The Land Promise

By Sean Finnegan

After looking God’s promises to Abraham and Sarah to inherit the land, we’ll dig into how the New Testament amplifies the land promise in light of what Christ has accomplished.  In the end, all of those with faith like Abraham (both Jews and Gentiles) will inherit the world (not just territorial Israel).

God’s Original Intention

When God first created our world, he gave it over to his image-bearers to rule (Gen 1.26).  However, they rebelled, and evil began to corrode and expand from isolated instances of fratricide and homicide until every person only pursued evil continually (Gen 6.5).  God decided to press the reset button, and start over with a new Adam—Noah.  In fact, he reiterated his creation mandates to Noah about multiplying, filling, and having dominion (Gen 9.1-2).  However, sin stowed away on the boat, manifesting in Noah’s drunkenness and Ham’s unspeakable act of uncovering his father’s nakedness (whatever that means).  Everything went downhill from there until humanity united in its rebellion against God at the Tower of Babel.  Once again God hit the reset button, this time confusing people’s languages so that they could no longer collaborate.  This bought him some time as he initiated his redemptive plan with Abraham and Sarah.

God’s Promises to Abraham

With Abraham and Sarah, God established a beachhead from which he could mount a counterattack on evil’s undefeatable influence on humanity.  Ultimately, he would work from within the system to bring about a nation and from that nation a representative who would rescue everyone.  As part of this redemption plan, God made promises about the land of Canaan.  The fullest expression of which was just after Abraham bound Isaac and nearly offered him as a sacrifice (Gen 22.17-18).

God called Abraham and Sarah and their descendant for a job to save not just one nation, but the entire world (Gen 12.3; 17.4) through two phases:

  1. Phase 1: God brings to pass his promises to multiply, bless, and inherit the land via Joshua’s conquest and the history of the judges and kings
  2. Phase 2: God brings to pass his promise to bless all nations and possess the gates of their enemies (entire earth) through Christ

Steven Wellum writes:

“Within the Abrahamic narrative, there is a hint that the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant will occur in two stages.  First, the nation of Israel will live in the Promised Land and serve as a kingdom of priests under the Mosaic covenant…Second, Christ, Abraham’s royal, singular seed, will bless all nations…an expansion of the Promised Land ‘to include the planet and its numerous people.  This point is significant in answering the question of what God intended by his promise of land to Abraham.  Did God intend for the land promise to be exhausted in a specific location, or did he intend for it to encompass something
far greater?’”[1]

The New Testament’s Amplified Land Promise

Thankfully, the NT answers this question for us.

  1. Jesus (Mat 5.5; 6.10; 8.10-12; 19.28-30)
  2. Paul (Rom 4.13-25)
  3. Hebrews (Heb 11.8-12)

BDAG (Greek Lexicon): παλιγγενεσία (palingenesia)

  1. state of being renewed, w. focus on a cosmic experience, renewal
    1. after the Deluge (so Philo, Mos. 2, 65…Aet. M. 47; 76) Νῶε παλ. κόσμῳ ἐκήρυξεν
      1 Cl 9:4.
    2. of the renewing of the world in the time of the Messiah, an eschatol. sense…ἐν τῇ παλ. in the new (Messianic) age or world Mt 19:28.[2]

1 Clement 9.4

Noah, being found faithful, proclaimed a second birth [παλιγγενεσίᾳ] to the world by his ministry, and through him the Master saved the living creatures that entered into the ark in harmony.


“And upon the death of Sarah his wife, when the Hittites were willing to bestow upon him a place where he might bury her, he declined it as a gift, but bought the burying-place…Thus did he await patiently the promise of God, and was unwilling to appear to receive from men, what God had promised to give him, when He said again to him as follows: “I will give this land to your seed, from the river of Egypt even unto the great river Euphrates.”  If, then, God promised him the inheritance of the land, yet he did not receive it during all the time of his sojourn there, it must be, that together with his seed, that is, those who fear God and believe in Him, he shall receive it at the resurrection of the just.” [3]

N.T. Wright:

“This city, mentioned here in verse 10 for the first time, suddenly emerges as a main theme in these last chapters of the letter.  Here and in verse 16 it is the focal point of the promise about the land; in 12.22 it is the heavenly Jerusalem; in 13.14 it is the future city, contrasted with any city to which one might give allegiance here on earth…What exactly does the writer have in mind?  Jerusalem was of course the holy city, David’s ancient capital, the centre of the promised land.  But, in some ancient Jewish writings roughly contemporary with the New Testament, there were pointers to a deeper reality, to the belief that God had established a ‘true’ or heavenly Jerusalem, waiting for the day when heaven and earth would be remade (or, as the present letter puts it, ‘shaken,’ so that what is unshakeable may remain).  This is picked up in the great description of the new Jerusalem in Revelation 21 and 22, and something of the same idea is assumed here…God promised Abraham the land and the crowning glory of the land was Jerusalem, where the Temple would be built.  In the same way, all the promises taken as a whole had a first stage and a final stage.  The first stage was the entire history of Israel, from Abraham to the Messiah; the final stage would be the establishment of the final city of God, the ultimate master-work of the creator.”[4]

Steven Wellum:

“Throughout its pages, the New Testament repeatedly teaches the truth that in Christ, the members of the church, including believing Jews and Gentiles, equally and fully receive all God’s promises.  In fact, as we have seen in the Bible’s covenantal progression, our Lord Jesus Christ first fulfills the previous covenants in himself and then applies his work to his people.  As God’s people, we are restored to the purpose of our creation and thus fulfill what Israel—indeed, Adam—only typified: a transformed people who function as a royal priesthood and holy nation (Ex 19.6; 1 Pet 2.9).  As the church, we function as the restored Israel and Abraham’s spiritual children (Rom 4.9-22; Gal 3.6-9); true Jews because of our heart circumcision (Rom 2.25-29; Phil 3.3); the one new man (Eph 2.11-21); from the same olive tree (Rom 11.17-24)…Also, in Christ, the church receives her ‘inheritance’ (Eph 1.13-14; Col 1.12-14), which is more than mere spiritual blessings.  In the Old Testament, the inheritance is tied to Israel’s land, which in the progression of the covenants, becomes a type of the entire creation.  For this reason, the church is said to inherit the “earth” (Mat 5.5) and receive what Abraham was promised, namely, that he would inherit the ‘world’ (Rom 4.13) as he looked for the city of God, the heavenly Jerusalem, which would last forever and ultimately is identified with the new creation (Heb 11.8-16).  Captured in Scripture’s final vision, the church is Christ’s bride, the heavenly Jerusalem, whose foundation is the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles (Rev 21.9-14), an international people (Rev 5.9-10) that inherits the new creation as God’s covenant people forever (Rev 21-22).[5]

Two Ditches and a Middle Way

So, what do we do about the ethnic, national, territorial prophecies?  We must interpret them the way the NT interprets them.  There are two ditches we want to avoid:

  1. Covenant Theology tends to spiritualize these prophecies by saying they are already fulfilled in the church
  2. Dispensationalism tends to literalize these prophecies by saying they only relate to ethnic, national, territorial Israel, thereby excluding the church
  3. Progressive Covenantalism charts a middle road that recognizes the literalness of the prophecy in its historical context. It takes the cue from NT on how to interpret literal prophecies in light of the Christ event.  Consequently, these land prophecies are types of the greater truth expressed throughout the NT of inheriting the whole world, not just a small part of it

In conclusion: New Covenant Theology in general and Progressive Covenantalism in particular recognizes the progression of God’s promises through the covenants and reads the OT with the lens of what Christ has accomplished in the NT.  When you do that, you end up with a bigger people (people from all nations who have Abrahamic faith) and a bigger inheritance (the whole world, instead of just territorial Israel).  It’s an exciting future to look forward to, especially in difficult times.  Indeed, our hope is the anchor of our souls (Heb 6.19).

[1] Peter Gentry and Steven Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 690.

[2] BDAG, s.v. “παλιγγενεσία,” 752.

[3] Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. vol. I of The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Accordance electronic ed. (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1885), paragraph 7340.

[4] N. T. Wright, Hebrews for Everyone (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 133-4.

[5] Peter Gentry and Steven Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 763-4.

3 Responses

  1. If this is the last of the series, it's a perfect way to end...bravo!!
    • Sarah Kenyon
      Hi Robin, we are glad you are enjoying the series. The last two sessions are April 6th. God Bless!
  2. Sean, Always great to hear the Gospel about the Kingdom, as our brother Tom Cox always says: “It’s all about the Land!” And one of my favorite Greek words, palingenesia.

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