Making Our Home In God's Land
In the garden of Eden, God’s people—Adam and Eve—lived in a land that was created by and entrusted to them by God. In this land, all of their needs were met, and they had lives filled with purpose, enjoying perfect fellowship with the God who walked with them in the cool of the day. But because of their disobedience, Adam and Eve were expelled from this land of blessing. From Genesis 3 forward, the Bible is the story of God working out his plan to redeem and restore his people to his land, a land made holy by his very presence, a renewed paradise where he will live forever with them. But this plan will not come about in one instantaneous act. Instead, God will accomplish his plan beginning with one small stretch of real estate in which he will do a special work of redemption that will serve as a launching pad for his gospel of grace for sinners to spread to every corner of his creation.
God’s Holy Land Promised and Delivered
This plan began with one man, Abraham, whom God called out of Ur to go to the land God intended to give him. Abraham made his way to Canaan, but only a couple of generations later, his descendants found themselves as slaves in Egypt, far away from the land God had promised. So God sent Moses to bring them out and gave them Joshua to lead them back into the land. When we come to the end of the book of Joshua, we see that God’s promise that Israel will possess the land has been fulfilled. We read, “Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there . . . Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass. (Josh. 21:43, 45)
The Lord was faithful to fulfill his promises. And for a time, Israel basked in covenant blessing under Joshua. God fulfilled his promise to them to give them the land, and they forfeited it through disobedience. Israel’s persistent disobedience caused them to be evicted from the land God had given to them. Eventually a small number of Israelites made their way back to the land of Canaan, but they never had the rest from their enemies God had given them before. Instead, they found themselves oppressed by a foreign power, longing for God to restore to them all they had lost, a place where they could be at home.
God’s Holy Land Expanded
The day finally came when God sent a new Joshua, a new leader, to lead his people into the abundance of all that God had intended to give his people all along. But interestingly, this Joshua had very little to say specifically about the land, which is somewhat surprising when we consider the typical Jewish hopes and expectations of the Messiah. In fact, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). He spoke of a kingdom that was not tied to the soil of Canaan but would encompass the entire earth. This was hard for the Israelites of his day to grasp. In fact, it was still primary in the minds of the two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus after the crucifixion when Jesus appeared and began to walk along with them. They said about Jesus, not knowing it was Jesus they were speaking to, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). Their hopes were still anchored in the nation and land of Israel. They did not yet see that by Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, he had accomplished the redemption of Israel. Jesus didn’t seem to show a great deal of sympathy for their nationalistic or territorial hopes. Appearing to ignore the subject they were really interested in, Jesus began to work his way through the Old Testament scriptures explaining them not in terms of the future of the nation of Israel or the land of Canaan, but in terms of himself. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).
Forty days later, even after he had spent those forty days helping them to understand that the Old Testament was most profoundly about him and the salvation he accomplished through his death and resurrection, his closest followers were evidently still stuck on when he would restore the land and the rest that their ancestors had known in Joshua’s day. Immediately before Jesus ascended into heaven “they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’” (Acts 1:6). In his response, Jesus sought to correct not only the disciples’ idea about the timing of the restoration to come but more significantly what would be restored. He wanted them to adjust and enlarge the idea of the kingdom they had inherited from their Jewish upbringing into a much bigger and broader understanding of the kingdom of God.
He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:7–8)
The kingdom of God was no longer going to be primarily about the nation of Israel living in the land of Canaan. In fact it had never really been limited to that. Israel was established by God to be the seed, the starting point, for a kingdom that would encompass the whole earth. This is the geography of grace. So instead of instructing his followers on how they could take back their country from the Romans, Jesus commanded them, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). As O. Palmer Robertson writes in The Israel of God: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, “the land, crafted by the One who shaped the continents, was designed from the beginning not as an end in itself, but as a means to the end of reaching the world with the gospel.”
God’s Holy Land Experienced
No longer would the kingdom of God be defined by borders or bloodlines. Now it would be embraced through belief in Jesus Christ. No longer would it be confined to those who worshiped in Jerusalem. Now Jerusalem would become the launching pad for declaring the grace made available to people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. No longer would citizenship in God’s kingdom come by birth to a Jewish mother or father. Now it was clear that it comes to all—Jew and Gentile—through the new birth by God’s Spirit. Now every person in which Christ dwells by his Spirit is holy
land. The shadow of the land of Canaan as the place where God dwelled with his people, like so many other shadows in the Old Testament era, has fallen away. Its substance, a kingdom that is not of this world, remains.
The land promise hasn’t been revoked or replaced; it has been transformed and expanded. All of those who put their faith in Christ alone will one day dwell in the land that Abraham evidently always understood as the true essence and intention of God’s promise. The writer of Hebrews says of Abraham: “By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11:9–10). Abraham evidently saw through the promise of the land into its deeper reality. And the New Testament clearly tells us that in Christ we have everything that God promised to Abraham and his descendants—including the land. We dwell in the holy land now as we abide in Christ and make our home in him.
Nancy Guthrie The Son of David
Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament (Reformed Forum Interview with Nancy Gurthrie)
O. Palmer Robertson Understanding the Land of the Bible
T. Desmond Alexander’s From Eden to the New Jerusalem
William J. Dumbrell Covenant and Creation
G.K. Beale The Temple and the Church's Mission
John Fesko Last Things First
Meredith Kline Kingdom Prologue
The content of this post was taken from The Son of David by Nancy Guthrie copyright ©2013. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.
The cover art used on this post is a copy of a portion of Veronica Green's "Garden of Eden." You can see more of Veronica's work at www.veronicagreen.com and find her page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/