I was just sitting here listening to the Beastie Boys and Young MC doing some thinking about the Abrahamic covenant. Specifically, I was thinking about how different Christians view God’s promise of the land to Abraham. Some of our Christian brothers make a great deal about the land of Israel. Take a text like, “And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God” (Gen 17:8). One way of understanding this promise (call it fully dispensational) sees a promise only of a specific strip of land to a specific people group (that is, the land of Israel to the Jews). Since the land was never fully given to the Jews, it’s argued, God is still going to give it to them. Thus, consistent Dispensationalists maintain that God will deal with the physical nation of Israel in the eschaton (the end times), and he’ll give them the promised land. In this view, the promise of the land is rooted in the national identity; it’s Jewish land promised to the Jewish people.
Now, other folks have a different understanding (call it partially dispensational). These folks look as passages in the NT like, “But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree” (Rom 11:17). They (rightly) note that God’s plan was always to graft all nations into the one nation. That is one great mysteries, that is, revelations of the New Covenant (cf. Eph 3:1-6). So, these brothers know that the “national identity” of Israel has been greatly modified by the ministry of Christ and the coming of the New Covenant. Israel now includes all the nations of the world. As the gospel comes to the nations, they hear it and, by God’s grace, believe on Christ. These nations are then grafted into Israel, the olive tree. So far, so good. In fact, so far, very good. The problem is that, when it comes to eschatology, their view is stagnated. These brothers still have their eye on the strip of land beside the Mediterranean Sea. They contend that Christ will return and set up his earthly kingdom in Israel and give it all to his people (both Jews and Gentiles), thus fulfilling the promise of the land. I’ve called these brothers Partial Dispensationalists, but maybe it’s easier to say that their hermeneutics is not thoroughly covenantal, but is, at certain points, closer to dispensational hermeneutics. In this view, the promise of the land is viewed in the context of God’s redemptive plan for Israel; it’s a promise of a specific land to Israel in the fullest sense.
Finally, we have a fully consistent covenantal view of the promise of the land. This view agrees with the partial-dispensational view above regarding the nature of the Israel. God’s intention was to bring all nations into his one nation. We see, however, that same covenantal expansiveness in the promise of the land. God spoke to one nation and promised that nation one strip of land. But in so doing, he was (in Christ and in the opening of the New Covenant) addressing all nations. Similarly, as he promised one piece of land to that one nation, he was promising all lands to that nation. The people of God, that is, Christ’s church, will inherit the whole world. That’s what Jesus means when he says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Mt 5:5). In fact, we see the exegetical necessity of this as Paul ministers to the children of the Ephesian church. He says:
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” (Eph 6:1-3)
He’s not only applied the Jewish commandment and promise (directly from Moses – what could be MORE Jewish than Moses?) to the church at Ephesus (with a significant Gentile population), but he’s even told them that the promise of the land applies to them… in Ephesus. The little boys and girls in Ephesus are told that it will go well with them and they’ll live long in the land if they obey their parents. Thus, even at the Ephesian boys and girls were grafted into Israel, so their land was grafted into the land. In this view, we have a covenantal promise of the land to a covenantal people; it’s the Land in the fullest sense promised to Israel in the fullest sense.
Christ gets ALL of this!
This last view is an expression of fully consistent covenantal hermeneutics. The other two view are stagnated and regressive. They do not understand (to one degree or another) how the pieces fit into God’s redemptive whole. God’s redemptive work has moved on, it’s grown to include all nations and all lands, but these brothers are still looking at the specific nation and land. Christ’s after all lands, nations, peoples – he wants it all and he’s going to get it all. His kingdom will extend from the River to the ends of the earth, and righteousness will cover the whole earth even as water covers the seas. Christ will build his kingdom and absolutely nothing will stop him from doing it. This non-stagnated eschatology is consistent with covenantal hermeneutics. It’s jet-fuel eschatology; it’s called Postmillennialism.
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