Covenant Love, Lesson 6.5

Covenant Love: Introducing the Biblical Worldview

Lesson Six: The New and Everlasting Covenant

Lesson Objectives

  1. To read the New Testament with understanding.
  2. To understand how the New Testament depicts Jesus as the fulfillment of the covenants of the Old Testament.
  3. To appreciate, especially, the importance of God’s everlasting covenant with David for understanding the mission of Jesus and the Church as it is presented in the New Testament.

V. The End of His Story

A. Beginning with Moses

How do we know all this? How can we be sure that this is the "right interpretation" of what was really happening on the Cross?

Because the Church, building on the testimony of the Apostles, has told us so. How did the Apostles know?

Because Jesus taught them how to find Him in the Scriptures.

On the third day, when He rose from the dead, what was the first thing He did? According to Luke's Gospel, He appeared to some deeply saddened disciples making their way to Emmaus.

As He walked, He explained the Scriptures to them. "Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He interpreted to them what referred to Him in all the Scriptures" (see Luke 24:27).

When He was done interpreting the Scriptures to them, He celebrated the Eucharist. Notice the same pattern we observed in the feeding of the multitudes and at the Last Supper. At Emmaus, "He took bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them" (see Luke 24:30).

Later that first Easter night, He appeared to the Apostles. Again, He "opened their minds to understand the Scriptures" (see Luke 24:45).

By Scriptures, of course, Luke means the books of what we call the Old Testament. There were no New Testament writings just yet!

But Jesus was establishing something very important - that what He said and did, the meaning of His life, death and Resurrection, can't be understood apart from what was written beforehand in the Old Testament.

He told them that God had foretold His coming in every part of the Old Testament, and explained to them "everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and in the prophets and in the Psalms" (see Luke 24:44).

Jesus taught His chosen Apostles how to interpret the Scriptures. And as He promised, He sent them "the Spirit of truth" to guide them "to all truth" (see John 16:13).

What they learned and continued to have revealed to them "in the breaking of the bread" is inscribed on every page of the New Testament and in the Liturgy of the Church.

Indeed, there is not a page of the New Testament that's not infused with Old Testament quotations or allusions. Even relatively minor Epistles, like that of Jude, contain lessons drawn from the Old Testament.

Listen for the echoes of salvation history as you read the rest of the New Testament.

You will hear the Apostles doing just what Jesus taught them to do - interpreting the Old Testament, explaining how all the great words and events of the past pointed to Jesus, the Messiah, the Word of God come in the flesh (see Acts 8:26-39; John 1:14).

In the Acts of the Apostles, be sure to read the great missionary speeches of Peter (seeActs 2:14-36; 3:12-26; 11:34-43); Paul (see Acts 13:16-41) and Steven (see Acts 7:1-51).

You will hear all the great stories we have looked at in this course - about God's promises to Abraham, about Moses and the Exodus, the forty years in the desert, and more. More than any other figure, you will hear about David.

B. Kingdom of the Spirit

At the center of the Jesus' post-Resurrection teaching about the Old Testament was David and "the kingdom of God" (see Acts 1:3).

In the Church, God has "restore[d] the kingdom to Israel" (see Acts 1:6).

Jesus' Ascension to heaven is described as a royal enthronement - He is taken up to heaven to be seated at the right hand of God for all eternity (see Acts 2:22-36).

Seated on the throne of David, Jesus rules His Kingdom (see Acts 13:22-37). More than a heavenly king, Christ is "a great priest over the house of God" (see Hebrews 10:11).

The Davidic Messiah, we recall, was expected to be "a priest forever" (see Psalm 110:4). And now Jesus is enthroned in the temple and sanctuary of heaven - "a high priest who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven" (see Hebrews 8:1; also Hebrews 7).

Jesus reigns now as King and High Priest over a kingdom that is both on earth and in heaven - a kingdom that is both temporal and historical and spiritual and eternal. It is a kingdom that was begun among the children of Israel, but now is to extend to the ends of the earth.

We see this already in the Acts of the Apostles. The progress of Acts shows the Church extending from Jerusalem (Acts 1-7), north to restore the former Northern Kingdom (Acts 8), and from there fanning out to all the nations beyond Israel (see Acts 10-28).

As you read Acts, notice that "the Kingdom of God" is a constant theme of the Apostles' preaching (see Acts 8:12; 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:31).

This Kingdom is the Church. And the Church is the destiny of the human family. In sending His Spirit down upon Mary and the Apostles at the Pentecost (see Acts 1:14; Acts 2), God announces the crowning of all His mighty works of salvation history.

The Jewish feast of Pentecost called all devout Jews to Jerusalem to celebrate their birth as God's chosen people, in the covenant Law given to Moses at Sinai (see Leviticus 23:15-21; Deuteronomy 16:9-11).

The Spirit given to the Church at Pentecost seals the new law and new covenant brought by Jesus - written not on stone tablets but on the hearts of believers, as the prophets promised (see Jeremiah 31:31-34; 2 Corinthians 3:2-8; Romans 8:2).

In the beginning, the Spirit came as a "mighty wind" sweeping over the face of the earth (see Genesis 1:2). And in the new creation of Pentecost, the Spirit again comes as "a strong, driving wind" (see Acts 2:2) to renew the face of the earth.

God fashioned Adam, the first man, out of dust and filled him with His Spirit (see Genesis 2:7).

Jesus is "the New Adam" (see Romans 5:12-14,17-19).

Jesus underwent a temptation by the Devil, just as Adam did. He was tempted a final time, in a garden (see Luke 22:39-46), in "the time for the power of darkness," that is, the time for the Devil's last stand (see Luke 22:53).

The first Adam, by his disobedience, brought sin and division and death into the world.

By His obedience to God, by willingly emptying himself to come among us as a man and to offer himself in sacrifice on the Cross, Jesus restored our relationship with God (seePhilippians 2:6-11).

We see this on the Cross. What does Jesus say to the good thief? "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise" (see Luke 23:42).

Paradise, as we learn later in the New Testament (see Revelation 2:7), is the "Garden of God," the place where salvation history begins and ends - with the human family once more worthy to eat of "the tree of life" (see Revelation 22:2,14,19).

"For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life," Paul said (see 1 Corinthians 15:22).

As Adam was made a living being by the Spirit-breath of God, the New Adam become a life-giving Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 15:45,47).

He breathed His own life and power into the Apostles after the Resurrection (see John 20:22-23). And beginning at Pentecost, like a river of living water, for all ages He will pour out His Spirit on His body, the Church (see John 7:37-39).

C. Sacraments of Childhood

The Apostles in turn pour out that Spirit upon the world - through the divine ministry of the sacraments.

The sacraments, as the Apostles explained them, continued the mighty works of God in salvation history - localizing them, making them personal, ensuring that all people would be joined to the saving work of Jesus until the end of time.

The sacraments - like everything in the New Covenant - were concealed in the Old and revealed in the new.

Baptism fulfills the covenant God made with Noah. No longer does water destroy the sinful. Now it saves the sinner, destroys the sin (see 1 Peter 3:20-21). But whereas the flood and the ark saved only eight people, in the saving waters of Baptism, in the ark of the Church, all humankind may find salvation.

The waters of Baptism are also likened to the miracle of the parted waters of the Red Sea. When Moses led the people through the waters of the Red Sea, fed them with spiritual food and drink, it was to show us an "example" of our life in the Church.

We will be saved in the waters of Baptism, guided by the Spirit, nourished by the Eucharist in the wilderness of the world (see 1 Corinthians 10).

Receiving the Spirit in Baptism, each man and woman is made a "new creation" (see 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15). According to St. James: "He willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of first fruits of His creatures" (see James 1:18)

This new birth is celebrated throughout the New Testament: "See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God" (see 1 John 3:1).

This is why the Apostles, like Paul, called themselves spiritual "fathers" (see Philemon 10) and referred to their new converts as "children" (see 1 Thessalonians 2:11) and even "newborn infants" (see 1 Peter 2:2).

Remember, this was the purpose of salvation history in the beginning, the meaning and trajectory of every covenant - to make us children of God. This purpose is fulfilled in Jesus and the Church. In the Church, all are made part of what Paul calls "the family of faith" (seeGalatians 6:10).

D. Completing the Word of God

In Jesus, we see the full disclosure of God's "eternal purpose," His plan from "before the foundation of the world" - to make all men and women His children by divine "adoption" (see Ephesians 3:11; 1:4-5)

Each of the Baptized has been given a "share in the divine nature" (see 2 Peter 1:4). Each has received "a Spirit of adoption," making them "Children of God, and if children, then heirs of God" (see Romans 7:15-16) - heirs to the blessings promised at the dawn of salvation history.

Drinking of the one Spirit in the Eucharist (see 1 Corinthians 10:4), believers in the Church are the firstfruits of a new, worldwide family of God - fashioned from out of every nation under heaven, with no distinctions of wealth or language or race, a people born of the Spirit.

The Church, the restored Kingdom, "brings to completion...the Word of God, the mystery hidden from ages and generations past" (see Colossians 1:26).

In the Kingdom, in the Church, the Gentiles, the non-Jews, are "no longer strangers" but are made now "fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God" (see Ephesians 2:19: 3:5-6).

Much of the drama of Acts, the tension of Romans and Galatians, revolves around the growth and meaning of this Kingdom, how God's saving purpose was to include the non-Jewish peoples, how the Gospel is to be preached "to the Gentiles that they may be saved" (see 1 Thessalonians 2:16).

And throughout the New Testament we see the Church growing as a visible institution:

* under the leadership of Peter, teaching and interpreting the Scriptures with final and ultimate authority, guided by the Holy Spirit (see Acts 15:24-29);

* writing inspired letters and handing on oral traditions (see 2 Thessalonians 2:15);

* Baptizing and celebrating the Eucharist and other sacraments (see Acts 10:44-48; 2:42);

* creating permanent institutions - priests, bishops and deacons - to carry on the work into the future (see Titus 1:5-9; 1 Timothy 3:1-9; 4:14; 5:17-23).

E. Revealing the End

The New Testament promises that the Kingdom now visible on earth will be consummated in the "heavenly kingdom" (see 2 Timothy 4:18).

And we see a glimpse of that heavenly kingdom in the Bible's last book, the Book of Revelation.

The Bible began with the story of the creation of the world. It ends with the passing away of heaven and earth and the coming down of "a new heaven and a new earth" (seeRevelation 21:1).

In Revelation, the Apostle John is "caught up in the Spirit on the Lord's Day" (seeRevelation 1:10) - that is, on a Sunday, possibly while celebrating the Eucharist.

What is revealed to him is the destiny of history, the "goal" or final end of God's saving plan.

Jesus is unveiled as "the lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David" (see Revelation 5:5;3:7; 22:16) - in other words the Son of David.

He is "a male child destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod" (see Revelation 12:5), born of a Queen Mother - "clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars" (see Revelation 12:1).

He is revealed as "the Lamb that was slain," now enthroned in heaven (see Revelation 5:6-14). He is clothed as a high priest and king (see Revelation 1:13) and He is called "the Word of God" (see Revelation 19:13) and "King of Kings and Lord of Lord" (see Revelation 19:16; 11:15).

Jesus is seen summoning people to worship, to enter into His kingdom, to eat with Him, to be enthroned with Him in heaven (see Revelation 3:20-21).

The Church is revealed as "a kingdom, priests for His God and Father" (see Revelation 1:6).

Recall that this was God's purpose in bringing the Israelites out of Egypt and making them a nation (see Exodus 19:6). The Kingdom of the Churc h, born of the new exodus of Christ, now fulfills God's purpose - to make a holy family of priestly people (see 1 Peter 2:9).

The Church is founded on "the twelve apostles of the Lamb" and open to the "twelve tribes of the Israelites" (see Revelation 21:12,14). It is made up of both Jews and Gentiles, as John sees it. There are 144,000 "marked from every tribe of the Israelites" plus "a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people and tongue" (seeRevelation 7:7,9).

All are gathered before a great throne and the Lamb, and heaven is filled with the sounds and actions of worship. Revelation, in fact, is a picture of the eternal liturgy of heaven, a liturgy that very much resembles the Mass the Church still celebrates on earth.

Through all the visions John records, there are scenes of tribulation and warfare, as the Church struggles against Satan, the great ancient serpent "who deceived the whole world" at the beginning of salvation history (see Revelation 12:9).

The first creation ended with the frustration of God's plan in the sin of Adam and Eve. The Bible ends with images of triumph and victory - "a new heaven and a new earth" (seeRevelation 21:1).

All the Church is singing a great "alleluia" before the throne of God, joining in celebration of "the wedding feast of the Lamb" (see Revelation 19:6,7,9).

The Groom of the feast is the Lamb, Christ. The Bride is the Church - described as a "holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (see Revelation 21:2).

The Church, throughout the New Testament is referred to in female terms - as the "elect Lady" (see 2 John 1), as the bride made "one flesh" with Christ (see Ephesians 5:2), and finally as the "mother" of every Christian born in baptism (see Galatians 4:26).

In drawing these comparisons, Paul in particular, always pointed his readers back to the story of Adam and Eve. The Church is "one body" with Christ in the same way that Adam and Eve - and every married couple - are united as "one flesh" in marriage (see Genesis 2:24; Ephesians 5:30-31).

Remember that Christ is presented to us in the New Testament as a "New Adam." The Church, His Bride, is the New Eve.

In the garden in the beginning, with the "marriage" of Adam and Eve, God was drawing for us an image of what things would look like in the end.

He was showing us that the relationship He desires with the human race is full communion, intimate love. The only human relationship that can compare is that of the union of man and woman in the marriage covenant.

In fact, throughout salvation history, God compared His Old Covenant to the marriage covenant (see Hosea 2:16-24; Jeremiah 2:2; Isaiah 54:4-8). This explains why Christ described Himself as a "bridegroom" in the Gospels and performed His first miracle at a wedding (see John 2; 3:29; Mark 2:19; Matthew 22:1-14; 25:1-13).

The New Covenant fulfills God's marital vows to His people. He has become "one body" with them in the Church. This covenant is renewed in each Eucharist, as we are joined intimately to His Body.

As He promised through His prophets (see Ezekiel 27:26-27), God has made His dwelling with the human race: "He will dwell with them and they will be His people and God himself will always be with them" (see Revelation 21:3).

This is the reality we live in now, according to the Bible's last book.

We are heirs to the victory won by Christ - a victory foreseen by God since before the foundation of the world.

We are the spiritual children, born of the marriage of the Lamb and the Church, having received the divine gift of "life-giving water" in Baptism, having heard God say to each of us: "I shall be his God and he will be My son" (see Revelation 21:7).

By His power, we have been given the "right to eat from the Tree of Life that is in the garden of God" (see Revelation 2:7), the tree spurned by Adam and Eve.

We live in joyful hope waiting for the coming of the Lord again in glory, a coming we anticipate in every celebration of the Eucharist (see 1 Corinthians 10:26).

This is the story of the Bible. And the Bible is now a book, an oracle of God, that we can say we have read, with understanding, from cover to cover.

Continue to Section 6

Other Lessons

  • Lesson One: The Master Key that Unlocks the Bible
  • Lesson Objectives
    1. To learn the "big-picture" overview of the Bible - the story that the Bible tells.
    2. To understand the concept of "covenant" and its importance for reading and interpreting the Bible.
    3. To learn in general detail the six major covenants in the Bible.

    Begin Lesson One

  • Lesson Two: From Sabbath to Flood
  • Lesson Objectives
    1. To read Genesis 1-12 with understanding.
    2. To learn the meaning of the first two covenants of salvation history - the Sabbath, and the covenant made with Noah.
    3. To begin to understand the "patterns" of biblical history.

    Begin Lesson Two

  • Lesson Three: Our Father, Abraham
  • Lesson Objectives
    1. To read Genesis 12-50 with understanding.
    2. To understand God’s covenant with Abraham and to see how that covenant is fulfilled in the New Covenant of Jesus Christ.
    3. To appreciate key figures and elements in the Abraham story - Melchizedek, circumcision, the sacrifice of Isaac - as they are interpreted in the Church’s tradition.

    Begin Lesson Three

  • Lesson Four: The First-Born Son of God
  • Lesson Objectives
    1. To read the Books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy with understanding.
    2. To understand God’s covenant with Israel at Sinai and to see how this covenant looks forward to and is fulfilled in the New Covenant of Jesus Christ.
    3. To appreciate the key figures and events - Moses, the Passover, and the vocation of Israel as “a kingdom of priests” - as they are interpreted in the Church’s tradition.

    Begin Lesson Four

  • Lesson Five: A Throne For All Generations
  • Lesson Objectives
    1. To finish reading the Old Testament (from Joshua to Malachi) and to read with understanding.
    2. To understand the broad outlines of the history of Israel in light of God’s covenant with Abraham.
    3. To appreciate the crucial importance of God’s everlasting covenant with David.

    Begin Lesson Five