The Promise

Of all the promises of Scripture, there is one that stands out from the rest and is repeated throughout. When God made a covenant with Abraham, He promised that He would “be God to you and to your offspring after you”, and of Abraham’s offspring He says, “I will be their God” (Genesis 17:7, 8). In Exodus 6, God tells Moses to speak to the people of Israel that He would deliver them from slavery, and in verse 7, God says, “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God…” When God gave Moses and the people of Israel the instructions for the consecration of the priests, He says, “I will dwell among the people of Israel and I will be their God.” (Exodus 29:45). In Leviticus 26:12, we see that one of the blessings for obedience to the Law is “And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.” When Jeremiah received the vision of the figs in chapter 24, God says of the exiles from Judah, “I will give them a heart to know that I am YHWH, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.” (Jeremiah 24:7). In Jeremiah 30, God speaks about the restoration of Israel, and in verse 22 He says, “And you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” Similar words are repeated in Jeremiah 31:1. God then speaks through Jeremiah about the New Covenant:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares YHWH, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares YHWH. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares YHWH: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:31-33)

Again, God promises that He would gather Israel from exile, and says in Jeremiah 32:38-39, “And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them.” The prophet Ezekiel speaks on behalf of YHWH about the same thing, bringing Israel back from exile into their land. God says, “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.” (Ezekiel 11:19-20). In Ezekiel 34, God speaks against false shepherds, and says that He will set David as prince over Israel. By David, of course, He refers to Jesus. In verse 24, God says, “And I, YHWH, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am YHWH; I have spoken.” God promises Israel again that they would return to their land; He again speaks the phrase “…you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” (Ezekiel 36:28). He again says this in chapter 37, verses 23 and 27. We find this also in Zechariah 8:8.

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians that we are the temple of the living God, and he quotes from the Law and the prophets in 2 Corinthians 6:16, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” The author of the epistle to the Hebrews quotes from Jeremiah 31, and repeats the words I will be their God, and they shall be my people” in Hebrews 8:10. In the book of Revelation, there are two instances where this phrase appears. In the first one, the Apostle John writes, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place [or tabernacleof God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God’.” (Revelation 21:3). Then God speaks to John from the throne, and He says, “The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.” (Revelation 21:7).

Why did we go through all these verses where God promises to be God to His people? I just wanted to give a bit of a perspective of what we’re talking about here: this is the main and greatest promise of God to His people. What gift could God give that is greater than God Himself? It would have been amazing grace if God simply freed us from the punishment of hell, and put us some place where we won’t suffer eternally. God chose instead to give us the greatest thing in existence, Himself.

Notice the context in which this promise is made. We see this promise in the context of covenant. In the Scriptures, God has always dealt with man through covenants. We see that it is the reward for obedience to the Law which, of course, man cannot do because of his sin. Paul teaches that the Law functioned back then the same way it does today, as a guardian or pedagogue (Galatians 3:24) to teach man that he cannot obtain salvation through works. This means that the Law was never intended to save anyone, but to make man look outside of himself and look to the promised Messiah, and the Law still does this today and that’s why we preach the Law so that man might see his need and believe the Gospel. Why is it important, though, to see the context of covenant behind the promise of God? Because of how God accomplished this. In the covenant of works, God made this promise to Adam on condition of perfect obedience; Adam failed. Later, God promised Abraham that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through his offspring, Jesus; we know this from the New Testament, especially Galatians. Jesus, who is the second Adam, came to keep the covenant of works that the first Adam broke, so that God’s people might receive grace through His death on the cross. The wicked still have in them the sin of the first Adam. God’s people receive the righteousness of the second Adam through faith. It is through this same faith that Abraham received the promises of God. These same promises we receive in Christ, which is why Paul can say that if we are Christ’s, we are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:29). The fact that this promise is restated throughout the whole Scripture makes clear the unity of Scripture in the unfolding of the covenant of grace throughout redemptive history. In one instance, the promise was restated during the giving of the instructions for the consecration of the priests in Leviticus. God would dwell among His people by the intercession of these priests. We have a greater Priest, our High Priest Jesus Christ. He has made the perfect sacrifice, He rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven where He now intercedes for all His people. Because of His intercession, there’s no need for earthly priests so that God may dwell among His people.

We see behind the promise and the covenant the concepts of redemption and restoration, as we see in the restatement of the promise when He redeemed Israel from slavery, and when God promised those who were in exile that they would return to their land. In the same way, in Christ we have been redeemed from Satan, sin, and death. He has restored our original relationship with God, since Christ as our Mediator has reconciled us to God (Romans 5:10; 1 Timothy 2:5). He has also reconciled us to one another. By the death of Christ, the dividing wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles has been broken down, creating in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace (Ephesians 2:11-22). The intention of God is clear, to become the God of a particular people by making them His own through redemption. This particular people is the Church. We also see the concept of regeneration in places like Ezekiel 36 and 37. We were dead in sin, a valley of dry bones, and God gave us new life in Jesus Christ.

This promise is eschatological in its nature. We are God’s people, and we serve Him as our God. Yet, we still have not been glorified. God dwells within us in the Person of the Holy Spirit, and we are the temple of God, but there will come a time when all creation will see this in its fullness. This is why creation eagerly awaits the revealing of the sons of God, and we await the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:18-25). Right now, we are still fighting the sin in our flesh, but when Jesus returns, our bodies will be transformed and there will be no more sin. The rest of creation will be flooded by fire, the fire of purification and judgment, by which the wicked will perish. There will be a new creation where there is no more sin. God will dwell among His people and we will worship Him eternally. We will be able to perfectly glorify and enjoy God forever, which is the chief end of man, because sin will not bother our lives anymore. Remember what John saw in Revelation 21. He saw the new creation and the new Jerusalem, and he writes, “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” (v. 22). The last and perfect temple is not a building, it is God Himself. The promise of God is this: God and His people living in perfect communion for all eternity. Geerhardus Vos in his ‘Biblical Theology’ says this about Abraham and the promise: “It is emphasized in the narrative that the patriarch’s supreme blessedness consisted in the possession of God Himself: ‘Fear not, Abraham, I am thy shield, thy exceeding great reward’ [Gen. 15:1]. For this treasure he could cheerfully renounce all other gifts.” Can you think of any greater possession than God Himself? I want to point out that not only have we been chosen by God to be His people, but also to be His own children. We have been adopted as sons and daughters of God through the work of Christ, and He promises that the one who conquers will be His son, according to Revelation 21:7. I’ve only scratched the surface. I invite you to look into these texts for yourself, and look at the simplicity and depth of this truth.

David wrote in Psalm 27:4, “One thing have I asked of YHWH, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of YHWH all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of YHWH and to inquire in His temple.” The first thing we see is that this is the one thing that David asked of God and that he would seek. Surely, David has asked in prayer many things in his life, like protection from his enemies, forgiveness of sins, provision, among other things. Yet, his main focus is not on this earthly life. His main focus is in this one thing that he asked of YHWH, that he may dwell in the house of God. The focus of the psalmist is in eternity. Why does David want to be in the house of God? Because God is there. God is the reason why he wants to dwell in God’s house. David is asking for the promise of God to be fulfilled in him. God cannot lie, and if you are in Christ, you are an heir of the promise. If you are in Christ, you are God’s possession, and God is your possession for all eternity.

True food and true drink

After redeeming Israel from slavery, God fed them with manna. God tested them, they sinned against God in different occasions, even rejecting the manna because they were tired of it. In Deuteronomy, Moses tells Israel that “He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of YHWH.” (Deuteronomy 8:3). The people of Israel had a need that was greater than a need of food or drink. God let them go hungry so that they might understand their true need, and God fed them with manna so that they might understand that it is God who provides through His Word for that need. What kind of need? The key is in the manna itself. The manna points to something greater. We know this from the New Testament.

We go to John 6 and we find the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. The people ate the bread and the fish that Jesus had multiplied, and they wanted to take Him by force to make Him king. They saw Jesus as a king who would make sure that their stomachs were always full. They didn’t want Jesus for who He is, not even for what He did; they wanted Him for the food. Jesus, who knows the hearts of men, knew this was the case. “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.'” (v. 26). Jesus continues: “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on Him God the Father has set His seal.” (v. 27). Jesus reminds the Jews who were there that their true need was not physical food, but eternal life which only the Son of Man can give because only He has been sealed by the Father for this purpose.

The Jews asked for a sign, most probably expecting something comparable to the manna, since that is what they say afterwards: “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness.” (v. 31). Jesus tells them that “it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (vv. 32-33) The people who were following Him wanted bread to fill their stomachs, but Jesus said they needed the bread of life to fill their souls. I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (v. 35). In Jesus we find true satisfaction for our hunger and thirst. Now the question is this: Hunger and thirst for what? Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” (vv. 53-55; emphasis added). What does it mean to feed on His flesh and drink His blood?

Jesus came into the world as a man, as the Second Adam, to fulfill the covenant of works that the first Adam failed to keep. Jesus came to fulfill all righteousness as our representative, that His sacrifice might be accepted by God the Father, and that the righteousness that He has earned for us might be ours by faith. On that cross, “For our sake [God the Father] made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21). This is important for us to understand what it means to eat His flesh and drink His blood. When we eat or drink something, our digestive system absorbs the nutrients that our body needs to function. To eat Jesus’ flesh and to drink His blood is to eat and drink righteousness and eternal life: righteousness because He has earned it on our behalf by keeping the Law that Adam and his descendants broke; and eternal life because He is the resurrection and the life (see John 11:25-26), and because after He was crucified, dead and buried, He rose from the dead, and He will surely return to raise His people from the dead to eternal blessedness. This is what we receive in His flesh and blood. How do we receive this righteousness and eternal life? By grace, through faith (see Ephesians 2:8-9). I mentioned in my first article that faith rests on union with Christ. Christ Himself presents the picture when He says that “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on Me, he also will live because of Me.” (John 6:56-57). It is through faith alone that we receive Christ and all His benefits, and it is how we are united to Christ. If we believe in Christ, we abide in Him, and He in us.

That is the same picture that the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper presents, as the bread is called the body of Christ and the wine is called the blood of Christ. The Lord’s Supper, though, is more than just a picture. We truly receive the flesh and blood of Jesus, but it is through faith, not through the elements of the bread and wine. As it says in Article 35 of the Belgic Confession:

…we err not when we say that what is eaten and drunk by us is the proper and natural body and the proper blood of Christ. But the manner of our partaking of the same is not by the mouth, but by the Spirit through faith. […] This feast is a spiritual table at which Christ communicates Himself with all His benefits to us, and gives us there to enjoy both Himself and the merits of His sufferings and death, nourishing, strengthening, and comforting our poor comfortless souls by the eating of His flesh, quickening and refreshing them by the drinking of His blood.

In other words, each time we participate in the Lord’s Supper, we are being reassured by Christ through the Holy Spirit of all the promises of the Gospel, and these promises are being presented and given to us again. In this sacrament we confess our union with Christ and, in a sense, renew our vows; and the Spirit preaches the Gospel and its promises to us through the senses of sight, touch, smell, and taste, as we take the bread and wine. This is why we cannot take the Lord’s Supper lightly. Remember this each time you participate of this sacrament. In it we receive not just bread and wine, we spiritually receive and enjoy Christ and the merits of His sufferings and death. This sacrament is not merely a symbol, and neither is it some sort of magic. When we reduce the Lord’s Supper to a mere symbol, and when we confuse the sign with the thing signified, we miss what God is really doing for His people through this sacrament.

Truly, Christ is true food and true drink. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says these words: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6). Today, many people reject the true manna, the bread of life, Jesus Christ. That is because they do not hunger and thirst for Him who is righteousness. They are deceived into thinking that they do not need this righteousness. We all once were in this condition. We were empty of righteousness and full of sin, but the Holy Spirit came through the Word and showed us our need. Just like God let the people of Israel hunger in the wilderness and fed them with manna, so He did to us. God made us aware of our sin, and gave us a hunger and thirst for righteousness. Not only did He do that, but He provided what we needed to satisfy our hunger and thirst: He gave us Christ who is our righteousness, and we ate His flesh and drank His blood.

Not by law, but by grace alone

Galatians 2:20-21: I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

Paul says he has been crucified with Christ. This phrase in the Greek is Χριστῷ συνεσταύρωμαι. This phrase literally reads “Christ together-with-crucified [I have been]”. This is what Paul is emphasizing: true faith rests on union with Christ. We must be careful when we use this word faith, since it is a word that has been redefined by the world, and sometimes we use the world’s definition of faith as though it were true. A faith that does not rest in union with Christ is a false faith, a blind leap into the abyss.

Paul says here in his letter to the Galatians that faith unites us to Christ in His death on the cross and His resurrection. When he says “I have been crucified with Christ”, he speaks a deep truth. If we are united to Christ, we have died. We have crucified our old nature. Our old nature has been buried with Christ. Now we are reborn with Christ because of His resurrection, and we will rise from the dead in the last day, at the last trumpet. We are reborn, but our old nature is still dead and buried, which is why Paul can say “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Not only can Paul say that his old nature has died with Christ and that he has new life in complete union with Christ, but he can say with all confidence that the Son of God has loved him and given Himself for him.

The love of Christ is usually misunderstood both in many churches and the world. Many people think of the love of Christ as being generic and hypothetical. The love of Christ is personal and actual, it is a particular love for those for whom He died. Christ did not die for a hypothetical mass of people. It is not as though Christ did 99% of the work waiting for people to do the remaining 1%. If that were the case, we have no hope. I want to add that Christ does not need your permission to save you. When our Great High Priest died on that cross, He had the names of each and every one of His elect people in His mind and heart, just like the high priest in the Old Covenant had the names of the twelve tribes of Israel on his shoulders and on his breastpiece. Our Great High Priest knows the names of all His people, and He intercedes for them before the Father.

The Apostle Paul continues “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” In other words, Paul says “I do not nullify the grace of God because my justification does not depend on my works. If it were, then Christ’s atoning sacrifice is vain, and that would nullify the grace of God.” If justification were by works, it wouldn’t be by grace, because then it would be a prize or a salary, as in the example of Romans 4: that “to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believe in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” (Romans 4:4-5). If I can earn my salvation through my works, then there is absolutely no reason for the death of Christ, for it would be absolutely unnecessary. Again, Christ was not doing 99% of the work waiting for us to do the remaining 1%. Either Christ did it all, or He did nothing, because God never does an incomplete or imperfect work. Our salvation depends not on our own righteousness, but only on the righteousness of Christ which we receive by grace alone, through faith alone.

Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3). Those of us who have been saved have recognized that we have absolutely no righteousness of our own with which to enter into the Kingdom of God. We have also this comfort: Jesus Christ has earned that righteousness, and it is ours by faith. Salvation belongs to the Lord (Jonah 2:9). Who can frustrate God’s perfect plan? Nobody. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:31).