Abraham is a key figure in both world history and the history of redemption. His call out of Ur of the Chaldees was a turning point in the revelation of Gods purposes of grace for mankind. He became the ancestor of three different "seeds", or races, of men and women, and was the ancestor of Christ Himself, in whom all Gods promises of blessing are centred. We shall, therefore, consider all of these different "seeds" in turn, and answer the question, "Who are the seed of Abraham today?". Then we shall consider the importance of the question for interpreting the Scriptures correctly. And, finally, since doctrine inevitably affects practice, we shall consider how our understanding of this question may affect our daily lives and practical witness to the world around us.
First, therefore, there is Abrahams purely natural seed by Hagar - Ishmael and all his posterity, who form the Arab nations today. In Genesis 16 the Angel of the Lord told Hagar, while she was carrying her baby conceived by Abraham, that she would bear a son and call his name Ishmael, because the Lord had listened to her in her affliction by Sarai. He would be "a wild man", who would be against everyone else, while everyone else would be against him. In Genesis 17 the Lord told Abraham, when He was announcing the conception and birth of Isaac by Sarah, that Ishmael would also be blessed and become a great and numerous nation. But the Lord added to this revelation concerning Ishmael that His covenant of greatest blessing would be with Isaac. In chapter 21, when Ishmaels persecution of Isaac led to his expulsion with Hagar from Abrahams household, this promise was repeated by the Lord to Hagar. The subsequent history of the Arab nations has abundantly proved the truth of these predictions. Also, the Arab-Israeli conflict has blighted the Middle East for centuries ever since then until the present day.
Second, there is Abrahams covenant seed by Sarah, that is, Isaac and all his Jewish posterity. All Abrahams other children by Keturah, and all Isaacs posterity by Esau, were not so favourably blessed as Isaac and Jacob were, and became the enemies of Israel. There were several different aspects to the Lords unconditional covenant with Abraham, which was reiterated in five places throughout Genesis 12-22. In chapter 12 the Lord promised him great personal blessings and that he would become a great nation. In chapter 13 Abraham and his seed were promised the land of Canaan as an earthly inheritance. In chapter 15 the covenant was ratified by sacrifices and the promise of the whole land from the River of Egypt to the Euphrates confirmed. In chapter 17 the covenant was renewed at the time Abraham received the command to be circumcised, and the promises were repeated to him and his seed after him. But in chapter 22, following Abrahams greatest trial in offering up Isaac as a burnt offering and being prevented from doing so by the Lord, his obedience was rewarded with further promises of blessing in the form of numerous descendants who would overcome their enemies, and the blessing of all nations of the earth in his seed. The covenant, therefore, included personal blessings, earthly, natural, and material blessings, and spiritual blessings. Since it was unconditional and everlasting, it cannot be revoked, and therefore will be fulfilled literally.
Third, there is Abrahams spiritual seed, that is, all believers of all ages and all nations who share his faith in God and Christ. Romans 4.12-17 fully explains this truth. Paul further explains in Galatians 3.16 that all our spiritual blessings come to us as believers today because God now sees us as united by faith to Christ - that is, we are "in Christ". Christ, the true singular "seed of Abraham", can really be called Abrahams ultimate Seed, who secures for all who trust Him all our present spiritual blessings. Today all believers form part of Gods heavenly people, the New Testament Church. As such, we do not become heirs to any earthly or material inheritance, which is promised to Israel, Gods earthly people, the covenant seed, but we do inherit all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ, Abrahams ultimate seed. And both Testaments make clear the fact that the covenant seed, Israel, will only be restored and regenerated one day to receive all their own inheritance on the basis of Christs vicarious sacrifice: see Isaiah 53 and Romans 11. Abraham, therefore, stands at the beginning of the line of blessing, both covenantal and spiritual, while Christ stands at its apex to secure it all for Israel and the Church in different ways.
From all this it is clear that we need to distinguish things that differ, namely, the place of the earthly nation of Israel in Gods purposes of blessing, and the place of the Church, Gods heavenly people, with an inheritance of spiritual blessings in Christ. Scripture makes it quite clear that God has a different programme for Israel from that which He has for the Church. The Old Testament concerns Gods dealings with Israel, not the Church, and outlines their future in Tribulation and Millennial days on earth. During Old Testament times the Church was a mystery hidden in God from ages and generations, but has now, since Pentecost, been made known for the first time in the New Testament revelation; see Ephesians 3.1-6 and Colossians 1.24-27. The New Testament reveals the future of the Church in Gods purposes, one which has to do more with heavenly scenes than earthly ones. It is important to realise that the Church is not just a continuation of Israel, but a new departure in Gods purposes after the rejection of Christ by Israel. Nor has the Church replaced Israel in Gods plans for eternity or time. Romans 11 asserts that Gods present rejection of Israel as a vessel of testimony in the world is neither total nor final. Israel will be restored to centre-stage in the world after the Church has been raptured to heaven, will bear effective witness to God during Tribulation days, and will be converted in a day at the Lords appearing in glory to save them from their enemies at Armageddon. The remnant of true believers among them will all be saved and enter the millennial Kingdom of Christ. Jews who believe in Christ today become members of the Church, in which Gentiles are blessed on an equal footing with Jews, and will be taken to heaven at the Rapture.
In Biblical interpretation it is fatal to confuse Israel and the Church; they are always to be kept distinct in our minds. This confusion lies behind most amillennial error, which denies a future millennial Kingdom and the literal fulfilment of Gods unconditional promises to Israel in the Old Testament. Israel is under divine discipline today for their sins and rejection of Christ, but they will be restored to Gods place of favour and blessing one day. The New Testament Church has its own great commission to evangelise all nations until the Rapture, but we are not the only people whom God has ever called to be His witnesses, nor have we replaced Israel in Gods purposes. Also, Church believers are not expected to act as if they were Gods earthly people and apply Old Testament law given to Israel to our lives today. This mistake led professing Christendom in the Middle Ages to commit horrendous crimes against humanity.
Today, therefore, there are in the world three distinct "seeds" of Abraham: the natural seed, the Arab nations; the covenant seed, Gods earthly people Israel; and the spiritual seed, Gods heavenly people, the Church of all true believers. All have different promises from God and a different destiny. If we confuse Israel with the Church, we shall take a totally wrong attitude towards Gods earthly people Israel, thinking that they have no future in Gods purposes. But current world events indicate clearly what Scripture abundantly endorses - that the future of world history will soon focus largely on Israel and Gods programme for them. Let us, then, cooperate with our Lord in recognising and acting on these distinct truths taught in Scripture. Yes, "rightly dividing" the prophetic "word of truth" has very practical consequences!