Appendix 9: Covenant By the Spirit (New Covenant Sacraments)

Ray Sutton

Narrated By: Devan Lindsey
Book: That You May Prosper


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Chapter Text

The sacraments of the New Covenant are especially tied to the Holy Spirit. The Old Covenant sacraments were in the “flesh” (i.e. “foreskin”) and ended in death. But when Christ died and rose again, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the earth as He never had been before. Does this mean individuals, prior to Pentecost, did not have the Holy Spirit? No, the Holy Spirit was “hovering” over the original creation (Gen. 1:2), leading Israel out of bondage from Egypt (Deut. 32:10ff.) and guiding the individual leaders of God’s people. Jesus told Nicodemus that he needed to be “born of the Spirit” (John 3:1-5). When Nicodemus did not understand, Jesus rebuked him saying, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and do not understand these things?” (John 3:10). Being born again of the Spirit was nothing new. Nicodemus should have understood.

The difference between the Spirit’s work in the Old and New Covenants is that the Spirit was given to the whole earth, to Jew and Gentile in the New Covenant. This was something new. Again it should be understood that it was not as though the Spirit had never gone to an “individual” Gentile, or individual Gentile nations (i.e. Assyria). There are plenty of examples in the Old Testament where a Gentile became a believer (Ruth 1; II Kgs. 5:1ff.). But never before, at least since the Tower of Babel, had Gentiles been made a part of God’s priesthood. Because the Spirit went to the Gentiles, special signs, like speaking in tongues, accompanied it. Addressing the Church at Corinth, Paul says, “In the Law it is written, ‘By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, and even so they will not listen to Me,’ says the Lord. So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe, but to unbelievers” (I Cor. 14:21-22). Who were these unbelievers? Gentiles! Why was a sign needed? Because the Spirit of God was coming to them as well.

The Spirit had come in special measure, “given life” (II Cor. 3:6), and had life-giving signs. Ultimately, this is the great difference between Old and New. Baptism and communion are signs of Life through the Holy Spirit. The great transition point was the resurrection of Christ. After He was raised from the dead, He began to fill His disciples with the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). After He ascended to the right hand of God, the Holy Spirit was given to a broader circle at Pentecost. Jesus had said the Spirit would be left with man to be Christ’s Presence on earth. The Spirit would overcome the “flesh.” Certainly “individual” men still lived by the “flesh” and “died,” but the contrasts of the New Testament between Old Covenant and New Covenant lay in the fact that the Spirit had been poured out on all of humanity. The Spirit would put down all rule by the flesh.

The signs of the New Covenant are symbols of the Spirit, not of the “flesh.” There are two: baptism and communion. Why only two? Aren’t there other symbols in the New Covenant? Yes, marriage is a sign of the covenant. Why isn’t it a sacrament? Marriage is a symbol but it does not in any way seal into the covenant. Paul argues that one is free to marry or not to marry. Neither situation makes one more or less in covenant with Christ (I Cor. 7:8-24). Some churches include marriage as a sacrament, but only because they have a much broader definition of sacraments. This word should be reserved, however, for those covenantal acts which seal a person to Christ. These are baptism and communion.

Baptism (Boundary Sacrament)

We have already seen in the Great Commission Covenant that baptism is the new sanction. It represents the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, ‘John baptized with water but you shall be baptized with the Spirit” (Acts 1:5). Paul says, “He saves us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). We should keep in mind the principle of the Trinity as we read such a passage. The “water” itself does not regenerate, but signifies the incorporation of the believer under terms of the covenant. It seals the believer covenantally to the Holy Spirit. Baptism warns the baptized: break the terms of the covenant by renouncing Christ, and you will perish by the terms of the covenant. Because baptism is a sanction, there are dual sanctions: blessing and cursing. Baptism seals to Christ, and is in this sense automatic, but it does not automatically create salvation. 

How can this be? Remember the Trinitarian principle of not separation but distinction (p. 88). Salvation is not to be separated from the sacraments, but should be kept distinct, meaning God requires a life of faithfulness to accompany baptism. In this case, the believer receives the sanction of blessing. But if there is unfaithfulness as a result of the person’s abandoning reliance on Christ, the now-visibly revealed unbeliever receives the sanction of cursing. In this regard, we see the similarity to and the difference from circumcision.


Like circumcision, baptism is a “killing” ritual. Both symbolize the essence of the curse on man, death (Gen. 2:17). Paul makes the connection when he says,

In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions (C01. 2:11-13).

Circumcision killed the “flesh.” At least, that was its intention. Only through the circumcision of Christ could its original purpose be accomplished. Yet, baptism replaces circumcision, also being a process of killing the “flesh.” Paul says that we are “buried with Him in baptism.”

Throughout the Old Testament, circumcision had anticipated baptism. Water was a circular, circumcision-forming boundary around the original creation/land. The Flood was referred to as a “cutting off” of the world. After the Great Deluge, God said, “All flesh shall never again be cut off by water of the flood” (Gen. 9:11). The Hebrew word “cut off” is the same one used to refer to the curse that falls on the one who is not circumcised (Gen. 17:14). So circumcision and water were killing boundaries in the Old Covenant.

Water was a constant source of killing. It killed the sons of Cain in the Flood; it killed the Egyptians at the crossing of the Red Sea. Jesus referred to His own death as a baptism. He said to His disciples, ”Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized” (Mark 10:38). Christ’s death was simultaneously a circumcision and baptismal curse.

Although circumcision symbolized death, baptism symbolized a greater death because it represented the death of Christ in a way that circumcision could not. How? It was death unto life. Paul says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4). Circumcision was death unto death. Baptism was death unto life.

So, baptism has greater killing power. It represents the Holy Spirit, whose Life is so powerful that instant death can come to the one who betrays his baptism. Of the early church we read:

But a certain man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, ”Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men, but God.” And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came upon all who heard of it…. And his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter responded to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” Then Peter said to her, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they shall carry you out as well.” And she fell immediately at his feet, and breathed her last (Acts 5:1-11).

How could Satan fill a baptized person’s heart? Because baptism does not save anyone. Baptism represents the two-fold sanction of the Holy Spirit. To be united to Christ means great life or horrendous death, depending on the faithfulness of the one baptized. There was a similar incident with Achan in the Old Testament (Josh. 7). But even in that case, the people carried out the death penalty (Josh. 7:25). In the New Covenant, the Holy Spirit is more directly involved in the death of those who break covenant.

Baptism is a sanction of death. Like circumcision, it killed the “flesh,” but unlike the Old Covenant sacrament, it killed by the Spirit.  


Water, however, is more than something which symbolically and covenantally kills. Water symbolically and covenantally resurrects. Water symbolizes the greatest blessing that could ever come to mankind: life – victory over sin and death. Paul says, “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection” (Rom. 6:5).

Circumcision killed the flesh and adopted the recipient into the household. In this sense, it resurrected. But circumcision, as we saw at the end of the Old Covenant, failed to resurrect Israel. Christ’s death went beyond circumcision, in that it actually resurrected the New Israel covenantally (representationally). This is implied in the symbolism of water in the Old Testament. When someone touched a dead animal, the law said,

The one who touches the corpse of any person shall be unclean for seven days. That one shall purify himself from uncleanness with the water on the third day and on the seventh day, and then he shall be clean; but if he does not purify himself on the third day and on the seventh day, he shall not be clean. Anyone who touches a corpse, the body of a man who has died, and does not purify himself, defiles the tabernacle of the Lord; and that person shall be cut off from Israel. Because the water for impurity was not sprinkled on him, he shall be unclean; his uncleanness is still on him (Nu. 19:11-13).

Such a ritual anticipated New Covenant baptism in several ways. First, this Old Testament baptism is called a baptism (Heb. 9:10). In the great chapter on the Resurrection, Paul says, “What will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them?” (I Cor. 15:29). The “baptism for the dead” was none other than the Old Covenant baptism in Numbers 19. When someone touched anyone who had died, he had to be symbolically resurrected, because death spread to death in the Old Testament.

Second, notice that this baptism was applied on the third day. Jesus was raised on the third day. He was the complete fulfillment of what Old Testament baptism typified, the resurrection.
Third, this baptism symbolically came from above, which is implied in the sprinkling. Resurrection is symbolized by the sprinkling or pouring mode. Notice that all throughout the Bible, only the pagans are drowned, or immersed. How were the sons of Cain killed in the Flood? By immersion. How were the Egyptians killed at the crossing of the Red Sea? By immersion.

God’s people are always “sprinkled.” At the Flood, the Ark was “rained on,” or sprinkled. At the crossing of the Red Sea, the Psalmist says, “The clouds poured out water” on the Israelites CPs. 77:17). Jesus was poured upon in the Jordan River because His baptism did not symbolize conversion. How could it? His was a baptism into the priesthood (Nu. 4:3). Priests were consecrated into the priesthood through special baptisms (Heb. 6:1; 9:10; Lev. 11:25). The method was by sprinkling. Moses says, “This is what you shall do to them to consecrate them to minister as priests to Me…. You shall bring Aaron and his sons to the doorway of the tent of meeting, and wash them with water” (Ex. 29:4). Because there was nothing big enough at the “door” to immerse the priests, the method was by pouring. This is why those Reformation churches that have emphasized the priesthood of all believers have traditionally poured or sprinkled people, rather than immersing them.[1]

Christ had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized by the Spirit” (Acts 1:5). When the Holy Spirit came, Peter quoted the prophet Joel, describing this event: “‘And it shall be in the last days,’ God says, ‘that I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh’ ” (Joel 2:28-32 quoted in Acts 2:17ff.). Holy Spirit baptism is pouring or sprinkling because this symbolizes the blessing of the Spirit.

Circumcision blessed, but it did not have the power to bless the “flesh”; it only had the power to kill it. But Joel says that the Spirit would be poured out on all “flesh” (Joel 2:28-32). Baptism is a sign and seal of not only death, but the resurrection of flesh to become true humanity. When man is converted, he starts to act more like a human, and less like the “flesh,” which has the characteristics of the “beast” (Dan. 7:1-8). Baptism is a symbol of the life-giving power of the Spirit. This blessing leads into the next sacrament.

Communion (Food Sacrament)

Communion is a ritual meal that portrays the power of Christ over death. Like the other covenants, the meal is the place for transferring and memorializing inheritance. Communion is a memorial of Christ’s Death and Resurrection. “Memorial” means covenantal renewal. The ancient suzerain treaties carved the covenant on a stone, leaving it in the land of the vassal. It served as a memorial that continuity had been established with the suzerain. The New Covenant makes communion the memorial. Paul says,

The Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, “This is My body, which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me” (I Cor. 11:23-25).

“Remembrance” does not mean “memory.” Rather, “remembrance” is a “memorializing” that renews the covenant. Biblical memorializing involves taking the Supper in a “worthy” manner. How is the Lord’s Supper taken “worthily”? When is it legitimate?

Legitimate Communion

By this question I don’t intend to imply that communion itself is not legitimate when taken “unworthily.” Paul’s language indicates that the recipient of communion may not be legitimate. In the case of the Corinthians, some were “sick and dying” because they were not communing. Paul explains three violations that rendered a communicant an illegitimate, or bastard of the faith. Keep in mind the following points are expressed in the negative because this is the way Paul states them.

First is the failure to commune. What were the Corinthians doing? Paul says, “When you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first” (I Cor. 11:20-21). Very seldom is this context recognized. So often this passage is read just before the Lord’s Supper, when it actually applies primarily to those who are not taking communion. The Corinthians were treating communion as a regular meal of their homes. The Church is not the family. To reduce the Church to the family is to “bastardize” everyone who takes the meal. What does this say about churches that profess to be churches but never take communion? The members are ritually proclaiming themselves to be bastards of the faith, or illegitimate sons. The Lord’s Supper is not an option. It is to be eaten by Christians because it is the place of life (John 6:52-59), life brought about by the Spirit of God (John 6:53, 63). It is to be eaten often, preferably once a week (Acts 20:7-12).

Second is the demonstration of unfaithfulness. Paul says, “Let a man examine himself” (I Cor. 11:28). The command means demonstration of faithfulness. The word “examine” should be translated demonstrate. In other passages Paul uses the same Greek word where it is translated “prove.” He says, “But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another” (Gal. 6:4). This is a fundamental aspect of Christian self-government. Self-government is basic because to make a covenant with God always involves taking a self-maledictory oath, which is what baptism is.

This presents quite a contrast to the modern idea of the Lord’s Supper as a form of contemplation – with lights turned down low and quivering organ music in the background. Communion is not contemplation; it is covenant renewal. It is therefore a manifestation of the communicant’s ritual reaffirmation of his self-maledictory oath. Yet many people take communion who have never heard of a self-maledictory oath. In most churches, anyone can walk in off the street and have communion. He may be a professing Christian who believes and practices abortion. But as long as he is “fully clothed and in his right mind,” he can receive communion. Paul’s statement, however, indicates that one becomes an illegitimate communicant if he does not demonstrate his faith. Where does this begin? At baptism, because it is the definitive covenant-cutting ceremony. How is it continued? Through obedience. It is the Church officers’ job to find out if the people communing have demonstrated their covenant to Christ.

Third is no accountability to the government of the Church. Paul says, “For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not Judge the body rightly” (I Cor. 11:29). The word ‘judge” means discern (I Cor. 4:7; 6:5). The New American Standard Version simply says “discern the body” because some manuscripts understood this to be the “body of the Church.” But whether it means discern the mystical or political body of Christ, Paul clarifies what he means when he says, “If we judge ourselves rightly we should not be judged” (I Cor. 11:31). How does the Church ‘judge itself”? Through the disciplining process of Matthew 18. Jesus says,

If your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile

and a tax-gatherer (Matt. 18:15-17).

When Church discipline is going on, the body is being “discerned,” members are ‘judging one another.” Where this is not happening, the members are being illegitimated. This makes local church discipline a very serious matter. The Church at Corinth was full of disciplinary problems. Paul had had to tell them to discipline one man who committed incest (I Cor. 5:1ff.).

These three principles of legitimacy were important to the life of the Corinthian Church. Why? As we have seen throughout the covenants of the Bible, continuity and discontinuity are created at the covenantal meal. The New Covenant is no different. Offense at the meal means loss of inheritance.


First, continuity/discontinuity is established with the First-born. Who is the First-born? Jesus. Paul says Christ is the “first-born among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29). Remember, the true first-born forms continuity. Throughout the Old Covenant it was always the second ”Adam”: Isaac not Ishmael, Jacob not Esau, etc. In effect, they became the first-born. But Christ was both the Second Adam and the First-born. The writer to the Hebrews says, ”And when He again brings the first-born into the world, He says, ‘And let all the angels of God worship Him'” (Heb. 1:6). Communion sets up continuity between Christ and the Church which is also called the “first-born” (Heb. 12:23). This continuity makes the Church the heir of everything that belongs to Christ, the whole world. There is a song, “We Are the World,” which implies that everyone on earth is the world. Actually, the Church is definitively the world! Progressively, the Church is becoming the world by filling it and subduing it. In the end, anyone who is not a member of the Church will be removed from the earth.

Second, communion establishes continuity/discontinuity between the Church and world. The Passover Meal was a feast which disinherited the Egyptians. In the same way, communion is the new Passover meal which disinherits the world. How? While the Israelites were eating the lamb of the Passover, the Angel of Death visited the Egyptians. In a miraculous way, the Egyptians were defeated. When the Church communes with Christ, keeping in mind the principles of legitimacy mentioned earlier, the wicked are judged. The best illustration is toward the last part of the Book of Revelation. The last series of judgments are the “seven chalices” (Rev. 16:1ff.). These are clearly references to the “chalice” of communion.

The implication is that as the Church exercises discipline through its own communion, God begins to clear away the “clutter” on the earth. God pours out His vengeance on all those who oppose the Church. In a way, this is now happening in the Western world. For the first time in centuries, the Church is beginning to commune in disciplined fashion. It is not surprising to see God curse the world with a disease like AIDS. The same thing happened in the 14th century with the Plague. It happened again in 1493, when Columbus’ crew brought Syphilis to Europe, and it spread across the continent within a decade. (In 1517, the Reformation began.) Judgment begins at the House of God. God weeded out Gideon’s army before He allowed him to fight the Midianites. Discontinuity with the world, through communion, had to occur before any kind of continuity with the new world could be allowed. In other words, faithful communion with Christ clears away the “fleshly” world so that Christians can live in it.

Third, communion establishes continuity and discontinuity within the family. God claims whole families. We saw this earlier when I talked about “household baptisms.” But baptism only applies the sanctions. Every member of the family is entitled to Christ’s inheritance if he (or she) has been baptized. Paul says of the Red Sea baptism and communion, “All were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank that same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ” (I Cor. 10:2-4). The “all” means that each individual was baptized and ate the spiritual communion of Christ. Significantly, this context applies these principles to communion.

The Lord’s Supper is for the whole family, providing they have already received the sanctions in baptism. To take communion before the sanctions is the same as attempting to have life apart from the sanction of death. This is a denial of the fundamental principle of life through death. For those who have been baptized, however, communion is part of the inheritance. Full family communion establishes continuity among family members. If the children are not allowed to commune, then they have no continuity with the rest of the family. God’s “Great Commission” to disciple the world, family by family, is cut short. How can the Church conquer the world when it unlawfully excommunicates the children of its own families? It can’t. How can the Church inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5) if it disinherits the children of its own families? It can’t. This is why family continuity is so important to the dominion of the world.

This concludes our study of communion. I have not attempted to define the sense in which Christ is present in the Lord’s Supper. I can say that Christ is not physically present in the meal because the night He established the Supper and said, “This is My body,” He was not speaking in a “physical” sense. Yet Scripture says that when the Supper is taken in faith, Christ has been eaten. This is a great mystery which neither rationalism nor irrationalism can comprehend. Even so, this meal is the covenantal process of legitimating the true and false heirs. Through the real presence of the Spirit at communion, it becomes a covenant by the Spirit.

Realism vs. Nominalism: Christ’s Kingdom

I have argued that Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper is representative or covenantal. This breaks with the Roman Catholic view, the Lutheran view, and the modern “memorial only”[2] view.

The Roman Catholic and Lutheran views, despite their verbal differences, are essentially the same. They are heavily influenced by the medieval debate over realism and nominalism. Both the Roman Catholics and the Lutherans maintain that Christ must be humanly present in the bread and wine if the sacrament is true.[3] His presence must be real.

On the other hand, those who hold a nominalist view of the sacraments argue that the sacraments are only symbolic, strictly a present memorial to a past historic event. They argue that there is no “real presence” representatively (covenantally) of Christ in the sacrament of communion. Christ is present nominally, meaning symbolically and subjectively only. He is present in the sacrament only in the sense that Christians ritually remember Christ’s sharing a meal with His disciples. The sacraments have no power apart from their influence subjectively and psychologically over the people who partake in them. Christ is not really present in the sacraments.

This debate over the realism vs. the nominalism of the Lord’s Supper is analogous to the debate over the nature of Christ’s earthly kingdom. First, let us consider the “realist” view of Christ’s millennial reign. Premillennialists say that Christ’s presence in His kingdom must be a real presence: He must be humanly, physically present in order for His reign on earth to be manifested in history. In other words, He cannot be said to be present in His earthly kingdom representatively (covenantally) through His Church and the historical manifestations of His Word, the Bible.

Second, let us consider the “nominalist” view of Christ’s millennial reign. The nominalist view of the sacraments is exclusively subjective and psychological: the sacraments have no independent power apart from the psychological commitment of those who partake in them. Similarly, amillennialists implicitly argue that Christ’s presence in His historic kingdom is only a nominal presence. It is comprehended only by His Christian followers, who in fact experience increasing visible defeats historically. Cornelius Van Til’s amillennial vision is representative: as time goes forward, the Church is increasingly persecuted. “But when all the reprobate are epistemologically self-conscious, the crack of doom has come. The fully self-conscious reprobate will do all he can in every dimension to destroy the people of God. So while we seek with all our power to hasten the process of differentiation in every dimension we are yet thankful, on the other hand, for ‘the day of grace,’ the day of undeveloped differentiation. Such tolerance as we receive on the part of the world is due to this fact that we live in the earlier, rather than the later, stage of history.”[4] Or hear the words of the most prominent Dutch-American amillennial Bible commentator, W. Hendrikson, on chapter 20 of the Book of Revelation, the binding of Satan:

Now, please do not misunderstand our interpretation. We are not stating that the world is becoming better and better and that by and by nearly everyone will join the ranks of Christ’s army. Many will hear the Gospel, but will not heed it. Moreover, God’s trumpets of judgment will not convert a world which is hardening itself in unbelief. The majority will ever be on the side of the evil one. We most emphatically reject the dream of a man-made era of peace, prosperity, and universal righteousness on earth preceding the second coming of Christ. Just as definitely do we repudiate the related idea according to which the almighty “law of evolution” will bring about an ever-upward trend in the course of civilization. . . . We repeat: the devil is not bound in every sense. His influence is not wholly or completely destroyed. On the contrary, within the sphere in which satan is permitted to exert his influence for evil he rages most furiously.[5]

When Hendrikson writes that “We most emphatically reject the dream of a man-made era of peace, prosperity, and universal righteousness on earth preceding the second coming of Christ,” he is arguing that there can be no covenantal, representative, victorious kingdom role of the Church in history. He dismisses “man-made” peace and prosperity, just as premillennialists do, with respect to the period before Christ’s second coming. He then dismisses an idea which he says is “related”: evolutionary humanism. This is deliberately misleading. It is a disguised variant of that old lie that postmillennialism is liberalism. Furthermore, Hendrikson’s pessimistic eschatology is implicitly anti-covenantal. Here is my reasoning.

Covenant theology divides men into saved and lost, a division which is reflected in the sacraments. Covenant-breakers experience long-term defeat in history, and covenant-keepers experience long-term victory. We read in Proverbs:

The righteousness of the blameless will smooth his way, but the wicked will fall by his own wickedness. The righteousness of the upright will deliver them, but the treacherous will be caught in their own greed. When a wicked man dies, his expectation will perish, and the hope of strong men perishes. The righteous is delivered from trouble, but the wicked takes his place (Prov. 11:5-8).

What are we to say as Christians, that the success of the righteous in these verses is somehow man-made? This would be utter nonsense. Yet just such a nonsensical argument is used by Hendrikson in his not-too-subtle rejection of postmillennial optimism. The historic victory of the righteous is not man-made; on the contrary, it is God-made. It was established definitively at the cross (in history), affirmed visibly at the resurrection (in history), and manifested supernaturally at the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (in history). After all, Christ had told His disciples to remain in Jerusalem until the Spirit came, “for John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now…. [Y]ou shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you …” (Acts 1:5,8a). You would think from Hendrikson’s comments that Christ had promised, “You shall receive impotence.” Hendrikson’s exposition, called More Than Conquerors, is in fact a defense of the idea of Church members as less than conquerors in history.

He is inescapably defending the idea that Christ’s victorious kingdom is not really manifested in history; it is only symbolically victorious. It is only nominally victorious. The amillennialist asserts that Christ’s authority over history is manifested only at the end of time, after a long progression of decline for the Church, at the very moment that the satanic forces have surrounded her (Rev. 20:8-9).[6] Only at the close of history is Christ’s absolute authority manifested in history. Thus, amillennialism’s so-called “realized eschatology” is historically an unrealized eschatology: Christ’s Church is defeated historically.[7]

To avoid the inescapable implication of covenant theology that such a defeat of Christ’s Church is therefore also representatively (covenantally) a defeat of Christ in history, amillennialists must implicitly deny the representative character of the Church and its members’ (supposedly increasingly ineffective) cultural activities in history. Amillennialists may verbally affirm the covenantal nature of the sacraments, but by denying the covenantal nature of the sacraments’ culture-transforming effects in history through the Church’s visible victory, they thereby implicitly deny the covenantal nature of the sacraments, for the sacraments testify to Christ’s victory in history.

The traditional Reformed or Calvinistic view of the sacraments, I contend, is the Biblical view. Like the Biblical view of Christ’s historic kingdom authority, it is covenantal. It is therefore a representative view. In the sacraments, Christ is spiritually present, not humanly or bodily present, and something really happens in history. The covenant has meaning and influence in history. Its sacraments change history because they are effectual. They are not mere symbols. Christ attains special presence through the representative meal of His people. The Biblical view therefore abandons both realism and nominalism. It is instead a covenantal view.

The Covenantal View of Christ’s Kingdom

The Biblical view of the kingdom is equally covenantal. It is also a representative view. It is therefore also hierarchical. In His kingdom, Christ is spiritually present, and manifestations of this victorious kingdom appear in history. The covenant has meaning and influence in history, sacramentally and eschatologically. The kingdom of Christ on earth is more than a symbol, yet He is not physically present. He attains visible sovereignty through the historic victory of His representatives, His people. He does not attain visible, historic defeat through His representatives. The Biblical view therefore abandons both realism and nominalism. It is instead a covenantal view.

Fundamentally, both premillennialism and amillennialism deny the representative character of God’s people as Christ’s kingdom representatives. Every Christian must affirm that all true authority is in Christ. But if the Church’s visible authority is forever limited in history (pre-second coming), then the amount of submission required of Christ’s hierarchy is also limited. We know the general principle that with greater authority comes greater responsibility, yet modern pessimillennialism denies the increasing responsibility of the Church over the affairs of history. Covenant-breakers grow more powerful as time goes by; hence, the Church has progressively less responsibility before God to exercise responsible authority. As the disciples began the Great Commission Covenant with their own submission at the feet of Christ, so must the present-day Church. To the degree that this Church believes in the full authority of Christ in heaven and on earth, it will worship and submit to Him on earth!

As a curiosity, let me note a few oddities. First, those who hold the doctrine of the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper historically have been amillennialists (nominalists) eschatologically. They have explicitly denied the increasing visible manifestation of Christ’s institutional rulership in history. Second, in this century, those fundamentalists who have held to a “memorial only” view of Christ’s sacraments (nominalism) have generally been realists with respect to Christ’s earthly kingdom: He must rule in person, bodily, for the promised millennial blessings to take place.

A third oddity has been the amillennial Calvinists: Europeans and especially the Dutch. They have officially held to the traditional Reformed view of the sacraments: covenantal representation – neither real presence nor memorial only. They have rejected both nominalism and realism sacramentally. But with respect to Christ’s kingdom on earth, they have become nominalists. (They were originally postmillennial.)

Perhaps the greatest oddity of all has been the Dutch-influenced amillennial Reformed Presbyterians who still hold officially to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Their creedal position, unlike the Continental European Dutch creeds of the sixteenth century, was written by the Puritans in England, and is therefore comprehensively covenantal. The Puritans were overwhelmingly postmillennialists, and therefore they believed in a covenantal kingdom on earth: the authority given to Christ by God the Father will be progressively manifested in history representatively by Christ’s Church. The Westminster standards (1640s) are postmillennial, which is why Carl McIntyre and the newly formed Bible Presbyterian Church in 1937 rewrote the eschatological section of the Westminster Confession to conform it to traditional premillennialism. The Larger Catechism of the Westminster Confession calls on all Christians, as representative priests, to pray for the coming of a postmillennial kingdom:

In the second petition, (which is, Thy Kingdom Come,) acknowledging ourselves and all mankind to be by nature under the dominion of sin and Satan, we pray, that the kingdom of Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fulness of the Gentiles brought in . . . (Answer 191).

Are we to say that such prayers, prayed in history by saints on earth, cannot and will not be answered in history? The expositions of Romans 11 by postmillennial covenant theologians Charles Hodge, Robert Haldane, and John Murray teach that these prayers will be answered in history. The Church will manifest progressively in history the victory which was given to Christ definitively at His resurrection. What we see represented in the sacraments – the victory of Christ over sin and death (baptism), and the participation of the Church in a victory celebration (the Lord’s Supper) – we will also see in every area of life as God’s kingdom principles are adopted by His Church. Jesus does not need to be bodily present on earth for His rule to become a historical reality.


This chapter is named “Covenant by the Spirit.” Both sacraments demonstrate the Spirit’s work. Baptism is the picture of the regenerating power of the Spirit of God, forming a boundary between life and death. Everything that the Spirit does is represented in baptism.

Communion is the food of life. Jesus says in the same context He refers to Himself being the “Bread of life” that the “Spirit gives life” (John 6:53, 63). When communion is taken in faith, “life” results: it becomes the “food of life.” Christ nourishes His Church through the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit.

Both sacraments of the New Covenant result in the life of the world. Circumcision and Passover could only end in death, the destruction of Christ, who is the true first-born son. First-born sons must die. But Jesus did not stay in the grave. His baptismal death was unto life. His baptism not only kills, it resurrects. Communion extends the Resurrected Christ in the life of the believer and then out into the world so that the sacraments of the New Covenant make the whole world alive again. The great promise of Christ is that He will not come back until the world is dominated by the Church (Ps. 110:1; I Cor. 15:20-28).

What this really means is that the sacraments of the New Covenant do what they symbolize. Baptism applies sanctions to the Church which ultimately affect the world. Communion feeds life to the Church which kills and transforms the sinful world into the new garden. If God is Sovereign, then the power of the Holy Spirit is invincible. Nothing can overcome the Spirit. As the song goes, “Grace is greater than all my sin.” It should also say that “grace is greater than all the world’s sin.” This is the great accomplishment of the Covenant by the Spirit!

[1] Those who baptize by immersion have argued that the Reformation churches (Lutherans, Presbyterian, and Anglican) were still unwilling to break ritually with Rome, which also sprinkled, have not understood the theological reason for retaining the early Church’s mode of baptism. It was the Roman Church which was inconsistent with its own sacerdotal theology by retaining the mode of baptism used by the early Church.

[2] If those who defend the “memorial only” sacraments understood that the Biblical memorial is always covenant-establishing (baptism) or covenant renewal (communion), both of which involve the self-maledictory oath, they might be moved to find some other terminology besides “memorial.”

[3] According to one Lutheran scholar, “To say that the nature of Christ is personally present without his humanity is to deny that his humanity is part of his personality and the doctrine of the incarnation falls to the dust.” Charles Philip Krauth, The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology, p. 350; cited by Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology, Vol. II of In Defense of the Faith (den Dulk Christian Foundation, 1969), p. 69.

[4]  Common Grace, in Common Grace and the Gospel (Nutley, New Jersey: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1972), p. 85.

[5] W. Hendrikson, More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1940), p. 228.

[6] R. B. Kuiper, The Glorious Body of Christ (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1958), p. 277.

[7] For a critique of this amillennial view, see Gary North, Dominion and Common Grace (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1987), ch. 5.