When was the Everlasting Covenant cut? (The Eternal Ministry of Jesus Christ, Part 4)
First of all, let us make it quite clear that God is one God, but, as Paul says in Romans 3:5: “I speak as a man,” for, in order to look at the arrangement made in heaven, we (as men) need to differentiate among the three Persons of the Godhead, so as to understand the particulars of the Everlasting Covenant made in heaven, before time began. This covenant can also be described as “The Covenant of Redemption” because it is the original covenant that determined the terms of how man will be redeemed. The other covenants of redemption that we will look at later on all are based on this one, where the Father and the Son cut covenant to set out the conditions of our salvation.
When Adam fell, it did not take God by surprise, in fact, it was divinely foreseen and planned for: the instantaneous announcement of the serpent’s ultimate doom through the work of the Mediator in Genesis 3:15, immediately after the Fall, was only possible because the Everlasting Covenant already existed. Therefore, it had to be cut before the fall of Adam and Eve.
It is a matter of theological urgency that Christians do not think of God as a ruler who ad libs His dominion of the universe. God does not “make it up as He goes along.” Nor must He be viewed as a bumbling administrator who is so inept in His planning that His blueprint for redemption must be endlessly subject to revision according to the actions of men. The God of Scripture has no “plan b” or “plan c.” His “plan a” is from everlasting to everlasting. It is both perfect and unchangeable as it rests on God’s eternal character, which is among other things, holy, omniscient, and immutable. God’s eternal plan is not revised because of moral imperfections within it that must be purified. His plan was not corrected or amended because He gained new knowledge that He lacked at the beginning. God’s plan never changes because He never changes and because perfection admits to no degrees and cannot be improved upon.
The covenant of redemption is intimately concerned with God’s eternal plan. It is called a “covenant” inasmuch as the plan involves two or more parties. This is not a covenant between God and humans. It is a covenant among the persons of the Godhead, specifically between the Father and the Son.[i]
Although there is no verse in the Bible that states categorically that a covenant was cut in the heavens among the three persons of the Godhead (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), the terms of this arrangement can be observed quite clearly throughout Scripture. What we need to do is to apply good hermeneutical principles and compare Scripture with Scripture. However, because the covenant is not spelled out in detail, we will not necessarily find all the steps of covenant-cutting here. Conner and Malmin categorically states that the Everlasting Covenant was made in eternity past, “before time began, in the counsels of the eternal Godhead, between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.[ii]” and a major representative of the Dutch Further Reformation of the 17th century, Wilhelmus à Brakel agrees with them and states: “The first Reformers and subsequent writers have spoken with much reverence about this mystery, some discussing it at great length.”[iii] These Reformers that à Brakel is referring to include well-known names such as Jonathan Edwards, Charles Hodge, Louis Berkhof; G.C Berkouwer, and . R.C. Sproul,[iv] while The Second London Baptist Confession, confirms it as follows:
It pleased God, in His eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, his only begotten Son, according to the covenant made between them both, to be the mediator between God and man; the prophet, priest, and king; head and saviour of the church, the heir of all things, and judge of the world; unto whom he did from all eternity give a people to be his seed and to be by him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified.[v] (Emphasis by present author)
Thus, we can conclude that we are on solid ground in discussing the Everlasting covenant and we can treat it as one of the fundamental works of God, as it is repeatedly confirmed by Scripture[vi].
Malachi 3:1 tells us that Jesus is the “messenger of the covenant”: in other words, He is the one who brings the covenant from God to people and proclaims what it entails. Yet, we do not find Him using the word “covenant” often. Only at the Last Supper does He refer to it directly (Mt.26:28; Mk.14:24: Lk.22:20). Yet, even though He does not refer to it directly anywhere else, it still means that the message He preached and everything He did and said during His earthly ministry is primarily concerned with the message of the covenant that He brought. Mark one, verse fourteen, tells us that He was “preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God.” His message was: “Repent and believe in the gospel.” Therefore, it follows that, if He is the messenger of the covenant and He is preaching the gospel, that the central message of the gospel is the revelation of the covenant.
In Hebrews 7:22 we read: “...Jesus has become the surety of the covenant.” This verse tells us that Jesus is the surety (or guarantor) of the covenant. We are familiar with the word “surety” as it regards financial matters, because if someone takes out a loan from the bank and asks me to sign as surety, it means that I will pay the amount that is due to the bank according to the contract, if the person fails to do so. So, a surety engages on behalf of another to pay the debt, if the debtor defaults. Vine’s tells us that the Greek word enguos signifies that the person who signed surety for another, is then obligated to pay the debt “with his life or his property.”[vii] This is what Jesus undertook to do, but on behalf of whom did He sign as surety, to whom is the debt due and when was the covenant made?
A little bit later in the Bible, in Hebrews 8:6, it is stated that Jesus is the mediator of a better covenant and 1 Timothy 2:5 assures us that Jesus is the mediator (or go-between) between God, the Father, and mankind. Now, the Father does not owe us anything, so Jesus, as the Mediator, is the one who signed surety for us with the Father, guaranteeing to pay our debt, if we should be unable to do so. However, what is the amount that was due?
According to Romans, we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God, and the price due to the Father, is death (Rom.3:23; 6:23). We owe God our very lives! However, Jesus undertook to be surety for us when the covenant was signed, and therefore He promised to pay this debt! That is the message He came to earth to preach. If that is so, then we should be able to find more indications in what Jesus said and did that He had signed a covenant and has received a charge from the Father to do certain things because of it. Let us look at some of the statements Jesus made during His ministry. In Luke twenty-two, verse twenty-two, Jesus says: “…truly the Son of Man goes as it has been determined…” He is, in fact, telling us that He is not just doing His “own thing,” but that He is acting according to a definite plan or arrangement, determined beforehand in the counsels of heaven. Then he follows it up with:
And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice, and there will be one flock and one shepherd. John 10:16
Notice that Jesus is not saying that He wants to bring these sheep because He has decided to do so, or that he has any option in the matter: He says He must bring them. Why must he bring them? He tells us in the following Scripture:
For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent me. This is the will of the Father who sent me, that of all that He has given Me I should lose nothing but should raise it up at the last day. John 6: 38,39
Here Jesus tells us that He is doing the will of the Father who sent him to accomplish something and that something was determined beforehand: Jesus had been given certain people and He should lose none of them.
So, we see that He was given a definite charge to do certain things on earth. He received this commission from the Father. He solemnly undertook to execute that charge and, if He successfully fulfilled it, there would be blessings that He would be enabled to bestow on those who had been given to Him: they would be raised up on the last day. Surely this is the eternal purpose of God that is referred to in Ephesians 3:11, where it tells us that the manifold wisdom of God is made known “according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
What did we learn from this? Simply that the Father had a definite purpose in sending Jesus to the earth: He did not just send Jesus to do His own will, but there was a definite arrangement as to what Jesus would do, and He accomplished that particular work here on earth. But when was this arrangement planned and agreed to?
As for the question of when it was done, Revelation refers to “the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (Rev. 13:8). So, this establishes what we have observed before: the plan that the Lamb (Jesus) would be slain was already in place before the world was created. Christ’s sacrifice was not an afterthought in the mind of God as 1 Pet.1:20 affirms: “He was chosen before the creation of the world but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” The Bible often refers to salvation that was accomplished by Jesus before time began:: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world … “(Eph.1:4) “…according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began” (2 Timothy 1:9); Furthermore, we read that Paul writes to Titus: “…in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began. (Titus 1:2). (Emphasis by the author in the above Scriptures.)
God promised eternal life before time began. Now eternal life can only be obtained through the Blood that Jesus shed, once He had finished the work that He undertook to do on the earth. This was how He fulfilled His ministry as the mediator and surety of the covenant: He died in our place, to pay the debt that we owed to God. That is what a surety does, as we saw in the explanation above. Yet God already promised that we could get eternal life before time began! He could only do that if the plan of redemption had already been agreed on before He promised eternal life. Thus, we can conclude that the arrangement as to how eternal life was going to be bestowed to man (through the vicarious offering of Christ, fulfilling His ministry as the surety of the covenant), was already agreed upon before time began, before the foundation of the world.
To confirm this even further, Hebrews 12:2 tells us that Jesus “endured the Cross for the joy that was set before Him.” Was the cross that He endured a joy to Him? No, definitely not! The same verse says that He “despised the shame” of the Cross! What then was the joy that was set before Him? Obviously, the salvation of His people after He would sit down at the Father’s right hand. The work and the reward were already set out beforehand!
So, the Father agreed with the Son that, on executing a definite work, He (the Son) would receive a certain reward (the redemption of the people from their guilt and Jesus being exalted to the right hand of the Father) and we know that the Holy Spirit would strengthen Jesus during that work. This is the Everlasting Covenant, made before man was created and it embodies God’s complete plan for man’s redemption. Man was not part of it, but was, indeed, the object of it as all covenants that follow would be based on this covenant.[viii]
[i] R.C. Sproul, What Is the Covenant of Redemption? <https://www.ligonier.org/blog/what-covenant-redemption>, [accessed 04/06/2019/
[ii] Conner &Malmin, 92.
[iii] Wilhelmus A’Brakel, “The Covenant of Redemption between God the Father and God the Son Concerning the Elect; or, the Counsel of Peace,” chapter 7 in The Christuian’s Reasonable,Service (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 1999), , 253
[iv] Edwards, Jonathan, Observations Concerning the Scripture Economy of the Trinity and Covenant of Redemption ; Hodge, Charles: “Parties to the Covenant” and. “Covenant of Redemption” 1871 in Systematic Theology, vol. 2, Part 3, ch. 2, pp. 358-362: Berkhof, Louis : , Systematic Theology,1950;
Berkouwer, G.C: Studies in Dogmatics: Divine Election, (Eerdmans, 1960) pp. 163-71; Sproul, R.C.: ‘What is the Covenant of Redemption?’ 2014, etal.
[vi] Grudem, 518: “Does Scripture teach its existence? Yes, for it speaks about a specific plan or purpose of God that was agreed upon by the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit in order to gain our redemption. “
[vii] W.E, Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (London,UK: Thomas Nelson, 1996) , 612.
[viii] Conner &Malmin, 92.