02 December 2018

The Land Promise to Abraham

The Altar
       Basic to biblical ideas of redemption is God’s promise to Abraham of land for his offspring (Genesis 12:1-3). Implicit in the original covenant is a fulfillment that encompasses the entire earth.
        The initially limited territory of Canaan and the focus on national Israel were stages in God’s greater redemptive purposes for all humanity. In the New Testament, the covenant with Abraham finds fulfillment in the new creation and in the salvation achieved by Christ's sacrificial death. The “Land Promise” leads inevitably to a new earth.

        Passages that promise land to Abraham employ words for “inheritance” and “heir,” and the Hebrew word translated “possession” includes the sense of “inheritance.” These are terms linked to the Abrahamic covenant and usually, refer to the land inheritance (Genesis 15:7; Exodus 23:30; Leviticus 20:24; Deuteronomy 1:8, 4:20-21, 26:1, Isaiah 60:21).
  • (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, and make your name great and you will become 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 13:14-16)– “Lift up now your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land which you see will I give to you and to your seed forever.”
  • (Genesis 15:1-6)– “And the word of Yahweh came to him, This man shall not be your heir; but he that shall come forth out of your own bowels shall be your heir.”
  • (Genesis 17:1-8) – “And I will give to you and to your seed after you the land of your so-journeys, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”
        Passages that promise land to Abraham employ words for “inheritance” and “heir,” and the Hebrew word translated “possession” includes the sense of “inheritance.” These are terms linked to the Abrahamic covenant and usually, refer to the land inheritance (Genesis 15:7; Exodus 23:30; Leviticus 20:24; Deuteronomy 1:8, 4:20-21, 26:1, Isaiah 60:21).
       In the New Testament, these terms are applied to what God accomplished in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus on behalf of his people, the church. For example, Jesus is the true heir of Abraham (Matthew 21:38; Mark 12:7; Luke 20:14); he is the heir of all things (Isaiah 9:6-7; 53:12; Matthew 28:18; John 13:3; Romans 8:17; Hebrews 1:2). He is appointed to rule all nations and given all authority in order to do so (Psalm 2:6-9; Matthew 28:18; Ephesians 1:20-22; Revelation 1:5-6; 11:15; 11:15; 12:1-5).
        In Jesus God has provided “sufficiently for our share in the inheritance of the saints” (Colossians 1:12). He “according to his great mercy has regenerated us to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from among the dead for an inheritance, incorruptible and undefiled and unfading, reserved in the heavens for you…ready to be revealed in the last ripe time” (1 Peter 1:3-5).
        The gift of the Spirit confirms that we are the “children of God and if children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:16-17). Jesus is Abraham’s “seed” and as partners with him, we are “heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:29). The Spirit is the “earnest of our inheritance for the redemption of the possession” (Ephesians 1:13-14). The Greek noun rendered “possession” or peripoiésis is the same one used by Peter in his quotation of Exodus 19:5: “you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession” (1 Peter 2:9).
        The Abrahamic inheritance is bequeathed to those who are in Christ, those who “are no longer bondservants but sons; and if sons, then heirs through God” (Galatians 3:29, 4:7, Titus 3:7, Hebrews 6:17). 
       Jesus declares to all who respond to him in faith, “Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). Not only do disciples inherit the kingdom, but this was also God’s original intent. To the largely Gentile churches of Asia Christ promised that “he who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he shall be my son.” The last clause is from a promise given to David (Revelation 21:7; 2 Samuel 7:14).
        Jesus is “the mediator of a new covenant, that a death having taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, they that have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (Hebrews 9:15).
Christ inaugurated the New Covenant by becoming the true “seed” and heir of Abraham. Consequently, all who are “in Christ” are joint-heirs with him and destined to receive the promised inheritance.

        (Matthew 5:3, 5) – “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” The “meek” are the disciples of Jesus. They will possess the “kingdom” and inherit the earth. Christ combines both promises and universalizes them. God’s reign is not limited to a small strip of land in the Middle East; the original promise of the limited territory is transformed into the entire earth.
        This saying alludes to Psalm 37: “the meek shall inherit the land…The righteous shall inherit the land and dwell upon it forever” (Psalm 37:11, 29). The psalm originally referred to Israel. Jesus reapplies this to a much broader audience and a greatly expanded territory. Similarly, the plea in the Lord’s Prayer for God’s will “to be done as in heaven, so on the earth” looks far beyond the land of Palestine (Matthew 6:10). 
       Jesus did not abandon the Land Promise to Abraham but expanded and universalized it to conform to God’s purpose to redeem His Creation and to make Abraham a blessing to “all the nations of the earth.”
        Prior to his death Christ’s ministry was limited to the “lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 10:6). But if God simply wanted biological descendants of Abraham, He could “raise up children to Abraham from stones” (Matthew 3:9). Because Jesus submitted to God’s will he was resurrected and received “ALL authority in heaven and on the earth”; no territorial limits were placed on his dominion. He succeeded where Adam failed to take “dominion” over the earth (Genesis 12:1-3; Matthew 24:14; 28:18-19).
        Jesus instructed his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they “received power when the Holy Spirit came upon them”, then they would become his witnesses “in Jerusalem and all Judea, and Samaria and as far as the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). God told Abraham to look “northward, southward, eastward and westward” to see the extent of his future inheritance (Genesis 13:14). That “birthright” is being implemented wherever the gospel is proclaimed, even to “the uttermost parts of the earth.”
        A Samaritan woman perceived Jesus to be a prophet and asked him to settle an old dispute between Jews and Samaritans: Should the Temple be located in Jerusalem or in Samaria? Jesus responded, “An hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem shall you worship the Father…But there is coming an hour and even now is when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:20-24). Questions of holy space were no longer relevant since God’s Messiah had arrived.
For Paul, the original limited Land Promise becomes universal; the promise to Abraham is for him to become “heir of the world” or kosmos (Romans 4:13).
        Both Jewish and Gentile believers are his children on the basis of faith, and therefore heirs. Ethnicity does not determine inclusion or exclusion from the promise. Paul has in view by “world” the New Creation, the “new heavens and the new earth” (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; Galatians 6:15; 2 Corinthians 5:17; 2 Peter 3:13).
        This was not theological sleight of hand but greater insight into the original promise. Abraham was commanded by God to “go from your country… to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). “Land” translates the Hebrew word ‘erets, which means “land” or “ground” but can also refer to the entire “earth” (Genesis 1:1).
         The corresponding Greek noun in the Septuagint version or gé also means “land” as in a designated territory or the “earth” itself. Thus God “created the heavens and the earth.” In Abraham “all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 1:1; 12:3).
        Paul wrote about the new creation in which resurrected Christians will live in the consummated kingdom of God, but he said nothing about the territorial aspirations of national Israel. He described the church, the “body of Christ,” as the true Tabernacle or Temple in which God dwelt. “Jerusalem above” is our mother but the earthly Jerusalem corresponds to Hagar, Mount Sinai and bondage (1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 1 Corinthians 15:20-58; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21).
        Paul does not discuss the re-gathering of the scattered tribes of Israel into the land of Palestine, though he is deeply concerned for their salvation. God’s paradoxical “mystery” is that the rejection of Jesus by most Jews opens the Gospel to Gentiles. Jews who disbelieve are “broken off” from the root of Abraham, whereas the unnatural branches or Gentiles are grafted into to root” on the basis of faith. The destinies of Jews and Gentiles are inextricably linked.
       This state of affairs is to continue “until the full measure of the Gentiles shall come in, and in this way all Israel shall be saved.” The full complement of Gentiles will necessitate in turn the gathering of the full number of believing Jews. “Just as you Gentiles at one time did not yield to God and yet now have received mercy by the refusal of Jews to yield, that by the mercy was shown to you they also may now obtain mercy. For God has shut up all together in a refusal to yield, in order that upon ALL he may bestow mercy” (Romans 11:1-32).
          If the cutting off of the Jews means the reconciliation of the Gentiles, their restoration means nothing less than “life from among the dead,” resurrection life in the New Creation.
         Abraham was the quintessential man of faith. When called by God “to come forth to a place he was destined to receive for an inheritance,” he responded in faith and “came forth not knowing whither he was going.” He lived the life of a pilgrim in the “land of promise,” living in tents. Yet even in his time, he looked to something beyond the land of Canaan, to a holy city “whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10-16).
        Abraham and the other Patriarchs “all died in faith, not having received the promises but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” They were “seeking after a country of their own” but desired a “better country, a heavenly one, for such as them God has prepared a city.”
        The faithful saints of the Old Testament “obtained witness through their faith, yet they bare not away the promise.” It lies in the future both for them and the church. God has “provided something better” for both so that “not apart from us should they be made complete” (Hebrews 11:39-40). Saints from both eras receive the same everlasting reward and do so together.
        The Author of Hebrews contrasts the experience of Israel at Mount Sinai with that of believing Christians. Unlike ancient Israel, believers have not “not approached unto a searching and scorching fire, and gloom and mist and tempest,” from a tumult so frightening that “they who heard excused themselves lest there should be added to them a word; for they could not bear that which was being enjoined…so fearful was that which was showing itself even Moses said, I am terrified and do tremble!” Instead disciples of Jesus “approach unto Mount Zion and to the city of a Living God, a heavenly Jerusalem.”
        The goal is to inherit a heavenly or New Jerusalem, not the old city located in Palestine (Hebrews 12:18-29; 13:12-14).
        Peter addresses questions about the apparent delay of the coming of Jesus. He argues that God is not, in fact, late or “slack concerning his promise”; He has not changed his plan or timetable.
        The interim between Christ’s departure and return is due to God’s long-suffering. He desires that “all should come to repentance”; the delay enables the Gospel to go out into all the earth. But the end will come when the “day of the Lord arrives as a thief.” At that time the heavens will pass away with a rushing noise, the earth and the works in it will be discovered.
        In light of this, Christians must conduct themselves “in holy ways of behavior, expecting and hastening the coming of the day of God.” Quite possibly that day’s arrival can be “hastened” by taking the Gospel throughout the earth. When it does come, the “heavens, being on fire, will be dissolved, and the elements, becoming intensely hot, are to be melted,” for we are expecting “new heavens and a new earth according to his promise” (2 Peter 3:9-13).
        The singular “promise” points to the promise of a new heaven and earth from Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22, but also alludes to the land promise made to Abraham, which finds fulfillment in the New Creation.
  • (Revelation 3:12) – “He that overcomes, I will write upon him the name of the city of my God, the New Jerusalem which is descending from heaven.”
        The book of Revelation is addressed to believers who have been “loosed from their sins by the blood of Jesus” and constituted a “kingdom of priests” tasked with bearing light (1:4-11; 1:20).
This group is part of a larger one redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, “men from every tribe, tongue, people and nation, and made a kingdom and priests unto our God” (5:5-9). This vision combines the promise to bless all nations in Abraham with the vocation of Israel to be a kingdom of priests.
        This company is portrayed as an assembly of twelve thousand males from the twelve tribes of Israel (Revelation 7:1-8), an image from the book of Numbers when Israel was numbered and assembled for transit to the Promised Land, and arrayed for holy war. John does not see the company but “hears” their number. When he looks what he sees is “a great multitude that no one is able to number, from every nation and of all tribes and peoples and tongues,” the same redeemed company already seen (5:9-10; 7:9-14).
        John sees this group at the end of its journey “standing before the Throne and before the Lamb.” Having washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb, “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more, neither in any wise shall the sun fall upon them, nor any burning heat; because the Lamb that is in the midst of the Throne shall shepherd them and shall lead them to life’s fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away every tear out of their eyes.”
        Two passages from Isaiah are employed, Isaiah 49:5-10 and Isaiah 65:17-19. The first concerns the “servant of Yahweh” sent to redeem and gather Israel to its inheritance. The second focuses on what Yahweh will do in the “new heavens and a new earth.” Both feature in the description of the new creation in Revelation 21:1-5.
  • (Isaiah 49:10) – “And now declares Yahweh that formed me from the womb to be his Servant, to bring Jacob again to him, and that Israel be gathered to him…It is too light a thing that you should be my Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give you for a light to the Gentiles, that you may be my salvation to the end of the earth…Thus declares Yahweh, In an acceptable time have I answered you, and in a day of salvation have I helped you; and I will preserve you, and give you for a covenant of the people, to raise up the land, to make them inherit the desolate heritages…They shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall smite them, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them.”
  • (Isaiah 65:17-19) – “For behold me, creating new heavens and a new earth, and the former shall not be mentioned neither shall they come up on the heart. But joy ye and exult perpetually in what I am about to create; For behold me! Creating Jerusalem an exultation and her people a joy; therefore will I exult in Jerusalem and joy in my people, and there shall be heard in her no more the sound of weeping or the sound of a cry.”
  • (Revelation 21:1-5; 22:1-2) – “I saw a new heaven and a new earth…And I saw new Jerusalem descending out of heaven…And I heard a great voice out of the throne saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men…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…Behold, I make all things new…And he showed me a river of water of life proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb…and on this side of the river and on that was the tree of life, bearing twelve manner of fruits, yielding its fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”
        The Redeemed appear again in chapter 14 as twelve thousand males from each of the tribes of Israel that “stand upon Mount Zion” and “sing a new song before the Throne.” This links them to the redeemed from every nation in Revelation 5:9-10 that also “sing a new song.” This is not Mount Zion in old Jerusalem; the saints sing before the Throne. They have been redeemed from the old earth and fallen humanity (14:3-4).
        The same group appears again in chapter 15. They have escaped “from the Beast” and now stand on the glassy sea before the Throne. Like ancient Israel after the Exodus, they sing “the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb.” The descent of New Jerusalem from heaven means the final overthrow of the satanic world government and the consummation of God’s reign throughout the Cosmos. “The first heaven and the first earth have passed away.” This is the same reality as the city, “New Jerusalem descending out of heaven” (Revelation 21:1-7). The boundaries of the new earth and the city are coterminous.
        From now on the Tabernacle of God is with men and “he will tabernacle with them, and they shall be his peoples, and he shall be their God” (21:3). Note that “peoples” is plural. Revelation combines language from at least three Old Testament passages that contain promises to Abraham, Israel at Sinai and the New Covenant for Israel:
  • (Genesis 17:7-8) – “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God to thee and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land of thy so-journings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”
  • (Leviticus 26:11) – “And I will make my abode among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people.”
  • (Jeremiah 31:33) – “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith Yahweh: I will put my law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
        The use of “peoples” in Revelation 21:3 reflects a change from the singular in Jeremiah 31:33 (“I will be their God, and they shall be my people”). This reflects Revelation’s theme of a redeemed company consisting of men and women from every nation, people, tribe and tongue.
        The foundations of New Jerusalem bear the names of the Twelve Apostles AND its gates the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. This symbolizes the continuity between old and new covenants; all God’s people united in New Jerusalem as one company; the promises to Abraham are actualized by the Lamb.
        New Jerusalem is foursquare with equal length, breadth, and height, a perfect cube (Revelation 21:15-17). This corresponds to God’s promise to Abraham of boundless land over the four corners of the earth (“look northward and southward and eastward and westward” (Genesis 13:14). New Jerusalem measures twelve thousand “stadia,” approximately fifteen hundred miles. The number is figurative and reached by multiplying twelve by one thousand (12 x 1,000). Twelve consistently in Revelation symbolizes God’s people.
        The descent of New Jerusalem from Heaven consummates the New Creation and brings all God’s promises from old and new covenant to their intended fulfillment. This includes all the promises made to Abraham.
        New Creation is nothing less than Yahweh’s fulfillment of the promises of land and blessing for the nations made to Abraham.

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