The Old Testament concept of an earthly kingdom emerges first from the Abrahamic Covenant, and is then expanded upon in the Palestinian, Davidic, and New Covenants. These four covenants shape the Old Testament idea of the visible kingdom of God, both in its millennial and eternal aspects, which as we will see is inseparably tied to the nation of Israel. A simple analogy might help to illustrate the relationship of these covenant promises to other Old Testament prophecies concerning the kingdom. If we think of the covenants (the Abrahamic, Palestinian, Davidic, and New Covenants) as the bold lines of a coloring book determining the shape of the picture, then we could also think of other prophecies as the colors applied within those lines. The covenant promises form the outline of God’s plan for Israel, and ultimately for world history. Other millennial prophecies supply additional details that must be understood within the framework of the covenant promises. Since these covenants define the kingdom program, in studying the millennium it is necessary to begin with a thorough examination of the covenants before proceeding to other prophetic passages
The Abrahamic Covenant
The Abrahamic Covenant is mentioned in Genesis 12:1‑3, 6‑7; 13:14‑17; 15:1‑21; 17:1‑14 and 22:15‑18. In these passages God makes the following promises to Abraham personally: 1) His name will be great (12:2). 2) He would be the father of many nations (17:5). 3) His descendants would be innumerable (13:16; 15:5; 22:17). 4) Kings would come from him (17:6). 5) God would be his God (17:7). 6) The one who blesses Abraham would be blessed, and the one who curses Abraham would be cursed (12:3). 7) The covenant is to be a perpetual (eternal) covenant (17:7).
In addition to the personal promises made to Abraham, God also made the following promises to his descendants: 1) They would become a great nation (12:2). 2) They would come to possess the Promised Land forever (17:8). 3) God would be their God (17:8). 4) They would be victorious over their enemies (22:17). 5) God’s covenant would be established with them forever (17:7). The covenant also includes a blessing for the Gentiles, that they would, in some yet unspecified way, be blessed (12:3; 22:18).
The Abrahamic Covenant expressly promises that Abraham’s descendants will come to possess the land and that they will live in that land as recipients of divine favor forever. That these promises have never been invalidated is a point that will be considered later; first, the relationship that exists between the Abrahamic, Palestinian, Davidic, and New Covenants will be explored.
The Palestinian Covenant
The Palestinian Covenant (so called because it was made with Israel upon their entrance into the Promised Land) is recorded in Deuteronomy 29:1‑30:20. Moses indicated its connection to the Abrahamic Covenant when he said:
[Deut. 29:12‑13] “You are standing here in order to enter into a covenant with the LORD your God, a covenant the LORD is making with you this day and sealing with an oath, to confirm you this day as his people, that he may be your God as he promised you and as he swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
What God swore to Abraham, in the Abrahamic Covenant, he was prepared to implement as the people of Israel stood on the verge of their entrance into the land. This covenant seems to have two purposes: 1) to ensure that the people understood that their inheritance of the land was the direct result of the promises previously made to Abraham (29:12‑13); and 2) to clarify for the people the conditions under which they could expect to enter into the enjoyment of this promise—the condition being their continued subjection to him (29:16‑29). One of the most interesting features of this covenant is found in 30:1‑10, for there God indicates that Abraham’s descendants would rebel against him in the future and that their rebellion would cost them the enjoyment of this covenant blessing, such that they would be dispersed from the land; nevertheless, the covenant itself would not be invalidated. Rather, the blessing would be reserved for a generation that will call upon the Lord and to which he will respond by bringing them back into the land. The Palestinian Covenant is an amplification of the land promises previously made under the Abrahamic Covenant, and its perpetual validity is apparent from its language. It reinforces the promise made to Abraham that his descendants would someday come to possess the Promised Land forever.
The Davidic Covenant
The Davidic Covenant is recorded in 2 Samuel 7:12‑17. It has four main provisions: 1) David will have a son who will build the house of the LORD (v.13), which was fulfilled in Solomon. 2) While God would correct David’s son, he would never take the throne from him (vv.14‑15). 3) God promised that David’s house (i.e., his lineage) would endure forever (v.16). 4) God also promised that the right to the throne of Israel would forever remain with the house of David (v.16). While the text itself does not make reference to the Abrahamic Covenant, the connection is apparent since the people which David’s line will perpetually have the right to rule are the people of promise under the Abrahamic Covenant. The prophet Jeremiah later demonstrated a connection between these two covenants when he uttered the following prophecy:
[Jer. 33:25‑26] “. . . This is what the LORD says: ‘If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed laws of heaven and earth, then I will reject the descendants of Jacob and David my servant and will not choose one of his sons to rule over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes and have compassion on them.’”
The Davidic Covenant expands upon the national aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant by specifying that the right to the throne of Israel is to remain with David’s line.
The New Covenant
The prophecy of the New Covenant is found in Jeremiah 31:31‑34. Through this prophecy God promised that he would someday establish a New Covenant with Israel, a covenant by which he would write his laws on their hearts (v.33), a reference to the giving of the Holy Spirit, indicative of regeneration. The result would be that all Israel would know the LORD (v.34). While the implementation of this covenant is dependent upon the work of Christ on the cross, that work does not, in itself, fulfill this promise, for it has not yet resulted in the salvation of Israel as a nation. We must conclude therefore, that the New Covenant is yet to be completely fulfilled. The New Covenant essentially reveals the nature of the special relationship that Israel is to have with God as a result of the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant. Of course, this does not leave Gentiles out of the picture, since they too are blessed under the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 12:3; 22:18).
The unconditional nature of the covenants
It is important to recognize that the Abrahamic Covenant, as well as the other three related covenants, are unconditional in nature. This does not mean that there are no conditions that must be met in order for them to be fulfilled, for in that sense there is a condition: genuine faith. Rather, the unconditional nature of these covenants refers to the fact that Israel’s disobedience both past and present, has not, indeed cannot, invalidate these covenants, because their continuance was never linked to Israel’s obedience. Though generations of Abraham’s descendants have turned from him, yet God maintains his covenanted promises, ready to fulfill them to that elect generation in the future that will turn to their Messiah—Jesus Christ.
When the unconditional nature of these covenants is understood, it becomes apparent that whatever limited benefits Israel may have enjoyed historically as a result of these covenants, in no sense can it be said that they have been fulfilled. The position of covenant theology, which generally sees no place for the fulfillment of these covenants in the future, is that their fulfillment was conditioned upon Israel’s faith, and since Israel broke faith with God, manifested ultimately in the rejection of her Messiah, these covenants have been invalidated.
There are three reasons for believing that God has not abandoned his covenant made with Abraham: 1) The form of the covenant given in Genesis 15:9‑21 is that of an unconditional covenant, in which all of the responsibility for the fulfillment rests with God. The scene in Genesis 15:1‑21, in which Abraham divided various animals, and God—depicted by a great smoking furnace—passed between the divided pieces, is a picture of the sealing of the covenant, somewhat equivalent to the signing of a modern treaty. The fact that only God passed between the divided pieces is significant. Normally, in this type of covenant, known as a “suzerainty‑vassal treaty,” both parties would pass between the pieces together, thus indicating their mutual obligation to keep the conditions of the covenant. That God alone passed between the pieces is indicative that the covenant obligations rest solely upon him. In other words, it was not up to Abraham or his descendants to do anything to validate this covenant. Of course, no individual or the nation could enter into the blessings of the covenant apart from faith (Gen. 17:13‑14). Nevertheless, faithlessness on the part of an individual or an entire generation of individuals would not invalidate the covenant; it merely excluded that individual or generation from the covenant blessings. In other words, the validity of the covenant and the enjoyment of it by a specific set of people are two entirely distinct issues. God rejected those who rejected the covenant relationship. If a generation arises which will accept the covenant relationship, they will have the covenant fulfilled to them. Since the promises were made concerning a people, they will be fulfilled when an elect generation of Jews turns to God through acceptance of their Messiah. 2) Even though Abraham’s descendants were disobedient and fell into idolatry, subsequent statements made in the scripture indicate that their disobedience had not invalidated the covenant. For example, the Abrahamic Covenant is invoked in 1 Chronicles 16:16‑18, a thousand years after it was made; during much of that thousand years Israel had lived in idolatry, yet the covenant itself was not invalidated. The psalmist in Psalm 105:1‑11 says, “He remembers his covenant forever, the word he commanded, for a thousand generations, the covenant he made with Abraham, the oath he swore to Isaac. He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree, to Israel as an everlasting covenant: ‘To you I will give the land of Canaan as the portion you will inherit.’” If disobedience or lack of faith could invalidate the Abrahamic Covenant, it surely would not have survived the first one thousand years of Israel’s history. 3) The subsequent Palestinian, Davidic, and New Covenants are also indicated as being unconditional, eternal covenants. When seen in light of their connection to the Abrahamic Covenant, it becomes clear that they all must share the same unconditional quality. Concerning the unconditional nature of the Davidic Covenant, God, through the psalmist, in Psalm 89:28-37 says: “I will maintain my love to him forever, and my covenant with him will never fail. I will establish his line forever, his throne as long as the heavens endure. If his sons forsake my law and do not follow my statutes, if they violate my decrees and fail to keep my commands, I will punish their sin with the rod, their iniquity with flogging; but I will not take my love from him, nor will I ever betray my faithfulness. I will not violate my covenant or alter what my lips have uttered. Once for all, I have sworn by my holiness—and I will not lie to David—that his line will continue forever and his throne endure before me like the sun; it will be established forever like the moon, the faithful witness in the sky.” Almost four hundred years later, on the eve of Israel’s expulsion from the land because of rampant idolatry, God spoke these words through the prophet Jeremiah (33:20‑22) “This is what the LORD says: ‘If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night no longer come at their appointed time, then my covenant with David my servant—and my covenant with the Levites who are priests ministering before me—can be broken and David will no longer have a descendant to reign on his throne. I will make the descendants of David my servant and the Levites who minister before me as countless as the stars of the sky and as measureless as the sand on the seashore.’” Both the nature of these covenants and subsequent biblical statements indicate that they were made unconditionally, meaning that they have not been invalidated by Israel’s past unbelief, and that God intends to see them fulfilled through his sovereign election of a future generation (Jer. 31:31‑37).
Implications of the Abrahamic, Palestinian, Davidic, and New Covenants
When taken as a whole, the eschatological implications of these covenants are as follows: The Abrahamic Covenant, which promises the descendants of Abraham a land forever, has neither been invalidated nor fulfilled. Unless God intends to renege on his promises, the fulfillment must be a future reality. The connection between the Abrahamic Covenant and the subsequent prophetic descriptions of such a kingdom (e.g., Isa. 11:4‑10; 35:5‑10; 60:1‑22; 65:17‑25; Ezek. 34:25‑31; Joel 2:21‑27; 3:18‑21) leaves no doubt that the Abrahamic Covenant is the basis of the kingdom promises for Israel.
The Palestinian Covenant repeats the land provisions of the Abrahamic Covenant and further expands upon the provisions for Israel’s enjoyment of this promise—which is faithfulness to the LORD. In this covenant, God foresaw Israel’s disobedience and dispersion (Deut. 30:1‑8) and promised their restoration upon return to him. Of course, Israel’s ultimate return to the LORD can only occur as a result of inward spiritual conversion.
The Davidic Covenant is an expansion upon the national aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant, in that it specifies that David’s house is to have a perpetual right to the throne of Israel. The promise requires that when the kingdom prophecies are fulfilled, a member of David’s house must rule over Israel. This will ultimately be fulfilled in the person of David’s son, Israel’s Messiah (Isa. 9:6‑7).
The prophecy of the coming New Covenant specifies how God intends to bring about the implementation of the Abrahamic Covenant. The blessings that God promised to Abraham can only be brought about by genuine spiritual renewal on the part of Abraham’s descendants. It would be nonsense to suppose that a non‑elect, unregenerate people could live in a state of perpetual blessing and special divine relationship as envisioned in the Abrahamic Covenant. Thus, before God can fulfill his promises to Abraham, he must first raise up an elect generation of Jews who will respond to his offer of salvation and consequently enter into the blessings of the covenant. It is important to recognize that election is at the heart of Israel’s conversion, for if salvation ultimately depended upon man, the fulfillment of these promises could never be anything more than a remote prospect. Yet, God intends by his sovereign choice, to bring spiritual life to Israel so that his covenanted promises can be infallibly brought to pass.
In summarizing the implications of these four covenants, we note that God intends to regather Abraham’s children, to breathe within them spiritual life, to plant them securely in their land, with David’s Son, their Messiah, ruling over them forever.
(Adapted in 2017 from “What the Bible Says About the Millennial Kingdom” by Sam A. Smith, originally published in 2001. For more complete information on the kingdom of God and the millennium see: What the Bible Says About the Future, by Sam A. Smith. Click or tap for the print edition, [350 pages] or the e-book edition [233 pages-abridged]