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On the continuity of the land promises

May 15, 2011

Possessing the land of Canaan was at the heart and center of the covenant that God made with Abraham. But, as explained below, possessing the land is also at the heart of the New Covenant. Jesus inherited all the promises, including the land promise. Paul said, “For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.” [2 Corinthians 1:20]

Old Testament prophecies show that there is a continuity between the Old and the New Covenants. Under the New Covenant the land promises that were made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are expanded; the land was a mere token of much greater things. Isaiah said of Jerusalem and Mount Zion,

Isaiah 2:2-3
And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.
And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

In the New Testament, Isaiah’s prophecy of Jerusalem being “exulted above the hills” is fulfilled, as Jerusalem is raised up to heaven, higher than all the mountains and hills of the earth. I suggest that this implies that a continuity exists between the city of Jerusalem in the Old Testament and the heavenly Jerusalem of the New Testament. The heavenly Jerusalem is not a completely new thing; it includes the Old Testament saints and prophets.

Evidently, when Jesus ascended to heaven, Mount Zion and Jerusalem were also raised up to heavenly status. Thus the author of Hebrews could write, “ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant.” [Hebrews 12:22-24]

This applies, wherever a believer may reside on the earth. There is no longer any need for people to go to the earthly Jerusalem, or the earthly temple, and convert to Judaism, to worship God. Jesus himself foretold this in John 4:21. Now, consider how this throws some light on the land promise. Jerusalem and Mount Zion were in the land, and when they were raised up to heaven, they continue to represent the land promise. So those who come to Mount Zion and the heavenly Jerusalem, also come into the promised land. The saints who have a part in the New Jerusalem thus inherit the promised land!

This makes certain arguments commonly used by the dispensationalists and Zionists invalid. Paul Henebury complained that some Covenant Theology authors avoid the land in the promises to Abraham. In his criticisms of a book by Robert Reymond, Henebury stated that writers supporting the Covenant Theology interpretation “spiritualize the texts when it suits.” In comments on O. Palmer Robertson’s book he said, “If we turn to CT’s own explanations of their system we find a curious dualism of frankness and subterfuge.” The first part of Henebury’s post was discussed here. In the last part of this post, Henebury commented on a book by Michael Horton as follows:

Another noted CT who exemplifies this phenomena I have been referring to is Michael Horton.  His book God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology takes back with one hand what it appears to give with the other.  Placing an enormous burden on Galatians 4:22-31 which it was never supposed to bear, Horton sometimes seems to interpret the covenant passages at face value.  He repeatedly admits that both the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants were unconditional.  He rivals any dispensationalist in his belief in the unilateral nature of these biblical covenants (42, 45, 48-49).  But then he makes the land promise part of the Mosaic covenant (whence it can be safely dispatched).  As he says on page 48,

“The Mosaic (Sinai) covenant is an oath of the people swearing personal performance of the conditions for “living long in the land,” while the Abrahamic covenant is a promise by God himself that he will unilaterally bring about the salvation of his people through the seed of Abraham.”

This is an amazing statement.  Although he is right to say that possession of the land was tied to obedience to the Mosaic covenant (e.g. Lev. 26), even the Mosaic covenant looked forward to a new covenant whereby God would circumcise their heart (Deut. 30:6) so that “in the latter days” they would not be forsaken, but would be remembered because of the Abrahamic covenant (Deut.4:30-31; 30:19-20).

So what happened?  Is the Abrahamic covenant only about salvation as Horton claims?  I invite anyone to read Genesis 12-17, Jeremiah 33 or Ezekiel 36 and demonstrate such a thing.  It is patently false.  In fact, there is no provision for salvation in the Abrahamic covenant itself; although the Seed promise (singular) is there it is developed through the New covenant, not per se the terms of the Abrahamic.  All the talk about typology (Horton’s book is also filled with it) cannot alter these facts.

On p. 42, Horton quoted George E. Mendenhall, who wrote: “The New Covenant of Christianity obviously continued the tradition of the Abrahamic-Davidic covenant with its emphasis upon the Messiah, Son of David. Paul uses the covenant of Abraham to show the temporary validity of the Mosaic covenant, but in spite of this, the basic structure of New Testament religion is actually, as the early church constantly maintained, the continuation of the Mosaic religion.”

The continuity of the people of God from the Old Covenant period to the New is illustrated by Paul’s statement in Ephesians 2:20, that the temple of God is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.”

Henebury asked, “Is the Abrahamic covenant only about salvation…?” Notice particularly this use of the word “only.” Do Henebury, and other dispensationalists think that the salvation obtained for us by Christ is something less than political control of a small area in the Middle East by ethnic Jews?

What could be greater than the promise of salvation? The scope of salvation, contained in an embryonic form in the promise to Abraham, is such that it will be extended to all nations. Abraham’s seed will number as the sand of the sea, and as the stars of heaven. In the New Testament, the seed of Abraham are those who believe the gospel. What would possession of all the land in the world, for the limited lifespan of man, be in comparison to salvation? Jesus said, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” [Mark 8:36]

In the land of Canaan promised to Abraham, great treasures are hidden. The land includes mountains, valleys, rivers, and cities. Mountains represent God’s righteousness; the mountains of Israel are symbolic of prophecies, and promises. These treasures are hidden, as discovering them requires going beyond a strictly literalist approach to the text. Such an approach is akin to the attitude of the unprofitable servant in the parable of the talents, who buried his talent in the ground.

The Mount of Olives represents the Olivet discourse, where Jesus outlined the future of the world. On one of the mountains of Israel, Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, which lists several wonderful promises, including one that says the meek will “inherit the earth.” All these promises are included, in the land promise, because the mountains are symbolic of revelations and promises. Jerusalem, a city in the promise land, has become the heavenly Jerusalem, the holy city of the saints. It includes the saints of all ages. Since Jerusalem is raised up, the “land promise” encompasses and includes the heavenly Jerusalem, Mount Zion, and the temple! God’s temple was not destroyed in 70 AD; it remains intact even today; it is the one built upon the prophets and apostles as its foundation.

In Galatians 4:24-3 Paul identified the earthly Jerusalem with Mount Sinai, and with Hagar the Egyptian bondmaid who was cast out of Abraham’s house.

The church is identified with Jerusalem, and believers are described as house builders. This suggests they are building upon their eternal inheritance in the New Jerusalem, which represents the promised land. Jesus compared those who do what he taught with the man who builds his house on a rock, and one who does not do those things as a man who builds his house on sand. Jesus’ words are bedrock of the promised land. He also spoke of people having their houses broken into by a thief. [Luke 12:36-40] Jesus warned that he would come “as a thief.” “Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.” [Revelation 16:15]

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