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08 December 2018

Blessing to the Nations In Jesus

SynopsisJesus is the promised “seed” of Abraham in whom all the nations of the earth are blessed, according to the covenant made by Yahweh with Abraham.

Lighthouse - Courtesy
Basic to the redemption of the creation of God is His covenant promise to Abraham and to his “seed.” This included the promise that all the nations the earth would be blessed in him and, thus, Abraham 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. The covenant with Abraham is part of His larger redemptive plan for all humanity and the whole created order. 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 that would find its final fulfillment in the New Creation.

(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 ground.
(Genesis 15:4-6)– “And lo! a son of my household is mine heir! And lo! the word of Yahweh [came] unto him, saying, This one shall not be thine heir: 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.
(Genesis 17:1-8) – “And it came to pass that when Abram was ninety and nine years old, Yahweh appeared unto Abram and said unto him, I am GOD Almighty — Walk thou before me and become thou blameless: That I may set my covenant betwixt me and thee, And may multiply thee exceedingly. 3 And Abram fell on his face — and God spake with him, saying: As for me, lo! my covenant is with thee — So shalt thou become — father of a multitude of nations; And thy name shall no more be called Abram — but thy name shall become Abraham, for father of a multitude of nations have I appointed thee; And I will make thee fruitful exceedingly, and grant thee to be nations — Yea kings out of thee shall come forth; And I will confirm my covenant betwixt me and thee and thy seed after thee to their generations for an age-abiding covenant — to become to thee a God, and to thy seed after thee; And I will give to thee and to thy seed after thee the land of thy sojournings — all the land of Canaan for an age-abiding possession — And I will be to them a God.” (Also, Genesis22:15-18).

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. He 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, 10:6, 15:24).

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” (Matthew 12:18-22Isaiah 42:1-4).

Jesus Heals the Sick
The Gospel of Matthew applies this prophecy to the incident when Jesus healed a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath. Indignant, the 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.”

The application of Isaiah’s prophecy in Matthew suggests that Gentiles were included among this mixed multitude in Galilee. This is confirmed in the Gospel of 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.” Tyre and Sidon were Phoenician cities with Gentile populations (Mark 3:6-7).
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. This makes the salvation of Gentiles pivotal to the redemptive plan of God. 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). 

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.” The Greek clause is the same in the Greek Septuagint version of Isaiah and of Acts (heōs eschatou tés gés) - (Isaiah 49:6, Acts 1:7-9).

This global scope was stressed at the climax of Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost when he combined verbal allusions from 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.” “Promise” is singular and in the context refers to the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. “To all that are far off” is another allusion to Isaiah, 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” (Isaiah 49:1-6, Acts 1:4-8, 2:33-39).

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).

Thus, Peter explicitly linked the ministry of Jesus to the promise to bless all the nations in Abraham’s seed. He anticipated the broadening of the covenant when he declared that God has blessed them “first” by providing the forgiveness of sins.

Peter at the house of Cornelius
God used Peter to open the gospel to the Gentiles in Caesarea at the house of Cornelius, a Roman centurion. 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 that was previously proclaimed to Jews “throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee” (Acts 10:19-48).

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 preaching, the Holy Spirit fell on his Gentile audience and they began to speak in tongues. This amazed the Jews with Peter since uncircumcised Gentiles had received the same gift as Jewish believers had received on the Day of Pentecost. Later, some Jewish believers in Jerusalem objected to Peter’s activities among the 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.”

At a later conference in Jerusalem, Peter pointed to this same experience of the Spirit as evidence that Gentiles were not required to undergo circumcision, “in order to be saved.” The conference had been assembled to resolve this very question. Beginning in Caesarea, God had “visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for his name” (Acts15:6-12).

Very striking in this passage is the use of the Greek term laos for “people,” a noun normally applied to Israel in distinction from “Gentiles” or ethnos. The usage here alludes to Zechariah 2:11, “And many nations will join themselves to Yahweh in that day and will be His people” (Acts 3:12, 3:23, 4:1-2, 4:8-10).

As the spokesman for the leaders of the church, James justified the outreach by Peter to 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).

Note well that James attributes this quotation 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 Hebrew vowel points “Edom” becomes “Adam” or “man” in the Septuagint version of the verse.

At the end of the Book of Acts, Paul was under house arrest in Rome but still able to preach the gospel to visitors, which he did to Jew and Gentile alike. Some Jews believed, but many rejected the gospel. He declared to them, “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 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 3:7-9Genesis 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” [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 last passage echoes the vision from the Book of Daniel of the enthronement of one “like a son of man” who is 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.”

John is told later that he must yet “prophesy over many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.” The “son” born of the woman clothed with the sun is destined “to shepherd all nations.” Later, an angel is commissioned to proclaim, “the everlasting gospel to them that dwell on the earth, to every nation, kindred, tongue and people.” Throughout the Book of Revelation, the redemptive activities of the Lamb include men and women from all nations and peoples (Revelation 10:11, 12:1-5, 14:6).

Between the sixth and seventh seals in Revelation, 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 consisted of men from every nation 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 covenant with Abraham, including its promises of land and descendants, always included the nations of the earth and finds its true fulfillment in the New Creation inaugurated by the Death and the Resurrection of Jesus.

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