Heir of Abraham

The Gospel of Matthew begins by declaring Jesus of Nazareth to be the “son of Abraham.” The statement sets the stage for the theme of fulfillment threaded through Matthew’s account. The Nazarene was the Messiah and King of Israel, the promised “Seed” of the Patriarch. In him, all the covenant promises have found their fulfillment. As the Crucified and Risen Messiah, he now lays claim to the inheritance of Abraham.

In the Book of Genesis, God promised to bless Abraham and his “Seed,” and “all the families of the earth” would be blessed in him. But the terms of the covenant raise key questions. Just who is this “Seed” of Abraham? Is membership in the covenant determined by physical descent from him? How will the covenant result in “blessings” to the Gentile nations? - (Genesis 17:4-8),

Wheat Field - Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash
[Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash]

In Matthew’s Gospel, John the Baptist warned the religious leaders of Israel not to appeal to their physical descent from Abraham for confirmation of their covenant membership:

  • 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 were mandatory for entrance into God’s Kingdom, not biological descent from the Patriarch. Moreover, John’s reference to “stones” was metaphorical and pointed to God’s plan to bring Gentiles into the covenant. For that matter, bringing “blessings to the nations” has been part of His redemptive plan since the beginning - (Matthew 8:8-12, Genesis 12:3, 13:14-16).

Jesus was also the “son of David,” the Messianic Heir who was destined to rule the nations, the “Son of the Most-High” who has reigned on the “Throne of David” since his resurrection and exaltation - (Psalm 2:8-9, Matthew 28:18-20).

KING OF THE NATIONS


In Luke’s account, the angel Gabriel announced that God was about to fulfill His covenant promises. The son born to Mary was in fulfillment of the promise “to Abraham and to his seed.” Ever mindful of his “holy covenantthe oath which he swore to Abraham our father,” God sent Jesus to reign 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 from his efforts. His occasional interactions with non-Jews anticipated the opening of the Gospel to the nations several years later. While many Jews did reject him, he responded positively to Gentiles who approached him in faith - (Matthew 15:22-28, Acts 10:44-48).

In John’s Gospel, 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 which 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, members of this group did “the works of their father,” the Devil!  Biological descent was no guarantee of anyone’s righteousness, let alone his participation in the inheritance promised to Abraham, and to his “seed.”

FAITH ALONE


In his Letter to the Romans, Paul pointed to Abraham’s faith in advancing his larger argument. Jews and Gentiles alike were under sin, and therefore all men were set right before God on the same basis; namely, from the faith of Jesus.

From the Hebrew scriptures, he demonstrated that Abraham was justified when his “faith was reckoned as righteousness,” even though he was yet uncircumcised. Circumcision was the “sign” of the covenant given after the fact. Therefore, it could not be the basis for entrance into the covenant community. The promise to Abraham was not received by performing the required rituals of the Law, but instead, through faith. Otherwise, faith and promise are rendered void - (Romans 4:9-16).

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 included in his “seed,” circumcised or not.  Ethnicity has no bearing on one’s inclusion in God’s one people.

In Jesus, both Gentile and Jewish believers become the “children” of Abraham. Moreover, the Hebrew scriptures always anticipated the inclusion of the Gentiles in the promises - (Romans 4:17-25 - “Even as it is written, ‘Father of many nations have I appointed you).

Physical descent does not qualify anyone for inclusion. Ishmael was Abraham’s biological son, but he did not receive the promise. Likewise, Jacob was accepted, and Esau was rejected. Did not God always intend 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).

THE ONE PEOPLE OF GOD


In Romans, Paul does not refer to two peoples of God, but only one. It includes believing Jews AND Gentiles, and inclusion is 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 allfor 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 distinct from Jewish believers, but instead, they 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 was more explicit in Galatians. Some Jewish believers claimed that Gentiles must be circumcised, and otherwise “live like Jews.” But the “Apostle to the Gentiles” labeled that teaching a “different gospel, which is not good news at all.

Moreover, he used the Abrahamic promises to argue for Gentile inclusion in the covenant community AS GENTILES, without submitting to circumcision and thereby becoming Jewish proselytes. He 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 1:6-7, 3:6).

The Hebrew Bible foresaw that “God would declare the Gentiles righteous,” and therefore it announced beforehand the Gospel to Abraham. 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 are for “Abraham and his seed,” singular, which is none other than Jesus, therefore, all men who are now “in him” are the “children of Abraham.” The “inheritance” is by promise, NOT by the requirements of the Torah or by one’s ethnicity.

Next, Paul raised the question: “Why, then, the law.” It was given because of “trespasses.” It was the “custodian UNTIL the Seed should come.” Now that the “Seed” has come, the custodianship of the Law no longer has jurisdiction over God’s covenant community - “All are sons of God through the faith of Christ Jesus… there cannot be Jew or Greek… now, if you are of Christ, you are Abraham’s Seed, according to promise, heirs” - (Galatians 3:19-29).

Thus, through his death and resurrection, all ethnic, cultural, and social boundaries are eliminated among the one people of God. Inclusion in the covenant and its promises is based on the “faith of Jesus,” his self-sacrificial act, and not biological descent, circumcision, or the other deeds and rites required by the Law.



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