Life-Study of Galatiansby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
When I first learned that long before Christ came the gospel was preached to Abraham, I was greatly surprised. Galatians 3:8 says, “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the nations by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham: In you all the nations shall be blessed.” According to Genesis 12:3, in Abraham all the nations would be blessed. In Genesis 12:7 the Lord went on to say to Abraham, “Unto thy seed will I give this land.” There are two main aspects of God’s word to Abraham in Genesis 12: the first is that in him all nations would be blessed; the second is that the land would be given to Abraham’s seed. In Christ, Abraham’s unique seed, the nations would be blessed. Furthermore, to this unique seed the land would be given. This was God’s word to Abraham.
In Galatians 3:16 Paul refers to God’s word to Abraham as a promise: “To Abraham were the promises spoken and to his seed.” Then in verse 17 Paul goes on to speak of a covenant ratified beforehand by God. This indicates that the promise God gave to Abraham became a covenant, which is more firm than a promise. The word, the promise, and the covenant are the gospel which was preached to Abraham. The gospel is the covenant, the covenant is the promise, and the promise is the word spoken by God.
It is important to see the difference between these four terms. A word is common or ordinary, whereas a promise is much more specific. If you give a promise to someone, your word is not common; it is specific. You promise to do certain things for that person. The word God spoke to Abraham in Genesis 12 was not common; it was a specific word in which God promised Abraham that in him and in his seed the nations would be blessed. We have pointed out that in this chapter God also promised Abraham that his seed would possess the land. Because the word spoken to Abraham in Genesis 12 is very specific, it is a word of promise.
In Genesis 15 this promise became a covenant. Here God appeared to Abraham, and Abraham offered a sacrifice to Him. The sacrifice was divided, and God passed through it. This was a custom in ancient times by which two parties ratified a covenant. By walking through the sacrifice, these parties ratified a covenant in an official and proper manner. In this way the promise given in Genesis 12 was ratified as a covenant in Genesis 15. Then in Genesis 17 the covenant was confirmed by the sign of circumcision.
In Galatians 3 Paul says that the word spoken to Abraham, the word which became a covenant confirmed by circumcision, was the gospel preached to Abraham. In Galatians 3 we are given Paul’s understanding and interpretation. Perhaps this interpretation came as a revelation to Paul during the years he was alone with the Lord. Paul came to see that what God had spoken to Abraham was not just a promise or merely a covenant ratified and confirmed, but that it was the very gospel. In this covenant, Paul learned, the main items of the new testament gospel were included. Thus, the covenant ratified with Abraham was a forerunner of the new covenant, of the new testament.
The new testament is a new covenant ratified by the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. The Lord offered Himself up as a sacrifice to God. In a sense, God walked through the sacrifice offered to Him on the cross by Christ. This new covenant may be considered as either a repetition or a continuation of the covenant ratified with Abraham. The gospel we are preaching today is not merely a promise; it is also a covenant.
In message forty-one of the Life-study of Hebrews, we pointed out the difference between a covenant and a testament. A covenant refers to an agreement concerning things promised, but not yet accomplished. A testament denotes an agreement in which the promised items have been accomplished. When all the items of the promise are accomplished, the covenant becomes a testament. The modern term for testament is will. The new testament is the new will. A will is not an agreement in which the testator promises to do certain things for others. No, a will is a testament which says that the testator has already done certain things or given certain things to particular people. The gospel we preach is first a covenant. Ultimately, however, it is a testament. At the time of Abraham this gospel could not have been a testament. It could only have been a covenant in which God promised to bless all the nations in Abraham and to give the good land to Abraham’s seed. Later, in Genesis 15, this promise became a ratified covenant. But for us the new covenant is a new testament because all the promised things have been accomplished by Christ. All the nations have been blessed in Christ, and the good land has been given to Abraham’s seed. Therefore, what we receive today is not a new covenant; it is a new testament, a new will. This will is the gospel.
Paul received a marvelous understanding of spiritual things. Without the revelation given to him, we would not have the confidence to say that the covenant ratified with Abraham was the gospel preached to Abraham. But Paul boldly declares that the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the nations by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham (3:8). Apart from Paul’s word in Galatians 3, we would not realize that God’s word to Abraham was the gospel. Although the gospel is a matter of the new testament, it is important for us to realize that the new testament is a continuation or repetition of God’s promise to Abraham.
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