The Gospel for the City in Genesis 24 – 25:11

Genesis 24 – 25:11 tell the story of the death of Sarah and Abraham and the transfer of the covenant promise to Isaac and the marriage of Isaac. Upon the death of Sarah Abraham purchases a burial plot in the Promised Land. Though he has not possessed the land of promise, he has sojourned there in life and will rest there in death. In order for the promise to progress beyond Isaac, God must graciously provide from him a wife through whom offspring will come and the promise to the descendants of Abraham will continue. Though Abraham remarries after the death of Saran and fathers numerous children, he gives all that he has to Isaac, the bearer of the covenant promise.

Such is the patient way of God in bringing about the fulfillment of his promises in the context of the realities of human life.  Abraham tastes the future both in the purchase of the burial plot and in the marriage of Isaac. Isaac also is comforted In the midst of the sorrow of death by the expectation of new life offered in his marriage to Rebecca.

These chapters continue the story of faith – looking for the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises and longing for that ‘seed’ who would bring blessing to the nations of the earth. The taste of the temporal earthly promise of a land and seed kept Abraham looking for the greater promise an eternal city which would be brought about by the quintessential seed of Abraham, Jesus.

Hebrews 11:13-16  13 ¶ These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.  15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.  16 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 for them a city.

In God’s providence and grace, by faith Abraham had a glimpse of the future, when God would bring about the fulfillment of his promise.

John 8:56   56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”

As we live and labor in the city, we seek to have the faith of Abraham. Like Abraham we have tasted of the world to come through our faith in the quintessential seed of Abraham, Jesus. He has come and inaugurated his kingdom which mysteriously covers the earth through the lives and congregations of those who have been redeemed. Yet, we long for the ultimate, consummate fulfillment of that kingdom.

The city offers frequent and at times harsh reminders that we are sojourners here. The city is marked by unsettledness, transience, and change. People come and go; neighborhoods experience deterioration and gentrification; landmarks are imploded and replaced often by less durable structure; once full church buildings lay nearly empty or vacant. In the Spirit of Christ we taste the perfect world to come; in the spirit of the city we taste the imperfect world that is

Yes, there are more stable and serene communities beyond the city limits. There are non-urban utopian places where the longing for heaven is quieted by the satisfying pleasures of earth. But we choose the city! We choose to live with the gnawing dissatisfaction and unsettledness of city life, while enjoying the Spirit’s down payment of the world to come and living with the expectation that we will one day live in the city which God is preparing for us.

Jesus: God’s Full and Final Revelation

Verses 1-3 of Hebrews 1 set the stage for showing us that Jesus fulfills three OT offices of prophet (has spoken). He preaches the prophetic word and he is the Word. He is a superior priest (made purification). He is both the one who makes sacrifice as he is the one, perfect, and acceptable sacrifice for sins.  He is also the king (sat down at the right hand of majesty). The priestly element takes center stage in the book of Hebrews.

 Old Covenant shadows                             New Covenant realities

Law                                                                               New Law

Temple                                                                         New Temple

Sacrifice                                                                       One Sacrifice

High Priests                                                                One Highpriest

Priesthood                                                                   New Priesthood

Old Covenant                                                              New Covenant

Monarchy                                                                     New King

Land                                                                              New Kingdom

In its richness of OT quotations and allusions,[1] Hebrews shows how the Old Testament is about Christ and how that Christ is the fullest and final revelation of God.

Jesus Christ is God’s Word for these last days. The Old Testament anticipated and foreshadowed Him, while the NT offers us a full revelation of Him

. The following texts remind us that the OT is the word of God about Jesus Christ.

Luke 24:25-27

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

Luke 24:44-47

44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

John 5:39-40

39 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

The words of Jesus Christ lead us to conclude that the OT is what we call “progressive, redemptive revelation.” It is revelation because in it God makes himself known. It is redemptive because God reveals himself in the act of redeeming us. It is progressive because God makes himself and his purposes known by stages until the full light is revealed in Jesus Christ” (72). [2]

This progressive, redemptive revelation of Jesus Christ is given through historical events, people, promises, institutions, Christophanies, etc., all of which in some way anticipate or foreshadow the final and full revelation in Jesus Christ.

Graeme Goldsworthy sums up the relationship of Jesus Christ to the OT:

The New Testament emphasizes the historic person of Christ and what he did for us, through faith, to become the friends of God. The emphasis is also on him as the one who sums up and brings to their fitting climax all the promises and expectations raised in the Old Testament. There is a priority of order here, which we must take into account if we are to understand the Bible correctly. It is the gospel event, as that which brings about faith in the people of God, that will motivate, direct, pattern, and empower the life of the Christian community. So we start from the gospel and move to an understanding of Christian living, and the final goal toward which we are moving.

Again we start from the gospel and move back into the Old Testament to see what lies behind the person and work of Christ. The Old Testament is not completely superceded by the gospel, for that would make it irrelevant to us. It helps us understand the gospel by showing us the origins and meanings of the various ideas and special words used to describe Christ and his works in the New Testament. Yet we must also recognize that Christ is God’s fullest and final Word to mankind. As such he reveals to us the final meaning of the Old Testament (Goldsworthy 1991, 83)

There are many studies that show the relationship of Christ to the Old Testament. An older two-volume study by E.W. Hengstenberg, Christology of the Old Testament, was written in 1854. This is a scholarly and detailed study  (1400 pages) of Old Testament texts showing the prefiguring and prophecy of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament. A more recent study (1991) by Vern Poythress of Westminster Seminary, The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses, details how Christ is prefigured in the Pentateuch (5 books of Moses). A look at some of his chapter titles shows how starting with Christ and moving back into the Old Testament gives us insight into a fuller meaning of Christ.

  1. The Tabernacle of Moses: Prefiguring God’s Presence through Christ
  2. The Sacrifices: Prefiguring the Final Sacrifice of Christ
  3. The Priests and the People: Prefiguring Christ’s Relation to His People
  4. General Principles for God’s Dwelling with Human Beings: Prefiguring Union with Christ.
  5. The Land of Palestine, the Promised Land: Prefiguring Christ’s Renewal and Dominion over the Earth.
  6. The Law and Its Order: Prefiguring the Righteousness of Christ
  7. The Purpose of the Tabernacle, the Law, and the Promised Land: Pointing Forward to Christ
  8. The Punishments and Penalties of the Law: Prefiguring the Destruction of Sin and Guilt Through Christ
  9. False Worship, Holy War, and Penal Substitution: Prefiguring the Spiritual Warfare of Christ and His Church (Poythress 1991, vii-ix).

 I hope it is clear by now that Jesus Christ is the key to both the Old and New Testaments.  We conclude this section with the words of Goldsworthy:

In order to know how any given part of the Bible relates to us, we must answer two prior questions: how does the text in question relate to Christ, and how do we relate to Christ? Since Christ is the truth, God’s final and fullest word to mankind, all other words of the Bible are given their final meaning in him. The same Christ gives us our meaning and defines the significance of our existence in terms of our relationship to him (Goldsworthy 1991, 71).

[1] When quoting from the Septuagint (Greek translation of OT) the author most often refers to the divine author (God, Christ, Holy Spirit) rather than the human writer. This shows his strong regard for the OT as the Word of God.

[2] Like slowly turning on the dimmer in your dining room as images move from darkness to outlines of objects, to shadows, to clear sight.