One Land

This post is part of the the people of god series (click to view the other posts in this series).

Another issue concerning the confusion of God’s people is the promise of a future land.  Because of the contrast and dichotomy placed between believers in the Old and New Testaments, the conclusion has been drawn in some theological circles that Israel was an earthly people and that the New Testament Church is a heavenly people.  Not much needs to be said here because the author of Hebrews answers this confusion very aptly.  And that will be discussed shortly.  However, briefly, let us return to the promise.  The concept of a land promise did not begin with Abraham.  It began with Adam.  God promised Adam life in the Garden of Eden upon condition of obedience to His commands.  Genesis 2:8-14 gives a description of this land of paradise.  Adam and Eve were placed in the garden to work it and take care of it, to serve and obey God.  After Adam and Eve sinned, God banished them from the Garden (Gen. 3:23) and placed a cherubim and a flaming sword on the east side of the Garden to guard the tree of life.  Adam had sinned and therefore was kept from this earthly paradise.  But God didn’t leave Adam without hope – He promised a Redeemer to come as I discussed in the post, “One Plan.”  Adam couldn’t earn salvation, it would have to be done for him. 

All wasn’t lost for man and the Lord gave yet another glimpse of the promise that He alone offers.  It finds expression in the promise given to Abraham.  God promised Abram a land and so Abram left all he had to follow this promise of God.  Abraham entered the land but never fully possessed it.  Did God break His promise to Abraham?  May it never be!  There was indeed the earthly fulfillment but the promise was for that which was to come - a better country, a heavenly one.  Hebrews 11: 8-16 says,

“By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.  By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise;  for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.  By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised; therefore, also, there was born of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants as the stars of heaven in number, and innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.  All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own.  And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.” 

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were all heirs of the same promise and lived like strangers “looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”  Yes, they received the earthly shadows of the promise but the promise was much bigger than that.  The author of Hebrews said they knew that and that on this earth they did not receive the things promised but “saw them and welcomed them from a distance.”  Neither Abraham nor his descendents were looking for an earthly land; they were looking for a “better country – a heavenly one.”  This was the promise to which both the Garden of Eden and the “Promised Land” pointed.  Not only Abraham but Moses, Joshua, David and Samuel, all of these were “commended for their faith, yet none of them receive what had been promised” (Heb. 11:24-39).  They received the shadows but had not yet received the reality to which the shadows pointed.  Moses led the people through the Red Sea and he was kept from entering the land and only was able to see it from a distance.  What was the Lord trying to show Moses?  Joshua led the people in their defeat of Jericho, and through Joshua “the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers.  And they took possession of it, and they settled there” (Joshua 21:43). David conquered armies and kingdoms and possessed land for the people of God; yet “none of them received what had been promised.”  Why does the Scripture say that they “gained what was promised” (Heb. 11:33), yet never “received what was promised” (Heb. 11:39)?  Because those things, that land, those victories, were not ultimately the fulfillment of the promise, “since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they would not be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:40).  There are not two peoples of God awaiting two different lands; there is one people of God who together will be made perfect in Christ Jesus at His glorious appearing! 

After all, even this promise, the land promise, is not fulfilled outside of Jesus Christ.  As I quoted in an earlier post, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him.  That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Corinthians 1:20).   

Under the Old Covenant, there were conditional aspects to the shadow of the land promise.  God had told Israel, “When you father children and children’s children, and have grown old in the land, IF (emphasis mine) you act corruptly by making carved image in the form of anything, and by doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, so as to provoke him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.  You will not live long in it, but will be utterly destroyed” (Deuteronomy 4:25-26).  Apart from the conditionality of the rest in the land then the wilderness wonderings, the exile, and times of unrest would be inexplicable.   Yet some might argue, however, “then believers can’t be assured of their continued rest in the land in the future if it’s dependent upon covenant faithfulness or obedience.”  Oh yes they can!  Why?  Because on the basis of Christ’s perfect obedience, believers will have been glorified and will be free of sin!  Grover Gunn says it well, “The new earth will be inherited both in holiness and unconditionally since glorification will be a by-grace gift from God to His people” (

The land promise, like the other promises made to Abraham, will be inherited by the true Israel - those in Jesus Christ, Jew or Gentile.  I can not say it any better than John Piper.  And before I quote him extensively, it would be helpful to note that we would not agree with one another on all aspects of our eschatology.  However, on this important issue we would agree; there is one people of God.  I bring that up to show that simply because two may disagree on their view of end times, we can and do still agree on important issues regarding the people of God and the plan of God – which ultimately and fundamentally, is about Christ.  To close this chapter, Piper says:

The promises made to Abraham, including the promise of the Land, will be inherited as an everlasting gift only by true, spiritual Israel, not disobedient, unbelieving Israel… In other words, the promises cannot be demanded by anyone just because he is Jewish. Jewish ethnicity has a place in God's plan, but it is not enough to secure anything. It does not in itself qualify a person to be an heir of the promise to Abraham and his offspring. Romans 9:8 says it clearly: ‘It is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.’ Being born Jewish does not make one an heir of the promise – neither the promise of the Land nor any other promise ( 

There is, indeed,  one plan, one tree, one faith, and one land.

Application to faith and life:

Where are your hopes?  For what are you waiting?  Are your hopes in earthly things, or heavenly things?  For that which is temporal, or eternal?
If you are “Abraham’s seed”, that is, if you have faith in Christ, you are an heir to the promise.  Not simply an earthly land, but a heavenly one, prepared for God’s people of all time by God Himself.   Is your eschatology (doctrine of the end times) fueled by what is happening on that stretch of land over in the Middle East and with the nation of Israel?  Or, is it driven by a proper understanding of God’s revelation to us in His Word?

This post is part of the the people of god series (click to view the other posts in this series).