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Abraham’s Family Tree of Faith
By Charles Dickson
The Author has expanded the last chapter of What in the World Is God Doing? so as to better understand the Abrahamic covenant. It is developed under the title of "Abraham's Family Tree of Faith." It analyses the covenant from Genesis to Revelation showing that God's eternal plan was to establish His Kingdom out of the kingdoms of this world.
Dedication for Abraham's Family Tree of Faith
Abraham may have been the first to follow God’s leadership in preaching the Gospel in a foreign land, but he was certainly not the last. His example has inspired many others through the centuries to obey God’s call to “leave your country, your people and your father’s house and go to the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12
Among these modern Abrahams and Sarahs have been Everett George Wilcox and his wife Callie Perrin Wilcox, my wife’s parents. They served Southern Baptists and the Lord as pioneer missionaries in the northeastern area of Brazil. They were appointed in 1921 and served until his premature death in Brazil in 1940. They are the parents of four lovely daughters: Mrs. Dorothy (Charles) Myers, Mrs. Juanita (Charles) Dickson, Mrs. Lorene (James) Vermillion, and Mrs. Trudie (Richard) Jackson. The first three married preacher husbands while the last married a son of Southern Baptist missionaries to China, John Edward Jackson, Sr. and Mina Everett Garrett Jackson.
The Wilcoxes were used of the Lord to promote the growth of the family tree of faith in every place where they had the opportunity to preach the Gospel. He now lies buried in Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil and she in Abilene, Texas
This analysis of the covenant with Abraham is dedicated in grateful memory of the diligent labor exerted by these two faithful servants through good times and bad on their mission fields. Only God knows how many people are now enjoying God’s eternal rest in the heavenly tabernacles because of their witness. Even though long gone from their earthly responsibilities, their influence on earth will continue to pay rich spiritual dividends until Jesus comes back again. Many of us today have multiple reasons to thank God for the ways that He has touched our lives through E.G. and Callie Wilcox. For this we will be eternally blessed.
ABRAHAM’S FAMILY TREE OF FAITH
Charles W. Dickson
by Susan Waugh
“And, therefore, those whose lives are based on faith share the blessings bestowed upon the faith of Abraham.” (TCNT), Galatians 3
Missions – what an exciting term – one that always brings a warmth to my heart. I have had the privilege of being a part of missions since the day of my birth. Born to missionary parents, Charles and Juanita Dickson in the beautiful country of Brazil where my grandparents, E.G. and Callie Wilcox, also had served for many years. So I became a citizen of two countries. I could not have asked for a more happy upbringing. Brazil became home and I was raised in a wonderful environment surrounded by adopted missionary aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents as well as by the gracious national people.
It was with great sadness and a little fear that I came to the USA to finish my last year of High School and begin my college education. After my college experience I had the opportunity to join a team from the First Baptist Church of Midland on a mission trip to the capital of Brazil. While there I felt a tug to do something more. When I returned home from this trip I began the process of applying for the Journeyman program, indicating a preference for Brazil. I was given a two-year assignment in Cuiaba, Brazil where I was to teach in a Wycliffe school that some of the missionary kids attended. It was a good experience, not only at the school but also being a part of a small Brazilian church. It was within walking distance. I love the people and God taught me that with Him, I could do things I would normally not have the courage to try.
Upon my return to the USA I married a long time friend, Ray Waugh, who was already attending the Seminary in Ft.Worth. I joined him and we both graduated in 1988. I have had the privilege of being a pastor’s wife ever since as Ray has pastored three different church since 1973.Missions is indeed an exciting term and I look forward to seeing the many ways that God will continue to accomplish His purpose and mission through us, His people.
The purpose of this Biblical study is to examine the details of the Covenant that God made with Abraham and his descendants. The covenant began in Ur of the Chaldeans when God chose Abram (Abraham) and his descendants to be partners with Him in the spiritual recuperation of all mankind. The basis will be the sacred writings of both the Old and New Testaments. Together they give a clear picture of the main constituents of this genealogy. Naturally there is no way that every individual branch of the tree can be specifically identified since there are millions of them and still counting. One broad outline of the tree beginning with Abraham and ending at the birth of Christ is found in the first chapter of Matthew. But this and other Scriptures serve as good evidences of the correct identity of the components of this family tree from Abraham to the Messiah. The Bible paints a broad picture without giving every small detail.
In God’s appointed time He planted the seed of this tree among human beings. Initially the tree was a vision in the mind of the Creator before the beginning of time. It was a plan to build up His Kingdom with earthly inhabitants in every generation until the end of time. Thus it was a spiritual task. God chose Abram or Abraham to play a pivotal role in this world-wide effort. (Ephesians 2:19-22)
Abraham was the first in a long line of priests who were liaisons between God and mankind. And to accomplish this mission God made a covenant with Abraham and his descendants, including Jesus Christ, in terms which are found in Genesis 12: 2, 3 and then updated in Matthew 28:19-20. Therefore this is the prime covenant among all the others that God made with humans. It reveals a spiritual mission that continues with these descendants today and on into the future until the glorious Second Coming.
The covenant with Abraham and his descendants contained several precious promises. These wonderful nuggets from God’s treasury served as powerful incentives for those who would faithfully carry out their covenant duties. God wanted to adequately reward His helpers in this important endeavor of spreading His message of forgiveness and reconciliation all over the world. These promises He has kept and will continue to do so throughout eternity.
For centuries now this divine plan has marched steadily onward in every generation. There have always been obstacles from friends and foes, but God’s original goal, established before the foundation of the world, has never wavered and has been marked by constant victories. Satan and his army of demons have done their best to thwart God’s plan but in the end Satan and his cohorts will be defeated and banished to an eternal hell. God’s Kingdom will come according to the inspired Word of the Lord, and the redeemed of all ages will reign with God in Paradise forever and ever!!
Abraham may have been the first to follow God’s leadership in preaching the Gospel in a foreign land, but he was certainly not the last. His example has inspired many others through the centuries to obey God’s call to “leave your country, your people and your father’s house and go to the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1).
Among these modern Abrahams and Sarahs have been Everett George Wilcox and his wife Callie Perrin Wilcox, my wife’s parents. They served Southern Baptists and the Lord as pioneer missionaries in the northeastern area of Brazil. They were appointed in 1921 and served until his premature death in Brazil in 1940. They are the parents of four lovely daughters: Mrs. Dorothy (Charles) Myers, Mrs. Juanita (Charles) Dickson, Mrs. Lorene (James) Vermillion, and Mrs. Trudie (Richard) Jackson. The first three married preacher husbands while the last married a son of Southern Baptist missionaries to China, John Edward Jackson, Sr. and Mina Everett Garrett Jackson.
The Wilcoxes were used of the Lord to promote the growth of the family tree of faith in every place where they had the opportunity to preach the Gospel. He now lies buried in Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil and she in Abilene, Texas.
This analysis of the covenant with Abraham is dedicated in grateful memory of the diligent labor exerted by these two faithful servants through good times and bad on their mission fields. Only God knows how many people are now enjoying God’s eternal rest in the heavenly tabernacles because of their witness. Even though long gone from their earthly responsibilities, their influence on earth will continue to pay rich spiritual dividends until Jesus comes back again. Many of us today have multiple reasons to thank God for the ways that He has touched our lives through E.G. and Callie Wilcox. For this we will be eternally blessed.
Juanita, E.G. Wilcox, Dorothy, Trudie, Callie, Lorene
name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations”
Genesis 17: 5
Genesis is the book of beginnings. The first eleven chapters deal with the beginnings of creation, of human history, of sin and of salvation among other things. These chapters cover a long period of time, much longer perhaps than all the rest of the Bible. But in chapter 12 something completely new begins. It is the beginning of God’s selection of certain individuals to proclaim His plan of salvation to the world. The first missionary He chose to use was Abraham, who became the progenitor of the Hebrew people.
From the beginning God’s plan was to allow the human race to help Him as He accomplished His purposes in the world. Soon after the creation of the world along with its first inhabitants God put Adam and Eve in charge of everything and told them to “rule over every living creature” (Genesis 1:28). He also gave them the responsibility to “work and take care of the Garden of Eden.” (Genesis 2:15). Also God asked Adam to give names to all of the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. (Genesis 2:10). These were physical responsibilities or earthly chores that were assigned to mankind.
However, God’s eternal plan also made provision for the spiritual needs of the people who were to inhabit the Earth because God knew that their loyalty to Him would be challenged by Satan. God gave Adam and Eve basic rules to follow and also constantly had fellowship with them as He walked with them in the cool of the day. Inevitably Adam and Eve soon had their first encounter with the Devil and unfortunately they were no match for his satanic tricks. And because of their disobedience of God they were expelled from the Garden of Eden. But at the same time God revealed His mercy in a plan of redemption. He told Satan: “I’m declaring war between you and the woman, between your offspring and hers. He’ll wound your head, you’ll wound his heel.” (Genesis 3:15, The Message translation). This messianic prophecy is God’s first revelation of His plan to overcome evil. The seed of the woman, Jesus Christ, would one day deal a fatal blow to Satan’s army while Satan would only be able to strike a minor blow against God’s Kingdom.
Satan’s influence over human beings was evident in his manipulation of Adam and Eve as well as in the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. However Satan was not able to control all of the generations that followed Adam and Eve. The Bible points out that Enoch “walked with God, then he was no more, because God took him away.” (Genesis 5:24; Hebrews 11:5). He by-passed the death experience. Also the Bible speaks of Noah as “a righteous man who walked with God.” (Genesis 6:9). And there must have been others who succeeded in resisting Satan’s domination of their lives.
But between Adam and Noah Satan did manage to instigate more and more disobedience between God and mankind. This depravity became such an abomination to God that it broke His heart and led Him to wipe them off the face of the earth with a flood. (Genesis 6: 5-8). God was only able to salvage Noah and his immediate family from destruction. And in like manner many of the descendants of Noah also rebelled against God as they tried to take themselves out of God’s reach and control by building a tower that would be as high as the heavens. For this arrogance God took away their ability to speak a common language. And He also scattered them over the face of the earth. (Genesis 11:8, 9)
But after the flood and after the Tower of Babel God sought out a person to spear-head a task force that would help Him with the attempted spiritual recuperation of all sinners. This was a purely spiritual task but with earthly and heavenly incentives. Abram or Abraham was the individual that God chose for this very important work. God said to Abraham: “Leave your country, your people and your father’s house and go to the land I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1).
This is the first time that the Bible records such an order from God to a human being. Clearly this could not have been the first time for some humans to have cooperated with God in the fulfillment of His plans and goals for mankind. But it is the first time that the Bible speaks so specifically of God’s plan to use humans in such a spiritual task. So it is very significant!
Everyone must be aware that the Bible is at best only a part of all that might have been written. What John says about the brief years that Christ was on the earth (John 21:25) is surely true also about the Old Testament period. Through the centuries a lot of religious literature has been written. But not all such literature has been recognized as authentic or canonical. Scholars have struggled long and hard over such problems. But this author along with many other Bible students can only have a sincere and child like faith in the Spirit’s ultimate control over the inspiration or authorization of the sixty-six books that make up the Holy Bible. So here in the first verse of Genesis 12 God makes this unusual request of Abraham. It has been preserved as authentic and must be taken as divinely inspired.
Also God made a covenant with Abraham as He said: “I will make you a great nation and I will bless you; and make your name great, and you will be a blessing; I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12: 2, 3).
This covenant is reminiscent of Christ’s commission to His church in Matthew 28:19-20. The similarity of the two makes it clear that they refer to one and the same divine plan. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. This plan of redemption is the heart beat of the Old and the New Testaments. (Psalm 67 and Acts 1:8). And this missionary endeavor will continue until Christ returns in all of His glory.
Abram is the first person in the Bible to be called the “Hebrew”. (Genesis 14:13). The word for Hebrew comes from a root meaning “to cross over” and describes “wanderers” or “those who pass from place to place”. It could be translated as “an immigrant”. Seldom is it used in the Old Testament for the Jewish nation. Later God changed Abram’s name to Abraham which means father of many nations. (Genesis 17:5). He became the progenitor of the Hebrew people and the spiritual father of many other nations.
According to Genesis 11 Abram’s ancestors after the flood were Shem (one of the sons of Noah), Arphaxad, Shelah, Eber, Peleg, Reu, Serug, Nahor, and Terah, (the father of Abram and his two brothers: Nahor, and Haran). The patriarchal age probably ran between 1900 and 1600 B.C. Many places where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob traveled are mentioned in archeological records. These places would include Ur, Harran, Nahor, Shechem, Gerar, Dothan, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc.
Abraham was chosen by the Lord to be the father of a people of faith who would help the Lord with the spiritual recuperation of sinful humanity. In the time of Noah God destroyed the rebellious people of the earth with a flood, but He promised never to do that again. Therefore, beginning with Abraham God made a covenant which set in motion a plan to reach out to sinners. This plan did not include waters of death but rather a flood of hope for forgiveness and mercy. Abraham and his family were hand-picked to assist God in this purely spiritual task. Not all of the physical descendants of Abraham were included in this priestly mission, but God carefully selected those who would best serve in this very important work.
God blessed Abraham and his family just as He promised. But all of this special treatment raises some questions. When God selected Abraham and some of his future descendants did He establish two plans of salvation, one for these descendants of Abraham and another for the Church? Some Classical Dispensationalists have taught this theory. But the thesis defended in this study is that there never was but one plan of salvation which was centered in the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, and made equally available on the same terms to all sinners whether Jew or Gentile.
In the covenant God also promised Abraham and his posterity the land of Canaan. Granted that this is true the question must be asked as to the identity of this posterity in the present time. The Scriptures make this very clear. The Bible says that God insisted that the heirs of the covenant be through Isaac rather than through Ishmael and also through Jacob rather than through Esau. And furthermore the lineage would continue through the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ and subsequently His followers from all nations. This study will use both of the Testaments to prove that this is the correct identity of these heirs.
Sarah was 127 years old when she died at Hebron. (Genesis 23:1). Abraham rejected the generous offer of the Hittites to give him the land on which to bury his wife. He finally made a deal with Ephron, son of Zohar, to buy his field in Machpelah for four hundred shekels of silver. So Abraham became the owner of Machpelah near Mamre (which is Hebron) in the land of Canaan. Thus he gained a legal deed to a piece of the land that God had promised to give to his descendants. (Genesis 12:7).
After a very full and useful life Abraham died at the age of 175. He was buried alongside his wife in the cave of Machpelah. Both Isaac and Ishmael were present for the funeral. (Genesis 25:9). On this occasion the two sons of Sarah (Hagar) and Abraham laid aside their differences and became just two brothers honoring a great father.
There is no way to know exactly why God chose Abraham to play such a strategic role in the divine effort of world redemption, but in God’s omnipotent wisdom He did just that. God saw something in Abraham that was perfect for His divine purposes. This led God to take Abraham out of his old tribal environment to a special place where He could gradually fill his heart with truths more in line with his life’s new agenda. He would prepare Abraham in assuming the responsibilities of his new divine partnership. Thus he would be equipped for the work to which God had called him. He became a new Abraham. God always sees something in anyone He calls to a special work which might not be at all obvious to others or to the person involved.
This is illustrated in God’s choice of David the youngest son of Jesse to be the second king of Israel. The prophet Samuel probably would have chosen one of David’s seven older brothers. But the Bible explains that “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7). Also Paul was surprised about God setting him apart “even before my birth.” (Galatians 1:15). Who but God would have chosen the chief persecutor of His people to become the chief proponent of His Kingdom work in the early days of the church?
Likewise only God would select a person like Abraham to be His chief advocate for monotheism. His father, Terah, was apparently a worshipper of Ur’s god Nanna (the moon-god). But God selected Abraham to be His special envoy even though he was reared in a culture that worshiped idols. God was aware of everything about Abraham but even so God had great plans for his future. The Psalmist confirms that “your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:16).
The Bible teaches that God has a plan for every human’s life even though such a plan is never completely followed. The only exception to this rule is the life of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the only human being that has perfectly acted out the divine script written for His life. Even in the Garden of Gethsemane as He faced His toughest moment He prayed: “Father, if it is possible, let me be spared this cup; only, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39). The Bible indicates that His crucifixion was a vital part of the plan for His life “from the foundation of the world.” (Revelation 13:8). And Jesus was faithful through this and every other part of God’s plan for His life!
As to the call of Abraham he was a man who knew almost nothing about the true God except perhaps some inklings that had filtered down through the many generations since Shem. But God knew that Abraham was one who could be taught. This proved to be true as Abraham showed his willingness to break with his polytheistic culture by hearing and obeying God’s instructions to “Leave your country, your people and your father’s house and go to the land I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1). God’s purpose was to challenge Abraham to a very special mission. And the encounters with God so impressed Abraham that he not only was willing to follow God to another country but also to follow God’s leadership in every area of his life.
It is not easy to say just when God first appeared to Abram (Abraham). But there can be no doubt that God’s eye was on him from his birth. God’s hand must have been in the family’s move from Ur of the Chaldeans to Haran. They were on their way to Canaan but settled in Haran. (Genesis 11:30). After the death of Terah, Abraham, at the age of 75, moved from Haran to Canaan with his wife, Sarah (Heb. “princess”), and nephew Lot, son of Haran. Sarah also was Abraham’s half-sister on his father’s side. (Genesis 20:12). This move to Canaan was surely in obedience to God’s explicit command.
Abraham’s first stop in Canaan was at Shechem where he worshipped God at the “oak of Moreh” “and built an altar there to the Lord”. (Genesis 12: 6-7). Shechem was some 30 miles north of Jebus (later Jerusalem; see Judges 19:10, 11). His second stop was at Bethel which was less than a dozen miles from Jebus. The city of Jebus is set high in the hills of Judah, some 30 miles from the Mediterranean and about 20 miles west of the north end of the Dead Sea.
The Bible confirms that it was the “God of glory” who appeared to Abraham. (Acts 7:2). Not too many details are given about this unusual and spectacular event but its importance to the world cannot be overstated. The same word for appear in Acts (Gr. optomai) is also used to describe the resurrected Christ’s appearances to Peter and to five-hundred disciples at one time and to James and also to Saul or Paul. (1 Corinthians 15:5-8).
This appearance of God to Abraham could have been in any number of ways. One example of how God communicated with Abraham is in the story of the three visitors in the eighteenth chapter of Genesis. The three strangers appeared at Abraham’s tent at the oaks of Mamre. They were immediately offered the customary hospitality of those days. As the story unfolds it is obvious that the three men were divine messengers. Two of them went on toward Sodom leaving Abraham alone with the third. Many interpreters believe that the third person was Christ Himself in preexistent form. Abraham also sensed that He really was the Lord and pled with Him to spare the city of Sodom if there were at least ten righteous citizens dwelling there. This was agreeable with the Lord but unfortunately the ten could not be found and the city was destroyed. Such a spectacular contact with the Lord clearly made a lasting and life-changing impression on Abraham.
However in spite of such mountain top experiences Abraham did revert from time to time to his normal human weaknesses. For instance he let Sarah persuade him to have a child with Hagar since the child promised to Sarah by the Lord did not seem to be a probability. Also when Abraham moved his family to Egypt he announced that Sarah was his sister. This was done to protect his life from some war lord who might desire to possess Sarah. The same thing was repeated when they were visiting in the territory of Abimelech of Gerar. But in spite of these lapses God chose Abraham to be a role model in the kind of faith that was pleasing to Him.
Abraham is called “the friend (Gr. philos) of God” (James 2:23; 2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8). Perhaps this rare designation was given to him because of his intimate personal encounters with God. Or it might be because Abraham stood head and shoulders above other humans who lived between the days of Noah and Moses. Be that as it may, God cultivated a friendship with Abraham and constantly explained to him the importance of the responsibilities that would be his in the covenant. He said to the patriarch: “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless” (Genesis 17: 1). This is a strong admonition from God for Abraham and his descendants which challenged them to live consecrated lives. They were to be God’s representatives on earth and were to demonstrate godly lives to their family and neighbors. Only in this way would they be worthy servants of their heavenly Master. God wanted the leaders of the covenant to set an example in the promotion of His Kingdom on earth.
The fact is that God honored Abraham by anointing him to be the leader of a world-wide effort to restore sinners to fellowship with their Creator. Therefore God was in constant communication with Abraham to encourage him and to give him counsel about his problems as well as to confirm the promises of the covenant.
For his part Abraham did build altars to God and worshipped Him with the sacrifices that he brought to the altar. Abraham had every respect for God and sought to follow His will in everything that He commanded even to the sacrifice of his son Isaac. He trusted God and was thoroughly convinced that He was just, wise, righteous, good, and merciful. Abraham repudiated the polytheistic tendencies of his ancestors and advocated his own personal conviction that Yahweh was the sovereign Lord God Creator who had now trusted him to fulfill the missionary task outlined in the covenant.
There is no way to exaggerate the significance of this covenant and its place in God’s eternal plan of redemption. It was another step in the process of the building up of the Kingdom of God. Through the testimony of Abraham and his descendants the Kingdom of God began to grow as people had their faith in God restored. Thus the covenant became a reality in the fulfillment of God’s dream. As such it had unlimited access to all the heavenly resources that might be needed.
Abraham and his descendants through Isaac and Jacob were commissioned to be an army of faithful priests who would be responsible for the spreading of God’s message all over the world! God wanted every human being on earth to be aware of His plan of redemption. It was a message too vital to leave to chance. And that is why God made a covenant with Abraham and his descendants in which they were to be the human channels through which He could communicate with the world in every language and in every nation. This covenant represented one of the most important tasks that God had ever assigned to human beings!!
The New Testament doctrine of the priesthood of the believer is quite evident in this early covenant with Abraham and his descendants. Their commission included a ministry to people of all nations. And wherever they went they were to share the existence of God and the reality of His salvation. The blessings that God had given to them were to be recommended to others, whether Jew or Gentile.
An unnamed servant girl is a good example of the faithfulness of some descendants of Abraham in remembering their obligation to the covenant. She had been taken captive by a foreign army and forced to work as a slave for Naaman’s wife. Naaman was a mighty Syrian army general but he was also a leper. So this humble Jewish maiden remembered her covenant obligation and suggested to her mistress that Naaman seek help from the prophet Elisha. This he did and was so impressed with his miraculous cure that he said to Elisha: “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.” (2 Kings 5). Like this young lady there were many other descendants of Abraham who recognized the importance of obeying the covenant.
The importance of this covenant is further indicated by being repeated many times to the patriarchs: to Abraham (Genesis 17:6-8; 22:16-18), to Isaac (Genesis 26:3, 4; 24), and to Jacob (Genesis 28:13, 14). There are also New Testament references to the covenant (Acts 3:25; Romans 4:13; Galatians 3:8, 29, etc). Many of these make important clarifications that help to grasp the far-reaching implications of the covenant. In Galatians 3:8 the covenant is even called an early version of the Gospel, that is, the good news about God’s plan of salvation.
Paul believed it was just that and also a Gospel for all nations since the covenant clearly said that through Abraham “all the nations (Gr. ethnos) shall be blessed.” The Greek word for nations is often used to distinguish between Israelites and Gentiles. Since Paul understood this distinction he knew that it was his duty to evangelize both Jews and Gentiles.
At the time of one repetition of the covenant to Abraham God changed his name from Abram to Abraham. Also the symbol of circumcision was established to serve as the “sign of the covenant between Me and you”. (Genesis 17:10-14). Every male of the household, whether son or slave, was to undergo this ritual at eight days of age. Abraham immediately carried out God’s instructions concerning circumcision. On the same day he and all the males of his household were circumcised, including his son Ishmael who was 13 years of age. (Genesis 17:24-27).
However, at the same time that God ordered circumcision for Abraham and his descendants, He reiterated His previous stipulation that “my covenant I will establish with Isaac.” (Genesis 17:21). The covenant was with Isaac and not with Ishmael! Ishmael was circumcised by his father but he lacked his father’s faith. While circumcision was a part of God’s plan it certainly was not as important as faith.
Another repetition of the covenant occurred at the time after God had tested Abraham in the apparent sacrifice of Isaac. Abraham’s faith in God did not waver in the face of God’s unusual demands, but on the contrary he demonstrated absolute faith in whatever God wanted him to do. God’s satisfaction with Abraham is obvious as he says to the patriarch: “and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” (Genesis 22:18).
The confirmation of the covenant to Isaac was given as he was about to move his household to Egypt because of a famine. The Lord appeared to him canceling the proposed trip to Egypt and advising him to stay for a while in Gerar. But after a period of time in Gerar the king Abimelech asked him to leave. So from there Isaac took his household to Beersheba where God blessed him and confirmed the covenant to him.
Another confirmation of the covenant was given to Jacob in a dream when God appeared and reaffirmed Jacob as the recipient of the promises to Abraham and Isaac. When Jacob awoke from this unusual dream he said: “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” Jacob named the place Bethel, but its previous name had been Luz. Later Jacob wrestled all night with an angel who at daybreak blessed him and changed his name to Israel. (Genesis 32:28). From this time the twelve sons of Jacob were known as the twelve tribes of Israel, the Israelites. However, in Paul’s day he was inspired to write that there was “an Israel within Israel”. (Romans 9:6-8).
Three monotheistic world religions, Jewish, Islam, and Christianity, claim kinship with the patriarch. Abram (the father is exalted) is mentioned in 46 verses of the Old Testament. Later his name was changed to Abraham (father of multitudes according to Genesis 17:5). By the new name Abraham is referred to in 150 verses of the Old Testament and in 66 references in the New Testament. Many times the Bible speaks about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This makes him one of the outstanding characters of the Old and New Testaments. He is the common ancestor of the Jews and Arabs. Abraham or Ibrahim is mentioned in no less than 188 verses of the Koran, more that any other character except Moses. To Muslims he is called “the Imam of the peoples.”
All three of these religions agree that Abraham was a man of faith and use incidents in his life to prove this point. One story in particular is singled out and given by all three a great deal of importance. It was the offering of Abraham’s son to God. The Jews prefer to use the word “binding” (Heb. akedah) instead of offering or sacrifice. The story is recited by the Jews on Rosh Hashanah (beginning of the New Year), a major Jewish observance. The story is also the focal point of the holiest day in Islam, the Feast of the Sacrifice, at the climax of the Pilgrimage which is the fifth of the “Pillars of Islam”.
For many centuries all three religions agreed that Isaac was the son that Abraham was prepared to offer to God. But at some point the leaders of Islam began to believe that Ishmael was the favorite son which the patriarch was ready to sacrifice. There is also some disagreement about the age of the son that was involved. Some believe that the son was still a child while others believe that he was thirty-three, the same age as Jesus when He was crucified on or near the same location.
Jerusalem has great significance for all three religions. The TempleMount is the place where Solomon’s Temple stood and the place on which the third temple will be built according to the messianic expectation of Jewish Orthodoxy. Also the Western “Wailing Wall” is the only remaining portion of the second temple. The Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock are in Jerusalem and because of this for Islam it is the third most holy site in the world after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. At one time the Muslims were told to say their five daily prayers as they faced Jerusalem. Later this was changed to face toward Mecca. Furthermore, Jerusalem has been the place of holy pilgrimages for Christians throughout the centuries because it is the place where Jesus walked and where He was crucified, resurrected, and ascended back to the Father.
Abraham has a place of honor in these three great religions but Islam’s highest honor goes to Muhammad ibn Abdullah to whom the Koran was dictated between 610 and 632 A.D. His lineage is traced back to Ishmael. To Muslims Jerusalem is where God sent Mohammad on his ‘Night Journey’, where He revealed to him that he was the true prophet, greater than Jesus, David or Moses.
The Jews consider Abraham their father but have high regard also for Moses and King David. And there are some of the Jewish faith who also recognize Jesus as the Messiah. However, Christianity recognizes Abraham’s strategic role in God’s plans along with Isaac, Jacob, David etc. but gives its highest honors to the Lord Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah.
According to most scholarly opinion the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the OldCity’s Christian Quarters marks the place where Jesus probably was executed and buried. Most of these places, if not all of them were occupied by different groups at different times in history. But leaders of the three groups are adamant about their claims to Jerusalem. And none are willing to give up this political advantage. To each group God Himself gave Jerusalem to them. End of discussion!!
“I will make you into a great nation” (Genesis 12:2a)
A hasty reading of the covenant in Genesis 12:2-3 might seem to make as its heirs all of the physical descendants of Abraham. Most readers would come to this conclusion. ANY and ALL of the patriarch’s descendants would automatically be legal heirs of the promises in the covenant. But the Bible makes it clear that God had in mind a very different interpretation. Soon after the covenant was announced God indicated that only SOME of the physical children of Abraham would be heirs to the covenant. At the time of the covenant Abraham and Sarah had no children. (Acts 7: 5). Then Ishmael was born to Hagar. Several years later Sarah gave birth to Isaac, the son of promise. Of these two God indicated clearly and emphatically that only one of these two sons would be the legitimate heir of the covenant. “But my covenant I will establish with Isaac.” (Genesis 17:19-21; 21:12, 13; Romans 9:7-8; Hebrews 11:18).
Isaac would be the heir of the covenant but not Ishmael! This surprising truth of God’s selective process is repeated again as God spoke about Esau and Jacob (Genesis 35:10-12; Romans 9: 10-13), and also of the sons and grandsons of Jacob. (Genesis 48:17-20; 49:10). These Scriptures set the tone and are the key to understand what God really meant by the descendants of Abraham who would inherit the promises and duties of the covenant. Obviously God never intended that every physical descendant would be a special priest to carry out the work of the covenant, but rather only those who were specifically indicated by divine selection. This is highly significant!!
This does not mean that all of the physical descendants through Isaac would be people of faith like Abraham but only that a remnant would be. Nor does it mean that the physical descendants of Ishmael or people of other nationalities would be totally abandoned by God.
One proof of God blessing people of other nationalities is the example of Ruth, a Moabitess. She married an Israelite, Mahlon, who later died. After Ruth’s mother-in-law, Noami, decided to return to her native land, Ruth determined to go with her. This beautiful story is told in the Book of Ruth. While in Bethlehem Ruth met and finally married Boaz. Their first child was named Obed, and he became the grandfather of King David (Matthew 1:5, 6). So Ruth had an honored place in the genealogy of Jesus!
In the case of Ishmael God blessed him and promised that a great nation would come from him. (Genesis 17:20). This nation would be the Arab nation. Ishmael became the father of twelve sons (Genesis 25:12-16). Jacob’s twin brother Esau married Mahalath (or Basemath) the sister of Ishmael’s oldest son, Nebaioth (Genesis 36:3, 10). Ishmael and his descendants settled east of Egypt in the area from Havilah to Shur. And the Bible says that Ishmael “lived in hostility toward all his brothers.” (Genesis 16: 12; Galatians 4: 29).
Also it is significant that in the time of Moses and Joshua none of the descendants of Ishmael were allotted a share in the land of Canaan!! (Joshua 13 to 21). Only the twelve tribes of Israel were allotted a share in the division of the land of Canaan. So it was quite evident that God did not permit Ishmael to be a part of the special group that He was organizing with Isaac and some of his posterity.
This same divine selection is evident again when God gave specific instructions about the garments that the High Priests were to wear. One feature of the priestly garb was in regard to the two shoulder pieces. On each shoulder piece there was to be placed an onyx stone. And on each stone six of the twelve sons of Jacob were inscribed in the order of their birth. Thus, on their two shoulders the High Priests would bear the names of the twelve tribes of Jacob before the Lord. (Exodus 28:5-14). God wanted an elite group to serve as ambassadors to His wayward children. And God was careful to choose only those who would be the most suited for this spiritual mission.
Consequently, from the beginning God clearly revealed that there would be an Israel within Israel. There would be the true Israel whose descendants accepted the importance of the Messiah in the covenant and another one who did not. Paul confirms this truth that “not all who are descended from Israel really belong to Israel.” (Romans 9:6-8). Also Paul quoted God's words in Genesis: "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." (Genesis 21: 12; Romans 9: 7; Hebrews 11: 18).
The Scriptures make a distinction between the children of the flesh and those of the promise. (Galatians 4:21-31). Not all the carnal descendants of Abraham would be heirs of the covenant. One Israel would be the Israel of the Abrahamic covenant and obviously the other would not. Only one of them would be composed of the legitimate family of faith and true heirs of the covenant. They would therefore be the chosen ones who adopted the kind of faith that Abraham had. The Scriptures are very clear that the descendants of the covenant did not include all of the carnal posterity of Abraham. Thus God in His sovereignty decided to hand-pick the legitimate heirs of the promises. This was His divine privilege even though it might seem arbitrary to some.
Paul asks the question: “Is God unjust? Not at all.” (Romans 9:14). So Paul reinforces his answer to his own question by quoting the Lord’s word to Moses. “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” (Exodus 33:19). As the Sovereign Lord, God makes His decisions in a way that is true to His holy nature and in keeping with both His love and His righteousness. Further on Paul asks another question: “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? (Romans 9:21). All of this is deep theological waters for most people but Isaiah 55:9 indicates the correct way for humans to think of God's decrees: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts."
As the Biblical record indicates, God never intended that all of the physical descendants of Abraham would automatically be heirs of the covenant and consequently special messengers of His grace. Therefore, it must be true that God always had in mind the spiritual rather than just the physical descendants of the patriarch. The Bible emphasizes the spirituality of the patriarch: "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4: 3, 22; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23).
So God wanted to form a group of followers from all over the world who would relate spiritually with Abraham and with God Himself. God needed some human assistance from those who were on His side to deal with the spiritual problems of the human race. This was in contrast to the way that God chose to treat the pre-flood generation after He saw: "how great man's wickedness on the earth had become." (Genesis 6:5). God was so disappointed and broken hearted with the depravity of mankind that He was grieved for having created them. So He sent a flood to destroy every living thing except the family of Noah. But after the flood God made a covenant with Noah in which He vowed never again to destroy all earthly life with flood waters.
Consequently in the covenant with Abraham God promised to have mercy on the rebellious if they repented and sought reconciliation with Him. He not only would bless the repentant but would then use them to bring others back to Himself. In this way God would be able to enlist and bless more and more people all over the world who had faith like Abraham. Check the definition of “faith” below. His plan in this covenant of redemption was to bring His blessings to all nations. Therefore God chose faith as the criterion for Abraham’s true heirs rather than those who were merely physical descendants. This spiritual interpretation is amply endorsed in both Testaments.
One of the confirmations of this is found in Romans 2:28, 29. In these two verses Paul teaches that God does not judge a person by external and physical standards. God looks at the heart of a person, whether Jew or Gentile. Now circumcision was indeed a sign of the covenant made with Abraham. But Paul was inspired to say that the circumcision that pleased God was of the heart rather than of the flesh. Furthermore Paul explained this circumcision of the heart by indicating that it could only be done by the Divine Surgeon and never by any human being. It was a spiritual transformation. (Colossians 2:11).
This was a radical and unacceptable thought to orthodox Jews. To them physical circumcision was the indispensable sign of the covenant. However, the Bible confirms that Abraham received God's blessing before he was circumcised. (Roman 4:10). Therefore in God’s sight faith was the indispensable element in the covenant rather than any bodily ritual. And Paul emphasizes this as he places spiritual circumcision above physical circumcision.
It is interesting that this idea of spiritual circumcision was taught by Moses as well as by Jeremiah. (Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4). So Paul, renouncing what he had been taught as an orthodox Jew, now believed that a spiritual experience was the only claim to any heritage with Abraham. Faith in God was the only direct link with the patriarch. (Galatians 3: 6, 7). The Bible indicates that this kind of faith was indispensable for any person who wished to be an heir to the promises made to Abraham.
What does the Bible mean by faith? To begin with faith should acknowledge the existence of God and that He is the Creator, the Sovereign Lord of the Universe. Many people would agree to this part of the definition. But there is another crucial element that is so dear to the heart of God that it dare not be omitted! It refers to the role of the Messiah in God's master plan to redeem sinful humanity. Therefore the faith that the Bible endorses must recognize Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah. However this part of the Biblical definition of faith has been "a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall." (Romans 9:33; Isaiah 8:14; Acts 4:11).
Jesus, the Messiah, is an absolutely essential part of the faith that God accepts. Anything else falls short. The Messiah cannot be left out if faith is to be genuine. This is made very clear in the Scriptures: “For Christ has brought Law to an end, so that righteousness may be attained by everyone who believes on Him.” (Romans 10:4). There is no doubt that the faith of Abraham was the kind that accepted Jesus Christ as an indispensable part of God's plan. (Galatians 3:8). Consequently, any faith that does not include Jesus as the Messiah is not the kind of faith that Abraham had. When the Bible speaks of faith it invariably reserves a special place of honor for the Lord Jesus Christ.
One of the most important revelations of the Holy Spirit concerning the heirs of the covenant with Abraham is found in Galatians 3:16: "The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say "and to seeds," meaning many people, but "and to your seed," meaning one person, who is Christ."
In this verse Paul explained that the word “seed" in Genesis (Heb. zera; Gr. sperma) was singular and not plural. Under inspiration from the Holy Spirit, Paul saw Genesis 12:7 (also 3:15; 13:15; 24:7) as a reference to the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ!! Therefore it was Jesus Christ who turned out to be the supreme heir of the covenant with Abraham. He was and is the central figure in God's master plan of redemption. Naturally there are multitudes of other heirs, but none who played such a crucial role as did the Lord Jesus. "For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16).
The Lord Jesus Christ during His days on earth tried to convince the Jewish people that He was really the Son of God. (John 8:31-59). Jesus assured those who might believe in Him that they would “know the truth and the truth would set them free.” To this some of His listeners declared that they were “Abraham’s descendants and had never been slaves of anyone.” This of course was not historically accurate. In the long history of the Jewish people they had been slaves of the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and now in Jesus’ time they were slaves of the Romans. But the slavery that Jesus had in mind was the slavery to sin which resulted in rebellion against God. He pinpointed their particular sin as having no place in their lives for God’s Messiah (vs. 43). Therefore in this they were more like the children of the Devil than of Abraham since “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” (vs. 56).
Jesus is the central figure in the spiritual recovery of fallen humanity. Everything in God's master plan depended on Him. He is "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29; Isaiah 53:7; 1 Peter 1:18). He is the Mediator of the New Covenant. This covenant was the culmination of all of God’s covenants with mankind. It was conceived in the mind of God before the foundation of the world. (Ephesians 1:4-7). All the other covenants were simply pointing to this New Covenant in Christ. In the 3rd chapter of Galatians Paul explains that the Law "was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come." (v.19). And of course that Seed was the Messiah. Paul continued to say that the Law did not annul the promise given to Abraham and was not contrary to it. However, the Law served as a guide "to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith." (v. 25).
Paul also believed that Abraham’s kind of faith was open to people of all races and genders. Others endorsed the same ideas. For example in Matthew's genealogy of Jesus two Gentile women were included. They were Rahab (Canaanite) and Ruth (Moabite). (1:5). Also Paul used a quote from Hosea to prove that God's original plan included the Gentiles: "I will call them my people who are not my people; and I will call her my loved one who is not my loved one." (Romans 9: 25, 26 with Hosea 1: 10). In 1 Peter 2: 9 - 10 the apostle Peter applied to the Christian believers some terminology that had traditionally been reserved for Jews only. All members of the Church, whether Jew or Gentile, according to Peter, were "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God" and were thus the legitimate heirs of Abraham. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ was God’s criterion for inheriting the promises of the covenant.
The bulletin of 7/17/02 from the International Mission Board of Richmond, VA. revealed that a Jew can believe in anything or nothing and still be considered Jewish. But he cannot believe that Jesus is the Messiah. If he does he will have forfeited his right to Israeli citizenship in the State of Israel.
This rejection of Jesus as the Messiah of prophecy is still prevalent in many Jewish circles. However, they are positive that the real Messiah (not Jesus) will come on some glorious future day. And when He does come He will supposedly defeat all enemies including the mighty Roman Empire, restore the sacrificial ceremonies in the Temple and initiate a millennium reign from David’s throne in Jerusalem with the whole world under His control. The Jews of course are to be the main supporters to help the Messiah govern His Kingdom. And with His assistance they will finally be vindicated for all the injustices that they have endured. This Jewish conception of a Messiah who will be the long-awaited Deliverer satisfies their interpretation of Old Testament prophecy. Such reasoning has no place for faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah.
But many Jewish people today (the Messianic Jews, etc.) have accepted Jesus as the long promised Messiah. Consequently they have received God’s highest spiritual blessing and are now a part of Abraham’s family tree of faith. But the Jewish people or anyone else who rejects Jesus as the Messiah can never have God’s blessing. (Matthew 12:30). They are like derelicts on an abandoned island that stand by watching the ship of God’s eternal covenant sail on by them. Hopefully before it is too late many of these will understand that only through Jesus can God bless them.
The world makes many distinctions among people, such as, Jews, Greeks, slaves, freemen, male and female. But in Christ all those differences disappear. In Christ, therefore, all who are of faith are descendants of Abraham and heirs of all the promises made to him. Consequently this includes all people of Biblical faith whether Jew or Gentile, male or female. All who have genuine faith regardless of ethnic origin are considered as legitimate descendants of Abraham and heirs of the promises made to him. (Galatians 3:29). This must include faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection. (1 Peter 3:18).
Some Bible readers have wondered why God delayed for centuries the appearance of the Messiah among mankind. The Bible says that Jesus came “in the fullness of time.” (Galatians 4:4). In other words, Jesus entered the world at the exact moment predetermined by God. Previous to this spectacular event, which was God’s most brilliant revelation of Himself, “God spoke to the forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways.” (Hebrews 1:1). But finally, the appointed Heir of all things appeared. He was/is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word. (Hebrews 1: 1-3). This was God’s personal face-to-face encounter with the human race that must not be ignored or despised by any human being who values and seeks God’s blessings.
Just why did God wait so many centuries before revealing this brightest light? There is no way to satisfy human curiosity about why the Father chose to reveal Himself to mankind so gradually. We can only believe that in His infinite wisdom He did constantly reveal Himself to His creatures in many ways and through many messengers. These servants or prophets were faithful in calling the wayward to repentance. Enough was revealed through these lesser lights to impress on them God’s eternal power and deity. (Romans 1: 19-20). But not all people were convinced by what they saw in nature or heard in preaching. As a result many of them ignored the obvious signs and then put to death those who were irritating them for denouncing their rebellious ways. But God persisted in His revelations which gradually became more pointed and sharper until the hour finally arrived for His fullest revelation.
So last of all God sent His Son thinking that they would respect Him. (see Matthew 21:33ff). This parable in Matthew’s gospel about the wicked tenants captures the history of God’s gradual approach to His rebellious people. The parable tells the story of a landowner who purchased a vineyard and then rented it out while he went on a journey. At harvest times the owner tried to collect his rightful share from the renters. But these renters killed the servants instead of sending them back to the owner with his part of the harvest. Finally the owner sent his son to collect that which belonged to him. But the renters reasoned among themselves: “This is the heir; come let us kill him, and seize his inheritance.” So they seized him and murdered him. This was when Jesusapplied the parable to Himself by saying that He was “the stone which the builders rejected.”
Then Jesus warned the Jewish leaders: “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it.” (Matthew 21:43). God’s Son came in human form so that He might be able to easily talk with everyone as one human to another. While this plan was highly successful for many people, others chose to reject and kill Him just as their forefathers had done to lesser messengers. John’s gospel says that “He came unto His own and His own received Him not.” (1:11). This especially applied to many Jewish leaders in Jesus’ time on earth as well as to pagans.
John’s gospel was written to convince its readers that Jesus was the Christ, (the Messiah), the Son of God. John wanted the divinity of the Lord Jesus to be clearly understood and accepted by all. One of John’s favorite descriptions of Jesus was that He was the “only begotten” (Gr. monogenes) Son of God. (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9). He was uniquely, the one and only Son. The word “begotten” does not imply a beginning of His Sonship. Rather it should be understood in the sense of an unoriginated relationship. Jesus had an eternal union with the Father in the Godhead. Others may be sons of God but not in the unique sense that Jesus was the Son of God. Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed One. His coming was prophesied by all the prophets and anticipated with eagerness by the Jewish people. The only problem was that most of the Jews had their own preconceived ideas about what the Messiah would do when He arrived.
In the long history of the Jewish people, they were never so out of tune with God as they were in the question of the Messiah. When Jesus began His public ministry He was not accepted by everyone as the Messiah. This was especially true of the Jewish authorities who did not agree with His teachings and who were jealous of His popularity with the common people. "And the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus." (Luke 22:2). Jesus was well aware of this opposition but it did not deter Him from carrying out His redemptive mission to the last drop of His blood on Calvary.
Jesus had no political agenda and for this reason He was rejected by most of the leaders of Israel. They were expecting a Messiah who would immediately overpower their Roman oppressors. These Jewish leaders were not interested in a suffering Saviour. They were not concerned about their sins as being greater enemies to them than the Romans. So Matthew records the frankness with which Jesus spoke to the chief priests, the elders, the Pharisees, and the scribes. Jesus tried to make it clear to them that their first need was forgiveness for their sins. To this end He used the parables of the withered fig tree, the bad tenants, and the wedding banquet. These were all warnings about how far they had strayed from God. (Matthew 21 and 22). Jesus called them hypocrites, fools, blind guides, snakes, and brood of vipers among other things. These were harsh words but used by our Lord as a desperate and final effort to awaken these religious leaders before it was too late.
Did these very hostile words that Jesus used against the leaders of Israel make Him eligible for the curses promised in the Abrahamic covenant? Later in this study the subject of the curses will be dealt with in detail. Suffice to say that Jesus was without sin in any form and He did only that which would meet with God’s approval. Since Jesus was in such complete harmony with God then He would naturally receive God’s blessings and not the curses. The curses were reserved exclusively for those who rejected God’s plan of salvation. Therefore, all idol worshipping heathen as well as those elements in Israel who disdained Jesus would be the ones to qualify for the cursings mentioned in the Abrahamic covenant. God cannot bless anyone who rejects Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1, 2)
Paul also was heavy hearted at the stubbornness of a good many of his fellow Jews in regard to the Messiah. And this in spite of the fact that God had given so many signs to the Jews by which to recognize the Messiah. (Romans 9:3-5). Even so a great many of the Jews failed to acknowledge that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah.
Consequently, they adamantly rejected Him as the only way to receive God’s blessings. Instead of this they kept relying on the works of the law to make themselves righteous in God’s sight. (Romans 10:16-21). They simply did not realize that all of the good that they might be able to do would never substitute in God’s sight for that which Christ would do on Calvary. Therefore they were reluctant to believe what Jesus was saying to them. John described their plight: “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God”. (John 1:11).
“And I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2b)
“Barak” is the Hebrew word for blessings. It means to bend the knee, to praise, bless. There was a close association between kneeling and receiving a blessing. It was also considered a kindly or benevolent greeting from one person to another. The corresponding Greek term is probably “eulogia” which comes from two words meaning “well” and “word”; hence, to speak well of someone, a word of praise; to ask God’s blessing on someone. (Ephesians 1:3). Brazilian people still practice this ancient custom of asking and receiving blessings from their fathers. The child will say to the father: “your blessings, father”, and the father will reply: “blessings on you, my child”. It is a custom that is usually not found on the American scene even though many children have great respect for their parents.
God had promised to bless Abraham. But just what kind of blessings did God have in mind? Apparently all kinds of blessings would be included, both material and spiritual. All of these were within God's power. So Abraham received many material blessings. He was given wealth, health, and prestige. He had an abundance of life's necessities, as well as long life, a loving family, and a good reputation among his neighbors. These earthly rewards were surely all appreciated. But without a doubt the sovereign Lord of the Universe would want to bless Abraham in a way that would last beyond his years on earth. Consequently He must have had in mind for Abraham some God-sized blessings.
The material blessings could only give pleasure in this brief life on earth but Abraham and some of his heirs were destined for an eternity in heaven after death. Therefore, God must have been willing to bestow heaven’s most precious treasures upon these also. For certain God took great pleasure in giving Abraham and those of faith like his all of the blessings promised to them, both material and spiritual. However, material blessings, while important, were insignificant in comparison with God’s greater spiritual blessings. These spiritual blessings were blessings that only God could give and that would endure for all eternity. But they were blessings that would require the sacrifice of His beloved Son!
That's why the spiritual blessings were so very dear to God’s heart. At the cost of His beloved Son’s death these blessings would serve to bring about the complete restoration of the lost sinner to fellowship with the Creator. Such blessings would then transform darkness into light, slavery into freedom, sin into righteousness and death into life. They would be God's highest blessings bestowed on those who qualified for His forgiveness. These blessings would outshine any material rewards like the sun outshines a candle. Surely God was thinking principally of spiritual blessings when He promised to bless Abraham and his descendants.
Abraham must have been overwhelmed with the new turn that his life had taken every since he had arrived in Canaan. But the blessings that God had promised must have generated more questions than answers. At one point Abraham admitted that he was perplexed about the great nation that his descendants were to become. He and Sarah had no children and it looked like his only heir would be Eliezer, his most faithful servant. But God again assured Abraham that this would not be the case and that he and Sarah would have a son and that this son’s descendants would be like the stars in number. So Abraham finally became convinced that God was fully capable of doing everything He promised. As a result, “Abraham believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23).
God made Abraham righteous because He was very pleased with the depth of his faith. The word “reckon” (Gr.logizomai, credited, accounted) comes from the business world of bookkeeping. When God saw the sincerity of Abraham’s faith He transferred Abraham’s account from the debit side to the credit side of His divine ledger. Abraham was forgiven for his sins and thus became a righteous man in God’s sight. This was the greatest blessing that God could bestow on any sinner. Paul quotes the Psalmist to confirm the magnitude of such a blessing: “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.” (Romans 4:7, 8 with Psalm 32:1, 2)
The Judaizers in Paul’s day argued that only those who had been circumcised and who faithfully observed the Mosaic laws and rituals could receive God’s blessing. But Paul used Abraham to prove that this was a mistaken theory. Abraham had received God’s highest blessing before he was circumcised (Romans 4:10) and at least 430 years before the Law was given. (Romans 4:13). It was a powerful argument since the Judaizers had great respect for the patriarch.
Another part of the promised blessings referred to the fact that "all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." (Genesis 12:3; Galatians 3:8). God's plan in the covenant was to use Abraham and his descendants as an army of priests through whom His blessings could touch sinners of all nations.
From Old Testament times God has called His people to be priests (Heb. kohen; Gr. hiereus). It has been noted by some scholars that most of the 700 references in the Old Testament to priests do not refer to the priesthood of all Israelites but rather to the priesthood of some Israelites. This would be applicable also to the heirs of the Abrahamic covenant as well as their counterparts in the Christian church. In 1 Peter 2:5 and 9 the author was quoting Exodus 19:5, 6. He applied terminology to the Christian believers that had usually been reserved for only Jewish people.
From the time of Abraham these chosen priests would be God’s missionaries to every nation on earth. They would be messengers of the divine grace and love that the world so desperately needed. This would be God's way of trying to bless a world of sinners who were enslaved to evil. God was anxious for everyone in the world to know that there was forgiveness and redemption available for those who would accept it from His hands. Thus Abraham was chosen to spearhead a task force that would be composed of God's chosen servants ministering to a world of needy human sinners. As faithful priests they would take God to the people and the people to God. This must have been the true purpose of the covenant that God made with Abraham.
While God’s plan began before Abraham it reached a climax with the coming of the Messiah. And throughout Jesus’ ministry He reminded His Church many times of her responsibility to preach the Gospel to the world. So it was an eternal plan that began before creation and continues until the end of time. God is the same eternal Lord Who has not through the centuries repudiated nor changed His promised blessings in His eternal plan of redemption through Christ’s blood shed at Calvary. It is the same scarlet thread that runs throughout His inspired Word!
Consequently Jesus’ instructions to His church were just a rephrasing of the Abrahamic covenant. The New Covenant terminology was in the form of a commission or commandment to His Church “to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 19-20). This is not the only time that Christ felt the necessity to update the Old Testament Scriptures. For instance, when He was asked about the greatest or most important commandment in the law, He did not hesitate to sum up the Ten Commandments and other laws into just two. He said that the first was to love God and the second was to love your neighbor. (Matthew 22: 35-40).
So in this updated version of the terms of the Abrahamic covenant there are differences but also similarities. For instance, the ordinance of baptism takes the place of the ritual of circumcision as a sign between God and mankind.
God did order Abraham to circumcise every male of his household when he was eight days old. This was to be an everlasting part of the covenant. (Genesis 17). However in the development of God’s plan in later generations circumcision became less important. The inspired writers in the New covenant era put it this way: “circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing.” (1 Corinthians 7: 19). Also Paul says: “In Christ neither circumcision has any value, nor uncircumcision, but faith which works through love.” (Galatians 5: 6). Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary bought freedom from the rules and regulations of previous generations. And for sure baptism in water is much less painful than circumcision.
ThereforeChristian baptism is now for every believer after they are old enough to become disciples (learners). This would imply true repentance for sin and a personal reception of Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Baptists reject the custom of infant baptism that is practiced by some other Christian denominations. For Baptists the ordinance by immersion in water is a symbol of the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 6: 3, 4). But while immersion in water is never a prerequisite for salvation it is a beautiful act of obedience as well as a public sign or demonstration of being a born-again Christian. If at all possible every believer should submit to the ordinance of baptism.
However, the type of baptism that really matters is with the Spirit, that is, the total immersion of the believer, not in water, but in the Holy Spirit. This occurs when God blesses the believer, whether Jew or Gentile, male or female, young or old, with a new spiritual nature. (2 Corinthians 5:17). And it is only through such a spiritual experience that the believer is guaranteed an eternity in God’s heavenly Canaan. This spiritual transformation is the greatest blessing that any human being could ever receive and it only comes by the grace and power of God.
As has already been noted Paul was convinced that real circumcision in God’s sight was a divine operation on the heart rather than a physical operation on the flesh. (Colossians 2:11; Romans 2:29). So a genuine spiritual experience, no matter whether it is called Spirit baptism or heart circumcision or born from above, is the prerequisite for water baptism. Consequently the baptismal experience in water is merely presenting a beautiful picture of what has already taken place in the believer’s heart. The born again believer, who is now dead to sin, is buried with Christ in baptism as he/she is immersed in the water and then risen to walk in newness of life as the believer is lifted out of the water.
Mark’s version of the Great Commission in Matthew adds a negative aspect to the Commission which brings to mind the curses of the covenant. Mark wrote: “but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (16:16).Andlastly, there is a wonderful promise in this Great Commission concerning Christ’s constant presence with His church. This comforting assurance indicates His approval of and power for those who faithfully carry out His orders.
The blessings that God still longs to pass on to His wayward children is now the responsibility of both the Jewish and Gentile disciples of Jesus in His church today. Their mission is nothing less than the continuation of the covenant that God made with their spiritual ancestors like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and others who faithfully carried God’s love to the sinners of their generations. And all believers today have the added incentive of following the example and the orders of their Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. On the cross He opened the way of free access to God’s presence as the veil in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The privileged honor that once was available only to the High Priest is now obtainable to any sincere seeker today at any time of the day or night. Now millions of people with faith like Abraham, including all believers in the Body of Christ today, are priests who can join hands with God in His effort to bless and to change the world one person at a time.
God’s spiritual blessings continue to be the most wonderful experiences that a person can have in this life. They are the most valuable treasures that any earthly pilgrim can obtain. Among their advantages is that these blessings can never be taken away from those who have received them from God. (John 10:29). They are divinely protected and guaranteed secure from all enemies. There are no powers anywhere in this life or in the next that can cancel or change in any way the blessings that God has given each believer. They are the only blessings acquired on earth that can be carried on into eternity. Since the beginning of time God has been welcoming human beings into the heavenly paradise that He has prepared for them. They are those who have placed more value on God’s spiritual blessings than on all the treasures that the world can offer.
Those who arrogantly disdain God’s offer of spiritual blessings do so by choice. They will have been deluded into believing that God is simply trying to deprive them of the pleasures that all humans need and desire. Along with this they are easy prey for the false teachers who say that life after death is either non-existent or simply a continuation of earthly life. This is a tragic misunderstanding. The truth is that in eternity all earthly values will suddenly be replaced with God’s spiritual values. Those who are not prepared for such a radical change of rules will be like fish out of water. Since they have had no room for God on earth they will not be compatible with God’s people in Heaven. John explains that in eternity the sorcerers, fornicators, murderers, idolaters and all who love and live lies will not be properly prepared to intermingle with God’s people. (Revelation 22: 15).
John also explains that nothing impure will ever enter the City of God, the New Jerusalem, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:8, 27). These saints will be those who have by God’s grace been properly cleansed for entrance into the Kingdom of God. So it is no wonder that the Bible calls God’s spiritual blessings the Gospel, that is, the Good News that all need to hear and receive. It is the only way for anyone to be liberated from Satan’s strangle hold on a sinner and the only Light that can disperse any and all spiritual darkness. (Ephesians 6:16). This deserves to be shouted from the housetops so that everyone may be fully informed. And this is the ministry that God gave to Abraham and to all of his descendants, including all the followers of Christ today.
“And the one who curses you I will curse” (Genesis 12:3)
God knew that some people would gladly receive His spiritual message through Abraham while others would scornfully reject God and His attempt to bless them. That is why God promised in the covenant to "bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse." (Genesis 12:3). This was applicable in Abraham’s day but also in successive generations of Abraham’s family tree. How can these blessings and cursings be best interpreted? To begin with it must be understood that they are exclusively related to the spiritual content of the covenant rather than to anything physical or political. God’s ultimate purpose in the covenant with Abraham was that all rebellious sinners be reconciled with their Creator. Therefore the curses can only apply to those who turn their backs on God and who also berate those who proclaim God’s conditions for receiving His blessings.
Obviously all those who embrace the spiritual intent of the covenant would be reaching out to God and thus would receive His blessing. (Deuteronomy 4: 29-31). On the other hand, those who rejected the message would be at the same time rejecting God’s effort to help and also His messengers. The natural consequence of this rejection would be a curse, that is, it would be the exact opposite of a blessing. God cannot forgive and bless anyone who is hostile to Him and His offer of forgiveness. Those who scornfully refuse God’s help with their sin problem are rejecting God Himself and His offer of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. (Luke 10:16). Therefore, the blessings or the curses would be in accordance with the positive or negative reaction to God’s eternal plan of redemption. (Galatians 1:8, 9)
Genesis 12:3 is frequently misinterpreted. As said above the Bible clearly says that the curses apply only to those who refuse God’s conditions for obtaining His blessings. Thus this would apply to anyone who rejects Jesus Christ as God’s Messiah. A popular slogan says it well: “No Jesus, no peace; know Jesus, know peace”. The Bible confirms that a sincere belief in Jesus the Messiah is the only way to receive God’s blessings. (Acts 3: 10-12)
Heaven and all of its wonderful surprises await those who gratefully accept God’s offer of redemption in Christ. But those who willfully ignore His gracious offer of forgiveness in Christ are also choosing the “broad way that leads to perdition”. (Matthew 7:13) This is not a wise choice for a human being and results in a disastrous fate that was never meant to happen to any human being. (Matthew 25:41). The destinies in the after life are either heaven or hell. Those who are competent to choose are responsible for the choice made.
A seminary student in Brazil in a burst of righteous indignation vowed that he could never believe in a loving God who would send a sinner to Hell for all eternity. This was probably a reflection of his Catholic Church background. The purgatory theory in the understanding of some Catholics is of a half-way house on the road to Heaven where the sinner suffers for many years until his sins are purged. What the young student did not understand was that God had a much better plan than purgatory. God’s plan was that Christ’s death on the cross would do for mankind that which otherwise would be totally impossible. Not even thousands of years of human suffering in purgatory or anywhere else can erase even one sin from a sinner’s chart! Only Christ’s sacrificial death on Calvary does that and there is no other hope for divine forgiveness.
Also the young student and many others like him have a problem with a loving God who has anything to do with eternal punishment in a place like Hell. They cannot accept the idea of a divine hand that blesses ever becoming a hand that chastises or even destroys. But it must be clearly understood that God has no pleasure in dealing harshly with those who adamantly refuse His love and mercy. In the case of the flood of Noah’s time the Bible says that “The Lord was grieved and His heart was filled with pain” because of the constant evil that dominated the lives of His creatures of that generation. Only Noah and his family were spared the inevitable tragic consequences of those who scoffed at God’s offer of salvation.
Matthew has captured the agony that Jesus felt as He faced the cross in the closing days of His ministry. He cried out to the Jewish nation probably with tears in His eyes: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate.” (23:37-39). In this lamentation Jesus expressed His disappointment with those who had misunderstood His offer to deal gently and kindly with them and left Him with no other option than to abandon them to a tragic desolation.
In the beginning God created human beings as His crowning work. He made them in His own image with the capacity for loving and pleasing their Creator in unbroken fellowship as together they carried out His purposes in the world. Naturally God knew that other forces existed who would want to challenge God’s control over the souls of mankind. Consequently, Adam and Eve were soon approached by these evil forces and unfortunately were no match for the Devil’s deceptive attacks. Thus began the war on Earth between good and evil. God knew that some of His creatures would be lured by the Devil to cooperate in an impossible attempt to sabotage God’s dream. And God also knew that in the end the Devil’s plan would cause only minor damage while God’s plan would survive for ever. And repentant sinners from every generation and every nation would finally sit down together in God’s Kingdom to reign with Him in an eternal reality. (Genesis 3:15).
God is still on His throne and will some day prevail triumphantly over all of His opponents. His judgments are not easy to fathom but the Bible says that they are just and fully trustworthy. (Psalms 119:137; Isaiah 55:9).
God’s plan from the beginning was to keep any and all sinners out of Hell. He has done everything, short of coercion, to forgive all who would avail themselves of His mercy and grace. For example, (1) God sacrificed His one and only Son to pay the full debt that any sinner might have accumulated during his earthly pilgrimage. And (2) He called out an army of special messengers to go personally throughout the world with the good tidings of divine love. Also (3) to reinforce these human agents God even sent the Holy Spirit to abide in every human’s heart. This work of the Spirit was to convict the sinner’s conscience about the difference between the Devil and Jesus Christ as well as the certain doom of the former along with all of his followers. (John 16:7-11).
Consequently, God’s plan is so perfect that it makes His grace almost irresistible! The nearest thing to a flaw in God’s plan is that His grace is resistible. It can be accepted or completely disdained! No sinner is ever forced to accept God’s help against his/her will. The reason for God leaving this loophole in His plan was because in the beginning He created people in His own image so that they could have communion with Him. He did not want humans to be just mechanical robots or zombies but He wanted them to have freedom to think and choose the best paths over the worst in life’s journey. In this way God sought to place people on a higher level from mere animals. And God must be very sad that His noble intentions have been completely nullified and overruled by those who have chosen to reject Him. These misguided sinners have exercised the freedom which God gave them in a way that He never intended.
In other words the principal focus of the blessings or the curses of the covenant was not on the good or bad physical treatment of people like Jews but rather it was on the acceptance or rejection of God’s eternal message! The main responsibility of the covenant people was to faithfully deliver the message that God had endorsed. And the listeners would be blessed or cursed in accordance with their response to God’s message. The heirs of the covenant were dispensable but not God’s Word!! The divinely chosen ministers of the covenant were made up of that segment in Israel that was actively engaged in fulfilling the stated purpose of the covenant.
However, these messengers were not to glorify themselves but only to be faithful ambassadors for the One who had appointed them. God’s messengers always have to be careful to hide themselves behind the message that they are commanded to deliver. A good illustration of this principle is in the Book of Acts. In Lystra Paul and Barnabas healed a crippled man, and the local people believed that they were the gods Zeus and Hermes. But the two apostles would not accept such homage and said: “we are humans like you who bring you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God who made heaven and earth.” (Acts 14: 11-16). That was the truth to be delivered by the heirs of the covenant. No political overtones or physical ostracisms were ever contemplated.
Even today the world is divided into two camps. One group hears God's message and joyfully receives it. The other group hears the message from God’s envoys and treats it with contempt. God gives the first group His highest blessings while He is unable to help the second group. Those who adamantly refuse God’s spiritual blessing are choosing to remain under His curse or righteous indignation. (John 3:36).
The two thieves who were crucified with Jesus are typical of the two opposite reactions to God’s message of salvation. Jesus was dying on the cross to provide these thieves that were crucified by His side with a pardon from God for all their sins. The unrepentant thief on the cross was not interested in such a pardon. He was proud of his way of life. To him Jesus was a weakling, a religious fanatic. This thief’s only wish was to get back to his old haunts and activities. He was physically separated from Jesus by only a few feet but spiritually he was a jillion miles away. Jesus longed to help him to avoid the wrath or curse of God for all eternity, but he was too blinded by his sin to understand the significance of the opportunity that he was despising. Jesus longed to but could not help him to avoid an eternal condemnation in Hell.
On the other hand the second thief was strangely drawn to Jesus. He recognized that Jesus was innocent and did not deserve to die, while he himself had gotten in with the wrong crowd in life and was now paying for his mistakes. In the closing moments of his life he regretted his wasted years and longed to be a friend of people like Jesus. So he made this modest request: “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom!” It was just this type of request that Jesus was happy to grant, not only to this thief but to every other sinner in the world. (Luke 23:39-43).
So God is not wholly to blame for the “curses” as at first it might have seemed. The curses should be understood exclusively as the logical outcome of the sinner’s decision to reject God’s plan of salvation. Without God there is no redemption. In the beginning God programmed certain moral and spiritual laws into the structure of the universe. (Galatians 6: 7-8). According to these laws a choice made by a human being would lead to a predetermined consequence. For example, the choice to eat of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden would result in death (Genesis 2:16, 17). Also the choice to believe in Jesus, God’s Son, would result in immortal life but to reject the Son of God would inevitably lead to the “wrath of God”. (John 3:36). God grants freedom of choice to everyone but there are consequences that go along with each choice made. One choice pleases God while others do not and result in God’s abandonment of the sinner to his/her sinful preferences. (Romans 1:24, 26, 28). God is the kind of Father who would rather bless His children than punish them.
A famous Bible scholar has written that the promise in the covenant of the curses has been “wonderfully fulfilled in the history of the dispersion. It has invariably fared ill with the people who have persecuted the Jews – well with those who have protected them.” Since this interpretation was suggested there have been thousands who have fully endorsed it. These have included Jewish as well as Christian students of the Bible. They think that the curses or blessings are tied to the persecution or the protection of the Jews.
However, this theory weakens in the light of the impossibility of reliable statistics to prove the assertion made. Also the theory is weak because it ignores what the Bible says about Israel’s failure to honor the conditions of God’s covenant with her which resulted in God’s judgments against her. On many occasions Israel has well deserved God’s use of pagan nations to severely punish her faithlessness.
The prophet Jeremiah wrote about God’s disappointments with faithless Israel. “What fault did your fathers find in me, that they strayed so far from me” (Jeremiah 2: 5). In the same chapter the prophet continues God’s indictment; “I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce, but you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable.” (v. 7). Then God pinpoints Israel’s sin: “But my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols.” (v. 11). As a consequence God allowed heathen nations to enslave Israel as a corrective measure of punishment. However the prophet does not blame God or the heathen but rather the Israeli themselves. “Have you not brought this on yourselves by forsaking the Lord your God when He led you in the way?” (v. 17).
The history of Israel is full of stories about captivities and other hardships that the Israeli people suffered at the hands of neighboring nations simply because they constantly rebelled against God. (Nehemiah 9: 26-37). Thus God Himself was allowing them to suffer because they did not keep faith with Him in obeying His Laws. God used these more powerful heathen nations to carry out His divine judgments. And this disobedience was never more evident than in the Jewish reluctance to accept the New Covenant that Jeremiah announced in chapter thirty-one of his prophecy.
Of course few people would fail to recognize that the Jews have had their share of unjust treatment because of their religion. The Holocaust of the Hitler era readily comes to mind. But all other religious groups over the centuries have suffered persecution and even death because of what they believed about God. It is common for religious groups to clash with those who do not agree with them. Matters of faith are taken very seriously as well they should be. But some are fanatical and consider it their divine duty to physically harm everyone that they consider heretics. But God does not endorse this fanaticism. Instead, He has promised: “It is mine to avenge, I will repay” (Romans 12: 19). Some day God will vindicate all injustices done to His people. And He will do so with the fairness that only He possesses. There will be no religious discrimination in the Kingdom of God. The gates of Heaven will be opened wide to receive all who have met God’s standards regardless of their religious affiliation on earth or the lack of such.
In both the Old and the New Covenants God in His sovereignty established the one and only way that He could pour out His blessings on all humanity. It was through His Son, the Messiah. And He chose a selected group to aid Him in revealing this plan to all sinners. But it had nothing to do with the religious persecution or protection of the Jews or any other faith. Rather it had to do with the rejection or reception of God’s plan of salvation. And the true heirs of the covenant were given a spiritual task that had its parameters predetermined in the covenant. The blessings and the curses of the covenant applies then only to how the Jews as well as any other nation might treat God’s message. It had no political overtones.
So, is it true that the God of love actually sends people to hell? The answer becomes clearer as another glorious truth is considered. The Bible says that God is love. (Deuteronomy 7:8; John 3:16). And the Bible also says that God is holy. (Psalm 99:9; Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 15:4). There can be no contradiction between these two great truths. Love as well as holiness must characterize the Lord God, the sovereign Lord of the universe. If one of these attributes is false the other is suspect. Who could believe in a God of love who was not at the same time holy? If He were not holy He could not be trusted in any promise made. He would be no better than a fickle human being.
Earthly parents often must use tough love in dealing with rebellious children. But many times it is the best though most painful way to rear children in the way that they should go. Consequently, at times God must also show His rebellious creatures the tough side of His love. He could pretend to not see their perverse actions and write them off as normal growing pains. But He knows that this would only be an incentive for more and more rebellion. And God’s love and holiness would require Him to adhere to a higher standard of integrity.
Most people in a sober moment would confess to preferring a God who would try to lift sinners to His level even though they might not understand His motives. But God is willing to take that chance rather than abandoning them to their worst enemy who pretends to be their best friend. The Bible makes it clear that God is aware of human depravity but recognizes it as foreign to their original nature. Therefore He has made Himself available to remove the diabolical influence that has intruded itself between the sinner and God’s spiritual requirements. And the Bible says that Jesus died on Calvary to do just that!! (Isaiah 55:7; 1 John 1:9)
How grateful everyone should be that the God of love in whom they trust meets the highest standards of integrity. There is no variableness in Him or shadow of turning. (James 1:17). From the beginning He has condemned evil and has mobilized all of His powers to eradicate it from the face of the earth. It would be a total capitulation to the Devil, the father of evil, if God should ever deviate one iota from this modus operandi. Therefore every human being should be thankful for God’s absolute holiness!! Who can find fault with God for having high moral and ethical standards for Himself and for those who would come into His eternal paradise as His guests?
Obviously His standards are very high. In fact they are so high that they are unattainable by mere human powers. Humans are no match for the devil and other spiritual foes. Humans must have God’s help in dealing with the wickedness of these malignant powers. But while God does demand much from the sinner He also offers to any sinner on earth absolutely everything that is necessary to meet heaven’s strict and rigid requirements! So, God gladly welcomes into His eternal paradise everyone who is washed in the blood of the Lamb. (1 Peter 1:18, 19; Matthew 8:11; Revelation 7: 14).
This cleansing blood is freely available to make any sinner’s evil heart as white as snow. There are none so hardened as to be beyond the power of God’s miraculous cleansing. Any and every sinner can be adequately purified and prepared for admission to God’s heavenly abode. Because He is a holy God of love and mercy He only requires of sinners that, during their earthly pilgrimage, they accept from Him the cleansing that will properly prepare them for living in His presence in the after life. This cleansing is free for all who will accept it. Jesus paid for it on Calvary.
Therefore, the only thing required of the sinner is to gratefully accept God’s help. That is the beauty of God’s powerful plan of redemption! It only requires the minimum from the sinner. And that is just the sinner’s cooperation in permitting God to do that which only God can do! God never requires the impossible from the sinner but just his willingness to let God do all that is necessary to give him/her a completely new nature. (2 Corinthians 5:17 - 21).
It should be quite obvious that because of His absolute holiness God cannot condone sin in any form or degree. By nature He must condemn it and He has consistently done this through every generation. This is not because He delights in finding fault with frail human beings but because He really understands the everlasting damage that evil can do to its unsuspecting victims. So to help sinners overcome their spiritual enemies He has provided a plan to defeat the manipulations of the devil. But this eternal plan of our loving Father has been and always will be the only way to break the satanic strangle hold that otherwise condemns sinners to an eternal hell.
It would be the contradiction of all contradictions if the God who has vehemently and consistently denounced evil throughout the millenniums would at the end allow sin to contaminate the paradise that He has prepared for His children. It would be a complete reversal of His battle against evil. (1 Corinthians 15:50; Revelation 21:27).
With such love and holiness at his disposal the sinner has no excuse. God’s cleansing is the only way to be delivered from the slavery to sin. And a simple prayer can bring His salvation to even the vilest sinner. So, it is either to accept God’s blessing of forgiveness or spend all eternity under His condemnation.
So after weighing all of these aspects of the subject, what is the answer about whether or not God sends anyone to an eternal hell? The final answer should be a qualified negative since it must be understood that while God does not send anyone to hell He will allow sinners to choose hell if they so desire. God does not send any soul to hell but neither will He force sinners to accept His spiritual cleansing if that is not their desire. God does not want any soul to perish eternally in hell (2 Peter 3:9), but He did create mankind with freedom to choose to do so. And while not approving of the rebellious sinner’s choice, God has to respect the choice that an individual sinner makes. He is very sad when anyone rejects His proffered hand of friendship because He fully understands its tragic consequences.
But the final choice is not God’s but belongs exclusively with the sinner. It is very unfortunate that some people do not consider their sins as important as God does. But by nature God must take sin seriously and nothing to be toyed with. He is well aware of the damage it can cause to a person’s spiritual nature. Like cancer to the human body it slowly but surely brings physical death. Consequently, God has made accessible to everyone His only solution to this problem. And He longs to apply His spiritual cleansing to all who will accept it. Then and only then can they be guaranteed His blessings for all eternity! May they understand this before it is too late.
the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with
the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.”
The Bible refers to the making of many covenants. Some were made by people with people while others were made by God with people. This study is limited to the latter type and especially His plan ordained before the foundation of the world concerning the salvation of fallen humanity. To implement this spiritual plan God made several covenants with mankind outlining the cooperation that the Creator wanted from human beings in the fulfillment of His plan.
It might be more accurate to think that these covenants were actually one covenant with several sub-divisions. Through the centuries God’s plan has unfolded gradually in covenants that updated the development of God’s schedule of His eternal plan on the stage of time. (Hebrews 1:1,2). This would reinforce the point already made that these Old and New covenants, with some of their own sub-divisions, have identical purposes that bind them together. They comprise the one eternal plan envisioned by God from the beginning. This plan was always intended to prepare citizens of the earth to become citizens of the Kingdom of God. It has already spanned many centuries and will only reach its glorious culmination with the Second Coming of our Lord.
The Hebrew word for covenant is “berith”, and it occurs 286 times in the Old Testament. The word means a covenant or agreement and comes from a verb signifying to cut or divide, in allusion to a sacrificial custom in connection with covenant-making. (Genesis 15 and Jeremiah 34:18-19). The covenant was a treaty, an alliance of friendship, a pledge, an obligation between the monarch and his subjects. The relationship was sealed with promises of blessings for obedience and dire consequences for disobedience.
The New Testament writers used the Greek word “diatheke” (dee-ah-THAY-kay) to translate the Hebrew term “berith”. In this they were influenced by the LXX (Septuagint), the Greek translation of the Old Testament made by some 70 Jewish scholars in the third century BC. In classical Greek “diatheke” generally meant the disposition which a person made of his property in prospect of death, i.e., his testament. In the New Testament it is used in various ways, among which is the one that is the basis for the salvation of human beings. (Matthew 26:28; Hebrews 10:29; 13:20). This is guaranteed by the death of Christ. The Greek word is used thirty-three times in the New Testament. Twenty times it is translated as “covenant” and thirteen times as “testament”.
When “diatheke” is used it generally signifies that God on His own terms establishes a covenant for mankind to keep. The recipients do not have any basis on which to bargain with the Creator and argue about the terms or conditions of the covenant. In fact, humans did not even exist when God’s covenant of grace was ordained before the foundation of the world. Therefore, humans can only accept or reject the offer that God makes. A good example of such a covenant is a will. Some person makes a will and the heirs that are indicated in the will can only accept or refuse the inheritance as it is offered. That is why God’s covenant with the human race is accurately described as a “diatheke”. At the inauguration of the Lord’s Supper Jesus said: “This cup is the new covenant (diatheke) in my blood.” (Luke 22: 20; 1 Corinthians 11:25). The New Covenant was brought to fulfillment through Christ’s blood on Calvary’s cross.
In Greek there are two words for “new”. One is “neos” meaning new in point of time. The other is “kainos” meaning new not only in point of time but new in quality. The New (kainos) Covenant in Christ’s blood was different in kind and quality from the Old Covenant. Paul says that the Old Covenant was engraved in stone while the New was written on the human heart by the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:3).
As God became involved with human beings, He made covenants with them. This is a subject that is too vast to be fully developed in this particular study. But briefly, God did make a covenant with Noah (Genesis 9). He promised that He would never again destroy the earth with water. And the rainbow served as a sign of this promise. Even today the rainbow serves to confirm this covenant.
The covenant with Abraham was primarily related to the spiritual life of mankind. It was the first time that God had openly sought the participation of human beings in the spiritual recuperation of fallen humanity. Abraham and selected descendants of the patriarch were to dedicate their lives to the task of persuading rebellious sinners to make peace with God. This moment in history was so significant that it was sealed with a covenant. By the terms of this covenant God agreed to bless Abraham and his descendants. He also promised to bless all of those who in repentance sought God’s blessing. It was another step in the divine program to build up God’s Kingdom all over the earth. The sign of this covenant in the early days was circumcision. (Genesis 17:11).
As usual God’s covenants were made conditionally and on His terms. (Jeremiah 7: 1-15). God would keep His part of the bargain and He expected His people to do the same. Otherwise the covenant would be null and void. Hundreds of years later this covenant with Abraham was supplemented with the Mosaic covenant. This one related to the laws and sacrifices that were to be used in worshipping God. But it did not invalidate any promises confirmed to Abraham. (Galatians 3:17).
Another important covenant was the one that God made with David (2 Samuel 23:5; Psalms 89:3, 19-37). In this covenant God promised: “I will establish his line forever, his throne as long as the heavens endure.” David as well as Jesus Christ were descendants of Abraham. (Matthew 1:1). Jesus is called the Son of David even though He Himself never personally used the title. But the Scriptures indicate that God had already chosen to give Jesus “the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:32, 33). So the New Testament makes it very clear that Jesus was God’s fulfillment of His promise to David.
Under the Old Covenant the tabernacle or moveable tent was set up to be the place where God’s people could worship Him and He could dwell among them. During the forty days and forty nights on Mt.Sinai (Exodus 24:28; 25: 9; 40; Hebrews 8:5) Moses was given specific instructions by the Lord God about the building of the tabernacle and its furnishings. Everything was to be patterned after a heavenly model. Moses made certain that these instructions were carried out by the best craftsmen he could find and who would use the best materials available. The tabernacle was to consist of two rooms: the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. It was moved from place to place during the Israelites’ journeys. It was pitched at Gilgal, then at Shiloh, and finally was carried by the Levites to Jerusalem. A more permanent structure called the Temple was later built by Solomon. This magnificent Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and its valuable contents carried to Babylon during the Babylonian captivity.
In the Old Covenant the worship duties of the Tabernacle were under the direction of Aaron as high priest. Aaron and Moses were descendants of Amram and his wife, Jochebed. Amram was the son of Kohath who was the second son of Levi. The tribe of Levites did not receive a portion of the Promised Land but they did receive a tithe from the other tribes as well as certain designated towns. These were in payment for their religious services to all of the other tribes. (Joshua 18:7; 21:1-3). The Levitical priests supervised the offering of the animal sacrifices. The blood of bulls and goats was used according to the Law to temporarily cleanse the guilt of the worshippers. The High Priests were selected out of the tribe of Levites and were the only ones allowed to take the blood into the Most Holy Place and they did this only once a year on the Day of Atonement. And before they performed this significant service they had to offer a sacrifice for themselves.
The Old Covenant was clearly divinely inspired and an integral part of God’s dream of His eternal Kingdom. All of the promises made to Abraham and his descendants were faithfully kept. One proof of this is when Jesus pulled back the curtains in Paradise to reveal Father Abraham still receiving new recruits And Jesus also confirmed the words of Abraham to the rich man in Hades that God had given through Moses and the Prophets ample instructions that could lead people to Heaven.
Also the author of Hebrews as well as Paul and others make this same truth very clear. (Hebrews 9; Romans 3). God through Moses and the Prophets spoke of the first covenant with its rules and regulations for worship and also of the earthly tabernacle with its many priests. Even Amos said “Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.”(Amos 3:7) And the book of Jonah tells the unusual story of a great revival in Nineveh when even the king repented of his sins in sack cloth and ashes under the preaching of Jonah.
Since the New Covenant is associated with the coming of the Messiah and His sacrificial death on the cross, it is logical to conclude that the Old Covenant would refer to all of the previous covenants. However, as has been noted, since there is a definite link between the Old and the New covenants, they both must be integral parts of God’s eternal plan to establish His everlasting Kingdom with the redeemed from all generations.
Paul used Hagar and Sarah to illustrate the differences between the Old and the New Covenants. (Galatians 4: 21 -31). He said that Hagar represented the Old Covenant, the present Jerusalem, while Sarah represented the New Covenant and the heavenly Jerusalem. Hagar and her children lived under a covenant of slavery to the Law with all of its legalistic rules and regulations. But Sarah and her children lived under a covenant of freedom in Christ, God’s more desirable way of dealing with sinners, not by law, but by grace. Sarah’s children were descended from Isaac, the special child of God’s promise to Abraham, while Hagar’s children were descended from Ishmael, the product of mere carnal activity. With this comparison Paul wanted the Galatians to have faith in the atoning work of Christ on the cross rather than trying to earn their own way into favor with God by keeping the Law. It is only by grace rather than Law that Hagar and her children can share in the inheritance with the children of Sarah. (v.30).
In making a New Covenant God pronounced the first one old and obsolete, and no longer valid. The Old Covenant was out of date and the time had come for it to be discarded. (Hebrews 8:13). The Old Covenant served well in its time, but it was not God’s final word. The Old used types, the New revealed the antitypes. The Old was good, but the New was better. Both were divine in origin but the New was God’s final and clearest call to lost humanity. Someone has said that the new was not antagonistic to the old but merely its outgrowth, related to it as the blossom and fruit are to the root and the stalk.
The Bible indicates that the New Covenant is better (Gr. kreisson) than the Old. This is because of the glorious reality that God in the fullness of time came personally to the earth to pay the price of redemption for all sinners. The writer of Hebrews makes this clear when he wrote that “Jesus became the surety (guarantee) of a better covenant (testament).” (Hebrews 7:22). A surety is a person who puts up bail and personally becomes responsible either with his life or property for another person. Thus as Jesus died on the cross He confirmed all the promises made in previous covenants and guaranteed salvation to all repentant sinners. (Hebrews 9:15). In other words from the beginning of time any promise that God made to any human at any time will be honored according to the conditions that were stipulated. God is always faithful to any and all of His covenants!
John describes his vision of the unnumbered multitudes who have become members of the family of faith throughout the history of covenants: “After this I looked, and behold a great multitude, whom no man could number, out of every nation and tribe and people and tongue, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands; and they cried with a loud voice, saying: ‘We owe our salvation to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ ” (Revelation 7:9-10)
In the fullness of time God revealed the last stage of His plan. It was the New Covenant that coincided with the coming of the Messiah, God's Son and Heir of everything. (Hebrews 1: 1-2). The covenants with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David as well as others were all interrelated parts of God's original plan that was conceived before the foundation of the world. (Ephesians 1:4; 1 Corinthians 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2; Matthew 25: 34; Hebrews 4: 3; Revelation 13: 8). This climactic New Covenant was nothing less than the crowning finale in God’s gracious plan of redemption for fallen humanity.
The same God who spoke to Abraham in the time of the Old Covenant was the Author of the New. Any blessing promised in the Old would definitely be honored in the New. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the eternal God who is the same “yesterday and today, yes, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8). Those who followed Abraham’s example in the Old Covenant are just as much branches of the family tree of faith as are those who later embraced the New Covenant. And those under the New Covenant are full heirs with the earlier heirs regardless of their ethnic origin. The promises of the covenant are valid to each and all who have faith in God regardless of when they lived or their identity as to race or ethnicity.
The old order or covenant was confirmed and enhanced when the Messiah arrived. The writer of Hebrews says that in the final age God has spoken to us in His Son (1:2). This had been God's plan from before the foundation of the world, but the New Covenant was only fully revealed in the "fullness of time" when Jesus was born. (Galatians 4:4). The Biblical writer of Hebrews shows Christ’s superiority in His person and in His ministry over all who preceded Him. He is the guarantee of a new covenant as well as its mediator. (Hebrews 8: 6; 9: 15; 12: 24). A mediator (Gr. mesites) is a go-between. Because of His divine-human nature Jesus was well qualified to be the mediator between God and His creatures. Jesus understood human problems as well as the divine requirements. His sacrifice on the cross took care of both.
This New Covenant was predicted by the prophet Jeremiah and is quoted in its entirety in Hebrews 8:8-12. This is the longest quotation of an Old Testament text in the New Testament. The inspired author of Hebrews is hereby giving the New Testament version of why the previous covenants had to be fulfilled with the New.
Under the New Covenant Jesus was not only the Mediator of the Covenant but was also its High Priest. The writer of Hebrews sought to prove the superiority of the priestly ministry of Christ over that of the Levitical priesthood. The blood of animals used by the Levitical priests served only for brief periods of time and then had to be repeated over and over again. Such sacrifices served only to temporarily remove the guilt of the worshiper. The Bible confirms that the blood of bulls and goats “were not able to clear the conscience of the worshipper.” (Hebrews 9: 9).
The priestly ministry of Jesus was entirely different. He was not a priest in the order of Aaron but in the order of Melchizedek. Melchizedek was the king of Salem and priest of the God Most High who blessed Abraham after he had defeated several kings in the battle in which Lot was rescued. Also Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of the spoils of the battle. This showed the prestige of this mysterious personality whose genealogy is not known and who had “neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he abides a priest forever.” (Hebrews 7: 3). So the writer of Hebrews says that Christ was declared to be “a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 7:17).
Therefore because Christ’s priesthood is forever “He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them.” (Hebrews 7:25). Consequently, Christ as High Priest did not enter the Most Holy Place using the blood of bulls and goats as did the Levitical priests. Nor did He have to offer any sacrifice for Himself as the other priests did. Nor did Christ enter into a man-made Most Holy Place, which was just a copy or type of the true one in heaven, but into Heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us. (Hebrews 9: 11-24).
The veil that separated the two divisions of the Temple was split from top to bottom when Jesus died. (Matthew 27:51). This had great significance! In the Old Covenant the access to God’s presence was limited to the High Priest who only entered the Holy of Holies just once a year. But in the New Covenant the access to God became unlimited. (Hebrews 10:19, 20). Christ was the High Priest who with His sacrifice opened for every sinner the way into the Most Holy Place, that is, into the very presence of God. This was quite a contrast to the sacrificial system of the Mosaic Law which brought ceremonial purification but which did not cleanse the human conscience from acts that would lead to perdition. (Hebrews 9:14). The blood that Jesus offered on the cross eliminated the veil and provided complete access to God for any and every sinner.
The mission of the Messiah was accomplished as Jesus died on the cross, saying with His last breath the one Greek word, “testelestai”, (it is finished)! God’s eternal plan of redemption for fallen humanity was now a historical fact!! Those who entered the Kingdom of God before Calvary were redeemed by Christ’s blood BEFORE the fact. And those who became part of the Kingdom after Calvary were redeemed AFTER the fact. But all owe their forgiveness and reconciliation with God to the Messiah, the Lamb of God who “takes away the sin of the world”. (John 1:29). There is no way to exaggerate the significance of Jesus’ contribution to the eternal plan of God to save any and every sinner who is willing to accept the salvation which God has provided.
Since May 14, 1948 the Nation of Israel has occupied some of the land of Palestine believing that it was a part of the land that God promised in perpetuity to Abraham. However, the political leaders of Tel Aviv still do not understand that the God of the Old Covenant is now operating under the banner of the New Covenant. And under these new rules the word and works of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, are God's criteria for everything that He does.
The New Covenant is God’s full and final revelation of His eternal plan. The promises of the previous covenants are still just as valid as ever even though expanded to include many exciting new additional aspects that only have came to light with the dawn of the Messianic Age.
For the reason stated above, the return of the Jews to Palestine sanctioned in 1948 by the United Nations would not qualify to be the fulfillment of a divine “mandate”. Any divine mandate in the Covenant could only have reference to a promise made to the legitimate heirs of Abraham’s descendants through Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Jesus, etc. These are the only descendants that could claim to be the legitimate heirs of the land as well as the spiritual blessings promised in the Covenant. And these descendants today would number as the stars in heaven and the sand on the seashore. Moreover, they would be Abraham’s family of faith that will continue to expand as many more Jews and Gentiles express their faith in God’s eternal plan through the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Many listeners heard a famous evangelist on television when he denounced any kind of racial prejudice. Among other things he emphasized was that everyone ought to love the Jews “because they were God’s chosen people.” It is certainly true that God chose Abraham and his descendants through Isaac to be His special liaison with sinners. But not all of Abraham’s descendants chose to have faith in Abraham’s God and God’s beloved Son. Apart from Abraham’s kind of faith it is impossible to be God’s chosen people who are heirs of the covenant. It is obvious that the present leadership in Tel Aviv does not understand this vital truth since they deny citizenship in the State of Israel to any Jew who worships Jesus as the Messiah.
Many through the centuries have adamantly refused to recognize Jesus as God’s Son and the promised Messiah. Therefore such people, whether Jew or Gentile, are not in touch with the will of God and can never receive His highest blessings. It is true that everyone ought to love the Jews as well as Muslims or pagans. And this can best be done by helping them to see that Jesus died for them as well as for all sinners on Calvary’s cross. They need to know that only through the Lord Jesus Christ can they receive blessings from God such as His forgiveness for their sin.
Throughout the centuries Abraham’s family tree of faith has multiplied by the millions. At first they were mainly Jews but gradually have included an uncounted number of Gentiles as well as Jews. They are all the true covenant people with every privilege and responsibility that were originally given to Abraham. And one by one their names have been indelibly written in the Lamb’s book of life.
The Bible teaches that God’s chosen people are limited to those who receive by faith the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour. (Acts 4: 12). Abraham had this kind of faith. There is no other way to become a part of Abraham’s family of faith. And these are the heirs and consequently the blessed benefactors of the New Covenant.
“And, since you belong to Christ, it follows that you are Abraham’s offspring and, under the promise, sharers in the inheritance.” (Galatians 3:29)
God was determined that the promises made to Abraham and his descendants should be fulfilled. To make certain that this happened He swore by Himself, saying: "Surely I will bless you and multiply you." (Hebrews 6:13). With this oath God confirmed to Abraham's heirs that He had not forgotten His promises. He had not changed His mind, and everything would come about just as He had preordained. “And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised. “ (Hebrews 6:15).
Some of the promises of the Covenant will be reaped initially while the pilgrims are still on their earthly journey. They will bring immediate satisfaction. But other promises will await their fulfillment in the millenniums of eternity. Either way the promises that God made in the Covenant will be faithfully honored.
In the Old Testament there are many types that have their antitypes in the New Testament and in the New Jerusalem. Thus they are previews which are familiar to human beings but which serve to acquaint earthlings with their heavenly counterparts. For example, Adam is a figure or type of Christ. (Romans 5:14; 1 Corinthian 15: 45). Isaac is also a figure of Christ Who just as the patriarch’s son “was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb before his shearer is dumb, so opened he not his mouth.” (Acts 8:32; Isaiah 53:7). Likewise the blood of sacrificial animals was a figure of the blood of Christ, the Lamb of God. And also the tabernacle with its furnishings were types of their spiritual or heavenly antitypes. These and other types prepare earthly pilgrims to anticipate the glorious realities in Heaven. They are part of the earthly rewards that whet human desires for the better things to come.
One other type in the Old Testament that merits special mention is God’s promise to give the land of Canaan to the descendants of Abraham. (Genesis 12:7; 13:15; 15:18; 17:8; 24:7;26:3; 28,4,13; 35:13; 48:4; Acts 7:5). In the New Covenant the promise of life everlasting in heaven is the antitype of a homestead in the land of Canaan. Canaan is only a shadow or illustration of a more glorious reward in heaven. The land of Canaan was a desirable physical reward in the time of Abraham and his descendants. But it is nothing in comparison with an eternal home in the New Jerusalem “Coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” (Revelation 21:2).
For this reason the patriarchs confessed that they were "aliens and strangers on earth." (Hebrews 11:13). They died believing that they were going to a place much better than Canaan. And they had no desire or inclination to return to the old shadow (the land of Canaan). They died in the assurance that God had promised them a place in the heavenly country. (Hebrews 11:14-16). They were absolutely right. And in this way the promises of the Old Covenant were amply fulfilled in the New. God is faithful. He not only keeps His promises but goes well beyond them in the most amazing and wonderful display of His grace. To Him, therefore, all glory and honor!
This promise of the land of Canaan has been kept by our Lord in spite of some misinterpretations about it at the present time. This promise was given conditionally as are all of the promises of God. (Genesis 17:9; Exodus 19:5). God even threatened to take Canaan away from Israel if they ever disobeyed His covenant. (Deuteronomy 4:23-27). The land was an earthly incentive for Abraham and his progeny to obey God. History shows that the Israelites failed time after time to keep God's commandments. But God kept giving them chance after chance to repent. Unfortunately He was constantly disappointed to see that their periods of repentance were short-lived. The prophet Hosea confirms this weakness as he likens the people’s love for God to “the morning mist, and the early dew that disappears” (Hosea 6:9).
However, in spite of this pitiful record, God attempted to be faithful in His promises to the chosen descendants of Abraham. As has been mentioned before the Covenant was only with the descendants of Isaac, Jacob, and the continuation of Abraham’s heirs through the Messiah along with the Church that He founded. In reality the heirs of the Covenant turned out to be with only a faithful remnant of the descendants through Isaac. This remnant of Israel (including Jews and Gentiles) was the only one that could now lay claim to a “mandate” from God to possess the Promised Land.
Joshua, the leader who succeeded Moses, was designated to divide the Promised Land among the twelve tribes of Israel, that is, among the descendants of the twelve sons of Jacob (Israel). Joshua gave this report: "So the Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their forefathers, and they took possession of it and settled there." (Joshua 1:1-6; 21:43; 23:11-16; Nehemiah 9: 19 – 25). So according to this report of Joshua God did His best to keep His promise to Abraham's family tree of faith. Unfortunately He was not able to do all He wanted to do because of a lack of cooperation on the part of those who would not embrace God’s plan of redemption.
According to this report of Joshua God gave to Israel all of the land of Canaan and they actually took possession of it. God kept His part of the promise! Israel took possession of and made a living off of the promised land of Canaan. Considering the track record of Israel, it is possible that some individuals who did not have the faith of Abraham managed to intermingle with those who were the legitimate heirs of the covenant. But such trespassers did not fool God nor did they receive His blessings. Perhaps this is why the prophets speak of a remnant among the Israelites who would be faithful to God and who would receive all of God’s blessings. (Isaiah 10: 20-23). In fact the son of Isaiah was named Shear-Jashub which means “a remnant will return.” (Isaiah 7: 3). So in the end there will be no imposters in heaven but just the true remnant.
The promises made to Abraham were both material and spiritual in nature. As has been said God was faithful in honoring both types of those promises. But the material promises were only mere shadows of the greater spiritual promises that God had in mind for His people. The material promises were limited to the earthly existence while the spiritual promises were compatible for the earthly as well as the heavenly existence.
Paul makes it very clear in Galatians that Abraham’s offspring and consequently all heirs of the promises made to the patriarch are those who are trusting in Christ rather than those who put their trust in the rule-keeping of the law. This would include peoples of all nations regardless of their ethnicity.
The promises made to Abraham were totally fulfilled initially on earth but afterwards in heaven. When God first spoke to Abraham He said: “I will make you a great nation and I will bless you”. (Genesis 12: 2). At the time Abraham and Sarah had no children but God promised that their descendants would become a great nation. These descendants would become “as numerous as the stars of the sky and as the sand on the seashore.” (Genesis 22: 17). Abraham himself did not live long enough to see the complete fulfillment of this promise but he saw enough to know that it would happen just as God had promised. And the Bible confirms that his faith was justified.
Not only did God promise to make Abraham the father of a great nation, but He also promised to bless him. This blessing did not refer to only a trivial reward of some earthly benefit. Rather it had to be the kind of blessing that only God would be capable of giving. This was verified as God credited Abraham as righteous because of his faith. (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23). God was highly pleased with Abraham. Abraham was tested and passed God’s scrutiny with flying colors. Abraham was finally convinced that God was able to do all that He promised. So God rewarded his faith with His highest blessing. And this happened before Abraham was circumcised and of course many years before the Law was given through Moses.
This spiritual blessing meant that Abraham had received God’s pardon for any and every sin in his life. Abraham was now justified by faith with all the rights and privileges of a redeemed child of God. It also signified that his redemption was guaranteed by the sacrificial death of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Consequently, this reward included the hope of spending all eternity in God’s paradise. Abraham and his descendants who had faith in Jesus, the Messiah, would, according to the promise, share in the eternal and heavenly inheritance. The patriarchs while making their home in a promised land were always “looking forward to the city with foundation, whose architect and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:9).
Another promise in the covenant was that Abraham would be a blessing to others. He would not only have the joy of being personally at peace with God but also would be blessed as he shared his faith with others. That which had transformed his own life was too good to be selfishly enjoyed. His family and friends and neighbors as well as casual acquaintances also needed God’s highest blessing. So it was his privilege as well as his spiritual obligation to pass on the “good news” of God’s love and mercy to as many people as possible. And as other lives were reunited with their Creator because of his testimony Abraham must have felt a deep satisfaction at what God was doing through him. He probably shared the same sentiments of Peter and John when they were commanded to cease speaking and teaching in the name of Jesus. They replied: “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4: 19-20).
Abraham was the first human that God chose to use as His ambassador to the world. This proves that Abraham like Mary, the mother of Jesus, was highly favored with God. So he could say with Mary: “from now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me.” (Luke 1:48-49). And like Abraham and Mary, God continues to call out selected descendants to take His message of spiritual reconciliation to every nation. This was the plan that God had envisioned as He made a covenant with Abraham and his descendants. So in this way God has throughout the centuries used unnumbered multitudes to be His priests in presenting His love before the whole world. The resurrected Christ made sure that His church would faithfully carry on with this plan until the end of time.
So in our day there are now millions of Abraham’s and Sarah’s heirs who are scattered all over the world and who are helping to fulfill God’s promise for them to be a blessing to all the families of the earth. They are a diverse group. Some are men and others are women. Some are old and some are young. Some are clergy and others are laity. Some are employed by mission sending agencies while others serve as independents. Some dedicate their full time to evangelism while others fulfill their ministry as they hold down full time employment in society. They speak diverse languages and live in many different nations. Some are perfectly free to promote their faith while others can only do so clandestinamente. Some are highly educated while others can barely read or write. And they call their groups by many denominational titles. But all together they make up God’s army that is moving around the world sharing God’s divine truth. And they all are aware that in His commission to His Church Jesus promised: “and lo! I am with you day by day even unto the close of the ages.” (Matthew 28:20). May their tribe increase!!!
“I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 8:11)
In the story that Jesus told using the centurion of Capernaum (Matthew 8:5-13) there is the confirmation about God’s ultimate purpose in His covenant with Abraham. God wanted to use Abraham and some of his descendants to help Him gather faith-people from all nations who would become citizens of the Kingdom of God. In Jesus’ day these citizens already numbered as the stars in the sky.
Of course the Jews believed that the privileges of God’s Kingdom were limited to only Jews. So the words of Jesus in Capernaum must have shocked and angered the Jewish people who heard them. Even the centurion who came to Jesus pleading for the healing of one of his slaves understood perfectly what he as a Gentile was asking of a Jewish Teacher. So he must have been very surprised when Jesus said to him: “I will come and heal him.” The centurion knew that by Jewish customs his house was considered unclean and he also firmly believed that just a word from Jesus would be sufficient to bring about the necessary cure. And that is when Jesus said: “In solemn truth I tell you that I have not found faith like this in any Israelite. I tell you that many will come from the east and the west, and sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven, but the sons of the Kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness.”
So in this story the Lord Jesus Christ Himself clearly promised that the day would come when the saints from all nations, Jews and Gentiles alike, would sit down together to enjoy all of God’s blessings in the Kingdom of Heaven! The common denominator in their lives would be to possess the kind of faith that was pleasing to God. This gathering therefore would be the amazing culmination of the Covenant. (Ephesians 2:19-22).
The eleventh chapter of Hebrews confirms this same glorious finale. In that chapter the author traces “faith” people all the way back to the beginning. He mentions Abel, Enoch and Noah as particularly distinguished by their faith. Then he focuses on Abraham as the patriarch of a nation of faith people as numerous as the stars and as countless as the sand on the seashore. So before Abraham’s day there were people of faith, but God assigned to Abraham and some of his descendants a task in which they would promote among the nations of the world the principle of faith in God’s grace. This special missionary task that began with the patriarch continues today and will only end when the Messiah returns in triumph to reign with His people in Paradise for all eternity!
Many centuries have passed since the Lord of glory appeared to Abram in Ur. In the covenant with Abraham God planted the seed that has become a multitude of people of faith in God from every nationality and race on earth. From the beginning God intended for the covenant to include all nations. Thus, Abraham’s family of faith composed of both Jews and Gentiles will one day be united together around God’s throne in Paradise to sing praises to the Sovereign Lord of the universe. Luke calls this Paradise the eternal tabernacles (habitations, the tents that never grow old, eternal abodes). (Luke 16:9). The Kingdom of God will finally be the reality that God had envisioned from the beginning! What a glorious climax to a divine plan that has been a blessing to so many millions in spite of all obstacles! And what a fitting tribute to the abundant mercy and grace of a powerful and loving God and Redeemer! (Ephesians 2:19-22)
The Bible clearly teaches the Second Advent of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Matthew 24:44; Acts 1:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; Hebrews 9:28; 2 Peter 3:9, 10). The exact time is unknown to mankind so it could be today or a thousand years from now. But just as the First Advent came in “the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4) so the Second will also happen according to God’s predetermined schedule. The first time that Jesus came to earth was to be the Suffering Servant as indicated by the prophets. (Isaiah 53:5; Luke 9:22). But Jesus will come at the end of time as the Sovereign Lord of the Universe. He will come “in His Father’s glory with His angels.” (Matthew 16:27). At that time He will “judge the living and the dead.” (2 Timothy 4:1). Those who are spiritually prepared to receive Him will enter with Him into the wedding banquet and the door will be shut. Others may knock on the closed door but will only hear: “I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.” (Matthew 25:1-13). Consequently when the Second Advent occurs, time for repentance will be over and the eternal age will have begun.
Just as there was a lot of misunderstanding of prophecy by scholars concerning the First Advent, so there seems to be much more about the Second Advent. The Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah should have been sufficient for all scholars to understand the broad outline of His First Advent. Unfortunately this was not the case and lead to His crucifixion. Those who were responsible for this cruel punishment believed that it would terminate their Jesus problem forever. But actually the crucifixion was just the final part of Jesus’ ultimate mission on earth.
The contradictory opinions today about future end-time events have resulted in some tragic consequences. For instance just hearing renowned scholars using the same Scriptures to arrive at conflicting interpretations about the Second Advent can be confusing. This is especially true of sensational predictions that tend to detract from the simplicity that usually characterize the main teachings of the Bible. And as a result many people today are confused to the point of believing that they just cannot take the Bible seriously. And so they ridicule the Bible because of the diversity and disagreement about some of its prophetic passages.
Curiosity about the future seems to be a weakness for most humans. For example, just before His ascension Jesus spoke to His disciples about future events, and this led to their question: “Master, are you at this time about to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1: 6). In His answer Jesus reminded them that they should not be overly concerned about things that are within God’s exclusive sovereign authority. Rather, they should be preparing themselves to receive God’s promise that will empower them to be His witnesses around the world. And that should be their main concern rather than wasting time and energy on trying to tell God how and when to do His work. So people today still do not know just when the Second Advent will happen but they do know that it will happen and that it will now be sooner than it has ever been.
Most Bible scholars would admit that there are some minor facets of the Second Advent that are interesting but are not the main concern. These might include the varied theories of the millennium and of the Great Tribulation, the meaning of the seals, the trumpets and the bowls of Revelation, the identification of the Anti-Christ, the man of sin, the harlot, and the two witnesses, etc. The truth is that the Bible does use some figurative language especially in Revelation that was understood and served to encourage the early Christians. But the key to much of the figures used is not too clear for present generations.
Prophecy is a legitimate part of the inspired Word of God. But it is not as easy to understand as other sections. Even Peter said about Paul’s writings: “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16). Readers must be aware that salvation is related exclusively to genuine faith in Christ and does not require a clear understanding of all of the prophetic passages. The main purpose of God’s Word is to rescue the sinner from Satan’s grasp. Most of the Bible is written in language that clearly explains in page after page how God desires to help sinners defeat Satan’s tricks. When this goal is attained the Bible gives many detailed instructions about how to live the Christian life.
In addition to these inspired truths the Bible is full of interesting biographies, the history of many nations, as well as poetry and other inspirational nuggets. Regular Bible reading will bless everyone from the beginner to the scholarly veteran. It is a supernatural well of holy water which has inexhaustible depths that will pay incredible dividends well worth any effort spent in time and research. Its message is the story that the whole world needs to hear!
However, it has been the diligent presentation through the centuries of God’s simple but powerful plan of salvation that has resulted in the phenomenal growth of the family tree of faith all across the world. And this has served to build up the Kingdom of God that is composed of those from all nations whose sins have been forgiven by a merciful Father God. And some day the full number (Gr. pleroma) of these saints, whose names are duly written in the Lamb’s book of life, will be gathered around the throne of God to praise Him for ever and ever. This promise is the fulfillment of the divine blessings mentioned in the Covenant with Abraham. What a glorious time the Second Advent will be for those sinners who while still on their earthly pilgrimage demonstrated genuine faith in God
The Bible promises the glorious Resurrection Day at the Second Advent of our Lord as the time when at last the devil and death will be destroyed. This means that for God’s family of faith the limitations connected with earthly existence will all be eliminated. There will be no more pain or suffering or sorrow. Every believer will have a spiritual body that is immortal and incorruptible (1 Corinthian 15: 53) and in the likeness of the Lord’s glorious body. (Philippians 3:21). What a wonderful time that will be for God’s people! The kingdoms of this world will have become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. (Revelation 11: 15). It is no wonder that the Bible presents this time in such glowing language as a wedding celebration, an absolute and final victory of God over all opposition, and a place of eternal rest for weary pilgrims in the heavenly mansions prepared for them. (John 14:3). Yes, the last words of the Bible say it beautifully: “Amen, come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20).
And in a way that every Christian understands Jesus is always faithfully by the side of His people through every step of their earthly pilgrimage. The old hymn says it well: “He walks with me and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own”. But none of this, as comforting as it is, can compare with the unusual and spectacular time of the Second Advent. On that wonderful occasion our conquering Redeemer and Lord will make a spectacular appearance to claim His waiting bride and take her to live with Him forever in Glory. Time will have drawn to a close and the eternal age will be a glorious reality. And for certain all of Abraham’s family of faith will reign with Him forever in Paradise!!
The prophets spoke of a “remnant” that would be saved. Paul quotes one of the prophets: “Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant will be saved.” (Romans 9: 27 with Isaiah 10: 22). In this case the remnant (Gr. katalimma, hupoleimma) must be that portion among the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who possessed a like faith with Abraham. Many in Israel did not have such faith especially in regard to the Messiah, the cornerstone of God’s plan. Therefore these could not be considered as true heirs of the covenant with Abraham.
One group of the descendants of Abraham had only a physical connection to the patriarch. But another group had both a physical and a spiritual relationship to him. Paul was inspired to explain this truth: “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” (Romans 9:6). Paul was referring to what God had told Abraham “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” (Genesis 21:12; Romans 9:7; Hebrews 11:8). Therefore these descendants, that is, a remnant of them through Isaac, are the ones with whom God made an everlasting covenant. (Genesis 17: 19, 21). It is Isaac who was the child of promise and not Ishmael. This is the proper key to use in the identification of the real heirs of the covenant with Abraham.
Paul makes the distinction between the two groups of Israelites quite clear in his letter to the Galatians. He was well qualified to do so because he had been a member of each group. His early career before his conversion to Christ had been with physical Israel. “He had persecuted the church of God and had tried to destroy it.” (Galatians 1: 13; Acts 26: 9-11). At that time his name was Saul and he was fanatically zealous as he honestly tried to follow the traditional teaching of the Pharisees. He hunted down as many Christians as he could find and threw them in jail. And he was wholly in agreement with those who stoned Stephen. (Acts 8: 1). His reputation was well known and he was feared by all of those who had become followers of Christ.
But one day while Saul was on his way to Damascus to persecute more Christians he met the risen Lord. So for three days he was blind until a man named Ananias came to see him. In a vision Ananias had been told by the Lord: “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.” (Acts 9: 15). From that day his name was changed to Paul and he became the chief defender of the Christian cause.
In New Testament times many Jews completely rejected Jesus as the promised Messiah. But after Paul’s conversion he did not endorse such blasphemy. He was a loyal follower of Jesus, the Messiah. In a summary of his preaching he declared: “We preach Christ crucified; a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God”. (1 Corinthian 1:23, 24). As far as Paul was concerned, the only way to be saved was through the crucified and risen Jesus.
The proclamation or preaching (Gr. kerygma) that centers in Christ contains the power to save any sinner. This embodies God’s wisdom in contrast to any and all human wisdom. God only endorsed one plan of redemption from before the foundation of the world. Therefore it is the only method by which sin and guilt can be completely removed from a human heart. Through the centuries many other theories have surfaced to substitute God’s plan. Some have advocated asceticism or some other form of self affliction as the way to win divine approval. All such efforts, as noble as they may seem, have no chance in God’s judgment of taking the place of that which Christ did on Calvary’s cross. (Galatians 1:7-11)
Jesus was/is a stumbling block to many people. Some do not believe that he ever existed while others only admit that he was a great human being. Many Jews reject Jesus as the Messiah and pursue their own righteousness by the strict keeping of the Law. However, many Christian as well as Jewish scholars believe that in the future all or at least a part of the hardened Jews who are alive when Christ returns will be saved after His Second Advent. In fact some scholars have the boldness, or maybe the audacity, to say that Israel’s rejection of Jesus as the promised Messiah took God by surprise. And that this led to the organization of the Church as a temporary movement until the time for the real Messiah to appear. They further believe that the prophetic clock stopped ticking and will only begin again when the conquering Messiah appears. And at that time the legitimate Messiah will begin a thousand year earthly reign in Jerusalem and thus fulfill Old Testament prophecies.
There are many variations of this end-time theology. They can be read in the Scofield Bible as well as in any number of other books and articles on the subject. Some of these theories appear to be belittling to the Sovereign Lord of the Universe. They seem to join the previous mentioned theories that put human wisdom above God’s wisdom. At least they tend to demand that God change His eternal plans simply because some people do not like them. But the Bible clearly says that humans cannot mock or deceive God. (Galatians 6:7). And it also clearly teaches that only those who are already enlisted in God’s spiritual army before Christ’s glorious return will be saved.
As has already been noted there were people of faith before Abraham’s day and consequently before the nation of Israel. In the beginning God created mankind in His own image. Distinctions of different races did not at first exist. These came later as people began to multiply and create prejudices toward their neighbors. But God had no partiality toward anyone. He knew the potential for good that existed in His creatures. But He was also well aware of how weak they could be in the devil’s hands. That is why God’s eternal plan included a fierce battle with Satan over every human being. All of them were too precious in God’s eyes to be abandoned to the wiles of Satan.
So God chose a select group of warriors on earth to be His special priests in helping Him to deal with wayward humanity. Through these ambassadors He hoped to nullify the tactics of their enemies. God longed for every sinner to be fully aware of His willingness to forgive their transgressions. And all those, whether Jew or Gentile, who accepted God’s plan would be the recipients of God’s highest blessings.
Consequently at the appointed time the long-promised Messiah came to earth to be God’s personal advocate to all nations. He was God’s most powerful weapon to carry out the divine intention to build up the Kingdom of Heaven from all nations. The Messiah is called “The mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints.” (Colossians 1:26). In Ephesians 3:5 Paul further explained that the mystery that was not understood in previous generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit was that “in Christ Jesus the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body and sharers together in the promise.” (Ephesians 3:6).
The inclusion of Gentiles had always been a part of God’s eternal plan. It was clearly stipulated in the covenant with Abraham, and further confirmed by the prophets. But after many generations its truth had been successfully obliterated by its Jewish opponents. For them it was inconceivable that Gentiles could ever receive God’s blessings. Ironically they had long forgotten that their father Abraham was a Gentile. That was the status quo when Jesus appeared. Therefore God knew that the time had come for this “mystery” to be revealed to the early Christians in the Church. It had always been His will that Gentiles could be a part of the Kingdom of God. Therefore Jesus took the lead in making this truth very clear.
Jesus spent his lifetime communicating to all types of people the glorious message of God’s love and mercy for all sinners. There were different reactions from His hearers. Some said: “Never did a man speak like this man” (John 7:46). Others said: “He is a demon and is mad! Why do you listen to him?” (John 10:20). He was finally crucified on a cross, but on the third day He rose again. And as He ascended back to the Father He challenged His Church “to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:16). Jesus made it clear that the Kingdom of God would include Gentiles as well as Jews.
As the fledgling Church entered into her mission she immediately encountered the opposition from the racial intolerance that was ingrained in the society of its day. This was especially true of the hostile attitude of the Jews toward people of other ethnic backgrounds. They were certain that God had reserved His blessings exclusively for Israel. In their opinion Gentiles could never be a part of the family of God. Centuries of tradition had set this idea in stone and made the Jews hardened to any change. Therefore God had to explicitly reveal to the early Christian leaders that His plan of eternal grace was open to all sinners.
For example, God opened the eyes of the apostle Peter in a vision that he received. In a trance he saw a vessel descend from heaven full of all kinds of unclean animals. But a voice from God ordered him to eat them. At first Peter protested in doing anything against the Jewish Law, but after a repetition of the command he heard the Lord saying: “What God has cleansed you must not call unclean.”(Acts 10: 15). From this vision Peter felt led by the Holy Spirit to enter the house of Cornelius in Caesarea even though it was illegal for a Jew to associate or to visit one of another nation. But in spite of this Jewish tradition Peter was inspired to preach about Jesus to Cornelius and his friends. And as he was speaking the Holy Spirit fell on those who were listening just as He had fallen on the Jews during Pentecost. With such a clear demonstration of God’s will Peter baptized the new believers in the name of Jesus. And little by little the early leaders of the Church were led to go everywhere preaching the Gospel.
Consequently as Peter, John, Paul, Barnabas, Philip and other leaders saw how God was blessing their work among the Gentiles, they gradually had to accept this new direction in their evangelistic work. But the new ideas did not set well with the traditionalist majority in the Sanhedrin and resulted in severe persecution and even death by stoning. Finally a council of religious leaders was convened in Jerusalem to discuss the relationship of the Christian faith to the Jewish customs. After much arguing on both sides it was agreed that the Jews should not demand Gentile conformity to Jewish law. Thus the shackles of long tradition were gradually being removed by Divine guidance. (Acts 15).
During the Old Testament period of the covenant with Abraham and his descendants a few names of non-Jews are listed as having received spiritual blessings from God. There must have been many others whose names are unknown. But after the outpouring of the Spirit on the Jews in Jerusalem and an equal outpouring on Gentiles in Caesarea there was a significant increase in the number of Gentiles who received God’s pardon for their sins. They joined the saved of other generations to make up the remnant of the Gentiles.
The Book of Acts is a history of the spreading of the Gospel among the Gentiles. New churches were organized in the cities where the Gospel was preached and over and over again there were reports of the multitudes of Gentiles as well as Jews who were being converted. “So mightily the word of the Lord continued to grow and to prevail.” (Acts 19:20). And finally the seemingly abrupt but actually highly appropriate ending to the Book of Acts says: “Paul continued to preach the kingdom of God, and to teach about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness, quite unmolested.” (Acts 28:31). The last Greek word in Acts is “akolutos”, an adverb which means unhinderedly, that is, without any hindrance. It describes the progress of the Gospel in those early days of the Church. Shackles were slowly being removed and the Gospel was finally free to be the blessing that God had intended from the beginning. And thus the Lamb’s Book of Life began to be filled with Gentile as well as with Jewish believers.
Abraham’s family tree of faith has branches in every nation just as God envisioned from the beginning. This tree of faith is a combination of the Jewish and the Gentile remnants that are distinguished by their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Through many generations this tree of faith people has multiplied to the untold millions and is still growing. So it is this united family of spiritual believers that will reign forever with Christ in the heavenly mansions. Since this family in Glory will be united in regard to Jesus as the promised Messiah it is appropriate for her to be known as spiritual Israel, composed of both Jews and Gentiles.
Paul’s messages after his conversion were powerful as he proved that “Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah).” (Acts 9:22; 17:3). As Paul spread his revised theology he was at the same time denouncing the heresy of his previous beliefs. He could now see that God had just one plan of salvation that was available equally to save the Gentiles as well as the Jews. And that this was based on the covenant with Abraham since it clearly promised that “All nations will be blessed through you.” (Galatians 3:8). He preached for all to hear that the purpose of the Law was “to guide people to Christ.” (Galatians 3:24).
And Paul confirms the glorious destiny of this spiritual family no more clearly than in the book of Romans. In his letter to the Romans the Apostle Paul inserts the three chapters of nine to eleven in between the previous eight and the following five. The content of the first section is theological while the last section is the practical application of the first section’s doctrinal teaching. The middle section is Paul’s effort to explain to the Gentile Christians in Rome the relationship of Israel and the Church in the eternal plan of God.
The ninth chapter deals with two subjects directed first to those Israelites who rejected righteousness by faith in Christ and secondly to those Gentiles who embraced faith in Christ as the true Messiah. The tenth chapter explains why God was justified in blessing only those whose faith was placed in Christ rather than in the Law. And the eleventh chapter shows the future for those who have accepted God’s plan of salvation and those who have not done so. It makes clear that God can only bless those sinners who accept “the Deliverer who comes from Zion”. And these will be the full number (Gr. pleroma) of both Jewish and Gentiles remnants who are spiritually prepared to receive the Bridegroom at His Second Advent. Their names will have been duly registered in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
Chapter eleven has several phrases that have varied interpretations. For example, one phrase is: “And thus or in this way (Gr. houtos) all Israel will be saved”. (Romans 11:26). This verse has been interpreted by some to mean that all of the Jews who ever lived will be saved. But a second group believes that the phrase means that just the Jews will be saved who are living when the Lord returns. The logic behind the second theory is that the spectacular pageantry of the Second Advent will finally convince all Jews that the Messiah has finally arrived. But this reasoning ignores the truth that in God’s plan of redemption sight is never a substitute for faith. Faith is the only key to the blessings of God. “The victory that defeats the world is our faith” (1 John 5: 4b). However, if either of these two theories about “all Israel” is correct then clearly God does have two plans of salvation, one for the Jews and the other for the Church.
However, a better interpretation would be that “all Israel” refers to spiritual Israel composed of both Jews and Gentiles. They “will be saved” because during their earthly pilgrimage and prior to the Second Advent they trusted the Deliverer to banish all ungodliness from their hearts. The word for “saved” (Gr. sozo) in Romans 9:27 is the same word that is used in Romans 11:26. This word “saved” alludes to the eternal salvation granted immediately by God to any person, whether Jew or Gentile, who has redemptive faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore those who have embraced Jesus as their Lord and Saviour before His return are the “saints”from Jewish and Gentile backgrounds who will unite around the throne of glory to reign with God forever and ever. (Revelation 3:21). They constitute spiritual Israel.
This interpretation is consistent with what Paul had repeatedly explained in chapters 9 to 11 of Romans as well as what the whole Bible teaches. All sinners will be saved who have demonstrated faith in Christ during their lifetimes on earth. There is no other way to be saved. God has only one way to forgive sins regardless of the ethnic origin of the sinner. “For there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:22, 23).
The phrase “out of Zion” (Romans 11: 26) refers to the Messiah’s first advent as prophesied in the Old Testament. Here Paul acknowledges the role of Israel in God’s plan of grace. Even Moses spoke of the prophet that God would raise up from the descendants of Abraham. (Acts 3:22 -26; 7: 37 -40). Paul also quotes the prophet Isaiah in saying that this Person would be a stumbling block to some but a Deliverer to those who put their faith in Him. (Romans 9: 32, 33). Jesus, the Messiah, was the pivotal point in God’s covenant with Abraham, and His sacrifice on Calvary was the only way that God could “banish ungodliness from Jacob”. (Isaiah 37:9).
Furthermore in Romans chapter eleven, Paul presented an allegory using the olive tree which was the most common and most useful tree in the Mediterranean world. In the writings of the prophets Israel is pictured as the olive tree of God. So the procedure related to the care and cultivation of this tree would have been well known by those who would read this epistle in the Roman church. And many of them would have had first hand experience with the grafting process used by the horticulturists of that day. They understood about the dead branches that had to be pruned away and others that were engrafted into the tree. With this allegory Paul illustrated a spiritual truth about the divine tree of faith.
The branches that were “broken off” represented that portion of Israel that was stone-hearted about recognizing Jesus as the Messiah. They were the earthly rather than the spiritual Israel. In Paul’s allegory these branches were pruned because God had never recognized them as a part of the redeemed sinners. They were those descendants of Abraham who had never received spiritual nourishment from the divine root. They did have a physical connection to the descendants of Abraham but did not take advantage of any opportunity for a spiritual affinity with God and His plan of redemption. Paul understood this because he knew that he had been one of those worthless and dead branches until he finally accepted Jesus as the Messiah. Then he had the wonderful spiritual experience of being engrafted into the divine root.
The branches that were grafted in represented those Gentiles who came out of paganism to embrace the Lord Jesus as their Redeemer. The “natural branches” represented those of the Jews who like Abraham had fully accepted God’s plan of redemption. Both the natural branches and the engrafted branches “shared in the nourishing sap from the olive root” (Romans 11:17). So since the root represented God and His eternal plan of redemption the message of Paul was very clear. Paul was saying that without partiality God nourished the natural branches as well as those that were engrafted. They both were the true descendants of Abraham who make up the spiritual Israel that is composed of both Jews and Gentiles.
Verses 30 to 32 of chapter 11 make sense as it is remembered that at first Paul preached in the synagogues to a Jewish audience. However, many of his Jewish hearers revolted against his message about Jesus being the Messiah. They openly contradicted Paul’s statements and began to abuse him. So Paul and Barnabas turned to the Gentiles where they found a very fertile field for winning souls. (Acts 13: 46). Ironically these angry Jews actually drove Paul to take his message to the Gentiles. Their resentment of the Gospel message finally led them to stone Paul and to pull his lifeless body out of the city “supposing him to be dead.” (Acts 14:19). They could never have imagined that their harsh treatment of Paul would result in their receiving God’s punishment. And at the same time those like Paul, whom they considered as worthless infidels, would receive such wonderful spiritual blessings from God.
Paul concludes this section (Romans 9-11) with a beautiful doxology (11: 33-36) about how God had brought together the faith family of Abraham. Paul apparently prefers to call this group in heaven by the name of Israel which for him included both Jews and non-Jews. (Ephesians 2:19; 3:15). There is nothing wrong with this since God chose a remnant of Israel to have the leading role in His plan of salvation for people of faith from all nations. Included in this remnant was the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. But there are other names for this heavenly family. It is called the Body of Christ (Ephesians 1:23; 4:12) as well as the Bride of Christ (Revelation 21:2).The important thing is not the name by which the family is called but that they are all finally joined together in the House of God. They are all citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven!
In the doxology Paul praises God for His riches, His wisdom, and His knowledge. (Romans 11:33-36). He first mentions the depth of the riches. This refers to the fact that His divine blessings are vast and immeasurable, so much so that words fail to do them justice. Language cannot express the wonderful and abundant blessings that God had bestowed on sinful humanity. Then Paul writes of the depth of God’s wisdom as it is revealed in His marvelous plan of redemption in such a way that it could appeal to people of all cultures and degrees of sinfulness and shame. God not only had to be wise in His appeal to so many rebellious people of all backgrounds but to have patience with them as they struggled with His supposed but well intentioned intrusion in their lives.
Finally Paul writes of the depth of God’s knowledge of the universe and its inhabitants. With such knowledge God was able to place His people in strategic places throughout the ages of history to be used by Him from time to time to salvage His eternal plan from certain defeat. For instance God placed Abraham in the most strategic location of his time. Some historians speak of Jerusalem as the center of the earth. All of the important continental trade routes had to pass through the tiny Syrian corridor. Travelers from any direction used the route of the Fertile Crescent. So when God made the covenant with Abraham He placed him in the ideal spot for carrying out his task of reaching all nations with the Gospel.
Also a Jewish beauty, Esther, was strategically placed where God could use her at another critical moment in His plans. She became the queen of Ahasuerus, or Xerxes at just the right moment. This was the king who reigned over the Persian world power from 486 to 465 BC. So Esther was the queen at the time when an evil plot was proposed by a man named Haman. He wanted to annihilate the Jews from the face of the Earth. So God had Esther in the right spot to use her to thwart Haman’s plan and save her people from total extinction. In this same way God has through the centuries used people to help Him protect and promote His spiritual plan of salvation. Without this kind of wisdom God’s dream of blessing the world would not have endured the constant opposition from His enemies.
However, humans will never fully understand just how God has guided the world through so many crises. His presence is as undeniable as it is beyond human comprehension. He was the original source of all things and He is the reason or end for which all things were formed. Therefore to Him belong the praise and the glory now and throughout eternity!
After these beautiful thoughts it is fitting that Paul would write: “Oh, the depths of the riches, both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unfathomable are His judgments, and how untraceable His ways. For from Him and through Him, and for Him, are all things. To Him be the glory forever and ever!” (Romans 11:33-36).
During His earthly ministry Jesus told many parables. In one of them already mentioned He pulled back the curtains of Paradise to reveal Father Abraham receiving one more pilgrim who had joined him and the rest of the faith-family around the throne. It is the story about the rich man Dives and the poor man Lazarus. (Luke 16: 19-31). Among other things this story was a marvelous tribute to Abraham, the patriarch of the covenant.
Jesus elaborated on the deaths of the two men in the parable. The funeral of the rich man was as lavish as money could buy, but in eternity he found himself in the torments of Hades. When Lazarus died he was carried by the angels to the bosom (side or arms) of Abraham. Lazarus was now in the place of blessedness united with his faith family. Abraham had already been there for several centuries.
Abraham must have been as happy over the arrival of Lazarus as he was saddened by the fact that Dives had taken the wrong road. This was due to the fact that he had ignored the sacred writings on earth that would have indicated to him how to reach the place of blessedness in the House of God. So while Abraham could not help Dives he did assure him that his brothers and other inhabitants of the earth could easily avoid the eternal torments in Hades by simply following the literature of Moses and the Prophets.
So in this parable Jesus not only praised Abraham but also joined him in confirming a very important truth. He made it very clear like others had done that even in Old Testament days God had given through Moses and the prophets ample information that could guide any wayfaring sinner into the safe harbor of God’s love and forgiveness. (Daniel 2:19-23; Amos 3:7).
God is and always has been fair to give every sinner adequate opportunity in the understanding of any and all of His requirements. Without this provision God would not have the basis on which to condemn anyone. Abraham was well aware of this and was the reason for still hoping that many other earthly pilgrims would join him and his family of faith in heaven. The tree already numbers in the millions of branches but both Abraham and Jesus knew that there was room for many more.
This analysis and brief exposition of the covenant made with Abraham and his descendants has attempted to examine the subject strictly from the Biblical point of view. Consequently it presents conclusions that run contrary to some popular theories on the place of the Messiah in God’s plan of salvation. Accordingly this author has attempted to only make his interpretations based on what the Bible says. There has been no intention in this study of being unfair to the Jewish or any other faith.
For example many noted Bible scholars, both Jewish and Christian, believe that God gave the land of Canaan in perpetuity to Abraham’s posterity. But is this what the Bible says? Not in my opinion. The reality is that He did this but only to a selected part of Abraham’s family as has been shown by Scripture. Consequently apart from this chosen group there is no biblical basis for claiming a “mandate” from God. The political leaders of the Nation of Israel today have only the recognition made by the United Nations in 1948 and nothing more.
Many Scriptures in both the Old and New Testaments have made it very clear that the heirs of the Promised Land today would be all of the Jews and Gentiles who have faith in the triune God of the Old and New Covenants. But these millions of people who are a part of Abraham’s extended family of faith live today all over the earth. And no piece of earthly real estate regardless of its importance in the past can take their sights off of the more blessed reward in the Paradise that God has prepared for them. The Canaan that God promised as a reward to Abraham and a few of his descendants is today just a type or symbol of the reward of a heavenly Canaan.
As is quite evident this study was never intended to be a scholarly work but rather a practical study to guide the average person in grasping a broad picture of what God is trying to communicate to the world through the Bible. With this basic understanding any reader will be better equipped to please God by striving to live life on its highest level.
As a long-time student of the Bible I have tried to simplify to some extent the most important message of God’s everlasting truth. That message is what I would like to share with others. For instance, the Bible is composed of sixty-six smaller books which jointly present just one plan of salvation. It is a plan that is the recurring theme from Genesis to Revelation. And in the implementation of this plan God has systematically through the centuries already gathered into His Eternal Kingdom millions of humans who have accepted His love and grace in the Lord Jesus Christ. Consequently these, along with others who are to come to Him before the end of time, will reign with Him in Paradise forever and ever.
According to Scripture God clearly indicated that the purpose of the covenant was a spiritual reconciliation with God. This included “all nations” rather than being exclusive to the Jewish or any other one nation. And this reconciliation can only be possible through the ministry of Jesus Christ, the long-awaited Messiah. Therefore this spiritual thread is the key to interpreting God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants. It covers the period of both the Old and New Covenants.
Fortunately, membership in the faith family of Abraham is still open today to Jews and Gentiles who will sincerely embrace the Lord Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. His open arms are ready to receive all who desire His mercy and grace!
 The Scofield Reference Bible, 1917, p.25g