You are here''Passing Away''--The Dissolution of the Covenant
''Passing Away''--The Dissolution of the Covenant
by Marcus Booker
The apostles applied the term "passing away" (and other similar words) to express truth concerning the final dissolution of the covenant through Christ [and through the power of his (second) coming]. The second covenant swallowed up and fulfilled the first; Christ made all things new. Yet, to accomplish this process, Christ caused the following things to pass away: the heavens and the earth, "this" generation, the night, the world, the flesh, and many other such things. This article is a brief investigation into this covenantal use of the concept of "passing away." The apostles applied the term "passing away" (and other similar words) to express truth concerning the final dissolution of the covenant through Christ [and through the power of his (second) coming]. The second covenant swallowed up and fulfilled the first; Christ made all things new. Yet, to accomplish this process, Christ caused the following things to pass away: the heavens and the earth, "this" generation, the night, the world, the flesh, and many other such things. This article is a brief investigation into this covenantal use of the concept of "passing away." I shall start at the most explicit places. Hebrews 8:13 says, "When he said, 'a new covenant,' he has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to DISAPPEAR." Notice here how explicit is the impending expectation of the passing of the first covenant. This passing, many claim, was fully accomplished at the cross. While I will not deny that it was by means of the cross that this victory was won, I will affirm that it was Christ's second coming which made it complete. And this second coming is what the early church eagerly awaited.
Hebrews 8:7 says, "For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second." Notice carefully the first/second distinction. Later, Hebrews 10:9 assesses the fortieth Psalm, which contrasts sacrifices and offerings with doing the will of God. It says, "He TAKES AWAY the first in order to establish the second." He hereby contrasts the two covenants much like the Galatian 4 two-covenant allegory. Hagar, who corresponds to the present Jerusalem and Sinai, is "CAST OUT" along with her son.
Peter also employs this theme in his quotation of Isaiah. He says, "all flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass WITHERS, and the flower FALLS OFF, but the word of the Lord endures forever." Peter lays out a covenant contrast. The "flesh," as in much of the Scriptures, characterizes the Law. Paul, for instance, asks the Galatians, "Are you so foolish? Having begun by the spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" And when Paul says "the flesh," he speaks in reference to circumcision.
Peter speaks of the flesh and its glory passing away. Yet, in Pauline fashion, he ultimately alludes to the fading away of the law and its glory. Paul speaks similarly in 2 Corinthians 3.
He says, "But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, FADING as it was, how will the ministry of the spirit fail to be even more with glory? For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. For indeed what HAD GLORY, IN THIS CASE HAS NO GLORY because of the glory that surpasses it. For if that which FADES AWAY was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory." [Notice how the "surpassing glory" makes that which was formerly of glory of no glory].
Peter contrasts the first covenant with "the word of the Lord," which "endures forever." Christ, in speaking to his disciples, speaks similarly. He says "heaven and earth will PASS AWAY, but my words will not pass away." Again, he sets up a covenant contrast.
His words are like those of Hebrews, which say, "'Yet once more I will SHAKE not only the earth, but also the heaven.' This expression, 'Yet once more,' denotes the REMOVING of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude...." [Note: the heavens and earth are the two witnesses of the covenant, as per earlier articles].
Along these same lines, Christ says (in Matthew 5), "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, untill heaven and earth PASS AWAY, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law until all these things be fulfilled."
Yet what is this, "until all these things be fulfilled?" It would seem as if Christ mentions it elsewhere. He says, in Matthew 24, "this generation will not PASS AWAY until all these things be fulfilled." [Note, the Greek is identical between these two expressions]. Christ here identifies the passing away of the perverse generation, from which the just were to be saved, with the passing away of the covenant. [And in this point is the importance of preterism. If Christ did not bring judgment upon that generation, then he did not accomplish what he continually promised, a ratification of a new covenant].
Within this same pattern is John's writing. He says, in 1 John 2: 17, "the world is PASSING AWAY, and also its lusts, but the one who does the will of God lives forever." Once again, this expression is a contrast between the two covenants. The "world," as elsewhere in the Scriptures, signifies those enslaved to sin under the first order of things. For instance, Paul speaks thus of bondage under the Law. He says, "So also we, while we were children, were in bondage under the elemental things of the world." In Galatians, he identifies these elements with the observation of days and months and seasons and years. In Colossians, he identifies them with food, drink, festivals, new moons, and Sabbaths. These are the elements that "MELT in the intense heat" in 2 Peter. Notice therefore how the "elements of the world" are the elements of the law. The "world" often signifies the first covenant, as in Revelation when it says, "the kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ." Also, Christ distinguishes himself and his disciples as being "not of the world," as opposed to the scribes and pharisees and whosoever was of the flesh who were "of the world."
Besides speaking of the world passing away, John says (just verses earlier), "the darkness is PASSING AWAY and the true light is already shining." Again, he employs a covenant contrast. And this night/day contrast is quite thematic. Romans 13:12 says, "the night is ALMOST GONE, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light." (See also 2 Peter 1:19, Luke 1: 78-79, Acts 26:18, Heb 10:25, Rev 21:25, 1 Thess 5:5-8, 2 Cor 4:6).
Another case of this "passing away" language is in John 6. Christ contrasts the manna in the wilderness with himself, saying, "This is the bread which came out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and DIED; he who eats this bread will live forever." He also says, "do not work for the food which PERISHES, but for the food which endures to eternal life." Christ proclaims the new and better covenant of which he is mediator.
James employs the same theme, speaking like Peter and like Christ. He says, "And the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will PASS AWAY. For the sun rises with a scorching wind and WITHERS the grass; and its flower FALLS OFF and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will FADE AWAY." Notice how the "rich man" passes away! The rich man represents the first covenant. In similar fashion, Christ employs his parable of the rich man and Lazarus to delineate between the two covenants. He often uses the idea of the "rich man" to characterize the first covenant.
Christ also speaks of worldly riches in contrast to treasures in heaven. The Pharisees, according to the gospels, were lovers of wealth; they served mammon and not God. Peter, James, and Christ speak of gold as being perishable/corruptible. It passes away. It represents the first covenant.
Another place where this distinction arises is is 1 Cor 13. Paul says, "when the perfect comes, the partial will be DONE AWAY." The new covenant is "the perfect." Hebrews 9 mentions a "greater and more perfect tabernacle." Hebrews 7 says, "For, on the one hand, there is a SETTING ASIDE of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God." For this reason, the law of Christ is called "the perfect law of liberty" by James. The "perfect" swallows up that which is only in part, which is the law.
It is evident, then, that much of the "passing away" language of the apostolic Scriptures fits within bi-covenantal thought. The first covenant passes away as the night which withers into oblivion as the day dawns upon it. It is like nakedness that is clothed. It is swalled up by that which is better. Christ came to fulfill the law, and that he did.