[Note: Our guest contributing author, Dr. Robert Jeffress, is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Dallas and host of the weekly “Pathway to Victory” TV program.]
Imagine you open to the middle of John Grisham’s latest best-seller. Immediately you face unfamiliar names and locations. To make sense of the story you flip to the end. But the ending seems more confusing than the middle. You slam the book shut in disgust. Grisham has really lost his touch, you conclude.
This analogy is about as subtle as a sledgehammer. But it illustrates why so many people have trouble with Bible prophecy. To understand prophecy, we should not start in the middle of the Book—with Ezekiel and Daniel—or at the end with Revelation. No, we should begin at the beginning—with Genesis.
It’s there, in Genesis 12:1-3, that God makes a startling promise to a man named Abraham. All prophecy hangs on this promise, or “covenant.” To better understand this covenant, and how it relates to prophecy, let’s look at the contents of the covenant, the character of the covenant, and the consequences of the covenant.
Content of the Covenant
The first thing God promised Abraham was Land. Abraham was born in the idolatrous city of Ur, around 2166 BC. In His sovereign grace, God called Abraham out of this lifestyle.
In Genesis 12:1 God says, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you.” At the age of 75, Abraham uprooted his family and possessions and moved to a distant country he had never seen. It was only later, after Abraham had acted, that God provided the details of that land in Genesis 15:18-21.
God also promised Abraham a lineage to fill the land. Genesis 12:2 states, “And I will make you a great nation.” Genesis 22:17 adds, “I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore.” Remember, God made this promise to Abraham when he was 75 years old. Not only this, but his wife, Sarah, was barren. Yet God fulfilled this promise, giving them physical and spiritual descendants beyond number.
In addition to a land and a seed, God also promised to make Abraham a lasting blessing. Genesis 12:3 states, “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” In this climax of the covenant, God was saying, “Through you Abraham, I will bring a Savior who will redeem the world.” How do we get a Savior from Genesis 12:3? From the New Testament.
Galatians 3:8 states, “The scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham saying, ‘All the nations will be blessed in you.'” God preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Abraham. And Abraham was saved by it.
Galatians 3:6 tells us, “Even so, Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” People in the Old Testament were saved the same way we are: by God’s grace through faith. Abraham looked forward to Christ for salvation, and we look back to Him.
Character of the Covenant
We have seen that God promised Abraham a land, a lineage, and a lasting blessing. But were these promises symbolic? Were they temporary? Could they be lost? How we answer these questions determines how we view Bible prophecy. Thankfully, God’s Word gives us some answers.
First, God’s covenant with Abraham was literal. We see this from Abraham’s response. In Genesis 12:4-5 we read, “[Abraham] went forth as the Lord had spoken to him… and they set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came to the land of Canaan.” If Abraham thought Canaan was only symbolic of Heaven, why did he go through all the trouble of moving to Canaan? Certainly, he was looking for Heaven as well, as Hebrews 11:10 states. But he was also looking for an earthly home. In addition to being literal, the covenant was eternal. Genesis 13:15 states, “All the land which you see, I will give it to you and your descendants forever.” God placed no expiration date on the promise.
Finally, God’s covenant was unconditional. In Abraham’s day, kings would establish contracts by taking animals, splitting them in two, and placing the halves in two lines. The parties would then walk side-by-side through the animal pieces, holding a torch. This signified that the covenant was dependent upon each party keeping his end of the bargain. But when God ratified the agreement with Abraham in Genesis 15:9-21, only God passed between the pieces. This signified that the promise had nothing to do with Abraham’s obedience. It had everything to do with God’s faithfulness.
Genesis 13:15 states, “All the land which you see, I will give it to you and your descendants forever.” God placed no expiration date on the promise.
Consequences of the Covenant
So what does this have to do with prophecy? Since 1948, Israel has possessed the Promised Land—but not all of it. True, God sent a blessing to all the world through Jesus Christ. He rules right now in the hearts of believers. But he’s not yet sitting on the throne of David in Jerusalem. That prophecy will still be literally fulfilled.
You may say, “I’m not Jewish. Why should I care?” Just as God made unconditional promises to believing Jews, He has made promises to you and me.
In John 10:28 Jesus said, “I give eternal life to them and no man shall snatch them out of my hands.” The God who can be trusted to keep His promises to Israel, is the same God we can depend on to keep His promises to us. We’ve seen that God’s promise to Abraham includes land, a lineage, and a lasting blessing. We’ve noted that the covenant was literal, eternal, and unconditional.
We know that part of it has not yet been fulfilled. And we know that God’s faithfulness to complete it demonstrates how faithful He will be to us.
We now know how the story begins. We are ready to dive into the middle and the end. And because of God’s faithfulness, we know it will have a perfect ending.