Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
The Eternal Covenant of Redemption
He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you 1 Peter 1:20KJV
Question 31 of the Larger Catechism asks, “With whom was the covenant of grace made?” It gives the answer, “The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.” Last time we looked at this question we noticed the fact that many Reformed theologians delineate a Covenant of Redemption as the foundation for the broader Covenant of Grace. And it is this Covenant of Redemption which they speak of as being the place where the Father and the Son (and also the Spirit) entered into a covenant with one another. Today we will examine the nature of this inter-Trinitarian covenant.
Right after Adam and Eve sinned, when God first appears to them to address them, He announces to them what has been called the proto-evangelium, which is to say the first gospel message: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel,” (Gen. 3:15). In a real sense the rest of the Bible takes this cryptic prophecy and continues to unfold and explain it until we see the major part of its fulfillment in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the seed of the woman – a mysterious phrase that presages the virgin birth. Jesus comes from the fallen race, but He comes without being tainted by that fall. He is the fulfillment of Adam, who was the type (Rom. 5:14). Jesus is accordingly called “the last Adam,” in 1 Cor. 15:45. He comes as one who has, in eternity past, made a covenant with the Father to save an elect people who would be counted as sinners in the fall of a first Adam. Coming as one of them Jesus can prevail where they had failed.
Furthermore, since the fall of man occurred through the temptation of the evil angel Satan as a serpent, Jesus needed to defeat Satan in order to save fallen man. In the proto-evangelium Christ’s victory over Satan – on our behalf securing salvation for us – is announced as His heel crushing the head of the serpent. It is clearly a mortal blow. When a human being stomps on the head of a snake and crushes it, the snake is dead. Accordingly, Jesus’ victory over Satan “killed” Satan’s power over God’s elect. Jesus earned this victory by doing two things. First, in what is called His active obedience Jesus fulfilled man’s obligation to live a life of perfect righteousness by fully keeping all of God’s laws on our behalf. The curse of not fulfilling the law can no longer come upon any of those who are in Jesus Christ by faith, because in Him all of our righteousness has been accomplished. We have satisfied God’s Law in Christ our victor.
Second, in His passive obedience Jesus satisfied the curse of the covenant by becoming a curse for us. The curse of sin was death, which, when its full meaning is revealed by Scripture, refers to suffering God’s infinite wrath. Hence, in Scripture Hell is described as the second death, (Rev. 21:8) and it is everlasting because a finite person can never satisfy the infinite wrath of God. Accordingly, Jesus died on the cross to fulfill this wrath. The proto-evangelium describes this aspect of Jesus’ victory as His heel being crushed in the act of crushing the serpent. A heel being crushed is not fatal, but it is a painful wound. By taking all of God’s infinite wrath in our place, the curse of death, which must come as a result of sin, has been fulfilled for everyone for whom Christ died. Furthermore, Jesus was able to take all of that wrath because as the God-man He is an infinite person.
Thus, the proto-evangelium announces the gospel, the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ: in His perfect life and in His atoning death He has won the victory for us. However this announcement rests upon a prior agreement between the Father and the Son, which as we saw last time is what all of those verses are referring to when Jesus says that He came to do the will of His Father, that He was sent in order to fulfill some prior agreement He had with His Father. This agreement or covenant was made, as the verse at the head of this article declares, “before the foundation of the world.” God is eternally perfect and unchanging in all of His ways, including most especially His knowledge and plans for His creation. Thus, we know that it was always God’s purpose and plan for the Father to send the Son to accomplish the work, which the Spirit would then apply in order to save God’s chosen people. Praise God for His eternal love!