Bringing in the Nations (Galatians, Part 26)
This week we continue exploring the book of Galatians using a question-and-answer format.
8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
What is “the gospel”?
The gospel is the good news that, in Jesus the Messiah, God has achieved victory over evil and has rescued his people. God’s kingdom—where God reigns in perfect justice, with overwhelming kindness and generosity, not at all distant but completely present with his people, so that joy and gladness well up in the hearts of all his people with nothing to diminish that joy in the slightest—has begun through Jesus Christ even now (so that God’s people can get a taste of this reality today) and will soon be brought to fullness. In short, the good news is that in Jesus, our good God has begun to reign and will soon bring us completely into his kingdom.
How was the gospel “preached beforehand to Abraham”?
God has been promising that he would destroy evil and rescue his people ever since Genesis 3. When Adam and Eve rebelled against him and plunged themselves and the world into death, destruction, and corruption, God promised that one of their descendants (“the seed of the woman”) would come to put everything right again and bring relief to the groaning world. So one of the biggest questions running through Genesis 3-11 (and really, the rest of the Bible) was, “Which one of Eve’s descendants is going to be the one God uses to save the world?”
So in Genesis 12 when God selects Abraham to be his special possession out of all the people of the world, he makes a really important move. He basically says, “This is the guy from whom the Savior of the entire world is going to eventually come.” And while Abraham could not have understood fully the significance of what God was doing by choosing him in this way, God nevertheless made some astounding statements to him over the course of his life.
Consider some of God’s promises to Abraham:
I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. . . . In you all the families of the earth will be blessed (Gen. 12:2-3).
I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you . . . to be God to you and to your offspring after you (Gen. 17:5-7).
I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed (Gen. 22:17-18).
These statements (and others), taken together, are what Paul is referring to when he says that God “preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham.” Notice two common themes in these promises. First, God is blessing Abraham for the sake of “all the nations of the earth.” God’s special selection of Abraham (and of the nation of Israel which descended from him) was not so that he (and they) could hoard the blessing—it was so that he (and they) could welcome the rest of the nations into God’s blessing and the joy of his presence. Paul emphasizes the inclusion of the nations (“the Gentiles”) in this passage and throughout this entire letter.
Second, notice that the way that the blessing is going to come to the nations (the Gentiles) is through Abraham’s “offspring” (see, for example, Gen. 22:18). Remember that the burning question throughout the Bible had been, “Which one of Eve’s descendants will be the Savior of the world?” The answer that God’s people received, after so many years of waiting and hoping, was that Jesus of Nazareth was that promised offspring.
And since Jesus is the one through whom God has blessed the nations, then being united with him—clinging to him and putting all of one’s hope of rescue in this man—is all that really matters when it comes to being blessed by God. So (as Paul repeatedly emphasizes in this letter) all the Gentiles need in order to be justified (i.e., made right with God, adopted into God’s royal family, and given a place in the kingdom of heaven) is to cling to Jesus, Abraham’s blessed descendant, in faith. Which, of course, is exactly what God had told Abraham would happen.