08 December 2018

Blessing to the Nations In Abraham


Basic to the redemption of God’s creation is His covenant promise to Abraham and to his "seed." This included a promise that all the nations the earth would be blessed in Abraham, thus he would have innumerable descendants.
      How will the nations be blessed in Abraham and when will it occur? In the New Testament, the promise finds fulfillment in Jesus Christ and his new covenant community. God’s covenant with Abraham is part of His larger redemptive plan for all humanity and the creation itself. The initial focus on Israel was the first stage in a much larger process.

     The covenant envisioned a glorious future far beyond the confines of national Israel and the land of Canaan, a promise to be fulfilled in the New Creation.
  • (Genesis 12:1-3)– “Come on your way out of your land…to the land that I will show you, that I may make you into a great nation and bless you…so shall be blessed in you all the clans of the earth.”
  • (Genesis 15:4-6)– “And he brought him forth abroad and said, Look now toward heaven and number the stars if you are able to number them: and he said, So shall your seed be.”
  • (Genesis 17:1-8) – “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be perfect; and I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly…Neither shall your name any more be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for the father of a multitude of nations have I made you.
  • (Genesis 22:15-18) – “I will multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand upon the seashore, and your seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because you obeyed my voice.”

      During his ministry Jesus limited the activities of his disciples to the “lost sheep of Israel,” but from the start, his messianic calling envisioned the inclusion of the Gentiles (Matthew 10:6; 15:24).
     Christ began his ministry in Galilee, according to a prophecy from 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; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up” (Matthew 4:12-17). 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 Yahweh’s Servant, the one who would “declare judgment to the nations…and in his name shall nations trust” (Matthew 12:18-22; Isaiah 42:1-4).
     Matthew applies this prophecy to the incident when Jesus healed a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath. Indignant Pharisees began to conspire “how they might destroy him.” In reaction, Jesus withdrew from the synagogue but “great multitudes followed him and he healed them all.” Matthew’s application of Isaiah’s prophecy suggests Gentiles were included among this mixed multitude. This is confirmed in Mark’s gospel:  “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” (Mark 3:6-7). Tyre and Sidon were Phoenician cities with Gentile populations.
     The proclamation of the kingdom of God to “all nations” is a mission given to disciples that must be completed before the arrival of the Son of Man (Matthew 24:14). This makes the salvation of Gentiles pivotal to God’s redemptive plan. Accordingly, Jesus tasked his disciples to teach “all nations and to command them to observe all things whatever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).
     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” (Acts 1:7-9). 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 49:6). The Greek clause is precisely the same in the Septuagint version of Isaiah 49:6 and of Acts 1:8 (heōs eschatou tés gés).
     This global scope is stressed at the climax of Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost where he combines verbal allusions from Isaiah and Joel: “For to you is the promise, to your children and to all that are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call to him” (Acts 2:39). “Promise” is singular and in context refers to the promised gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4; 2:33). “To all that are far off” is another allusion to Isaiah 49:1-6, already used in Acts 1:8: “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.” Peter also alludes to Joel 2:32, the 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 next chapter, Peter prayed for a lame man at the door of the Temple in Jerusalem. Peter 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). Peter thus explicitly links the ministry of Jesus to the promise to bless all nations in Abraham’s seed. He anticipates the broadening of the covenant when he declares that God has blessed them “first” by providing the forgiveness of sins.
     God used Peter to open the gospel to Gentiles in Caesarea at the house of Cornelius, a Roman centurion (Acts 10:19-48). Peter understood it was unlawful “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.”  God accepts men “in every nation that fear him and work righteousness,” therefore Peter preached the same gospel to Cornelius already proclaimed to Jews “throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee.” Jesus had charged the disciples to preach to the people that “this is he who is ordained of God to be the Judge of the living and the dead. To him bear all the prophets witness, that through his name everyone that believes on him will receive remission of sins.
     Before Peter finished the Holy Spirit fell on his Gentile audience and they began to speak in tongues. This amazed Jews with Peter since uncircumcised Gentiles had received the same gift as Jewish believers received on the Day of Pentecost. Some Jewish believers in Jerusalem objected to Peter’s activities among Gentiles. To this 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.”
     Peter at a later conference in Jerusalem offered this same experience as evidence that Gentiles were not required to undergo circumcision “in order to be saved.” The conference was assembled to resolve this very question (Acts 15:6-12). Beginning in Caesarea, God “visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for his name.” Striking is the use of the Greek term laos for “people,” a noun normally applied to Israel in distinction from “Gentiles” or ethnos (Acts 3:12; 3:23; 4:1-2; 4:8-10). This usage is derived from Zechariah 2:11, which is alluded to, “And many nations will join themselves to Yahweh in that day, and will be His people.
     James as spokesman justified the outreach to uncircumcised Gentiles, beginning with a citation from 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 15:14-17; Amos 9:11-12). Note well that James attributes this not to Amos but to “all the prophets.” He follows the Greek text of the Septuagint rather than the Hebrew original; by a change of vowel points “Edom” becomes “Adam” or “man” in the Septuagint.
     At the end of Acts, Paul is under house arrest in Rome but able to preach the gospel to visitors, which he does to Jew and Gentile alike. Some Jews believe but many reject the gospel. Paul declares to them, “this salvation of God is sent unto the nations; they will also hear” (Isaiah 52:10, “Yahweh has bared his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God”). The book of Acts ends with Paul proclaiming the kingdom of God to all who will hear, regardless of ethnicity (Acts 28:26-31).
     Paul is explicit in his letter to the Galatians. It is men and women of faith that are the real “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.” They who stand on faith are the ones “blessed with faithful Abraham” (Galatians 3:7-9; Genesis 12:3). Jesus is the true “seed” of Abraham in whom the nations are blessed (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” [cp. Ephesians 2:11-19]).
     The book of Revelation foresees a new creation inhabited by a vast company of men and women redeemed from all nations, the fulfillment of the covenant promises to Abraham. Thus the sacrificial Lamb is declared worthy to reign over the Cosmos precisely 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…To him, that sits on the throne and to the Lamb be the blessing, the honor, the glory, and the dominion forever and ever.” (Revelation 5:5-14). This passage echoes the vision from Daniel of the enthronement of one “like a son of man” who is to reign forever over all nations:
(Daniel 7:13-14) – “Behold, there came with the clouds of heaven one like a son of man, and he came to the ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, glory, a kingdom that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.”
    John is told later that he must yet “prophesy over many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings” (10:11). The “son” born of the woman clothed with the sun is destined “to shepherd all nations” (12:1-5). Later an angel is commissioned to proclaim “the everlasting gospel to them that dwell on the earth, to every nation, kindred, tongue and people” (14:6).
     Between the sixth and seventh seals, John saw a vision, “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 is in fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham of descendants more numerous than the “stars of heaven and the sand of the seashore.” This innumerable multitude consists of men from every nation who “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 any more; 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).
     This vision is actualized in New Jerusalem at the end of the age when the nations are redeemed and dwell in New Jerusalem:
  • And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth are passed away. And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, descending from heaven from God made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of the throne saying, Behold, the Tabernacle of God is with men, and he shall dwell with them, and they shall be his peoples, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God: and he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more: the first things are passed away. And he that sits on the throne said, Behold, I make all things new…the nations shall walk amidst its light…and the kings of the earth bring their glory into it; and they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it…And he showed me a river of water of life, bright as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the midst of its street. And on this side of the river and on that was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit yielding fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 21:1 – 22:2).

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