A Key To Understanding The Scriptures

Keith W. Kress

One of the most important keys in understanding the complete Scriptures is the realization that the physical promises of the Old Testament were changed to spiritual promises in the New Testament. A misunderstanding of this change has spawned the creation of many false doctrines, among which is the teaching that the Lord will return and set up a physical kingdom on this earth in Jerusalem. Therefore, if we desire to know God's will and how we may please Him in life, it is important to understand this great change which has been made clear in Scripture.

Let us look at the promise God made to Abram in Genesis 12. In verses 2-3, God promised Abram to make from him a great nation, to make his name great, and to bless all families of the earth through him. In verse 7 of the same chapter, God added the promise of the land to which He had guided Abram. As we read in Genesis 17:7, God promised Abraham (He had changed Abram's name in verse 5.) that this covenant would be an "everlasting covenant." Since this covenant would last forever, it is obvious that either those physical promises still exist or they were changed to spiritual promises to continue forever. The New Testament makes it clear that they were changed.

Let us consider the promise made to Abram. God promised to make a great nation from him. God referred to Israel as "my people" for the first time in Exodus 3:7 when He was preparing to send Moses to lead them out of Egypt. The nation of Israel became the physical fulfillment of the "nation" promise made to Abram. Abraham, of course, became the father of Isaac and Isaac the father of Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel (Genesis 32:27-28) by God. God repeated the promise He had made to Abram to both Isaac (Genesis 26:1-5) and to Jacob (Genesis 28:10-15).

Is the nation of Israel still God's people? Are they still the fulfillment of the promise made to Abram, or has the fulfillment been changed to a spiritual nation (kingdom)? The Old Testament clearly states in many places that God rejected Israel from being His people. One such scripture is found in Hosea 4:6 where God states, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children" (see also Jeremiah 6:30 & 7:29). However, God's rejection was not total, but He often spoke of a remnant that would continue with the promise made to Abram (see Jeremiah 15:10-14). In Zephaniah 3:13, we find that this remnant of the people would not sin. This certainly gives us a clue that He is speaking of a spiritual people rather than a physical people.

In the New Testament, Jesus promised the coming of His kingdom. In Matthew 4:17, He said it was "at hand;" in Matthew 6:10, in His model prayer He prayed for the kingdom to come; in Mark 9:1, He said that some of those listening to Him would not die until they saw the kingdom come. As Jesus stood before Pilate, He stated that His "kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36). In other words, it is not a physical but a spiritual kingdom. His kingdom is the church. All scriptures before the establishment of the church in Acts 2 speak of the kingdom's coming, but after Acts 2, all scriptures speak of the kingdom's being in existence (see Colossians 1:13 & Revelation 1:9). In fulfillment of the promise to Abram, God's people (nation, kingdom) was changed from a physical kingdom to a spiritual kingdom, the church.

Consider the "great name" promise to Abram. His name was changed to Abraham (Genesis 17:5), and he became the one to whom the Israelites always looked back as being their "father" (see Matthew 3:9). Jesus spoke of their trust in Abraham (see John 8:39-59). All of the promises came through Abraham, and he is referred to as the father of all who believe (Romans 4:11). However, the promises of the New Testament, which are a continuation of the promise made to Abram, come through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:3). In Acts 13:22-26, while Paul was speaking about David (who was a descendant of Abraham), he indicated that Jesus was raised as a Savior after the seed of David. The spiritual promises came through Him and His name was elevated above every name (Philippians 2:9-11). The "great name" promise to Abram has its spiritual fulfillment in Jesus.

In these two parts of God's promise, it is easy to see the change from physical to spiritual in the fulfillment of the promise. Let us all try to understand the change in these promises so that we might correctly divide and teach the Word of God (2 Timothy 2:15). -2707 Bird St. Parkersburg, WV 26101. kwkress@juno.com


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