Blessing to the Nations

SYNOPSIS - Jesus is the promised “seed” of Abraham in whom all the nations of the earth are blessed, just as promised in the covenant with Abraham

World Map - Photo by Viktor Forgacs on Unsplash
Basic to the redemption of humanity and the creation is the covenant of God with Abraham and his “seed.” This included the promise that “all the nations the earth would be blessed in him” and Abraham would have innumerable descendants. How will the nations be blessed “in Abraham”? When will this “blessing” occur?

In the New Testament, the promise finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ, and in his new covenant community. The covenant with Abraham is part of the larger redemptive plan of Yahweh for all humanity, indeed, for the entire creation. The initial focus on Israel was the first stage in a much larger and longer process.

The covenant envisioned a glorious future far beyond the confines of national Israel and the land of Canaan, a promise that would find its final fulfillment in the New Creation.
  • (Genesis 12:1-3)– “And Yahweh said unto Abram: Come thou on thy way, Out of thy land and out of the place of thy birth and out of the house of thy father — Unto the land that I will show thee; That I may make thee into a great nation, And bless thee and make great thy name, And become thou a blessing; That I may bless them who bless thee, But him who maketh light of thee will I curse — So shall be blessed in thee all the families of the ground.
  • (Genesis 15:4-6)– “And lo! a son of my household is mine heir! And lo! the word of Yahweh [came] unto him, saying, This one shall not be thine heir: But one who cometh forth of thy body — he shall be thine heir. And he brought him forth abroad and said — Look steadfastly, I pray thee towards the heavens and number the stars if thou be able to number them, And he said to him, Thus shall be thy seed. And he had faith in Yahweh — so he reckoned it to him as righteousness.
  • (Genesis 17:1-8) – “And it came to pass that when Abram was ninety and nine years old, Yahweh appeared unto Abram and said unto him, I am GOD Almighty — Walk thou before me and become thou blameless: That I may set my covenant betwixt me and thee, And may multiply thee exceedingly. 3 And Abram fell on his face — and God spake with him, saying: 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.” - (See also - Genesis 22:15-18).
During his ministry, Jesus limited the activities of his disciples to the “lost sheep of Israel.” However, from the start, his messianic mission envisioned the inclusion of the “Gentiles” – The nations. He began his ministry in Galilee, just as prophesied in the book of 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 great light, and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up” - (Matthew 4:12-17, 10:6, 15:24).
Jesus was anointed to reign “upon the throne of David and upon his kingdom to establish it with justice and with righteousness forever.”  He was the Servant of Yahweh, the one who would “declare judgment to the nations…and in his name shall nations trust” - (Matthew 12:18-22Isaiah 42:1-4).

The gospel of 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.” In reaction, Jesus withdrew from the synagogue but “great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all.”

This application of Isaiah’s prophecy suggests that Gentiles were included among the “mixed multitude” in Galilee. This is confirmed in the Gospel of Mark: “A great multitude from Galilee followed him, and from Judea, from Jerusalem, from Idumea and from beyond Jordan; and a great multitude from Tyre and Sidon” - Phoenician cities with Gentile populations - (Mark 3:6-7).

The proclamation of the kingdom to “all nations” is a mission given to the disciples that must be completed before the arrival of the Son of Man in glory. This makes the salvation of the “nations” pivotal to the redemptive plan of God. Accordingly, Jesus tasked his disciples with teaching “all nations and to command them to observe all things whatever I have commanded you” - (Matthew 24:14, 28:18-20).

Just before his ascension, he commissioned them 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).
The Greek clause in the quotation cited in Acts is the same as the one from the Greek Septuagint version of the book of Isaiah - (heōs eschatou tés gés) - (Acts 1:7-9).

This global scope was stressed at the climax of Peter’s sermon 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 OFFAS MANY AS THE LORD OUR GOD WILL CALL to him” – (Acts 2:33-39).
In this passage, “promise” is singular in number and, in this context, must refer to the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. “To all that are far off” is another allusion to the prophecy from Isaiah used already in Acts 1:8:
  • 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).
Peter also alludes to Joel 2:32, the passage with which he opened his sermon:
  • It shall come to pass that WHOSOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF YAHWEH will be delivered” - (Acts 2:17).
In the next chapter, Peter prayed for a lame man at the door of the Temple in Jerusalem when he declared - “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” had healed the man in the name of “His Servant” – That is, 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 FAMILIES 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, Peter explicitly linked the ministry of Jesus to the promise to bless all the nations in Abraham’s seed. He anticipated the broadening of the covenant when he declared that God has blessed them “first” by providing the forgiveness of sins.

God used Peter to open the gospel to the Gentiles at the house of Cornelius, a Roman centurion. Peter understood it was unlawful “for a man that is a Jew to join himself or come into one of another nation,” yet God had shown him that he must “not call any man common or unclean.”
God accepts men “in every nation that fear him and work righteousness,” therefore, Peter preached the same gospel to Cornelius that was proclaimed previously to the Jews “throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee” - (Acts 10:19-48).
Before Peter finished preaching, the Holy Spirit fell on his Gentile audience and they began to speak in tongues. This amazed the Jews with him since uncircumcised Gentiles had received the same gift as the Jewish believers had received on the Day of Pentecost.

Later, some Jewish believers in Jerusalem objected to his activities among the Gentiles. To this, he responded, “If God gave them the same gift as he did to us, who was I to withstand God?” The church at Jerusalem then “glorified God because to the Gentiles also He had granted repentance unto life.”

At a later conference, Peter pointed to this same experience of the Spirit falling on believers as evidence that the Gentiles were not required to undergo circumcision “in order to be saved.” The conference had been assembled to resolve this very question. Beginning in Caesarea, God had “visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for his name” - (Acts 15:6-12).

Very STRIKING is the application of the Greek term laos or “people,” a noun normally used for Israel in distinction from the “Gentiles,” or ethnos. The usage alludes 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).
As a spokesman for the leaders of the church, James justified the outreach by Peter 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 15:14-17Amos 9:11-12).
Noteworthy is how James attributed this quotation to “all the prophets,” not just to Amos. He used the Greek text from the Septuagint rather than the Hebrew original - By a change of Hebrew vowel points “Edom” became “Adam” or “man.”

At the end of Acts, Paul was under house arrest in Rome but still able to preach the gospel to visitors. This he did to Jew and Gentile alike. Some Jews believed, but many others rejected the gospel. To them, he declared - “This salvation of God is sent unto the nations; they will also hear.”
The book of Acts ends with the Apostle Paul “proclaiming the kingdom of God” to all who would hear, whether Jew or Gentile - (Isaiah 52:10Acts 28:26-31).
Paul is explicit in his letter to the Galatians. It is men and women of faith that are the real “children of Abraham.” God’s plan was always to justify the Gentiles through faith, since to Abraham He promised - “IN YOU WILL ALL NATIONS BE BLESSED.” Those who stand on faith are the ones who are “blessed with faithful Abraham” - (Galatians 3:7-9Genesis 12:3).

Jesus is the true “seed of Abraham” in whom the nations are blessed – (Genesis 12:3, Galatians 3:7-9, Ephesians 2:11-19):
  • (Galatians 3:14) – “That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
The book of Revelation foresees a New Creation inhabited by a vast company of men and women redeemed from all the nations, the ultimate fulfillment of the covenant promises to Abraham. For example, the “slain Lamb” is declared worthy to reign over the Cosmos because “You purchased for God by your blood men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and made them be unto our God a kingdom and priests” - (Revelation 5:5-14).

This last passage echoes the vision from the book of Daniel about the enthronement of one “like a son of man” to reign forever over all nations:
  • (Daniel 7:13-14) – “I continued looking in the visions of the night when lo! with the clouds of the heavens, one like a son of man was coming — and unto the Ancient of days he approached, and before him they brought him near; and unto him were given dominion and dignity and kingship, that ALL PEOPLES, RACES AND TONGUES unto him should do service — his dominion was an age-abiding dominion.”
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. This was in fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham of descendants more numerous than the “stars of heaven and the sand of the seashore” – (Revelation 7:9-17. See also, Revelation 10:11, 12:1-5, 14:6).

Thus, the covenant with Abraham, including the promises of land and descendants, always envisioned the nations of the earth, and it finds its true fulfillment in the New Creation inaugurated by the Death and the Resurrection of Jesus.

Comments