To understand Israel’s importance in the prophetic future, we must first understand the unconditional covenants God made with Israel. These covenants govern our understanding of the Jewish people and govern our understanding of Bible prophecy. Paul Benware explains,
“In Old Testament times a covenant was an agreement between two parties that bound them together with common interests and responsibilities. Generally, these covenants were bilateral agreements where both parties were responsible for the fulfilling of the covenant. In the Old Testament, the Mosaic covenant given at Mount Sinai is an example of a bilateral, or conditional, covenant.
In contrast, an unconditional, or unilateral, covenant involved two parties, but the fulfillment of the covenant rested on only one party. God’s covenant with Abraham fits into this category.
Covenants usually included blessings for the one who fulfilled his part of the agreement and curses upon the one who broke his oath. When God made a covenant with Abraham, therefore, it was not a strange or unusual event. It is true, of course, that one did not usually enter into a covenant with God Almighty. But Abraham and his descendants were thoroughly familiar with the idea of a covenant.”1
The Abrahamic Covenant
Prior to the rebellion of the nations at Babel, God had dealt with mankind in general. After Babel, God’s attention was turned to Abraham (Genesis 11). God went from dealing with all the nations to the nation that would come from the seed of Abraham, a nation He would call His own. It started with God calling Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldeans, a pagan nation (Genesis 11:28) and instructed him to go to Canaan (Genesis 12:1-4) where God would make His covenant with him.
Tony Evans says that,
“God didn’t ignore the other covenants, but the Abrahamic covenant became the central mechanism by which the rest of God’s program would unfold and be measured.”2
Genesis 12:1-3 records God’s call of Abraham out of Ur and the specific promises He made to him,
The Lord said to Abram: Go from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, I will curse anyone who treats you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.
These promises were later confirmed and clarified (Genesis 13:14-17; 15:1-7; 17:1-21). They were reconfirmed to Isaac (Genesis 26:3-4) and to Jacob (Genesis 28:13-15).
The promises fall into three categories: personal, national, and universal.
It included a great name, vast wealth, and abundant spiritual blessing for him. His recorded life demonstrates the fulfillment of these promises.
This promise stated that Abraham’s descendants would multiply and be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore (Genesis 22:17).
He also promised that He would give Israel the land of Canaan as their permanent possession (Gen. 17:8). The land would extend from the river of Egypt in the west to the Euphrates river in the east and to the land of the Hittites in the north (15:18-21). Regardless of any current political disputes, the Jewish people hold the title deed to that land; it is their land. Up to now, they have never possessed all the land, but God has promised that they will one day.
The national promises also gave Israel a unique position as God’s barometer of blessing—those nations that would bless Israel would be blessed and those that cursed Israel would be cursed (12:3; 27:29). This principle has applied throughout the history of the Jewish people (Deuteronomy 30:7; Isaiah 14:1-2). This is the principle that will guide God’s judgment of the Gentile nations when Christ returns (Matthew 25:31-46).
This promise stated that God would bless the whole world through Abraham (Genesis 12:3) and specifically through his offspring, that is, through his future descendants (22:18). The ultimate fulfillment was found when Jesus provided atonement for the whole world through His death and resurrection (Galatians 3:16).
Was this Covenant Conditional or Unconditional?
Charles Ryrie explains that,
“The interpretation of the Abrahamic Covenant is a watershed between premillennialism and amillennialism. The central question concerns its fulfillment. All agree that certain aspects of it have been fulfilled. But all do not agree on the fulfillment of other aspects of it, particularly the land promise. Amillennialists, while not agreed on the time of fulfillment of the land promise, unanimously agree that it will not be fulfilled in a future earthly millennial kingdom. Premillennialists, on the other hand, insist that since there has been no literal fulfillment in the past or present, there must be one in the future, and theirs is the only system that includes a future time when it may be fulfilled on this earth.”3
Renald Showers goes on to say,
“If the Abrahamic Covenant is unconditional (not dependent upon the obedience of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their physical descendants, the people of Israel, for the fulfillment of its promises), then every promise of that covenant must be fulfilled including the promises that Israel would be given forever the land described in Genesis 15:18 and that the Abrahamic Covenant would be an everlasting covenant for Israel. This would mean that Israel will last forever as a people and that God has a future program for that nation and its land. It would also mean that the biblical prophecies concerning the future of Israel and its land are to be interpreted literally and that the Dispensational-Premillennial view of those prophecies is correct.
By contrast, if the Abrahamic Covenant is conditional (dependent upon the obedience of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the people of Israel for the fulfillment of its promises), then not every promise of that covenant has to be fulfilled. Disobedience by Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, or the people of Israel could nullify the fulfillment of the covenant’s promises. In light of such disobedience, Israel would not have to be given the land of Canaan forever, the Abrahamic Covenant would not have to be an everlasting covenant for Israel, the biblical prophecies concerning the future of Israel and its land could be interpreted allegorically or spiritualized, and the Dispensational-Premillennial view of those prophecies would be wrong.”4
Let us consider some of the reasons why the Abrahamic Covenant should be understood as an unconditional covenant. First, it is called a permanent covenant in Scripture.
I will confirm my covenant that is between me and you and your future offspring throughout their generations. It is a permanent covenant to be your God and the God of your offspring after you (Genesis 17:7).
Whether born in your household or purchased, he must be circumcised. My covenant will be marked in your flesh as a permanent covenant (Genesis 17:13).
But God said, “No. Your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will name him Isaac. I will confirm my covenant with him as a permanent covenant for his future offspring” (Genesis 17:19).
The covenant he made with Abraham, swore to Isaac, and confirmed to Jacob as a decree, and to Israel as a permanent covenant (1 Chronicles 16:16-17; Psalm 105:9-10).
“This is what the Lord says: The one who gives the sun for light by day, the fixed order of moon and stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea and makes its waves roar—the Lord of Armies is his name: If this fixed order departs from before me—this is the Lord’s declaration—only then will Israel’s descendants cease to be a nation before me forever” (Jeremiah 31:35-36).
Ryrie insists that,
“The Scriptures clearly teach that this is an eternal covenant based on the gracious promises of God. There may be delays, postponements, and chastisements, but an eternal covenant cannot, if God cannot deny Himself, be abrogated.”5
Second, when God gave the original promises to Abraham, they were given unconditionally. In no way is the original agreement altered by the fact that God later added circumcision as a sign of the covenant (Genesis 17:9-14), a truth Paul reiterates in Galatians 3:15 (NASB) when he said,
Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man’s covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it.
He points out that once a covenant has been ratified it cannot be changed in any way. That includes the provisions as well as the parties of the covenant. The covenant was made with Abraham and his descendants, and it remains that way.
Ryrie states that,
“The truth is that circumcision was the personal act which related the man to the covenant and had nothing to do with the unconditional nature of the everlasting covenant.”6
The covenant is all about what God will do.
Third, God reiterated the covenant with Isaac and Jacob and in both instances, there were no human conditions attached.
The Lord appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt. Live in the land that I tell you about; stay in this land as an alien, and I will be with you and bless you. For I will give all these lands to you and your offspring, and I will confirm the oath that I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of the sky, I will give your offspring all these lands, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed by your offspring (Gen. 26:2-4).
And the Lord appeared to him that night and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you. I will bless you and multiply your offspring because of my servant Abraham” (Genesis 28:13-15).
Fourth, the New Testament is explicit in affirming the unchangeable nature of the covenant.
I ask, then, has God rejected his people? Absolutely not! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Or don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he pleads with God against Israel?… I ask, then, have they stumbled so as to fall? Absolutely not! On the contrary, by their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel jealous… Regarding the gospel, they are enemies for your advantage, but regarding election, they are loved because of the patriarchs, since God’s gracious gifts and calling are irrevocable (Romans 11:1-2, 11, 28-29).
For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater to swear by, he swore by himself: I will indeed bless you, and I will greatly multiply you. And so, after waiting patiently, Abraham obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and for them a confirming oath ends every dispute. Because God wanted to show his unchangeable purpose even more clearly to the heirs of the promise, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to seize the hope set before us (Hebrews 6:13-18).
Fifth, the covenant remained effective despite Israel’s disobedience.
You are not going to take possession of their land because of your righteousness or your integrity. Instead, the Lord your God will drive out these nations before you because of their wickedness, in order to fulfill the promise he swore to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Understand that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stiff-necked people (Deuteronomy 9:5-6).
but the Lord was gracious to them, had compassion on them, and turned toward them because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He was not willing to destroy them. Even now he has not banished them from his presence (2 Kings 13:23).
This is what the Lord says: The one who gives the sun for light by day, the fixed order of moon and stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea and makes its waves roar—the Lord of Armies is his name: If this fixed order departs from before me—this is the Lord’s declaration—only then will Israel’s descendants cease to be a nation before me forever. This is what the Lord says: Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below explored, will I reject all of Israel’s descendants because of all they have done—this is the Lord’s declaration (Jer. 31:35-37).
Who is a God like you, forgiving iniquity and passing over rebellion for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not hold on to his anger forever because he delights in faithful love…You will show loyalty to Jacob and faithful love to Abraham, as you swore to our ancestors from days long ago (Micah 7:18, 20).
Because I, the Lord, have not changed, you descendants of Jacob have not been destroyed (Mal. 3:6).
Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: Blessed is the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited and provided redemption for his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, just as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets in ancient times; salvation from our enemies and from the hand of those who hate us. He has dealt mercifully with our ancestors and remembered his holy covenant—the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant that we, having been rescued from the hand of our enemies, would serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness in his presence all our days (Luke 1:67–75).
The Jeremiah 31:35-37 passage clearly points to the fact that even during the apostasy in the days of Jeremiah, God reaffirmed His unwavering commitment to His covenant people. God is on record as stating that He is determined to fulfill His covenant with Israel.
Sixth, it was a blood covenant that bound God to unconditionally fulfill His pledge.
He said to him, “Bring me a three-year-old cow, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” So he brought all these to him, cut them in half, and laid the pieces opposite each other, but he did not cut the birds in half…As the sun was setting, a deep sleep came over Abram, and suddenly great terror and darkness descended on him…When the sun had set and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch appeared and passed between the divided animals (Genesis 15:9-10, 12, 17).
Commenting on this passage, Keil and Delitzsch say,
“The proceeding corresponded rather to the custom, prevalent in many ancient nations, of slaughtering animals when concluding a covenant, and after dividing them into pieces, of laying the pieces opposite to one another, that the persons making the covenant might pass between them. Thus…that God condescended to follow the custom of the Chaldeans, that He might in the most solemn manner confirm His oath to Abram the Chaldean. The wide extension of this custom is evident from the expression used to denote the conclusion of a covenant, כָּרַת בְּרִית to hew, or cut a covenant…whilst it is evident from Jer. 34:18, that this was still customary among the Israelites of later times.”7
“From the nature of this covenant, it followed, however, that God alone went through the pieces in a symbolical representation of Himself, and not Abram also. For although a covenant always establishes a reciprocal relation between two individuals, yet in that covenant which God concluded with a man, the man did not stand on an equality with God, but God established the relation of fellowship by His promise and His gracious condescension to the man.”8
Abraham sacrificed the animals, cut the three large animals in half, and laid them all on the ground. Then, a most significant thing took place: a deep sleep came over Abraham (Gen. 15:12). Only God walked between the animals; Abraham was asleep. Abraham did not participate in the covenant. He never walked between the pieces of the sacrificed animals. He made no promises; rather, he was a recipient of a covenant since only God walked between the pieces and made promises. Thus, the blood covenant that bound God to unconditionally fulfill His pledge.
Paul Benware also makes an important observation,
Because there simply are no conditions added to this covenant, some might conclude that, since God was guaranteeing the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant, it did not make any difference what Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, or any of their descendants did. But that would not be accurate. If any involved in the covenant relationship chose not to “walk before the Lord,” they would lose out on the benefits and blessings of the covenant. That is a critical distinction to keep in mind. Sin and disobedience would cause the loss of the covenant blessings but would never cancel the covenant. The blessings of the covenant were indeed conditioned on the obedience of an individual. But the complete and final fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant depends on God alone. He intends to fulfill this covenant even if His people Israel are not faithful and obedient.9
This was a unilateral agreement. What God did here was unique. By walking by Himself between the sacrificed animals, signified that the fulfillment of the covenant is completely dependent upon Him. There was no end of the agreement that Abraham had to keep for it to be fulfilled. That is precisely what differentiates this covenant from the Mosaic Covenant, the Law of Sinai, which was clearly conditioned upon the obedience of the people and their faithfulness to God.
The fact that Israel stands today is a testimony to the covenant God made with Abraham. When the nation of Israel was established in 1948, Arab nations around them promised that they would drive them into the sea. A tiny nation with just a few million Jews living there is surrounded by nations with millions upon millions of people, some very wealthy who hate them and desire their extermination, yet there they stand. If the covenant God made with Abraham is not what explains Israel’s survival now and throughout her history, what can possibly explain it? God is faithful and He will bring Himself glory by keeping His covenant with Abraham and his descendants.
Seventh, the covenant must have a future fulfillment since it has never been fulfilled. Yes, some portions of this covenant have already been fulfilled. Those promises to Abraham of personal blessing have been literally fulfilled, as the Genesis record testifies. Abraham was prospered by God, his name became great, he did have an heir by his wife Sarah, and he was a channel of blessing to others. But it is also true that key portions have not been fulfilled and, in light of the unconditional nature of this covenant, await their fulfillment.
It should be noted that those parts of the Abrahamic Covenant which have been fulfilled thus far have been fulfilled literally, which would seem to indicate that God intends every promise of that covenant to be fulfilled the same way.
Though some of the parts of the covenant have been fulfilled, His promise to give the land of Canaan for a permanent possession (Genesis 17:8), and the Abrahamic Covenant for an everlasting covenant to Abraham’s physical descendants (Genesis 17:7, 19), it cannot rightly be said that all the promises of the covenant have been fulfilled entirely until at least the end of world history.
The Palestinian (Land) Covenant
Four crucial aspects of the covenant amplify the land aspect of the Abrahamic covenant. First, from the beginning of the covenant relationship, God promised Abraham land (e.g., Genesis 12:1; 13:14-17; 15:7; 17:7-8). The land covenant not only reaffirms God’s commitment to give Israel the promised land, but it develops and adds important truths related to the land (e.g., Numbers 34:1-12; Deuteronomy 30:1-10). Second, the land covenant is an unconditional covenant since it is an elaboration of the land aspect of the Abrahamic covenant. Nothing, not even Israel’s rebellion and disobedience could nullify the covenant. Yes, Israel’s sin caused them to lose the right to live on the land, but the covenant has not been set aside. Any conditions were connected to the receiving or losing of blessing, not the fulfillment of the covenant promise.
Some argue that Deuteronomy 30:1-3 makes the covenant condition because of the statements “when” and “then.”
When all these things happen to you—the blessings and curses I have set before you—and you come to your senses while you are in all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and all your soul by doing everything I am commanding you today, then he will restore your fortunes, have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you.
A time element is the only conditional element here. The time element in no way makes the whole program or covenant conditional. The promise will be fulfilled when Israel repents and converts.
Third, the land covenant is an everlasting covenant since it is a sub-covenant of the Abrahamic covenant. The God established His covenant with Abraham, He said,
For I will give you and your offspring forever all the land that you see (Genesis 13:15).
And to you and your future offspring I will give the land where you are residing—all the land of Canaan—as a permanent possession, and I will be their God (Genesis 17:8).
This was confirmed later in Israel’s history,
But I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish a permanent covenant with you (Ezekiel 16:60).
Clearly, the land given to Israel by God is an everlasting possession. This fact is critical in understanding its fulfillment.
Fourth, it is one thing to live in and enjoy the blessings of the land, altogether another thing to have ownership of the land. Abraham and his descendants were given the title deed to Canaan. God gave them the land; therefore, they own it. Because of the unconditional nature of the covenant, Israel will take possession of and live and enjoy the land.
The fulfillment of this promise will occur when the Messiah returns. Until then, the people of Israel lost the privilege of dwelling in the land, but that in no way permanently sets aside the provisions of the covenant.
The land promise was expanded into the Land Covenant found in Deut. 28-30. Ultimately, God states that both their suffering and their restoration will occur in the future (Deut. 4:30; 31:29).
When Joshua took over leadership, the people of Israel were at the entrance of the land, but not in it. To complicate things further, there were enemies in the land. Would the people of Israel be able to take possession of the land? Was God going to fulfill the promise He had made to Abraham despite their unbelief?
The reply to these question from God came in the form of a covenant:
When all these things happen to you—the blessings and curses I have set before you—and you come to your senses while you are in all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and all your soul by doing everything I am commanding you today, then he will restore your fortunes, have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. Even if your exiles are at the farthest horizon, he will gather you and bring you back from there. The Lord your God will bring you into the land your ancestors possessed, and you will take possession of it. He will cause you to prosper and multiply you more than he did your ancestors. The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the hearts of your descendants, and you will love him with all your heart and all your soul so that you will live. The Lord your God will put all these curses on your enemies who hate and persecute you. Then you will again obey him and follow all his commands I am commanding you today. The Lord your God will make you prosper abundantly in all the work of your hands, your offspring, the offspring of your livestock, and the produce of your land. Indeed, the Lord will again delight in your prosperity, as he delighted in that of your ancestors, when you obey the Lord your God by keeping his commands and statutes that are written in this book of the law and return to him with all your heart and all your soul (Deuteronomy 30:1–10).
Moses indicated that only when all the blessings and curses in Deuteronomy 28 were fulfilled and when the people of Israel return to God and obey him (verses 1-2), then would the promises in chapter 30 verses 1-10 be fulfilled.
Six promises are made by God in those ten chapters: First, God will regather the people of Israel which were scattered all over the world (vv. 3-4). Jack Deere writes,
“However, Israel’s repentance would be insufficient to reverse the effects of their curses for they would still be under foreign domination. So in response to their repentance, God Himself will intervene, and with tender compassion… gather the nation and bring her back to her land. He will restore Israel’s fortunes, a theme frequent in the prophets (cf., e.g., Jer. 30:18; 32:44; 33:11, 26; Joel 3:1). The prophets made it clear that this great restoration to the land would not take place until the Second Advent of the Messiah just before the beginning of His millennial reign on the earth (e.g., Isa. 59:20-62:12; cf. Jesus’ teaching of the regathering in Matt. 24:31; Mark 13:27). This will be a time of spiritual and material prosperity greater than the nation has ever known (Deut. 30:5).”10
Second, God will restore them to their ancestors’ land (v. 5).
The judgment of devastation and deportation would produce its desired salutary effects, for the people would come back to the land of promise again (v. 5a), they would prosper more than ever before (v. 5b), and they would be so transformed by the Lord as to be able to love him with all their being (v. 6). While the repossession of the land can be said to some extent to have been fulfilled by the return of the Jews following the Babylonian exile (cf. Jer 29:10–14; 30:3), the greater prosperity and population was not achieved in Old Testament times. In fact, it still awaits realization in any literal sense (cf. Hag 2:6–9; Zech 8:1–8; 10:8–12). As for the radical work of regeneration described here as circumcision of the heart, that clearly awaits a day yet to come as far as the covenant nation as a whole is concerned.11
Third, God will regenerate the people of Israel; thus, they will love Him with all their heart and soul (v. 6).
Fourth, Israel’s will be judged (v. 7). Andrews and Bergen explain that,
Although the descendants of the twelve tribes by that time will have suffered cruel and inhuman treatment on the part of their enemies, God will place the curses not on Israel but on those who hate and persecute them.12
Fifth, the people of Israel will obey the Lord’s commands (v. 8).
Sixth, the people of Israel will prosper (v. 9).
The initial promises the Lord had been giving the Israelites as they were being prepared for entrance into Canaan would be renewed. They would be prosperous in everything they did (v.9). Fecundity would again mark their families, livestock, and crops (28:11). The Lord would again delight in his people (as in the first part of 28:63, where the same verb sus is translated “pleased”); he would return to being pleased to make them prosper.13
Centuries after God made these promises of the Palestinian Covenant to Israel, some of them were repeated to later generations through Jeremiah (32:36–44) and Ezekiel (36:22–38).
The Davidic Covenant
In the covenant God made with Abraham, He told Abraham that he would have a son through Sarah and that in time a great nation would emerge. Genesis 17 tells us that nation and kingswould come from him. In time, the covenant commitment by God would focus on Isaac and Jacob and the promise of a kingdom and throne would be limited to the tribe of Judah, for Jacob said in Genesis 49:10, “the scepter will not depart from Judah.” From within the tribe of Judah, the focus would be on David and his descendants.
The historical background of the Davidic Covenant is familiar. When David came to power, it seemed unthinkable to him that the One who had given him his authority and government should continue to dwell in the tabernacle. He expressed the desire to build a permanent house of worship for God in Jerusalem,but because he had been a man of warfare and bloodshed, God would not permit him to build that house. It would be his son Solomon, the prince of peace, who would build it. God did however make certain promises to David concerning the perpetuity of his house. The Davidic covenant was also an amplification of the Abrahamic covenant, it is a development and expansion of the “seed” promises of the covenant God made with Abraham.
God said to David,
When your time comes and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up after you your descendant, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will discipline him with a rod of men and blows from mortals. But my faithful love will never leave him as it did when I removed it from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and kingdom will endure before me forever, and your throne will be established forever (2 Samuel 7:12–16).
The character of the Davidic covenant is the same as the Abrahamic, it is unconditional and specifically stated to be eternal.
He is the one who will build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever (2 Samuel 7:13).
The Lord said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn an oath to David my servant: ‘I will establish your offspring forever and build up your throne for all generations’” (Psalm 89:3-4).
I will always preserve my faithful love for him, and my covenant with him will endure. I will establish his line forever, his throne as long as heaven lasts. If his sons abandon my instruction and do not live by my ordinances, if they dishonor my statutes and do not keep my commands, then I will call their rebellion to account with the rod, their iniquity with blows. But I will not withdraw my faithful love from him or betray my faithfulness. I will not violate my covenant or change what my lips have said. Once and for all I have sworn an oath by my holiness; I will not lie to David. His offspring will continue forever, his throne like the sun before me, like the moon, established forever, a faithful witness in the sky (Psalm 89:28-37).
John Walvoord explains that Psalm 89:29-37 does not mean that,
There would be an unbroken continuation of Davidic rulers in Israel. Instead, these verses indicate that when Christ is seated on David’s throne (Isa. 9:7; Luke 1:31-33; Acts 2:30), His rule will never end.14
This covenant is foundational for the Messianic hope of the Hebrew Bible and the basis of the New Testament expectation of the future kingdom. God promised to build a dynasty for David. He affirmed that He would give David an eternal dynasty and kingdom with an eternal Ruler to sit on David’s throne. The Ruler was to be one of David’s sons (his seed) who was also to have a father/son relationship with God. This promise found its fulfillment in the birth of Jesus,
He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will have no end (Luke 1:32-33).
The covenant included the following: (1) David would have a son who would succeed him and establish his kingdom. (2) Solomon, David’s son, would be the one to build the temple. (3) The throne of his kingdom would be established forever. (4) Despite Solomon’s sin and God’s discipline, the throne will not be taken away from him. (5) David’s house, throne, and kingdom would be established forever.
J. Dwight Pentecost explains that,
“The essential features of the Davidic Covenant are found in these three words in 2 Samuel 7:16: house, kingdom, and throne.
The term house must refer to David’s physical descendants. This meant that a line stemming from David would continue indefinitely and would be the divinely recognized royal line. The term throne refers not so much to the material throne on which David sat as to the right to rule, the authority as king vested in him. The term kingdom must refer to the political body David would rule and over which David’s descendants would successively reign.
Just as important as these three terms, the word forever must refer to any time during which the descendants of Abraham exist. Even though there might be temporary interruptions in the exercise of royal authority because of divine discipline, the authority would never transfer to another line.
As we have seen concerning other covenants of God with Israel, this covenant with David is restated and reconfirmed elsewhere in Scripture. In Psalm 89, for example, the psalmist wrote, “I will not violate My covenant or alter what My lips have uttered. Once for all, I have sworn by My holiness—and I will not lie to David—that his line will continue forever and his throne endure before Me like the sun; it will be established forever like the moon, the faithful witness in the sky” (vv. 34–37).
The Davidic Covenant is also confirmed in such passages as Isaiah 9:6–7; Jeremiah 23:5–6; 30:8–9; 33:14–17, 20–21; Ezekiel 37:24–25; Daniel 7:13–14; Hosea 3:4–5; Amos 9:11; and Zechariah 14:4, 9. God’s promise to David was established as a formal covenant and throughout Scripture thereafter is referred to as the basis on which God operates in regard to the kingdom, the house, and the throne.”15
Amillennialists believe, as premillennialists do, that Jesus is the Son of David who fulfills this covenant, but they believe that He is fulfilling this promise today by ruling over the church as He sits on the throne of heaven. The kingdom is therefore purely a spiritual one, even though the Bible teaches that David’s kingdom is a political kingdom. Walvoord states that,
“The Old Testament reveals that the kingdom of David relates to the earth as a political kingdom, not to the present kingdom of God, which is a spiritual kingdom. Yet both will have spiritual qualities. Psalm 72, a Psalm of Solomon, shows that the kingdom is a political kingdom on the earth. The early part of the psalm refers to the justice (72:1-4) and peace (72:5-7) that would characterize Solomon’s rule. While versus 8-11 may speak of Solomon in words of hyperbole, there ultimately true of only Christ. Versus 8-9 declare, “He will rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. The desert tribes will bow before him and his enemies will lick the dust.” And verse 11 predicts, “All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him.” These verses relate to the millennial earth and the fulfillment of God’s plan to give the Promised Land to David’s posterity.”16
There are several problems with the amillennial position because the throne of David cannot be equated with the throne of God in heaven. First, the Bible tells us that several of David’s descendants sat upon his throne, but only one of his descendants sits on the throne in heaven at God’s right hand (Psalm 110:1; Hebrews 8:1; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22), Jesus Christ.
Second, the throne of heaven was established long before David’s throne (Psalm 93:1-2) which was established during his lifetime.
The Lord reigns! He is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed, enveloped in strength. The world is firmly established; it cannot be shaken. Your throne has been established from the beginning; you are from eternity.
Third, if David’s throne and God’s throne in heaven are the same, why would God promise David that He would establish his throne forever if, according to Lamentations 5:19, God’s throne in heaven had been established forever?
You, Lord, are enthroned forever; your throne endures from generation to generation.
Fourth, the Lord Jesus drew a clear distinction in Revelation 3:21 between His throne and the throne of God in Heaven where He presently sits at the right hand of the Father. Jesus said,
To the one who conquers I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.
Luke 1:31-32 tells us that it is the throne of David which God has promised to give to Jesus,
Now listen: You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David.
David’s throne is Jesus’ throne. Since Jesus drew a distinction between His throne and God’s throne in Heaven, then they must not be the same.
Fifth, God’s declaration to His Son, Your throne, God, is forever and ever in Psalm 45:6–7 (cf. Heb. 1:8), appears to indicate that God also recognizes the throne of the Lord Jesus to be distinct from God’s throne in Heaven.
Sixth, David’s throne was not in heaven, it was on earth. Neither did David nor his descendants ever exercise ruling authority in or from heaven. Those who sat on his throne exercised an earthly ruling authority. The Bible clearly teaches that heaven is God’s throne. Isaiah 66:1 God says, Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool… (cf. Psalm 103:19; Matthew 5:34; 23:22; Acts 7:49).
Since the throne of David cannot be equated with the throne of God in heaven, then while Jesus sits on the right hand of God’s throne in Heaven, He is not sitting on David’s throne, thus His current ministry in heaven is not the fulfillment of God’s promises in the Davidic Covenant.
When He returns, He will rule from the literal throne of David in Jerusalem and establish the kingdom of God on earth.
Again, it is important to emphasize that disobedience could undo the blessings of the covenant to any individual or generation but could not set the unconditional covenant aside. Disobedience, rebellion, and sin led to God’s severe discipline, but God’s lovingkindness would never depart from David. Arnold Fruchtenbaum reminds us God’s response to King Saul’s disobedience:
“Earlier God did remove His lovingkindness from King Saul because of disobedience. However, the promise is made that although Solomon may disobey and require God’s discipline, God’s lovingkindness will never depart from him. Because the covenant was unconditional, regardless of Solomon’s disobedience and God’s chastisement of Solomon, the covenant remained intact and fulfillment is sure. This was true, although the sin of Solomon (idolatry) was a far worse sin than the sin of Saul (improper sacrifice). This is the nature of an unconditional covenant…. It was the Davidic covenant that kept God from tearing away all the tribes from the House of David (1 Kings 11:1.3).”17
God was certainly given numerous reasons and opportunities for annulling the covenant with David (if He wanted an excuse). But He did not because unconditional covenants are not set aside due to the failures of the party on whom lay no requirements for the fulfillment.
The New Covenant
The blessing component of the Abrahamic covenant was amplified by the New Covenant. The new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; 32:40; Ezekiel 16:60-62; 34:25-31; 37:26-28; Romans 11:25-27; Hebrews 8:6-13) focuses on redemption and spiritual blessings of Israel. It develops the “blessing” aspect of the original Abrahamic covenant. It also includes material blessings which is dependent on the salvation of the nation of Israel.
The name comes from Jeremiah 31:31-34,
“Look, the days are coming”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. This one will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors on the day I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt—my covenant that they broke even though I am their master”—the Lord’s declaration. “Instead, this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days”—the Lord’s declaration. “I will put my teaching within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will one teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know me, from the least to the greatest of them”—this is the Lord’s declaration. “For I will forgive their iniquity and never again remember their sin.”
But it had already been promised in the Pentateuch (Deuteronomy 30:1-14) and would be affirmed in other prophets (Ezekiel 36:26-27). The covenant is new, because of its distinction from the Mosaic Law, the old covenant. Hebrews 8:13 confirms that the Old Covenant (Mosaic Law) has been made obsolete by the establishment of the New Covenant.
By saying a new covenant, he has declared that the first is obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old is about to pass away.
Because it is an amplification and development of the Abrahamic covenant, it is eternal and unconditional. God Himself declared that the New Covenant would be everlasting.
I will make a permanent covenant with them: I will never turn away from doing good to them, and I will put fear of me in their hearts so they will never again turn away from me (Jeremiah 32:40).
But I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish a permanent covenant with you (Ezekiel 16:60).
I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be a permanent covenant with them. I will establish and multiply them and will set my sanctuary among them forever (Ezekiel 37:26).
That it is unconditional is evident by the fact that no conditions are placed on Israel in any of the passages that deal with this covenant.
Renald Showers writes that,
“God promised many things to the people of Israel in the New Covenant.
First, He promised regeneration. This would involve the giving of a new heart (a new inner control center where the issues and direction of life are determined) and the new nature (a new favorable spirit or disposition toward God consisting of the law of God written in the heart) [Jer. 31:33; 32:39–40; Ezek. 36:26].
Second, God promised forgiveness of sin (Jer. 31:34; Ezek. 36:25). Third, He pledged the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Ezek. 36:27). Fourth, He guaranteed a universal knowledge of Jehovah among the people of Israel (Jer. 31:34). The context of this fourth promise indicated that God was referring to a personal experiential knowledge of Himself (the kind of knowledge which comes through a genuine salvation experience), not just a head knowledge of His existence. Fifth, God promised that Israel would obey Him and have a right attitude toward Him forever (Jer. 32:39–40; Ezek. 36:27; 37:23–24).
Sixth, God promised many national blessings to the people of Israel.
He pledged that His spirit and words would never depart from them (Isa. 59:21), that the nation would have a great reputation because of God’s special blessing (Isa. 61:8–9), that Israel would have a unique relationship with Him as His special people (Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 36:28), that God would do them good (Jer. 32:40–42), that wild beasts would be eliminated from their land (Ezek. 34:25, 28), that Israel would enjoy complete security in its land (Ezek. 34:25–28), that the nation would receive no more threats and insults from other nations (Ezek. 34:28–29), that great abundance of food would eliminate famine (Ezek. 34:27, 29; 36:29–30), that Israel’s land would be so luxurious that it would have the reputation of being like the Garden of Eden (Ezek. 34:29; 36:34–35), that rainfall would be controlled perfectly (Ezek. 34:26), that Israel’s cities would be rebuilt and inhabited (Ezek. 36:33), that the nation would enjoy a population explosion (Ezek. 36:37–38; 37:26), that the nation would be completely unified (Ezek. 37:21–22), that the people of Israel would live in their own land forever (Ezek. 37:25), that once again God would have His sanctuary in Israel and would dwell in the midst of the nation forever (Ezek. 37:26–28), and that God would never turn away from the people of Israel (Jer. 32:40).”18
Ryrie provides a good summary of the provisions for Israel of the new covenant found in the Old Testament to be fulfilled during the millennial reign of Christ:
“(1) The new covenant is an unconditional, grace covenant resting on the “I will” of God. The frequency of the use of the phrase in Jeremiah 31:31–34 is striking. Cf. Ezekiel 16:60–62.
(2) The new covenant is an everlasting covenant. This is closely related to the fact that it is unconditional and made in grace. The Scripture clearly says:
For I the Lord love judgment, I hate robbery for burnt offering; and I will direct their work in truth, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them (Isa. 61:8, cf. Ezek. 37:26; Jer. 31: 35–37).
(3) The new covenant also promises the impartation of a renewed mind and heart which we may call regeneration.
But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people (Jer. 31:33, cf. Isa. 59:21).
(4) The new covenant provides for restoration to the favor and blessing of God.
And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the Lord (Hos. 2:19–20, cf. Isa. 61:9).
(5) Forgiveness of sin is also included in the covenant, “for I will remove their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:34b).
(6) The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is also included. This is seen by comparing Jeremiah 31:33 with Ezekiel 36:27.
(7) The teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit will be manifested, and the will of God will be known by obedient hearts.
And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord (Jer. 31:34).
(8) As is always the case when Israel is in the land, she will be blessed materially in accordance with the provisions of the new covenant. Jeremiah declares that God “will rejoice over them to do them good” (32:41), and Isaiah says that He “will direct their work in truth” (61:8). As a part of this blessing the land will again be their own, for God has promised that He “will plant them in this land assuredly with … [His] whole heart and … soul” (Jer. 32:41). Beasts will be tamed and nature will again function according to the best interests of the productivity of the soil (Ezek. 34:25–27).
(9) The sanctuary will be rebuilt in Jerusalem, for it is written “I … will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them” (Ezek. 37:26–27a).
(10) War shall cease and peace shall reign according to Hosea 2:18. The fact that this is also a definite characteristic of the millennium (Isa. 2:4) further supports the fact that the new covenant is millennial in its fulfillment.
(11) The blood of the Lord Jesus Christ is the foundation of all the blessings of the new covenant, for “by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water” (Zech. 9:11).”19
In the blood of Christ, Christians today enjoy all these promises as a result of the New Covenant and have been made ministers of the New Covenant,
For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (Matt. 26:28).
He has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3:6).
But the specific promises in Jeremiah 31:31–34 are to the house of Israel and with the house of Judah (Jeremiah 31:31) and they will be fulfilled for Israel in the millennial kingdom when they have been restored to the land with Christ as their king. The context of the covenant in Jeremiah 31:35–40 (NLT) is the future Kingdom.
It is the Lord who provides the sun to light the day and the moon and stars to light the night, and who stirs the sea into roaring waves. His name is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, and this is what he says: “I am as likely to reject my people Israel as I am to abolish the laws of nature!” This is what the Lord says: “Just as the heavens cannot be measured and the foundations of the earth cannot be explored, so I will not consider casting them away for the evil they have done. I, the Lord, have spoken! “The day is coming,” says the Lord, “when all Jerusalem will be rebuilt for me, from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. A measuring line will be stretched out over the hill of Gareb and across to Goah. And the entire area—including the graveyard and ash dump in the valley, and all the fields out to the Kidron Valley on the east as far as the Horse Gate—will be holy to the Lord. The city will never again be captured or destroyed.”
The fact that the church participates in the blessing of the New Covenant does not mean that God’s promises to Israel are set aside. These promises have never been fulfilled with Israel but will when Israel is reestablished in the land, for God has declared,
“I will put my teaching within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will one teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know me, from the least to the greatest of them”—this is the Lord’s declaration. “For I will forgive their iniquity and never again remember their sin” (Jeremiah 31:33-34).
Only when He returns and begins His kingdom will He establish the New Covenant in its fullest sense. Then, when everyone knows the Lord, all people will fully experience this universal aspect of the Abrahamic covenant. The New Covenant guarantees that there will be a time when all Israel will turn to her Messiah. But what about Israel today?
1 Paul N. Benware, Understanding End Times Prophecy: A Comprehensive Approach (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1995), p. 32.
2 Tony Evans, The Best is Yet to Come: Bible Prophecies Through the Ages (Chicago, IL, Moody Press, 2000), p. 65.
3 Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), p. 526.
4 Renald E. Showers, There Really Is A Difference: A Comparison of Covenant and Dispensational Theology (Bellmawr, NJ: The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, Inc., 1990), p. 60.
5 Ryrie, The Basis of the Premillennial Faith, Op. cit., p. 53.
6 Ibid., p. 50.
7 C.F. Keil & F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament – Volume 1: The Pentateuch (Database © 2003 WORDsearch), p. 136.
8 Ibid., p. 138.
9 Benware, Understanding End Times Prophecy: A Comprehensive Approach, Op. cit., pp. 38-39.
10 Jack S. Deere, “Deuteronomy,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 1985), p. 315.
11 Eugene H. Merrill, New American Commentary – Volume 4: Deuteronomy (1994 B & H Publishing Group. Database © 2013 WORDsearch), p. 385.
12 Stephen J. Andrews and Robert D. Bergen, Holman Old Testament Commentary – Deuteronomy (2009 Broadman & Holman Publishers. Database © 2013 WORDsearch), p. 340.
13 Earl S. Kalland, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 3: Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1992), p. 188.
14 John F. Walvoord, End Times: Understanding Today’s World Events in Biblical Prophecy, Op. cit., p. 82.
15 J. Dwight Pentecost, Thy Kingdom Come: Tracing God’s Kingdom Program and Covenant Promises throughout History (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1995, p. 142.
16 Walvoord, End Times: Understanding Today’s World Events in Biblical Prophecy, Op. cit., p. 83.
17 Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology (Tustin, Calif.: Ariel Ministries, 1993), p. 585.
18 Renald E. Showers, There Really Is A Difference: A Comparison of Covenant and Dispensational Theology, Op. cit., pp. 101.
19 Ryrie, The Basis of the Premillennial Faith, Op. cit., pp. 94-96.
Copyright © 2006–2021 by Miguel J. Gonzalez Th.D.
Dr. Miguel J. Gonzalez is the Founder and President of Reasons for Faith International Ministries. He served as a pastor for ten years in Charlotte, NC and has taught in churches and conferences throughout the United States. He currently hosts the Time in the Word and Truth To Live By podcasts and writes at KnowingChristianity.blogspot.com.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture is taken from The Christian Standard Bible. Copyright © 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Christian Standard Bible®, and CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers, all rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked as (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.