The Promises to Abraham
Abraham is called the "Father of them that believe" in Paul's writing about him (Romans 4:11; Galatians 3:7). His life was a pivotal point in the unfolding of God's plan of salvation. The first eleven chapters of Genesis span a period of roughly 2,000 years, from creation through Noah and his descendants. Then the next fourteen chapters focus on the life of this one remarkable man. Of all the people in the Bible, Abraham is the only one who is called the friend of God (James 2:23).
We are told that Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23). What was it that Abraham believed? God made very specific promises to Abraham, and they represent the unfolding of God's plan, and the foundation of the Gospel (Galatians 3:8). God promised several things to Abraham.
In addition to making his descendants a great nation, and blessing all families of the earth in him, God specifically promised land.
God reiterated and expanded the promises to Abraham as time went on. He promised that Abraham's seed would be as numerous as the stars of heaven (Genesis 15:4-5) and made a covenant with Abraham to give land to him and his seed. (Genesis 15:18; 17:1-9; 22:16-18; 26:2-5). He established the covenant to Abraham's son Isaac (Genesis 26:3-5, 24), and later to Isaac's son Jacob (Genesis 28:3-4; 13-15; 35:9-12).
It was because of God's covenant with Abraham that his descendants, the twelve tribes of Israel, were blessed (Exodus 2:24,25). God told Moses that He was going to lead Israel out of bondage and into the promised land, because of His covenant with Abraham (Exodus 6:1-8). Moses prayed to God not to destroy Israel in the wilderness by mentioning God's covenant with Abraham (Exodus 32:12-14). In Deuteronomy, Moses told the children of Israel to possess the land that was promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Deuteronomy 1:8). Yet God had told Moses that they could have the land because of His promise to their fathers, in spite of their being an obstinate people (Exodus 33:1-3). The Israelites were permitted to enter and possess the promised land, not because of their righteousness, but because of the covenant with Abraham (Deuteronomy 9:5-6).
The Israelites settled in the promised land, and later, under David, the nation saw its greatest period of history to date. But it did not last, and the Israelites fell into idolatrous practices. Nevertheless, because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God did not utterly destroy them (II Kings 13:23). Now Abraham and David are both dead. When Stephen addressed the high priest and the council in Acts 7, he gave them a little review of their history.
Abraham never received any inheritance in the land. The place where he buried Sarah was the only piece of ground he ever owned, and he bought that from Ephron, even though Ephron offered to give it to him. God promised great blessings to Abraham, including an inheritance of land. But Abraham never received those promises in his lifetime. Yet he believed that God keeps His promises, and as a result he sojourned as a stranger in the promised land.
This passage is sometimes interpreted as saying that living somewhere "in heaven" as a disembodied soul is how God will ultimately fulfill His promise to Abraham. But the promise was specifically land, and was repeated as such over and over again. This passage tells us that the "better country" is heavenly, not because of its location in heaven, but because of its origin from heaven, being prepared for them by God. Abraham remained faithful even when he was asked to sacrifice Isaac, not because he thought Isaac would live on in heaven, but because he believed God could raise him from the dead.
Abraham knew that God could raise Isaac from the dead. He also knew that if he did not receive the promise of land during his lifetime, God would raise him up in the future. Isaac, also, blessed his sons "concerning things to come" (Hebrews 11:20). It was the resurrection and the inheritance of the promised land, not living in heaven, that was always the hope of Israel, and this hope has not changed. The hope of this promise is still future, and we have been granted the privilege of sharing in it.
That promise of a city to come is the Christian’s hope as much as it was for Israel. The whole notion of living somewhere other than earth, in a disembodied state, is based on the pagan notion that man has an immortal soul. This notion originated with Greek philosophy and not with the Bible. The Bible clearly teaches that when a person dies, he remains dead, unconscious, in the grave, until the resurrection. This is quite contrary to what most of Christianity teaches, of course, but as I demonstrate here, it is the Biblical view of death.
The first thing that is said about Jesus Christ in the New Testament (Matthew 1:1), is that he is the son of David and the son of Abraham. Jesus spoke of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob being in the Kingdom of God in Matthew 8:11 and Luke 13:28. Paul wrote in Romans 4:13 that "...the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith." Notice it does not speak of being an heir of "heaven" but of "the world." And that blessing of Abraham is now available to Gentiles as well as Jews, according to Galatians 3:14, "That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." Paul also wrote in verse 29 that "...if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." He believed and taught that the hope of the Christian is the same hope that Israel had (Acts 24:14; 26:6-7).
God had promised Abraham that He would bless him and make him a great nation, and make his name great. He would also bless them that blessed that nation, and curse them that cursed it. All the families of the earth would be blessed through this nation, which would dwell in the land that God showed Abraham. They would have victory over their enemies and inherit the cities that had belonged to those enemies. As Christians we are now privileged to share in those same promises. This is why Abraham is called the father of them that believe and we are called the seed of Abraham if we have accepted Christ.