The Place of the Abrahamic Covenant in the Salvation of Mankind


In Elpis Israel, Brother Thomas demonstrates a principle of Biblical interpretation that is especially pertinent concerning the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. The principle is this:

The teaching of a doctrine by promising or declaring something that necessitates it.

One of the terms of the Abrahamic Covenant is very specific:

"Lift up now thine eyes and look from the place where thou art -northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward; for all the land that thou seest, to thee will I give it and to thy seed forever. Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee." (Gen 13:14-17)

It is perfectly obvious that Abraham is not now in possession of the land of Israel. He is dead and buried in the sepulchre at Hebron, Israel. In fact, Voltaire raised this fact as an objection to the inspiration of the Bible, because the promise of inheriting the land, given to Abraham, personally had not been realized.

The dilemma is stated by Stephen in Acts 7:5: "And he (God) gave him none inheritance in it (The land of Israel) no, not so much as to set his foot on; yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him when as yet he had no child. "

The only way that God can fulfil his promise to give Abraham possession of the land is by a resurrection of Abraham from the dead.

To indicate this, and the certainty of the resurrection, God gives us his Memorial, which was to be "unto all generations" (Exod. 3:15). "Thus shalt thou say unto all the children of Israel: The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob hath sent me unto you; this is my name forever and this is my memorial unto all generations".

What meaning is couched in this most sublime memorial? This: I am the God who is faithful to my covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and to fulfil it I will raise them from the dead. That this is the meaning, is confirmed by Jesus Christ himself.

When the Sadducees came to Jesus denying the resurrection, his refutation consisted of citing the incident of Moses at the burning bush:

"Now that the dead are raised, even Moses showed at the bush, when he called the Lord, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. For he is not a God of the dead but of the living: for all live unto him". (Luke 20:37-38).

This memorial was given as proof "that the dead are raised". The immediate proof is offered in the cases of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob because they were the personal parties to the covenant. But it is also extended to Jesus Christ, himself, as the preeminent seed "to whom the promise was made" (Gal. 3:19).

Furthermore it is a guarantee of the resurrection from the dead of the seed of Abraham who join in the covenant by baptism into Christ. The memorial itself is adduced as proof, decisive, that such a resurrection will occur. Why is this adduced? Because the covenant necessitates a resurrection. Without it the covenant cannot be fulfilled. By calling himself the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob, (who were dead), God pledges Himself to a strict performance of his covenant, namely that the patriarchs, personally, shall inherit the land of Israel.

By extension the inheritance devolves upon Jesus Christ and to present-day believers who are his brethren and sisters.

The Apostle Paul on Resurrection

When the Apostle Paul addressed the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, he cried out:

"Of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question." (Acts 23:6)

When Paul appeared before Agrippa as recorded in Acts 26:6, he testified:

"And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers.."

When Paul was a prisoner in Rome, he declared to the chief men of the Jews:

"Because that for the hope of Israel, I am bound with this chain."

On these three occasions, Paul was affirming the same doctrine in three different ways. He was not being "all things to all men" by giving one reason before one group of accusers and another reason before another group of accusers. He was giving "a reason of the hope that was in him" by citing complementary phases of the same doctrine.

Putting these discourses together, we have an equation between three concepts:

(1) The resurrection of the dead.
(2) The Abrahamic Covenant - the promise made of God unto the fathers.
(3) The Hope of Israel.

These three fundamental concepts are inextricably linked together in the public utterances of the Apostle to the Gentiles.

The Case of the Resurrection of Christ.

In the famous speech, on the Day of Pentecost, recorded in Acts 2, the Apostle Peter exclaimed: "God hath raised (Jesus) up having loosed the pains of death; because it was not possible that he should be holden of it".

Frequently when Acts 2:24 is explained, a serious error is given as to the reason why Death could not hold the Lord Jesus Christ in the grave. The usual explanation is that Jesus had the following attributes:

a) He was a perfectly righteous man.
b) He always did those things which pleased the Father.
c) His moral life before God was impeccable.
d) He was a lamb without spot or blemish.

Since all of the above are true, the explanation proceeds to declare that because the Master exhibited these attributes, God was under obligation to raise Jesus from the dead. God is portrayed as having no choice in the matter if God's own fairness, justice and righteousness were to be upheld. God owed Jesus a resurrection and a bestowal of the divine nature on the sole grounds of Jesus' perfectly sinless character. (If sinlessness is the sole requirement for salvation, then all babies who die at birth should be granted eternal life!)

There is a fatal flaw in this explanation because, at bottom, it clearly teaches the unScriptural doctrine of salvation by works. Salvation is invariably described scripturally as the gift of God. No man, not even the Lord Jesus Christ, can earn salvation. "For by grace ye are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast". (Eph. 2:3-9)

God was not indebted to Jesus because of the Master's righteous life. Christ's elevation to the divine nature was not the payment of a debt owed by God, but rather it was an unspeakable gift which the Almighty was pleased to bestow upon his only begotten Son.

But we are informed that "it was not possible that he (Jesus) should be holden of it (the grave)". What factor made it impossible? We do not have to speculate as to the reason since the very next word in Peter's exposition is the word for.

The apostles frequently give reasons for their statements. It is enlightening to note words like for, since, and because. Skipping over them carelessly allows the truth to escape. The connective, for, is a translation of the Greek word gar. Liddell & Scott note that the chief usage of gar is to introduce a reason and carries a meaning close to our word because. In order for us therefore, to ascertain the reason why the grave could not hold Jesus, all we have to do is read on! Peter fully explains in his argument beginning at verse 25, the reason for the impossibility for Death to hold Jesus.

In summary, the reason that Peter gives is this: That the covenant God made with David might be implemented. The whole argument developed by Peter is how the Davidic covenant - which is an extension of the Abrahamic covenant - was ratified and confirmed by the death and resurrection of our Lord.

The pith of the argument is contained in verses 30-31:

"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 upon his throne; he, seeing this before, spake of the resurrection of Christ..."

The writer to the Hebrews informs us that "it is impossible for God to lie" (Heb 6:8) therefore if the grave was allowed to "hold" the body of Jesus, God would then be found to be a liar. Since it is impossible for God to lie, it was absolutely necessary that God raise Jesus from the dead in fulfilment of the Davidic Covenant which God had sworn with an oath to bring to fruition.

Perhaps we could paraphrase Peter's argument in this way: It was impossible for the grave and death to hold Jesus in the tomb. His resurrection from the dead by God was necessitated because God had made an oath-bound covenant with David that He would raise the Royal Seed from the dead to sit on the throne of Israel for ever. If God failed to perform this term of the covenant, He would be a liar and a covenant-breaker. Since it is impossible for God to lie, He raised Jesus from the dead through the blood of the everlasting covenant.

Does Peter ignore the fact that Jesus lived a perfectly normal life? God forbid. In verse 27, Peter, quoting the Psalms, describes Jesus as "Thine Holy One". In its fullness, this places God's Son in a position of moral perfection. He truly was a lamb without spot or moral blemish. His mind was perfectly in tune with the mind of the Almighty. Because of his perfect moral character, Jesus was a perfect sacrifice for sin. Since without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin, it was required that the blood of a man who was completely victorious over sin be shed in order to cleanse us from all sin and also to effect Jesus' own redemption from death.

In addition to the function of Jesus as a perfect sacrifice for sin, it was also necessary that the Everlasting Covenant be confirmed and ratified by his death. One of the principal features of the Atonement was the ratification of the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants. Hear the Apostle Paul on this point:

"Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers". (Romans 15:8)

A full explanation of this divine teaching is given by the writer to the Hebrews at chapter 9:16-17:

"For where a covenant is made, the death of the appointed sacrifice is necessary to be brought in; for a covenant is confirmed or ratified only over dead victims or sacrifices, since it hath no force while the appointed sacrifice is living". ( Bro. W.H. Boulton's translation after Weymouth )

Christ was the perfect "appointed sacrifice" to confirm and ratify the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants. Now one of the terms of these covenants is the promise of a resurrection from the dead and both are ordained to eternal life. Since Jesus ratified these covenants by the shedding of his blood in his death, it was not possible that the resurrection of his dead body should fail to take place by the power of Him whose covenant is immutable.

The provisional ratification of the Abrahamic Covenant took place during the life of Abraham and is recorded in Gen.15:10. In ancient times, a covenant was ratified by taking a clean animal, and cutting it in half. Then the two contracting parties separated the two halves and walked between the parts. (See Jer. 34:18-49 for more on this custom.)

Just as the sacrifices under the law of Moses could never take away sins, so the provisional ceremony, surrounding the covenant in which Abraham was a participant, could never ratify the everlasting covenant. Both ordinances required the death of Christ to make them fully operative and effectual. Upon the death of Christ, the everlasting Covenant was confirmed, ratified and became fully operative. No longer were provisional and contingent ordinances and rituals required because the true divinely-appointed sacrifice had now been offered by the shedding of the precious blood of Christ.

For this reason, the writer to the Hebrews, when speaking of the resurrection of Christ, identifies that which is truly effectual in bringing about resurrection, namely, the operation of the everlasting covenant:

"Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will...." (Heb. 13:20)