There is one thing that all Christians know: our God is righteous and nothing He does ‘just happens’ on the spur of the moment. His thinking is structured, mathematical even.
In nature, even the intricate weaving of a bird’s nest or the shifting of sands in the Sahara Desert happens in a particular way to get to a meticulous outcome – everything is thought-out and precise.
A covenant of salvation
In the same way, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was designed to fulfill a covenant of salvation. God had a particular outcome in mind, and He reveals His thinking already in the Tanakh (Old Testament).
What exactly was this covenant from the Tanakh, and how did Jesus come to fulfill it? In the following series of blogs, we start to explore ideas in this regard.
God gave us a ‘contract.’
The character of the agreement
If we are to explore what Jesus did for us, and if we accept that His sacrifice was part a foretold covenant, it implies that God entered into a specific agreement with us that He Himself came to fulfill.
He promised that those with absolute faith in Him would be His people for all eternity. Such a contract or agreement would have to have several characteristics:
• It would have to clearly demonstrate that adherence to this covenant would equal life and breaking this covenant would equal death.
• It would have to demonstrate that by this covenant we would be His people.
• There would be no discrimination: everyone with absolute faith in Him could be part of it. In other words, the only requirement to enter this covenant was absolute faith.
• The covenant must be everlasting.
It would only be right and just.
We cannot follow what we don’t know.
The implication is that if such an agreement exists then we, as believers, could clearly see where we had broken our salvation contract and then have a clear understanding of why God Himself had to sacrifice Himself on our behalf and it would, also, give us a clear path to properly embrace our role in this covenant.
It must be clear, that if God, in fact, gave us a salvation covenant and if Jesus’ blood sacrifice was the fulfillment of that salvation covenant then His sacrifice is only for those who are in that covenant.
But what exactly is a covenant?
The Hebrew word
The word for covenant in Hebrew is beriyth.
Beriyth means a ‘covenant, treaty, or agreement’ (NAS Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible with Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries, 1981).
A covenant is an agreement or contract that two parties enter according to a prescribed set of requirements that leads to specific rewards or penalties. God made two types of covenants in the Tanakh with men: informal covenants and formal blood ratified covenants.
Parties to the covenant
God made early covenants with Noah, several with Abraham, with Israel, with David, Joshua, Josiah, and Ezra. In Jeremiah, a new and lasting covenant was promised in the context of the restoration of Israel to their land.
In all of these, the golden thread weaved into the covenants is that it is a gracious gift from God – a sign of His love and His presence in the lives of His people. To share in it, we must accept it, of course.
A covenant, as with any contract, carries with it the expectation that all parties involved meet it’s stipulations and therefore receive it’s blessings.
The formal, blood ratified covenants.
God promised lasting relationships with His people through blood ratified covenants, but they carried the penalty of death if violated. A salvation covenant by definition would bring death if it, also, was able to bring life.
Animals as ‘guarantee’ and symbol
The idea behind a blood ratified covenant is that animals are slaughtered as a guarantee that both parties will perform according to the agreed-upon covenant.
The slaughtering of the animals is significant because it is stating that the violating party will be treated like the animal that was sacrificed as surety to maintain their end of the agreement.
We see this clearly demonstrated in Jeremiah 34:13, 17-18, 20:
“Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘I made a covenant with your forefathers in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, saying… Therefore thus says the Lord, ‘You have not obeyed Me in proclaiming release each man to his brother and each man to his neighbor.
Behold, I am proclaiming a release to you,’ declares the Lord, ‘to the sword, to the pestilence and the famine; and I will make you a terror to all the kingdoms of the earth.
I will give the men who have transgressed My covenant, who have not fulfilled the words of the covenant which they made before Me when they cut the calf in two and passed between its parts… I will give them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their life. And their dead bodies will be food for the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth.”
Saved if we could maintain our end
The blood covenants that God made with us were an opportunity for us to be saved from death if we maintained our end of the agreement. However, if we could not, death will be our penalty.
Salvation, therefore, by blood.
By simple reason, a salvation covenant would have to be a blood ratified covenant, of which there are two which God made with man.
In our next blog, we will delve more into this thinking. We aim to get to these salvation covenants, why Jesus specifically had to sacrifice His life, and how we can participate in these covenants of salvation.