3. Covenant Maturation
Let us now turn to the application of this One Eternal Covenant into history. We have been looking at Covenant Theology. Covenant Theology has to do with the persons of God and their relationships, with God’s relationships with humanity, and with our maturation toward being junior partners in the Divine community. Thus, the large focus in Covenant Theology is on persons, and we can link this with the Father-aspect of reality. Literary Theology studies how the Word is organized, and thus engages the Son-aspect of reality. When we move to Typology and Ritual, we are moving into the area of artistic imagery and of time sequences, the Spirit-aspect of reality.
These are the three large zones of Biblical Theology. Obviously, since God is One and “all of God does all that God does,” these three aspects of Biblical Theology cannot be separated fully from one another. What we begin to do in this essay is consider how the Spirit applies the one Covenant in history. We shall see that He does so by carrying humanity through ever-widening and ever-deepening spirals of maturation. These spirals or cycles correspond to one another, and thus are typologically related to one another. Thus, in this essay and those that follow, we are beginning to put Covenant and Typological Theology together.
We begin with the fact that God is eternally mature, while the creation was made formless, empty, and dark, and destined to become mature. The creation develops toward full maturity. This is also true of human beings, because human beings are made of the dust of creation.
Now, there is nothing in the creation that is not some kind of reflection of something in God. It cannot be otherwise. God cannot create something that is outside of His own infinite imagination and “experience.” Hence, this process of maturation is a copy of something in God.
We have to be very careful how we think about this. God does not exist in matter, space, and time as we know it, for He exists outside of created matter, space, and time. All the same, created matter, space, and time are copies of three aspects of God. God the Father, the Source of identity and particularly, is the ultimate root of specific things in the universe, of matter. God the Son, the Source of structure, is the ultimate root of space and of how specific things are placed in relation to one another in the universe. God the Spirit is the Source of bonding and also of motion, as He moves between Father and Son eternally. The Spirit, then, is the ultimate root of created time.
Continuing to be careful, we ask how it is possible to think about God’s maturing or growing. God is eternally mature, but also eternally becoming mature. We cannot imagine how this can be, but we must confess it is true, or else we have no Divine foundation for maturation in created time.
We can think about this in two ways. The first is that each person of God delights to humble himself for the glory of the other two. The Father hides himself and reveals himself only in the Son, and tells us to hear the Son. The Son, however, tells us to pray to the Father. Then the Son leaves the world, and tells us that the Spirit will come at Pentecost to guide us into all truth, so that we should be excited about the Spirit. But the Spirit is ungraspable, like water, air, oil, and fire. We cannot approach Him directly. In His humility, the Spirit causes us to cry “Abba, Father,” and He continually causes us to look to the Son.
In eternity, each person delights to give himself to the other two. The Father gives his property of personality to the Son and Spirit. The Son gives his property of language to the Father and Spirit. The Spirit gives his property of life and action to the Father and Son. And as each person gives himself to the other two, he receives back double, for he receives back from each of the other two. In this way, each person of God moves “from glory to glory.” God is all glorious, yet mysteriously God is also always becoming more glorious. This eternal movement in God is from initial glory, through delightful humility, to exaltation and greater glory. And yet, in some profound way, God does not change, because all of these movements in God are eternal.
This is how God lives eternally within himself, and so it is how the covenant works. When God extends the covenant by creating the universe, that universe is destined to move through the same maturing process: from initial glory, through humility, to greater glory.
[Note: Notice how after his humiliation, Job received double what he had possessed in the beginning. Consider also the parable of the talents in Matthew 25.]
We see this right away in Genesis 1, where the glory of each day is followed by an evening, and then a more glorious new day. Each new day is a transformed version of the preceding day. Each new day is a new covenant established in historical time, signaled by the phrases “it was established,” and “God saw that it was good.” But these new covenants are not completely new and different. Rather, they build upon and transform the preceding covenantal arrangement. There is one covenant, which is being transformed through times of humility (evenings) and then of new glory toward its goal of complete maturity.
The second way we can think about God’s eternal maturation is to consider that the second person of God is a Son. In the creation, a son grows up to be mature, like his father. If we want to, we can consider that the Father is eternally mature, while the Son is eternally becoming mature and has eternally become mature. The Father sends the Spirit to the Son to enable Him to become mature like the Father, and the Son is thus also eternally mature. Philosophers speak of Being and Becoming; the Father is the foundation of Being, the Son of Becoming.
The Spirit is the agent or cause of maturation, and the Son is the recipient of the Spirit’s work. The Son eternally becomes mature. The Spirit eternally causes the Son to mature.
Now this activity is duplicated in the creation, as the Father sends the Spirit to his daughter (the creation) to enable her to grow in maturity so that she can be a fit bride for his Son. The Son is eternally mature because he has become eternally mature. The daughter is growing toward maturity. It is the Spirit who brings about that maturity.
We can now begin to talk about the covenant as it applies to human life. The covenant matures in three phases: childhood, adulthood, and full maturity. The Bible associates these three phases with priesthood, kingship, and eldership or prophethood. A priest is like a child in that he lives strictly under the Law and is to do exactly and only what God commands. The king is more mature: Having grown up under the law, he now applies the covenant in new and difficult ways by wisdom. In Biblical history, the Sinaitic and Kingdom periods correspond to these two phases, and in a larger way, the Old Creation before Jesus and the New Creation after Pentecost correspond with them.
There is a final phase. Jesus said that the Spirit would lead us into all truth, so that in the New Creation we are still maturing toward our final goal. That final goal will be reached in heaven and in the resurrection, when we shall be fully mature. A kind of foretaste of that final maturity is seen in the last part of our earthly lives, when we are elders, and in the last part of Israel’s history, the age of prophecy. A prophet is a member of God’s divine council who tears down an old world and speaks a new world into existence by his words alone. Look at all the prophetic books, from Isaiah to Malachi, and you will see this. (We shall take it up more fully later on.)
Thus, the one covenant matures in three phases. First there is a covenant of childhood, in the Old Creation, from Adam to Jesus (Galatians 4:1-7). In Jesus humanity becomes an adult, but notice that Jesus leaves when he is only about 33 years old. He sends the Spirit to bring us to full maturity. This full maturity is also “in Christ,” because Jesus becomes fully mature in heaven, where he is pictured glorified with white hair (Revelation 1:14). In the New Creation, we are maturing toward that goal. There will be some kind of Final Creation, and thus a final form of the covenant for us, in the world to come.