Lesson 32
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For he himself is our peace, who has made the two {nations} one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility…Consequently, you {Gentiles} are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s households, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

Ephesians 2:14-16,19

                   (Insertions mine)

The Bible Says…

Bible history reveals the Jews were not always faithful to God. Church history confirms the same is true of Christians. Human beings within any religious system are capable of adjusting or distorting their understanding of God’s will for expedient social purposes. But, deviant theology has no effect on God’s truth. God’s truth is everlasting. Civilizations come and go, but God and His truth remain forever. So, what was nailed to the cross? In a sentence, two covenants were nailed to the cross. One covenant was given to Adam and Eve; the second was given to the biological descendants of Abraham. (Genesis 15:18; Exodus 24:1-8; Deuteronomy 31:16; Jeremiah 11:10; 31:31-34; Ephesians 2; Colossians 2:13-17). When these covenants became null and void at the cross, two things changed. Animal sacrifices were no longer necessary, and all distinction between Jews and Gentiles came to an end. Paul wrote, “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile-the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” (Romans 10:12,13) After the cross, salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ. “…Whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

To understand the two covenants that were made null and void at the cross, a person has to understand God’s use of covenants in the Bible. Unfortunately, many Christians do not concern themselves with the basics on this subject and this explains why there is so much confusion. It is not necessary to be confused on this topic, since the Bible provides the answer.

Unilateral and Bilateral Covenants

God has two types of covenants: unilateral and bilateral. A unilateral covenant is a one-sided covenant that God imposes upon Himself and/or man. A bilateral covenant is a two-sided covenant or a mutually agreed upon covenant between God and man. Both types of covenants require a continuous relationship between God and man. Both types of covenants have rules within them giving them the effect and the appearance of law. But a covenant is more than a set of laws. A covenant requires an ongoing relationship between God and man whereas a law does not. For example, the law of gravity is not “a covenant” because there is no intelligent relationship between gravity and man. A “law” is an authoritative statement and a covenant may have certain laws or authoritative statements within it. The quality of a covenant relationship is determined by love and affection. When both parties are happy in a mutually agreed upon covenant, the covenant is wonderful. However, if disaffection should arise between the parties, the covenant becomes a terrible bondage for both parties! Have you ever noticed that some marriages begin so happily and end so miserably? Obviously, the marriage covenant did not change. There was a change in affection that brought about a change in the relationship. How long should a mutually binding covenant be honored when there is no love in the heart of one party?

Contrasting the Covenants

A unilateral covenant is one-sided and nonnegotiable. It is not a mutual agreement between God and man. God’s unilateral covenants are imposed on Himself or man as long as He deems necessary. This is why it is called unilateral or one-sided. On the other hand, a bilateral covenant is a mutually agreed covenant between God and man. A bilateral covenant has a set of rules that are binding upon both parties. A bilateral covenant is drawn up and put into effect for mutually beneficial purposes and it remains in effect for as long as the covenant stipulates. The terms and conditions set forth in a bilateral covenant can transfer to succeeding generations. A bilateral covenant comes to an end when (a) either party is unfaithful to the agreement, or (b) when the object for which the covenant was created is fulfilled. Consider these examples: Marriage is a bilateral covenant-two people fall in love and they willingly agree to honor vows of moral fidelity and faithfulness “until death do us part.” The exchange of vows constitutes a mutual agreement and the marriage covenant is put into effect before witnesses. At death, the marriage covenant is terminated because all that was promised has been fulfilled. Similarly, if a builder and a customer enter into an agreement to build a new house, the bilateral covenant between them ends when the house is finished-because the covenant expires. To be legal, bilateral covenants require witnesses. In ancient times, if third-party witnesses were not available when a bilateral covenant was made, inanimate objects such as stones were stacked into a large pile as a witness to t he agreement. (See Genesis 31:44-48)

Covenant Definitions

If a person enters into a contract with a realtor to sell his house, the realtor’s contract will state certain matters (covenant laws), which the seller and the realtor are expected to honor (through obedience). The contract goes into effect when both parties sign (or ratify) the contract. We may use the word “contract” to describe this relationship, but in a biblical sense the contract between the seller and the realtor is a bilateral covenant because a relationship exists for the duration of the contract. Even though the contract has a number of covenant laws or performance specifications in it, we know that compliance with the terms of a covenant is something else. The realtor may not meet the expectations of the seller; he may not promote the property as specified or the realtor may not present the seller’s best interest in selling the property. Likewise, the seller may refuse to meet certain demands set forth in the contract. The point is that all bilateral covenants are performance-based covenants entered into on the basis of “good faith” from the moment they begin. A bilateral covenant becomes necessary when two parties need each other to accomplish something one party cannot do alone. The hope and expectation of both parties at the beginning of a bilateral covenant is superior performance out of each other.

Many people get married each year in the United States. The marriage covenant is a bilateral covenant. At last count, the number of people in the United States terminating the marriage covenant each year is about half of the number getting married. So, even though two people may enter into the marriage covenant, neither party loses its right to abandon the covenant if the performance of the other party does not meet the specifications of the covenant. Of course there can be serious consequences for choosing to violate the terms and conditions of a mutually agreed upon covenant. A bilateral (two sided) covenant can be declared null and void if there is evidence affirming that one party violated the laws or stipulations within the covenant. But unilateral covenants are not declared null and void if they are violated. For example, when Adam and Eve sinned, they came under the condemnation of a unilateral covenant which states: “But you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:17) Because this covenant required their death, Jesus had to die. In other words, someone had to pay for the penalty for sin because this unilateral covenant could not be declared null and void. “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) This is a fundamental covenant of the universe and it cannot be altered. With these definitions in mind, let us consider five unilateral covenants that were put in place before Moses went up Mt. Sinai to see God.

1.   Unilateral: “Do Not Eat of the Tree.”

At the time of Creation, God commanded Adam not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil for if he did, he would be put to death. (Genesis 2:17) According to divine wisdom and sovereign authority, God imposed this unilateral (one sided) covenant upon Adam and Eve before sin began and it was nonnegotiable. A unilateral covenant is not a mutual covenant. When God imposed this covenant upon Adam, He spoke to Adam as the father of the human race. Eve had not been created yet. In other words, this unilateral covenant rested upon Adam and all of Adam’s offspring that were forthcoming. (In a sense, Eve is considered an offspring of Adam since she was made from Adam’s rib.) When Eve was deceived and disobeyed the covenant she came under its condemnation even though God spoke the covenant to Adam. Adam, we know, willfully violated this covenant and God commanded him to death just like Eve, but Jesus spared their lives by stepping “in the way” of the executing angel when He offered to die in their place.

2.      Unilateral: “I Will Put Enmity.”

After Adam and Eve sinned, God announced another unilateral (one sided) covenant to man. He declared that (a) He would put enmity between the offspring of the serpent and the offspring of the woman, and (b) that “He” the Messiah, would someday crush the head of the serpent even though the serpent would strike His heel. (Genesis 3:14,15) God imposed this covenant upon Himself. (Praise God!) Carefully notice that this covenant is not dependant upon the cooperation or agreement of man. This covenant declares the forthcoming actions of God. This covenant will be fulfilled when the serpent’s head is finally crushed at the end of the thousand years. (Revelation 20)

3. Unilateral: “Destroy Those Who Commit Murder.”

Soon after the floodwaters subsided, God declared a third unilateral covenant to Noah. “And your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.” (Genesis 9:5,6) This covenant was unilaterally imposed upon Noah and his offspring (there were only eight people living at the time) and it declares man’s accountability to God. Notice that death by execution in the event of murder is a unilateral decree. God did not negotiate with Noah. (Compare Genesis 9:5,6 and Numbers 35:33.) God left no wiggle room on this subject. God has imposed accountability on every beast and on every person and He declares that murderers must be executed.

4. Unilateral: “Never Again.”

A fourth unilateral covenant was also given to Noah right after the flood. God declared, “Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood.” (Genesis 9:9-17) Notice again that this covenant is one-sided. This covenant is binding upon God, not man, and God has faithfully honored this covenant for nearly 4,500 years!

5. The Fifth Unilateral Covenant

In Genesis 12 and 13, we find a compelling story of faith. God selected a man who was eager to follow Him and obey His commandments. Every time I review Abraham’s life, I am impressed with his deep faith in God. I am not surprised that God gave a unilateral covenant to Abraham. Neither am I surprised that Abraham’s humanness got the best of him at times. Abraham died without seeing the things that God promised him, but Abraham will live again and he will see everything God promised to him. God promised a childless Abraham three things:

(a) Through Abraham, all nations of the Earth would be blessed.

(b)   Abraham’s descendants will be more numerous than the stars in the sky.

(c)   God would give Abraham and his heirs a specific section of land. (Genesis 13:14-17; 15:5)

The unilateral covenant God gave Abraham was not conditional nor was it based on mutual agreement. God honored Abraham’s faith by granting a unilateral covenant to him! We find the same to be true for a few other people of faith in the Bible such as kings

Hezekiah and David. God promised Hezekiah that he would live 15 more years and God promised David that his throne would last forever. (1 Kings 2:4; 2 Kings 20:6; 2 Samuel 7:16) The unilateral covenant God gave Abraham was implemented because of sin. As the first man of the human race, Adam was to be the Great “grandfather” of billions of sinless beings, but he forfeited that honor when he sinned. After the flood, God started over by honoring Abraham’s faith, declaring him to be the Great “grandfather of all would live by faith. However, the unilateral covenant that God gave to Abraham still awaits completion. Notice this text: “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise {that still stands}.” (Galatians 3:29, insertion mine.) This verse, written about 30 years after Jesus died on the cross, confirms three things. First, God reckons all people who put their faith in Christ to be children of Abraham (heirs). Second, the time and setting of this verse confirm that the covenant given to Abraham was in effect after the cross! Third, this text indicates that anyone can become Abraham’s heir through faith in Jesus. (Ephesians 2; Romans 2:28,29; 9:6,7) So the unilateral covenant God gave Abraham still stands and as far ad God is concerned, the offspring of Abraham are those people who put their faith in Christ!

Actually, faith in God has always been the core issue for salvation from the beginning of sin, but the biological offspring of Israel stubbornly refused to comprehend this point. (Jeremiah 3:20; Hebrews 4) Rebellion is the opposite of obedient faith and because of rebellion, God finally destroyed Jerusalem. But, Abraham will receive everything that God promised to him because God redefined Israel at the cross! The Israel of God is believers in Christ. (Romans 9-11; Ephesians 2; Galatians 3 and 4; James 1:1)

At the end of the 1,000 years, the unilateral covenant God gave Abraham will be fulfilled. At that time everyone will see that all nations were blessed through Abraham for the savior of the world came through the lineage of Abraham! Second, at that time the saints will be a numberless multitude, numbering more than the stars in the sky. Last, when the Holy City, New Jerusalem, descends from God out of Heaven, it will rest upon the specific land that Jesus promised to give to Abraham and his offspring! (Zechariah 14; Revelation 21) Abraham well understood the curse of sin. He knew God’s covenant included more than merely living in the land of Canaan. This is why the Bible says Abraham was looking for a city whose builder and maker was God. (Hebrews 11:10) By faith, Abraham could see beyond the curse of sin. He was looking for a new Heaven and a new Earth. So, be assured that the unilateral covenant God gave to Abraham will be fulfilled because God always keeps His word.

Five Unilateral Covenants

So far, we have examined five unilateral covenants. All of these covenants predate Mt. Sinai by hundreds of years. They are:

1.      “Do not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.”

2. “I will put enmity between the serpent and the woman and will one day send a Savior.”

3.  “I will demand an accounting for each man’s life. Murderers are to be put to death.

4. “I will not destroy the world again with a flood.”

5. To Abraham:   “Through you, all nations will be blessed.”

   “I will make you father of many nations.”

“I will give you and your descendants this land.”

Bilateral: If You Will Be My People….

Now, we turn our attention to the first bilateral or mutual covenant offered to man the day sin began. Although Genesis 3 does not say this in the clearest of terms, God offered a bilateral covenant (a two-sided agreement) to fallen man before He evicted them from the Garden of Eden. The silver lining of that dark day is this: God offered man a way back home if he wanted to return. It may take God 7,000 years to restore man to his garden home, but returning home is possible! This covenant can be summarized with words that God has used in various places in the Bible: “If you will be my people and show faith in me by obeying me, I will be your Salvation.” (See Exodus 6:7; 19:5,6; Jeremiah 7:23; Ezekiel 36:28; Revelation 21:7.) Because bilateral covenants are performance based, notice the conditional element in this bilateral covenant. “If you will be my people…”it is apparent from Genesis 3 that Adam and Eve accepted the covenant by conducting the first animal sacrifice to demonstrate the price of sin. (Genesis 3:21) The killing of a flawless lamb was a shadow of the death of man’s Creator. After slaying the lamb, I believe Jesus covered the nakedness of Adam and Eve with the skin of the lamb. This is a beautiful object lesson showing how God covers our sins through the righteousness of Christ. (Romans 3:21,22)

This bilateral covenant, which was offered in perpetuity to Adam and Eve and their descendants, is one of the two covenants that were nailed to the cross. When Jesus died, the requirement for animal sacrifices - established in the Garden of Eden - came to an end.  This bilateral covenant between God and man was fulfilled and a fulfilled covenant is a finished covenant. A new bilateral covenant was implemented at the cross that is based on the blood of Jesus.

Abel’s Sacrifice

Consider for a moment how the first bilateral covenant worked: Because the blood of Jesus would have to be spilled to bring about man’s restoration, God mandated that animal blood be periodically shed until Christ’s blood could be shed. (Genesis 4:4) Animal sacrifices served as a symbolic reminder of the price of salvation. We know this to be true because of Abel’s “approved” offering and subsequent death. (Hebrews 11:4; 12:24; 1 john 3:12) Although Cain could actually see into the Garden of Eden, he was so rebellious that he would not submit to the terms and conditions that god required to return there! He refused to offer the prerequisite animal sacrifice and God refused to honor Cain’s offering of fruit. As Abel obediently presented the prerequisite sacrifices, God commended him and Cain went deeper and deeper into a jealous rage. No doubt thought, “How can God continue to embarrass me, the firstborn of mankind, in front of a lesser (younger) brother?” Finally, Cain vented his rage toward God and Abel by killing Abel. For 4,000 years, from Adam to the time of Christ, everyone wanting salvation had to submit to the requirements of the first bilateral covenant God to Adam and Eve. Noah obediently submitted to this requirement. (Genesis 8:20,21) Remember that everyone prior to the flood (with the exception of Enoch) who offered animal sacrifices went to their death without receiving what was promised. (Hebrews 11:39,40) Understand that salvation is granted to no one on the basis of obedience. Obedience can be the result of faith or obedience can be the result of conformity. In other words, a person can offer animal sacrifices because it is “the religious thing to do” but this is not faith. Faith is most clearly revealed when obedience comes with a penalty. In Abel’s case, it cost him his life.

Bilateral Covenant Expanded at Sinai

The bilateral covenant that God offered to Adam and Eve was both perpetual (for 4,000 years) and temporary (until Jesus died). The slaying of animals was an act of faith for 40 centuries. The slaying of the sacrificial animals, according to the requirements that God established, was expression of faith. Faith renders obedience; presumption excuses transgression. At Mt. Sinai, God offered the descendants of Abraham a bilateral covenant. This covenant was an enhanced and expanded version of the bilateral covenant that He offered to Adam and Eve. The covenant that God offered to the offspring of Abraham at Mt. Sinai was not entirely new nor was it entirely unique. Instead, it was a repetition and enlargement of certain issues that had been extended to the human race through Adam and Eve. The bilateral covenant offered to Israel included certain new features for Israel (such as the privilege of being a kingdom of priests to God), but it remained a conditional two-side covenant, “If you will be my people, then I will be your God.” (Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28-30)

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