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08 December 2018

Blessing to the Nations

SYNOPSIS:  The promised “blessing” to the “nations” given to Abraham is fulfilled in Jesus and, ultimately, in the New Creation.

Earth - Photo by Arpit Rastogi on Unsplash
A cornerstone of the promised redemption of humanity and the creation is the covenant with Abraham. It included promises of innumerable descendants, possession of the “land,” and “blessing to the nations.” According to the Apostle Paul, Jesus is the promised “seed of Abraham” who inherited ALL the promises and fulfills them in his Death and Resurrection. And the promises find ultimate fulfillment in the New Creation.

How will the “nations” be “blessed” in Abraham, and when? In the New Testament, the covenant promises are fulfilled in Jesus and his single covenant community is comprised of Jewish and Gentile believers.

However, neither the forgiveness of sins nor the formation of the church is the end of the story - The covenant with Abraham was always part of a larger redemptive plan that included humanity and the earth. The initial focus on the tiny nation of Israel was only the first stage in a much larger process. The covenant always envisioned a glorious future far beyond the confines of national Israel and the tiny territory of Canaan.
  • (Genesis 12:1-3)– “And Yahweh said unto Abram: Come thou on thy way, Out of thy land and out of the place of thy birth and out of the house of thy father — Unto the land that I will show thee; That I may make thee into a great nation, And bless thee and make great thy name, And become thou a blessing; That I may bless them who bless thee, But him who maketh light of thee will I curse — So shall be blessed in thee all the families of the earth.
  • (Genesis 15:4-6)– “But one who cometh forth of thy body — he shall be thine heir. And he brought him forth abroad and said — Look steadfastly, I pray thee towards the heavens and number the stars if thou be able to number them, And he said to him, Thus shall be thy seed. And he had faith in Yahweh — so he reckoned it to him as righteousness” – (Compare - Genesis 17:1-8, 22:15-18).

Jesus was anointed to reign “upon the throne of David and upon his kingdom to establish it with justice and with righteousness forever.” He was the Servant of Yahweh, the one who would “declare judgment to the nations…and in his name shall nations trust.” The application of the prophecy from the book of Isaiah by Matthew demonstrates that the “Gentiles” were included with Israel in the plan of Yahweh to establish his “kingdom”  on the earth (Matthew 12:18-22, Isaiah 42:1-4).
The proclamation of the kingdom of God to “all nations” is a mission assigned by Jesus to his disciples, one that must be completed before the arrival of the Son of Man in glory. This makes the salvation of the Gentiles pivotal to the redemptive plan of Yahweh. Accordingly, Jesus tasked his disciples to teach “all nations and to command them to observe all things whatever I have commanded you” (Matthew 24:14, 28:18-20).
Before his ascension, Jesus commissioned the disciples to be “witnesses for me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and in Samaria and UNTO THE END OF THE EARTH.” The last clause alludes to the prophecy of the Servant of Yahweh: “I will also give you for a light to the nations that you may be my salvation UNTO THE END OF THE EARTH” (Isaiah 49:6Acts 1:7-9).

The universal scope of the “Kingdom of God” was stressed at the climax of Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost when he combined verbal allusions from the books of Isaiah and Joel:

  • (Acts 2:3-39) - “For to you is the promise, to your children and TO ALL THAT ARE AFAR OFFAS MANY AS THE LORD OUR GOD WILL CALL to him.”
  • (Isaiah 49:6) “Hear, O isles, unto me; and hearken, YOU PEOPLES FROM FAR; Yahweh has called me from the womb… I will also give you for a light to the nations that you may be my salvation UNTO THE END OF THE EARTH.”
  • (Joel 2:32) - “It shall come to pass that WHOSOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF YAHWEH will be delivered.”
Later, Peter prayed for a lame man at the door of the Temple in Jerusalem and declared - “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” had healed the man in the name of His ServantJesus:

  • All the prophets from Samuel and them that followed after, as many as have spoken, told of these days. You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, and IN YOUR SEED SHALL ALL THE FAMILIES OF THE EARTH BE BLESSED. Unto you first God, having raised his Servant, sent him to bless you by turning away every one of you from your iniquities” - (Acts 3:25).
Thus, Peter linked the ministry of Jesus to the promise to bless all the nations in Abraham’s seed. His words anticipated the broadening of the covenant and its promises when he declared that God has blessed Israel “first” by providing the forgiveness of sins through the promised Messiah.

Map - Photo by Kelsey Knight on Unsplash
By Kelsey Knight on Unsplash
God used Peter to open the one gospel to the “Gentiles” or “nations” in Caesarea. This occurred at the house of Cornelius, a Roman centurion. The apostle understood that it was unlawful under the Law of Moses “for a man that is a Jew to join himself or come into one of another nation,” yet God showed him he must not “call any man common or unclean” - Yahweh accepts men “in every nation that fear him and work righteousness”; therefore, Peter preached the same gospel to Cornelius that was proclaimed previously to the Jews “throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee” (Acts 10:19-48).

Before Peter had finished preaching, the Holy Spirit fell on his Gentile audience and they began to speak in tongues. This amazed the Jews who were present since uncircumcised Gentiles had received the very same gift as Jewish believers had received on the Day of Pentecost.

When some Jewish believers back in Jerusalem objected to Peter’s activities among the Gentiles, he responded, “If God gave them the same gift as he did to us, who was I to withstand God?” The church at Jerusalem then “glorified God, that to the Gentiles also He had granted repentance unto life.” Beginning in Caesarea, God had “visited the nations to take out of them a people for his name” (Acts 15:6-12).

At the later conference in Jerusalem, James justified the outreach to the nations by citing the Prophet Amos:

  • (Amos 9:11-12) - “And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After these things I will return, and I will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen; and I will build again its ruins, and I will set it up, that the REMNANT OF MEN may seek after the Lord, and all the nations upon whom my name is called” - (Acts 15:14-17).  Note well - James attributed the quotation, not to Amos, but to “all the prophets.”

At the end of the book of Acts, Paul was under house arrest in Rome, although still able to preach the gospel to visitors. This he did to Jew and Gentile alike. Some Jews believed, but many others rejected the gospel. To them, he declared - “This salvation of God is sent unto the nations; they will also hear.” The book ends with Paul proclaiming the “kingdom of God” to all who will hear, regardless of ethnicity (Isaiah 52:10, Acts 28:26-31).

Paul is quite explicit in his letter to the Galatians. It is the men and women of faith who are the real “children of Abraham,” regardless of their nationality. The plan of God was always to justify the “nations” through faith, since to Abraham He promised: “IN YOU WILL ALL NATIONS BE BLESSED.” Men and women who stand on faith are the ones “blessed with faithful Abraham.” And Jesus is the true “seed of Abraham" in whom the “nations are blessed” (Galatians 3:7-9Genesis 12:3):

  • (Galatians 3:14) – “That the blessing of Abraham might come on the nations through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” – (Compare - Ephesians 2:11-19).

The book of Revelation envisions a New Creation inhabited by a vast company of men and women redeemed from all nations in fulfillment of the covenant promises to Abraham. Thus, Jesus, the sacrificial Lambwas declared worthy to reign over the Cosmos, because “You purchased for God by your blood men from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and made them be unto our God a kingdom and priests.” (Revelation 5:5-14).

This last passage echoes a vision from the Book of Daniel of the enthronement of one “like a son of man” who was to reign forever over all nations:

  • (Daniel 7:13-14) – “I continued looking in the visions of the night when lo! with the clouds of the heavens, one like a son of man was coming — and unto the Ancient of days he approached, and before him they brought him near; and unto him were given dominion and dignity and kingship, that all peoples, races and tongues unto him should do service — his dominion was an age-abiding dominion, which should not pass away, and his kingdom that which should not be destroyed.”

Later, John was told that he must yet “prophesy over many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.” The messianic “son” born of the “Woman Clothed with the Sun” was destined “to shepherd all nations.”

In Chapter 14, an angel proclaimed “The everlasting gospel to them that dwell on the earth, to every nation, kindred, tongue and people.” Throughout Revelation, the redemptive activities of the “Lamb,” the messianic “lion of the tribe of Judah,” include the salvation of men and women from "every nation, people, tribe, and tongue" (Revelation 5:9-12, 10:11, 12:1-5, 14:6).

Earlier, between the sixth and seventh seals, John saw a vision of a “great multitude that no man could number, out of every nation, tribe, people and tongue, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” This was in fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham of descendants more numerous than the “stars of heaven and the sand of the seashore.”

The image of an innumerable multitude pictured a vast number of men from every national and ethnic group standing before the “Lamb and the One Who Sits on the Throne” in the New Creation:

  • Who had washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and they serve him day and night in his temple…They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; neither shall the sun strike upon them, nor any heat: for the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall be their shepherd, and shall guide them unto fountains of waters of life: and God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes” - (Revelation 7:9-17).

The vision finds its fulfillment in the “New Jerusalem” that John saw “descending to the earth.” Its physical dimensions made it coterminous with the entire New Creation and equated it with the “paradise of God.” All that was lost because of the disobedience of Adam would be recovered and restored, but also, infinitely enhanced and expanded. The “curse” would be no more, not even the possibility of its return; therefore, the saints together with the “Lamb” would reign in the city “forever and ever.

Eden - Photo by Simon Berger on Unsplash
Photo by Simon Berger on Unsplash

The description of the “city” inhabited by redeemed humanity included allusions to the Old Testament stories of Adam, Abraham, and Israel. What God intended in the first creation was not abandoned but, instead, fulfilled in the new one. Likewise, the covenant promises to Abraham of landkingsdescendants, and blessing to the nations would be achieved by the Lamb in the New Creation.

All this is accomplished through the sacrificial Lamb. In “New Jerusalem,” Jesus reigns, but he does so as the “Lamb.” The “tree of life” in the “paradise of God” that gives life to the nations is none other than the cross of Calvary (Compare – Revelation 2:7):

  • (Revelation 21:24-22:5) – “And the nations shall walk through her light; and the kings of the earth do bring their glory into it, and the gates thereof shall in nowise be shut by day, — night, in fact, shall not be there, — and they shall bring the glory and the honour of the nations into it. And in nowise shall there enter into it anything common or he that doeth abomination and falsehood, — but only they who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. And he pointed out to me a river of water of life, bright as crystal, issuing forth out of the throne of God and of the Lamb in the midst of the broadway thereof. And on this side of the river and on that was a tree of life bearing twelve crops of fruit every several month, yielding its fruit; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations, And no curse shall there be, any more…” (The Emphasized Bible).

In the “city of New Jerusalem,” the “kings of the earth” bring “their glory into the city and the glory and the honor of the nations.” The inclusion of both groups fulfills the covenant promises to Abraham. In him, God promised - “All the nations of the earth would be blessed.” Yahweh would make “nations” from Abraham and “kings” would come from him (Genesis 12:3, 17:6, 22:8).

Thus, the book of Revelation completes the biblical circle. The “Lamb” has reversed the “curse” and redeemed all creation - All God’s promises find their fulfillment in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the "Beginning of the creation of God," including the covenant promises to Abraham.

The plan was never to abandon the old created order for some nonphysical reality, but to redeem it and humanity, the “nations.” The covenant with Abraham with its promises of land and descendants always included the “nations” and finds its consummation in the New Creation inaugurated by the Death and the Resurrection of Jesus.

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