Just a few days ago I tweeted the following:
I’ve decided to expand upon and explain these tweets in further detail in this post. Allow me to do this by providing an illustration.
If you’ve had some theological education, or have been around someone who else who has, you may have heard of the terms dispensationalism or covenant theology (or reformed theology). But maybe you’re not entirely sure as to what they mean, to what they refer, or what these systems of theology propose. Maybe you are somewhat familiar with these systems, or one of them, and might benefit from a concise and precise summary. Or, maybe these terms are foreign to you and your curiosity has been tickled.
The following is an illustration from Michael Horton’s book, Introducing Covenant Theology. Horton’s illustration can be found in his chapter entitled “New Covenant Obedience” and under the subsection “What the Law Still Cannot Do.”
It’s an illustration of a sailboat. It’s an illustration I have never forgotten, probably never will forget, and come back to time and time again.
The New Covenant–Old Testament
A huge theme that pervades all of scripture is the theme of promise and fulfillment. In the Old Testament, many promises were made to the nation of Israel that anticipated future fulfillment. One very significant example would be the promise and provisions of the New Covenant (i.e., Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:22-36).
Now the Old Testament, without any exceptions, explicitly affirms that the parties of this covenant will be God and Israel (i.e., Jeremiah 31:33). That’s key to our discussion, so allow me to state it again. The Old Testament promises that the New Covenant will be made between God and Israel.
The New Covenant–New Testament
But a normal, simple, natural, and literal reading of various texts in the New Testament reveals that the Church participates in the New Covenant. For example, the Lord’s Super, an ordinance of the Church, refers to the to cup of the New Covenant (Luke 22:19-21; Matthew 26:27-28; Mark 14:24; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Paul, the self-proclaimed apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 11:13) and minister of the mystery of the Church (Ephesians 3:6-8), called himself a minister of the New Covenant (presently), saw the New Covenant as having presently superseded the Old Covenant, and spoke of the New Covenant ministry of the Spirit as a present reality (2 Corinthians 3). And the author of Hebrews is explicit about the present reality of the New Covenant and Christ’s present ministry as the mediator of this New and better Covenant (for a brief sampling see Hebrews 7:22; Hebrews 8:6-13; Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 10:16-17; Hebrews 12:24).