system of ritual or ceremonial law was also imposed, including a system of symbolic sacrifices to deal with sin. Strikingly, there appear no sacrifices for wilful sin, sin ‘with a high hand’, such as David’s adultery. For these there was nothing but the covenant mercy of God (Ps 51:1), which in fact underpinned the entire life of the nation.
A generation later the covenant is renewed before entry into the Promised Land. The book of Deuteronomy reviews the past (chs. 1-4), reiterates the Ten Words we commonly call the ten commandments (5), expounds and applies them in order (6-26), provides for reaffirmation of the covenant (27-30), and for its continuation (31-34). The commandments given to Israel by God cover all aspects of life, not just narrowly religious matters, and they are to be kept in the context of response to God’s gracious deliverance of his people. Obedience is a necessary fruit of the covenant relationship with God, not a means of establishing it. For Israel it is all of grace because God is faithful to his covenant.
As the new Adam, Israel (= Prince with God) is brought into the new Eden, entering it from the east which was guarded by a mysterious angel with a sword (Josh 5:13). This reminds us of the cherubim on the east of Eden who guarded the way to Paradise (Gen 3:24). The new Eden is a land flowing with milk and honey where the new Adam is to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28; Deut 6:3;8:6ff), living under God’s covenant.
At this point a difficulty is sometimes felt. The new Adam’s continuance in the land of Canaan depends on his obedience to that covenant as did the first Adam’s continuance in Eden. There are blessings for obedience, and curses for disobedience (Deut 28); ‘life and prosperity, death and destruction’ is set before Israel (Deut 30:15). If Israel disobeys she will be expelled to the east once more, to Babylon, or returned to captivity in Egypt. ‘Is not Israel actually under a covenant of works?’ one may ask.
However, as we have seen, it is fundamental that Israel is not received into God’s favour because of obedience but because of God’s gracious covenant with Abraham. The law of Moses has not overthrown the covenant promise of God to Abraham (Gal 3:17). Covenant and law are differently related. Noah, saved from the Flood by God’s grace, received God’s law (Gen 9:1ff). Abraham, justified through faith, was to walk before God and be perfect (Gen 17:1). Similarly, redeemed Israel receives God’s law, although in much more elaborated form than previously, so that she might be a holy nation (Ex 19:6). The exhortation to New Testament believers by the One greater than Moses is the same: ‘Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matt 5:47). The giving of law to the redeemed of God reflects the fact that obedience to the covenant Lord is always the appropriate response of the redeemed. The demand of law, and the pressing toward the mark, does not imply that in this life perfect obedience will be achieved, or that we are justified on the basis of works.
Israel is the subject of grace just because it is impossible for righteousness to be obtained by Israel’s obedience. The addition of the Mosaic law instructs the people in God’s character, but multiplies the opportunities for sin, convicts and restricts with a view to preparing the people for the One who would crush the Serpent’s head (Gal 3). In this sense the Mosaic covenant is both gracious and burdensome (cf. Acts 15:10). At the same time the law holds out the promise of life for perfect obedience. ‘If you would enter into life keep the commandments’ is a faithful saying (Matt 19:17), even if it is only a theoretical possibility for sinners. Paul rightly stresses: ‘If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing’ (Gal 2:21).
There was a special peculiarity for Israel since her existence as a nation provided a pattern and a portrayal on the physical level of the reality of the Kingdom of God to be realised in Jesus Christ. Canaan as a picture of the heavenly country (cf. Heb 11:16) cannot continue to be possessed by a covenant breaking people. Hence on the temporal level the fortunes of Israel are tied to her spiritual faithfulness. This feature also emphasises the necessity of perfect obedience in order to inherit God’s rest, and so encourages the expectation of the promised seed of Abraham, the true Passover Lamb.
Adam had been made as ruler of the earth, and God’s purpose is that the goal of creation will be fulfilled despite the entry of sin. So humanity must again rule effectively. Israel was to be a kingdom of priests (Ex 19:4-6), ruling for God in fellowship with him, but in the absence of a king each person did what seemed right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6; 21:25. They fell into religious syncretism (Judg 17) and Sodom-like depravity (Judg 19:16ff cf. Gen 19:1ff), and their enemies plundered them. Only through God’s gift of kingship could God’s purpose be realised.
5. David and the Kingdom covenant
But the Lord in mercy (Judg 9:16) yields to the people’s wrongly motivated desire for a king by giving them one (Saul) who outwardly appeared ideal, but who was a failure. David, God’s replacement for Saul, was not the likely choice. Even Samuel thought David’s older brother was the obvious candidate (1 Sam 6:6-7). But David was a man who feared the Lord and hoped in his mercy. To him God continued his covenant. The lesson: man’s choice leads to disaster; God’s choice leads to salvation.
The arrangement with David as recorded in 2 Samuel 7:1ff is not in fact described as a covenant. However, like the arrangement in Eden, it has all the features of a covenant, and is described as such elsewhere in Scripture (eg. Psa 89:3). It is also noteworthy that the unusual form of God’s name (LORD God) found in Genesis 2 is also found in 2 Samuel 7.
God’s promise to David includes terms which bring the previous promises to mind: the promise of a great name (7:9), a place for Israel to call home (7:10), freedom from oppression and rest from all enemies (7:11-11), a future seed (7:12) who will be God’s son (7:14), and the linking of the choice of Israel as God’s own with the establishing of David’s kingdom for ever (7:24,16). Clearly, God’s blessing to Abraham is to be fulfilled through David’s line. As the formless and empty earth had been formed and filled by the Great King, with his son Adam placed in it as image and ruler, so God will make a house for David that his son may rule in peace and righteousness. In turn, David’s son will build God’s House where God may dwell in the midst of his people. God will relate to him as a father to his son. Individuals may be chastised but David’s dynasty and kingdom will be eternal.
David’s reaction is striking. The difficult phrase in 7:19 is commonly translated ‘Is this your usual way of dealing with man, O LORD God?’ The verse is David’s response to God’s revelation, and reads literally, ‘This is the law (or charter) [torah] of humanity, O LORD God’. This fits the context perfectly. David recognises that God’s promise through him secures the future of humanity. One will arise from David’s line to fulfil the promise made to Abraham, overthrow the Serpent and bring about the goal of creation, God with his people for ever.
Several passages in the Psalms point to God’s special son as the true occupant of David’s throne (eg. Ps 110:1; 45:7). Indeed, David’s throne was really God’s throne (1 Chron 29:22). A preliminary fulfilment comes in David’s son Solomon, who has a reign of outward splendour and peace (ca.970-931 BC), and who is acknowledged among the nations for his wisdom and the glory of his kingdom. Yet he is not the perfect king, and his successors still less, and they experience the promised chastisement. The true fulfilment awaits the coming of David’s greater son who is in a very special way God’s son, and so also David’s Lord (Psa 110:1 cf. Matt 22:41-45).
The decline of the nation continued. Two hundred years after David, Isaiah anticipates the defeat of the people and their exile to a foreign land, He also speaks encouragingly about a remnant returning from captivity as the nucleus of a new Israel through the Lord’s anointed one/messiah, Cyrus (45:1), whose work provides an illustration of the work of the true anointed one/messiah. Strikingly, around 732 BC Isaiah speaks to the house of David of a child born of a virgin who will be called Immanuel, God with us, and who will rule on David’s throne for ever (Isa 7:13-14; 9:6-7). He also speaks of a righteous servant, equipped by God’s Spirit, who brings justice to the nations (42:1-6). This servant is identified with God yet distinguished from him (50:1-3, 14-17). Nor is he identified with Cyrus, who is plainly stated to be an unbeliever (45:4). The servant will suffer for the sins of the unfaithful people to remove their guilt. Here, surely, is the seed of the woman who will overthrow the Serpent.
In 722 BC the ten northern tribes, who had rebelled against the Davidic dynasty after Solomon’s death, were defeated by the Assyrians and many of the people forcibly resettled elsewhere in the Assyrian Empire. The two remaining tribes (Judah and little Benjamin) did not follow the LORD rightly either. Things were going from bad to worse. Where is the promised King, the promised son of God? Where is the faithful servant, the redeemer from sin?
From about 626 BC the prophet Jeremiah spoke God’s word to the people although it was not well received. Beginning about 605 BC the people of Judah came under the control of the Babylonian Empire. Some, like Daniel and Ezekiel, were deported to Babylon. Jerusalem itself was destroyed in 587 BC, and many more Jews taken into captivity. The principle was simply that Israel had not kept God’s covenant law, and the land had not enjoyed its sabbath rest for 490 years, so it would now have 70 years of enforced rest (2 Chron 36:21) in line with the principle of Leviticus 26:43. Thus Israel was banished from the land for her sins, just as Adam and Eve had been banished from the Garden. Apart from the promise of God all again seemed dark and hopeless. No temple, no king, no land. Who would save the remnant of God’s covenant people?
6. Cyrus and the promise of a new covenant
Jeremiah, like Isaiah, recognises the failure of the theocracy; her day of earthly glory is past. The fundamental relationship of God to Israel will be realised somewhat differently in the future, and it depends upon God’s work. Jeremiah speaks of a new covenant which God would make with his people which would ensure God’s law was written on their hearts. He spoke about return from captivity (Jer 30:1ff), and the rebuilding of a Jerusalem that would be truly holy (Jer 31:38ff), of a reconstituted house of Judah and house of Israel under a new covenant (31:31).
Daniel in Babylon, read Jeremiah’s writing (Dan 9:2), and prayed accordingly. 2 Chronicles 36:21 explains that the number of years of exile corresponded to the number of years the land had not enjoyed the sabbath it was due each seven years (Leviticus 25). The prayer (9:3-19) is the prayer of one who knows the nation has lost the privileges of the covenant – the temple and sacrificial system, the city of Jerusalem and life in a land flowing with milk and honey – because of covenant disobedience. ‘But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers…I will remember my covenant….I will remember the land’ (Leviticus 26:40ff. cf. Deut 30:1ff.).
Their human deliverer was in fact the ruler of the Medes and Persians, a man named Cyrus, just as predicted by God through Isaiah (45:1). He and his men overthrew the Babylonian Empire in 538 BC, and allowed the resettled peoples to return to their own lands. It was a new beginning, life from death. Cyrus was not the promised seed of the woman but he provided a picture of the promised seed in the way in which he brought God’s people’s bondage to an end and allowed them to return to their own land. By 516 BC the temple had been rebuilt under Haggai (Ezra 6), and eventually Jerusalem was also rebuilt in the time of Nehemiah.
Psalm 126 sings:
1 When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion,
we were like men who dreamed.
2 Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
‘The LORD has done great things for them.’
3 The LORD has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.
The return from exile is certainly fulfilment of Jeremiah’s prediction (Jer 30:3), as is the rebuilding of Jerusalem (Jer 31:38-40). But Jerusalem does not turn out to be fully holy in terms of the prediction, nor, despite religious renewal under Nehemiah, were all the people sincere believers – although their fondness for idolatry was curbed. The pious knew that the prophesied time of God’s complete redemption had not yet come. The prophecies of Ezekiel about the restoration and blessing of God’s people through an eternal covenant of peace (34:25; 37:26) were not fulfilled either. Psalm 126 continues:
4 Restore our fortunes, O LORD ,
like streams in the desert.
5 Those who sow in tears
will reap with songs of joy.
6 He who goes out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with him. [NIV]
The return from exile is not the ultimate fulfilment of Jeremiah’s new covenant prediction, but it began with the reconstitution of the remnant of God’s people from both Israel and Judah (Jer 31:31ff). They have been brought back from the dead (Ezekiel 37) to again be God’s people in God’s land under his Lordship and with a true priesthood. Yet the prophecies of Zechariah (ca 520 BC) show that the goal of the temple building of that time will ultimately lead to a Messianic era when priesthood and kingship will be combined in one person. The day of small things will give way to greater glory through God’s Spirit (Zech 4:6).
In Daniel 9:24-27 we find a remarkable prophecy in which the seventy years of captivity in Babylon complete a cycle but also introduce a further period of ’70 sevens’. During this period events which achieve the goal of history will be realised by the true Messiah, the Last Adam.
24″Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy. 25 “Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. 26After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. 27He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing [of the temple] he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.” NIV
The passage tells us that the end of the 70 years of exile (Jer 25:8-14; 29:10) will introduce a new period of 70 units of seven. The exile was closed by Cyrus as God’s “Anointed One” (Isaiah 45:1) who allowed the Jews to return. The new period will be climaxed by the true Anointed One who will deal with the sin problem that had caused the exile in the first place; in fact, all sin would be so effectively dealt with that further sacrifices would not be needed.
The sabbath and numerical symbolism in the passage is important, more so that any precise calculation of time. The 70 sevens is a complete and perfect period during which the perfect plan of God will be realised in effective dealing with sin and deliverance from sin’s bondage (v24) through Messiah’s death (v27) which causes God’s covenant to prevail. The end point of the 70 sevens is therefore the eternal sabbath, the goal of history.
Notice the 3-fold division:
seven sevens – the city will be rebuilt but no 50th jubilee year follows (Lev 25:8-13) since true liberty will not follow the rebuilding of Jerusalem; this comes only with the Messiah.
sixty-two sevens – an odd or broken period as if to convey the idea that the period from the rebuilding until the coming of Christ (the first time) is uncertain to us, and a period which even with what has gone before is still incomplete.
one seven – the last seven is itself complete, a single seven. Like creation it suggests a new and complete work of God (cf Gen 1:1ff), but also completes the perfect plan of God (70 sevens). In the middle (not at the end) of this seven Jerusalem is destroyed [which it was in AD 70] through the application of the curses of the covenant, leaving three and one half to the end of history. This broken period appears to be a symbol of the Christian dispensation – a period of trial and persecution but also a period which ends in triumph. [The same period is expressed as 42 months in Rev 11:2; 13:5 and 1260 days in Rev 11:3; 12:6.]
So Daniel learns that the city will be rebuilt but eventually destroyed in order that God’s covenant may prevail through Messiah’s death so that its full benefits will be realised in the building of the spiritual temple and the establishing of the kingdom which will have no end. The earthly city/temple is not the key: it was always only a symbol of God’s presence. Messiah is the key for the future, the seed of the woman, the one who defeats the Serpent. Already anticipated as Immanuel, he guides the destiny of Israel in the absence of the king on David’s throne, and will come to be personally present with his people.
Significantly, the last of the Old Testament books, Malachi (ca. 430 BC), speaks of the messenger of God’s covenant, the Lord whom you seek, coming suddenly to his temple (3:1). Only such a one can fulfil the promise to Abraham, only such a one can fulfil the purposes of God in creation.
7. Jesus and the new covenant
Matthew traces the genealogy of Jesus from Abraham through David (Matt 1:1), while Luke traces it back to Adam the son of God (Luke 3:31). Both Mary and Zacharias recognise the coming of Jesus is the fulfilment of the covenant promises to Abraham (Luke 2:55,72-75). John notes that the law came through Moses but grace and truth came into being through Jesus Christ (John 1:17). The idea is not a contrast between what is false and what is true, for indeed the law came through Moses from God, but a contrast between old and new, shadow and reality, and between one who was a messenger and one who was the very embodiment of the message.
The clear portrayal of Jesus as the Last Adam in the temptation should be noted. Jesus’ temptation at the beginning of his public ministry is in a setting of social and environmental deprivation – in the desert among wild animals (Mark 1:12-13), not in a garden. It comes from outside of him, from Satan, and it aims to overthrow Jesus’ trust in the Father’s love and care. But the Last Adam worships and serves the LORD his God according to every word of God. No one is ever able to convict him of sin, and so death should not be his lot. His death is explicable only on the principles of the Father’s redemptive purpose: he will yield his son, his only son, whom he loves, Jesus, to bear the sin of others as representative and substitute. He is the Servant of the Lord, the true Passover, the Lamb of God. Here in Christ’s sacrifice is the ultimate implication of God’s commitment to Abraham to be his God.
In Luke 24:25 the risen Jesus begins at Moses and all the prophets, explaining to the disciples what was said in the Scriptures concerning himself. He also speaks (v.44) of everything written about him in the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms (terms standing for the three great divisions of the Hebrew Bible) having to be fulfilled. Here we have the origin of the Apostolic use of the Old Testament in the early church.
Jesus expressly identifies his sacrifice as ‘the new covenant in my blood which is poured out for you’ (Luke 22:20), and the New Testament proclaims and applies this reality. Jesus is the Last Adam, the obedient son through whom sinners are redeemed and made the people of God (Rom 5:12-21). He is the one now enthroned on the true throne of David exercising his rule so as to put down all his enemies (1 Cor 15:20-28), whose glory will be revealed in the new creation when his task is complete.
The old (Mosaic) covenant is superseded because fulfilled by Jesus (Matt 5:17). Yet the righteousness requirements of the law are fulfilled in Christ’s people, for they live according to the Spirit and not the sinful nature (Rom 8:4). Here again is the internalisation of the law which was to characterise the new covenant referred to by Jeremiah. The moral law of love for God and neighbour, which of old was expressed in the ten commandments rooted in the redemption from slavery in Egypt, is now commended to us by the one who embodied it perfectly, and whose sacrifice as the true Passover Lamb provides the foundation of the ‘new’ commandment of love ‘as I have loved you’ (John 13:24).
Yet the promised accomplishment of the new covenant in a universally holy people is not yet fully realised among the people of God. It still remains that they are not all Israel who are of Israel. The professing people of God are not all regenerate. It still remains that they are not all perfectly sanctified.
The ultimate fulfilment of the new covenant is in the final and glorious manifestation of the kingdom of God already established in Jesus. The Book of Revelation reminds us that God will be with his people in an unparalleled way (21:3); there will be no sin in the new creation (21:8,27), no tears, no death (21:4) no curse (22:3). The redeemed will be sons who inherit all this (21:7), servants who serve (22:3), kings who reign (22:5). Conditions in the new creation remind us of Eden, yet far exceed them (22:1ff). The garden becomes a city of light and glory in God’s presence for ever and ever. God’s purpose in creation is realised in a world of love and righteousness.
In conclusion, it is worth noting, as Donald Macleod puts it: ‘that the familiar words of the great Commission of Matthew 28 are cast in the form of an ancient covenant. There is a preamble, “All authority is given to me in heaven and in earth.” There is a stipulation, “Go, teach the nations.” And there is a promise, “I am with you always.”If we divorce the promise from the stipulation, there is no presence. It is the going church which alone enjoys the promise of the presence of God.’