To understand the two covenants, we first need to understand what a covenant is. A covenant is a legal term used more frequently in the past. Today we use the term contract. Webster’s dictionary defines a covenant firstly “as a formal, solemn and binding agreement between two or more persons.” Secondly, it is “a written agreement or promise, usually under seal, between two or more parties especially for the performance of some action”.
In order to understand the covenant in the Bible, we need to understand that there are three different types of covenants. The first type of covenant is exemplified in Exodus 19:3–8: “And Moses went up unto God, and the Lord called unto him out of the mountain, saying, ‘Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel; Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and [how] I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth [is] mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These [are] the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.’ And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the Lord commanded him. And all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the Lord.”
This contract entered into at Sinai is an example of an agreement type of a covenant between God and the nation of Israel. Under this plan a theocracy was set up whereby God agreed to be Israel’s king and lead them into the promised Canaan. Israel agreed to be His people and to accept God in this relationship. Never before or since has such a kingdom been set up under God. The book, Patriarchs and Prophets, describes it like this. “Soon after the encampment at Sinai, Moses was called up into the mountain to meet with God. Alone he climbed the steep and rugged path, and drew near to the cloud that marked the place of Jehovah’s presence. Israel was now to be taken into a close and peculiar relation to the Most High—to be incorporated as a church and a nation under the government of God. The message to Moses for the people was:
“ ‘Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto Myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people: for all the earth is Mine: and ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.’ [Exodus 19:4–6.]
“Moses returned to the camp, and having summoned the elders of Israel, he repeated to them the divine message. Their answer was, ‘All that the Lord has spoken, we will do.’ [Exodus 19:8.] Thus they entered into a solemn covenant with God, pledging themselves to accept Him as their ruler, by which they became, in a special sense, the subjects of His authority.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 303.
The second type of covenant is a promise covenant. A promise covenant is a type where one party promises to do something for or to another party. There are no conditions necessary; just a promise. “And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying, And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you; And with every living creature that [is] with you, of the fowl, of the cattle, and of every beast of the earth with you; from all that go out of the ark, to every beast of the earth. And I will establish my covenant with you, neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth. And God said, This [is] the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that [is] with you, for perpetual generations: I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth. And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud: And I will remember my covenant, which [is] between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.” Genesis 9:8–15.
The everlasting covenant is also an example of this type of a covenant. This covenant was first given to Adam and Eve after their fall in Genesis 3:15. It was given to Noah in Genesis 9:9–17; to Abraham in Genesis 12:2, 3; to Isaac in Genesis 26:3, 4, and also to Jacob in Genesis 35:9–12. It represents the only means of salvation for mankind. It could also be called the covenant of peace, the covenant of grace, or just simply, the gospel.
The everlasting covenant was given in many different types and forms. In Genesis 3:15, it is given as the seed of the woman which will bruise the serpent’s head. To Abraham it is given that through his seed shall all the nations of the world be blessed.
This same promise is given to us in the most familiar verse in the Bible: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16.
“Father and Son are pledged to fulfill the terms of the everlasting covenant. … Christ was not alone in making His great sacrifice. It was the fulfillment of the covenant made between Him and His Father before the foundation of the world was laid. With clasped hands they had entered into a solemn pledge that Christ would become the surety for the human race if they were overcome by Satan’s sophistry.” The Faith I Live By, 76.
The third type of covenant discussed here is called a commanded covenant:
“And the Lord spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only [ye heard] a voice. And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, [even] ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone.” Deuteronomy 4:12, 13.
The Ten Commandments are referred to here as a covenant. Again in Hebrews 9:4, and also in Deuteronomy 9, the tables of the law are called the tables of the covenant. (The definition of a commanded covenant is a rule of action to which men are obligated to make their conduct conformable, a command in force by some sanction; a principle of conduct may be observed habitually by an individual or class, or it may be imposed on all individuals who consent or are unable to resist its application and the penalty for non-compliance, and in that case it becomes a law.)
A good example of a commanded covenant is the law of the land. As a United States citizen we are born under the laws of this country. We do not have to sign an agreement or take an oath to agree to these laws. We are born under those laws, whatever they may be. If we break the law we are subject to the penalties of the law. Now, if you are a foreigner, before you can become a citizen you must take an oath of citizenship. The current oath reads as follows: “I hereby declare on oath that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty of whom or which I have here-to-fore been a subject or citizen. That I will support and defend the constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic. That I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same. That I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law. That I will perform non combatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law, that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law, and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, so help me God.”
Within that oath are a lot of principles that we can apply to our spiritual walk. We are not born as citizens of heaven; by nature we are born under the kingdom of darkness. Because we are foreigners, before we can become citizens of heaven, we have to take an oath of citizenship as well. The law of God, as stated in Exodus 24, the commanded covenant, is the law of the land and the kingdom of heaven. It is the basis for all other covenants, and it was the basis of the terms of the old covenant which Israel agreed to in Exodus 19 that we read. God said to Israel, “If you will obey My voice and keep My covenant [the Ten Commandments], then you shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people.” (Exodus 19:5.) In Exodus 20, God spelled out the Ten Commandments, exactly what they were.
In Exodus 21 to 23, He expounded further on the commandments and gave to Moses different laws and statutes, broken down, to be written into a book and then these were read to the people and there they took their oath of citizenship under the government of God. The covenant was then ratified by blood, making it binding. “And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient. And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled [it] on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words.” Exodus 24:7, 8.
Just as in taking the oath of citizenship of the United States they denounced their allegiance to any other king or any other prince, it is the same when becoming citizens of the kingdom of heaven; all other kings must be renounced.
In Hebrews 9:16–21, the old covenant is also referred to as a testament. A covenant is an agreement between two or more parties; however, a testament has an inheritant connection with it, just like a person’s last will and testament. In speaking of the new covenant, Paul also uses the same two terms, a covenant and a testament.
The old covenant was an agreement between God and Israel which also included an inheritance. The Israelites were to inherit the land of Canaan. In the new covenant, there is also an agreement and also an inheritance. Those who have by baptism given to God a pledge of their faith in Christ and their death to the old life of sin have entered into a covenant relation with God. Just like in the Old Testament, in the New Testament, when we are baptized, we profess our faith in Christ and enter into a covenant with God. The inheritance of the new covenant is the heavenly kingdom, the heavenly Canaan.
Just as the inheritance in the old covenant was conditional on obedience, the same is true of the new covenant inheritance.
The whole chapter of Deuteronomy 28 is filled with blessings and curses. The inheritance of Israel was dependent upon obedience to God. And it says in verses 63 and 64 that if they didn’t obey, He would take them out of the land which they went in to possess and He would scatter them among the nations. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened to Israel.
The terms of the old covenant and the new covenant are the same—obedience to the law of God. The commanded covenant is the basis for both. There was a problem with the covenant made at Sinai. The problem wasn’t with God. God fulfilled His part of the covenant, but the people didn’t fulfill theirs. During their long exile in Egypt, the children of Israel had for the most part lost their knowledge of God and of His law. They didn’t understand the sinfulness of their own hearts or their inability to keep the law in their own strength.
The children of Israel heard God speak the law from Sinai, but less than six weeks later they were dancing around the golden calf and worshipping another god. They had broken the covenant they had made with God and would have been immediately destroyed had it not been for the mediation of Moses. Moses, in the old covenant, was a type of Christ in the new. He was the mediator between the children of Israel and God. Moses interceded on behalf of the children of Israel and on behalf of the nation and prevailed, even though 3,000 people lost their lives. Upon coming down from Mt. Sinai, Moses took the law that God had written, the Ten Commandments, the tables of stone that God had written with His own finger, and he broke them at the base of the mountain to show that the covenant had been broken. Now it was after this experience that the children of Israel were then ready for what came next: they realized their need of a Saviour. They then began to understand the exalted character of God’s law, and the sinfulness of their own hearts.
This necessity resulted in the setting up of a sanctuary service in order to provide a way of separating man from his sins. Through the sanctuary service God presents to us, in living characters, the plan of salvation in types and symbols. It is the working out of the everlasting covenant that was given to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15.
“To man the first intimation of redemption was communicated in the sentence pronounced upon Satan in the garden. The Lord declared, ‘I will put enmity between thee and the woman and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.’ [Genesis 3:15.] This sentence, uttered in the hearing of our first parents, was to them a promise. While it foretold war between man and Satan, it declared that the power of the great adversary would finally be broken. … Adam and his companion were assured that notwithstanding their great sin, they were not to be abandoned to the control of Satan. The Son of God had offered to atone, with His own life, for their transgression. A period of probation would be granted them, and through repentance, and faith in Christ, they might again become the children of God.” The Faith I Live By, 75.
“Let those who are oppressed under a sense of sin remember that there is hope for them. The salvation of the human race has ever been the object of the councils of heaven. The covenant of mercy was made before the foundation of the world. It had existed from all eternity, and is called the everlasting covenant. So, surely as there never was a time when God was not, so surely there never was a moment when it was not the delight of the eternal mind to manifest His grace to humanity.” The Signs of the Times, June 12, 1901.
Christ was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. In the old covenant the repentant sinner would bring the sacrificial offering, the sacrificial lamb, to the door of the tabernacle, or to the door of the courtyard. Before the lamb was offered, the sinner would place his hands upon the lamb and confess his sins, transferring his sins, by figure, to the lamb, which represented Christ. They did this by faith. The lamb was then slain by the hands of the sinner, and the blood was taken into the sanctuary and sprinkled before the veil by the priests transferring the sins to the sanctuary. This service, referred to as the daily service, was for the forgiveness of sins. It is through Christ that we can receive forgiveness of sins after they have been confessed.
Every lamb that was slain was to point the people, to remind the people, that without the shedding of blood there is no remission, there is no forgiveness of sin, and that the wages of sin is death. It was also to direct the mind back to the everlasting covenant given in Genesis. In the new covenant we are to behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world. Through repentance and faith in the blood of Christ, we can receive forgiveness of sin.
“By pledging His own life, Christ has made Himself responsible for every man and woman on the earth. He stands in the presence of God saying, Father, I take upon Myself the guilt of that soul. It means death to him if he is left to bear it. If he repents, he shall be forgiven. My blood shall cleanse him from all sin. I gave My life for the sins of the world.” In Heavenly Places, 42.
“If the transgressor of God’s law will see in Christ his atoning sacrifice, if he will believe in Him who can cleanse from all unrighteousness, Christ will not have died for him in vain.” The Review and Herald, February 27, 1900.
The plan of salvation was not only to provide forgiveness, but to provide a way to be cleansed and separated from sin and brought back into obedience. The terms of the covenant have always been the same. Obey and live. So we have to be brought back into obedience to the law of God.
“The Son of God in becoming man’s substitute, and bearing the curse which should fall upon man, pledged Himself in behalf of the race, to maintain the honor of the law of God. The Father has given the world into the hands of Christ, that through His mediatorial work He may save the sinner, and completely vindicate the claims of the law. His mission was to convince men of sin—which is the transgression of the law, and through the merits of His blood, and by His mediation, He was to bring them back to obedience. Through the sacrifice of Christ, the law could be maintained, and the sinner could be pardoned— not only freed from the power of sin, but renewed ‘after the image of Him that created him.’ Colossians 3:10.” Bible Training School, February 1, 1908.
As we look to Christ, and what He did for us, how He shed His blood for us and now how He takes that blood into the heavenly sanctuary and pleads that blood on our behalf, we can not only have our sins forgiven, but we can be brought back into obedience through the power that He gives us.
“The love and justice of God, and also the immutability of His law, are made manifest by the Saviour’s life, no less than by His death. He assumed human nature, with its infirmities, its liabilities, its temptations. ‘Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.’ Matthew 8:17. ‘In all things it behoved him to be made like unto [his] brethren.’ Hebrews 2:17. … He exercised in His own behalf no power which man cannot exercise. As man He met temptation and overcame in the strength given Him of God. He gives us an example of perfect obedience. He has provided that we may become partakers of the divine nature, and assures us that we may overcome as He overcame. His life testified that by the aid of the same divine power which Christ received, it is possible for man to obey God’s law.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 17, 337. So, Christ united humanity with divinity so that through His life, through His obedience, we can also receive that obedience. We can have the same power that Christ had.
“How this is accomplished, Christ has shown us. By what means did He overcome in the conflict with Satan? By the Word of God. Only by the Word could He resist temptation. ‘It is written,’ He said. And unto us are given ‘exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature. … ’ [11 Peter 1:4.] Every promise in God’s Word is ours. … When assailed by temptation, look not to circumstances or to the weakness of self, but to the power of the Word. All its strength is yours.” The Faith I Live By, 23.
So how did Christ receive strength? It says that we can overcome as He overcame, that we can receive the same power that He had. And what was that power? How did He receive power? What did it say? It says, by the word of God. All its strength is yours. “Grasp His promises as leaves from the tree of life: ‘Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.’ John 6:37. As you come to Him, believe that he accepts you because He has promised. You can never perish while you do this—never.” Ibid., 23.
Jesus overcame through the word. “It is the Spirit that quickeneth: the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, [they] are spirit, and [they] are life.” John 6:63. When we believe in the Word, by faith we become partakers of the divine nature. In commenting on these verses in John 6, Ellen White says, “ ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life,’ Christ declares: ‘no man cometh unto the Father, but by me’ (John 14:6). Christ is invested with power to give life to all creatures. ‘As the living Father has sent me,’ He says, ‘and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.’ ‘It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life’ (John 6:57, 63.)” Selected Messages, Book 1, 249.
Then it goes on to say something that I found very interesting. It says, “Christ is not here referring to His doctrine, but to His person, the divinity of His character.” Ibid., 249.
So, how do we receive? It says that through the promises we become partakers of the divine nature, and Christ relates Himself to the word, His person, the divinity of His character. So it is as we receive those promises by faith, by the hearing of the word, we become partakers of the divine nature, which is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:27.
The promise of the new covenant: “This [is] the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them, And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.” Hebrews 10:16, 17. That is the same promise that God gives us today. He says that He will write His law in our hearts. The law is the basis of the new covenant just as much as in the old. In the old covenant, the law was written on tables of stone. In the new covenant, it is going to be written in our hearts.
“The word of God, received into the soul, will be manifest in good works. Its results will be seen in a Christlike character and life. Christ said of Himself, ‘I delight to do Thy will, O My God; yea, Thy law is within my heart.’ Psalm 40:8.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 60. The Psalmist says, speaking of Christ, that Thy law is what is in My heart. The law is within His heart, so when we fully receive Christ, then the law is written within our hearts too.
“Look not to self, but to Christ. He who healed the sick and cast out demons when He walked among men is the same mighty Redeemer today. Faith comes by the word of God. Then grasp His promise ‘Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.’ John 6:37. Cast yourself at His feet with the cry, ‘Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief.’ [Mark 9:24.] You can never perish while you do this—never.” The Desire of Ages, 429.
Through the death of Christ upon the cross we can receive the forgiveness of sin. It is through the mediation of Christ that we, through His merits, can come boldly to the throne of grace. Christ gives us access to the Father. The Bible says that through the Father every good gift comes down from heaven. Through the merits of Christ, we have access to the Father, so we can receive the gifts that He wants to give us—the gift of His Holy Spirit, which is His life.
As we look at the children of Israel and their relationship with God, we can see many parallels in things that they did wrong. And through the sanctuary service we have an object lesson that helps us to see and to understand the sanctuary service that is going on for us in the new covenant today. The old covenant was a picture. The new covenant is the reality. It’s the working out of the everlasting covenant that was given from the beginning.
Looking into the sanctuary service, we notice the Day of Atonement, the final phase of the everlasting covenant. Not only will our sins be forgiven, but it says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9.
Not only must we have our sins forgiven, but they have to be cleansed, they have to be taken away, and that is the work of Jesus in the final atonement in the sanctuary in heaven. In order for our sins to be taken away, they have to go beforehand to judgment. We have to confess them. We have to put them away, and then, by the grace that Christ gives us, walk in newness of life and obedience to His commandments.
God has given to each one of us precious promises. We can cling to them and have them written into our hearts and into our minds and trust in them, trusting that He who has promised is able to accomplish that which He has promised. May the Lord help us to be faithful, and to apply the gifts that the atonement has provided for us by faith.
Jim Stoeckert is working at Steps to Life and can be reached at: email@example.com.