Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Drama of Redemption (Lesson 2, Part 1)

This is a new Sunday School series which will be largely based on R. C. Sproul’s audio series The Drama of Redemption, available from his website.

See the sidebar for links to other lessons.

§2. The Opening Act

We are shadowing R. C. Sproul's audio series, the Drama of Redemption. Our goal is to come away with a coherent view of the Old Testament as a story of redemption draped over the scaffolding of biblical covenants. We want to stop looking at the Old Testament as a collection of "chances" God gave the Jews, in which they failed every time, and in which at some point God decided "I'm not doing this any more, clearly it's not working" and so he sent Christ. The story is not haphazard—haphazard history is inconsistent with a sovereign God.

Last time we discussed the Covenant of Redemption. This covenant, inferred from scripture, was entered into before time and made among the three persons of the Trinity. It is the agreement that the Father would give a people to His son, the Son would redeem them, and the Spirit would sanctify them.

From this point forward, we will look at covenants between God and man.

Dramas, as plays, are broken into acts. The standard format for a drama is "a play in three acts." Interestingly, as we pointed out last time, biblical history is a drama in three acts:

  • Act 1: Creation (Two Chapters)
  • Act 2: The Fall of Man (One Chapter)
  • Act 3: Redemption (One Thousand Eight Hundred and Thirty Six Chapters)

Although the class is about redemption, we have to spend a bit of time in the first two acts. Because there, in creation, we find the first covenant made that included man. As we pointed out, man is a party in these covenants, but man did not participate in establishing the requirements or devising the blessings contained therein. All the covenants are unilaterally imposed by God. It's not even "take it or leave it," it's just "take it." Our only choice is between being a covenant keeper or a covenant breaker.

The Covenant of Creation

The Covenant of Creation was made in the Garden of Eden between God and Adam and Eve. And Adam, as we'll discuss later, actually represented all mankind. It includes laws and promises that God made to Adam and Eve before the fall. For example, He commands them to be fruitful and multiply. He tells them to work. One job for Adam was to name the animals, launching the birth of the science of biology. It's an important point: work is not a consequence of the fall. Unnecessarily difficult work (e.g., farming in the presence of thorns and thistles in a resisting ground) is part of the fall. But the task of farming preceded the fall. Work is not a curse. God worked and God rested and God is holy. Adam and Eve were created to work and to rest and to be holy.

As for the promises, God agreed to provide nurture and sustenance: of all these trees you may freely eat. He also promises eternal life and eternal fellowship. One simple condition: but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.

So to summarize, here is the Covenant of Creation:

  • Man is commanded to be fruitful and multiply, to work the Garden, and to refrain from eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
  • In return, God promises many blessings, including providing all man's needs, face-to-face fellowship with himself, and eternal life.

Some theologians describe the pre-fall era as a probationary period, and man failed his probation. Some even go so far as to say that had man passed the probation, then he would have eaten from the Tree of Life—after which sin would have been impossible.

Personally I don't subscribe to this view. There is nothing about a "period" after which, had they obeyed, they would have been rewarded further. No, the command is to obey forever. Furthermore the only tree explicitly forbidden was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. There is no indication they were not allowed to eat from the Tree of Life.


Aside: The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life, at the center of the garden, appears several places in scripture. It is quite mysterious. All the more so given that (here we jump ahead) when Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden, we read a very odd passage:

Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever" (Gen. 3:22)

How are we to interpret this? Surely the tree isn't magic—eternal life comes from God, not from the fruit of a tree. It cannot be that the fruit was "magic" although many commentators and bible notes treat this verse as such. My bible has a footnote that argues that man was (paraphrasing) graciously preserved from the pain of living eternally in a fallen world. That doesn't smell right to me, I think the explanation is elsewhere, and I think the answer might be before us on this very day.

Because today we partake of the Lord's Supper, and we use exactly the same language. We talk of eternal life in this meal that we will share. I believe the explanation for the Tree of Life in the garden is that it was a sacramental tree. It was a seal that signified eternal life—just like the bread we'll soon partake of. The tree of life was the seal—and for covenant breakers to eat of it, after they became covenant breakers, would have been profane. Likewise, eating the bread in an unworthy manner is profane.


Though the pact with Adam and Eve is not explicitly called a covenant in the opening chapters of Genesis, it is elsewhere:

Like Adam, they have broken the covenant— they were unfaithful to me there. (Hos. 6:7)

And this frightful reference:

20 "This is what the LORD says: 'If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night no longer come at their appointed time, 21then my covenant with David my servant—and my covenant with the Levites who are priests ministering before me—can be broken and David will no longer have a descendant to reign on his throne. (Jer 33:20-21)

compares the covenant with David to God's covenant with the day and the night and the statues of heaven and earth which God laid down at creation. In addition, we have the comparison of the representative headship of Christ and Adam in Romans.

[To be continued…]

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