Heir of the World

According to Romans, the land promise to Abraham encompassed the entire world, not just the land of Canaan – Romans 4:13

World Map - Photo by Nicola Nuttall on Unsplash
God began to redeem humanity with His covenant with Abraham, beginning with the summons for the Patriarch to leave his homeland for the “land that I will show you.” Yahweh would make him a “great nation,” and in Abraham, He would “bless all the clans of the earth.” And from the start, the land promise was central to the covenant – (Genesis 12:1-3) - [Photo by Nicola Nuttall on Unsplash].

In his letter to the Romans, Paul presented Abraham as the great exemplar of faith, the model for all men who would live by faith, and the “heir of the world.” In the Kingdom of God, the original and limited “land promise” now finds its fulfillment in the New Creation. Thus, the Patriarch and all who belong to him will inherit the “world”:
  • (Romans 4:11-17) – “And a sign he received, circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while yet uncircumcised; to the end he might be the father of all that believe during uncircumcision, to the end, the same righteousness might be reckoned to them; and the father of circumcision to them who are not of circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of the faith while yet uncircumcised of our father Abraham. For not through the law does the promise belong to Abraham or to his seed, that he should be heir of the world, but through a righteousness from faith. For if they who are of law are heirs, faith is made void and of no effect is the promise. For the law works out anger, but where there is no law, neither is there transgression. For this cause, it is from faith, in order that it may be by way of grace, so that the promise is firm to all the seed, not to that from the law only, but to that also which is from the faith of Abraham, who is father of us all. Even as it is written: Father of many nations have I appointed you: before him whom he believed, God, who causes the dead to live and calls the things that are not as things that are.”
God declared Abraham “right” and reckoned his faith as “righteousness” while he was still uncircumcised; and so, apart from the “works of the Law.” Consequently, he became the “father” of every man and woman who is “from faith,” circumcised or not, whether Jew or Gentile. All who are from that same faith are members of the “seed of Abraham.”

References to the “promise” and “heir” point to future realities. For Abraham, and for his “seed,” the promised inheritance is the possession of the entire “world” or kosmos, and NOT the limited territory of Canaan. Not always noticed is how Paul universalized the original land promise to include the entire “world” (the Greek term kosmos can include the entire universe).

This promise was to Abraham and to “his seed,” the group composed of all who walk in the same faith as he did. The promised inheritance is through faith and grace; therefore, the “promise is firm to all the seed.” Yahweh appointed Abraham to be the “Father of many nations,” not just of Israel.

Abraham believed the word of the God who “raises the dead and calls the things that are not into being.”  Paul applied this to Abraham’s belief that God would grant him the promised "seed," that is, Isaac, even though Sarah’s womb was “dead.” But the story of Abraham’s justification was not “written for his sake alone”:
  • But also, for our sake also to whom it is to be reckoned, even to them that believe upon Him who raised Jesus our Lord from among the dead, who was delivered up on account of our offenses and was raised on account of the declaring us righteous” - (Romans 4:23-25)
Thus, Paul saw the fulfillment of the original promise to Abraham of territory in the gathering of men and women from every nation through the proclamation of the gospel, which will culminate in the resurrection of the dead and the New Creation. In short, the covenant of Abraham finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ and the gospel proclaimed by him and his apostles.


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