The Land Promise to Abraham

SYNOPSIS:  The original and limited land promise to Abraham now encompasses the entire Cosmos and all nations in his true “seed,” Jesus Christ.

earth space cosmos

Basic to biblical ideas of redemption is the promise of Yahweh to Abraham of a land inheritance for his offspring. Though originally confined to the small land of Canaan assigned to the biological descendants of Abraham, implicit in that first covenant promise was a future fulfillment that will encompass all nations and the entire earth, if not the whole Cosmos (“So shall be blessed in thee all the families of the earth”).

The limited territory of Canaan with its focus on national Israel was a preliminary stage in the greater redemptive plan of Yahweh, one that ALWAYS included all humanity. In the New Testament, the covenant with Abraham finds its fulfillment in his true “seed,” Jesus Christ, including the New Creation and the salvation proclaimed since to all nations, an inheritance based on the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, NOT biological descent. Inevitably, the first “Land Promise” leads to the New Heavens and the New Earth.

Scriptural passages that promise land to Abraham employ words for “inheritance” and “heir,” and the Hebrew word translated “possession” includes the sense “inheritance.” These terms are linked in the Hebrew Bible to the Abrahamic covenant and, usually, refer to the land inheritance of Canaan (Genesis 15:7, Exodus 23:30, Leviticus 20:24, Deuteronomy 1:8, 4:20-21, 26:1, Isaiah 60:21).

Note the following passages detailing the promise of Yahweh to Abraham and his immediate descendants:

(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.”

Inheritance in Jesus

In the New Testament, the terms “inheritance,” “heir” and “possession” are reapplied to what God has accomplished in Jesus Christ on behalf of his people, the church. For example, Jesus is the true heir of Abraham and the heir of all things (Matthew 21:38, 28:18, Mark 12:7, Luke 20:14, John 13:3, Romans 8:17, Hebrews 1:2).

Following his resurrection from the dead, Jesus was 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 him, through his Death and Resurrection, God has provided the promised inheritance for his saints:

(Colossians 1:12) – “Sufficiently for our share in the inheritance of the saints.”

(1 Peter 1:3-5) – “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.”

(Romans 8:16-17) – “The Spirit confirms that we are the children of God and if children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.”

Jesus is the true “seed” of Abraham. As his partners, believers are, likewise, “heirs according to promise.” The gift of the Spirit received by believers is the “earnest of our inheritance for the redemption of the possession,” and the promised, “blessing of Abraham” (Galatians 3:6-93:28-29Ephesians1:13-14).

The Greek noun rendered “possession” or peripoiésis is the same one used by Peter in his quotation of Exodus 19:5 (Strong’s #4047): “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession” (1 Peter 2:9-10). 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).

The Inheritance According to Jesus

Jesus will declare 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.” Not only do disciples inherit the kingdom, but this was also God’s original intention. 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 originally to David (2 Samuel 7:14, Matthew 25:34, Revelation 21:7).

Christ inaugurated the New Covenant by becoming the true “seed” of Abraham. Consequently, all who are “in Christ” are joint-heirs with him and destined to receive the same 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.”

Jesus Instructs the Disciples

The “meek” are the disciples of Jesus. They will possess the “kingdom” and inherit the earth. God’s reign is not limited to a small strip of land in the Middle East; the original promise of a very limited territory is transformed and expanded in the Gospel of Jesus Christ into the entire earth.

This saying of Jesus alludes to Psalm 37: “The meek shall inherit the land…The righteous shall inherit the land and dwell upon it forever.” The psalm originally referred to Israel, but Jesus reapplied it to a much narrower yet, at the same time, a vastly broader audience. Narrower because the promise is to his disciples. Broader since membership in his messianic community is open to men and women of all nations.

No longer is the promised inheritance limited to the nation of Israel or confined to the small land of Canaan. Likewise, the plea in the Lord’s Prayer for the will of God “to be done as in heaven, so on the earth” looks far beyond the land of Palestine to the entire created order (Psalm 37:11, 37:29, Matthew 6:10).

Thus, Jesus did not abandon the Land Promise to Abraham but expanded and universalized it to conform to the purpose of Yahweh to redeem His Creation and to make Abraham a blessing to “all the nations of the earth.”

Prior to his death, the ministry of Jesus was limited to the “lost sheep of Israel.” But if God simply wanted biological descendants of Abraham, He could have “raised up children to Abraham from stones,” and done so whenever He wished. Because Jesus submitted to his Father’s will, he was resurrected and received “ALL authority in heaven and on the earth.” No territorial limits were placed on his domain. He succeeded where Adam failed; he succeeded in taking “dominion over the earth” (Genesis 12:1-3; Matthew 3:9, 10:6, 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.” God told Abraham to look “northward, southward, eastward and westward” to see the extent of his future inheritance. That “birthright” is now implemented whenever and wherever the gospel is proclaimed. And believers receive the promised Spirit, even to “the uttermost parts of the earth” (Genesis 13:14, Acts 1:8).

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 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.” Questions of holy space were no longer relevant since God’s Messiah had arrived (John 4:20-24).

According to Paul

For Paul, the original limited land promise becomes a universal reality; the promise to Abraham was and is for him to become the “heir of the world” or kosmos (Romans 4:10-13).

Both Jewish and Gentile believers are the children of Abraham based on faith and, therefore, his heirs. Ethnicity does not determine inclusion or exclusion from the inheritance. By “world,” Paul has in view the coming New Creation, the “new heavens and the new earth” (Isaiah 65:17, 66:22, Galatians 6:15, 2 Corinthians 5:17, 2 Peter 3:10-13).

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.” “Land” translates the Hebrew word ‘erets (Strong’s #776), which means “land” or “ground,” but it can also refer to the entire “earth” (Genesis 1:1, 12:1-3).

The corresponding Greek noun used in the Septuagint version of Genesis, or , also means “land” as in a designated territory or the entire “earth.” Thus, God “created the heavens and the earth.” And in Abraham, “all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Strong’s #1093).

Paul wrote about the coming 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. Instead, he described the church, the “body of Christ,” as the true Tabernacle or Temple in which God dwells. “Jerusalem above” is our mother, however, the earthly Jerusalem corresponds to Hagar, Mount Sinai, and bondage. In Jesus, the “shadows” of the old covenant find their “substance” (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 the salvation of his fellow Jews. God’s paradoxical “mystery” is that the rejection of Jesus by most Jews opened the Gospel to the Gentiles. Jews who disbelieve are “broken off” from the root of Abraham, whereas, the unnatural branches or Gentiles are “grafted into to root” from faith, not D.N.A. The destinies of Jews and Gentiles are inextricably linked. The covenant with Abraham included promised “blessings” to ALL nations, including Israel but not exclusively so.

This paradoxical “mystery” will 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 rejection of the Jews means the reconciliation of the Gentiles, their restoration means nothing less than “life from among the dead,” that is, the resurrection life in the New Creation.

According to Hebrews

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).

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 far 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.” The promise lies in the future for them and for the church. God has “provided something better” for both so that “not apart from us should they be made complete.” Saints from both eras receive the same everlasting reward and do so together (Hebrews 11:39-40).

The Author of Hebrews contrasts the experience of Israel at Mount Sinai with that of believing Christians. Unlike ancient Israel:

Believers have 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 city, that is, New Jerusalem, not the old city located in Palestine (Hebrews 12:18-2413:12-14).

According to Peter

In his second epistle, Peter addressed questions about the apparent delay of the coming of Jesus. He argued that God is not, in fact, late or “slack concerning his promise”; He did not change his plan or timetable (2 Peter 3:3-13).

The interim between the departure of Jesus and his return is due to divine long-suffering. God 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. Until then, Christians must conduct themselves “in holy ways of behavior, expecting and hastening the coming of the day of God.”

When the day 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.” The singular “promise” points to the promise of a new heaven and earth, alluding to Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22, and to the land promise made to Abraham. These promises find their fulfillment in the New Creation.

According to Revelation

(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, therefore, constituted a “kingdom of priests” tasked with bearing light in a darkened world (Revelation 1:4-11, 1:20, 5:10).

John on Patmos
John on Patmos –

The seven churches addressed in Revelation are part of a larger company that has been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, “men from every tribe, tongue, people and nation, and made a kingdom and priests unto our God.” This vision combines the promise to bless all nations in Abraham with the vocation of Israel given by Yahweh at Mount Sinai, that is, to become a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:5Revelation 5:5-10).

This company is portrayed in Chapter 7 as an assembly of twelve thousand males from the twelve tribes of Israel, an image from the book of Numbers when Israel was numbered and assembled for transit to the Promised Land. John does not “see” the company but, instead, he “hears” their number. When he looks, what he actually does see is a vast innumerable multitude, “from every nation and of all tribes and peoples and tongues,” the same redeemed company already seen (Revelation 7:1-17).

Thus, John saw this company 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 in this passage (Isaiah 49:5-10Isaiah 65:17-19). The first concerns the “Servant of Yahweh” sent to 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 found 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.”

This redeemed company appears again in Chapter 14 as twelve thousand males from each of the tribes of Israel that are seen “standing upon Mount Zion.” There, they “sing a new song before the Throne.” This links them to the redeemed company from every nation described in Chapter 5 that also “sang a new song.” This is not Mount Zion in old Jerusalem; the saints sing before the Throne and the Lamb. They have been redeemed from the old earth and fallen humanity (Revelation 14:1-4).

The same company appears again in Chapter 15. They have escaped “from the Beast” and now stand on the glassy sea before the Throne. Like ancient Israel, they sing “the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb” (Revelation 15:1-4).

The descent of New Jerusalem to the earth 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.” The boundaries of the new earth and the city are coterminous (Revelation21:1-7).

From this point forward, 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.” Note that “peoples” is plural. Revelation combines language from at least three Old Testament passages that include promises to Abraham, to Israel at Mount Sinai, and concerning the New Covenant:

(Revelation 21:1-7) – “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth have passed away, and the sea is no more. And the holy city, new Jerusalem, saw I coming down out of heaven from God prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice out of the throne, saying — Lo! THE TENT OF GOD IS WITH MEN, AND HE WILL TABERNACLE WITH THEM, AND THEY SHALL BE HIS PEOPLES, and HE SHALL BE GOD WITH THEM; And he will wipe away every tear out of their eyes — and death shall be no more, and grief and outcry and pain shall be no more: the first things have passed away. And he that was sitting upon the throne said — Lo! I make all things new. And he saith — Write! because these words are faithful and true. And he said unto me — Accomplished! I am the A and the Z, the Beginning and the End: I, unto him that is thirsting, will give of the fountain of the water of life freely: He that overcometh shall inherit these things — And I WILL BE TO HIM A GOD, and he shall be to me a son.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

(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 the closing vision of Revelation reflects a change from the singular use in Jeremiah 31:33 (“I will be their God, and they shall be my people”). This reflects the theme of the Book of Revelation of a redeemed company comprised 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 are inscribed with 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 actualized by and in the Lamb.

New Jerusalem is foursquare with equal length, breadth, and height – a perfect cube. 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 13:14Revelation 21:15-17).

The descent of New Jerusalem from Heaven consummates the New Creation and brings all God’s promises from the old and new covenants to their intended and singular fulfillment. This includes all the promises made to Abraham by Yahweh.

According to the Bible

The Bible tells a consistent story from beginning to end. The coming New Creation will be nothing less than the fulfillment of the covenant promises by Yahweh to Abraham, including the promises of land and blessings for the nations. The original tiny territory of Canaan assigned to Israel was only the first step in a far larger redemptive plan that is being actualized in and by Jesus Christ.

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