Rev. Key is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Randolph, Wisconsin.
As we continue our consideration of Christ in relation to the covenant, we find from Scripture that not only is Christ the Mediator of the covenant, but also the Head of the covenant.
This is a truth that has raised considerable opposition and discussion through the years, primarily because of a common misunderstanding as to the nature of the covenant. When the covenant is defined as an agreement or contract between two parties, namely, between God and His people, it is hardly possible to speak of Christ as the Head of the covenant. That Christ is Mediator of the covenant is not difficult to understand, if the covenant were a contract. But how could He possibly be viewed as Head of that covenant?
The difficulty is removed, however, with a proper understanding of the covenant of grace.
Writers in the Standard Bearer, this one included, have repeatedly demonstrated from Scripture that the covenant is not an agreement, but a bond or relationship of intimate fellowship and love which, first of all, characterizes the life of the triune God.
God is a covenant God. He lives a life of perfect fellowship and love within His own divine Being.
But in addition, God has revealed His grand and glorious purpose of establishing with His people that same covenant relationship.
He does so by taking them into the fellowship of His own covenant life, and establishing with them the friendship and intimate love that He enjoys within His own divine life.
He does so by the wonder work of His grace.
He does so in Christ.
It is important that we be reminded of the fact that when God reveals to us the covenant life that He lives within Himself, He doesn’t do so merely by telling us something about His own covenant life. The revelation of the covenant of grace is not merely that God gives us a certain amount of information about how He Himself lives in perfect covenant fellowship within Himself. There is much more to it than that!
When God reveals Himself by establishing His covenant of grace with His people, He does so in such a way that He takes His people into the very essence of His own covenant life. He makes them His friends, and embraces them with His covenant love. He does so in such a way that our knowledge of that covenant life is not merely a matter of having some information about it. But we enter into the enjoyment of and experience the blessed reality of fellowship with God! The God of our salvation is our heavenly Father!
Bear in mind, God establishes that covenant with us who are miserable sinners. He takes those who are desperately wicked, corrupt and depraved sinners, and brings us into His own fellowship!
How is that possible?
When the prophet Habakkuk addressed God in Habakkuk 1:13, he said, “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity.” Jehovah is the Holy One. Because of His very nature, and because of His holy love for Himself and His own glory, He can have no fellowship with a sinner, but must certainly drive him out of His presence.
There is, therefore, only one possibility for our entering into covenant fellowship with God, and that is that the guilt of our sin be taken away.
But how is that possible? We can’t do it. All we can do is increase our guilt! Even daily we add to our debt by the multitude of sins that we commit.
The only possibility for that fellowship with God is through Jesus Christ who paid for all our sins.
The Lord Jesus Christ paid for the sins of His people. He did so by offering Himself as the perfect sacrifice (Heb. 7:26,27; Heb. 9:26b-28). He did so as the Head of His people. He did so, according to God’s sovereign purpose, as the Head of the covenant.
Christ is the Head of His people. He is the Head of His people in a twofold sense.
In the first place, He is Head of His people legally. That is the emphasis of Romans 5, verses 12-18. Just as Adam was the legal, representative head of the whole human race, so Christ stands as the legal, representative Head of all His people.
Christ represented His people legally before the tribunal of God. He became totally and completely responsible for them judicially. He took all the guilt of all His people upon Himself. He assumed responsibility for the full penalty — and that penalty was the everlasting and full wrath of the just God. When on the cross He endured that infinite wrath of God for the sake of His people, He did so as their legal Head, which means also that all the righteousness that He earned is now the righteousness of all those for whom He died. His righteousness is imputed to His people, exactly because He stood in their place, as their legal Head.
Again, it is only because of this truth that we can even be partakers of the covenant of grace. Our legal Head removed our guilty stains, and opened the way of fellowship with God that had been lost in our fall in Adam.
In the second place, Christ is the Head of His people organically. As Adam was also the organic head of the human race, so that all came forth from him, so Christ is the organic Head of His people. Scripture makes clear that this is true because His people are grafted into Him by the living bond of faith, and thus become members of His body.
Scripture reveals that truth in a very wonderful way, with figures and expressions that demonstrate the beauty of this relationship between Christ and His people. Ephesians 4:15,16 speaks in terms of Christ being the Head: “From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”
The beautiful relationship of holy marriage is reflective of the intimacy of the relationship between Christ and His church. “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body” (Eph. 5:23).
Because Christ is the organic Head of His people we become His body, bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh, partakers of His life. And therefore we come as close to God as is possible for us to come — in Jesus Christ our Head. This is the way in which God takes us into His own covenant life — in Jesus Christ our Head.
Still more, when we see Christ as the Head of the covenant, we come to a clearer understanding of the truth that God established His covenant with Christ first. He established His covenant not first with Adam or Noah, or in a more general sense with believers and their seed. But God established His covenant first with Christ. As Colossians 1:15 and following teaches, in the eternal counsel of God Christ was first. “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence” (Col. 1:18).
That is confirmed from a little different perspective in Galatians 3:16, where we read, “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.” Then we read in verse 29 of that chapter, “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
Christ is our way into God’s covenant. He is so as Head of the covenant.
Because God dwells in Christ in all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and because the church is the body of Christ, God and His people dwell together in perfect covenant fellowship. That is true — let us not forget — because of the work which our Lord Jesus Christ performed, His perfect work, His amazing accomplishment of perfect obedience and perfect sacrifice, even to the death of the cross. He is the One who, as the Mediator of the covenant, has reconciled us unto God.
Through Christ God has taken us into the fellowship of His own covenant life of perfect love. Through Christ our Head God has given us to enjoy and experience the amazing wonder of being part of the family of God! In Christ as the Head of the covenant this fellowship is perfectly accomplished.
Therefore the covenant is absolutely sure.
God has established it.
God realizes it through Christ Jesus His Son, our Lord.
God maintains and perfects His covenant. He does it all through Christ, the Head of the covenant.
Believing this, we shall show forth His praise!