Bless the Nations

The promise to bless all nations in Abraham finds its fulfillment in Jesus of Nazareth, the true seed of Abraham

Basic to the redemption of humanity is the covenant with Abraham and his “seed,” including the promise that “all the nations the earth will be blessed in him,” and that he will have innumerable descendants.

How and when will the nations be blessed in the Patriarch? And who are his descendants, and most importantly, who is the true “seed of Abraham” who inherits and implements the covenant promises?

In the New Testament, the promise of “seed” finds its fulfillment in Jesus of Nazareth and his new covenant community, the “body of Christ.” The Abrahamic covenant was always part of the larger redemptive plan of God, a beginning point rather than an end. The initial focus on Israel was only the first stage in a much larger program.

From its inception, the covenant envisioned a glorious future beyond the confines of national Israel or the land of Canaan, a promise that finds its ultimate fulfillment in the New Creation - (Genesis 12:1-3, 15:4-6, 17:1-8).

THE NATIONS

During his ministry, Jesus limited the activities of his disciples to the “lost sheep of Israel.” But from the beginning, his mission envisioned the inclusion of the “Gentiles,” and this is demonstrated by the application of the messianic prophecy in the book Isaiah to the commencement of Christ’s ministry in Galilee:

  • 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 a great light” - (Matthew 4:12-17).

Israel’s Messiah was anointed to reign “upon the throne of David.”  He is the Servant of Yahweh who is “declaring judgment to the nations…and in his name shall nations trust” - (Matthew 12:18-22, Isaiah 42:1-4).

Matthew’s gospel applies this passage to the time when Jesus healed a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath Day. Indignant, the Pharisees began to conspire about “how they might destroy him,” but he withdrew, and a “great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all.” And the application of the prophecy at this point suggests that Gentiles were included among the “mixed multitude” that followed Jesus.

And this is confirmed in the version of the story recorded in Mark (“A great multitude from Galilee followed him, and from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, from beyond Jordan; and a great multitude from Tyre and Sidon”). Both Tyre and Sidon were Phoenician cities with largely Gentile populations - (Mark 3:6-7).

GLOBAL MISSION

After his resurrection, Jesus commanded his disciples to herald the kingdom to “all nations,” a mission that must be completed before his return. Thus, the salvation of the “nations” is pivotal to the plan of redemption - (Matthew 24:14, 28:18-20).

Likewise, he commissioned the disciples 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 in Isaiah:

  • 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, Acts 1:7-9).

The global scope of the mission is stressed at the climax of Peter’s first sermon on the Day of Pentecost when he combines verbal allusions from the books of Isaiah and Joel - For to you is the promise, to your children and TO ALL THAT ARE AFAR OFF, AS MANY AS THE LORD OUR GOD WILL CALL to him” – (Acts 2:33-39).

In his concluding declaration, “promise” is singular in number and refers to the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. “To all that are far off” is another allusion to the prophecy in Isaiah - 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).

In the third chapter of Acts, Peter prays for the lame man at the entrance to the Temple, declaring that “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” healed him in the name of “His Servant” – 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 CLANS 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 links the ministry of Jesus to the promise to bless all the clans in Abraham’s seed. His words anticipate the broadening of the covenant community to include the Gentiles by declaring that God blessed the Jewish nation “first.”

PREACHING TO GENTILES

Peter was instrumental also in opening the gospel to the Gentiles at the house of Cornelius. He understood that it is unlawful “for a man that is a Jew to join himself or come into one of another nation,” yet God showed him that he must “not call any man common or unclean.”

The Creator of all things accepts men “in every nation that fear him and work righteousness”; and therefore, in Caesarea, Peter preaches the same gospel to Cornelius that he earlier proclaimed to the Jews - (Acts 10:19-48).

As he was still preaching, the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles, and they began to speak in tongues. This amazed the Jews with Peter since uncircumcised Gentiles received the same gift as the Jewish believers did on the Day of Pentecost.

And after hearing about these events, the church at Jerusalem “glorified God, because to the Gentiles also He had granted repentance unto life.”

In Jerusalem, James declared that the Gentiles are not required to undergo circumcision “in order to be saved,” for God has “visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for his name.” Moreover, James justifies the outreach to 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 15:14-17, Amos 9:11-12).

The book of Acts ends with Paul in Rome “proclaiming the kingdom of God” to all who will hear, to Jew and Gentile alike - (Isaiah 52:10, Acts 28:26-31).

REMOVAL OF BARRIERS

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul is explicit. Men and women of faith are the true “children of Abraham.” God’s plan was always to justify the Gentiles through faith, especially since He promised Abraham that “IN YOU WILL ALL NATIONS BE BLESSED.”

Those men who stand on faith are the ones who are “blessed with faithful Abraham.” And Jesus is the true “seed of Abraham” in whom the nations are blessed – (Genesis 12:3, Galatians 3:7-9, 3:14, Ephesians 2:11-19).

Finally, the book of Revelation foresees the city of New Jerusalem inhabited by a vast company of men and women redeemed from all the nations, the ultimate fulfillment of the covenant promise.

Thus, the “Lamb” is declared worthy to reign over the Cosmos precisely because he “purchased for God by his blood men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation” - (Revelation 5:5-14).

The covenant with Abraham, including its promises of land and descendants always included the Gentiles, and it finds its true fulfillment in the New Creation inaugurated by the death and the resurrection of Jesus. It is “in Jesus,” the true “seed of Abraham,” that the nations are “blessed.”


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