Jesus is the true “seed” of Abraham, the heir of the covenant promises, and receipt of the inheritance is based on faith in Him.
The introduction to the gospel of Matthew declares that Jesus is the “son of David, the son of Abraham.” This is more than a simple genealogical notation – it sets the stage for the theme of fulfillment threaded throughout Matthew. Jesus is the Davidic Messiah and King of Israel, and the true Son and promised “seed” of the Patriarch. In him, the covenant promises come to fruition.
In Genesis, Yahweh promised to bless Abraham and his “seed,” and in the future, “all the families of the earth” would be blessed in him. But the terms of that covenant raise questions. Just who, exactly, is the “seed” of Abraham? Is membership in the covenant determined by physical descent from him? How will the covenant result in “blessings” to the Gentiles? – (Genesis 17:4-8),
Famously, John the Baptist warned the Jews of his day not to appeal to their physical descent from Abraham for confirmation of their covenant status. “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” – (Matthew 3:9).
Repentance and submission to the Messiah are mandatory for entrance into the kingdom of God, and not biological descent from Abraham. And John’s reference to “stones” was metaphorical and pointed to God’s intent to bring Gentiles into the covenant community, which was part of His redemptive plan from the beginning. For example, compare the following words of Jesus with the words of Yahweh to Abraham:
- (Matthew 8:8-12) – “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, but the sons of the kingdom will be cast into the darkness outside.”
- (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 to 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, the term “east and west” echoes the promise to Abraham to look “north and south, east and west” and see the extent of the promised land. From the outset, the covenant anticipated something far larger than the land of Canaan or the biological descendants of Abraham – (Genesis 12:3, 13:14).
Jesus was the “son of David, the son of Abraham,” the heir destined to rule the nations, the “Son of the Most-High” who would possess the “throne of David” – (Psalm 2:8-9).
In Luke’s gospel, Gabriel announced that God was about to fulfill His covenant promises to Abraham and David. The son born to Mary 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,” God sent Jesus who was destined to rule over all the nations of the earth – (Isaiah 9:6, Luke 1:31-73).
Although he limited his ministry to the children of Israel, Jesus did not exclude Gentiles entirely from his efforts. His occasional interactions with non-Jews anticipated the opening of the gospel to the nations after the outpouring of the Spirit. And while many Jews did reject him, he responded positively to individual Gentiles who approached him in faith – (Matthew 15:22-28).
On one occasion, he 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 would do the works of Abraham, but you seek to kill me, a man who has spoken the truth to you… this Abraham did not do” – (John 8:38-44).
Indeed, these Jews did “the works of their father,” the Devil! Biological descent was no guarantee of their participation in the inheritance promised to Abraham and his “seed,” let alone of their right conduct.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul pointed to the faith of Abraham to advance his larger argument. Jews and Gentiles alike are under sin, and therefore all men are set right before God on the same basis; namely, from faith. From the Hebrew scriptures, he demonstrated that Abraham was justified when his “faith was reckoned for righteousness,” even though he was yet uncircumcised. Circumcision was a “sign” of the covenant given after the fact; therefore, it could not be the basis for entrance into the people of God – (Romans 4:9-16).
The promise to Abraham is not received by keeping the requirements of the Law, 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 accounted as his “seed,” whether circumcised or not. Ethnicity has no bearing on inclusion in the covenant community.
In Jesus, both Gentile and Jewish believers become the “children” of Abraham, now destined to inherit the promises. And the Hebrew scriptures anticipated the inclusion of the Gentiles (Romans 4:17-25 – “Even as it is written, ‘Father of many nations have I appointed you).
Physical descent does not qualify anyone to become Abraham’s heir. Ishmael was his biological son, but he did not receive the promise. Likewise, Jacob was accepted, and Esau was rejected. Moreover, 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, Paul did not refer to two peoples of God, but only to one, and one that included believing Jews AND Gentiles. And inclusion was accomplished in the same way for both – “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).
Believing Gentiles are not formed into a separate people of God, but instead are “grafted” into the one holy “root.” In contrast, unbelieving Jews are broken off from that same root and removed from the covenant, though they can be grafted back in if they exercise faith in Jesus – (Romans 11:16-20).
Paul is more explicit in Galatians. Some Jewish believers claimed that Gentiles must be circumcised, and otherwise “live like Jews” to be saved. He labeled that teaching a “different gospel, which is not a gospel at all, and used the Abrahamic promises to argue for Gentile inclusion in the covenant community, and all without submitting to circumcision and thereby becoming Jewish proselytes – (Galatians 1:6-7).
The Apostle presented Abraham as the exemplar of faith. “He believed God and it was reckoned to him for righteousness,” therefore, “they who are of faith are the sons of Abraham” – (Galatians 3:6).
The Hebrew scriptures foresaw that “God would declare the Gentiles righteous,” and 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,” singular, and that “seed” is none other than Jesus. And by familial relationship, so are all men who are now “in him”. The “inheritance” is by promise, and NOT by the requirements of the Torah or one’s ethnicity.
Next, Paul raised the question: “Why, then, the law.” It was given because of “trespasses” and functioned as the “custodian until the seed should come.” Note well the temporal aspect, “until.” But now that the “seed” has come, Jesus, the custodianship of the Law with its social distinctions is no longer in force:
- “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” – (Galatians 3:19-29).
Thus, in Jesus, all ethnic, cultural, and social boundaries are eliminated. Inclusion in the Abrahamic covenant, including all its promised blessings, is based on the “faith of Jesus,” not on biological descent. The Apostle’s statement is unequivocal: Those who are “in Christ,” whether Jew or not, are heirs and children of Abraham.