God had given the plan and promise of Salvation in the Adamic Covenant. The promise of a Redeemer being born of the woman was enough for men to trust in a provided righteousness of God. This trust, this faith, secured for men eternal life, and set aside God’s judgment against them. Why go any further? What more was called for? Were not men who were saved now free to worship God as they saw fit? Apparently not. We observe in Genesis a simple form of religion being practiced. The Sabbath was kept, and animal sacrifices were made. As Jesus instructed, the Sabbath was made for the good of man and beast. The sacrifices served to teach men of the redemptive work of God, illustrating the way of salvation. The religion of men at this time was very sparse. It did, however, require men to worship and glorify God.
The salvation of God put men once again into the kingdom of God, religion did not.
The covenant God established with Abraham was made with a family. Nearly this entire covenant was in the future. This covenant set forth a new religion. What was new? The sign of this covenant was circumcision. Tithing is first seen in Abraham. The system of the Patriarchs is explicitly given in this covenant. A more systematic method of worship was set in place, and it was exclusive to one family. One very important point about this covenant is that it is unconditional. It cannot be lost or negated for there were no terms attached to it.
The Mosaic Covenant contained a highly structured form of religion. It also was given to a relatively few people, the progeny of Abraham. The law of this covenant exposed the sinfulness of man and his lack of ability for any righteousness of his own. It taught men of the sacrificial offering of God on their behalf. It foreshadowed the coming Anointed One of Israel: the Messiah, and promised King. This covenant was conditional and was to be kept precisely as God had instructed. To disobey the terms of this covenant was to provoke God’s judgment. However, for those who did keep the covenant special promises of reward and blessing were theirs; they would be a peculiar treasure unto God above all people, and unto Him a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation (Ex. 19:5, 6). This Covenant set the framework for the arrival of Christ.
The Work of Christ.
When the Son of God came He performed many vital tasks. He perfectly fulfilled the Law of Moses and the prophecies about Him and His life. A drastic turning point was reached at His appearance. His suffering on the Cross (Col. 2:14) ended the Mosaic Covenant. Further, the sacrifice for the redemption of all men was made by His bloody death. This fulfilled the Adamic Covenant. His message to His people, the Jews, was to repent and receive the Kingdom of God. He told them that the Kingdom was in their midst and was being offered to them. This was not the restoration of the greatness of the kingdom of Israel, which they had enjoyed under David. Rather, it was the establishing of God’s Kingdom with a new covenant, with the Jews as a blessing and the spiritual center for all nations of the world. The fulfillment of the many long-awaited promises of the Abrahamic Covenant was laid before them.
Filling the Gap of Unbelief.
God knew they would reject His offer. While Christ was on earth He had established His church in preparation for their rejection. This church became the recipient of a new covenant, to include all nations, Jew and Gentile. It was not the "New Covenant" which God intended for Israel, but another, unique in one sense but yet still Abrahamic. It was to fill the gap between Israel’s national unbelief and their subsequent repentance and return to Him. This is in no wise meant to minimize the importance of the church and relegate it to an afterthought on the part of God. It had always been in His mind to build His church (Acts 15:14-18). Romans 11:17-27 gives the accounting of the church. Because of Israel's unbelief they have been broken off and the "Nations" are grafted into their place. This will only last “until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in,” and Israel shall be saved, their sins taken away, and are grafted back in. Moreover, Paul strenuously warns the church at Rome that they stand by The Faith (the definite article is before faith), but if they fall and do not continue in His Word they also will be cut off. This they are to fear. If Israel lost the Covenant through unbelief so they also will lose the Church Covenant if they become unfaithful. The loss is not their salvation, but the loss of being His church, the body of Christ.
When Christ returns, Israel repents in great bitterness and sorrow and is nationally saved (Zechariah 12). At that same moment, the church is caught up to meet Him in the air. The end of the gap of unbelief is at His coming; Daniel’s seventieth week ends, the days of Jacob’s trouble are over. Thus concludes the existence of the church on earth as she was initially purposed. But is that the termination of the church? Absolutely not. This church of Jesus Christ becomes His Bride, to rule and reign with Him in the millennium and the following eternal age. These are the overcomers of the New Testament. The ekklesia continues on, not as before to be tested, tried, suffering, and persecuted, but now as a glorified immortal body delighting in the joy of her Lord, Master, and Husband.
This answers the question as to why there is the church. God did not leave a void of how He was to be worshipped after the termination of the Mosaic Covenant. He made an interim covenant, but this time open to all nationalities. However, the entrance into this covenant is not by circumcision but through faith, faithfulness, and baptism. This covenant is superior in every way to the old.
The Church Covenant
If we are to understand the Church Covenant we must first grasp elements of the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants. Without this understanding we seem to merely have some vague idea that God built His church and has promised to give it a glorious conclusion as the Bride of Christ, ruling by His side. By this lack of preciseness we blunder through the heart and intent of the church, making it what it isn’t and confusing what it is.
So we revisit these two covenants. God’s promise to Abraham was the greatness of his progeny and the vastness of the land to be given to him and his seed. This is a covenant of inheritance and not salvation. However, specified in this covenant was the lineage of the birth of the Son of God, the Anointed One of Israel. The children of Abraham are the “apple of His [God’s] eye.” By design God chose the Israelites as His elect for whom all future covenants were meant. Thus the Mosaic Covenant was given as God remembered His promise to Abraham.
The Mosaic Covenant served several functions. It formed an enormous family into a nation. By this covenant the oracles of God were committed unto them. They were to render to God His fruits of praise, devotion, love, obedience, honor and glory. And the covenant told them how and where to do this. This covenant was limited to both a specified people (not universal), for a specified duration, existing until the advent of Christ. At that time a “New Covenant” was meant to be established with Israel. But this new covenant had to be received by faith and not just by the merits of birth. Jesus was to be their Lord, they were to be His peculiar treasure, they were to be a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation of God above all people. All this was possible because they were beneficiaries of Abraham’s inheritance. Because of unbelief Israel was broken off. As a nation they lost the blessed covenanted position. Now the Church is regarded as Spiritual Israel. Abraham, the father of the faithful, is now the father of us all through faith and grace. (Rom. 4:16).
The Church Grafted into Abraham.
As mentioned, the Mosaic Covenant had a limited life span. It was God’s intention to replace that Covenant with another. It is simply called a “New Covenant.” This New Covenant was to bring in the millennium age, but it has been put on hold “until that which is determined shall be accomplished.” Thus the Church has been grafted into the place from which present Israel has been removed. This we have seen in Romans 11:17-27. The graft has been made into the root and stock of the “good olive tree.”
This good olive tree of Romans 11, with its roots firmly fixed upon God, and its fatness of abundant richness of blessings and grace, is Abraham. Or more specifically, it is God’s Covenant with Abraham. Because Israel refused to hear and obey God (the two critical requirements of Faith) they were not spared. Jesus intentionally confronted the very center of their religious culture, the chief priests and elders in the temple, to bring matters to a head when He gave the parables of the “Two Sons,” and “The Vineyard.” By their own mouths they condemned themselves, thus Jesus gave His judgment: “Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof” (Matt. 21:43). They were spiritually severed from the root and stock of Abraham their father. From that point of the crucifixion they were nationally set apart from God’s dealings.
Even more to the point is Galatians.
Gal. 3:6 "Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness."
7 "Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham."
8 "And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed."
9 "So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham."
Also in this context is, “The just shall live by faith.” verse 11.
Paul gives his scriptural proof from the Prophets.
Rom 10:19 "But I say, Did not Israel know? First Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you."
20 "But Esaias is very bold, and saith, I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me."
21 "But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people."
It must not be assumed that the national promises of the Abrahamic Covenant belong to the church. The vast land grant, which we call the “Promised Land,” has not reverted to the Gentiles. The day will come when Christ will sit on the Jewish throne of David. The seat of His kingdom is Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. None of this involves Gentiles. The nations are to come annually to worship before Him. This all belongs to the natural seed of Abraham. However, the church will share in these as the Bride of Christ, with Christ seated on David's throne; all made possible by the Abrahamic connection in this age.
Ephesians 2:11 — 3:12. The mystery.
Paul wrote to the Ephesians reminding them what they once were and what they had now become. How they had once stood before God has been recast into a new relationship. Some change has occurred and they have been dramatically altered from what they had been.
In the revelation of this mystery it is understood that this truth applies not just to the Ephesians but to all Gentiles and Jews. Previous to this time Gentiles were separated from the innermost circle of God’s promises given to the Israelites. They were foreigners, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, afar off from the household of God. The "middle wall of partition" vividly established this.
The middle wall of partition is a clear reference to the wall or barrier that separated the outer court of the Gentiles from the inner courts of the Jews on the temple grounds. If any Gentile crossed this barrier the temple guards would have killed them. To this day Greek inscriptions can still be read on the stones of this wall, giving a warning of the risk of life. (Biblical Archaeology Review)
Jesus, by His life and death, fulfilled the law and took the barrier out of the way; He abolished the Old Testament Law and Covenant, which was the source of "the enmity." And now a New Covenant is established in Christ with the two (Jew and Gentile) made into one new “man.” This is the uniting of those who had been at such odds to be one in His covenant; now to be at peace. Jesus reconciled both unto God in one “body.” This was not simply the Gentiles being added to the Jews, but that together they are now equally established in His church. Nor is it an existing “body” into which Gentiles are brought, but a new “body” created, which Jew and Gentile alike are introduced. (The Nature of The Church, Radmacher. pg. 199).
This mystery was hid in God from the beginning of the world, “which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.” Here is the mystery explained: “That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel.” (Eph. 3:6) Fellowheirs, co-inheritors, both inheriting together in the same body.
So we have the bridge from the Abrahamic attachment to the new beginning.
A New Beginning
Acts 15:14 "Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name."
A. T. Roberson in his word pictures had this to say about this verse. "To take from the Gentiles a people for his name. Bengel calls this a chosen people out of the Gentiles. This is what is really involved in what took place at Caesarea at the hands of Peter and the campaign of Barnabas and Paul from Antioch. But such a claim of God's purpose called for proof from Scripture to convince Jews and this is precisely what James undertakes to give. This new Israel from among the Gentiles is one of Paul's great doctrines as set forth in Ga 3; Ro 9-11."
While we do not concede to Roberson as the authority of the doctrine of the Church his comments are very well placed and accurate.
A theme consistently recurring in the N.T.
What Israel was intended to be, the church became. Now, today, the Church is called the House of God, a peculiar treasure unto God above all people, a kingdom of priests, "an holy nation." To Israel was given the oracles of God; they now reside in the church. Through Israel the glory of God was to be rendered; now it is by the church. The prescribed method of worship was with Israel, now it is in the church. Israel had the priesthood, now it is in the church. Israel was the administrative authority of the Kingdom of God, now it is in the church. Israel only could administer the ordinances, now only the church can administer the ordinances. The promise to Israel was that she would never die out, now also the church has this same promise. Israel had the abiding presence of God, now is Christ in the midst of His church. The list goes on. All these things are in an institution, named "church," and not in general “Christianity” or the Kingdom of God as a whole. Just as Israel and the Temple were physical visible entities, so also is the church.
Concerning the church it must be asked; Is this a model of all the saved? Does the above picture a church existing in the Old Testament? Is Israel the church? The answer to these questions is, No. When speaking of the church as existing prior to the Second Coming of Christ it is to be found on earth, but did not exist prior to His first coming. The Church Covenant no more contains all the saved than did the Mosaic Covenant, or the Abrahamic Covenant. Faithfulness, obedience, loyalty, dedication to Jesus is required of those who would be in the church. In short, only Disciples of Christ will attain to its membership.