Jesus, the Promised Land

Here we intend to discuss how Jesus transplanted the Promised Land, its blessings and the rest in the land to Himelf.

The Promised Land was a rather small country, not particularly rich in minerals or oil, much of it lacking trees, and having a chronic shortage of water.
But it has tremendous historical and religious significance.
It also has symbolic meaning in the gospel, as the type of the "rest," or the eternal inheritance, of those who believe in Christ.

An everlasting possession

God gave our forefather Abraham the land of Canaan “for an everlasting possession”

Genesis 17: 8 "Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God."   (NKJV)

In Hebrew, the word everlasting means never-ending.
God promised his descendants a permanent homeland that would last into eternity.
However, the New Testament tells us in 2 Peter 3: 11, 12, that the world will be destroyed by fire, burnt completely out of existence, after which the Lord will bring about a new heaven and earth.

How can the “everlasting possession” to Abraham burn out completely?
What is meant by eternal, if it will disappear one day?

The fact is this land of promise was symbolic of a place beyond the earth.
Abraham knew this in his spirit.
The Bible says that Abraham in Canaan always felt alien; his heart longed for something beyond the land itself.

Hebrews 11: 9, 10
9     By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise;  
10   for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.  (NKJV)

Abraham could see the true significance of the land blessing and he realized that the place isn’t the real possession.
The land was just an illustrated sermon of the great blessing to come.
Abraham grasped the true meaning of the Promised Land; he knew Canaan represented the coming Messiah.
The Holy Spirit enabled the patriarch to see down through the years, to the day of Christ.
He knew that the meaning of his Promised Land meant a place of total peace and rest.
And, as Abraham knew, this place of rest is Jesus Christ himself.

The Promised Land

In the Old Testament, especially in the Book of Deuteronomy, Israel’s blessings were spoken of as “rest,” while her curses were spoken of in terms of “no rest.”
Rest was to be given in the Promised Land, while no rest was to be experienced outside the land.

Abraham was promised a land
The promise that he would possess the land of Canaan was repeated to Abraham on several occasions.
God also promised that in his seed, all nations would be blessed.
The same promise was repeated to Isaac, and in a dream to Jacob.

The children of Israel entered the Promised Land under Joshua, and took possession of it and the land was distributed among the 12 tribes.

The promise of land, and Israel’s possession of it, and their exile, is very prominent topics in the Old Testament.
The promise made to Abraham that in his seed all nations will be blessed is called the gospel in the New Testament.

Galatians 3: 8  And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, "In you all the nations shall be blessed."   (NKJV)

All of the land of Canaan was promised to Abraham.
At that time the land was far greater in extent, than he would actually need.
Yet he received none of it in his lifetime.
It shows that the promise must have some other meaning than a literal view allows.
The land was a type of the "rest" which is the eternal inheritance of the saints.

The land promise was literal as well as a type.
As we have seen before Abraham literally occupied it and still looked for a better land, considering the literal land as a type.

Jesus as the Promised Land

Jesus is the Promised Land!
In the New Testament, the land promise of the Old Testament is fulfilled in Christ.
For a Christian, to dwell in the land of promise is a figure, or shadow, of the blessings of living by faith in Christ, in peace, and leaving the wilderness behind.
The "wilderness" pictures the progressive journey of a believer to a mature faith.

The kingdom of Christ is what Canaan represented.
It was something spiritual, which Christ inherited.

In the New Testament, the Old Testament promises concerning the land are reinterpreted.
The children of Abraham become those who believe in Christ.

Romans 9: 8    That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.  (NKJV)

Paul argues that the name "Israel" does not mean those who are literal descendants of Jacob, but it now applies to those having faith in Christ.
"Israel" was thus redefined to include Gentile believers who were brought nigh to the covenants of promise, by faith.
Thus the Promised Land represents the eternal inheritance of the saints.

Now let us go through certain occasions where Jesus claimed the fulfillment of the Promised Land in His life.

Jesus and Nathanael

John 1 :51 records the words of Jesus to Nathanael.

John 1: 51 And He said to him (Nathanael), "Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."   (NKJV)

Here Jesus alludes to the story of the dream of Jacob, in Genesis 28.
Jacob deceived his father and obtained the blessing of his older brother Esau.
After the incident Jacob was fleeing from Esau's fierce wrath.
On the way, at Bethel, in a forest, he slept and dreamed of a ladder.
Jacob saw a ladder reaching to heaven, with angels ascending and descending on it.
And in the same dream, he was promised possession of the land.
The promise of the land was associated with the ladder reaching to heaven, which connected the land with a spiritual and heavenly purpose.

The promise to Jacob was that the land would be given to him.
And not only would that, but the land of promise be the site of a "ladder to heaven," for angels to ascend and descend.
This reveals the true significance of the Promised Land.

Jesus said to Nathanael that he would see the angels ascending and descending on him.
Jesus implied that He replaces the land, or at least, fulfils the land promise.

It is no longer the place, Bethel, that is important, but the Person of the Son of Man.
It is in His Person that "the house of God and the gate of heaven" are now found.
Where the Son of Man is the "heaven will be opened" and the angels will ascend and descend to connect the heaven with the earth.
In the New Testament Christ is the place where the angels of God ascend and descend.

Day of the feast

Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying:

John 7: 37 - 38 
37   On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.
 38 "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water."   (NKJV)

The land should provide water for drinking.
The land of Israelites felt an acute shortage of water.
But here Jesus promises water to quench their thirst.
He is exhorting the people to think of the land as a spiritual symbol for the expected Messiah.
When the “land” becomes Christ, the “water” is the Holy Spirit.

Give up farms

In another occasion Jesus spoke of giving up the farm.
It would have been a shock to the Israelites to consider giving up his farm.
But Jesus pronounced a blessing on those who give up farms:

Matthew 19: 29  "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.  (NKJV)

Farms were the means by which God’s blessing was poured out on His people in the Old Testament.
Farms were not to be given up, but were to be kept as in inheritance.
Jesus pronounces a blessing on those who do give up farms.
Jesus spoke of an eternal life for those who give up their earthly farm.
It is because the “land” is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Land is rest

The Promised Land was called a "rest" for the children of Israel when they possessed it after wandering 40 years in the wilderness.
But Hebrews 4: 8 says that Joshua did not give them rest, although they possessed the land that was promised.
Or rather a “rest” remains even after the inheritance of the earthly Promised Land.

Both the Sabbath day, and Israel’s possession of the Promised Land, was types or "shadows" of the reality of the "rest" we have in Christ by faith.
The Israelites in the wilderness under Moses hoped for a future "rest" in the land of promise.
The church is promised a spiritual "rest," which we may enter by faith.

Hebrews 4:1 Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it.  (NKJV)

The Fourth Commandment is about keeping Sabbath as “rest”.
The reason to keep Sabbath as “rest” is different in Exodus and Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy  5: 15  And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.  (NKJV)

In Deuteronomy, the reason given for the Sabbath day of rest was that the children of Israel were delivered from the slavery and bondage of Egypt and brought into the Promised Land where they had rest.

Slavery of Egypt is restless work and the Promised Land is rest.
The rest in Christ is freedom from the slavery of sin.
Christians rest in Christ from all evil works in which they were enslaved.
Although a Christian still struggles with sin, the slavery is gone.
A Christian’s behavior can and must change.

Therefore, the rest promised to the Israelites in the Promised Land symbolized the greater rest all believers have in Christ.

That’s why Hebrews 4:8 speaks of another rest.

Hebrews 4:8 For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day.   (NKJV)

In relationship with land and rest, Jesus said:

Matthew 11:28 "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.   (NKJV)

The Jews were in the land of promise, but they did not have rest.
Jesus offered them rest, in Himself, not in the land.
Rest is now something which is found in Christ, not in a physical location.

We have a wonderful teaching here.
Joshua led the children of Israel into a land where they could be at rest physically.
And yet, this rest did not last forever.
When the Israelites rebelled against God, their land was repeatedly invaded by heathen nations such as the Philistines.

For all this, the Promised Land symbolized true rest.
However, it was only a shadow or symbol of a better day, a better rest.

Eschatological Promise

In John 14, Jesus promises to "prepare a place" for his saints.

John 14: 2, 3
2     "In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
 3    "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.  (NKJV)

The "place" Jesus is preparing corresponds to the eternal inheritance of the saints.
It is somehow related to the promise of land that was made to Abraham.
Preparing a “place” includes preparing the saints to inherit it.
That was exactly what happened to the Israelites in the wilderness.
Even after entering into Canaan, they had to struggle to conquer and inherit the land.
They were prepared before they settled into the “rest” of the land.


Lord Jesus Christ has come; Israel’s Messiah has come.
The special place of God’s dwelling is now Christ Himself, not a land, not a temple, not a tabernacle.

The land as a holy place has ceased to have any relevance.
In the Old Testament, blessings, holiness, promise, inheritance and so on were frequently connected with the Promised Land.
In the New Testament they are never used in connection with the territory inhabited by the Jewish people.
It is because the holiness of the land and all its other attributes in the Old Testament thinking was transferred to Christ himself.

The spiritual presence of the living Christ sanctifies any place where believers are present.
The promise of Jesus to be present wherever his people meet effectively universalizes the Old Testament promise of God's presence among his people in their land.
Now the people of Jesus are everywhere and His holiness is among them.

The Old Testament saints looked on the land of Canaan as the special place of God’s presence and His blessing.
The New Testament teaches emphatically that the dwelling place of God and the place of security, peace, and prosperity is none other than Jesus Christ.
If the Old Testament saint delighted to be in the land, the New Testament saint delights in being in Christ.

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