Pastor David B. Curtis


Media #1130 MP3 Audio File Video File

Our Fathers?

(1 Cor. 10:1)

Delivered 09/18/22

For our study this morning, we are going to focus on one verse in 1 Corinthians10, zeroing in on two words, "our fathers." A couple of weeks ago I was doing my daily Bible reading and I came to 1 Corinthians 10:1. As I pondered the verse, I realized that it was a significant text against the Israel Only doctrine. Those who hold this false teaching say that the Bible is written solely and entirely to national Israel. And, therefore, there is nothing in the Bible for US; it is all about Israel. There is no salvation for anybody today. It's quite a sad and depressing view. But it's a view easily destroyed by the Scriptures. I did a couple of messages against this view at our conference. Those messages are on line if you want more teaching against this view.

I want to spend our time this morning examining this text in 1 Corinthians because it destroys the IO view.

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 1 Corinthians 10:1 ESV

Now, we can't just pull a verse out of its context, so let's get some context here.

Paul established this church in Corinth.

After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. (Acts 18:1 ESV)

Corinth was about 20 times as large as Athens at this time, having a population of over 200,000 inhabitants. It was the capital of the Roman province of Achaea which included practically all of Greece.

When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Yeshua. And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, "Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles." Acts 18:5-6 ESV

Whenever Paul entered a city, his custom was to first go to the synagogue, if there was one, and preach to the Jews. When they would listen to him no longer, he went to the Gentiles.

The Church at Corinth was made up of mostly Gentile and Greek members. The church included some Jews (1 Corinthians 7:18-19), but it was largely composed of Gentile converts.

In chapter 10, Paul seems to introduce an entirely different subject but a closer look shows continuity with the preceding passage. This chapter is a continuation of the question asked by Corinthians in chapter 8 concerning Christian liberty. There Paul gave them the basic principle.

But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 1 Corinthians 8:9 ESV

Their question arose over the issue of eating meat that had been offered to an idol. Paul told them that they had every right to eat such meat, even though it had been offered in a sacrifice to an idol. But he admonished then that if their eating of that meat should be to the detriment of another believer so that they might cause him to stumble or be offended, then they ought not exercise that right. Then in chapter 9, Paul illustrated the principle of limiting one's liberty through an experience in his own life. He had the right to be supported financially, but he relinquished his right in order to further the cause of the gospel.

At the close of chapter 9, Paul tells us that his commitment to this course of ministry did not come easily.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So, I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 ESV

Paul's life required personal discipline. Our liberty cannot be limited without self-control. Our sinfulness resents and resists restrictions. So, he exhorted the Corinthians to exercise self-denial and effort in order to relinquish their rights and so secure the crown of life. Now in the first 13 verses of chapter 10, he enforces that exhortation by showing how disastrous the lack of such self-control has been in the case of the Israelites. This passage is a solemn warning to Christians not to give way to temptation, as the Israelites did.      

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 1 Corinthians 10:1 ESV

The first word in chapter 10 is "for" which connects it with chapter 9. In order to catch the connection, we need to look at the last verse of chapter 9.

But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:27 ESV

The immediate context of chapter 10 deals with the word, "disqualified." Paul is illustrating through the example of Israel how the lack of self-control can lead to disqualification. The word "disqualified" is the Greek word adokimos which means "unapproved, i.e., rejected; by implication worthless (literally or morally):—castaway, rejected, reprobate." This same word is used in Hebrews 6, a passage very similar in content to 1 Corinthians 10:1-13. Look at what the author of Hebrews says.

For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. Hebrews 6:7-8 ESV

When we become believers, we are like a plot of ground that belongs to God. God has poured out upon us, like rain from heaven, the blessings of His grace. He, therefore, has the right to expect that our lives be fruitful, productive, and useful to men. And when they are, He blesses that life. But if after the rain has fallen upon our lives and if after we have received the blessings of His matchless grace, we produce briars and thorns, the fruit of a sin cursed world, then God rejects that kind of life. It falls under his temporal judgment and the one living such a life is destined to suffer the fire of discipline and chastisement.

To be disqualified or castaway has nothing to do with salvation but rather, it refers to temporal judgment and the loss of rewards. Once we are saved, our salvation is secure in Christ.  We are always saved. Eternal life cannot be lost; it is eternal life, not temporary life. I had someone ask me about the phrase "once saved always saved."  He asked me if I could show him that phrase in the Bible. I told him the phrase wasn't in the Bible but the idea certainly was. I took him to Romans 8 to show him the doctrine of once saved always saved. Look at it with me.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. Romans 8:29-30 ESV

The term "foreknew" has the idea of loved, to love beforehand. This term must have a limited meaning because if it simply means to know ahead of time, then this context teaches that everyone will be glorified because all whom God foreknew, he glorified. The chain is unbroken. All who are justified are glorified. To be justified is to be saved, and all who are saved will be glorified. This is the golden chain of salvation.

Our salvation is secure. Paul never worried about losing his salvation. But he did worry about being disqualified. To be disqualified is to suffer chastisement and to lose our reward for service for the Lord. Paul teaches us what disqualification is in the beginning of chapter 10. There is no doubt that those at Corinth, even though they had been disqualified, were secure in their salvation. But they were enjoying their Christian liberty to the point that it was harming others. It was to those people that Paul speaks this somber word of admonition. This admonition is based upon God's dealings with his chosen people, Israel, almost 1500 years earlier. Paul sets forth the example of the Israelites who, although greatly privileged (10:1-4), through lack of self-restraint (10:6-10) died in the wilderness, being disqualified (cf. 9:27) from entrance into the Promised Land. Paul used Israel's experiences as an example that the Corinthians would be wise to heed. Paul was making it clear that being a member of God's community did not ensure against disqualification.     

In the first four verses, Paul reminds them of the great blessings that God's people have enjoyed and experienced in their early days. But for our study this morning, I want us to just focus on verse 1.

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 1 Corinthians 10:1 ESV

"For I do not want you to be unaware" the word "unaware" here is from the Greek word agnoeo which means "to be ignorant or unaware of, to be without understanding." This is a common phrase in Paul's writings (cf. Romans 1:13; 11:25; 1 Corinthians 10:1; 12:1; 2 Corinthians 1:8). We just saw this phrase in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 a couple of weeks age. Usually, it introduced an important statement similar to Yeshua's use of "Amen, amen."

What was it that he didn't want them to be uninformed about? He didn't want them ignorant of Israel's history in the wilderness. The Israelites were miraculously guided, protected, and fed, yet most of them disobeyed and were destroyed. Paul is illustrating through the example of Israel how the lack of self-control can lead to disqualification.

Now notice carefully what Paul says to these mostly Gentile Corinthians, "Our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea."  In spite of the fact that most of the Corinthian Christians were Gentiles, Paul considers the Israelites as their fathers. "Our fathers"—is a clear reference to the Jewish people in the Old Covenant. It should be eye opening that Paul could include Gentiles in this crucial identifying phrase, yet it is appropriate because they are the spiritual descendants of Israel. Thus, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are our fathers as Christians, though genetically we Gentiles share nothing in common with them.

Paul calls them "Brothers." Those who hold to the Israel Only doctrine would say that Paul is here referring only to Israelites. Those who are brothers in the flesh. But this shows their Biblical ignorance. When Paul uses the term "brothers," he is referring to all believers. The one time he uses "brothers" of his racial brothers, he qualifies it as in Romans 9.

For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. Romans 9:3 ESV

This is the only time Paul uses this term of the Jews. He generally uses it of Christians. He qualifies it for us by saying "My kinsmen according to the flesh" which in Greek is "suggenēs kata sarx." He is speaking of the physical decedents of Abraham.

Paul also uses the phrase "according to the flesh" in verse 18 of chapter 10.

See Israel according to the flesh! are not those eating the sacrifices in the fellowship of the altar?  1 Corinthians 10:18 YLT

Paul exhorts them to "consider Israel kata sarka"–that is, "Israel according to the flesh." In other words, he is speaking of ethnic Israel. Most English translations exclude the phrase "according to the flesh."  But if there is only one legitimate perspective on "Israel," why did Paul feel the need to add this qualifier instead of simply writing "consider Israel"? Paul intentionally used "kata sarka" in his typical usage. In light of that, it seems fair to ask who Israel "kata pneuma" ("according to the Spirit") might be. First Corinthians 10:1 and everything else in this passage make the appropriate response crystal clear—the Christians in Corinth belonged to that spiritual Israel and were to conduct themselves accordingly.

One of the main spokespersons for the Israel Only view, Corey Shultz, states that "Only Israel (Abraham's biological descendants) was promised the New Covenant (Romans 11:25-27, Heb 8:8-12)." [Corey Shultz, December 28, 2018 ('Preterist Perspectives Discussion & Debate' Facebook group)]

In a little bit here, I will prove this statement to be false. The main problem with this silly view is that it is all about the physical. Promises are for physical Jews only. When the Bible says the physical doesn't matter in the New Covenant, it's all about the spiritual.

For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. Romans 2:28-29 ESV

"For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly."  By this, Paul is teaching that being a racial descendant of Abraham does not make one a Jew. This is what we see in Romans 9:6. There were two Israel's and there were two types of Jews—the ethnic and the spiritual. Paul even declares that circumcision is not outward and physical. Judaism and circumcision were intimately connected.

As I said earlier, Paul makes it clear when he says "our fathers" that the Christians in Corinth belong to spiritual Israel. The Bible is clear that all believers are the spiritual descendants of Israel. Paul makes this really clear in his letter to the Galatians. Notice what he tells them in Galatians 3. Let's start at verse 15.

To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Galatians 3:15 ESV

Notice that Paul calls them "brethren." Clearly, they are fellow believers. Using a human analogy, he likens God's promise to Abraham to a will that people make. In our world, we call such a document the "Last Will and Testament." The word "testament," in fact, is from the same Greek word that is translated "covenant" in this verse.

When a man writes his last will and testament, he puts within it his wishes as to what is to be done with his estate. Among other things, he specifies the beneficiaries. He is under no obligation to include them in the will, and the inheritance is not compensation for what the beneficiaries are required to do. But if they are named in the will, they are to receive the inheritance.

Paul notes here that even in the case of a human will, once it has been confirmed or validated, the terms therein cannot be altered. After the death of the testator, its instructions must be carried out in every detail. The implication is that the testament of God, who is infinitely more trustworthy than man, is all the more dependable and unchangeable. Paul sets this up as an illustration of why the Mosaic law must not be interpreted as an annulment or alteration of the terms of the Abrahamic covenant.

The point is that nothing that came after this legal arrangement with Abraham would change the original covenant that God made with him. Both the Gentile Christians in Galatia along with the Judaizers would have understood this illustration. They would have concluded that the blessing that was given to Abraham by God was received by Abraham by faith when he believed in the promises of God.

This "irrevocable trust agreement" that God made with Abraham is described in terms of the beneficiary of the trust (v. 16), the date of the trust (v. 17), and the condition for inheritance (v. 18). As you study the terms of the Abrahamic covenant you will appreciate the gracious, unconditional nature of God's love for us.

First, he talks about the beneficiary of the trust.

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, "And to offsprings," referring to many, but referring to one, "And to your offspring," who is Christ. Galatians 3:16 ESV

Now, as to the promises given to Abraham, the Judaizers, as well as those who hold to IO, would argue that they were only given to Israel since they were the seed or descendants of Abraham. Therefore, since Abraham was later instructed by God to be circumcised, along with his family, the Judaizers' reasoning was that to be a true Christian, who has accepted the Messiah who came through the Jews, one must be circumcised to lock in his salvation.

Following that line of argument, Paul proclaims that "God specified in His will that the beneficiaries were to be Abraham and his offspring." Paul calls particular attention to the word " offspring" and, thereby, distinguishes from " offsprings." God has a singular offspring in Christ. This does not include all of the blood descendants of Abraham.

Let me first give you my interpretation of this verse and then I will try to explain why I hold it. Paul is saying that the primary recipients of the Abrahamic covenant were Abraham and Christ. This, of course, would include all who are in Christ (i.e., believers). This promise is not realized in the Jews who were merely the physical offspring of Abraham. It is only realized in Christians, the spiritual offspring of Abraham. Apart from Paul's divinely inspired commentary, how many of us would have understood that Abraham's offspring was Christ? Please listen: When the New Testament authors comment on a passage from the Tanakh, they do not give merely AN interpretation. They give THE interpretation. The New Testament interprets the Old. The Old Covenant was a veiled representation of the New Covenant.

It is in the New Testament that we learn that the material things of the Old Covenant were types and shadows of spiritual counterparts found in the New Covenant. We are to interpret the Tanakh through the lens of the New Testament. We must understand that the last 27 books are a divinely inspired commentary on the first 39 books.

Milton S. Terry, in his book Biblical Hermeneutics, writes: "It is of the first importance to observe that, from a Christian point of view, the Old Testament cannot be fully apprehended without the help of the New" (p. 18).

After Pentecost, the birthdate of the Church, the Holy Spirit unlocked the previously hidden truths of the Old Covenant.

"I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. John 16:12-13 ESV

As we shall see, the interpretations that the New Testament authors provide are often very different from the prevailing teachings of today. For example, let's look at an Old Covenant prophecy and its New Testament fulfillment.

"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. Malachi 4:5 ESV

Without the New Testament, we would understand this to refer to a second coming of Elijah before the second coming of Christ. This is how the disciples saw it. As they had experienced the vision on the Mount of transfiguration, they asked Yeshua about this.

And the disciples asked him, "Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?"  Matthew 17:10 ESV

They understood that Elijah was to show up before the Parousia of the Lord. But according to Yeshua, they missed his coming.

He answered, "Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also, the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands." Matthew 17:11-12 ESV

The disciples knew the prophecy about Elijah, but they didn't understand that Elijah was a type that saw its fulfillment in John the Baptist. The prophecy of Malachi was actually fulfilled but not physically. John came in the Spirit of Elijah. Speaking to Zacharias and his wife, Elizabeth, the angel said:

" …and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared. "  Luke 1:17 ESV

The Jews expected the reappearance of the literal Elijah.  John the Baptist corrects their mistaken notion in John 1:21.

And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" And he answered, "No."  John 1:21 ESV

John rightly denies being Elijah in person. John is a kind of Elijah who comes in the spirit and power of Elijah, fulfilling the prophecy of Malachi spiritually.

Yeshua told them that if they wanted to understand the second coming of Elijah, they had to recognize the spiritual aspect.

For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. Matthew 11:13-14 ESV

So, we see that John the Baptist is the fulfillment of the prophecy of the coming of Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord. If Christ had not taught us that John was the Elijah to come, would Christians still be looking for Him?

When Paul says in Galatians 3:16 that "The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed, that is, Christ," he is giving us the divinely inspired commentary of the Abrahamic covenant. The importance of this verse cannot be over stressed.

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, "And to offsprings," referring to many, but referring to one, "And to your offspring," who is Christ. Galatians 3:16 ESV

What promises is he talking about? This is a reference to the Abrahamic covenant and the promises God made to Abraham. Before we go further, let's make a distinction between a promise and an agreement. An agreement made between a parent and child would involve responsibilities and consequences that would be agreed on ahead of time. Agreements can be both positive and negative. Here is an example of a positive agreement: "If you do your homework, I will take you to Chick-fil-A." An example of a negative agreement could be the following: "If you don't do your homework, you will lose your phone for a day." But in either case, each side has a responsibility. An agreement is made ahead of time with certain consequences to follow.

Promises are different from agreements; A promise is based on one person. For example, if I promise my grandchildren that on Saturday, I will take them out to get ice cream. I make that promise to them simply because I love them. No conditions are involved. They did not have to do anything; they did not have to contribute anything to help me keep my promise. Based on my love for them and my desire to bless them, I promised them that I would take them for ice cream.

Children can tell the difference between agreements and promises. Even preschoolers can tell the difference between agreements and promises! They react with a sense of outrage if a someone tries to change a promise into an agreement. Having promised to take my grandchildren to get ice cream, I cannot later add conditions to that promise, such as, "We are NOT going to go to get ice cream on Saturday if you are NOT good all week." They will very quickly remind me, "You promised we could go. You promised!"

Let's look at God's promise to Abraham and keep in mind that they are not agreements; they are promises. Abraham was raised in an idolatrous culture. There was no biblical reason to commend him as he grew up in Ur of the Chaldees. But at a certain moment in his life, Yahweh, who made everything, spoke to him and began a process that went on throughout Abraham's life. God made extraordinary promises to him, promises based on nothing except His own love. The first of these promises is found in Genesis 12.

And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." Genesis 12:2-3 ESV

Notice who is to be blessed by Abraham—all the families of the earth. Do you see any "ifs" in God's word to Abraham? Again, this is not an agreement; it is a promise. You will read in vain in Genesis 12-15 to find anywhere where God says "If you will do…then I will do…" In other words, there were no conditions. To understand that this was a one-sided covenant, turn to Genesis 15.

And he brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be." And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15:5-6 ESV

God took Abraham outside his tent at night and showed him the starlit sky. This was not the same sky that we see at night, a sky that is adulterated with all the diffused light of a modern society. No, this was a brilliant, magnificent sky. God told Abraham to count the stars in that sky and in effect said to him: "If you can count the stars of the heavens, then you will have some idea of what your eternal influence will be. There will be children born to you as innumerable as the stars in the heavens." What God was promising Abraham at this point, I believe, was an influence on eternity that would be immeasurable and would never end.

And he said to him, "I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess." But he said, "O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?" He said to him, "Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon." And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. Then the LORD said to Abram, "Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete." When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, Genesis 15:7-18 ESV

In verse 18, we see that "Yahweh made a covenant."  In a literal sense, this could be rendered, "Yahweh cut a covenant." Here we see that God "cut a covenant" with Abraham. He cut it in a way that was familiar to the people of the ancient Near East, but very unfamiliar to us. They would take a heifer and a ram and a goat, and they would split the animal in half and lay the halves opposite one another on an incline so that the blood would flow down and puddle in the bottom of a little valley. Then the stronger of the two that were entering into the covenant would go first and walk through the blood. The blood would splash up on his ankles and legs. It was symbolic of the consequences that would fall upon anyone breaking the covenant.

After the stronger of the two had walked through, the weaker would also walk through the blood. The symbolism was the same. If he failed to keep the covenant, he would suffer the same result.

Jeremiah makes reference to this same practice of a covenant made by cutting animals and repeating the oath:

And the men who transgressed my covenant and did not keep the terms of the covenant that they made before me, I will make them like the calf that they cut in two and passed between its parts—the officials of Judah, the officials of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, the priests, and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf. And I will give them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their lives. Their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth. Jeremiah 34:18-20 ESV

As Abram is either asleep or perhaps still groggy from a deep sleep, he sees God do an amazing thing—He passes through the animal parts all by Himself while Abram watches on the sidelines.

God, represented by the smoking oven and the burning torch, passed through the animal parts by Himself. As Abram watched, God showed this was a unilateral covenant. Abram never "signed" the covenant because God "signed" it for both of them. Therefore, the certainty of the covenant God makes with Abram is based on who God is, not on who Abram is or what Abram does. This covenant cannot fail, because God cannot fail. Abram cannot break a contract he has never signed!

By entering into this contract, there is a sense in which God was saying, "If I don't keep My word, let Me be put asunder." God was putting His Deity on the line as a confirmation of His oath to Abram.

On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, Genesis 15:18 ESV

By quoting the specific geographic boundaries that Abram's descendants would inherit, God made it plain that Abraham's physical descendants would reap the benefit of this covenant. Israel would inherit real land. But their inheritance of the land was only a type.

With this background on the Abrahamic covenant, let's go back to Galatians 3.

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, "And to offsprings," referring to many, but referring to one, "And to your offspring," who is Christ. Galatians 3:16 ESV

Paul, under inspiration of God, writes that "The promises were given to Abraham and his offspring." The Hebrew word used in Genesis 15 for " offspring " or "seed" is zera. It is a collective singular that can refer either to one descendant or many descendants. An English collective singular, for example, is "sheep." It can pertain to one sheep or many sheep. Paul explained that the seed God had in mind in Genesis 13:15 and 17:8 was the one descendant, Christ.

The term seed not uncommonly denotes all the descendants of some great ancestor, but it is not normally used of one person. Used in this way, it points to the person as in some way outstanding. In other words, the seed is not simply one descendant among many, but THE descendant.

The Abrahamic Covenant is based upon the very first promise in the Bible. This covenant was foretold in the garden of Eden. God declared to the Serpent:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel."  Genesis 3:15 ESV

The word "offspring" here is the Hebrew word zera." It is the exact same word used by God to tell Abraham that the promise was given to his seed, his offspring. Both the offspring in Genesis 3:15 and the offspring in Genesis 15:6, in reference to the offspring of Abraham, is describing not many offspring or many descendants but one offspring

Yeshua the Christ Himself.

Actually, even before Christ became flesh, the New Testament reveals that He is the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham. In Luke 1 we read about the birth of John the Baptist. When he was eight days old, he was circumcised and was given the name John. At that point, his father, Zacharias, filled with the Holy Spirit, sang a song of praise. And this is what he sang in the first of that song:

"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us Luke 1:68-73 ESV

Knowing that his son would introduce Christ to the people, he praised God for performing the "the oath which he swore to Abraham our father."

Why does Paul qualify the word "offspring" here? One reason is that the word "sperma" in the Greek can be used the same way we would use it in English. If you go to the store to buy seed for your garden, you're not talking about one individual seed but about a packet of seed which contains many seeds.

However, if you were going to the store to buy seed, and you only had one seed in mind, you would make that distinction. And that's what Paul is doing here. When he says that the promise was given to Abraham and his offspring, he is making that distinction of a special kind of offspring—a seed or descendant who would be found in one person.

We have to realize that Paul's definition of offspring contradicts the Jewish nationalistic interpretation and the IO interpretation of this term. Jews were convinced that the term zera referred to the physical descendants of Abraham, the Jewish people. Therefore, they believed it was absolutely necessary to belong to the Jewish nation in order to receive the blessings promised to Abraham.

Paul is just as exclusive as his Jewish counterparts, but his exclusivity is not based on ethnic identity. Because Christ is the heir of the promises, all those, and only those, who are in Christ by faith are beneficiaries of the irrevocable trust agreement God made with Abraham.

And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. Galatians 3:29 ESV

It is an amazing thing that Paul deliberately seems to contradict a fundamental assumption in the statement of Genesis 15:5 ["And he brought him forth…and said, 'Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So, shall thy seed be"]. The word "seed" should be taken to mean many seeds. He pointedly declares, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that the proper interpretation of "seed" is numerically singular and that the meaning is that the Christ is the singular seed who would be like the stars of heaven.

When God established the covenant with Abraham in Genesis 12 and then expanded upon it in Genesis 15 and 17, what was Abraham thinking? What did he understand? What sort of fulfillment was Abraham looking forward to when he was given the word of promise concerning the land? What did he expect? Did he look for an earthly fulfillment? Did Abraham just see the type or did he see past the type to the anti-type? According to God's Word in the book of Hebrews, Abraham was looking past the type to the anti-type. He was looking for a heavenly city.

By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. Hebrews 11:9-10 ESV

By faith he dwelt in the land of promise. By faith in God's promise of a heavenly city, he lived as a pilgrim on the earth. He knew the earth wasn't his home, so he never tried to make it his home. The city Abraham was looking for was the heavenly Jerusalem. The writer relates this.

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, Hebrews 12:22-23 ESV

From these verses we can see the different descriptions of the same entity—the city, the kingdom, the heavenly Jerusalem, the church, and Mount Zion. These all have their fulfillment in the New Covenant as established in the first century. This was in contrast to the old, physical, earthly city of Jerusalem.

Abraham was looking for the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem spoken of in Revelation 21.

And that is Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. Revelation 21:1-3 ESV

According to Galatians 4:22-26, the New Jerusalem is the New Covenant. Abraham was a pilgrim in the promised land because he perceived it to be but a pointer as it were to a far more substantial, heavenly country. Abraham was given the promise of an earthly inheritance, and yet he looked forward to a heavenly one.

Believers, don't let anyone rob you of your joy by convincing you that the Bible is not for you. If you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. Paul calls the Israelites "our fathers" because all who believe in Christ are spiritual Israel. We inherit the promises given to Abraham through our faith in Christ. Grace, not race, is what marks out God's people and defines His election in Christ.

Berean Bible Church provides this material free of charge for the edification of the Body of Christ. You can help further this work by your prayer and by contributing online or by mailing to:

Berean Bible Church
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Chesapeake, VA 23322