The Gospel of Matthew begins by declaring that Jesus is the “son of Abraham.” This is more than a genealogical notation. It sets the stage for the theme of fulfillment in this gospel account. The lowly man from Nazareth is the Messiah and King of Israel, the promised “Seed” of the Patriarch. In him, all the covenant promises find their fulfillment. He is the true Seed of Abraham, the heir of the covenant promises, and the receipt of the inheritance is based on faith in him.
In the Book of Genesis, God promised to bless Abraham and his “Seed.” Moreover, in him “all the families of the Earth” would be blessed, and his descendants would be innumerable like the stars of heaven. But the terms of the covenant raise questions.
|[Stars - Photo by Sam Goodgame on Unsplash]|
In Matthew’s Gospel, John the Baptist warns the religious leaders of Israel 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 God’s Kingdom, not biological descent from the Patriarch. Moreover, John’s reference to “stones” is metaphorical and points to God’s plan to bring Gentiles into His One Covenant Community. 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 is also the “son of David,” the messianic heir who is 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 announces that God is 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 covenant, the 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 after the outpouring of the Spirit. 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, Jesus 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 claim, the Nazarene 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 and is no guarantee of anyone’s participation in the inheritance promised to Abraham and his “Seed.”
In his Letter to the Romans, Paul points to Abraham’s faith 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, Paul demonstrated that Abraham was justified when his “faith was reckoned for 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 - (Romans 4:9-16).
The promise to Abraham is not received by performing the required rituals of the Law, but instead, 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 included in his “Seed,” circumcised or not. Ethnicity has no bearing on one’s inclusion in God’s one people.
In Jesus Christ, both Gentile and Jewish believers become the “children” of Abraham. 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. 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).
THE ONE PEOPLE OF GOD
In Romans, Paul does not refer to two peoples of God, but only one, and it includes believing Jews AND Gentiles. 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 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 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 repent and exercise faith in Jesus - (Romans 11:16-20).
Paul is more explicit in his Letter to the 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 uses the Abrahamic promises to argue for Gentile inclusion in the covenant community AS GENTILES, all without submitting to circumcision and thereby becoming Jewish proselytes. He presents 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 good news 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, and that “Seed” is NONE OTHER THAN JESUS, and by familial relationship, 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 raises the question: “Why, then, the law.” It was given because of “trespasses.” It was the “custodian until the Seed should come.” Note well the temporal aspect, “UNTIL.”
Now that the “Seed” has come, namely, Jesus, the custodianship of the Law with its social distinctions no longer has jurisdiction over God’s covenant community:
- “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, you are Abraham’s Seed, according to promise, heirs” - (Galatians 3:19-29).
In Jesus, all ethnic, cultural, economic, and social boundaries are eliminated in the one people of God. Inclusion in the covenant community and promises is based on the “faith of Jesus,” not biological descent or “from the works of the Law.”