The anticipation of the Messiah from ages past and its fulfillment in history through Jesus Christ is perhaps the Bible’s strongest evidence on being the very Word of God. Jesus’ birth was not an event in a vacuum. Instead, it was the culmination of centuries of longing, and the fulfillment of God’s promises for the salvation of mankind. In this article, we will look at how Jesus’s birth fulfills God’s covenant promises as we find them in the Old Testament.
In Genesis 3:15, we read, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Adam and Eve had broken God’s covenant when they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and they were hopeless in and of themselves. Eternal life was out of reach as curses were about to be spelled out. But before that happened, God declared that He would act on behalf of mankind. God declared that Eve would have offspring. No curses had yet been pronounced on Adam and Eve which meant that hearing the curse on Satan would have told Adam and Eve that all was not lost, there was a future, there was hope!
This promise of a deliverer was not a command or work in Adam or Eve. It was not a new commission for self-deliverance or self-improvement. It was not a command followed by obedience coupled with a threat of death for disobedience. It was a promise that God must make good, a promise to be received and believed. It was the beginning of a revelation of a new Covenant of Grace established on the infinite goodness and kindness of God, freely delivered to all those who trust and rest in its promises.1
Later on, in the book of Genesis we read of Abraham. No one can understand the Old Testament without understanding Abraham for in many ways the history of redemption begins with God’s call to him. The beginnings of the covenant God made with Abram are found in Genesis 12:1-3, “Now the LORD said to Abram (later Abraham), “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
The promise made to Abraham expands the revelation of God’s plan of salvation more precisely. It explains that a universal blessing will flow through Abraham’s descendants to the world. The mystery of Christ will unfold through the line of Israel with the birth of the Messiah. It is also important to note the continuity of the promises between Genesis 12, 15 and 17. Genesis 15:8 sums it up as a covenant to give the land to Abraham’s offspring, Genesis 17 is similar and is an expansion of the covenant. God expanded and enlarged it through a promise of royalty and a demand for loyalty. The Abrahamic covenant includes sanctioned commitments for both God and the offspring of Abraham. Although Abraham’s descendants did not keep their side of the covenant through obedience, God kept all of his promises and fulfilled all of His commitments. And He ultimately brought forth the promised seed from Abraham’s descendants. Mary and Zechariah declare this.
- Luke 1:54-55, “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
- Luke 1:68;72-75, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people… to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”
We learn about the Mosaic covenant, which develops the Abrahamic covenant, as we follow Israel to Mount Sinai in Exodus 19-24. ‘In it, God promises to make Israel His special possession among the people of the land. [And] to make Israel a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. God followed this up with requirements and laws.’2 This covenant is based on God’s commitment to bless the people of Abraham and the people’s commitment to obey God’s laws. The Bible accurately records the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham. God delivered in full, according to His Word. In the words of Robert Gonzales Jr:
The primary theme of John 1:1-18 is the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among men. This is obviously a historical event and it marks a new epoch in the history of redemption. The apostle John notes this epochal shift when he asserts, “The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John’s reference to Moses alludes to a great event in redemptive history, viz, God redeeming His people from Egypt mediated through Moses and later revealed in the Law. That great redemptive event, however, would pale in comparison to the second ultimate great redemptive event. Indeed, the first great event was merely a shadow of the second great event. Now God would redeem His people from their sins by the hand of one greater than Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15; Hebrews 3:1–7). The Son of God would come and ratify a New Covenant with His own blood.3
There is kindness in the Mosaic Covenant in light of God’s absolute dominion and God’s promises to Abraham. It was not an all-or-nothing arrangement where on the day they broke the covenant they would surely die. God fulfills His promises despite Israel’s unfaithfulness. And He did fulfil it with the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. ‘The Mosaic covenant began to delineate the lines of the Saviour’s silhouette. Without righteousness there is no blessing. Without the spilling of blood, there is no remission of sins. Without the High Priest, there is no sacrifice. The Davidic Covenant focused this typological mystery into one very specific person.’4
The Davidic Covenant can be found in 2 Samuel 7:8-16, which is again revealed to us in Ps. 89:3-4, “You have said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David my servant: ‘I will establish your offspring forever, and build your throne for all generations.” Sam E. Waldron explains:
‘In the Davidic covenant, God’s rule over his people is given concrete manifestation. In so doing the line through which the Redeemer would come is specified. In the New Covenant, the Redeemer appears and accomplishes redemption, thus bringing to fruition all the types and predictions of the earlier covenants. He inaugurates the final form of the covenant community. The crucial point in all of this for us is that the promise of a Redeemer is intimately related to the way or scheme of salvation. Salvation is by the promise.’ 5
The Covenant of Grace
Knowing God’s covenant promises in the Old Testament helps us understand why Matthew includes Jesus’ genealogy in his Gospel and begins with Abraham (Matt. 1:1). Salvation has always been by grace through faith in the coming Redeemer. This single way of salvation has operated in and been progressively revealed in every age of human history (Rom. 4:13-17; Gal. 3:18-22). All the preceding covenants were typical and preparatory. Their efficacy to save came only through the anticipated work of Christ (Heb. 9:15). In short, the promise from the very beginning was the Covenant of Grace, i.e., the New Covenant, through which salvation is offered to sinners and this came to us in Jesus Christ, so that those who place their trust in Him may have salvation and eternal hope.
In his birth, life, death, and resurrection Jesus fulfilled all of God’s covenant promises for our salvation. This is what we celebrate and rejoice when we remember our Saviour’s birth.
1 Samuel Renihan, The Mystery of Christ, His Covenant, and His Kingdom, Founders Press, Cape Coral, Florida, 76
3 Robert Gonzales Jr, https://founders.org/2012/01/12/why-i-am-still-a-baptist/
4 Samuel Renihan, The Mystery of Christ, His Covenant, and His Kingdom, Founders Press, Cape Coral, Florida, 122
5 Sam E. Waldron, A Modern Exposition Of The 1689 Baptist Confession Of Faith. (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2013). pp. 132-133.
Jonathan Singh is a church planter recently ordained to Pastoral ministry at Stone Hill Church, Princeton. He is married to Sunitha and they have two children.