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Those of us who Identify with what has come to be known as covenant theology tend to look for unity in the Bible where others look for division. We see the New Testament not as a rejection of the Old but an outgrowth of it (and thus strongly reject the label of “replacement theology”). We see one covenant, and one covenant people, continually expanding. The God we worship is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. We affirm that Abraham, and all those who were truly his seed, were redeemed by the then-coming work of Christ. One Lord, one faith.
While this emphasis is appropriate and wise, it might make it more difficult for us to grasp the astounding change wrought by Christ. God did not change. The Gospel, while becoming more revealed, did not change. God’s plan did not change. But while it may not be the best place to put it, the pages that separate our Old Testaments from our New are there for a purpose.
My favorite professor in seminary (I won’t tell you who he is, but his name begins with R.C.) delighted to stump his students by asking, “Who was the greatest Old Testament prophet?” Some said Isaiah, others Elijah, still others Elisha. All of these the learned scholar would imperiously reject. “No,” he would pronounce, “John the Baptist was the greatest of the Old Testament prophets.” To be sure, John stood at the brink of the New Testament and his ministry is recounted in its pages, but he worked prior to the work of Christ. My professor supported his claim with the very words of Jesus: “ ‘Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist’ ” (Matt. 11:11a). Then he knocked us over with the promise of Jesus, that he who was least in the kingdom would be greater than John.
Jesus’ promise is not grounded in a radical shift in the innate superiority of new covenant believers over the old, but in the very power of His promise. With His resurrection, ascension, and the gifting of His followers at Pentecost, Jesus moved His people not from the old covenant to the new, but from the old creation to the new.
We who see the covenants and the continuity of God’s relationship with man often speak of the grand theme of the Bible as “Creation, Fall, Redemption.” I prefer a change of nuance, looking at the history of redemption, indeed the history of history, as “Creation, Fall, Re-creation.” Jesus did more than fix an old and fallen world when He stepped out of the grave as the Firstborn of the new creation. Rather, He began the process of re-creating the world, a process that will end when He returns in glory.
Jesus was the Second Adam. We know that He was our covenant head, that His death substituted for ours, that His life was imputed to us. But Jesus’ role as the Second Adam is deeper than this. Adam was called to exercise dominion over God’s creation, to dress and till the garden. He failed, and in him we all failed. The mandate, however, remained.
With the coming of Jesus, the process of re-creation began. If nothing else, that should help us see the great divide between the old and new covenants. We have moved from entropy, the perpetual breaking down of all things, to progress, the perpetual building up of all things. We not only have moved from darkness to light, but to a new day dawning.
Consider the events of Pentecost. Jesus has risen twice, once from the grave, and once to His seat of authority on high. But as His great Acts continue, He sends gifts to those who are in Him. First, we are remade through the indwelling of the Spirit. What Moses (“ ‘Oh, that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them,’ ” Num. 11:29b) and Joel (“ ‘And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh,’ ” Joel 2:28a) could only dream about became a reality. God no longer would dwell with us in a glory cloud or beyond the veil in the Holy of Holies; He would be with us by being in us. Jerusalem had become a valley of dry bones, but through the work of the Spirit and the faithful preaching of Peter, then came the tongues of fire. The miracle of the languages was not a mere show of power. Neither was it a mere prop for the propagation of the Gospel. Instead, it was the beginning of the new creation, an undoing of the curse of Babel.
With the ingrafting of the Gentiles, God is breaking out of His garden Israel and remaking all of the world. The stone uncut by human hands (Dan. 2:35) in the book of Acts begins to grow and cover the earth. And it will grow until all things are covered by it. No longer do we meet on this mountain or that, but rather wherever two or more are gathered in His name. We are still the fruit of His vineyard, but now we are new wine, in new wineskins, singing together a new song.
These astonishing changes, built on the continuing covenant of grace, set the stage for the consummation of history. We are now moving in an altogether different direction. To be sure, we will face assorted obstacles and detours along the way. But where we are going has already been established. Our champion has already blazed the trail.
This month we begin an ambitious project for Tabletalk magazine. Our hope is that, over the next two decades, we will chronicle in these pages that movement of the re-creation of the world, of God’s continuing Acts. We will cover in one issue each year a century in the life of the body of Christ, the true and final Adam. This month we begin with the first one hundred of the years of our Lord.
It is not just we who live coram Deo, before the face of God. It is not just we who have committed our lives to the service of His everlasting kingdom. All those who are now in the church triumphant, the souls of just men made perfect, who moved history forward and labored in recreating the world, likewise lived coram Deo. Now they see Him clearly. Our prayer is that we will see more clearly His hand at work, as the Master Carpenter, the Great Shepherd, the Lord of the Garden brings all things into subjection, to the glory of the Father.