DESCENDANTS OF ABRAHAM
“It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.” Romans 9:6-9.
Who, then, are the true children of Abraham? Although Ishmael was Abraham’s first child, he was the son of Sarah’s slave and not Abraham’s heir. It was Isaac, Abraham’s son by his wife, Sarah, who was reckoned as Abraham’s firstborn and therefore entitled to inherit Abraham’s property but, even more important than that, the promises of God to Abraham and his offspring.
According to the Scriptures, there are three streams of people who claim descent from Abraham. The ancient Israelites and now the Jews, are his physical descendants and are the rightful heirs of the land of Israel. God promised it to Abraham and gave it to the nation born through him by divine intervention. Although it is the source of bitter conflict and bloodshed, and although much of the rest of the world refuses to recognise their rightful ownership, God’s mandate to the Jews has never been withdrawn.
The second group of people who claim legitimate descent from Abraham are the offspring of Ishmael. God promised that He would also make him a great nation (Genesis 21:13, 18) but he and his descendants were not included in His covenant with Abraham (Genesis 21:12). They have no legal right to the land of Israel.
But there is a third group whom God recognises as the true sons of Abraham. During a heated debate with Jesus, the religious leaders vehemently defended their legitimate descent from Abraham. Jesus promised freedom to those who followed Him. The Jews responded:
“We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” John 8:33.
Had they conveniently forgotten that they were descendants of those who had been enslaved by the Egyptians and by the Babylonians and, even as they spoke, they were under Roman oppression? Did not God identify Himself to them as the God who delivered them out of Egyptian bondage?
Jesus’ reply was scrutinising:
“I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word. I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father… As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. You are doing the works of your own father… You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires.” John 8:37-38; 40-41; 44a.
A true son is one who resembles his father. Since the Jewish religious leaders were bent on killing Jesus, they were reflecting the nature of their spiritual father, the devil. The true sons of Abraham, then, are those who reflect him in their faith in God’s promises. Without denying natural descent, spiritual descent, from God’s point of view, is far more important than natural birth.
“So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.” Romans 4:11b, 12.
But what about the Jews who are natural descendants of Abraham but who reject Jesus as their Messiah? Is God finished with them? Do they no longer have a place in His plans? Although there are those who firmly believe and adamantly declare that the Christian church has replaced the Jews, we need to find out what the Scripture teaches about the future of God’s chosen people.
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