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The Covenantal Kingdom

by Rev. Ralph Allan Smith

Chapter Four


Covenant and Eschatology

What does it mean to have a covenantal eschatology? It means that we must see history as the unfolding of God's covenant promises. Therefore, postmillennialists can agree with the dispensationalists that God's covenant promises to Abraham and David will be literally fulfilled. But the dispensationalists make three fundamental errors in their interpretation of these covenants. One, they do not see the Abrahamic, the Davidic, or the New covenants as an extension of the Creation Mandate.[34] Two, they do not, as the New Testament does, see these covenants fulfilled in Christ at His first coming. Three, they do not consider Christ's present reign over the world to be covenantal. Reformed amillennialists, on the other hand, usually do not make the first two mistakes, but they are guilty of the third in so far as they do not discuss the present rule of Christ from a covenantal perspective. The effect, is that for all practical purposes, amillennialists end up close to the dispensationalists even concerning the relationship of the covenants and their fulfillment in the first coming of Christ.

The Creation Mandate and the Covenants

Was the Creation Mandate set aside when Adam sinned? Many Christians seem to think so, but this results in a Biblical story in which Genesis is not really the beginning. Eschatology becomes separated from the original purpose of God in creation. In the Bible, however, the connection between the Creation Mandate and the covenants is explicit.

When God created man, He gave the Creation Mandate as a covenant, indicated by the covenant language, "And God blessed them" (Gn. 1:28). God's blessing was threefold: dominion, land, and a seed. Man was given dominion as God's vice-regent. The Garden of Eden was man's special dwelling and the whole world was his to rule. The blessing also included the command to be fruitful and the implied promise of many children. The threefold blessing was man's calling to finish the construction of God's kingdom on earth. God did the basic building when He created the world in six days. Now man was to imitate God in his own six-day work week and further develop the world by filling it up and ordering it for God's glory (cf. Gn. 1:2ff.). But Adam's sin turned the blessing into a curse and he became a slave to Satan's dominion. The land would rebel against him as he had against God. Not only was the bearing of children affected by the curse (Gn. 3:16), Adam's first son, Cain, embodied the curse.

The existence of the curse, however, did not mean that the Creation Mandate was erased from God's plan. Even though the world was cursed because of Adam's sin and even though God "de-created" the whole world in the Flood, God's covenant with Noah was obviously a continuation of the Creation Mandate:

And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered. Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. (Gn. 9:1-3)

God did not give up on His original purpose in creating the world. What Satan ruined by tempting man to sin, God would reconstruct by redeeming grace. Noah and his sons were given dominion over the land that God gave them -- the whole world -- with the promise of a seed implied in the command to multiply.

Thus, Genesis not only emphasizes God's blessing Adam and Eve (Gn. 1:28; 5:2), it goes on to show that God blessed Noah and his sons (Gn. 9:1, 26) with the same basic blessing. God's call to Abraham, too, is stated as a blessing (Gn. 12:1-3). The literary connection in the book of Genesis is undeniable.[35] The content of the blessing of Abraham points unmistakably to the original creation. God promises Abraham dominion (explicitly stated in Genesis 17:6, 16; 22:17, but also included in the idea of a great name and in being a source of blessing or curse to the nations), a land (which Paul tells us is the whole earth, Romans 4:13), and abundant seed (Gn. 22:17).[36] In the same manner that the Mosaic covenant, the Davidic covenant, and the New Covenant grow organically out of the Abrahamic covenant,[37] the Abrahamic covenant itself grew out of the covenant with Noah and the original covenant with Adam and Eve.

From the beginning, redemption in the Bible is covenantal, and covenantal redemption is the restoration of God's original covenantal kingdom.[38] This necessarily includes the defeat of Satan, the restoration of mankind to God, and the submission of the created order to man as its rightful lord under God. It also means a global Christian culture in a world filled with redeemed men who rejoice to submit to the Lordship of Christ. Nothing less could fulfill the Biblical meaning of the Creation Mandate. Nor could anything less fulfil the renewal of the Creation Mandate in the covenants of redemption.

The Christ and the Covenants

Dispensationalists insist on the literal fulfillment of the covenants. The problem is that their idea of literal fulfillment may not conform to what the Bible refers to as fulfillment. As a result the dispensationalists posit redundant and theologically meaningless future fulfillments to satisfy their understanding of what the fulfillment should have been. This entire approach leads to a misreading of the New Testament teaching about Jesus' fulfillment of the covenants in His first coming.

The very first words of the New Testament confirm that Jesus Christ is the heir of Abraham and David (Mt. 1:1). Before Jesus' birth the angel promised Mary: "And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end" (Lk. 1:31-33). Mary understood that her Son would be the One to fulfill the Abrahamic covenant promise (Lk. 1:55). Zacharias' psalm of praise connects the Davidic promise with the Abrahamic covenant and all the promises of salvation since the world began, and it specifically includes the defeat of Israel's Satanic enemies (Lk. 1:68-75). The Gospels teach that the Messiah came into the world to fulfill the covenant promise of salvation.

The Gospel of Luke ends and the book of Acts begins with further confirmation that Jesus fulfills the promises of the Old Testament (Lk. 24:25-27, 44-47; Act. 1:2-8). In both passages the fulfillment of Old Testament Scripture and the commission to preach the Gospel to the whole world are linked. It is through the preaching of the Gospel that the disciples continue the kingdom work that Jesus had begun, leading to the covenantal growth of the promised kingdom.

1. The Abrahamic Covenant Fulfilled in Christ's Seed

The New Testament teaches in unequivocal language that Jesus fulfilled the Abrahamic covenant. The central passage is Galatians 3 where Paul says:

Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. . . . That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. . . . Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. . . . For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Gal. 3:7-9, 14, 16, 26-29)

It is hard to imagine how Paul could have been more explicit. Believers inherit the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant because they are in Christ, the One to whom the promises were given. This cannot be brushed aside by saying that "the saved in every age, in a sense, are Abraham's seed,"[39] or limited to the idea that Christians share only in the spiritual blessings of the Abrahamic covenant.[40] Paul is defining the seed that inherits the Abrahamic blessing. He says as clearly as words can convey that the promises given to the seed were not given to "seeds, as of many; but as of one," namely Christ. He did not limit Jesus' inheritance to the spiritual promises of the covenant, neither did he say that those who are heirs in Christ inherit only a part of the covenant. The promises to Abraham are given in their entirety to Christ and in Christ to those who believe. Paul's words cannot mean anything else.

In fact, Paul's teaching is related to a theme that begins in the Gospel of Matthew: the transfer of the inheritance to the true heir. John the Baptizer warned the Jews not to think that they would inherit the Abrahamic covenant on the basis of merely physical descent, because God "is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham" (Mt. 3:9). When Jesus saw the faith of the centurion, he said, "Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Mt. 8:10-12). He later told the Jewish leaders, "Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof" (Mt. 21:43; cf. Lk. 13:27-29; Joh. 8:39-40; Act. 3:23).

It is in the overall context of God's raising up children to Abraham from Gentile stones (ie. taking the kingdom away from Israel and giving it to Gentile believers) that we must understand Jesus' condemnation of Israel. The destruction of the temple finds its meaning in the transfer of the covenantal inheritance from national Israel to a new Israel composed of those who are in the True Seed. Jesus' final words to Israel make it clear that she was rejected of God because of her sins (Mt. 23:25-38). His prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple was phrased in language used by the Old Testament prophets to describe covenantal disinheritance (Mt. 24:1-35).[41] Matthew's entire Gospel, in other words, includes the disinheritance of Israel as one of its major themes. John's Revelation is an expanded version of Jesus' judgment on Israel using the same Old Testament language of covenantal judgment.[42]

But the disinheritance of Israel is not the annulment of the Abrahamic promises. Jesus Himself inherits the promise of a seed in the Church which He Himself redeemed (Is. 53:10), the promise of the land in His inheritance of the whole earth (Mt. 28:18; Heb. 1:2),[43] and the promise of dominion in His exaltation to God's right hand as David's Son (Acts 2:30ff). Christ's people, both of Jewish and Gentile descent, have become co-heirs of the Abrahamic blessings, so that we rule together with Him (Dn. 7:14, 27; Eph. 2:11-20; 1 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 1:5-6; 2:26-27; 3:21). The Church is a new humanity which shall defeat Satan[44] and, by the power of the Gospel,[45] eventually bring about the fulfillment of God's original creation purpose: a global Christian civilization bearing fruit abundantly to the glory of God.

2. The Davidic Covenant Fulfilled in Christ's Ascension

The evidence that Jesus fulfills the Davidic promise is equally straightforward. The first Christian sermon, preached by Peter on the day of Pentecost, was devoted to the truth that Jesus Christ in His resurrection inherited the throne of David:

Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, Until I make thy foes thy footstool. Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. (Acts 2:29-36)

As with Paul earlier, it is difficult to imagine what other words Peter could have used to express more lucidly the idea that the resurrected Christ now sits on the throne of David, fulfilling the Davidic covenant. The dispensationalist McClain's assertion that Peter intends here to distinguish the throne of David from the throne on which Christ now sits is a gross misreading of the text.[46] Peter tells us clearly that David foresaw the resurrection of Christ and that Christ resurrected in order to sit on David's throne. Now that He is seated on David's throne, Christ pours out the blessing of His Spirit and waits for the destruction of every Satanic enemy. Therefore, Peter says, let every Christian know assuredly that God has made Jesus both Lord and Christ, fulfilling the Davidic covenant in Christ's resurrection enthronement! Not only Peter, but other New Testament writers confirm the fact of our Lord's enthronement as the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant (Mk. 16:19; Acts 5:31; 7:55-56; 13:16-41; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:20-23; Phil. 2:9-11; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3, 8, 13; 8:1; 12:2; 1 Pet. 3:22).

3. The New Covenant Fulfilled in Christ's Death and Resurrection

Walter Kaiser asserts that the most important change in dispensational theology was the denial of the older dispensational doctrine that there were two different New Covenants, one for Israel and one for the Church.[47] The doctrine had to change. The New Testament not only asserts that the New Covenant is fulfilled in Christ, it also says our very salvation depends upon the establishment of the New Covenant: "And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Mt. 26:27-28; Mk. 14:24; Lk. 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:23).

The apostles are ministers of the New Covenant, a glorious ministry because of the New Covenant promise of the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:6-18). The New Covenant, which is better than the Mosaic covenant because of its "better promises" (Heb. 8:6), was established in the death and resurrection of Christ (Heb 8:1-13). Jesus' heavenly session as a priest after the order of Melchizedek is essential to the fulfillment of the New Covenant (Heb. 8:1-3). What premillennialists regard as necessary to the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises, the writer of Hebrews asserts to be an obstruction: "For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest" (Heb. 1:4). The New Covenant order is ruled by the Priest-King who reigns from heaven in the true Holy Place.

The New Covenant promised three blessings that God's people needed for the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants to be fulfilled. It promised the forgiveness of Israel's iniquity (Jer. 31:34), the writing of the law on their hearts[48] (Jer. 31:33; cf. Eze. 11:19-20; 36:27), and the gift of the Spirit -- the very essence of covenantal blessing (Is. 44:3; Eze. 11:19-20; 36:27; 37:14; 39:29). The gift of the Spirit represents the ultimate covenant blessing expressed in the words "God with us," the name of the Messiah (Is. 7:14; Mt. 1:23; 28:20). Jesus Himself came to baptize with the Spirit, which is another way of saying that He came to inaugurate the New Covenant (Mt. 3:11; Mk. 1:8; Lk. 3:16; Jn. 1:33; Acts 1:5; 11:16-17; Gal. 3). The New Covenant era can only begin when the Spirit is bestowed. And the Spirit can only be poured out when Jesus has ascended to the right hand of God (Jn. 7:37-39; 16:7-15; Acts 2:33).

The gift of the Spirit means that the final age of blessing -- the New Covenant age -- has begun. The kingdom of God can now grow to fill the world because the problems which prevented its growth in the pre-Messianic eras have been solved. Man's sins have been fully forgiven. The law of God has been inscribed in the hearts of Abraham's seed (Heb. 8:10; cf. Rom. 8:4). The Holy Spirit has been poured out on Abraham's seed so that they have the power to extend the kingdom of God by preaching the Word and living lives of covenantal obedience (Jn. 7:38; 15:1-16). So long as they are faithful to the covenant, Satan cannot stand against them (Rom. 16:20; Eph. 6:10ff; Jam. 4:7).

In summary, the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New covenants find their progressive fulfillment in Christ Himself in the present era through Jesus' heavenly reign. Dispensationalism misses a basic teaching of the New Testament when it looks for a future fulfillment of the covenants for Israel. The New Testament emphatically affirms the present fulfillment of the covenants in the One who is central to all prophecy: the True Israel, the Last Adam, the Seed, the Son of Man, the Son of God. "For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us" (2 Cor. 1:20).

The fulfillment of the covenants in Christ is the culmination of the covenantal idea throughout the Old Testament. From the promise in Genesis 3:15 to the promise of the New Covenant there is a gradual progression in the covenant, as the promises become greater and more glorious. The resulting New Testament fulfillment of the covenants far surpasses what was seen in the Old Testament. In Christ the Old Testament promises are transformed and glorified. The promise of land, and the implied promise of global dominion, is now clearly revealed as the promise of a redeemed world. The whole earth is cleansed and will gradually be brought under Christ's headship. The promise of seed is glorified by its primary fulfillment in Christ and is also transformed to become the promise of a new humanity made up of Jew and Gentile united in Him. The promise of dominion is glorified by the gift of the Spirit to enable God's covenant people to be righteous -- the prerequisite for dominion and the defeat of Satan -- and to be abundantly fruitful. Dominion is further glorified in giving David's Son a more exalted throne than David ever imagined -- in a more wonderful Jerusalem than he ever knew -- and in making all of Abraham's seed co-regents with the Son (Eph. 2:6-7; 1 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 1:6).

Do postmillennialists deny literal fulfillment by saying that the covenant promises have been transformed and glorified? Should they seek a fulfillment that is less glorious and, therefore, more "literal"?[49] To do so is akin to Christians in the resurrection hoping for a less glorious restoration of their bodies! At the same time, it must be emphasized that to glorify the promises is not to spiritualize them as the amillennialists do. On this point the postmillennialists and dispensationalists agree. If Jesus now reigns in heaven, His righteous rule must bring in the Abrahamic blessing to all the families of the world (Gn. 12:3), for He came not to condemn the world but to save it (Jn. 3:17).

Jesus' Covenantal Rule

When Jesus ascended to the Father, "there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed" (Dn. 7:14). No angel ever received such honor (Heb. 1:13). Neither did David (Acts 2:34). Only Christ has been exalted by God's mighty power and seated "at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come" (Eph. 1:20-21). Unto Him has been given all authority -- nothing excepted -- in heaven and on earth (Mt. 28:18). And of His exercise of that authority it is written: "Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom" (Heb. 1:8).

Jesus rules now, He rules righteously, and, in terms of Biblical theology, that also means He rules covenantally. The covenant outline from Deuteronomy helps us to understand the implications of the teaching that Jesus is Lord. First, His rule rests in God's transcendent authority. The Last Adam always does what is pleasing to the Father (Jn. 8:29). Second, as we saw above, God has appointed Jesus to be the covenantal Lord of creation as the Last Adam and Messiah. Consequently, all other earthly and heavenly authority is accountable to Him (Mt. 28:18). Third, where there is accountability there must be a standard. The standard is the ethical instruction of the whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation. The whole of Scripture is profitable for instruction in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16-17) and men are therefore accountable in terms of its teaching.[50]

Fourth, if the reign of the Lord Jesus has any historical meaning at all -- and it does, unless His authority on earth is a legal fiction -- He must be covenantally judging His enemies and blessing His people. In this sense covenantal postmillennialism agrees with dispensationalism that the rule of Christ is "literal." To assert that Christ is not now applying the sanctions of the covenant, is to declare that He is not Lord in any meaningful sense of the word. King of kings would become a title without content. His place at the right hand of the Father would be reduced to an honorary position with no real authority. The assurance in Matthew 28:18 that He has been given "all authority in heaven and on earth" becomes nothing more than "holy hyperbole." We cannot deny His covenantal judgment in history without reducing the whole New Testament idea of the Lordship of Christ to nonsense. To confess that Jesus reigns is to confess that He judges now in terms of His covenant Word, and is applying the sanctions of the covenant to the nations of the world.

The Abrahamic covenant points to this kind of covenantal judgment when it says that those who bless Abraham will be blessed and those who curse him will be cursed. The Old Testament record shows us how God kept this covenant promise in history before the Cross. Will God now fail to keep this promise to the Seed to Whom the Abrahamic covenant pointed and in Whom it is fulfilled? We can rest assured that those who bless Jesus will be blessed and those who curse Him will be cursed, until His blessing fills the world and all of His enemies have been made a footstool for His feet (Acts 2:34-35; 1 Cor. 15:25; Heb. 1:13; 10:13).[51]

Fifth, Christ Himself has been appointed heir of all things (Heb. 1:2). Because He perfectly accomplished the work the Father committed to Him, our Lord Jesus Christ inherited the entire world. All things are His by right of Messianic conquest. Satan stole dominion in the Garden by deceiving men into revolting against God's rule. Although Satan's authority never had any foundation in kingdom law, he had dominion all the same (Mt. 4:8-9). Jesus won back dominion by keeping God's law and dying for man's sins as a covenantal representative. Just as Jesus' suffering ended in the glory of resurrection and inheritance, so, too, the suffering of God's people leads to the inheritance of glory (Rom. 8:16-21).

All things were given to Christ, and in Him, to His people: "all things are yours" (1 Cor. 3:22). The writer of Hebrews says, "Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him" (Heb. 2:8). Even though all things are Christ's by inheritance and in Him all things are given to His people, we do not yet see all things brought into submission to Him. In other words, our situation today is similar to that of ancient Israel. The Israelites were promised the land of Canaan as an inheritance from God (Dt. 1:38; 2:31; 3:28; 4:21; 12:10; 15:4; etc), but they could not possess their inheritance without fighting for it (Dt. 31:7; Josh. 1:6; 23:3-6; etc.). In the same way, Christ's Church, in order to take possession of her inheritance, must fight the good fight for the kingdom of God by preaching the Gospel.

Covenantal Sanctions and the Growth of the Kingdom

Jesus' covenantal rule is the key to the growth of the kingdom of God in history.[52] To fully understand this, we need to consider God's covenantal rule in the ages before the coming of Christ. We presuppose that there is no fundamental change in covenantal principles between the Old and New covenants, even if the outward forms of the covenant vary. If the fundamental principles of God's covenantal relationship with men changed, it cannot be true that the Old Testament -- which is largely what Paul had in view when he wrote 2 Timothy 3:16-17 -- is reliable "for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." The Old Testament is the record of God's covenantal relationship with man in the period before the coming of Christ. For it to be relevant to us, the basic covenantal principles must be the same.

In the era of the Mosaic Law, God's covenantal rule was manifest especially in Israel. If Israel kept His law, she would be blessed (Dt. 28:1-14; Lv. 26:1-13). Specifically, God promised that Israel would bear fruit abundantly to fulfill the Creation Mandate (Dt. 28:4; Lv. 26:9), namely, that she would experience economic prosperity (Dt. 28:5, 8, 11-12; Lv. 26:4-5), defeat her Satanic enemies (Dt. 28:7; Lv. 26:7-8), enjoy blessing in the land (Dt. 28:3, 6; Lv. 26:5-6), and exercise dominion over the nations (Dt. 28:1, 7, 10, 12-13). The supreme blessing was, of course, that God would be with her (Lv. 26:9, 12). Since all of the blessings promised in Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26 are found in some form in the promises given to Abraham (cf. Gn. 12:1-3; 15:18ff; 17:1-21; 18:18-19; 22:16-18; etc.), the blessing can be simply stated in these terms: If Israel obeyed God, she would enjoy all the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant (cf. Dt. 30:19-20; Lv. 26:40-42).

If she disobeyed God, she would be cursed (Dt. 28:15-68; Lv. 26:14-39). The list of curses is much longer than the list of blessings. The point is clear: the penalty for disobedience was to be cut off from the Abrahamic inheritance. Even the curse, however, included the promise that repentance would bring restoration (Lv. 26:40-42, 44-45; Dt. 30:1-3).

The blessings and the curses of the covenant were essential to the whole idea of covenantal rule in the Old Testament. Since covenantal principles remain the same, it follows that Christ's rule in the New Covenant must also include covenantal sanctions. If Jesus is the Seed of Abraham in Whom the covenant is fulfilled, His New Covenant rule over the Church must include the blessings and curses of the covenant. These sanctions are not to be limited to the "spiritual" realm. They are real and manifest in the here and now. Jesus Christ is Lord over the all the earth. The blessings and curses of His rule under the New Covenant have an earthly and physical manifestation just as they did under the Old Covenant.

Another important observation on God's covenantal rule in the Old Testament era comes from an interesting expression in the curses of the covenant: "all the diseases of Egypt" (Dt. 28:60; 7:15). To be cursed is to be like Egypt. In other passages to be cursed is to be like Sodom and Gomorrah (cf. Dt. 29:23; Zep. 2:9; etc.). But these are Gentile nations not in covenant with God. Why are they cursed? Why was Jonah sent to Nineveh to warn them that they would soon be the object of God's special wrath? Why did the prophets pronounce God's curse on other Gentile nations such as Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, and Moab? The answer is clear: because God's covenantal rule, which was especially manifest in Israel, was never limited to Israel alone. His throne was and is over all.[53]

So, too, the rule of Christ. Though primarily concerned with the Church, Christ's rule cannot be limited to the Church. In the Old Testament, covenant curse or blessing on all of the nations of the world was essential to the Abrahamic covenant (Gn. 12:3). The nations of the ancient world experienced God's blessing or curse in terms of their relationship to Israel and her law. Since Christ is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant, it is no less true today that His rule extends over all the world, both for blessing and for curse.

As ancient Israel once was, the Church is now the heart of the kingdom of God.[54] In the Church the blessings and discipline of the covenant are manifest with greatest clarity. As Peter said: "For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?" (1 Pet. 4:17). In John 15, Jesus uses the covenantal language of the Old Testament to define the Church's relationship to Him and her growth in history. He promised that when Christians keep God's commandments, they are blessed and bear fruit abundantly -- the blessing of the covenant (Jn. 15:1-16). Disobedience brings discipline (Jn. 15:6; cf. 1 Cor. 11:29-32; Mt. 18:17-20). Covenantal faithfulness -- abiding in Christ -- is the key to blessing and growth in the New Covenant no less than in the Old.

Because the Church is composed of sinners, she needs covenantal discipline to grow in grace. Christ's discipline of the Church includes external enemies -- Viking bands, Muslim armies, Mongol hordes -- as well as internal ones -- Arians, Pelagians, liberal theologians. Suffering is an essential part of our earthly battle, but it is suffering unto victory. Jesus is leading His Bride in world conquest (Rev. 19:11-16), as Joshua led Israel to conquer the promised land.

Though Israel was more or less confined to the land, the Church is commanded to spread the kingdom over the entire earth (Mt. 28:18-20). The preaching of the Gospel converts individuals, families, and nations and disciples them in their dominion task.

Nations that reject the Gospel are cursed. Either they repent and turn to Christ, or they disappear from history.[55] Earthquakes, fires, tornados, wars, famine, pestilence -- these and other "natural," political, and economic calamities are Jesus' covenantal judgments.[56] Hitler was released on apostate Europe in much the same way that Nebuchadnezzar was released upon apostate Judah, except that Nebuchadnezzar converted to faith in the LORD (Dn. 4:34ff.). The nations are blessed and judged by King Jesus in terms of His covenant law. But the aim of Christ's judgment is the salvation of the world. In time all the world will be saved and Christ's name will be praised in every land. The original Creation Mandate will be fulfilled in history as men build a global Christian civilization that develops the creation to its highest level of glory. Then and only then will history come to an end.


34. It is not impossible to modify the idea to fit into a dispensational framework, but the older standard dispensational works make no attempt to do so. J. Dwight Pentecost mentions Adam's rule in the garden merely as a stage in the Old Testament theocratic kingdom. Things to Come, p. 435. McClain does seem to relate the kingdom of Christ to the Adamic rule, but the idea is not developed. The Greatness of the Kingdom, pp. 42-44. Neither Ryrie's The Basis of the Premillennial Faith nor Walvoord's The Millennial Kingdom refers to Genesis 1:26-28. The new "progressive" dispensationalism apparently makes room for the idea, but since dispensational theology is in transition, it is hard to tell who the spokesmen really are. Cf. Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, ed., Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church: The Search for Definition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), p. 307.

One older dispensationalist who seems concerned about emphasizing an eschatological fulfillment of the Genesis 1 mandate is Herman A. Hoyt, who sees it fulfilled in eternity. According to Hoyt, believers in Christ who have survived in their Adamic bodies until the end of the millennium are not glorified. They continue to procreate and fill the universe in Adamic bodies, to fulfill the original Creation Mandate. Hoyt rightly understands how problematic Genesis 1:26-28 is for dispensational theology, but, consistent with his futurism, postpones the solution to eternity. The End Times, pp. 230-32, 242.

35. Dumbrell develops this extensively, see: Covenant & Creation, pp. 11-79. Gordon J. Wenham asserts, "Blessing not only connects the patriarchal narratives with each other (cf. 24:1; 26:3; 35:9; 39:5), it also links them with the primeval history (cf. 1:28; 5:2; 9:1). The promises of blessing to the patriarchs are thus a reassertion of God's original intentions for man." Genesis 1-15. Word Bible Commentary, (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1987), p. 275.

36. The threefold blessing as I have stated it here is not something different from the "spiritual" blessing of the covenant often repeated in the formula "I will be their God and they will be my people." For God "to be our God," or for God to be "with us" is the restoration of Edenic blessing. When He is with us, we have dominion, enjoy His land, and are blessed with children. The fuller statement of covenantal blessing in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 expands the basic blessings of the Creation Mandate.

37. This is generally agreed upon by scholars from every perspective, though older dispensationalists would not have included the Mosaic covenant as an organic growth from the Abrahamic.

38. Dumbrell writes: "The kingship of God sought expression through a whole web of relationships which successive covenants both pointed towards and also exercised over the people of God and their world. But this kingship presupposed a return within history to the beginning of history." Ibid., p. 206.

39. Ibid., p. 508.

40. Ryrie, The Basis of Premillennial Faith, p. 62, and Pentecost, Things to Come, p. 88.

41. See the excellent and detailed exegesis of this passage in Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church (Atlanta: American Vision, Inc., 1994).

42. See: David Chilton, Days of Vengeance.

43. Bruce Walke refers to the New Testament's deafening silence regarding Israel's return to the land of Palestine: "If revised dispensationalism produced one passage in the entire New Testament that clearly presents the resettlement of national Israel in the land, I would join them. But I know of none!" "Land," Walke points out, is the fourth most frequently used word in the Old Testament. See Walke's response in Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, p. 357. The important point is that the promise of the land is expanded to include the entire earth.

44. See chapter 3.

45. See chapter 1.

46. The Greatness of the Kingdom, pp. 400-01. McClain's interpretation is typical of the older dispensationalism. Darrel Bock, a representative of the "progressive" dispensationalism, admits "This passage and Luke 1:68-79 also counter the claim that no New Testament text asserts the present work of Jesus as a reigning Davidite sitting on David's throne. . . . As the Davidic heir, Jesus sits in and rules from heaven." His entire article argues against traditional dispensational understanding. "The Reign of the Lord Christ" in Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, pp. 49-50.

47. Kaiser's response in, Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, p. 369.

48. Note that Jeremiah speaks in verse 31 of God's making a new covenant with the "house of Israel, and with the house of Judah," but beginning in verse 33 the Lord speaks only of Israel. The new Israel that receives the covenant is in covenantal continuity with the old Israel and Judah. But Israel did not exist as a political entity at the time of Jeremiah's writing. Jeremiah was pointing to something new, something partially fulfilled in the return to the land in the Old Covenant era, but which finds its true fulfillment in the Church as the new Israel, composed of both Jews and Gentiles who are adopted into the Abrahamic covenant by faith.

49. David Turner apparently holds the remarkable view that a future reign from an earthly throne in an earthly Jerusalem would somehow be more glorious than Christ's present reign at God's right hand from the heavenly Jerusalem, for he refers to the present era as a bronze age but the future dispensational earthly kingdom as a silver age. See Turner's essay in Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, pp. 264-292.

50. Those who have never had the opportunity to know the Scriptures are still accountable in terms of the "the work of the law written in their hearts" (Rom. 2:15).

51. Dumbrell presents a detailed exegesis of Genesis 12:1-3 that argues, among other things, that "the principle statement of these three verses is contained in the final clause of v. 3 ["in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed"]. The Heb. syntax indicates this and the clause is most probably to be taken as a result clause, indicating what will be the consummation of the promises that the preceding verses have announced. That is to say, the personal promises given to Abram have final world blessing as their aim." Covenant & Creation, p. 65.

52. For a fuller discussion of the covenantal rule of Christ and its implications for eschatology, see: Gary North, Millennialism and Social Theory (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1990).

53. See: Greg Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, expanded edition, 1984), pp. 339-64.

54. For a fuller account of Christ's kingdom rule and how He brings in the kingdom by blessing the Church, see: Peter Leithart, The Kingdom and the Power: Rediscovering the Centrality of the Church (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1993).

55. For insights on the economic implications of Christ's covenantal rule, see Gary North's main essay and responses to others in Robert G. Clouse, ed., Wealth & Poverty: Four Christian Views of Economics (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1984).

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