Heirs of the Promise

AFTER JESUS WAS raised from the dead, he appeared to his disciples a number of times, and “by many infallible proofs” convinced them that he was alive again; and he spoke to them of “the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3) During the last of these appearances they made bold to ask him, “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) Jesus’ disciples were now convinced beyond any doubt that he was the Messiah of promise, the great king whose kingdom was to be set up in Jerusalem and which would extend its influence throughout the entire world. Naturally they concluded that first of all this would mean the reestablishment of Israel’s kingdom, which had been overthrown by Nebuchadnezzar centuries before.

Jesus’ reply to their inquiry concerning Israel’s kingdom, while not a direct answer to the disciples’ question, was, nevertheless, very revealing; for it indicated that there was yet a great work to be done before the Messianic Kingdom, for which they hoped and longed, would be established. First, Jesus said to his disciples, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.” To this he added, “But ye shall receive power after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”—Acts 1:7,8

Whatever of expectation these ardent followers of the Master may have had of immediately becoming associated with him in a powerful government which would eventually rule the whole world, they would know from this commission to be his witnesses that there was no prospect of at once entering into kingdom glory. The task assigned was a comprehensive one, and even though they may have thought of the ‘world’ as being that restricted territory which we now speak of as the Middle East, it still would require time to witness the Gospel throughout even this limited territory.

So the disciples waited at Jerusalem as Jesus told them they should, until they received the Holy Spirit. This gift of divine power came upon them on the Day of Pentecost. It was a marvelous, yea, miraculous, demonstration of the favor of God upon this little company of despised disciples of the Nazarene who had been put to death, charged with treason against Rome.

Under the influence of this holy power, the Apostle Peter preached a short but moving sermon to the thousands of Israelites who had assembled within reach of his voice. He boldly charged them with the sin of crucifying Jesus, with the result that three thousand of them were “pricked” in their hearts and inquired what they should do. (Acts 2:37,41) Peter’s reply to this question was, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”—Acts 2:38,39


In Peter’s reply to the repentant Jews who had asked what they should do, he introduced a new aspect of the Messianic hope contained in the promise to Abraham that through his ‘seed’ all the families of the earth would be blessed. He assured them that as Israelites, “the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all [Israelites] who are afar off,” but to this Peter added, “even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”

Three thousand of those who heard Peter’s Pentecostal sermon were among those whom the Lord ‘called’. From verse 47 we learn that the Lord “added to the church daily such as should be saved.” The word church translates the Greek word ekklesia, which means ‘a calling out’. Thus the church of the New Testament is composed of those whom the Lord calls. God never intended that the whole world should be brought into his church.

The church, on the other hand, is a called group of dedicated believers who accept Jesus as their Head, and devote their lives to the doing of God’s will. This dedication is likened to a burial, or baptism, and is described as a baptism into Christ. Concerning this called class the Apostle Paul wrote: “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”—Gal. 3:27-29

From this it is apparent that the ‘called out’ ones, those who constitute the true church of Christ because they have accepted his headship in their lives, are considered by God to be part of the promised ‘seed’ which is to be the agency for blessing all the families of the earth. This explains why the work of blessing all the families of the earth did not begin with the First Advent of Jesus. It explains why, when the disciples asked about the reestablishment of David’s kingdom, he indicated that first they were to be his witnesses throughout all the earth; for it is through this witness work that the Lord calls the various ones into the grand assembly which he calls the church, and which, under Christ, will be the larger ‘seed’ of Abraham.


The rapid influx of believing Israelites into the church beginning with Pentecost did not continue. The religious leaders began to oppose the work, and before long it was merely one here and there of the Jewish people who accepted the Gospel when it was witnessed to them. God knew that it would be this way, and since he had predetermined the number he wanted in the church as the faith seed of Abraham, he also had prearranged that in due time his call should be extended to the Gentiles.

The first Gentile convert of record was Cornelius, “a centurion of the band called the Italian band.” (Acts 10:1) He is described as a “devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always. He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius. And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter: he lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do.”—Acts 10:1-6

For centuries the Jewish people had been schooled in the belief that they alone were God’s chosen race. Indeed, God had said to them, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.” (Amos 3:2) They supposed that only they were the inheritors of the promise made to their father, Abraham, concerning the ‘seed’ that was to bless all nations. For this reason even Jesus’ own apostles were not prepared for the great change in God’s arrangements which was to permit Gentiles, through faith and obedience, to become fellow-heirs with them of the promises of God.

Having selected Peter as his servant to proclaim the Gospel to Cornelius, the first Gentile convert, God knew that he would need special preparation for this assignment. So just before the messengers sent to him reached the home of Simon the tanner, in Joppa, the Lord gave a vision to Peter. While waiting for dinner to be prepared, Peter went up onto the roof of Simon’s home to pray.

“He became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, and saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: wherein were all manner of four-footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. But Peter said, Not so Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God bath cleansed, that call not thou common. This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven.”—Acts 10:10-16

Coming out of the ‘trance’, Peter naturally wondered what lesson the Lord desired him to learn from this incident. About then the messengers sent by Cornelius arrived at Simon’s home and asked “whether Simon, which was surnamed Peter, were lodged there.” (vs. 18) And, “while Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee. Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them. Then Peter went down to the men which were sent unto him from Cornelius; and said, Behold, I am he whom ye seek: what is the cause wherefore ye are come?”—vss. 18-21

The three messengers then related to Peter the purpose of their visit, explaining that Cornelius had been directed by an angel of God to send for him and that he would explain to Cornelius what he ought to do. The messengers were invited to remain overnight, and the next day Peter accompanied them on their return to Cornelius, of Caesarea. In expectation of their arrival Cornelius “called together his kinsmen and near friends.”—vs. 24

After meeting Cornelius, Peter entered the home, where the little company of Gentiles had assembled, and “he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath showed that I should not call any man common or unclean. Therefore came I unto you without gainsaying, as soon as I was sent for: I ask therefore for what intent ye have sent for me?”—vss. 28,29


Peter had properly understood the lesson of the sheet filled with unclean animals which God had called clean. Upon the basis of this he had gone to the home of Cornelius, a Gentile, and now he wanted to know what further responsibilities devolved upon him. Cornelius related his experience in being visited by an angel of God who instructed him to send for Peter, and the assurance the angel had given him that Peter would tell him what he ought to do. Concluding, Cornelius said, “Immediately therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.”—vs. 33

Peter then preached a short sermon to this Gentile audience, explaining that Jesus was the “anointed of God,” commissioned to be the judge both of the “quick”—the living—“and the dead.” (vs. 42) In this, one of the great foundations of the Gospel which was first preached to Abraham is emphasized; the fact, that is, that through the promised ‘seed’ the dead would be restored to life. (Gal. 3:8) None of the non-Christian religions of the world teach that there will be a resurrection of the dead. Peter also assured Cornelius and his friends that through Christ that they could receive “remission of sins.”—vs. 43

While he was yet speaking the Holy Spirit fell upon the gathering, giving the same evidence of God’s acceptance of these Gentiles into his family as had been given to the Jewish disciples on the Day of Pentecost. Witnessing this, Peter said, “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Spirit as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.”—vss. 47,48


While Peter had been specially prepared to accept the fact that Gentiles could now, through faith and obedience, enter into the family of God and become fellow-heirs of God’s promises with Jewish believers, others in the Early Church had not. So a controversy developed among them. None was inclined to keep Gentile believers out of the church, but there were those who insisted that they could not be saved unless they were circumcised.

Finally it was considered wise to hold a conference in Jerusalem to weigh this issue and decide upon some official position to take with respect to the Gentile believers. Meanwhile, of course, these were increasing in numbers, especially as a result of the ministry of Paul and Barnabas, who were present at the Jerusalem conference. They bore eloquent testimony of the marvelous manner in which God was manifesting his favor toward Gentile believers. Peter also told his experience in connection with Cornelius.

James appears to have been the chairman of this conference and, after hearing the testimonies of Paul and Peter, he answered, saying, “Men and brethren, hearken unto me: Simeon [Simon Peter] hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.”—Acts 15:13-18

James had been convinced that now, for the first time, God had ‘visited’ the Gentiles and was inviting believers to participate in his plan; or, as he stated it, was taking out from the Gentiles ‘a people for his name’, those who would be members of his family and, through Christ, bear his name as sons. This was the same opportunity which Jesus extended to all in the Jewish nation, but only a few accepted. We read concerning this that Jesus “came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God.”—John 1:11,12

Beginning with Cornelius, God had turned to the Gentiles to find the remaining ones to make up his foreordained number to constitute his ‘house of sons’. James reminds us that all of God’s works are foreknown by him. It was not a failure of his plan that caused him to turn to the Gentiles. Jesus had instructed his disciples to go into all the world with the Gospel, and, as God looks upon them, those whom he calls are neither Jews nor Gentiles, for they are all one in Christ Jesus.—Gal. 3:27-29

After explaining that God had visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for his name, James added, “To this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return and will build again the tabernacle of David, … that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles upon whom my name is called.” (Amos 9:11,12) James did not say that the coming of the Gentiles into the church in his day was the fulfillment of Amos’ prophecy concerning ‘all the Gentiles’. Rather, he said that it was in harmony with that prophecy.

The time when ‘all the Gentiles’ will be given their opportunity is after the building again of the tabernacle, or house, of David. Prior to this must be the work of calling out from the Gentiles a people for the Lord’s name. When the disciples asked Jesus, “Wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” he could have explained this point in detail, but the disciples, not having received the Holy Spirit, and not being otherwise prepared for it, could not have received an explanation which involved inviting Gentiles to become fellowheirs with them in the hope of reigning with Christ, so he simply told them that their commission for the present was to go into all the world as his witnesses, beginning at Jerusalem.

As we have seen, Jesus is the One who is to sit on “the throne of David, … to order it, and to establish it.” (Isa. 9:6,7) The sons of God of the present age, called from both Jews and Gentiles, are to share that kingdom with him, so its establishment must wait until all of these are gathered out from the world and they prove their worthiness for the exalted position to which they are called.

This work of taking out from the Gentiles a ‘people for his name’ has already taken nearly two thousand years, and it is still in progress. Meanwhile, countless millions, in a nominal sense, have associated themselves with the name of Christ, the vast majority of whom have had no conception whatever of the divine purpose centered in him, or what it really means to be one of his footstep followers.

These masses generally have not known that Jesus was sent into the world in fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham concerning a ‘seed’ who would bless all the families of the earth. Neither have they known that by suffering and dying with Jesus, his followers qualify to be joint-heirs with him in the inheritance of the Abrahamic promise; nor that they, too, can be a part of the ‘seed’ through which blessings of life and happiness will yet flow out to all mankind.

The work of calling, selecting, and proving those who will constitute the people for his name has gone steadily on, unnoticed and unknown to the world. The world has not known these in their true light, even as it did not know Jesus. (I John 3:1) Many times they have been persecuted by the world and by worldly churches, even as Jesus was persecuted. The “enmity” which the Creator said would exist between the “seed” of Satan and the “seed” of the woman has often led to acute suffering by these, even as it led to the crucifixion of Jesus.—Gen. 3:13-15


Eventually this phase of the divine plan for the recovery of the human race from sin and death will be completed, and then will follow the glorious consummation of that plan. It will be then that the typical kingdom of David will merge into the antitypical kingdom of the Messiah, the ‘Seed’ of promise. And it will be through the agencies of that kingdom in the hands of Jesus and his joint-heirs that ‘all the families of the earth’ will be blessed.

This, indeed, will be the purpose of reestablishing the throne of David with Jesus as king. James expressed it this, way: “I will set it [the tabernacle of David] up that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things.” (Acts 15:16,17) God’s promise concerning the seed not only gave assurance that he would provide a deliverer, but also that all nations would be blessed through him. Yes, ‘all the Gentiles’, and all the unbelieving Israelites as well, will be the recipients of the promised blessings of life-blessings which will flow to them through Christ, and through the believing ones from among both Jews and Gentiles who will be associated with him in his kingdom.

Yes, God foreknew and foretold his wonderful works on behalf of the children of .men. Let us rejoice in the hope that his promises set before us, promises which assure the faithful followers of Jesus that they are to be associated with him in the rulership of the Messianic Kingdom, and promises which assure us that mankind in general—both the living and those who have died—will be given an opportunity, through belief and obedience, to be restored to perfection of human life here on the earth. Truly, ours is a great and wonderful God!

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