The Heir of the Whole WorldPublished on: 6.2.2023
By: Dr. Jürgen Bühler, ICEJ President
As modern Israel prepares to turn 75, I am drawn back to where the story of the Jewish people began, with Abraham. For many Christians, he is just one of many great men of God in the Bible. However, God’s word gives Abraham unique characteristics that no other person besides Jesus ever attained. It can be said that when Abraham appeared, salvation history began.
Until Abraham, all we know about humanity is that every generation degenerated away from “the image of God”. Genesis 6:12 says, “all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.” And even the severe judgement of the Flood did not change them. “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves…” declared an unrepentant humanity at Babel, following the hubris of Satan in wanting to be like God.
In just 11 chapters, the Bible describes 2000 years of human moral decay – until Abraham came. The rest of the Bible covers the next 2000 years – from Abraham to Jesus. Abraham’s life was not just a reset of history, like Noah, but the launching point for God’s salvation plan for the world.
The blessing of Abraham
Abraham became the father of the Jewish people and received powerful promises whose fulfilments are still unfolding today. These promises to Abraham, and his calling, are found in Genesis 12:1-3…
“Now the LORD had said to Abram, “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’”
This calling had four main facets: the promise of a land, of becoming a great nation, of receiving blessing and prominence, and finally of being a blessing to the entire world.
An unchangeable calling
God repeatedly assures Abraham that these promises are absolute fixtures which cannot be revoked, because they came with two immutable guarantees. First, God affirmed it through a unilateral (unconditional) covenant (Genesis 15:12-20). “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates.” (v. 18)
Secondly, God further affirmed His intention by an immutable oath (Genesis 22:15ff). The writer of Hebrew comments on this oath: “For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself … Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath…” (Hebrews 6:13–17)
God’s intention to keep all His promises to Abraham and his offspring is non-negotiable, and He will never change His mind on this. Even an unfaithful Israel cannot alter it. For those who think Israel’s unfaithfulness would cause God to change His mind about them, Paul cautions this would render God a liar (Romans 3:3-4).
This means not only in the Old Testament but also for the writers of the New Testament, God’s promises to Abraham have eternal validity – including Israel’s land promise, her blessings, and her national calling.
Amazing Facts about Abraham
Abraham’s stature is so great, certain statements about him in both the Old and New Testaments are simply remarkable.
First, it is noteworthy that God identifies Himself with Abraham more than twenty times in the Bible, saying He is “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”. This includes five times in the New Testament, by both Jesus (e.g., Matthew 22:32) and the Apostles (Acts 3:13; 7:32).
A friend of God
In Isaiah, God calls Abraham “My friend” (Isaiah 41:8; see also 2 Chronicles 20:7; James 2:23). John Calvin noted, “to be called ‘My servant’ by God is high and honourable, but how much is it to be called a friend of God.” Only Jesus later uses this title for his disciples (John 15:14).
Heir of the World
Possibly the most remarkable reference to Abraham comes from Paul. In Romans 4:13, Paul calls him the “heir of the world”. Some Jewish Sages point out that when Abraham encountered Melchizedek, this mysterious king-priest blesses him as “possessor of heaven and earth” (Genesis 14:19). The rabbis say this obviously implied that God intended to make him heir of all things.
Father of us all
Equally remarkable is Paul’s weighty statement that Abraham “is the father of us all” (Romans 4:16). He repeats this theme in both Romans and Galatians, asserting that all who have faith in Jesus are also sons of Abraham (Galatians 3:7).
The first Prophet
Abraham also is the first man to be called a “prophet” (Genesis 20:7). Indeed, he had unparalleled insight into the distant future. Jesus says Abraham could “see my day” (John 8:56), meaning he had a vision and understanding of the coming Messiah. But his foresight reached even further! According to Paul, the Gospel “was preached to Abraham beforehand” (Galatians 3:8). That means from early on, he knew what started through him would not stop with his own Jewish people, but as God had said, he would be a father of nations and kings, and even all the families of the earth would be blessed through him (Genesis 12:3). Yet amazingly, his vision did not stop there. According to Hebrews, “he looked forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” (Hebrews 11:10 – RSV). That means long before the Apostle John wrote the Book of Revelation, Abraham saw the holy city he describes in chapters 21 and 22. Indeed, Abraham could see to the end of history.
Abraham’s heavenly significance
One more amazing fact: Jesus elevates Abraham to a significance like no other person in the Old Testament. When Jesus told the story of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19ff), Lazarus was carried to Abraham’s bosom. And Abraham communicated with the rich man tormented in hell. This seems to suggest that even in the world to come, Abraham holds a prominent office in the heavenlies. Not only that, every Gentile who believes in Messiah will be linked to Abraham in eternity. Jesus assured: “… many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven…” (Matthew 8:11 – RSV). That means we will enjoy eternal fellowship together at the table of our father Abraham. Whether we like it or not, our lives are closely knitted with Abraham.
Now the reason why Abraham was so impactful lies in the unique calling of God over his life.
The national (physical) calling of Abraham
Abraham’s calling in Genesis 12:1-3 eventually gives birth to his physical descendants, the people of Israel. Here the physical and spiritual DNA of the Jewish people emanate, and from here originate all the claims which Israel holds to the Land of Canaan. This Land promise is upheld throughout the Bible, from Genesis all the way through the New Testament.
Based on this ancient covenant, Israel today has returned to its ancestral homeland and is turning it into a Garden of Eden. Abraham is the founding seed of national Israel. In his circumcision, he foreshadowed the distinct identity of Israel given some 400 years later when receiving the Law at Sinai. Since Abraham, every male descendant was circumcised on the eighth day as a sign of the divine covenant (see Genesis 17). Today, 4000 years later, the modern state of Israel is celebrating its 75th birthday and the nation is stronger than ever, impacting the world on many levels.
The universal (spiritual) calling of Abraham
At the same time, there is a wider, even universal aspect of this calling. From the beginning, God already revealed a calling over Abraham that went beyond his physical ancestors. While they would become a “great nation”, this nation also was destined to release a great blessing for the whole world. “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).
Abraham understood that the ultimate destiny of his descendants was not just some self-serving purpose, but to be a blessing to every nation on earth (Genesis 28:14). God revealed early on the global impact of this blessing, vowing that Abraham’s descendants would be “as sand which is on the seashore” and “as the stars of heaven” (Genesis 22:17; 26:4). To Abraham’s grandson Jacob, God specified that “a company of nations shall proceed from you and kings shall come from your body” (Genesis 35:11).
Thus, the Apostle Paul concluded that when He first called Abraham, it also was the moment when God revealed His decision to save the world. To the church in Galatia, he writes: “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations shall be blessed’.” (Galatians 3:8)
The ultimate, singular seed that broke through the national boundaries of Israel into the family of nations was Jesus, the son of Abraham. Paul understood that in Jesus, the door was now pushed wide open to bring the Good News of salvation to the ends of the earth. Paul states, “that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” (Galatians 3:14)
Likewise, Jesus commanded his disciples: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19) And the accomplishment of this global mission would – according to Jesus – signal the end of the age: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14) The world has never been closer to that day.
The tension in Abraham’s calling
One major challenge for Paul, however, was to witness in his day that Jesus was being more widely accepted by Gentiles than by his own people. “I was found by those who did not seek Me”, Paul writes with sorrow in Romans 10:20.
Already in Paul’s time, some Gentiles took this as a sign that God was finished with Israel. To the church in Rome, he responds: “I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.” (Romans 11:1) Paul answers forcefully, “By no means!” For Paul, his own salvation was proof that God’s promises to Abraham’s natural descendants were still intact. God would still watch over the seed of Abraham, even if they were “enemies of the Gospel”. For they remained “beloved for the sake of the fathers” (Romans 11:28). Paul had full confidence that God’s promises to Abraham one day would come to fulfilment, and then “all Israel will be saved”.
From all this, we can establish:
First, there are people to this day who still wrongly believe the Church has replaced or superseded Israel for rejecting their Messiah. Yet, we saw that the Church’s calling is a direct consequence of the calling of Abraham. The Gentile church worldwide exists today because God is faithful to His promises to Abraham, and if God ever changed His mind regarding His covenant with Abraham, it would be fatal to the Church as well. According to the writer of Hebrews, it is exactly the immutability of God’s promises to Abraham which provides believers “an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil” (Hebrews 6:19). Let us, therefore, hold fast the anchor God has offered us.
Secondly, as spiritual sons and daughters of Abraham, let us identify ourselves with these great Patriarchs of our faith. God identifies Himself as “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”. The way they experienced God teaches us much for our own lives. I encourage you to read again the Book of Genesis. It is the story of your spiritual ancestors. Their battles are likely your battles, and their victories can become your victories.
Lastly, one of Paul’s great sorrows was that his own brothers – the physical sons of Abraham – have largely not experienced yet the promise of the Holy Spirit. Let us pray that the same outpouring of the Spirit that came through Yeshua to the Gentiles also will come to the people to whom it was originally promised.