The central “spine” of the Bible can be described in a single word: covenant. Today, Barry Cooper expounds on these recurring agreements, pledges, and vows that culminate in the promised arrival of Christ Himself.
What is the Bible about?
If you were speed reading, you’d notice that one of the more unusual and most repeated words is the word “covenant.” It’s a translation of the Hebrew word berith, and it appears more than three hundred times in Scripture.
You can make a good case that the central “spine” of the Bible can be described in that single word: covenant. In fact, when we say the Bible is made up of the Old Testament and the New Testament, it would be more accurate to translate it “the old covenant and the new covenant.”
Covenant is a word that describes an agreement, a pledge, a vow. A good example of a covenant is marriage: one person enters into a binding relationship with another, and they make solemn promises to one another.
And that’s what we see happening in Scripture. The promise—on God’s side—was that He would protect and provide for and bless His people. For their part, God’s people promised to trust Him, to obey Him, and to repent when they disobeyed Him.
Actually, there are a series of promises or covenants between God and His people in the Bible. First, there’s the so-called Adamic covenant that he makes with Adam. Then there’s the Noahic covenant with Noah, the Abrahamic covenant with Abraham, the Mosaic covenant with Moses, and the Davidic covenant with David.
But as Old Testament history shows, God’s people sinned—terribly and repeatedly. As a whole, they persisted in their evil and refused to repent and trust in the Lord alone for forgiveness. And in so doing, they broke God’s covenant with them, thus bringing about God’s judgment and forfeiting the promised blessings.
But there’s a glimmer of hope. The Old Testament looks forward to a new covenant, a final covenant that would fulfill and surpass in glory the covenants that came before it (Heb. 8:13). In Jeremiah chapter 31, we read:
Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
What is this “new” covenant that God speaks about here, the one that would cause the sins of God’s people to be remembered no more, the one that would forever unite God and His people? What is this “new” covenant in which God Himself would fulfill both sides of the agreement, obeying His law in our place and then blessing us forever?
Jesus Christ stands in the upper room. He takes a cup full of wine, thanks His Father for it, and says to His disciples: “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
In 1 Corinthians chapter 11, the Apostle Paul confirms the significance of what Jesus was doing: “The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”
The new covenant promised in the Old Testament, the covenant that would mean the sins of God’s people would be remembered no more, was inaugurated by Jesus. His blood, “poured out for many” on the cross, brings forgiveness—forever—to all those who come to Him in repentance and faith.
Would you count yourself in that number? Have you entered into this covenant with God? The writer of Hebrews describes Jesus as “the guarantor of a better covenant . . . able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him.”