Why Two Covenants for Kingdom Power?
A COVENANT can be either an agreement between two parties or a legal promise on the part of one party to do something for another. Once made in a legal and binding manner, there would seem to be no reason to duplicate or repeat a covenant. Yet in the Bible we find that God made two covenants to give kingdom power to his Son, Christ Jesus. One was made through David and another with Jesus Christ who was prefigured by Melchizedek. Why was this done? Are the two covenants identical?
God’s covenant with King David reads, in part, as follows: “When your days come to the full, and you must lie down with your forefathers, then I shall certainly raise up your seed after you, which will come out of your inward parts; and I shall indeed firmly establish his kingdom. . . . And your house and your kingdom will certainly be steadfast to time indefinite before you; your very throne will become one firmly established to time indefinite.”—2 Sam. 7:12-16.
In faithfulness to this promise Jehovah saw to it that those who sat as His representatives on the earthly throne in Jerusalem thereafter were the fleshly descendants of David. This continued until the days of wicked King Zedekiah, when Jehovah decreed that that typical kingdom would “certainly become no one’s until he comes who has the legal right.” This one with the legal right was to be the Son of God, and he was born through the virgin Mary, who was in David’s lineage. So when his birth was announced the angel Gabriel appropriately stated: “Jehovah God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule as king over the house of Jacob forever, and there will be no end of his kingdom.”—Ezek. 21:27; Luke 1:32, 33.
What, specifically, was promised to David’s heirs in this covenant? It was strictly the right to rule on an earthly throne. It promised nothing more than this; so its heirs could inherit nothing more. That this was the understanding of matters, even among Jesus’ own apostles, is evident from the question that they asked him after he had been resurrected from the dead and appeared to them in a materialized body: “Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” They still expected the restoration of the earthly kingdom of David, which had been overturned in 607 B.C.E., because that is the way they understood the promises of the Davidic covenant.—Acts 1:6.
In this very same conversation Jesus advised his followers that they should “not withdraw from Jerusalem, but keep waiting for what the Father has promised.” (Acts 1:4) They received the fulfillment of this promise shortly thereafter when Jesus poured out God’s holy spirit on them on the day of Pentecost, 33 C.E., and it was only then that they began fully to understand spiritual things. Under the power of this holy spirit the apostle Peter enlightened his hearers as to the superiority of Jesus’ position over that held by his earthly predecessor David, saying: “This Jesus God resurrected . . . he was exalted to the right hand of God . . . Actually David did not ascend to the heavens, but he himself says, ‘Jehovah said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I place your enemies as a stool for your feet.”’” (Acts 2:32-35) From this it became evident that Jesus was to receive something greatly superior to an earthly throne such as David had had. His kingdom was to be heavenly and include rulership over all the earth.
David himself under inspiration showed that the position to be held at a later date by God’s Son would embrace more than anything he could pass on to him, and that is why he spoke of him prophetically as “my Lord.” (Ps. 110:1) Concerning the kingdom that this one would inherit it was foretold in Daniel 7:13, 14: “I kept on beholding in the visions of the night, and, see there! with the clouds of the heavens someone like a son of man happened to be coming; and to the Ancient of Days he gained access, and they brought him up close even before that One. And to him there were given rulership and dignity and kingdom, that the peoples, national groups and languages should all serve even him. His rulership is an indefinitely lasting rulership that will not pass away, and his kingdom one that will not be brought to ruin.”
So after Jesus had faithfully finished his earthly ministry, God “raised him up from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above every government and authority and power and lordship and every name named, not only in this system of things, but also in that to come.” (Eph. 1:20, 21) At that time, in the year 33 C.E., Psalm 110:1 applied, which says: “The utterance of Jehovah to my Lord is: ‘Sit at my right hand until I place your enemies as a stool for your feet.’” After nearly nineteen centuries, at the end of the “appointed times of the nations,” or in 1914 C.E., Jehovah issued the further command recorded in the following verse, saying to his King-Son: “Go subduing in the midst of your enemies.” So Jesus’ position as king is something far more than anything that David ever had.
COVENANT FOR HEAVENLY KINGDOM
Does that ruling position of Jesus include anything else? Yes, it does. Just two verses later in the same psalm, David was inspired to say: “Jehovah has sworn (and he will feel no regret): ‘You are a priest to time indefinite according to the manner of Melchizedek!’” (Ps. 110:4) Here, then, was another legal promise concerning the coming Messiah that God had made under oath, first recorded in David’s time. Not only would Jesus’ kingdom be superior to that of David, but he would be a priest as well as a king, something that could never be under the Davidic covenant because God’s law to Israel maintained a strict separation between kingship and priesthood. The very nature of this special office held by Melchizedek made it something that could not be passed on to anyone as a human successor of his. It did not come into existence again in God’s arrangement until God’s due time to make Jesus a spiritual king and priest. For this reason, it is not even mentioned again in the Scriptures until Paul discussed the subject in his letter to the Hebrew Christians, written about 61 C.E.
‘But,’ someone may object, ‘how can it be said that the covenant for a kingly priesthood gives Jesus the right to a heavenly kingdom and priesthood when Melchizedek was also a man, just like David?’ Well, Jesus was not and is not the heir of Melchizedek. However, there were certain circumstances surrounding Melchizedek that appear to have been ordered by God precisely for a prophetic purpose. They showed that Melchizedek’s office was not dependent on human relationships. Paul alludes to these circumstances in Hebrews 7:3: “In being fatherless, motherless, without genealogy, having neither a beginning of days nor an end of life [in that none of these things were recorded], but having been made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually.” So, too, Jesus’ being God’s High Priest does not result from any human connections; it is not because of his genealogy. While Jesus remained on earth as a man he could not become a Jewish priest at all, because the law covenant was still in effect until after his death and this limited the Jewish priesthood strictly to the members of Aaron’s house in the tribe of Levi. But Jesus became a spiritual priest.
Moreover, the apostle Paul understood that Jesus could be perfected in this spiritual office only by being raised from a sacrificial death and exalted to God’s right hand in the heavens, as is shown by the fact that Paul applies David’s prophetic words concerning Melchizedek to Jesus Christ, who did not appoint himself or seek the honor, saying: “Christ did not glorify himself by becoming a high priest, but was glorified by him who spoke with reference to him: ‘You are my son; I, today, I have become your father.’ Just as he says also in another place: ‘You are a priest forever according to the manner of Melchizedek.’”—Heb. 5:5, 6.
So, having proved his faithfulness, Jesus, by his death and resurrection to the heavens, was shown to be worthy of both a priesthood and a kingship far superior and far grander in scope than those exercised by the Levitical priests and the Judean kings. These heavenly functions of Jesus are embodied in the covenant for a kingly priesthood.—Heb. 7:4-17.
With Christ in the heavens, the Scriptures show, there will be associated 144,000 associate rulers taken from among mankind. To his apostles, who were the first ones of that group to cherish such an upward calling, he said on the evening before his death: “I make a covenant with you, just as my Father has made a covenant with me, for a kingdom.” (Luke 22:29, 30) These 144,000 Kingdom heirs are not direct descendants of King David and so not natural heirs to his throne. They are not taken into the covenant made with David for a kingdom. However, as David ruled over the twelve tribes of natural Israel, they will share with Christ in ruling over those pictured by the “twelve tribes of Israel,” namely, all the world of mankind that will live on earth during their thousand-year reign.
These joint heirs with Christ become kings and priests, not by reason of natural inheritance, but because of God’s choosing and anointing of them. They become, as the apostle Peter said, “a royal priesthood.” (1 Pet. 2:9) With Christ they become ruling priests, such as are described in the covenant for the kingly priesthood. Of them it is written: “They will be priests of God and of the Christ, and will rule as kings with him for the thousand years.”—Rev. 20:6.
What, then, of the Davidic covenant for the earthly kingdom? Has it come to an end? Not at all! As foretold through the angel Gabriel, Christ rules “as king over the house of Jacob forever, and there will be no end of his kingdom.” But that kingship is exercised from the heavens and by one who is also designated by God as priestly ruler, by virtue of the provisions of the covenant for the kingly priesthood. And for how long? He is “a priest forever according to the manner of Melchizedek.” So the covenant for the Davidic kingdom and the covenant for the heavenly kingly priesthood work together to ensure a new system of things for the benefit of mankind that will far excel anything that man has yet experienced.