Monday, March 20, 2006

NCT Explained Through Football Imagery (part 3)

sorry for the wait. Here is the 3rd and final part.

A short time after the start of the second half, someone comes to your seat and gives you one final addition to the program. It is only after you receive this final addition that you fully understand how the game is being played (Galatians 3:15-16). Without this final addition, your knowledge of the game was incomplete and you understood it in a limited way. What you understood in a limited way prior to receiving the final addition, you now understand fully and are able to make sense of both how the game is played and it’s intent. Now as you read the program in its fullness, you realize that the game is being played in two halves. The first half is finished and the second half is now underway. Now you understand that the first half only
begins the game; it’s not the entire game as you initially assumed. In fact, the first half is incomplete without the second half. Now it is clear to you that the first half cannot be understood correctly without the final addition to the program provided during the second half. It is the second half brings the game (redemptive history) to its conclusion.

Looking back, you remember that as the first half drew to a close, you began to wonder if the game was over because God was already faithful making a physical people and bringing them into a physical land. Then, as the second half of the game started and you received more information, it became clear to you that the first half was only a physical picture of what God was going to do in the second half. Prior to the commencement of the second half and its subsequent addition to the program, you were unable to clearly understand the meaning of the game. Now that you have all of the additions to the program that are to be given, you understand that the first half was an illustration of the second half. What was written in the program initially (God's intention to save a people and bring them into a land) ultimately applies to a spiritual people – the church – in a spiritual land – heaven (Hebrews 4:1-11; 11:40). This wasn't fully revealed until the second half began and you were given additional information. It's only after the second half began that you understood the true spiritual fulfillment of what was only pictured in a physical way during the first half. In our analogy, the additions to the program given in the second half of the game represent the scriptures of the New Covenant era, the New Testament. Without them, the game cannot be correctly understood (Romans 16:25-27; Ephesians 3:2-6; Hebrews 1:1-2; 1 Peter 1:10-12). Only after receiving them, do you realize that God’s plan to save a people and bring them into a land (the Abrahamic covenant) contains both the Old and New Covenants and one is a picture of the other.

In our analogy the first half of the game is the Old Covenant; the second half is the New Covenant. The first half of the game is what God did in the Old Covenant era. The second half is what God is doing in the New Covenant era. The Old Covenant is not the New and the New is not the Old, but understanding how they fit together is crucial to understanding the game. The Old isn’t called “Old” until after halftime and the New begins. While reviewing your completed program (scripture) a second time, you realize that the promise of a field to play on (the Noahic Covenant) came long before the first half of the game started. Historically, it is the “first” covenant given to man, and yet the Old Covenant is referred to in the New Testament as the “first” covenant. Then it dawns on you that the first half of the game is “first” only in relation to the second half. In the unveiling of God’s plan to save a people and bring them into a land (the game in our analogy), the Old Covenant comes “first.” It is not the first covenant ever given, but as far as the game is concerned, it is “first.”

As with any analogy, this one is imperfect and can only be taken so far. Its point is to illustrate how redemptive history fits together. God revealed His plan to save a people and bring them into a land in the Abrahamic Covenant. The Noahic Covenant is God’s guarantee that the earth will be there as redemptive history unfolds. What the writer of Hebrews calls the “first” or Old Covenant is not first historically or chronologically, but it is first in reference to God carrying out His plan to save a people and bring them into a land. In the book of Genesis we see God sovereignly moving the players of our analogy into position in order to inaugurate the start of the game, the Old Covenant. While it is imperfect, I think it goes a long way in helping to explain how Scripture fits together.

[1] This analogy of redemptive history to a football game is not original. I first heard it from Geoff Volker and while we were in Minsk, Belarus together in May of 2001, we developed it to the point where I believe it is an effective tool in illustrating what God is doing in redemptive history. It is not without flaw, but I believe it does illustrate God’s plan to save a people as revealed in scripture.