We’ve already established the difference between Dispensations and Covenants, but we’ll recap so that it’s fresh in memory before we dive into this next part.
We understand a Dispensation to be a time period during which God deals with man in a specific way and according to a specific set of commands or rules. A Covenant is a promise or agreement that God makes with a man, men, or groups of people, that is sometimes contingent upon that individual or those individuals’ actions, but is not always tied to a timeframe or set of dates. Covenants operate within Dispensations, sometimes spanning multiple time periods, but are not necessarily linked to a specific Dispensation.
Let’s take an overview of each Covenant so we can understand how they work and where they fit in the grand scheme of things. The Covenants we’ll deal with are as follows:
- Edenic Covenant
- Adamic Covenant
- Nohaic Covenant
- Abrahamic Covenant
- Mosaic Covenant
- Davidic Covenant
- New Covenant
This is the first and most perfect Covenant that God established with mankind. This is tied very closely with the Dispensation of Innocence in the Garden in Eden, and can almost be viewed as the same thing, but it still must be understood as separate from the time period under which it operated.
This Covenant was unconditional: God set the requirements and gave the commands, and Adam was responsible for obeying. Obviously, when Adam disobeyed and broke the Covenant, the repercussions were devastating, both personally and for the whole world for the next 6,000+ years!
The details were very simple: Adam was to keep the garden and dress it, and was not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. As long as Adam obeyed, everything would be hunky-dory. As soon as he disobeyed, he would experience death, and we understand that death to be the death of the Spirit in the human trichotomy.
This was the easiest time period and the simplest Covenant in history, yet man, left to himself, messed it up.
As a result of breaking the Edenic Covenant, God set up the Adamic Covenant. Again, this was an unconditional Covenant, not contingent upon Adam’s involvement: he was stuck with it whether he was happy with it or not. We can assume that his sin would not have been atoned for had he not accepted the covering of skins that God provided for him, but that is largely conjecture, though it makes perfect sense. Our sins can only be paid for if we obey what commands God has set in place to receive forgiveness (or in Adam’s case, remission).
Unlike the Edenic Covenant, however, the Adamic Covenant stretches for over 6,000 years. This Covenant is almost exclusively negative: the earth is cursed, man is cursed, the woman is cursed, and the serpent is cursed. The only positive aspect is that the Redeemer is promised, but their understanding of Who He was to be is shown to be nil in Genesis 4:1 when Eve declares that Cain is the promised seed!
The results of this curse are evident today as the ground is still growing thistles, thorns, and weeds, we have to work hard and sweat for our living, the Biblical organization of the home still goes through the man, and women still have pain in childbearing. This Covenant lasts through the end of the existence of this universe, until God destroys the whole of time, space, and reality itself, and creates a new universe, heavens, and earth without the curse.
When Noah and his family left the Ark in Genesis 9, God set up a new Covenant with him. This Covenant did not nullify the previous one set up with Adam, as we covered already, but it did build upon it and set up a few more rules. This Covenant is tied partly to the Dispensation which it occurs in, the Age of Human Government, but parts of this Covenant continue on long past the end of that Dispensation, and some parts are in force still today!
- Noah to Replenish the Earth
- Animals now fear Man
- Man can now eat Meat and other Animals
- Man is not to eat raw Meat or Blood
- Capital Punishment: Murder by Man or Animal to be punished by Execution
- No more Complete destruction by Flood of Water
This Covenant was with Noah’s family and all of his descendants. Again, this is an unconditional Covenant, with God making the promises and giving the commands, and it is simply man’s responsibility to obey and reap the benefits of God’s blessings as a result. However, as men are wicked, Nimrod and his followers disobeyed God’s command to replenish the earth and instead built a city, which God quashed by confounding their languages. Since God couldn’t get everyone to obey Him, He chose one man to make a covenant with.
Genesis 18:19 shows us that God saw what kind of man that Abraham was, and knew that He could trust him to obey and do right. Thus, God chose Abraham to be the one man with whom He would deal, and through whom He would bring the Seed of the Woman (Jesus Christ).
Once again, God’s covenant with Abraham, repeated over and over again both to Abraham and to his son and grandson, was unconditional, and was an unchanging, eternal promise to Abraham and his descendants forever. Many different people and belief systems today try to do away with this promise, but the Bible is explicitly clear that the land from Egypt to the Euphrates River to Turkey belongs exclusively to the genetic descendants of Abraham, who are the Jews and the nation of Israel. (Gen. 15:18-21)
Many will try to explain away these very clear promises by making the Church “spiritual Israel,” and while there is certainly an application to be made there (the Jews being cut off and the Gentiles being grafted in), the Biblical fact is that God will once again, at a future time, return His attention to the nation of Israel and will bring her back into the land which He promised Abraham for an ETERNAL inheritance. However, the Covenant does not expire — ever. This Covenant will last beyond the Millennium and the end of this earth and the Adamic Covenant, into Eternity Future, forever.
After God providentially brought Israel to Egypt to sojourn for 430 years, and then called them out, He made a new Covenant with the nation of Israel through Moses. As any study of Israel shows, the Jew is always oblivious to Spiritual truth and requires physical evidence in order to believe anything at all. So, instead of submitting to a few rules and restrictions that God originally had in mind, Israel basically demanded more Laws, leading up until the Mosaic Covenant and the Mosaic Law.
Understand that this Covenant follows the Dispensation of the Law very closely, and seeing the parallels between the two will clear up many misunderstandings about the Old Testament and the Old Testament economy. For instance, most people believe that Old Testament saints were “saved” because they “looked forward to the cross,” but since not one single Jew before Christ’s crucifixion actually understood about Christ’s death, or that the one who died would be the Messiah, this doctrine is not Biblically sound.
This time, the Covenant came with conditions: as long as Israel kept the Law, God would bless them immensely, but if they broke the Law and wouldn’t serve God, then God would punish them severely, up to the point of removing them from the land. This obviously didn’t violate or obviate the Abrahamic Covenant, because the land was still theirs: their continued possession of it simply depended on whether or not they obeyed God like they were supposed to.
Deuteronomy 6:25: And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before the LORD our God, as he hath commanded us.
The Bible makes it clear that the situation in the Old Testament, under the Mosaic Covenant during the Dispensation of the Law, was vastly different from the situation we are in today. Today, our own righteousness is worthless, as we are Sanctified by the righteousness of Christ. The obvious response from those that disagree with the doctrine of keeping the Law in order to be right with God is a reference to Isaiah 64:6, but the context is clear in that the prophet is speaking of a people who do not truly seek to obey God and instead are hypocritical and backslidden. In fact, the previous verse completely does away with the misapplication that the Jews’ good works were worthless: those that sought God honestly were rewarded, according to verse 5. That is not to say that using this verse to disprove works for Salvation is wrong: it is completely usable in such a Spiritual application, but the clear Doctrinal application is that Israel was unrighteous as a whole and only a few people were honestly seeking to please God, and God was very wroth with their wickedness.
This Covenant extends from the beginning of the giving of the Law in Exodus 20 and extends through the the first few chapters of the Book of Acts in the New Testament (the Apostles didn’t figure out that the Law was no longer in effect until Acts 15!).
Now we come to one of the more complex parts of the study of the Covenants. The Davidic Covenant is disassociated from any Dispensation, and it extends from the middle of the Mosaic Covenant all the way to the end of the present Universe and beyond into Eternity.
There are some fringe weirdos that use the promises made to David to try to prove that England is somehow the legal descendants of David and is thus the “Real Israel,” but the fact that there was no king of David’s line (and still is none) does not change the fact that every king of Israel (the next will be Jesus Christ Himself) is to be of David’s lineage, through the tribe of Judah. 2 Sam. 7:12-16, Jeremiah 33:15-26, Psalm 89:3-4
Though this Covenant is the most complex in its execution and place in the timeline of history, it is also the easiest to understand and accept: God promised that David’s line would rule Israel/Judah forever, and without exception, this has been the case. Within a few short years, Jesus Christ will return to set up His everlasting, eternal Kingdom, which will never end.
The New Covenant, established by Jesus Christ while He was still on this earth, is another somewhat tricky one, as the application and validity of it depends on multiple factors.
First of all, the New Covenant was instituted when the Jews refused Christ as their Messiah. They couldn’t understand, first: that their Messiah was actually God in the flesh; secondly: that He was there to set up a spiritual Kingdom (Kingdom of God) in addition to the physical Kingdom (Kingdom of Heaven); and thirdly: that Christ had to die. All of these things, coupled with their complete misconception of Who the Messiah really would be (they only saw the King in prophecy, not the Prophet/Priest portions of His ministry), caused them to reject the Kingdom that was offered to them.
Now, when Christ first instituted the New Covenant, the Apostles still had commands to go only to the Jews. In fact, Christ specifically forbade them to go to the Gentiles, and the proof of that is that Peter was still struggling with dealing with Gentiles in Acts 10! It was such a big deal that the other Apostles took Peter to task for preaching to Cornelius, but were silenced when the other Jews that had been with Peter attested to the Gentiles receiving the Holy Ghost.
Thus we see that the New Covenant, by Acts 8 (Ethiopian Eunuch), 9 (conversion of Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles), and 10 (conversion of Cornelius), was applying to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. The greatest mystery of the Bible, and one that still messes many people up, is that Jew and Gentile alike would partake of the same Body, the Body of Christ. (Eph. 3:1-12)
For the rest of the “Dispensation of Grace,” or the Church Age, every individual that accepts Jesus Christ as his Saviour becomes a member of the Body of Christ, which is made possible by the New Covenant (Testament) of Christ’s blood (Mk. 14:24, Lk. 22:20, 1 Cor. 11.25). However, this is not the case indefinitely. At the Rapture, things begin to change once again, as the Church, which is to be the Bride of Christ, is taken away. No longer do those who receive Salvation (by whatever means God has commanded) receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, nor are they made a part of the Body of Christ, nor do they become a part of the Bride of Christ.
This is where the “complications” come in, as the New Covenant applies to us who are saved forever, while those who miss out and become Tribulation Saints are once again under the Mosaic Covenant, responsible for keeping the Law and obeying to the letter everything that they can. There is no Scripture in the book of Revelation that points to salvation by Grace through Faith alone for Tribulation Saints, while there are 5 books of the New Testament (Hebrews through Revelation) plus the Gospels that clearly teach a works-based method of receiving God’s grace (these books are those most commonly referred to by heretics and cults, by the way, for this very reason). These books are FOR us, not TO us (check the address). Trying to create doctrine from these books will lead a person into heresy, though much support for Church Age doctrine will be found in them.
We can see from this how a simple open-and-shut timeline isn’t quite as helpful in a study of the Covenants as we would like to think. Covenants overlap, coincide, and sometimes contradict each other, and we have to understand where they apply and how they interact with each other. Covenants are also based on many differing factors, from race and heritage, to obedience and service, to sometimes complete grace without the input or involvement of those affected by it. This is why Rightly Dividing the Scriptures is so vitally important: we can become confused and get into false doctrine without a proper understanding of the proper method of Biblical study.
Note that this is not “Covenant Theology” as taught by Calvinists. There are Covenants in Scripture that must be understood, but a careful study of them will reveal a more complex reality through history than a simple set of dates and names.