We live in a society where long-term commitments have become obsolete. The covenant of marriage is nothing more than a few words spoken before a minister, priest, or rabbi. The vows made in today's society lack the permanence and commitment of former days. Guarantees are not worth the paper they are written on. Contracts are vaguely worded or undermined by loopholes and fine print. There are Christians who believe contractual agreements are somehow unspiritual, especially between two believers. A man should be as good as his word, we are told and he should be.
What is interesting the infinite, all-powerful, changeless God of the universe has chosen to deal with men in the form of covenants.
In the Old Testament and New Testament the word covenant refers to an agreement made between God and man, man and man, nation and nation. In the relationship between God and man, a covenant is sovereign act of God, whereby He establishes a conditional or unconditional agreement that is legally enforceable. In the covenants God establishes with man He obligates Himself to fulfill the promises stated in the covenant. In a conditional covenant the recipient of the covenant is obligated to fulfill stated obligations or conditions before God is obligated to fulfill the promises and blessing stated in the covenant. In an unconditional covenant the covenant depends upon God for its fulfillment. In an unconditional covenant the covenant does not depend on the recipient for its fulfillment. In an unconditional covenant there maybe blessings that is conditional, however this does not change the nature of the covenant.
It is also important we remember that the covenants God has established with man are literal, eternal, and depend sole on the integrity of God.
The Book of Genesis begins with the creation of the heavens, earth, the inhabitants of the heavens and earth, and the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth. Adam rebelled against God and handed the physical realm of the kingdom of God over to Satan. The rest of the Bible tells how God will restore the kingdom to Himself and bring man back into the kingdom of God and the glory that God originally designed for him. History is the story of God's war against Satan.
The Gospel that Christ preached was the Gospel of the kingdom of God, "And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people" (Matthew 4:23). The Apostle Paul, preached the message of the kingdom, "And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him" (Acts 28:30-31). The Revelation of Jesus Christ to His servant John reveals the everlasting establishment of God's kingdom: "And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever" (Rev. 11:15; cf. 1:9; 12:10). In Revelation chapters 21-22 John describes the New Jerusalem, the heavenly city, the fulfillment of God's purpose for the creation and the final manifestation of the kingdom of God.
When scholars refer to the kingdom of God as a covenantal kingdom, they base the reference on the fact that a covenant defines God's relationship with man. However, it is important we understand what a covenant is because Biblical scholars often claim a covenant is essentially the same as a contract. This is not true. A covenant is not a contractual type of relationship that remains only so long as the two parties provide some sort of mutual benefit. The Biblical essence of a covenant is God"s love for His people, the basis for His calling them. However, love requires a response. Therefore, God demands that those He calls love and obey Him. A covenant is a commitment of love and obedience. Since a covenant creates a relationship different from a mutual profit seeking relationship of a contract, the establishment and sealing of a covenant generally requires an oath-taking ceremony. In the oath each party promises to preserve the covenantal relationship and seals the promise with words that call a curse upon him if he should fail to keep his promise. The curse of the covenant is death.
Many people may not realize that a curse is part of the traditional Christian wedding vow. Till death do us part means that nothing but death can end the covenant.
Another aspect of the wedding vow illustrates the kind of commitment demanded. For example, we say in sickness and health, and for better or worse, which witness to the fact that even if the relationship turns out to be "unprofitable" for us, we will not abandon our partner because of economic or other hardships. Marital love is self-sacrificial. There is no basis for dissolving the relationship except when one of those who took the vow betrays it and undermines the whole relationship. Sickness, poverty, or an unpleasant personality cannot undo the oath. In marriage, each person takes an oath to sacrificially give themselves to the other, without thought of personal profit.
The wedding illustration is especially appropriate, because God's relationship with those He calls is compared to the relationship of husband to wife. Christ's relationship to the church is compared to the relationship of husband and wife. So long as Israel is faithful to the love of the covenant, and "faithful" does not mean sinless perfection, God will never leave her or forsake her.
However, it is not in God's relationship with Israel that we see the full meaning of love, for the Bible does not reveal the full meaning of covenantal love until the coming of Christ. It is in the relationship between Christ and the Father, that we first see covenantal love is the eternal fellowship of Father, Son, and Spirit (John 17:24, 26).
In the relationship of Christ and the Father, we understand that John's words "God is love" because the Father, Son, and Spirit share an everlasting love for one another. Each of the Persons of the Trinity wholly devotes Himself to bless and glorify the other.
God created the heavens and earth to manifest His glory (Psalm 8, 19). When God appointed Adam and Eve as rulers over the works of His creation their rule was to be based upon love for God and one another. They were to guard the created world and take care of it so that it would bear fruit for God's glory. The fall of man was a rejection of God's love and a rejection of the way of love among men. The violence of the pre-flood world is the climax of the rebellion of the fall and the logical outcome of the rejection of God's love.
The purpose of God's plan of redemption is to restore man's fellowship with His Creator. The created world, too, must be restored to its original purpose of revealing God's glory. The kingdom of righteousness and love must come to historical realization in order that Satan's lie and the temptation in the Garden may be utterly defeated to the glory of God. Redemption finds its fulfillment in the kingdom of God.
God has poured out His covenantal love upon us in Jesus Christ in order that through faith in Him we may be brought into an everlasting fellowship of love.