Throughout the Old Testament, God made certain promises to the patriarchs (Abraham, Issac, and Jacob/Israel) that their descendants, the nation of Israel, longed to see fulfilled. These promises centred on having a holy Homeland and a Messiah. Over the centuries that followed their expulsion from their Land which sent them into exile into Babylon initially and then into Persia, the Israelites became known as Jews. Their expectations of how these divine promises would be fulfilled then became greatly embellished with the promise of a homeland being interpretted to mean that the Romans would be overthrown and expelled out of ‘their’ land, by the promised messiah who would then have to be a powerful military commander. These embellished expectations then gave rise to the Jewish sect known as the Zealots; and, prior to the Zealots it led various other unsuccessful Jewish revolts. But when the messiah actually appeared, He was not the military commander that the Jews were expecting. How could this carpenter’s son from Nazareth be the heir to King David’s throne and the one who would ultimately fulfil the promises of God to Israel? So how justified were the first-century Jews in their expectations of how God would fulfil His promises to them? How obligated was Jesus the Messiah to fulfil the promises of God? And what implications does this have for Christians today who are committed to claiming the promises of God?
KING DAVID PROPHETICALLY IDENTIFIED
THE MESSIAH AS HIS LORD
¶ And as Jesus taught in the temple, He said,
“How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David?
David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared,“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.”’
¶ David himself calls Him Lord. So how is He his son?”
And the great throng heard him gladly.
The answer to Christ’s question is grounded in how the Jews referred to someone as their father, and how they referred to someone as a son. In English we have the ability to identify our ancestors as our: father; grandfather; great-grandfather; great-great-grandfather, and so on. Inversely, we can also refer to their male descendant as their: son; grandson; great-grandson; great-great-grandson, and so on. The Jews through the ensuing centuries could refer to Abraham as “our father” (Lk. 1:73; 3:8) and as it turns out, with such an emphasis on respecting elders, it was unusual for someone to refer to their eventual descendant as their ‘Lord’, yet, David could refer to his descendant, Jesus, as his “son” (Matt. 1:1). Thus, King David was prophetically declaring that the Messiah would be the divine Lord (Psalm 2). This then forms the background to the angelic announcement to the shepherds on the night the Jesus was born –
¶ And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field,
keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them,
and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold,
I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
The angel announced that Jesus was: (i) a Saviour; (ii) the Christ (Messiah); and (iii) the Lord. Significantly, the angel also specified that Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Luke 2:4) which fulfilled what the prophets had foretold (2Sam. 7:12-13; Mic. 5:2). The angelic designation of Jesus as ‘saviour’ may well have been understood by the shepherds to mean what the Rabbis had long told their congregations about the coming Messiah as a military commander. But it wasn’t just these shepherds who probably held this expectation, even Christ’s own disciples expressed this understanding to Jesus immediately prior to His ascension:
¶ So when they had come together, they asked Him,
“Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
By the time of Acts 1, Christ’s disciples had already come to understand that Jesus was Christ, Lord and GOD who was worthy of the worship only due to GOD. It is therefore reasonable to understand why the disciples expected that Jesus would fulfil the promises that GOD had made to the patriarchs and which the nation of Israel expected the Messiah would deliver. This is why Christ’s response to His disciples’ question is so revealing (Acts 1:7) and it then leads us to reconsider how we understand “the promises of God.”
UNDERSTANDING THE PROMISES OF GOD
The brief exchange between the disciples and the risen Lord prior to Christ’s ascension reveals three important insights:
1. Sometimes our expectations of GOD are misunderstandings of what the Scriptures actually say.
2. Understand that GOD always keeps His promises which may then invite us to consider how He has done so with a fresh perspective.
3. Recognise that often it takes the passage of time for us to realise and understand that GOD has kept His promises in a way that far exceeds what we had actually expected.
Paul’s statement to the Corinthians that Jesus had fulfilled all of the promises to Israel is an application of the above three insights. Paul, a converted Jew to Christianity grew up longing for God’s promises to Israel to repossess its Biblically-prescribed borders under the military leadership of the promised Messiah. In his consideration of these divine promises to Israel he had come to realise that Jesus had indeed fulfilled all of these promises which then confirmed that Christ was LORD of Lords (1Tim. 6:15) because He was the Divine Promise-Keeper.
In relation to these promises, Dr. Munther Isaac in his book, From Land to Lands, From Eden to the Renewed Earth (pps. 193-4), cites Dr. Peter W.L. Walker’s book, Jesus and the Holy City (p. 117)- “Moreover, Walker argues that the phrase ‘all the promises’ would necessarily include those concerning the land.” “In other words, the story of Israel, in its totality, including the part related to the land, must find its fulfillment – its Yes – in Jesus. Therefore, the land cannot but be a major themes in the story the NT writers are telling — a story that is continuing on the story of the OT, in which the land was such a central theme. Furthermore, some themes in the NT — like the selection of the twelve disciples, Jesus’ interaction with the temple, and the covenant with Abraham — are strongly tied with the theme of the land. If the land is a major them in the OT, then it is inherently a major one in the NT.” And Dr. Isaac goes on to point out that Jesus Himself was the fulfilment of what the Land promise was ultimately all about – where God and man could meet and worshipers of God could display God’s light of holiness to the world.
THE PROMISES OF GOD IN THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS THAT BELIEVERS CAN ‘CLAIM’ TODAY
God’s promises to Israel was not just about a Messiah and a homeland. His promise was that He would establish a new covenant that would be open to both Israelites and gentiles.
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD:
I will put My law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God,
and they shall be My people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbour and each his brother, saying,
‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest,
declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
God’s promise of a new covenant to supersede the Mosaic Covenant, was to be a covenant in which He would forgive sins without the need for ongoing sacrifices. This would be made possible by the promise of His Son acting as the atoning sacrifice (Isa. 53:4-5). And long before this, GOD had promised that His Son would be born as the Seed of the woman who would vanquish (conquer and destroy) the source of evil by striking the serpent’s (representative of the devil) head (Gen. 3:15). The patriarchs also understood that GOD’s promises also included resurrection from the dead (Job 19:26; Psa. 16:10). And, rather than being limited to a specific small piece of land, God’s promises also included the Lord dwelling forever with the righteous in a new heaven and earth that He would make (Isa. 65:17; 66:22). All of these promises the prophets declared – uncertain of what GOD was actually revealing:
Obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
¶ Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace
that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully,
inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating
when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.
It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you,
in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached
the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
First Peter 1:9-12
We are now in the New Covenant foretold by the prophets and expounded by Christ’s apostles. Since all of these promises have now been fulfilled, or at least now set in motion, the New Testament believer can now stand on the promises that Christ will ever be with them by the infilling of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:20). The believer can stand on the promise — which means, pray to the Lord with confidence — that Jesus was indeed the Messiah who came to atone for their sins and redeem those who confess their sins and turn to Him through faith and repentance (1John 1:8-9). The believer can also pray with the assurance of the promise in First Peter 5:7 that we can cast all of our cares onto Him – because He cares for us. He is therefore, not just the promise-keeping Lord, He is the One who promises to always love us and cause all things to work together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28).
Next: Chapter 5
Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.
5 Things We Need To Do To Break Our Church’s 200 Barrier, Premium Audio
Apologetics Part 1 – Introduction To Apologetics, Premium Audio
Apologetics Part 2 – The Apologetic Arguments For God, Premium Audio
Apologetics Part 3 – The Apologetic Arguments For The Bible, Premium Audio