The covenant promises to “bless all nations” in Abraham finds its fulfillment in Jesus and his gospel – He is the true “seed of Abraham.”
Basic to the redemption of humanity is the covenant with Abraham and his “seed.” This includes the promise that “all the nations the earth will be blessed in him,” and that he will have innumerable descendants. So, how will the nations be blessed “in Abraham,” and when will this “blessing” occur? Who are his descendants, and most importantly, who is the true “seed of Abraham”?
In the New Testament, the promise of “seed” finds its fulfillment in Jesus and in his new covenant community, the “body of Christ.” The Abrahamic Covenant was always part of the larger redemptive plan of God. The initial focus on Israel was only the first stage in a much larger program.
From its inception, the covenant envisioned a glorious future beyond the confines of national Israel or the land of Canaan, a promise that finds its ultimate fulfillment in the New Creation – (Genesis 12:1-3, 15:4-6, 17:1-8).
During his ministry, Jesus limited the activities of his disciples to the “lost sheep of Israel.” However, from the start, his mission envisioned the inclusion of the “Gentiles,” which he began in Galilee as prophesied in 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 a great light” – (Matthew 4:12-17).
He was anointed to reign “upon the throne of David and establish his kingdom with justice and righteousness forever.” He was the Servant of Yahweh 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 Day. Indignant, the Pharisees began to conspire “how they might destroy him,” but he withdrew, and a “great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all.” The application of the prophecy at this point in the story suggests that Gentiles were included among the “mixed multitude” that followed him.
And this is confirmed in the version in Mark (“A great multitude from Galilee followed him, and from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, from beyond Jordan; and a great multitude from Tyre and Sidon”). Both cities were Phoenician and had largely Gentile populations – (Mark 3:6-7).
After his resurrection, Jesus commanded his disciples to proclaim the kingdom to “all nations,” and that mission that must be completed before his return at the end of the age – the salvation of the “Gentiles” is pivotal to the redemptive plan of God – (Matthew 24:14, 28:18-20).
Likewise, just before his ascension, he commissioned the disciples 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”- (Isaiah 49:6, Acts 1:7-9).
This global scope of the mission was stressed at the climax of Peter’s first sermon given on the Day of Pentecost when he combined verbal allusions from the books of 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 2:33-39).
In his concluding declaration, “promise” is singular in number and refers to the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. “To all that are far off” is another allusion to the prophecy from Isaiah – “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).
In the third chapter of Acts, Peter prayed for the lame man at the entrance to the Temple, declaring 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 clans 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, he linked the ministry of Jesus to the promise to bless all the clans in Abraham’s seed. His words anticipated the broadening of the covenant to the Gentiles by declaring that God had blessed the Jewish nation “first.”
Peter was also instrumental in opening the gospel to the Gentiles at the house of Cornelius. He understood that it was unlawful “for a man that is a Jew to join himself or come into one of another nation,” yet God showed him that he must “not call any man common or unclean.” He accepts men “in every nation that fear him and work righteousness”; therefore, Peter preached the same gospel to Cornelius that he proclaimed to the Jews “throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee” – (Acts 10:19-48).
Before he finished preaching, the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles, and they began to speak in tongues. This amazed the Jews present since uncircumcised Gentiles had received the same gift as the Jewish believers had on the Day of Pentecost. After hearing about these events, the church at Jerusalem “glorified God, because to the Gentiles also He had granted repentance unto life.”
Later, James declared that the Gentiles were not required to undergo circumcision “in order to be saved,” for God had “visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for his name.” Very striking was his application of the Greek term laos or “people” to the Gentiles, a noun commonly used in biblical Greek for Israel in distinction from the “Gentiles,” or ethnos. His words alluded to a prophecy from the book of Zechariah – “And many nations will join themselves to Yahweh in that day and will be His people” – (Zechariah 2:11. Also, Acts 3:12, 3:23, 4:1-2, 4:8-10, 15:6-12).
Moreover, James justified the outreach to the 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 15:14-17, Amos 9:11-12).
The book of Acts ends with Paul in Rome, where he was “proclaiming the kingdom of God” to all who would hear, to Jew and Gentile alike – (Isaiah 52:10, Acts 28:26-31).
In Galatians, Paul was explicit. Men and women of faith are the true “children of Abraham.” God’s plan was always to justify the Gentiles through faith, especially since He promised Abraham that “In you will all nations be blessed.” Those who stand on faith are the ones who are “blessed with faithful Abraham.” And since his Death and Resurrection, Jesus is the true “seed of Abraham” in whom the nations are blessed – (Genesis 12:3, Galatians 3:7-9, 3:14, Ephesians 2:11-19).
Finally, Revelation foresees the New Creation inhabited by a vast company of men and women redeemed from all the nations, the ultimate fulfillment of the covenant promise. Thus, the “Lamb” was declared worthy to reign over the Cosmos precisely because he “purchased for God by his blood men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation” – (Revelation 5:5-14).
Likewise, after the “sixth seal” was opened, John saw a vast innumerable multitude comprised of men and women from every nation, “standing before the Lamb” and the “Throne” in the New Creation, all in fulfillment of the promise to Abraham of descendants more numerous than the “stars of heaven and the sand of the seashore” – (Revelation 7:9-17, 10:11, 12:1-5, 14:6).
Thus, the covenant with Abraham, including its promises of land and descendants, always included the nations of the Gentiles, and it finds its true fulfillment in the New Creation inaugurated by the Death and the Resurrection of Jesus. It is “in Jesus” that the nations are “blessed.”