THE COVENANTS

The following study is in no way  meant to be a detailed analysis of the subject, nor is it  meant  to answer all of the questions that  could  be  asked concerning  the  agreements and promises that God made  with  the Patriarchs,  national Israel of the past or future, those  called to participate in the first resurrection, or the rest of humanity  after the return of Christ. This would be impossible, because the scriptures  leave  out too  many details to do this. This study  is only meant to be  an overview of the subject that shows the logic and  continuity of God's plan for the  salvation of  humanity.

MANY AGREEMENTS AND PROMISES

From the time of Adam and Eve to the prophetic times of the  future, the Bible records that God has and will make many different agreements and promises with many different individuals, tribes, and nations.  Contained within  some of these agreements  and  promises  is  all of the knowledge that is necessary for a person to understand  the plan of salvation for humanity. Moreover, when one studies the  Bible,  it becomes apparent that it is  separated  into  two distinct   divisions  concerning the methods  and  procedures  by which a person may secure salvation.

When most people think of these two divisions, they think of  them in  terms  of  the old and new covenants; however,  this  is  not technically correct and it leads to many misconceptions  concerning God's overall plan for the salvation of humanity.

A  good  overview of the many different agreements  and  promises contained in God's plan for the salvation  of humanity will help one to understand the continuity of this plan and how these various agreements and promises  are  structured in order to accomplish salvation.

In God's plan, there are four major  agreements that concern how to obtain salvation. Each of these agreements is unique  and pertains to the following time frames and groupings of people:

THE FOUR AGES OF SALVATION

In  order to understand the agreements with the  patriarchs,  national Israel and the  elect of God of all ages, it is  important to understand each agreement in the context of the four different  ages in which salvation is offered to humanity.

The First Age

The first age of salvation existed from the time of Adam until the  agreement between God and Israel at Mount Sinai. During this time, individuals  were  offered salvation through a  sacrificial  system and obedience to God's law. Very little is known about God's worship system during this time period; however, the scriptures do record that  individuals kept God's law, offered sacrifices, and  prayed to God.  A few individuals had personal contact  with the Creator God,  and there  were  preachers of righteousness and priests  of  God  who taught  his law and way of life to people who wanted to worship him.

The Second Age

The  second age of salvation began at Mount Sinai and ended  with the  death  and resurrection of Christ in 30  A.D..  During  this time,  the nation of Israel was offered salvation through  obedience to the law of God and a sacrificial system that was  officiated over by a priesthood at the place where God and the power of his presence resided.

Individuals  were given various attributes and functions  of  the holy  spirit  to help them obey God and grow spiritually.  A  few individuals had personal contact with the Creator God, while the nation as  a whole  only  had  access to the Creator God  through  prayer  and formal worship at the tabernacle/temple.

The Third Age

The third age of salvation began on the Day of Pentecost in 30 A.D.. During this age, which will last until Christ returns to rule the earth,  individuals are offered salvation through belief  in  God the Father  and his son Jesus Christ, repentance,  and  baptism.

Those  under this agreement have the holy spirit given  to  them, the  law of God placed in their minds and spirits, the  spirit  of the Father and the Son merged with their spirit; thereby, they are transformed into sons of God. See our study paper concerning sons of the New Creation.

During this age, no animal sacrifices are required for the atonement of spiritual sin, because the Creator God (Jesus Christ)  himself gave his  life  as the supreme sacrifice to pay the penalty  for the spiritual sins of humanity.

The  sons of God during this age are a temple of God where  God's holy spirit resides. These individuals have direct access to  God the Father and Jesus Christ and worship the Father in spirit and truth. See Jn.4:19-24.

The Fourth Age

The fourth and final age of salvation will begin after the return  of Christ  and  the  establishment of the kingdom of  God  on  the earth.

After Christ's  return, the descendants of Israel will be brought  to the land of their inheritance where they will be formed  into a  world power to fulfill their national destiny. It is  at  this time  that  God will formalize a second agreement  with  national Israel.

During  this future age, the nation of Israel will  again  assume its  responsibility of  being an example of God's way of life  to the world, and the city of Jerusalem will again become the  focal point  of the worship of God, because this is where  Jesus Christ will administer God's government and religion to the nations of the world in an  effort to  convert humanity to the ways of his Father. See Deut.30:1-6; Mic.4:1-7; Joel 3:16-21; Zech.8:1-3.

This age will last until the Father's kingdom is presented to him by Jesus Christ. See 1.Cor.15:24-28.

During  this age, salvation will be offered through  obedience  to  the  law of God and a sacrificial system similar to the way it was offered to  ancient Israel. The sacrificial system  will  be  officiated over by a priesthood at a new temple in  Jerusalem where  Jesus Christ (the Creator God) in his glorified  form and the power of his presence will reside.

Individuals  who want to have salvation will be given the  holy spirit and they will have God's laws placed in their minds and spirits  to help  them  grow  spiritually. These individuals  will  not  have direct  access  to God the Father, but they will  worship  the  Father through  the sacrificial system and through Jesus Christ, the  God who will rule the whole earth from Jerusalem.

COVENANT VERSUS TESTAMENT

In order to clear up the misunderstandings that people have about the two covenants that God has made with national Israel (i.e., the old  and the new) and the new covenant and testament that he makes with the people he calls to participate in the first resurrection, it is important to understand the difference  between  a covenant and a testament.

A  covenant is an agreement or contract between two or more  parties that is governed by a set of rules and has  terms,  conditions, and benefits for each party.

A testament is a record of decisions that people made while still alive  concerning the distribution of their property  after  their death.  A testament can only be enforced after the death  of  the one making the testament.

There was no death involved in the covenants, agreements, and promises between God, the Patriarchs, and national Israel. Therefore,  the first division of the Bible, which  is generally  called the Old  Testament, is not actually a testament, but it is a record  of these various agreements and promises and the  past, present, and future events, which pertain to God, the Patriarchs,  and national Israel concerning the  salvation  of humanity.

Biblical research shows that there are four distinct ages of salvation; however, how do each of  these ages  apply  to God's overall plan for the salvation of humanity?

IN THE BEGINNING

Humanity was created with the ability to reason and weigh  alternate courses of physical and mental action. In other words, humanity was created with the ability to choose to do as they pleased, whether good or evil.

Before  God created humanity, he knew that they might choose  evil over good.  He also knew that after choosing evil  and seeing the results of such behavior, some might want to change their behavior and reconcile themselves to him. If any did want  to  repent and reconcile themselves to him,  there needed to be a method  by which  this could be done.  Therefore,  before  humanity's creation,   the sacrificial system  was formulated in order  to  give humanity  a way to place themselves back into contact and  right-standing with God.

Maintaining a harmonious relationship with God is a major part of the terms and conditions of any of God's agreements with  humanity.

It  is very important to understand the basic system and  principles  that God has set in place in order for people to establish and maintain a harmonious relationship with him. Moreover, it is important to know how the elect of God can use this system for their benefit, because it is  a good relationship with the Father that assures a person salvation.

Note:

See  our  study  paper concerning the  understanding of Genesis chapter 3 for more details concerning the first humans  and  the first agreement that would lead to salvation.

FROM CREATION GOD HAD A PLAN

"Then  Abel  brought  the first lamb born of one  of  his  sheep, killed   it, and gave the best parts of it as an  offering.  The Lord was pleased with Abel and his offering, but he rejected Cain and his offering.  Cain became furious, and he scowled in  anger. Then the Lord said to Cain, Why are you angry? Why that scowl on your face? If you had done the right thing, you would be smiling, but because  you have done evil, sin is crouching at your  door.  It wants to rule you, but you must overcome it. Then Cain said to his brother Abel, Let's go out  in the fields. When they were out in the fields, Cain turned on his brother  and killed him" (Gen.4:4-8 GNB).                              

In verse 7, God told Cain that if he  had  done  the right  thing, he would be smiling. But, what had Cain done  wrong before he killed his brother?

"The  message you heard from the very beginning is this: we  must love  one another. We must not be like Cain; he belonged  to  the Evil One and murdered his own brother Abel. Why did Cain murder him? Because  the  things he himself did were  wrong,  and  the things his brother did were right" (1.Jn.3:11-12 GNB).                                        

Why  did  Cain murder his brother? The  scriptures indicate  that  Cain was jealous of Abel, because the  things Cain did were wrong and the things his brother Abel did  were right. But, what were the things that Abel did that were right?

"By  faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice  than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts:and by it  he being dead  yet  speaks" (Heb.11:4 KJV).

The scriptures show that by faith  Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice to God than Cain.  This is what Abel did right  and Cain did wrong.  It  was  Abel's faith  in God's word that caused him to offer a better  sacrifice than  Cain.  It was through his faith that he won God's approval as  a righteous man,  because God himself approved of his  gifts.   By means of his faith, Abel still speaks although he is dead.

What made Abel's sacrifice more excellent than  Cain's?

THE SHEDDING OF BLOOD

"Almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and  without shedding blood there is no forgiveness" (Heb.9:22 Para.).

Here,  we  see that without the shedding of  blood  there  is  no forgiveness  of sin. It is quite obvious that Cain and  Abel  had been  instructed on how to be put back in right-standing with  God through the sacrificial system.

It  is  also evident that Cain was not willing  to  follow  these instructions,  and  Abel was.  As it says in  Genesis  4:7,  Cain would have been smiling if he had given the proper sacrifice.  We know Abel offered the proper sacrifice (Heb.11:4), because he was put  back  in right-standing with God.

Genesis 4:4 tells us that Abel offered a firstling of his flock. Moreover, the animal  was  probably a goat or a lamb, which  symbolized  Christ and his crucifixion. Abel knew that someday  Christ would come to earth  and  offer  himself as a perfect  sacrifice,  and  through Christ, he could have his sins taken away forever. So, he offered the proper sacrifice and his sins were  set aside  by  God so that there could be a  harmonious  relationship between them.

The  basic idea of the law is that, as long as  people  faithfully observe  its precepts and principles, they are in a  position  of friendship with God and the door to his presence is open to them. However, it  is extremely difficult for people to keep  the  law perfectly. It is because breaches between people and God commonly occur that a sacrificial system exists within God's plan for the salvation of humanity.

We know that eternal and immortal life were offered to those  who lived  under the agreement with the Patriarchs, because  in   Hebrews  chapter eleven, there is a list of those who were  faithful to God prior to and after the Flood. Among those  mentioned  are Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah who all lived before the first agreement with national Israel.

How  did they secure salvation?  There is a simple answer.  These and others lived a life of faith and obedience to God in accordance with the agreement God had made with them.

After the Great Flood, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob,  Moses, Moses'  father-in-law,  and others continued in  the  terms  and conditions  of  the  agreement that God had made with Adam and subsequent generations of people.

By V. O. Jones and B.L. Cocherell, file b4w12