The foundation of all that the Lord desires to do both in and through His people in this dispensation is the New Covenant. Scripture teaches us that God does not relate to His people except through a covenant, and that the covenant defines the basis and substance of the relationship they have with Him. It is impossible to rightly understand our relationship with God, therefore, apart from a foundational understanding of the covenant we have entered into with Him. In this series of teachings, we will look at the essential character of the New Covenant. The first aspect that we shall consider is its “heavenly nature”. This is one of its fundamental qualities that define the nature of God’s relationship with us and of His intentions for us as we walk with Him.
The Earlier Covenants
To set the New Covenant in context, and also in contrast, let us briefly consider the essential character of the covenants that preceded it. When we examine the fundamental nature of the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants, we discover that they are primarily earthly in nature. The Noahic covenant was God’s promise to never again send a flood that would destroy all life on earth. The Abrahamic covenant contained God’s promise to Abram of a natural lineage, and of the earthly inheritance of the land of Canaan. The Mosaic covenant was a covenant that formed an earthly nation as God’s own possession. Inherent in that covenant was the giving of engraved and written earthly laws, an earthly tabernacle, and an earthly priesthood. As the people of Israel walked in obedience to the commandments of God they would be blessed with every earthly blessing. (If they broke the covenant through disobedience, however, they would receive every earthly curse.) Through obedience to the Mosaic covenant the nation of Israel would be increased to inherit the (earthly) promised land of Canaan. In order to do so, however, they would have to engage in earthly warfare with its inhabitants. The Davidic covenant was God’s promise to establish the earthly throne and earthly kingdom of David forever. His natural descendants would not fail to have a man to sit upon his throne. It is this throne which ultimately the Lord Jesus, the Son of David, according to His earthly lineage, and the Son of Man, according to His incarnation, will ultimately sit upon when He returns to rule and reign on the earth. In addition, because of God’s covenant relationship with David, the Lord established the City of David, the earthly Jerusalem, as the capital of Israel, and as the most exalted city on earth.
These, then, were the primary covenants that historically preceded the New Covenant. As we have seen, they were all essentially earthly in nature and focus. It is important that we understand the reason why this was so.
“The Man of Dust”
Prior to the coming of Christ, God was exclusively in relationship with the sons of Adam. Adam was made of the dust of this earth. “The first man was of the earth, made of dust;” (1 Corinthians 15:47) He was “the man of dust”, and, “As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust…” (vs.48) Adam was of this earth, and so are all of his descendants. In the time period of the Old Testament, God could only make earthly covenants with earthly men. These all had their purpose, some even everlasting in nature, but they were all oriented to earthly matters.
“The Heavenly Man”
“The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.” (1 Corinthians 15:47-49)
With the coming of the “second Man”, the Lord Jesus Christ, a whole new humanity was introduced into creation. The Head of the new race was not only made of the dust, through His earthly lineage, but was also born out of heaven, by the Father through the Holy Spirit. At the cross He summed up and brought into judgment the entirety of the Adamic nature. By His resurrection, He transformed the earthly nature into that which is heavenly. He is now the Heavenly Man, and representative of a new heavenly race. “…as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly.” Because this new humanity shares the heavenliness of the Heavenly Man, God can enter into a covenant with them that is also heavenly in nature. This has always been His intention.
“…a covenant to the people”
“Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! …I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people,…” (Isaiah 42:1a, 6)
Isaiah declares that the Father has given His Servant, the Messiah, as “a COVENANT to the people.” The Lord Jesus Christ Himself is the covenant whom the Father has given. This covenant is more than a spoken oath, or ratified agreement of some sort; it is, in its fullest sense, a Person. The Father has given His Son, and in giving His Son, He has given us the New Covenant. All of the promises, provisions, terms, and blessings of the New Covenant are embodied and summed up in Him. Jesus Christ, Himself, is the highest, fullest and purest revelation of the New Covenant that we can obtain.
Because this Covenant is summed up in “the Heavenly Man”, the New Covenant is, likewise, heavenly in nature. In contrast to the former covenants, it is not primarily oriented to the earth, but is heavenly, relating primarily to the spiritual and eternal realms. With the coming of the “Second Man” a covenant of a new and different order altogether was brought in. That which could not be given to the sons of Adam, because of their earthliness, can now be given to the sons of “the Last Adam” because of their heavenliness.
Let us look more fully at the heavenly features of this New Covenant.
The Heavenliness of the New Covenant
The New Testament book that most clearly teaches on the New Covenant is the book of Hebrews. One of the primary themes that runs through it, from beginning to end, is that of heavenliness.
Jesus, the Mediator and High Priest of the New Covenant is described in the following ways:
“After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” (1:3) “…we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens,” (4:14) “Such a high priest meets our need–one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.” (7:26) “The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man.” (8:1-2) “For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again,”(9:24-25).
The Mediator of this New Covenant is reigning in the heavens as the eternal High Priest, after the order of Melchizedek. His ministry is before a heavenly altar, in the heavenly tabernacle, upon a heavenly throne, within the heavenly Jerusalem. Unlike the earlier covenants, the Mediator, High Priest, Altar, Tabernacle, Throne and City of the New Covenant are all heavenly, not earthly.
Similarly, the Church and her calling are described in heavenly terms:
“In bringing many sons to glory, …” (2:10) “Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.” (3:1) “Instead, they were longing for a better country–a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (11:16) “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven… ” (12:22-24)
The primary purpose of the epistle to the Hebrews was to show how much “better” the New Covenant is compared to the Old. One of the preeminent features that makes it “better”, declared by this epistle, is the heavenly orientation and character of the New Covenant.
Beyond this epistle, the New Testament also reveals that the blessings and the inheritance of the New Covenant are likewise heavenly in nature: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,”(Ephesians 1:3); “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you,”. (1 Peter 1:3-4) The earthly blessings and inheritance of the former covenants were merely shadows and types of the heavenly blessings and inheritance of the New Covenant.
In addition, there is a distinct, heaven and earth difference between the Law of the Old Covenant, and that of the New. The Old Covenant Law was engraved on stone and written on parchment. Those who wanted to obey the Law had to observe something earthly. Under the New Covenant the Law is written on our hearts by the Spirit sent from heaven. It is the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” within us that causes us to walk in His statutes. (Romans 8:2 & Ezekiel 36:27) It is the receiving of a heavenly life that makes us righteous, not the earthly letter of the Law.
Finally, it can be said that the warfare associated with this New Covenant is, likewise, heavenly in nature. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) The natural warfare of God’s people under the Old Covenant was an earthly foreshadowing of the heavenly warfare of God’s people under the New Covenant.
The Essential Marks of Heavenliness
We can see from this brief overview that the New Covenant takes on an entirely new character from that of the former covenants. It is important to grasp this heavenly character that we might understand the heart and purpose of the Lord for His people in this present dispensation. Because the New Covenant is essentially heavenly, the New Covenant people of God are likewise to bear the essential mark of heavenliness.
As individuals, we are to be distinguished by what Paul spoke of in Colossians 3:1-3: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” Our hearts and minds are to be continually drawn and fixed on things above, esteeming the heavenly far greater than the earthly, and seeking to live our lives out from our heavenly position and life in Christ.
We are likewise exhorted to, “Put to death… whatever belongs to your earthly nature…” (Colossians 3:5), and to, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.” (1 John 2:15). The gravitational pull of our hearts is to ever be heavenward as we daily, “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)
As the corporate expressions of the Church, similarly, we are to embody the heavenliness of the Heavenly Man, for we are constituted according to the transcendent nature of the New Covenant. The character, constitution, orientation, purpose, values, life, function, and government of the Church need to be from above, not of this world. The Body of Christ is to be an entity entirely different from anything that exists on this earth. Even as Christ is not of this world, so the Church is not of this world. When she embodies and expresses herself according to her true heavenly nature, she becomes an “on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven” manifestation of the Kingdom of God. This is the New Covenant in corporate expression.
When the Church is earthbound, however, being worldly in its focus, form and/or character, she fails to properly embody and express Christ, the Heavenly Man, and, therefore, the New Covenant. When she takes on the values, ways, methods and constructs of this world, she becomes an enigma and even an enemy to the cross of Christ and the heavenly purpose of God. The Church can never satisfy the mind of the Lord in an earthbound state. Only a New Covenant-born expression of the Heavenly Man can answer to His heart, and fully satisfy her eternal calling.
May we who profess His Name seek above all else to know this Heavenly Man, and to answer His heavenly call. As individuals, and as the corporate expressions of His church, may we be marked by this essential characteristic of heavenliness, according to Christ Jesus, the Last Adam, who is the New Covenant.
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