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08 December 2018

Blessing to the Nations - Jesus

SYNOPSIS - Jesus is the promised “seed” of Abraham in whom all the nations of the earth are blessed in fulfillment of the covenant with Abraham.

Globe Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash
B
asic to the redemption of humanity is the covenant established by Yahweh with Abraham, and with his “seed.” This includes the promise that “all the nations the earth will be blessed in him”; moreover, that Abraham will have innumerable descendants. So, how will the nations be blessed “in Abraham,” and when will this “blessing” occur? Who are his descendants and, most importantly, who or what is the “seed of Abraham”? - [Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash].

In the New Testament, the promise of “seed” and descendants find their fulfillment in Jesus and his new covenant community, the church. The covenant with Abraham was always part of the larger redemptive plan of God for all humanity, indeed, for the entire universe. The initial focus on Israel was only the first stage in a much larger and longer process.

The covenant envisioned a glorious future beyond the confines of national Israel and the land of Canaan, a promise that would find its final fulfillment in the New Creation.
  • (Genesis 12:1-3)– “And Yahweh said unto Abram: Come on your way out of your land and out of the place of your birth and out of the house of your father, to the land that I will show you; that I may make you into a great nation, and bless you and make great your name, and become thou a blessing; That I may bless them who bless you; but him who makes light of you will I curse, so shall be blessed in you all the families of the earth.
  • (Genesis 15:4-6)– “This one shall not be your heir, but one who comes from your body, he shall be your heir. And he brought him forth abroad and said — Look steadfastly towards the heavens and number the stars if you are able to number them. And he said to him: Thus, shall be your seed.
  • (Genesis 17:1-8) – “I am GOD Almighty; walk before me and become blameless, that I may set my covenant between me and you, and I may multiply you exceedingly. And Abram fell on his face, and God spoke with him, saying: As for me, lo! my covenant is with you, so shall you become father of a multitude of nations…And I will make you fruitful exceedingly, and grant you to be nations; kings shall come from you; And I will confirm my covenant between me and you and your seed after you to their generations for an everlasting covenant, to become to you a God, and to your seed after you; And I will give to you and to your seed after you the land of your journeys — all the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession.” - (See also - Genesis 22:15-18).
During his ministry, Jesus limited the activities of his disciples to the “lost sheep of Israel.” However, from the start, his mission envisioned the inclusion of the “Gentiles” – The nations. His ministry began in Galilee as prophesied in the book of Isaiah:
  • The land of Zebulon and of Nephtali by the way of the sea beyond Jordan, GALILEE OF THE NATIONS; the people that sat in darkness saw great light” - (Matthew 4:12-17, 10:6, 15:24).
He 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” - (Matthew 12:18-22Isaiah 42:1-4).

The gospel of Matthew applies this prophecy to the incident when Jesus healed a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath Day. Indignant, the Pharisees began to conspire “how they might destroy him.” In reaction, he withdrew from the synagogue but “great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all.”

The application of this prophecy by Matthew suggests that Gentiles were included among the “mixed multitude” in Galilee that followed Jesus. This is confirmed in Mark - “A great multitude from Galilee followed him, and from Judea, from Jerusalem, from Idumea and from beyond Jordan; and a great multitude from Tyre and Sidon” – The latter were Phoenician cities with Gentile populations - (Mark 3:6-7).

Jesus commanded his disciples to proclaim the kingdom to “all nations,” a mission that must be completed before his return at the end of the age. The salvation of the “nations” is pivotal to the redemptive plan of God - (Matthew 24:14, 28:18-20).

Just before his ascension, he commissioned them 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 global scope of the mission 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:
  • 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” – (Acts 2:33-39).
In Peter’s declaration, “promise” is singular in number and refers to the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. “To all that are far off” is another allusion to the prophecy from Isaiah:
  • 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” - (Isaiah 49:1-6).
At the close of his sermon, Peter also alluded to Joel 2:32, the same passage with which he opened his sermon:
  • It shall come to pass that WHOSOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF YAHWEH will be delivered” - (Acts 2:17).
In the third chapter of Acts, Peter prayed for a lame man at the entrance to the Temple and declared that, “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” had healed the man in the name of “His Servant” – Jesus.
  • 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 to the Gentiles when he declared that God has blessed the Jewish nation “first.”

Peter at the house of Cornelius
Later, Peter opened the gospel to the Gentiles at the house of Cornelius, a Roman centurion. He understood it was unlawful “
for a man that is a Jew to join himself or come into one of another nation,” yet God had shown him that he must “not call any man common or unclean.” God 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 finished preaching, the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles and they began to speak in tongues, which amazed the Jews present with him since uncircumcised Gentiles had received the same gift as the Jewish believers had on the Day of Pentecost. After hearing Peter related these events, the church at Jerusalem “glorified God because to the Gentiles also He had granted repentance unto life.”

At a later conference in Jerusalem, James declared that the Gentiles were not required to undergo circumcision “in order to be saved,” for God had “visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for his name” - (Acts 15:6-12).

Very STRIKING is the application by James of the Greek term laos or “people” to the Gentiles, a noun commonly used in biblical Greek for Israel in distinction from the “Gentiles,” or ethnos. His words alluded to a prophecy from the book of Zechariah:
  • And many nations will join themselves to Yahweh in that day AND WILL BE HIS PEOPLE” - (Zechariah 2:11. Also, Acts 3:12, 3:23, 4:1-2, 4:8-10).
James justified the outreach to the uncircumcised Gentiles by citing the prophet Amos:
  • 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 15:14-17Amos 9:11-12).
James attributed the quotation to “all the prophets,” not just to Amos. He used the Greek text from the Septuagint rather than the Hebrew original - By a change of Hebrew vowel points “Edom” became “Adam” or “man.”
The book of Acts ends with the Apostle Paul in Rome, “proclaiming the kingdom of God” to all who would hear - Jew and Gentile alike - (Isaiah 52:10Acts 28:26-31).
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul is explicit - Men and women of faith that are the true “children of Abraham.” God’s plan was always to justify the Gentiles through faith, since to Abraham He promised - “IN YOU WILL ALL NATIONS BE BLESSED.” Those who stand on faith are the ones who are “blessed with faithful Abraham.” Moreover, Jesus is the true “seed of Abraham” in whom the nations are blessed – (Genesis 12:3, Galatians 3:7-9, Ephesians 2:11-19):
  • (Galatians 3:14) – “That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
The book of Revelation foresees a New Creation inhabited by a vast company of men and women redeemed from all the nations, the ultimate fulfillment of the covenant promises to Abraham. Thus, the “Lamb” is declared worthy to reign over the Cosmos because “You purchased for God by your blood men of 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 the vision from the book of Daniel about the enthronement of one “like a son of man” who is to reign forever over all the 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 to 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.
Likewise, after the “sixth seal” was opened, John saw a vast “innumerable multitude” comprised of men and women from every nation “standing before the Lamb” and the “Throne” in the New Creation. This was in fulfillment of the promise to Abraham of descendants more numerous than the “stars of heaven and the sand of the seashore” – (Revelation 7:9-1710:11, 12:1-5, 14:6).

Thus, the covenant with Abraham, including the promises of land and descendants, always included the nations of the earth – The Gentiles - and it finds its true fulfillment in the New Creation inaugurated by the Death and the Resurrection of Jesus. It is “in Jesus” where the nations are “blessed.”




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