When God called Abraham, he promised blessings through which all the nations would be blessed (Genesis 12:2-3). Included in those blessings is the land promise (Genesis 12:6-7). The promised land is part of the Abrahamic promise.
This land promise is both overplayed as some identify the contemporary state of Israel with this land promise and undervalued as others see no fulfillment of this promise in Israel’s Messiah who is Abraham’s seed. The former think that the state of Israel is the fulfillment (or at least the beginning of the fulfillment) of God’s promise to Israel while the later believe the land promise no longer obtains after Israel was returned from Babylonian exile. I would like to propose an alternative as I don’t think either of the above options are viable.
Israel is described as the “people of [God’s} inheritance” (Deuteronomy 4:20; cf. 1 Kings 8:53) The land was part of Israel’s inheritance as the firstborn son of God among the nations (Exodus 32:13; Leviticus 20:24; Deuteronomy 4:21). One need only to skim the Torah, especially Deuteronomy, to recognize the central role the land plays as the inheritance Israel receives from Yahweh as God’s children.
Psalm 37 is a good example how the hope of inheriting the land, living in the land, and experiencing the goodness of God in the land is intergral to Israel’s joy in the Lord. Disturbed by the prosperity of the wicked, the Psalmist assures Israel that those who hope in and wait on the Lord will inherit the land. Six times the Psalmist promises–and Israel liturgically rehearses promise–that Israel will ultimately receive its promised inheritance. They will “inherit the land.” Jesus himself practically quotes Psalm 37:11 when he announces: “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).
As part of the Abrahamic promise, the land is not conditioned by the Mosaic covenant. This means that the intent of God to fulfill his promise to Abraham is not conditioned by Torah-obedience. Whether the nation of Israel at any particular time or individuals within Israel at any particular time possess the land is conditioned on Torah-obedience, but the ultimate fulfillment that Israel would inherit the land is unqualified. It is as unconditonal as the promise of the Messiah is.
On the analogy of Paul’s argument in Galatians 3, the promise was before the law and is therefore not ultimately conditioned by the law. Israel will inherit the land as God promised Abraham. It is a divine promise and God keeps his promises. More explicitly, Paul notes that “it was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise” (Romans 4:13).
This is a significant point–a critical juncture. The Abrahamic promise belongs to the children of Israel. The land is part of the Abrahamic promise. The children of Israel will possess the land; it is their inheritance.
But who is Israel? Who are the children of Abraham? Paul is, I think, clear. Since the “promise comes by faith,” it is “guarenteed to all Abraham’s offspring–not only to those who are of the law” (e.g., Torah-obeying ethnic Israel) “but also to those who have the faith of Abraham” (e.g., including the nations). In this sense Abraham is the “father of many nations;” he is the “father of us all” (Romans 4:16-17). The Gentiles (nations) have been grafted into Israel through faith (Romans 11:17). Those who belong to Messiah–those in Christ–are the children of Abraham and thus heirs of the promise (Galatians 3:29).
But does this include the land? Yes, indeed. As Paul phrases it, Abraham was the “heir of the world” (kosmos)….not just the land of Palestine (Romans 4:13). The inheritance of the children of Abraham is the world–the whole cosmos.
This is not a land we possess by violence or by purchase. Rather, we receive it by faith in the Messiah and on the ground of the faithfulness of the Messiah. The “faith(fulness) of Jesus” secures the inheritance for Israel and we participate in it through faith (Galatians 3:22). The Messiah is the heir of the all things and we are co-heirs with the Messiah through faith (Romans 8:17).
The creation is the inheritance of the people of God. We yet await, according to Romans 8:18-25, the full adoption into the family of God when we our bodies are redeemed (resurrection) and the creation is liberated (new heaven and new earth of Revelation 22:1-4). That is our inheritance. John reminds of the whole Abrahamic trajectory (Genesis 17:8) with this language himself in Revelation: “Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children” (22:7).
The Abrahamic promise was first given to ethnic Israel but, by faith and because of the Messiah, it includes the nations as well. Perhaps on the new heaven and new earth the redeemed of ethnic Israel will dwell in Palestine–in the land between the rivers of Egypt and Babylon–but the whole earth will belong to the people of God as they again reign on the earth with God. The kingdom of God will fill the earth!
I think this accounts for Paul’s language about inheritance. He writes about inheriting “the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:21; Ephesians 5:5; cf. James 2:5). He praises God for the gifting us with the Spirit as a downpayment of our inheritance which will arrive when God has fully redeemed his possession (people; Ephesians 1:14–that phraseology is loaded with Hebraic expression and thought). Through faith, Paul writes, we are “qualified to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light” (Colossians 1:12).
The fullness of the kingdom of God, which is yet future, is our inheritance. It is the ultimate fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise through which God will make Israel a great nation, a great name and bless all the nations. That promise includes the land–the whole cosmos, and it belongs to all those who place their hope in Yahweh’s Messiah.
Consequently, the new heaven and new earth as the renewed (new) creation is integral to the plot line of the story of God from Abraham to the eschaton. The earth is the inheritance of God’s people and one day the reign of God will fill it from the east to the west, from the north to the south. The whole earth, unlike its present condition, will be “Holy to the Lord.”
May your kingdom come, may your will be done, on earth as it is heaven!