Study 5 - The Promises of God
Study 4 outlined, from the Bible, why man dies, the nature of death and the only hope of salvation from an eternal grave. In Study 5, by considering some of God's promises, we shall gain a greater understanding of the development of the scriptural revelation concerning that salvation.
A PROMISE OF DELIVERANCE
In the beginning, after the disobedience of Adam and Eve, in the curses that God pronounced in consequence of man's sin, a short but wonderful promise provided a ray of hope. It comes in a verse that is not easy to understand:
"The Lord God said unto the serpent ... I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel" (Genesis 3 v 14-15).
A full explanation of this promise is outside the scope of this Study and will be dealt with in 'Bible Basics', but, as we gain a greater knowledge of God's plan of salvation, it is clear that here there is the first promise that sin would ultimately be overcome by one of Eve's descendants. Sin would be dealt a mortal blow but the descendant who did this would only be wounded temporarily (in figurative language - a wound in the head and a wound in the heel). It is a promise of the coming Saviour, and the Bible leaves no room for doubt that this Saviour is Jesus Christ to whom all the promises of God point.
GOD'S PROMISE IN EDEN
The serpent, because of the part it had played in Adam and Eve's transgression of God's law, became the symbol for sin. Jesus used the same term for his enemies, addressing the Pharisees with the words, "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers." The bruising in the head, a fatal wound to a serpent, promises the utter destruction of sin and death. The seed of the woman is the destroyer, and in carrying out this work receives a bruise in the heel, a wound from which there can be recovery.
A careful reading of the Bible will show that this parable of the seed of the woman speaks of the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, in which he gained the victory over sin and death and has paved the way to everlasting life for all who believe in him.
A clue to the identity of the seed of the woman is given in the words, "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."
This was quoted in the message of the angel to Joseph telling him that his espoused wife Mary was to "bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus; for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet", and then follows the quotation from Isaiah 7. The Apostle Paul comments, "When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law."
By Jesus' triumph over sin and death, the serpent (sin) was bruised in the head, i.e. utterly destroyed, as far as Christ was concerned; in the process he received, by his death on the cross and his short stay in the tomb, a bruise in the heel, as the prophet Isaiah had foretold, "He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities." The first stage of God's plan of redemption was thus completed. But Christ was only the firstfruits. There is to be the harvest in two further stages which will accomplish the abolition of sin and death completely.
The second stage will be completed when Christ returns to reward his friends - who will be those who have done whatsoever he has commanded them. These he will raise from the dead, and will bestow on them eternal life, to be enjoyed on the earth as rulers with Christ over the nations who submit to him at his coming, this stage lasting a thousand years.
The third and final stage will be at the end of the thousand years, when there will be a final judgment and sin and death will be completely destroyed. "Christ must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." As unbelief brought death, so belief in the Gospel and obedience in baptism and continuance in well doing can bring everlasting life.
THE UNFOLDING PLAN OF GOD
As the descendants of Adam and Eve increased, the tendency to sin, which they had inherited from their wayward parents, began to show itself. Genesis chapter 6 records: "God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Gen. 6 v 5).
Such was the state of mankind that "It repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart" (Genesis 6 v 6).
Noah was the only man with whom God was pleased (see Genesis 6 v 8-9). God determined to make a fresh start with His creation and to use Noah in this purpose. "And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth" (Genesis 6 v 13).
God chose to flood the earth so that all air-breathing creatures, including man, would be drowned. The Genesis record of the Flood is considered by many to be a mythical story. But if we examine it carefully we shall find that there is much scientific evidence to support the truth of the Bible record. The Bible uses the account of the Flood to teach powerful moral lessons. The life of Noah stands out as a shining example of faith in contrast with the unbelief of his age.
The Almighty at this time declared that He would never again destroy the earth with a flood. God has a purpose with the earth and God promised that for all time the seasons would follow in their turn and that day and night would succeed each other without interruption in this way again. Look at Genesis 8 v 21-22.
FEW ARE SAVED
A further lesson taught by this record is the Bible truth that it is only relatively few who are prepared to believe God and consequently few who will be saved. This principle, so vividly displayed in the account of the Flood (1 Peter 3 v 20), applies also to the far greater salvation from eternal death. Jesus Christ said:
"Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matthew 7 v 13-14 Revised Standard Version).
This, and many other Bible examples and statements, casts doubts upon world religions which claim the adherence of millions of 'believers'. The Bible teaches that salvation from eternal death is a highly individual matter, and that few have been, and are, prepared to accept the challenging requirements which God demands - the hard, narrow way of faith.
Abraham is an outstanding example of a man who was prepared to accept and successfully endure many rigorous tests because of his faith in God's word.
ARCHAEOLOGY BRINGS THE BIBLE TO LIFE
Abraham lived about 2,000 BC in an ancient city called Ur, which was situated near the head of the Persian Gulf. The site of Ur has been excavated by archaeologists in recent times. Their discoveries show that the city was part of a highly advanced civilisation capable of building large houses, palaces and temples and of producing exquisite works of art. Archaeology aids the study of the Bible by giving us a vivid picture of bygone ages. It certainly aids the appreciation of the greatness of Abraham's faith, because God commanded him: "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee" (Genesis 12 v 1).
From the archaeological evidence we know that God was asking Abraham to leave behind a life of comparative ease and security to face the dangers of the unknown, in which God alone would be his guide. Abraham, unlike Adam and Eve, believed and obeyed.
"By faith Abraham, when he was called ... obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went" (Hebrews 11 v 8).
THE PROMISES TO ABRAHAM
Abraham's faith was founded upon promises of blessing which accompanied God's command. He realised that when God, the All-powerful and All-wise Creator, makes promises, then they are certain to be fulfilled. God said to him:
"I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed" (Genesis 12 v 2-3).
Throughout Abraham's long life these promises were repeated many times, and each time something was added to the original promise. For the purpose of this Study we will consider the most significant aspects of the promises under the following headings:
- Abraham's descendants to possess the land of Canaan.
- Abraham's descendants to become a great nation.
- Through one of Abraham's descendants all nations to be blessed
1. ABRAHAM'S DESCENDANTS TO POSSESS THE LAND OF CANAAN
The land to which God eventually led Abraham was called Canaan in ancient times. It is an area which at the present day roughly coincides with the modern states of Lebanon, Israel, Syria and Jordan at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea (see Genesis 15 v 18). When Abraham reached Canaan God said to him, "Unto thy seed will I give this land" (Genesis 12 v 7).
The promise was repeated later, "For all the land which thou seest, (Canaan) to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever" (Genesis 13 v 15).
Note particularly the addition of the words "to thee" and "for ever." If it were not for these two important factors, we might understand the promise as referring to the conquest and possession of Canaan by the Israelites in ancient times as recorded in the book of Joshua. This was, however, only a partial fulfilment because, first, the promise was to Abraham, as well as his descendants, and, secondly, possession was to be enjoyed for ever.
On the first point, the Bible reveals that while in Canaan, Abraham was like a Bedouin of modern times and that when his wife died he had to buy a piece of land in which to bury her. Finally he died, not having received the promised inheritance of the land (Acts 7 v 2-5).
On the second point, it is clear that neither Abraham, or his descendants, the nation of Israel, who have spent a great part of their national existence exiled from Canaan, have obtained possession of it for ever.
THE RESURRECTION PROVIDES THE ANSWER
Clearly then, the complete fulfilment of this promise must still be future. It requires no lesser event than the resurrection of Abraham and of his true descendants, whom the Bible defines as those who are like Abraham in showing faith and obedience to God's commands. After the resurrection they, as immortal beings, will take possession of Canaan for ever (Matthew 8 v 11).
These facts will become clearer as the other promises are considered.
2. ABRAHAM'S DESCENDANTS TO BECOME A GREAT NATION
This promise is found throughout the record of Abraham's life, and has, to a large extent, been fulfilled as the Bible shows (Genesis 12 v 2; Genesis 13 v 16; Genesis 15 v 5; Genesis 22 v 17).
The Book of Genesis records that Abraham's son Isaac and his grandson Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel) became the original ancestors of the nation of Israel. They lived in Canaan until Jacob, in the time of famine, took his family into Egypt. The book of Exodus tells how Jacob's descendants increased into a nation of more than two million and became enslaved by the Egyptians. About 1,500 BC God sent Moses to free them and lead them to Canaan. The book of Joshua, Moses' successor, tells how the twelve tribes of Israel conquered Canaan. Later books of the Bible describe how Israel developed until, about 1,000 BC it became a great and prosperous kingdom, during the reigns of David and Solomon.
THE NEW TESTAMENT EXPLAINS THE PROMISE
The Bible shows that after the death of Solomon, Israel declined and was eventually exiled from Canaan because the people were, generally speaking, faithless and disobedient to God (Deuteronomy 28 v 15-68). It is in the New Testament that we find a wonderful exposition of the promise to Abraham. In the letter to the Romans the apostle Paul makes it clear that "they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children" (Romans 9 v 6-7).
This introduces an important principle briefly referred to in the consideration of the first promise. The great nation which was to be descended from Abraham was not to be composed of faithless natural descendants but of those who showed a similar faith to Abraham. In each generation they have been few, but when they are raised from the dead, when Jesus returns to the earth, they will be gathered together into one great nation. Then Abraham will see his immortal descendants, praising God for their salvation, forming "a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindred's, and people, and tongues" (Revelation 7 v 9). Thus the promise will be fulfilled in a far more wonderful way than it was in the past.
3. THROUGH ONE OF ABRAHAM'S DESCENDANTS ALL NATIONS TO BE BLESSED
However, mankind has not yet received the greatest of all blessings with which this promise is concerned - the deliverance from the universal curse of sin and death. The Bible reveals that there is a time coming when, "All the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord" (Numbers 14 v 21).
There is little room for God's glory while man fills the earth with violence and oppression and while sin and death remain. A great change is obviously necessary to bring about this wonderful time of blessing, which we read of in many Bible prophecies (Psalm 72; Isaiah 32). However great the change, its realisation is certain! This is the message of the gospel (good news) which is taught throughout the Bible. Few realise that the promise made to Abraham 2,000 years before Christ, is the foundation of the gospel!
"And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen (nations) through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed" (Galatians 3 v 8).
JESUS CHRIST - ABRAHAM'S DESCENDANT
The central figure of the gospel and therefore of the promises to Abraham is Jesus Christ. He is pre-eminently the descendant of Abraham. The New Testament opens with these words, "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ...the son of Abraham" (Matthew 1 v 1).
It goes on with a genealogy which traces Jesus' descent from Abraham and this theme is found throughout the New Testament. Paul points out in his letter to the Galatians that one particular descendant is referred to in the promise and that this one is Jesus: "Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ" (Galatians 3 v 16).
Jesus is revealed as more than just a natural son of Abraham; in the same letter it is stated that "they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham" (Galatians 3 v 7).
When we remember the Bible definition of faith as belief and obedience to God (the very opposite of sin), it is clear that Jesus was the greatest of all Abraham's many sons. He alone of all the human race could truly say to his adversaries without fear of contradiction, "Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?" (John 8 v 46 NIV). The supreme message of the New Testament is that Jesus by his faith overcame sin and thus "abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Timothy 1 v 10).
THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO ALL NATIONS
In Old Testament times the message of salvation (the gospel) was the privileged possession of the nation of Israel, but they failed to respond to the demands of faithful obedience to God. Then Jesus came and sent his apostles to preach the gospel of salvation to every nation (Mark 16 v 15).
Many see this as the fulfilment of God's promise that all nations should be blessed in Jesus Christ, Abraham's descendant. It was, however, only a step, although a great one, in God's unfolding plan to fill the earth with His glory. Jesus knew that relatively few would accept this wonderful message, because it involves entering the narrow gateway of faith; and now, 2,000 years later, the preaching of the gospel has not brought about the blessing of all nations.
THE KINGDOM OF GOD ON EARTH
Nevertheless this glorious time is coming! Jesus Christ will return to the earth to raise all who are responsible, including those who have "put on Christ" and who therefore have become heirs of the promises to Abraham (Galatians 3 v 27-29).
At that time the blessing of Abraham will come upon all nations through his descendant Jesus Christ (Gal. 3 v 14). Jesus will be king over all the earth and the Kingdom of God will be established, ushering in a time of blessing such as the world has never seen. For this all Christians are taught to pray to God: "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6 v 10).
- A promise of ultimate deliverance from sin and death was made immediately after Adam and Eve's fall.
- God's plan of salvation is revealed in the promises He made to the faithful.
- The record of the Flood demonstrates that few will be saved.
- The findings of archaeology confirm the accuracy of the Bible.
- God made great promises to Abraham because of his faith.
- None of these promises has been completely fulfilled.
- The promises point to Jesus Christ, who overcame sin and death.
- Jesus Christ can save from eternal death all those who, like Abraham, believe and obey God.
- The promises will be fulfilled when Jesus returns to the earth to establish the Kingdom of God.
- The Kingdom of God will bring a time of blessing to the earth, which will then be filled with God's glory.
PASSAGES FOR BIBLE READING
Genesis 6, 12, 13, 15, 17, 22; Deuteronomy 28; Psalm 72; Isaiah 32 John 8; Acts 7; Romans 4; Galatians 3; Hebrews 11.
STUDY 5 TEST
Check the correct answer to each question, and then submit them.
Occasionally a question may require more than one correct answer.