Having established the visible/invisible or physical/spiritual distinctions for Israel and the church in the prior posts, I’d like to return to the topic of covenant to see how this distinction helps us read them, and gives us context for all of scripture.
In past posts I have said of covenants, that they reflect the character of God (love and law in perfect harmony) in relationship to man. This relationship is known to man in the many ways and covenants God condescends to reveal to men. So as we look at the different covenants there are within all of them visible and invisible elements which correspond to physical and spiritual realities. Those in all ages who understood these best, I believe were said to “walk with God,” something that can only be true of those who are both legally holy before God and yet walk in a friendship with God, knowing their place, but appreciating their lower place, to His care and love.
Let’s look through the visible and invisible elements of the covenants and see if I can clarify how all this works/helps.
Covenant of Works:
Visible: the “Tree of the knowledge of good and evil” and it’s fruit. Man himself is also a visible element within the covenant, as he stands as a physical created person in relation to his creator God.
Invisible: the spiritual life and death of man hangs in the balance. The serpent brings into question the nature of the fruit as having an ability within itself to grant something apart from God’s favor.
Condition: Don’t eat the fruit of this tree.
Results: physical/spiritual man eats the visible fruit, which turns out not to possess an invisible spiritual benefit to make man to be “like God” in the authoritative way that man imaged. The benefits the fruit was supposed to have apart from God’s command and authority becomes a curse upon all nature as separate from man. As the visible fruit was likely digested just as well as any other food, Adam and Eve suffered an immediate and invisible/spiritual death (legal and relational separation from God). Physical death enters the picture slowly (aging). God adds to the curse as increasing the physical pain for women in childbirth, the physical ground not yielding so easily to mankind in farming, strife between the serpent and man (not an allegiance) and excommunication from the garden of Eden.
Covenant of Grace: In Genesis 3:15
Visible: man will one day crush the serpent’s head and yet get wounded in the process.
Invisible: All understand this passage to be a spiritual prophecy about Christ and the Church (as “in Christ”). See how the visible is purely symbolic and spiritual in nature. As a covenant promise (the first gospel proclamation) it must be something that is sure and guaranteed, such that man is to have faith in God to accomplish this, in time. But, we do not have a visible/physical story of Jesus stepping on a snake one day and getting nipped in the heal. It is by our visible/invisible distinctions that we can pair this passage with the gospel at all, and thus to Christ, as so many have understood its invisible reality (John 8:44, Rom. 16:20, Heb. 2:14-15, Rev. 20:10).
To keep this post my average length, I’ll stop here and continue this method through the other covenants in the next post.