In the Old Testament, we see God’s universal plan of redemption for all the nations of the earth. Beginning with Abraham, the victorious kingdom of God is foretold although it is not fully revealed and actually applied until Jesus.
“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” (Genesis 12:3).
In the Abrahamic covenant, we first see the global reach of the Gospel of salvation boldly stated at first and then repeated. The Hebrew word used here for the families of the earth, mispacah, is used for a circle of relatives connected by blood, marriage or adoption. However, it can also be used in a broader sense to man a tribe, a people or a nation. Of Israel, God says in Amos 3:2, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.”
The covenant promise to Abraham is that through his seed the families of the earth will be blessed. There’s no indication here that God is speaking of blessing some individuals from some families and nations. The Abrahamic covenant is a promise to all nations, families, tribes, and languages. The blessing is for peoples, not just individuals, and it’s for all nations.
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.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham (Galatians 3:8).
A few years later after Abraham and Lot separate, God reaffirms the covenant, this time with an important difference.
“And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered” (Genesis 13:16).
The word used for dust, aphar, is used commonly as a metaphor in the Old Testament to mean a great number. Numbers 23:10 states: “Who can count the dust of Jacob, or number the fourth part of Israel.” The promise to make Abraham’s descendants as the dust of the earth is meant to say that Abraham could expect a family line so large it can not be explained only by natural descendants. The covenant God makes with Abraham is to envelop and bless all the nations of the earth.
Later the same promise is expanded upon, this time the stars in heaven and the sand on the seashore is used to demonstrate an expansive vision for all nations – not only to receive a Gospel witness, but to actually become heirs of the promise God made to Abraham, to be blessed by becoming part of the covenant of God.
“By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son – blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice” (Genesis 22:16-18).
And again, God renews this promise to Abraham’s son Isaac:
“Dwell in this land, and I will be with you and bless you; for to you and your descendants I give all these lands, and I will perform the oath which I swore to Abraham your father. And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws” (Genesis 26:3-5).
How is this promise to be carried out? The New Testament makes it clear that through the Church of Jesus Christ we are made full heirs of the promise of Abraham.
“Yes, and all the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow, as many as have spoken, have also foretold these days. You are sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed’” (Acts 3:24,25).
And Paul writes:
Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law … that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith…. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:13,14,29).
There is no doubt that the Great Commission is synonymous with the Abrahamic covenant. It is through the church that all the nations of the world will not only hear the Gospel, but will be blessed with both spiritual prosperity reflected in material wealth and peace in the present age far beyond what was imaginable to the prophets who foretold it.
In the Law of Moses, we see the promises to Abraham sealed with an oath to specifically bless Israel as the redeemer nation in the earth – the Law is clearly delineated with hundreds of commandments as well as further promises of blessings for obedience and and curses for disobedience. In the second commandment, God warns of punishments to the third and fourth generation of idolaters, but then promises of blessings that will flow to thousands of generations.
Therefore know that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments (Deuteronomy 7:9).
Are we to take this literally or figuratively? Even if this expression is figurative or hyperbole – such as God’s promise to Abraham’s promised descendants to number like the dust of the earth, the sands of the seashore, and the stars of the heaven – it is still inevitable that God is bound to bless His creation and all the nations of the earth through a covenant people. God’s blessing is an increase for thousands of generations according to Deuteronomy 7:9, in other words, tens of thousands of years. Given the context, this blessing would have to occur within time and history, not in a final eternal state after the resurrection.
If we expect human history to end soon, then how would a covenant given for the atonement of sin apply tens of thousands of years from now? Scriptures such as these – and we will look at many more – have caused more than a few Christians, who have been told their entire lives that the rapture is just around the corner, to experience a massive paradigm shift in their thinking about the nature of the millennium. Could it be that Christ’s kingdom is already here right now on earth as it is in heaven? Thus if God’s promises are for a “thousand generations,” we ought to be expecting a long, long history of blessing for God’s people.