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.
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