For each sermon series, the worship staff picks a benediction for the congregation to say aloud together at the end of each service. For the series in Genesis, we felt the Lord leading us to use Genesis 12:2-3. I have received many great questions about using these verses as our benediction, especially questions asking to what extent this benediction applies to Christians today.
Theologically conservative Christians disagree on the extent to which the New Testament Church fulfills the promises God gave to Israel in the Old Testament. At Calvary Church, we believe that while there is a future for national Israel, meaning the Church has not replaced Israel in the promises of God, many of the promises given to Israel find some level of spiritual correspondence for the Church.
The best guide for determining how the Old Testament applies to Christians is the New Testament. With regard to the blessings given to Abraham, the New Testament is quite clear that these blessings are for Christians through Jesus.
Paul makes this point explicit in Galatians 3. In this chapter, Paul says that the blessing of Abraham comes to the Gentiles through Jesus. In fact, Galatians 3:7-8 quotes Genesis 12:3, saying:
Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” [this is a quote from Genesis 12:3] So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.”
Paul emphasizes that the gospel is based on the reality that Abraham’s blessing comes to us through Jesus. Paul makes the same point in Romans. Romans 4:16 reminds us, “Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring – not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham.” Paul’s argument is that one can’t be a Christian if the blessing of Abraham doesn’t apply to Christians today.
It is true that when we say together at the end of the service, “I will make you a great nation,” that in the context of Genesis 12 the physical fulfillment of that blessing is the nation of Israel. But 1 Peter 2 (which quotes Exodus 19 and refers to Genesis 12) says, “you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (I Peter 2:5). This is not speaking of unbelieving Jews (Jewish people for whom Jesus as Messiah is the stumbling block), but of Christians – all who believe in Jesus. So when we say together “I will make you a great nation,” we understand this to be referring to God’s work to create “a holy nation” of Christians in Jesus. Again, this is not replacement theology – it is what Christians everywhere have always believed. God’s promises to national Israel are not nullified, but the New Testament makes clear that these promises do find some level of fulfillment in the Church.
The beauty of the Abrahamic blessing given in Genesis 12 is that it is not given to Abraham alone, but to Abraham’s descendants. Jesus is one of those physical descendants. When a person places their faith in Jesus, they become one with Jesus (see Romans 6), which means that through Jesus every believer is a physical descendant of Abraham because of our connection with Christ. Since Jesus can say Genesis 12 and accept that blessing as being given to him, Christians can say the blessing of Genesis 12 because through Jesus it is our blessing because we are one with him.
He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:14).