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Yeshua in Context » Abraham, Background to Gospels, Gentiles, Salvation and Covenant » Abraham in the Gospels

Abraham in the Gospels

What does it mean to be an Israelite? This is the sort of question that was on the mind of people in Yeshua’s time. Rome had power. Israel was a subjected people. But God was expected to show up any time. And being a child of Abraham meant privilege in God’s eyes.

Israel’s story begins with Abraham, the one who was chosen by God. His children would be in covenant relationship with God without regard to merit (free election) and forever without condition (irrevocable election). Being an Israelite meant secure covenant standing with God.

Yet the story of Abraham is not merely about national privilege for Israelites, but blessing to all the families of the earth as well. At several places in the gospels we see how this dynamic idea, being a child of Abraham, means holding a special place in God’s covenant. But there is more. Both John the Baptist and Yeshua hint that Abraham has other children. Paul, who wrote after Yeshua said these things, but before the gospels were written down, has much to say about the “child of Abraham” theme and Jews and gentiles in covenant with God. This very Jewish issue is very much alive for gospel readers with eyes to see.

ABRAHAMIC COVENANTAL LANGUAGE IN THE GOSPELS

…do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’ (Matt 3:9; Luke 3:8).
John the Baptist knows his audience assumes a special place with God by virtue of being Israelite. But he indicates that there is more to being right in God’s eyes than covenant membership.

…as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity for ever (Luke 1:55).
…the oath which he swore to our father Abraham (Luke 1:73).

The first is in Mary’s song. She sees the birth of the messiah-child as part of God’s covenant with Abraham, to bless Israel and make Israel a blessing. The second is in Zechariah’s song. God has shown mercy to Israel to raise up the messiah-child (Yeshua) and the prophet-child (John). Israel does not deserve these blessings, but the promise to Abraham is the reason they have come to pass.

CHILDHOOD IN ABRAHAM IN THE GOSPELS

See Matt 3:9 and Luke 3:8 listed above.

…ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond (Luke 13:16).
Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham (Luke 19:9).

In both of these references, Yeshua applies the childhood in Abraham to people who were marginalized. This is perhaps ironic for his critics who had a tendency to be elitist. The Abraham doctrine could become national pride but could also be used to include the outcast in Israel.

We are descendants of Abraham, and have never been in bondage to any one (John 8:33).
A simple example of national pride. The comparable sin today is Yeshua-followers who assume that Yeshua came for “my personal salvation.” Owning the promise is not our calling but giving it away and setting people free.

REMNANT THEOLOGY AND ABRAHAM’S CHILDREN

See Matt 3:9 and Luke 3:8, listed above.

…when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves thrust out (Luke 13:28).
…he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom (Luke 16:23).

In a sharp and cutting reversal, Yeshua indicates that being a child of Abraham is not sufficient to be right with God. This does not go against the free and irrevocable election of Abraham’s children, but simply indicates that election as a nation is not the same as being right with God.

If you were Abraham’s children, you would do what Abraham did (John 8:39).
The principle, stated here simply, is that Abraham had faith and a heart to seek God. This is virtually identical to Paul’s repeated talk of being children of Abraham by faith, Jew or Gentile (see Gen 15:6).

LANGUAGE CONCERNING ABRAHAM’S GENTILE CHILDREN

…many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven (Matt 8:11).
Certainly Matthew has a theme of the legitimacy of gentiles being included in God’s plan (the story of Israel, properly understood, has always been about blessing overtaking the whole world). Yeshua utters this saying in response to a gentile’s amazing faith. Some of the language is from Isaiah 49 and 59, in both places the role of the nations in God’s salvation is in view.

YESHUA AS THE SEED OF ABRAHAM

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham (Matt 1:1).
…all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah fourteen generations (Matt 1:17).

The prominence of Abraham in the genealogy has to do with the theme of Yeshua as messiah (son of David) and the Israelite who will at last bring the Abrahamic covenant to its completion (son of Abraham). In Abraham’s descendant (can be plural or singular) all the families of the earth will be blessed. Matthew more than hints that this is who Yeshua is.

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Filed under: Abraham, Background to Gospels, Gentiles, Salvation and Covenant

5 Responses to "Abraham in the Gospels"

  1. Richard says:

    This is great stuff! Thanks! I’m working through some theological issues and was wondering if you knew of any passages in the Hebrew Bible which foreshadow the idea that the true children of Abraham will not necessarily be genetically/ethnically linked to Abraham. You mention Gen 15:6 and the language of Abraham being blessed to be a blessing, etc. Can you think of any other places this idea comes up?

  2. yeshuain says:

    Richard:

    Great question. My quick answer includes the following:

    (1) The promises to Abraham from the beginning are about “all the families of the earth” and “many nations.”

    (2) Abraham’s encounter with another, unexpected monotheist named Melchizedek, and the mutual blessing between them (Abraham tithes to him, Melchizedek blesses Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you”) is a precedent for faith as the mark of covenant blessing in Abraham.

    (3) The frequent theme in the Psalms and prophets (hinted in a place or two in Torah as well) of the nations coming to God is part of the picture. Most of these passages do not mention Abraham (but see #4). So it is an independent theme, but it is consistent with the Abrahamic covenant which was about the families of the earth to begin with.

    (4) Psalm 47. It is about the nations (see #3). And the princes of the peoples (gentiles) gather as the people of the God of Abraham. Yeah!

    (5) We do well, says N.T. Wright and others, to read Israel’s story as one single narrative and Yeshua-apostles-New Testament as part of that narrative, not the start of a new story.

    Derek Leman

  3. Richard says:

    Thanks! This is quite helpful!

  4. Jennine Lawson says:

    If you were Abraham’s children, you would do what Abraham did (John 8:39).
    The principle, stated here simply, is that Abraham had faith and a heart to seek God. This is virtually identical to Paul’s repeated talk of being children of Abraham by faith, Jew or Gentile (see Gen 15:6).

    I wondered what that meant when he said that to them. I would always think “but they ARE Abraham’s children.”

    Good stuff. Thanks for the insight.

  5. Don says:

    The covenant of Abraham has been made available to the whole world through Yeshua and it is administered through Israel. This covenant will never end, however we must be a doer of the Word and not just a hearer or a speaker. If we say that we are of Abraham or of Yeshua, we must follow up with repentance and obedience. Saying the magic words of accepting Yeshua is not valid without repentance and obedience and we are not sealed within the covenant because we are not a part of it. If we obey God we are sealed and nothing can separate us from Him. We will sometimes fail but our nose has to be pointed in the right direction.

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