What Might Be – Being In Covenant With God
“Welcome, Jamie. Are you ready for your training today?”
“Yes, absolutely! I am amazed at how my new understanding of Scripture is making all of history come to life in new and wonderful ways. And I am overwhelmed at how this knowledge enhances my real life here with all of you and the King.”
“You have only just begun, but I admit that I am pleased at your progress and at your interest in learning. The King blesses you image-bearers in a special way with his nature, his creativity, his power, and his love, and we in the host never tire of witnessing the excitement in your face or the thrill in your voice. We were created to witness and serve, both the King and the saved, but you were created in his likeness.
“Today’s lesson concerns prophecy.”
“Prophecy? Okay, but why should I be concerned about that now? I never really studied much in that area on earth. It never really seemed relevant. It seemed useless, a waste of time, almost fictional, or at the very least, so confusing that it wasn’t really valuable.”
“Yes, we watched how you focused on many other areas of Scripture. And you weren’t the only one. Few Christians, less than 5 percent in fact, realize the tremendous value that the King places on this vital subject.
“Prophecy is extremely important in the opinion of the King. In fact, the Bible is almost forty percent prophetic in nature, and few notice that they are literally discounting or minimizing this all-important topic by taking the attitude you just described. Only the King knows the future, and prophecy is his method of validating the truth of the Bible. By discounting prophecy, you were unknowingly causing a significant part of the Scripture to be devalued. We have watched this cause him sadness many times over the centuries.
“As Revelation 19 states, the essence of prophecy is witnessing for Jesus Christ as Messiah and Savior and for convincing the world of his true identity. Although you were completely unaware of its power, prophecy is actually the reason for the conversion of many souls. God knows the future in detail and he uses all things to reveal himself. Part of that revelation is how we join the kingdom and walk in his power. This reality brought many people to faith, the cause of what has mushroomed into an uncountable multitude of people who will live forever in this world, the real world. ”
“I preached baptism! I believe in the vital importance of it and was disappointed that many good, religious people I knew minimized the importance of it.”
“Yes, Jamie, I know. And baptism is important, even necessary, but you never truly understood why.”
“What do you mean?”
“In order to help you understand why it was included, you need to have a more complete understanding of how the Father always chose to work in a covenant relationship. It was his way, his law, his method of forming alliance, friendship, and relationship.
“When God told Abraham about all the blessings he would receive through his descendants, Abraham had no descendants. So he turned to God and asked him how he could know that God would do all he said he would. The Father simply instructed him to go get a heifer.
“The ancient ritual of the covenant had a series of steps that were required. They were non-negotiable, known to all, and specific. The details were very similar to, but much more binding, than your understanding of contracts from your post-flood time period. Pay close attention as I explain the steps involved and as I review the significance of each requirement.
“First, there was an exchange of robes. The outer robe was seen as part of a man’s identity. They would exchange robes to signify a confusion of identity. When men exchanged their robes and others saw them coming from afar, they would be confused about who was coming, because they first recognized the person by their unique outer garment. The New Testament equivalent of this act was similar, yet unique. Notice this passage from the New Covenant in Galatians:
“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Galatians 3:26-29 (NIV)
“Galatians teaches that baptism was the covenant act of putting on Christ, or clothing yourselves with Christ. Faith is the prerequisite that leads to baptism into Christ. Then they were to act like Christ would act in everything they did. If a doctor became a Christian, he was to act as Christ would act if he were a doctor. If a teacher, they were to show the world how Christ would act if he were a teacher. If a lawyer, a merchant, a magistrate, or any other professional became a Christian, they were to bring the fragrance of Christ to every situation, every circumstance, every difficulty. The world is always watching to see how Christians react to daily life. And the enemy is quick to point out the discrepancies when they occur. Your influence is more far reaching than any of you realize. And when your actions misrepresent the King, the clothing you are wearing—your identity as a follower of Christ—reflects poorly the King’s intentions, disappointing him greatly. But when your responses are appropriate, this confusion of identity by the exchanging of your robes brings glory to the kingdom and joy to the King. As Galatians teaches, baptism is the identifying mark required for this identity exchange.
“The second requirement to being in covenant was the exchange of belts. Weapons were attached to the belt, so the belt itself was a symbol of strength. God pledged to provide his power and strength to overcome:
“Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” Ephesians 6:10 (NLT)
“He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)
“And, again, notice that baptism is connected to the power of being “in covenant” and having access to the power of God, the strength of wearing his belt:
“You were placed in the tomb with Christ through baptism. In baptism you were also brought back to life with Christ through faith in the power of God, who brought him back to life.” Colossians 2:12 (God’s Word Translation)
“We died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.” Romans 6:4 (NLT)
“The third step to being in covenant with God was the exchange of weapons. The exchange of weapons symbolized the exchang of enemies. His enemy became our enemy, and our enemy became his. In the covenant relationship, covenant partners came to the aid of each other in the event of an attack. Who was God’s enemy? Satan. Who was mankind’s enemy? After the sin in the garden of God, it was death. So now mankind must defeat Satan, and God must defeat death. Notice these passages from the Guidebook:
“Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8 (NIV)
“Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12 (NIV)
“God sent Jesus down to defeat our enemy, death. Notice the Christians’ eventual victory over death is the resurrection:
“Since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 (NIV)
“When the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:52-57 (NLT)
“And notice that baptism is the first step in our resurrection:
“‘Have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was.’” (Romans 6:3-5, NLT).
“The fourth step required to be “in covenant” with God was a sacrifice. The heifer died, and its blood was sacrificed as a part of the covenant. God has always required blood to cover sin and re-establish relationship. In Abraham’s case, it was animal blood, but in the Christian’s case, it’s the blood of the Savior on the cross. Blood is needed to cover sin and be ‘in covenant.’ Keep in mind that Jesus was sinless, but still needed baptism. His cousin, John, performed the act, though reluctantly. Then the King freely gave His blood, as the Holy Spirit testifies:
“‘This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth’” (1 John 5:6, NIV).
“So in order to be in covenant, God required a sacrifice and submission to water baptism. Since Jesus himself performed the covenant act of baptism before beginning his ministry, so should we. As water and blood flowed from the side of the Savior, water and blood makes us clean in God’s sight and gives us the right to enter into his presence with a heart of faith:
“‘Let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.’” (Hebrews 10:22, NLT).
“The fifth step needed for a covenant relationship was called the walk of death. After the heifer was cut into two halves, the covenant partners had to walk through the blood together. Baptism is the New Covenant walk of death:
“‘God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him’” (1 Peter 3:20-22, NIV).
“The same floodwaters that purged the evil saved the good. Baptism is a copy of this unearthly event. It takes faith to be baptized, but one without the other is incomplete, as a covenant without the walk of death is incomplete. Man cannot live underwater, so the King chose to use this truth, this covenant act, done in faith, to seal our covenant relationship with him. It was always meant to be a symbolic act of relationship, not a point of contention. But, as you are well aware, Satan has nurtured and encouraged much hotheaded turmoil over this simple covenant act of submission.
“God has always chosen to reveal his purpose to those with childlike faith and hide the same truths from the spiritually arrogant. For those willing to accept it, Jesus placed the final nail in the coffin of the idea that baptism was irrelevant when he told Nicodemus that no one could enter heaven without being born of water and the Spirit. God sees this spiritual change in the heart of faith, and the water requirement is fulfilled in believer’s baptism.
“The sixth covenant step was the mark on the body. This was usually done on the wrist. In some cultures today, some call themselves blood brothers after having gone through this ritual. In Africa and South America, some tribes added the practice of putting a dark substance to dye the cut into a permanent mark. The dye caused a permanent stain in the exact shape of the cut. This could be easily seen when they greeted each other with a wave. The wave was meant to reveal that they were in a covenant relationship and communicate the reality that if the other man chose to attack the man waving, he would also have to deal with those in covenant with him. Covenant partners shared enemies and were required to defend each other.
“In Abraham’s case, the bodily mark that signified the covenant was the mark of circumcision. Without this covenant mark, Abraham would not have been in covenant with God. When Moses failed to circumcise his sons, God was so angry that he started to kill him, so his wife quickly performed circumcision on the boys, quelling God’s anger. And in the case of the New Covenant, as Romans explains, a pure heart is seen as a circumcised heart in God’s sight:
“‘True circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by God’s Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people’” (Romans 2:29, NLT).
And remember, God took a mark on his own wrists by dying on a cross on a hill called Calvary.
“The seventh covenant step was a pronouncement of blessings and curses. The tradition was for the covenant partners to face each other and pronounce a blessing on the partner if they kept the covenant and a curse on them if they did not. They would be blessed as they came out, as they went in, as they rose up each day, and as they lay down each night. Their wives would be blessed with children, the work of their hands would be blessed, and all their oxen, donkeys, crops, and fields would also be blessed with abundance. In short, if they kept the covenant, their whole life would be blessed.
“But woe to the man who broke the covenant in any way. If he did not come to the aid of his covenant partner or violated the pact in any manner, a curse would be on him. He would be cursed as he came out, as he went in, as he rose up, and as he lay down. His wife would be cursed, her womb would be cursed, his work would be cursed, and all his possessions would be cursed. It was a fearful thing to break the covenant, for then all the covenant blessings would be gone, and all hope would be lost for that man’s future.
“The New Covenant equivalent is found in several places:
“Why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:28-33 (NIV)
“And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19 (NLT)
“And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.” Romans 8:17 (NLT)
“But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” Through Christ Jesus, God has blessed the Gentiles with the same blessing he promised to Abraham, so that we who are believers might receive the promised Holy Spirit through faith.” Galatians 3:13-14 (NLT)
“The eighth step was the covenant meal. In this part of the ritual, the covenant partners sat at a table with witnesses present and shared the meal, but the most significant part was when the covenant partners fed each other the first few bites. This ritual continued in many Western-culture weddings in your time, Jamie. Your marriage tradition had the bride and groom feed each other the first bite of wedding cake after the marriage covenant vows were taken. But in the ancient culture of Abraham, certain words were repeated by each covenant partner during this process. As they fed their new partner those first few morsels, they would say, ‘As you take this sustenance into your body, so you are taking in our covenant to be a permanent part of your nature from now until the day you perish.’
“Jamie, since you were from a church family who practiced the weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper, you will easily relate to and appreciate that the Supper of the Lord is the New Covenant equivalent:
“‘As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take this and eat it, for this is my body.” And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many. Mark my words—I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:26-29, NLT).
“Although most earthlings overlooked the significance of this ritual and its connection to God by way of a covenant relationship, the host of heaven was well aware of it, and his last phrase didn’t go unnoticed in our realm.
“After his resurrection and ascension, he took up his rightful position at the right hand of the Father on high. He is to remain there until the time of the final restoration of all things, according to Acts 3. His return to earth at the second coming will conquer death and assure that God’s will, will be done on earth as it is now done in heaven. Then he will drink again with the disciples and all of his resurrected followers. What a feast that will be!”
“Wait, I’m confused. I taught my sons to change the words of that prayer from ‘Thy kingdom come’ to ‘thy kingdom has come.’”
“Yes, Jamie, you did. Those of us involved in assuring your safety noticed that as we were standing watch over you. But your teachers did not understand completely, and their limited understanding kept you from making the best choice on this issue. You believed that the church was the complete fulfillment of that prayer. You weren’t completely incorrect, but the church was only a flicker, only the beginning of the explosion of reality that the kingdom will bring with it. It was a charcoal sketch of the final masterpiece, a pen-and-ink of the full-color print. The church was the beginning, the mechanism used by the King to begin to re-conquer the domain stolen by Satan. Let me back up and explain the scope of the plan the King is in the process of executing.
“As you have taught from Ephesians 6 about the principalities and powers of the unseen world, we in the host have lived and breathed this reality. At creation, Satan, then called Lucifer, was part of the host. This was before he led the rebellion against the Father. A member of the host was stationed as protector over every region of the earth. Then when the rebellion exploded in our realm and one third of the host followed Lucifer’s twisted and prideful scheme, some of these rebels were in charge of regions on the planet. Their desire to rule and be worshiped led to blood sacrifice, ritualistic devotion, and animistic blasphemy that the faithful host could not believe. Demons, or fallen angels, were present at the worship of every idol, accepting every blood sacrifice, reveling in and accepting the worship of the deceived humans. In fact, we didn’t understand why the King would tolerate it rather than obliterate their kind from existence. But the King used their rebellion, used sin itself to reveal the true-hearted, those destined for salvation.
“Satan thought he had won a great victory, but the King was planning all along to use deception against the chief deceiver and offer all mankind a choice: good or evil. We finally realized that the choice was a necessary part of the process that separates the good from evil. Would you want a wife who had no choice but to marry you, or would you rather have a wife who chose you when she could have chosen anyone? True love sets the object of that love free, free to stay or to go. Otherwise, love is not present. It took us decades, centuries to finally understand it. But once we did, it all made sense. It was also true of our own race, the host. God didn’t make us a robotic mass of unthinking puppets. He gave us a free will and a chance to choose. Most of us chose faithfulness to the King, but some chose Satan’s way of rebellion. The King wanted us all to stay, but it was up to each individual. When Satan rebelled, each member of the host had to choose. Would they stay with the King or follow the silver-tongued leader of the rebellion?
“Again, Satan thought he was winning ground, but in this he was also deceived. Those of us in the host only understood bits and pieces of the King’s overall plan at first, much like your thinking that the church was the ultimate fulfillment of the kingdom on earth. Then we started to put the pieces together and get the big picture.
“God’s plans included letting Satan’s rebellion occur, unsuppressed. This gave all mankind the chance to make a choice and reveal his position in relation to the King. Would they follow Satan, or would they stand with the faithful host and the Triune King? God was content to let Lucifer’s deception deepen and allow much time to pass before the great restoration would begin. Acts 3 reveals that Jesus was to remain in heaven until the time for the final restoration of all things, and that is what he will do. He will restore all things. Complete restoration, worldwide perfection, it will be beautiful beyond description. Unless you have seen the original, perfect earth with your own eyes as we have, it is impossible to imagine. Eden.
“It is just as easy, perhaps easier, for the King to recreate what he once created, and that’s exactly what he plans to do. He wants to walk with you, talk with you, and have continual, ongoing daily interaction. The King is all about relationship. And this goes far beyond what you know even now. As the Triune King has three unique parts, you are created in his image. You have three parts, too. You are body, soul, and spirit—uniquely so. Nothing else in all the rest of creation is so created. Although you are in a temporary body wearing temporary garments, your new body will integrate your original DNA at the great resurrection. Otherwise, there would be no need for the graves to open and the sea to give up their dead. And your new garments will adorn that body with perfection. You will wear your good deeds, your rewards for willingly choosing to serve the King of kings when you had a choice. You will reign with him on new earth for eternity. But that’s a lesson for another day. Let me finish the covenant requirements for now. We still lack two steps.
“The ninth step required the exchange of names. I believe you remember this step, don’t you, Jamie?”
“Yes. Abram became Abraham. And Sarai became Sarah.”
“Correct, but do you know why?”
“I didn’t know there had to be a reason.”
“With the King, there is a reason for everything. Let me explain how it worked by giving you an example from your post-flood world that will enable you to understand.
“You normally signed your name ‘Jamie Hemphill.’ If you made a covenant with someone named ‘Bill Smith,’ your new name would be ‘Jamie Smith Hemphill,’ and his new name would be ‘Bill Hemphill Smith.’ And this would be permanent. A covenant relationship cannot be rescinded. This is what God did for Abram.
“God’s name in the Hebrew is Yahweh. So he took the ‘ah’ from his own name and inserted it into Abram’s and Sarai’s. Now Abram was Abraham, and Sarai was Sarah. Then God took on Abraham’s name by being called from then on in Scripture, ‘The God of Abraham.’
“The New Covenant equivalent is quite simple in this case. When you gained enough faith to repent of your sins, confess Jesus as your Lord, and submit to baptism, you were called Christian. ‘The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch’ (Acts 11:26, NIV).
“But we in the host were surprised again when the Word—who became flesh to dwell on earth—used a special name for himself that also signified the covenant relationship: When he could have claimed relation to the deity he was by calling himself the Son of God, Jesus—in complete submission to covenant requirements—called himself the Son of Man. ‘As Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.’ (Matthew 12:40, NLT).
“Now we’re ready for the final, and perhaps the most monumental step in the covenant relationship, the exchange of the oldest male child. In all ancient covenants, although foreign to your way of thinking, the covenant partners exchanged oldest male sons. Your son would go to live with your covenant partner as his son, and his son will become yours. Permanently. What a great sacrifice of commitment to the covenant it was to give up your first-born son for your covenant partner. In like manner, God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, the son of promise, and then offered his own Son, Jesus, to die on the cross.
“The culmination was extravagant, but necessary, according to the King. Although we were allowed to stay the hand of Abraham as he wielded the knife to kill his son Isaac, we learned it was only because God knew that in his heart, Abraham had already killed the boy. Our confusion turned to joy.
“But when Jesus carried the cross to Golgotha, we were all close by, at the ready, prepared to stay the hands of the Roman soldiers in like manner, but we were prevented. Only then did we realize that the Son would actually be required to give up his physical life, if only temporarily. Only then did we understand the full impact of the prophecies. They were all completely literal. They were there to testify to the world for all the centuries to come that the King loves his people and that he means every word he says.
“Understanding flooded us, and excitement followed. If these predictions were so precise as to fulfill every one literally for the first coming, the same would be true for the second. Complete, planet-wide restoration for all creation was inevitable. Not only would mankind be resurrected and transformed into an eternal being, earth would be restored to its original beauty before finally being replaced with the permanent new earth.
“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.” John 3:16-18 (The Message)
“And then he told them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.'” Mark 16:15-16 (NLT)
“So now I hope you can see, Jamie, that baptism is an integral part of covenant relationship that must not be left out. It is no more important or less important than any other step in the covenant. In ancient covenants, all these steps were required, but in the New Covenant Jesus reduced the requirements to only two: faith and baptism. But just as leaving out any step in the ancient covenant was unacceptable, leaving out either of the two steps in the New Covenant is just as deadly. In fact, as the King told Nicodemus, in order to enter the kingdom of heaven, all must be born of water and the spirit. They need a heart change, but that’s not all. The heart change produces the faith required to obey the command and example of water baptism. Although there are many Scriptures that say you must believe and then you will be saved, these Scriptures all assume that this belief will result in obedient submission to water baptism.
Baptism is irrelevant and pointless without faith, but faith is incomplete without baptism.”
“I see. Now I think I understand!”
“My Search for the Real Heaven,” by Steve Hemphill – Pages 69 – 85