Royal covenants

What higher gift can we inherit?
It is faith's bond and solid base;
It is the strength of heart and spirit,
The covenant of hope and grace.
Lord, may Thy body and Thy blood
Be for my soul the highest good!

The Lutheran Hymnal, "I come, O Savior, to Thy Table," 315; cf. Matt. 26:28

"For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17, NKJV; cf. 5:46)

Classifications of royal covenants
Covenants of promise and law
Covenants of law and faith | The law and the kingdom
The New Covenant

Classes of royal covenants

Biblical covenants/testaments: The Noahic Covenant, Abrahamic Covenant, Mosaic Covenant, Davidic Covenant, and New Covenant are biblical in the sense that Scripture explicitly refers to them as testaments or covenants.
Theological covenants:
The Covenant of Works (eternal life for obedience or eternal death for disobedience) and Covenant of Grace (eternal life in spite of disobedience) are called theological since Reformed (Calvinistic) theologians formulated them as part of what they saw as the system of theology rightly derived from Scripture. Grace is possible because Christ fulfilled the Covenant of Works (Rom. 5:12-19). Many Dispensationalists deny that the theological covenants should be inferred from Scripture, believing that some of the biblical covenants were made with the physical children of Abraham. The New Testament, on the other hand, consistently reserves the Abrahamic covenant promises for believers (e.g. Rom. 9-11; Gal. 3), and the theological covenants, even if not literally covenants, provide a model for a unified understanding of the biblical covenants from a Calvinistic perspective. If this model is helpful, even more helpful is the Pauline distinction between law (made explicit in the Mosaic covenant) and gospel (the good news). The "new perspective on Paul" notwithstanding, since the Fall, no son or daughter of Adam has been able to attain God's favor from the works of the law, but only through faith in the gospel (Westerholm, S., Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The "Lutheran" Paul and His Critics; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2004). Paul used "law" both ahistorically (the law written on the heart of all men) and historically (the law given to Moses). The two are closely related in Paul's theology: by the law of Moses, sinners become aware (or more aware) of having broken the law that was already on the hearts of all people (Romans 1-7).

Law and Gospel

Covenants with Abraham and Moses according to Paul

between the covenants of Abraham and Moses


Differences between the covenants of Abraham and Moses


The covenants of Moses and Christ

Galatians 4-6

The child heirs of the promise were like slaves until Christ was born under the law to redeem them from the law and give them their inheritance as adult sons and daughters (Gal. 4:1-7). They are no longer under the bondage of the law (vv. 8-10, 21-31).

Freedom from the law of Moses does not mean that those who are justified by faith do not need good works, but their faith leads to good works out of love (5:1-6), which fulfill the law as the expression of God's will (vv. 13-15).

Those who have the Spirit of sonship by faith (Gal. 3:1-6, 13-14; 4:6) walk in the Spirit rather than fulfilling the desires of the flesh (5:16-6:10).


Covenant of bondage:
Under the law

Covenant of freedom:
United with Christ

Covenant of works

(law proper)

"Do this and live."

Disobedience brings God's curse of death. Physical life and death pointed to the eternal realities.

Christ was born under the law to fulfill the law for all who believe. He suffered the curse of the law in the place of lawbreakers.

Covenant of grace


Circumcision was a reminder of the promise made to Abraham. Sacrifices reminded God's people that their sins would have to be paid for.

Those who are in Christ are justified by faith apart from works and receive the promised Spirit of God's Son!

Status of believers

Child-heirs and slaves (only before the law's fulfillment)

Adult sons and daughters of God


Obey the written law.

Walk in the freedom of the Spirit, bearing his fruit (love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control).


What did Jesus teach about the law of God in relation to his kingdom?

Paul's corrections of Judaizing legalism in the Galatian church is consistent with the rest of Scripture without substituting "administration of the covenant" for "covenant" and without substituting "abuse of the law" for "the law," as some Calvinistic teachers do. Although believers are no longer under law, the New Covenant did not do away with the law as the revelation of God's moral standard, but inscribed it on believers' hearts.

Of particular importance here is Jesus' statement that until heaven and earth pass away, no part of the law of Moses would pass away until all is accomplished (Matt. 5:17-19). There are some difficulties with the traditional Dispensational interpretation of the passage that since the Mosaic law is fulfilled in Christ's death and resurrection, it is no longer binding:
1. In that case, the clause "until heaven and earth pass away" would seem out of place and misleading.
2. Matthew would not have included a passage on the importance of keeping the least of the commandments unless it were relevant for his intended audience.
3. The passage seems consistent with the six antitheses as true interpretations of the law binding on those in the kingdom of God, not as abrogations.
4. The passage is an integral part of the Sermon on the Mount, addressed to Jesus' original disciples and meant for Matthew's church community as well.

David P. Scaer (The Sermon on the Mount: The Church's First Statement of the Gospel, 2000, Concordia Publishing House, p. 270), for more compelling reasons than those of Dispensationalism, believes Christ has already fulfilled the law and the prophets:

So Christ's promise in the Sermon to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (5:18) is his own affirmation of their authority for requiring his death (26:24, 31, 54), but by fulfilling them, he assumes them into himself and preserves them in his teachings. His words now take the place of honor (28:20). The Father's command to listen to Jesus (17:5) applies first to the Sermon on the Mount and then to the entire gospel of Matthew.

Unlike the words of the law and prophets, his words will not pass away with "heaven and earth" (Matthew 24:35). This agrees completely with Paul's teaching on the abrogation of the Mosaic law after it served its purpose (e.g., Colossians 2:16-17; cf. Westerholm, S., Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The "Lutheran" Paul and His Critics; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2004).

Clearly, Jesus did not come as yet another legal expert: he denounced those teachers of the law whose rigidly literal interpretations ironically underemphasized its most demanding commands, to love God and neighbor, while at the same time laying heavy burdens on the Jewish people (e.g. Matthew 12:1-14; 15:1-20; 23:1-39). In sharp contrast, Jesus gently invited those who bore heavy burdens to come to him for rest (11:28-30). Cf. D. A. Hagner, Matthew 1-13, Word Biblical Commentary, 1993, Word.

The New Covenant

Promise of a greater treasure

A fuller knowledge of God was promised in the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34). Nothing is more valuable:

Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom,
Let not the mighty man glory in his might,
Nor let the rich man glory in his riches;
But let him who glories glory in this,
That he understands and knows Me,
That I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth.
For in these I delight.
(Jer. 9:23-24, NKJV)

Living in the last days, after the enthronement of the Messiah

The coming of the Spirit on all kinds of people fulfilled a prophecy about the last days (Acts 2:6-21; cf. Heb. 1:2; James 5:3). After Jesus was exalted to his throne, he received the promise of the Father and poured out the Spirit (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 2:33). The promise of the Spirit is given to all who call on the name of the Lord (Acts 2:21; 2:38-39). In the beginning of the last days, God poured out his Spirit on all flesh, making prophecy, visions, and dreams to all kinds of people, including women and children, with emphasis on prophecy (Acts 2:17-18). The promise of the Spirit was fulfilled at Pentecost primarily by making the disciples into bold witnesses, not by literal visions and dreams (Acts 1:8; 2:9-41; 4:8; 4:13; 4:29-31).
We are to pray for such boldness in those who are set apart to teach the gospel (Eph. 6:18-20). Offer up sacrifices to God by proclaiming his mercy and greatness and by doing works fitting for the holy nation of aliens in the world (1 Pet 2:4-12).

The covenant of forgiveness: the forgiven forgive

In agreement with Jeremiah, Jesus saw the New Covenant as a covenant of forgiveness in his blood, and of fellowship in his Father's kingdom (Matt. 26:26-29; cf. Luke 22:15). He had earlier proved his authority to forgive by his authority to heal (Matt. 9:1-8).
He had also taught his disciples to ask for forgiveness as they forgive since his Father does not forgive people who do not forgive (Matt. 6:12-15; cf. Mark 11:25). He warned that his Father's wrath would fall on those who do not forgive others from the heart (Matt. 18:15, 21-35). The New Covenant is covenant of forgiveness, but not without writing the law of the Forgiver on the heart (Jer. 31:31-34).
Christ-centered reconciliation is the theme of the Sermon on the Mount: David P. Scaer, The Sermon on the Mount: The Church's First Statement of the Gospel, 2000, Concordia Publishing House.

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Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

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Dawning Realm proclaims the good news of the kingdom as confessed at Caesarea Philippi, Nicaea, and Augsburg.
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Last modified: January 16, 2016 9:25 AM
Author information. David Bickel confesses the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed, the Augsburg Confession, and the other documents of the Book of Concord because they faithfully summarize the sacred writings of the prophets and apostles. As a layman, he lacks the call needed to publicly teach in the church. | professional web page

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