SYNOPSIS – Jesus in the true “seed” of Abraham, the heir of the covenant promises, and participation in the inheritance is based on faith in Him.
In the book of Genesis, Yahweh promised to bless Abraham and his “seed.” Moreover, in the future, Abraham would bless “all the families of the earth.” The original covenant with Abraham raises questions – Just who, exactly, is the “seed” of Abraham? Is membership in this category determined by physical descent from the Patriarch or some other way? How will Yahweh’s covenant with him result in “blessings” to the nations of the earth?
Famously, John the Baptist warned the Jews of his day who appealed to their physical descent from Abraham as confirmation of their covenant status:
- (Genesis 17:4-8) – “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.”
- (Matthew 3:9) – “And they were being immersed in the Jordan river by him, openly confessing their sins. But, seeing many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, Broods of vipers! Who suggested for you to be fleeing from the coming wrath? Bring forth fruit worthy of repentance; and think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham as our father. I say to you – God is able out of these stones to raise up children to Abraham.”
Thus, repentance and submission to the Messiah are mandatory for entrance into the Kingdom of God, not biological descent from Abraham.
In the saying of John, “stones” is metaphorical for the divine intent to bring Gentiles into the covenant, a part of the redemptive plan from the beginning. Compare the following words of Jesus with the words of Yahweh to Abraham:
- (Matthew 8:8-12) – “But the centurion, answering, said, Lord! I am of no consideration that under my roof thou shouldest enter, but only say with a word and healed will be my servant. For I also am a man under authority, having under myself soldiers; and I say to this one, Go, and he goes, and to another, Come, and he comes, and to my servant, Do this, and he does it. Now Jesus, hearing, marveled and said to them that were following him: Truly, I say to you, With no one in Israel such faith as this have I found. But I say to you, Many from east and west will come and recline with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of the heavens; Whereas, the sons of the kingdom will be cast into the darkness outside — There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”
- (Genesis 13:14-16) – “And Yahweh said to Abram, Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are; northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you are beholding I will give to you, and to your seed unto times everlasting. And I will make your seed as the dust of the earth, so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, your seed also may be numbered.”
In the saying of Jesus, “east and west” alludes to the promise to Abraham to look “north and south, east and west” to see the extent of the promised land and the promise to bless all nations. From the start, the covenant anticipated something far larger than the land of Canaan or his physical descendants – (Genesis 12:3, 13:14).
At the time of his birth, Jesus was identified as the “Son of David, the Son of Abraham”; that is, the promised Davidic king who was destined to rule the nations, the “Son of the Most-High” who would possess the Throne of David – (Matthew 1:1, Luke 1:31-33, 1 Samuel 7:13-16:
(Psalm 2:8-9) – “Ask of me and let me give nations as your inheritance, and as your possession, the ends of the earth: You will shepherd them with a scepter of iron, as a potter’s vessel, you will dash them in pieces.”
The announcement to Mary by Gabriel meant that God was about to fulfill His covenant promises to Abraham and David. Jesus was the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham and to his seed.” Ever mindful of his “holy covenant, the oath which he swore to Abraham our father,” Yahweh sent his Son who was to rule over all the nations of the earth – (Isaiah 9:6, Luke 1:55, Luke 1:26, 1:55, 1:72-73).
Although Jesus limited his ministry to the children of Israel, he did not exclude Gentiles entirely from his efforts. His occasional interactions with Gentiles anticipated the later opening of the gospel to the nations. And, while many Jews rejected him, he responded positively to individual Gentiles who approached him in faith:
(Matthew 15:22-28) – “A woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she is crying after us. But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then she came and paid homage to him, saying, Lord, help me! But he answered, It is not meet to take the children’s bread and cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table. Then Jesus said to her, O woman, great is your faith! Be it unto you even as you will. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.”
On one occasion, Jesus declared to a group of Jews – “What things I have seen with the Father I speak; you also, then, what things you have heard from your father are doing.” They responded by pointing to their descent from Abraham. To this, Jesus countered – “If you are children of Abraham then you are doing the works of Abraham, but you seek to kill me, a man who has spoken the truth to you…this Abraham did not do.” Indeed, they did do “the works of their father” – The Devil! Biological descent was no guarantee of their participation in the inheritance promised to Abraham and his “seed” – (John 8:38-44).
The Apostle Paul pointed to the faith of Abraham in his letter to the Romans to advance his larger argument – Jews and Gentiles alike are under sin, therefore, all men are set right before God on the same basis – namely, faith. From the Hebrew scriptures, he proved that Abraham was justified when his “faith was reckoned for righteousness,” even though he was still uncircumcised. Circumcision was a “sign” given later – after the covenant promise:
“A seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while yet uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all that believe in un-circumcision…and father of the circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the faith of our father Abraham” – (Romans 4:9-16).
The promise to Abraham is not received from keeping the requirements of the Torah but through faith, otherwise, faith and promise are rendered void. Because the promise is from faith, it is “firm to all the seed, not to that from the Law only, but to that also which is such by the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.” All men who are of the same faith as Abraham are members of his “seed,” whether circumcised or not. Ethnicity has no bearing on inclusion in the covenant and its promises.
In Jesus, both Gentile and Jewish believers become the true “seed” of Abraham destined to inherit the promises. From the Hebrew scriptures, Paul demonstrated that the inclusion of the Gentiles was anticipated in the original covenant – (Genesis 17:4):
- (Romans 4:17-25) – “Even as it is written, ‘Father of many nations have I appointed you…This was not written “for his sake alone that it was reckoned to him, but for our sakes also to whom it is to be reckoned, even to them that believe upon him who raised Jesus our Lord from among the dead.”
- (Romans 9:6-8) – “It is not, however, as though the word of God had failed; for not all they who are of Israel, the same are Israel. Neither because they are seed of Abraham are all children, but In Isaac shall there be called unto thee a seed. That is, not the children of the flesh are the children of God; but the children of the promise are reckoned as a seed.”
Physical descent does not qualify anyone as a member of the “seed of Abraham.” Ishmael was the biological son of Abraham, but he did not receive the promise. Likewise, Jacob was accepted but Esau rejected.
God always intended to shower “the riches of his glory upon vessels of mercy which he prepared beforehand for glory, whom he also called, even us, not only from among Jews but also from among the Gentiles” – (Romans 9:23-36, Hosea 1:9-10, 2:23).
In Romans, the Apostle did not refer to two peoples of God but to only one, which included Jews AND Gentiles. Inclusion is accomplished in the same way for either group:
“If you will confess that Jesus is Lord and believe with your heart that God raised him from the dead, you shall be saved…For there is no distinction of Jew or Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all…for whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” – (Romans 10:9-13, Isaiah 28:16).
Gentiles are not formed into a new or distinct people of God; instead, they are “grafted” into the one holy “root.” In contrast, unbelieving Jews are broken off from that same root, though they can be grafted back in if they exercise faith in Jesus – (Romans 11:16-20).
Paul is more explicit in his letter to the Galatians. Some Jewish believers were claiming that Gentiles must be circumcised, follow the Levitical dietary restrictions, and perhaps even adopt Jewish calendrical observations, and otherwise to “live like Jews” to be saved – (Galatians 2:12-14; 4:10; 5:1-3).
Paul labeled this a “different gospel, which is not a gospel at all, and used the Abrahamic promises to argue that Gentiles are acceptable members of the covenant community as gentiles, without submitting to circumcision and becoming Jewish proselytes – (Galatians 1:6-7).
He presented Abraham as the premier example of faith – “He believed God and it was reckoned to him for righteousness,” therefore, “they who are of faith are the sons of Abraham.” The Patriarch exercised this faith BEFORE he received circumcision, therefore, circumcision is not necessary for right-standing before God – (Galatians 3:6).
Scripture foresaw that “God would declare the Gentiles righteous,” therefore, it fore-announced the good news to Abraham – “All the nations shall be blessed in you.” Those who are from faith “are blessed with believing Abraham.” Jesus redeemed us so that the “blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles in him.”
The promises were given “to Abraham and to his seed,” and that “seed” is none other than Jesus, and, by familial relationship, all those who are “in him”. The “inheritance” is by promise, NOT by the requirements of Torah or ethnicity.
Next, Paul raised the question – “Why, then, the law.” It was given because of “trespasses,” and to function as a “custodian until the seed should come.” Note well the temporal aspect – “Until” – (Galatians 3:19-29).
Now that the “seed” has come – Jesus – the custodianship of the Torah with its social distinctions is no longer in force. Therefore–:
“All are sons of God through the faith of Christ Jesus; for as many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Therefore, there cannot be Jew or Greek…now, if you are of Christ, by consequence you are Abraham’s seed, according to promise, heirs.”
In Jesus, all ethnic, cultural, and social boundaries are eliminated. Inclusion in the Abrahamic covenant – In the “seed of Abraham” – including all its promised blessings, is based on the “faith of Jesus,” not biological descent. Paul’s statement is unequivocal – Those who are “in Christ,” whether Jew or not, are heirs and children of Abraham.