The purposes of God are immeasurably glorious, magnificent, and unfathomable. His will is inscrutable (Romans 11:33). This extends, of course, into the plan of redemption. We are well aware that we are in a covenant with Jesus Christ as his church, which we call the new covenant. But who decided that? Was this always a part of God’s plan?
Baptists, along with many other Protestants, have a rich history of “covenant” theology. We understand that God works among his people in covenants. But God is also a Trinity, three persons of one essence. Which leads us back to the first question, which was, “Who decided that?”
The Confession spends some considerable time, one of the longest chapters, even, on the person and work of Christ as our mediator. But the Confession begins in eternity past.
It pleased God, in His eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, his only begotten Son, according to the covenant made between them both, to be the mediator between God and man; the prophet, priest, and king; head and saviour of the church, the heir of all things, and judge of the world; unto whom he did from all eternity give a people to be his seed and to be by him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified.
One of the first things the Confession states is that there was a covenant between God and the Lord Jesus. This covenant extends into eternity past. We call this “the covenant of redemption”, or the “pretemporal agreement between the persons of the Trinity to plan and carry out the redemption of the elect.”(1)
Baptists are by far and away not the first to articulate the covenant of redemption. While that term goes only as far back as the Reformation era, the idea is ancient.
Luke 22:29 contains the words of Jesus when he tells the disciples, “I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom”. The word for “assign” in the Greek is diatithēmi, which literally means to make a covenant.(2) At a point in the past, God the Father made a covenant with the Son to procure for the Son a kingdom of his own.
In Romans 3:25, Paul says that Christ was a “propitiation” with his blood for God. A propitiation is the means of appeasing God, of satisfying his justice. The Father and the Son were in perfect communication and perfect agreement about the plan of salvation. So far, we’re not exactly braving any new theological terrain.
Jesus was sent by the Father, he has come to do the Father’s work, and the Father has imbued the Son with authority. We take all of this for granted, but it actually only makes sense if the persons of the Trinity are in a coordinated effort with varying functions yet working in agreement. There are also various “transactions” that take place within the Trinity. The Father gives the elect to the Son because the Son will do certain things in obedience to the Father. They are working in complete agreement.
Hebrews 10 quotes Psalm 40 as if Christ was the speaker of that Psalm. The speaker, Christ, says that God has not desired offerings of animals, but God has given this speaker a body to sacrifice, and it is the will of God to have this body given as a sacrifice. Then Christ says, “I have come to do your will.” The Father and Son are of the same mind, but there is a distinction between roles. They share the same will, but the Son’s role in redemption is to come to die. Again, there is deep agreement between the persons of the Trinity in what must take place and which role each person would fulfill. We must never say that the Father or the Spirit died on the cross. We must never say that the Spirit or the Son planned salvation. The Spirit indwells believers, not the Father or the Son. They are essentially the same, yet each have their specific roles. They are in agreement, the most basic definition of a covenant.
Isaiah 53:10 says, “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.” God had a plan to crush his Son, but that required the Son making an offering for guilt. That also resulted in blessings for the Son, that he would see his offspring and continue in doing the will of the Lord. It is not that the Son was surprised as the requested to be crucified; it is that the Father, Son, and Spirit perform their roles out of the same will and mind.
Two of the most important Old Testament passages for the New Testament are Psalms 2 and 110, and both of them give evidence of the covenant of redemption.
Psalm 2:7 says, “I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.” The word for “decree” is the Hebrew “ḥōq”, which means decree, statute, or even covenant. Basically, it’s an appointed task. There are two persons mentioned in this verse: The LORD and “me”, or the Son. This passage is either quoted or alluded to in Acts 4:25-27, 13:33, Hebrews 1:5, & 5:5 and directly applies “Son” to Jesus. There is a task given by the Father to the Son, and unless we want to say that the Father has more authority than the Son and slowly creep into believing in three different gods, we take it to mean that they are in agreement about the plan of redemption, or in other words, are in covenant together.
Psalm 110:1 says, “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’” David is clearly writing not about himself but two different people. There is God, and there is another ruler who is later called “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (v.4). In verse 4 again, God makes an oath with this other Lord, who he then makes a priest-king, just like Melchizedek. God the Father swears an oath to God the Son, making him a priest-king.
We can either spiritualize these things away, or we can take them as they come. It is best to read these as the three co-eternal, equally-ultimate persons of the Godhead as working in a covenant together to secure our redemption. But because of this covenant between the Godhead, our salvation is both secure and has all conditions satisfied.
Next week, we’ll talk a look at the specific role of God the Son, Christ the Mediator.
(1) Guy M. Richard, “The Covenant of Redemption,” Covenant Theology: Biblical, Theological, and Historical Perspectives (2020, Crossway), 43. See this chapter for general flow of the argument given here.