When reading the Old Testament we often come across the language of “an everlasting ordinance” (Exodus 12:14, 17), “everlasting covenant” (Gen. 9:16; 17:7, 13, 19; 2 Samuel 23:5), “everlasting possession” (Gen. 17:8; 48:4; ) and “everlasting priesthood” (Exodus 40:15). It is sometimes used of the covenant sign of circumcision, sometimes of the ceremonial festivals like the Passover (Exodus 12:14-17) and sometimes of the physical land of Israel. This should cause of to wrestle with how to harmonize that language with the teaching of the apostles as to the abrogation of the command to circumcise (1 Cor. 7:19; Gal. 5:6, 11; and 6:15), the cessation of the Old Covenant festivals and ceremonies (Col. 2:16), and the notable absence of any mention to the land inheritance in the New Testament. How are we to reconcile these two seeming contradictions? Can we defend the inerrancy of Scripture when we fail to see continuation of these “everlasting” things mentioned in the Old Covenant period of revelation?
There is, of course, a simple and straightforward solution to this conundrum. The eternal nature of the Son of God in the Person of Jesus Christ gives these typical elements their eternal significance. For instance, the eternal Son of God received circumcision on the eighth day and then was circumcised at Calvary in a bloody circumcision (i.e. the thing to which circumcision pointed, as this post explains). In this way we can say that circumcision is an “everlasting covenant”–not to be physically continued for religious purposes, but to be realized spiritually in the atoning death of the Son of God.
In 1 Cor. 5:7 the apostle Paul also tells us that “Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us.” Jesus is our Passover Lamb. He is the greater Moses who brings His people out of the bondage of Satan, sin and death through His own death (as the death of the firstborn son) on the cross. When He died, John noted that “not one of His bones were broken.” This was part of the prescription of a right observance of the Passover in the Old Testament. We no longer celebrate the Passover as the Jews of old did. Now we celebrate the Passover when we “keep the feast with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
When God promised Abraham that he would inherit the land, He had something so much bigger than the physical land of Israel in view. The apostle Paul tells us that “the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.” Elsewhere I noted the biblical theology of the land in the following way:
“The word הָ אָ רֶ ץ can be translated either land or earth. It is used in Gen. 12:1 where God promised Abraham that he would inherit the land. One can immediately see how Paul understands the development from the idea of the land of Israel (as being the typical inheritance) to the inheritance of the entire world. God’s promise to Abraham functioned on two levels: 1) the typical, earthly promise, and 2) the eschatological realization of this promise in the new heavens and new earth.
It is, in fact, the case that Abraham’s descendants (i.e. those who have faith in Christ, see Gal. 3) become heirs of the “world,” in Him who overcame and received the inheritance of the world from His Father. In Christ, we too become heirs of God and of the world. This is also the explanation of the words of our Lord, “The meek shall inherit the earth,” and Peter’s reference to the New Heavens and the New Earth. Believers will come to possess “all things,” as Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 6.”
The inheritance of the “new heavens and the new earth” is dependent on Christ inheriting the world through His atoning death and resurrection. Jesus is the One to whom the promises were actually made. The promises that God gave to Abraham come first to Christ, who in turn fulfills them for us (Gal. 3:16). Jesus fulfilled the covenant conditions and so merited all the blessings of God. All those who have faith in Him will also inherit all things. This includes the land of Israel and the rest of the world with it. In this way, we can say that the land promise to Abraham is for “an everlasting possession.”
The Priesthood of the Old Testament is somewhat more difficult to understand as having been fulfilled in Christ since the writer of Hebrews makes a distinction between the order of Jesus’ everlasting Priesthood (Heb. 5-7) and the temporal nature of the Levitical. Still, there is ample proof that the Levitical Priesthood was preparatory, yet the same in substance with the Priesthood of Christ. In a previous post I sought to show how the priesthood transfers from Levi to Judah at the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan by His cousin John, who was the last of the Levites. Though the Levitical Priesthood has passed away, and Jesus has an unchangeable Priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 5-7), the substance of the Levitical ministry is realized and eternalized in Jesus.
Geerhardus Vos masterfully summed up the eternalization of the the “everlasting” types and shadows (specifically, but not limited to, the Mosaic economy) of the Old Testament in Christ when he wrote:
“Eschatological revelation is presented in the language of the Mosaic institutions. The New Testament first transposes it into a new key. Here in the New Testament it is spiritualized. In the Old Testament it is expressed in terms of perfection of the forms of Israel’s theocracy. The holy city is center; offices, organizations, peace, abundance, etc. are there, but this all is to be eternalized in the Messainic era, and will be free of the vicissitudes of the present era. All this is the content of revelation.”1
Everything in the Scriptures are fulfilled in Jesus. If we would seek to understand how all things move into and out of Him, we would keep Him at the center of our hermeneutical process. He is the everlasting Son of God and establishes all the everlasting blessings of God for us who trust in Him.
1. Geerhardus Vos, The Eschatology of the Old Testament (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2001) pp. 118