Revelation and the Everlasting Covenant
After John sets the scene and introduces the main characters and witnesses in Revelation chapter 4, the next task is to introduce the star of the event, Jesus Christ. In chapter 5, we are introduced to Jesus as the ‘Lion of the Tribe of Judah,’ the ‘Root of David,’ the ‘Lamb’ and the ‘Worthy One.’ All of these descriptions and titles are symbolic references to Christ’s character and/or His role and mission in the plan of salvation. Taken together these titles tell us that a major fulfilment of prophecy has taken place – the Priest King has taken His rightful place on the throne of David. And a major milestone of the everlasting covenant has been achieved.
What is a Covenant?
A covenant is an agreement or a contract between two or more people. Covenants are usually written documents, and they contain terms and conditions. The terms and conditions bind the signatories to carry out the purpose of the covenant. In earthly legal terms, we would normally call such a contract a trust. An earthly covenant/trust has a settlor (aka. grantor or trustor). This is the person who initiates the trust. The settlor appoints a trustee or trustees. The trustee carries out the terms and conditions of the trust. The settlor also names the beneficiaries of the trust. The beneficiaries are those who benefit from the trust. The beneficiaries can only benefit from the trust if the trustees successfully carry out the terms and conditions of the trust.
In the heavenly ‘trust’ the settlor is God the Father. The sole trustee is Jesus Christ and the beneficiaries are all the people of the world. But if the beneficiaries want to benefit from the ‘trust’ they too have to agree to the terms and conditions of the ‘trust.’ They too have to become signatories of the ‘trust’ and abide by the terms and conditions. It used to be the case, that the beneficiaries indicated agreement through circumcision – now it is done through baptism.
The Everlasting Covenant
Mankind’s relationship to God has always been a covenant relationship (see Appendix 2, ‘The Relationship Gospel’). However, there is a special covenant referred to 16 times in the Old Testament and once in the New Testament, called the ‘everlasting covenant’ (aka the ‘perpetual covenant’). What is this everlasting covenant? And who is it between? Before Jesus left heaven, to be incarnated into humanity, it is recorded that He said:
Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required. Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart. Ps. 40:6-8.
How do we know that this is Jesus speaking before His incarnation as a human being? Answer: because Paul quotes these verses, and he says they apply to Jesus:
Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he (Jesus) saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God. Heb. 10:5-7.
What is interesting is that Jesus says that there is a book in existence, where these things (such as His incarnation) have been recorded. Jesus also says that these things that are recorded are in accordance with the will of the Father. In other words, Jesus has entered into an agreement with the Father to carry out the Father’s will. This agreement is the everlasting covenant. Ellen White’s account of what happens in the throne room, in relation to the everlasting covenant, includes the following:
Angels, cherubim, and seraphim bow in holy reverence before God. “Ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands” of angels are round about the throne, and are sent to minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation. The ruling principles of God’s throne are justice and mercy. It is called the throne of grace. Would you have divine enlightenment?—Go to the throne of grace. You will be answered from the mercy seat. A covenant has been entered into by the Father and by the Son to save the world through Christ. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” No power save that of Omnipotence could make such a covenant. The rainbow above the throne is a token that God through Christ binds himself to save all who believe in him. The covenant is as sure as the throne, and his throne is established in righteousness. Then why are we so unbelieving, so distrustful? Why doubt so frequently, and trust God so fitfully? Whenever we come to the throne of God to ask his mercy, we may look up, and behold the rainbow of promise, and find in it assurance that our prayers shall be answered. ST Oct. 10, 1892.
The terms of this oneness between God and man in the great covenant of redemption were arranged with Christ from all eternity. The covenant of grace was revealed to the patriarchs. The covenant made with Abraham four hundred and thirty years before the law was spoken on Sinai was a covenant confirmed by God in Christ, the very same gospel which is preached to us. “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. So, then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.” The covenant of grace is not a new truth, for it existed in the mind of God from all eternity. This is why it is called the everlasting covenant. The plan of redemption was not conceived after the fall of man to cure the dreadful evil; the apostle Paul speaks of the gospel, the preaching of Jesus Christ, as “the revelation of the mystery, which hath been kept in silence through times eternal, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, is made known unto all the nations unto obedience of faith.” (Revised Version.) ST Aug. 24, 1891.
In his vision, John saw a rainbow overarching the throne. The rainbow is the symbol of the everlasting covenant:
Encircling the throne of God is the rainbow of the covenant, a symbol of the pledged word of God that he will receive every sinner who gives up all hope of eternal life on the ground of his own righteousness, and accepts the righteousness of the world’s Redeemer, believing that Christ is his personal Saviour, able to save him from his sin, and to keep him from falling. Unless Christ is the ground of our hope, we shall not inherit eternal life. ST Sept. 5, 1892.
The ruling principles of God’s throne are justice and mercy. It is called the Throne of Grace. Would you have divine enlightenment? Go to the Throne of Grace, you will be answered from the Seat of Mercy. A compact [was] entered into by the Father and the Son to save the world through Christ, who would give Himself that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. No human power or angelic power could make such a covenant. The rainbow above the throne is a token that God, through Christ, binds Himself to save all who believe on Him. MS 16, 1890.83.
It is significant that Ellen White describes God’s contribution to the everlasting covenant in terms of ‘binding Himself.’ This is legal covenantal language. This is what the rainbow signifies. It signifies the Father’s legal commitment, to honor the covenant He made with Jesus. Jesus has fulfilled the terms and conditions of the covenant. Therefore, the Father will honor what His Son has accomplished. The salvation of mankind is assured and guaranteed.
Why is the Rainbow Green?
The everlasting covenant is intimately entwined with the messianic prophesies. Which when taken together, contribute greatly to the mysteries being revealed that Paul wrote about (see Rom. 16:25; 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 1:9, 3:4, 5, 9, 5:32; Col. 2:2, 4:3, 1 Tim. 3:16;). The messianic prophesies themselves, are intimately entwined with the tribe of Judah. These prophesies concerning Jesus and the tribe of Judah begin with the blessings that the patriarch Jacob gave to his sons. The longest blessing was for Judah:
Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father’s children shall bow down before thee. Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes: His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk. Gen. 49:8-12.
Therefore, according to Jacob’s blessing/prophecy the Messiah would be born into the world through the line of Judah. This is why Jesus is called the ‘Lion of the tribe of Judah’ and the ‘Root of David’ (see Rev. 5:5). And the stone on the high priest’s breastplate, which represented the tribe of Judah was an emerald, and emeralds are green – this is why the rainbow around the throne is green.
The rainbow is the symbol of the everlasting covenant between the Father and the Son, and because it is green, it is also the symbol of the fulfilment of the prophecies concerning Jesus and Judah. Therefore, because the everlasting covenant and the lineage of Jesus are amalgamated into one symbol it is also indicating the intimate relationship between the two, which needs to be unraveled.
The Davidic Covenant
The everlasting covenant includes covenants with individuals, nations and mankind in general. In every generation God enters into covenants with His people or with individuals. The covenant that is intertwined with Jesus, Judah and the Book of Revelation is the Davidic covenant. The Davidic covenant begins when God chose David to be the king of Israel. The prophet Nathan has given us a summary of the Davidic covenant:
Now therefore so shalt thou say unto my servant David, Thus saith the Lord of hosts, I took thee from the sheepcote, from following the sheep, to be ruler over my people, over Israel: And I was with thee whithersoever thou wentest, and have cut off all thine enemies out of thy sight, and have made thee a great name, like unto the name of the great men that are in the earth. Moreover I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own, and move no more; neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them any more, as beforetime, And as since the time that I commanded judges to be over my people Israel, and have caused thee to rest from all thine enemies. Also the Lord telleth thee that he will make thee an house. And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever. 2 Sam. 7:8-13.
From what is written here we learn the following; David’s descendants will build a ‘house’ (the temple), for the ‘name’ (the presence) of the Lord. And God would establish the Davidic kingdom and its throne, and it would last forever. This Davidic covenant was initiated when David’s son, Solomon, dedicated the newly built Temple:
Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel, and all the heads of the tribes, the chief of the fathers of the children of Israel, unto king Solomon in Jerusalem, that they might bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of the city of David, which is Zion. And all the men of Israel assembled themselves unto king Solomon at the feast in the month Ethanim, which is the seventh month… And at that time Solomon held a feast, and all Israel with him, a great congregation, from the entering in of Hamath unto the river of Egypt, before the Lord our God, seven days [for the dedication] and seven days [for the festival of tabernacles] even fourteen days. 1 Kings 8:1, 2, 65.
From these verses we learn, that Solomon (the descendent of David) would sit upon his throne and build the Temple of the Lord. This Old Testament event of a king enthroned, building a Temple for the Lord, is a type (or event) of which Jesus enthroned in heaven building a Temple for the Lord, is the anti-type. This is why Jesus is called the Lion of the Tribe of Judah and the Root of David – He is the fulfilment of the prophecy that there would be a descendent of David sitting on the Davidic throne, “building a house for My name” (see below for a fuller explanation).
The Lion of the Tribe of Judah and the Root of David
These titles ‘the Lion of the tribe of Judah and ‘the Root of David’ are expressing the humanity of Jesus. But they are also indicating the fulfilment of prophecy:
And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord… And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious. Isa. 11:1, 2, 10.
This prophecy from Isaiah is clearly messianic. The prophecy is indicating that the Messiah will be a ‘rod out of the stem of Jesse’ and a ‘root of Jesse’ (David’s father). The Messiah would come like a branch out of the house of Jesse (Jesse was of the tribe of Judah, from the town of Bethlehem). Isaiah is telling us, this is where the Messiah will come from – He would be incarnated through the lineage of David. And when He came He would sit on David’s throne. The throne that the everlasting covenant said would be established forever. Jeremiah repeats and enlarges the prophecy of Isaiah:
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, The Lord Our Righteousness. Jer. 23:5, 6.
In the previous prophecy from Isaiah, we where told that the root of Jesse would be called a ‘Branch.’ Now Jeremiah is telling us that the Lord will raise up a ‘Righteous Branch’ out of the line of David, and this ‘Righteous Branch will reign as a king. Jeremiah repeats and enlarges again on Isaiah’s prophecy and his own previous prophecy:
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will perform that good thing which I have promised unto the house of Israel and to the house of Judah.In those days, and at that time, will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land. In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely: and this is the name wherewith she shall be called, The Lord our righteousness. For thus saith the Lord; David shall never want a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel. Jer. 33:14-17.
In this repetition, God sends a reminder, that He has promised, that the Messiah will come out of the house of David, and He will sit on David’s throne. As time went by, more and more assurance was given, that the promises of God, about the coming Messiah would be fulfilled. Through God’s prophets, more and more information was released unto His people, about what the role and purpose of the Messiah would be. For example, one of the last prophetic utterances, given in the Old Testament, about the Messiah, tells us that He will be a priest upon His throne.
The Priest Upon His Throne
Through the prophet Zechariah, God repeats and enlarges on the previous prophecies, expanding our knowledge of the role and purpose of the Messiah:
And speak unto him, saying, Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Behold the man whose name is The Branch; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord: Even he shall build the temple of the Lord; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both. Zech. 6:12, 13.
We see this prophetic utterance fulfilled, and all the previous prophecies in Revelation chapter 5:
And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain… Rev. 5:6.
Here we see Jesus on His throne but we do not see him sitting crowned as a king. He is presented as a Lamb as if it had been slain. At first glance this does not appear to have anything to do with His role as High Priest or to be a fulfilment of the Zechariah prophecy. However, when we realise that in the earthly system, all High Priests had to be inaugurated with sacrifices, we can then understand that Jesus is being inaugurated into the role of High Priest in heaven also by a sacrifice.
The Letter to the Hebrews, is all about the better and greater things, that have been inaugurated, since the death of the Messiah. One of the better and greater things that occupies much of the subject matter of the letter, is the new High Priest inaugurated in heaven. Paul wants to explain to the Hebrews, that Jesus is that new High Priest installed in heaven with better sacrifices than those on earth:
Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, when he offered up himself. For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore. Heb. 7:26-27.
Paul tells us, that the earthly high priests, had to offer up sacrifices, first for themselves and then for the people. But Jesus only had to make one eternal sacrifice, when He offered up Himself. This is why Jesus is presented as the slain Lamb. He has earned the right, to stand on His Father’s throne, because He offered Himself as the necessary sacrifice, to be inaugurated into the role of High Priest in heaven:
It was fitting for us to have such a High Priest [perfectly adapted to our needs], holy, blameless, unstained [by sin], separated from sinners and exalted higher than the heavens; who has no day by day need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices, first of all for his own [personal] sins and then for those of the people, because He [met all the requirements and] did this once for all when He offered up Himself [as a willing sacrifice]. For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak [frail, sinful, dying men], but the word of the oath [of God], which came after [the institution of] the law, permanently appoints [as priest] a Son who has been made perfect forever. Heb. 7:26-28. Amplified Bible.
Building the Temple of the Lord
In the first utterance of the Davidic covenant, we were told that the Davidic throne holder, would “build the house of the Lord.” This original prophecy is repeated and enlarged upon by the prophet Zechariah. Zechariah tells us that the house/temple of the Lord would be built by a priest upon His throne. The building of the temple in Old Testament times was physical. In New Testament times it is spiritual. This can be explained by noticing that there is an Old Testament prophecy about the fallen Davidic temple:
For, lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth. All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword, which say, The evil shall not overtake nor prevent us. In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old. Amos 9:9-11.
This is not a prophecy about a physical temple. It is a prophecy about the fallen spiritual condition of the people of God. The people are a symbol of the temple and the temple is a symbol of the people. We understand this to be the case, from the conclusion of the discussion, at the Jerusalem Council as described in Acts. The council was discussing the status of the Gentiles. Did they have to become Jews before they became Christians? Did they have to become circumcised etc. etc? After the discussion was completed, James the leader in Jerusalem announced:
And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. Acts 15:13-17.
James is quoting the prophecy in Amos and he applies it to the in-calling of the Gentiles. The prophecy about re-building the temple applies to the building up of the Christian Church.
The fact that the temple, is now a reference to the people of God, is extensively taught in the New Testament (see 1 Cor. 3:16, 17; 6:19, 20; Eph. 2:11-22; 1 Pet. 2:18). From these verses we learn that Jesus Christ is the corner stone of the New Testament temple, and all those who believe in Him are added to the temple as living stones. In this manner the prophecy in Amos is being fulfilled and all the other prophecies about a Davidic throne holder building a house/temple are also fulfilled.
The Zechariah prophecy tells us that when Jesus is installed as High Priest and begins to build the temple of the Lord that “the counsel of peace shall be between them both” (Zech. 6:13). This means that both the Father and the Son are satisfied, that they have both accomplished what they set out to do “before the foundation of the world” (1 Pet. 1:20). Namely, that the everlasting covenant between the Father and the Son, had reached its crucial phase, after which the rest of the plan was guaranteed to be successful.
The whole Book of Revelation is a testimony about how Jesus is finishing the work of re-building the temple. When the temple is finished, He will switch roles. He will still be our High Priest, but He will assume His other dual role, that of King. He will take off His High Priestly robes and put on His Kingly robes and crown. Then He will return to earth to take the temple of the Lord home.
The book is a revelation of Jesus Christ at work perfecting a people on earth so that they may reflect His flawless character, and guiding His church through the vicissitudes of history toward the accomplishment of His eternal purpose. SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p.724.
When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own. COL 69.