26 April 2013

Inheriting the Earth

earth2In the Beatitudes, the famous proclamation of the new reality of the Kingdom of God, Jesus says:
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Matthew 5:5
Now it might be argued that here Jesus is actually saying that the meek will inherit the land, rather than the earth, but the Jewish hope was definitely that the whole earth would come under the rule of God (e.g. Num 14:21; Hab 2:14). Various inter-testamental writings contain the idea of inheriting the earth. The idea can be tied right back into one of the foundational texts of the Torah – God’s promises to Abraham. If we want to understand the big picture of the Bible, then this is one of those key points that we have to be clear on. The promises to Abraham are perhaps the most fundamental promises in the whole of Scripture. I’m pretty convinced that when Paul talks about promises in his letters, it’s these that he has primarily in view. What is promised to Abraham? A relationship with God, a multitude of descendants, a land for a home. These promises form (in the words of David Clines):
an affirmation of the primal divine intentions for humanity. The Theme of the Pentateuch, 30.
The promises are for what was lost at the Fall. And these promises are, as Paul writes, made certain in Jesus the Messiah (Rom 15:8; 2 Cor 1:20). The promise of land as a home is fulfilled in Jesus, because through the rule of the Messiah, the earth is ultimately renewed as the home for God’s people (Rom 8:21; Col 1:20; Rev 21:1). That’s a theme of much biblical theology on covenants and creation.
 
In the New Testament the place where this idea is perhaps most clearly expressed is in Romans chapter 4. Paul intentionally broadens to the whole earth the scope of the promise to Abraham concerning inheriting the land. Paul compresses this into one simple statement in what seems a quite breath-taking theological move: the promise to Abraham was that he would inherit the world.
For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. Romans 4:13
That really is an important move when we come to understanding how Jesus the Messiah brings the fulfilment of the covenant promises to Abraham. God’s people inherit, as part of redemption, not heaven, or an earth, but the earth. This earth.