4. The Three Basic Phases of the Covenant
We have introduced the three phases of the covenant, from childhood to adulthood to full maturity. Let us look more fully at each of these three phases.
The Bible speaks of the Church as Daughter in this Old Creation phase: Daughter Zion, Daughter Jerusalem, and for converted nations, Daughter Tyre, etc. This is a time of childhood, of immaturity. We think of immaturity as something bad, but it is not. It is a gift of God appropriate for our first phase of life. We have said that the Son has eternally “become” mature, but this also means that the Son is also eternally moving from being immature. There is nothing wrong with such immaturity. It is what being a son means: to look up to one’s father. The Son is eternally immature, being a Son to his Father. He is eternally becoming mature through the Spirit. And he has eternally become mature, so that he is fully like his Father.
We need to remember the difference between created time and the Divine eternity. In time and history, maturation is a process, while in eternity it is a condition.
Thus, in the Old Creation we are like the Son in his Divine immaturity. We are under the Father, who has sent the Son to us as his Angel (messenger) to teach us the rules we are to obey during our childhood: the Law. The Father has sent his Spirit to cause us to grow up into adulthood. He wants us to become fully mature, just as his Son is eternally mature.
There is nothing inadequate, false, or imperfect about childhood. Childhood is exactly and perfectly what we are supposed to be when we are children. As children we perfectly image God just as much as we do as adults. A five year old images God perfectly as a five year old. A ten year old images God perfectly as a ten year old. Some traditional Roman Catholic theology often regards Adam as “lacking” something, but for Biblical theology there was nothing “lacking.” Maturation is not addition. To say that the Mosaic Covenant was immature compared to the Kingdom Covenant is not to say that it “lacked” anything, for it was perfectly suited to the people of that time at that stage of historical maturation.
To put it another way, the “spatial metaphor” of philosophy means that maturation involves adding new things, and this way of thinking can blind us to the Biblical worldview as authentic catholic conversations have developed it. We have to think temporally and transformationally: maturation involves transformations through deaths and resurrections. But let us go back to the Bible now.
In this first phase, the Father is over us. The Son is with us, but only in a preliminary way, as Angel, as Teacher, as Lawgiver. The Spirit is with us to do two things: He is causing history to mature so that (1) the Son can be brought to us because (2) we are ready to be brought to the Son.
The Father is preeminent in this first phase, because the Son has not fully come to us and given his gift, and the Spirit has not yet completed his work of making us mature.
In this first phase, the Father sends the Spirit to bring the Son to us and to bring us to the Son. We are still at a distance from the Son, and the Spirit moves back and forth between us. This moving back and forth is what a priest does. Under the Law, the priest brings the Word from the Son to us, and conveys us to the Son. This is pictured in the sacrificial system. We bring an animal that represents us, but we are not allowed to come near to the altar. We kill the animal, killing our old selves, and then the priest brings us to the Son, to Yahweh enthroned in the Tabernacle “above” the altar. The priest conveys the flesh (us) to the altar, and turns it (us) into smoke, so that it (we) rises up to Yahweh’s throne to be with him.
We can see that priestly activity is most important in this first phase of our maturation. We are not yet adult kings, let alone fully mature elder-prophets. We are immature children, and the Spirit is doing a priestly work of bringing us along in maturity, bringing us to the Son.
Let us now turn to the second phase. The Bible speaks of the Church as Bride in this New Creation phase. This is a time of adulthood, of adult maturity but not full maturity. Once again, this adult maturity is a reflection of the eternal Son, who is eternally immature, eternally maturing as an adult, and eternally fully mature like the Father. Thus, in the New Creation we are like the Son in his Divine adulthood.
We are still under the Father, not yet beside him as fully mature creatures. But we are beside the Son as his bride. We are to rule with him in this world. Thus we are kings, co-rulers, as the collective Bride-Queen. In this phase of history, the Spirit has been sent to us primarily as the Spirit of the Son, and not just from the Son as God but from the incarnate Son Jesus Christ. Those baptized by John with older “angelic” Law baptism had to be given the new baptism that placed them in union with the resurrected and enthroned Jesus Christ. The Spirit comes not to convey us to the Son, but to be the bond of our marriage to the God-man. He comes not to make us Bride-Queen and kings, but to enable us to act as true kings, true Bride-Queen.
The Son is preeminent in this second phase, because the Son has now fully come to us and given his gift, but the Spirit has not yet completed his work of making us fully mature as elders.
In this second phase we are no longer at a distance from the Son. Rather, we are “in Christ.” The Spirit comes not as a priest to bring us to the Son, but as a Counselor (Paraclete) to help us live in and with the Son. The Spirit comes “from the side” (parakletos) of the God-man to enable us to live “side by side” with the Son as God-man.
We can see that kingly activity is most important in this second phase of our maturation. We are no longer priests, traveling to the Son, but neither are we yet fully mature elder-prophets. We are adults.
We are still traveling, though. We are still maturing. In this second phase, the Spirit is bringing us to the Father. He has brought the Son to the Father — for Jesus was glorified in the Spirit and ascended to the Father by the Spirit — and now brings us to the Father with the Son. Thus the Spirit continues to do his priestly work, but he does so by applying the Son’s kingly work to us.
We can now turn to the third phase. This will be the time of full maturity. It is anticipated by old age — eldership — in this life, and will be compete in the world to come. Once again, this full maturity is a reflection of the eternal Son, who is eternally fully mature like the Father. Thus, in the Final Creation we shall be like the Son in his Divine full maturity.
We shall no longer be under the Father — except in the more general sense that as creatures we shall always be “under” God. As the fully mature Son sits with his Father on his throne, so shall we (Revelation 3:21; John 17:21-22). We shall be co-elders with the Father and the Son.
In this final phase, the Spirit will be with us not only as the Spirit of the Father and as the Spirit of the Son, but then fully as the Spirit of Glory. He will fully give us his own Divine property of glory. He will no longer be conveying us either to the Son or to the Father, except as he is the bond of this everlasting fellowship.
Thus, in a way the Spirit will be preeminent in this third and final phase, because the Spirit will have completed his work of making us fully mature as elders.
If we understand what a prophet is, we can see that prophetic activity is most important in this last phase of our existence. In order for us to do that, we need to look more closely at what the Bible says about priest, king, and prophet. To this we turn in our next chapter.
As we bring our discussion of human maturation to a close, we need to make two other points. First, Western theology usually uses the word “glorification” to refer only to the final phase of human life, after the resurrection. The Bible, however, speaks of growing from glory to glory. Glorification is a work of the Spirit that begins in immaturity and ends in full maturity. We are fully glorified at the end, but we are in a process of glorification throughout our lives. The history of the covenants is a history of progressive glorification.
Second, the early church spoke of this process as deification, as theosis, and Eastern theology has continued to use this language and reflect on it, though it has become distorted. The Church used this language because the Bible speaks of rulers and elders as gods (Exodus 21:6; 22:8, 9, 28; Psalm 82:1, 6; John 10:34). They used this language because man was created in the image and likeness of God, but with the capability of becoming more like God (Genesis 3:22). Deification in Christ does not mean that we cease to be creatures in an “ontological” sense, but that we become mature and fully like God in an “economic” sense.