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The promises of Abraham

Who do they belong to today?

Abraham sacrifing Isaac


When it comes to Israel and the church, there are basically three ways to interpret Israel’s relevance to the church today.

First, in Covenant Theology (CT) it is attempted to read the Old Covenant as though it was the New Covenant. In CT, there are two overarching covenants: the covenant of works made with Adam, which came to an end when the covenant of grace was instituted; the covenant of grace was instituted under Moses. The covenant of grace has two administrations. One from Moses to Christ, and the other from Christ on. Since there is only one covenant of grace—divided into two administrations—that is the basic assumption of CT, there has to be only one Church, and as a result, Israel has to be one with the church today.

Second, in Dispensational Theology (DT), the Old Testament is read without taking into account the New Covenant. DT believes that all nations must bless Israel or incur God’s wrath. According to DT, God has an earthly purpose with Israel and a heavenly one for the church. DT believes that all of history is seen in terms of Israel’s history. In essence, DT is Israeli-centric.

Lastly, in New Covenant Theology (NCT), which is the author’s view, the Old Covenant is seen as obsolete and done away with, and that the New Covenant is now in effect which completely and utterly replaces the Old Covenant.

Promises and fulfilment

In Gen 12:1-7 God spoke to Abraham with a promise and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” As a result of God’s promise, He made a covenant with Abraham (Gen 12:7-21) with a short glimpse into Israel’s history: bondage in Egypt for 400 years; judgment upon Pharaoh; the Exodus; and finally, entrance into the promised land of Gen 12:7. After the time of Joseph, Israel did go into bondage to Egypt for 400 years, whereupon Pharaoh was judged by God (Ex 12:29-33). The result was that the Exodus from Egypt did occur (Ex 13:20-22) and the Israelites entered the promised land (Josh 1:2-6).

However, in the DT camp, it is believed that God must still fulfill the promises to Israel and that the struggle in the Middle East today is a direct result of that. They pour millions of dollars of their own money into supporting this cause. DT believes that everything must be done to this end, no matter who else lives there. Yet, Scripture is clear that the land promises to Abraham and Israel have been fulfilled.

So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the LORD had spoken to Moses, and Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their divisions by their tribes. Thus the land had rest from war. (Josh 11:23)

All the cities of the Levites in the midst of the possession of the sons of Israel were forty-eight cities with their pasture lands.  (42)  These cities each had its surrounding pasture lands; thus it was with all these cities.  (43)  So the LORD gave Israel all the land which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they possessed it and lived in it.  (44)  And the LORD gave them rest on every side, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers, and no one of all their enemies stood before them; the LORD gave all their enemies into their hand.  (45)  Not one of the good promises which the LORD had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass. (Josh 21:41-45)

However, even though promises were made to Israel and were fulfilled as we can see in the Joshua passages, the New Testament is clear on the ultimate fulfillment of these promises. Under the New Covenant these promises are shown to have been mere shadows and types of the real fulfillment that waited for the church in the New Testament. Concerning these passages in Joshua, the New Testament has this to say:

For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that.  (9)  So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. (Heb 4:8-9)

The complete fulfilment that awaited the people of God can only be realised in Christ and in the New Covenant. Paul interprets what God actually told Abraham when He made the promises to him.

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, "And to seeds," as referring to many, but rather to one, "And to your seed," that is, Christ.  (17)  What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.  (18)  For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise. (Gal 3:16-18)

Since the promises to Abraham were kept and fulfilled in the book of Joshua, we can now see the proper fulfilment in Christ. The promises have all been fulfilled in Christ and Israel no longer has to wait for earthly promises to be fulfilled. Since the priesthood changed, the law changed with it (Heb 7:12), and on the same basis as this change, Jesus lives forever and as a result of that the priesthood will never change (Heb 7:24). So, since the priesthood will never again change, there can never be anymore animal sacrifices offered by anyone ever. Jesus is the mediator of a better covenant (Heb 8:6), since the first or Old Covenant was faulty (Heb 8:7-8). Therefore, since we have a New Covenant, Scripture is clear that the Old Covenant has been made obsolete (Heb 8:13).

What is the result of all this, then? In Christ, there “is neither Jew nor Greek… for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28) What does this mean for us as the church? The Scriptural fact stands that “if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise.” (Gal 3:29)

The outcome of all this is that God’s program no longer runs with an earthly kingdom in mind—such as that of setting Israel up in the land of Palestine—but rather a spiritual kingdom, which for now—until Christ returns to set up His kingdom—is proclaimed by the church and realised in Christ as the head of the church. All blessings are now appropriated in Christ.

However, some will claim that the promises made to Israel and the covenant with her were eternal in nature and therefore could not come to an end. Yet, this shows a basic misunderstanding concerning the New Testament message with Christ as the fulfilment of all promises made to Israel. In order for us to understand the eternal nature of the promises and their fulfilment in Christ we can also look at the “eternal” aspects in the worship system of Israel in the Old Testament.

Table 1: Christ - the antitype
Everlasting Aspect
Aaron - Ex 40:15
Christ - Heb 7:11-121
Ex 12:14
Lord's Supper - 1 Cor 11:23-26; 5:7
Ex 31:17
Salvation - Col 2:16-17
Gen 17:13
Regeneration - Col 2:11-12
Gen 17:8
Heaven - Heb 4:1-16

It is clear that the Lord has done away with the old—priesthood, passover, sabbath, circumcision—and that He has put in place the new. If we can believe that the Old Testament priesthood or passover has been done away with and fulfilled in the New Testament—notwithstanding that all-encompassing word “eternal” or “everlasting”—then surely we can see and believe that the land promise—fulfilled already in Joshua’s day—has a better fulfilment in Christ!

Israel is no longer the people of God. They broke God’s covenant and rejected the gospel, and as a result, God rejected them as His people. Right through the pages of the Old Testament we read of Israel as the unbelieving people of God. Time and time again God had to bring judgement on Israel to bring them back to Him. Israel was known as the people of God (Rom 9:1-5; Ex 3:7-10; 2 Chr 7:14); however, Israel was rejected as the people of God (Dt 31:14-29; Jn 15:1-9).

And when Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, imploring Him,  (6)  and saying, "Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, fearfully tormented."  (7)  Jesus *said to him, "I will come and heal him."  (8)  But the centurion said, "Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed.  (9)  "For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, 'Go!' and he goes, and to another, 'Come!' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this!' and he does it."  (10)  Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, "Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel.  (11)  "I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven;  (12)  but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Mt 8:5-12)

As a result of Israel’s rejection by God, God instituted a new people of God, the true Israel…the church!

And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God,  (5)  you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  (6)  For this is contained in Scripture: "BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A CHOICE STONE, A PRECIOUS CORNER stone, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED."  (7)  This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, "THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE VERY CORNER stone,"  (8)  and, "A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE"; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.  (9)  But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;  (10)  for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY. (1 Pet 2:4-10)

There is a new people of God, a people of God in which there is no Jew nor Gentile. In this people all are one. This people of God is the church (Eph 2:12-19). It is made extremely clear under the New Testament—the last covenant ever made with man by God—that the children of promise and not the physical descendants (Israel) are regarded as descendants of Abraham, and therefore are the real Israel today.

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel;  (7)  nor are they all children because they are Abraham's descendants, but: "THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED."  (8)  That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. (Rom 9:6-8)

It has never been the case that all Israel will be saved lock-stock-and-barrel. It has always only been the remnant that would be saved (Rom 9:27). This has been the pattern in the Old Testament from the beginning and we can see an example of that in the life of Elijah when he was facing the evil queen. God had to remind him that there was a remnant standing with him. Those who trust in Christ are the true Jews, the Israel of God (Gal 6:16).

For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh.  (29)  But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God. (Rom 2:28-29)

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