Covenant/Testament: A Biblical concept seldom considered


There’s a concept in the Bible that many modern-day Christians fail to grasp and understand, and it’s found throughout the Bible, from beginning to end. That concept is covenant or testament and, particularly, those covenants or testaments established by God for the benefit of mankind.

Unless one studies law, he may rarely even hear the word covenant today. Another word often used interchangeably and with a similar meaning is testament. The usual Hebrew and Greek words behind covenant and testament are “berith” and “diatheke.” Basically, a covenant or testament is a binding agreement and promise made sure by certain pledges and guarantees – sometimes by property but, in the Bible, covenants often included an oath and, in many cases, the shedding of blood (thus, the expression to cut a covenant).

There are many covenants in the Bible. Most notable are God’s covenant after Adam and Eve fell into sin (Gen. 3:15); His covenant after the flood (Gen. 9:8-17); His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Gen. 12:1-3; 22:15-18; 28:12-15); His covenant renewed at Mt. Sinai (Ex. 19:3-6; 24:1-8) and the new covenant or new testament promised in the Old Testament Scriptures (Jer. 31:31-34) and put into effect by the death of God’s own dear Son, Jesus Christ (Heb. 8:6-13).

And these covenants and promises of God were connected to the shedding of blood. Animal sacrifice began immediately after the fall into sin (Gen. 3:21; 4:4; 8:20) and continued through the Old Testament period, pointing ahead to the promised sacrifice of God’s Son.

As the covenant maker, God Himself passed between the animal pieces in Genesis 15. He, Himself, provided a substitute ram for Isaac in Genesis 22 and promised in Isaiah 53, Psalm 130, Psalm 22 and elsewhere a substitute who would, by the shedding of His blood, make atonement for the sins of all mankind and establish a new covenant or testament – that covenant promised in Jeremiah 31 and explained in great detail in the New Testament – especially in the Book of Hebrews.

And there was a sign and mark that a person was made a part and recipient of God’s covenants. The rainbow was a sign of God’s covenant with all mankind not to again destroy the entire world and all living creatures by a flood (Gen. 9:8-17). Circumcision was a sign and mark that Abraham and his descendants were God’s own people and recipients of God’s covenant blessings and promises together with Abraham. God promised to bless them, give them the land of promise and, through Abraham’s Seed, to bless all the peoples of this world (cf. Gen. 12, 15, 17 and 22).

There was a covenant meal that assured recipients of the blessings promised in the covenant. The people ate the Passover lamb whose blood was shed and put upon the lintel and doorposts of their houses that they might be spared God’s judgment upon the Egyptians and be God’s covenant people (cf. Ex. 12). The people partook of their sacrifices under the old covenant worship laws and, in Exodus 24, were even sprinkled with the blood of their sacrifices.

As promised throughout the Old Testament Scriptures, God kept His promise to send the Seed of the woman, the Seed of Abraham, His only-begotten Son in human flesh, the virgin-born God-man Savior, to fulfill all righteousness in the place of fallen mankind and then to bear on the cross the full and just punishment for the sins of all the world (cf. Gal. 4:4-5; Isa. 53:6).

By dying for the sins of the world and rising again on the third day as our substitute, Jesus has put into effect a new covenant of God with man, a covenant which no longer requires continual sacrifice of animals for sin because Jesus by His one sacrifice has paid the debt of all sin for all time. This is a covenant in which God forgives all our sins for Jesus’ sake and remembers them no more (cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Ps. 103:12; and Heb. 8:1ff.), a covenant in which He again writes His laws upon our hearts and will one day restore all things to perfection.

And as circumcision was a mark and sign that a person was a child of God under the old covenant, baptism in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is the way God has appointed to bring us into this new covenant He has made with man through the shedding of Christ’s blood.

That’s why baptism is called the circumcision made without hands (Col. 2:11ff.) and why making disciples of all people in this world is done through baptizing in the name of the Triune God and teaching them all that Christ taught and commanded (Matt. 28:18-20). It is why all of us who have been baptized into Christ are called children of God and heirs with Abraham of God’s eternal promises (Gal. 3:26ff.). It is why the apostle Paul, after his conversion on the road to Damascus, was commanded by Ananias: “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). When He was baptized and brought into the new covenant established by Jesus’ blood, all His sins were washed away and held against him no more.

And the same remains true today. Baptism is not some insignificant thing we do in obedience to God’s command. It is what God does in us, bringing us into His new covenant in Jesus’ blood and washing away all our sins! Why would people put off baptism or deny its benefits to their children? Indeed, why would anyone wish to delay becoming a covenant child of God through Jesus’ sacrifice?

And yes, Jesus has established a new covenant meal in which we are given to partake of the very sacrifice for sin that made this covenant possible! As God’s people under the old covenant continued to partake of the Passover lamb each year in remembrance of that first Passover sacrifice and God’s saving of His people, so we are invited by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, to partake often of the body He gave into death when He died for our sins, and of the blood He shed when He established this new covenant in which we have forgiveness of sins, life in fellowship with our God, and eternal salvation. In the Lord’s Supper, we remember Christ’s atoning sacrifice for all sins and are given to partake of Christ’s one sacrifice that we might receive and be assured of God’s covenant promises.

That is why Jesus says, in each of the four Lord’s Supper accounts: “This is My body. … This is My blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:26,28; cf. Mark 14; Luke 22, 1 Cor. 11). When Christians partake of the bread and the wine in the Lord’s Supper, they are also given to partake of the sacrificial Lamb of God who was sacrificed on the cross to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29) and of the covenant-establishing blood He shed on the cross for the sins of all. And why is this so important? Because this is a means God has appointed in order to offer, give and assure to us the blessings of this new covenant; namely, the forgiveness of all our sins and life eternal as a child of God in His kingdom.

Some might ask how God could bring us into this new covenant through the waters of baptism or how he could give us to partake of Christ’s body and covenant-establishing blood in the Lord’s Supper. No, I can’t explain it, but I certainly am not going to question the words or the wisdom of the One who created all things by simply saying, “Let there be …” Why would I doubt or try to explain away His Word?

And what is the benefit of considering what it means to be a covenant child of God? Let me speak personally. It means that though I am a sinner, God has graciously brought me into a covenant or testament (a binding agreement and promise) He established through the shedding of Jesus’ blood to not remember or hold my sins against me but to forgive and accept me as His own dear child. It means I have the promise of an eternal inheritance in heaven and can live, and die, in the confidence that I will not be condemned for my sins and failures but have forgiveness and the certain hope of life everlasting for Jesus’ sake.

God gave His word on it! It is His covenant – sealed with Christ’s blood shed on the cross for the sins of the world – which promises and guarantees to me forgiveness for all my sins and everlasting life with Him in heaven through faith in Christ Jesus, my Savior. There’s nothing more sure than that!

[Scripture is quoted from the King James Version of the Bible.]

Categories ,