The First Gospel Promise
Merriam-Webster defines the word promise like this: “a statement telling someone that you will definitely do something or that something will definitely happen in the future.”
The entire Old Testament can be summarized as a promise made by God to keep on loving fallen humanity at any and all costs to Himself. The New Testament can be summarized as God following through to fulfill that promise in the life and death of Jesus Christ.
As soon as Adam and Eve believed Satan’s lie about the character of God, they ceased to trust their Creator, and fell into sin, God immediately took the initiative to pursue them and to promise their rescue from the enemy:
“Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, ‘________ ______ _____?’ So he said, ‘I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.’ And He said, ‘______ ______ _____ that you were naked? _______ _____ eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?’” (Genesis 3:9-11).
Here we see God’s heart of grace on beautiful display. Of course He knew exactly where they were. As they hid themselves in the bushes, Hecould have appeared right behind them, gave a tap on the shoulder, and terrified them, but He didn’t. He could have burst into the garden shouting words of condemnation, but He didn’t. He could have immediately wiped them out of existence, but He didn’t. Rather, He came wooing, beckoning, initiating contact and asking disarming but probing questions to reveal that He meant them no harm, although the lie they had believed about Him aroused in them the expectation of harm. And then, addressing Satan in their hearing, God declared what scholars
call the first gospel promise:
Notice the key aspects of the promise:
Enmity: even though humanity had fallen into sin, God would implant within us a sense of hostility toward evil, a desire for justice, an inclination to resist evil and long for restoration to our original state of innocence. Compare John 1:9; Romans 7:14-15, 23.
Seed: God will send salvation to the world in the form of a special human Seed (Offspring), in whom the promised enmity will take on full form in a singular and rippling conquest over Satan. Compare John 14:30; Galatians 3:16; Hebrews 1:9; 2:14; 1 John 3:8.
Head: the New International Version is stronger here, saying, “He will crush your head.” The Offspring of the woman will conquer Satan on behalf of humanity. Compare John 12:31-32; Colossians 2:15.
Heel: and yet, in the process of crushing the head Satan, the Savior would be wounded. Compare Isaiah 53:4-6; Matthew 26:38; 27:46. From the initial promise of Genesis 3:15, Scripture proceeds to unfold the Messiah’s character and mission with added detail and deepening insight. Moses foretold that the Promised One would come to the world as a prophet and as a sacrifice for sin (Deuteronomy 18:15; Leviticus 4:32). King David said the Messiah would undergo horrible abuse and abandonment (Psalm 22 and 88). Isaiah portrayed Him as a suffering servant and a non-violent revolutionary who would set in motion an unstoppable movement of justice (Isaiah 42 and 53). Prophet by prophet, vision by vision, symbol by symbol, song by song, the entire Old Testament spoke the mystery of the Promised One who would come to disclose God’s redeeming love to mankind and, in so doing, unmask the devil’s primal lie leveled against God’s character (Genesis 3:1-5).
The Time Foretold
Six hundred years in advance the prophet Daniel foretold the time when the Promised One would appear on the public stage to begin His saving work as the Messiah, as well as when He would be crucified. Read the remarkable prophecy in Daniel 9:24-27.
The angel Gabriel appeared to Daniel and declared, “Seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy.”
Israel is here given a 70-week period of time to fulfill covenant faithfulness with God. In Bible prophecy a day is equal to a year (Ezekiel 4:6; Numbers 14:34; Mark 1:15), so 70 weeks equates to 490 years. Gabriel then specified the specific historic event that would act as the starting date for the prophecy from which we can count forward to pinpoint the time when Jesus would launch His Messianic career:
“Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks (69 weeks).” The command to restore Jerusalem was issued by the Persian King Artaxerxes in 457 BC (Ezra 7:11-12). Sixty-nine weeks is equivalent in prophetic time to 483 years. Counting forward 483 years from 457 BC we arrive, remarkably, at AD 27, the very year Jesus entered the public eye as the Messiah, a title that means “anointed” of God (Matthew 3:16-17; John 1:29; Acts 10:38). Gabriel continued to unfold the prophecy to Daniel by stating that “Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself” and that He “shall confirm a covenant with many for one week; but in the middle of the week He shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering.” In other words, in the middle of the 70th week—which would be AD 31—the Messiah will be crucified and, thus, bring an end to the symbolic sacrificial system of Israel. Thus, by His perfect self-sacrificing love manifested at the cross, Jesus fulfilled covenant faithfulness to God. Israel as a nation was now granted the opportunity to receive the Messiah and embrace His covenant faithfulness on their behalf. But, tragically, they finalized their rejection of the Messiah by the stoning of Stephen as he preached Christ to them, at which point the 490-year prophecy reached its completion in AD 34 (Acts 7:54-60).
The two most important features of the prophecy are these:
1 Jesus would be “cut off, but not for Himself.”
2 By His death He would “confirm the covenant.”
The term cut off is normative biblical language intended to convey the idea of complete separation from God. The word covenant indicates the strongest possible form of commitment—God’s “promise” of “faithful love” at any cost to Himself (Isaiah 54:10; 55:3, NIV). We see, then, that Daniel’s prophecy foretold that Jesus, the Messiah, would voluntarily submit Himself to undergo the most horrific demise possible—complete separation from God (Matthew 27:46). He would do this, Daniel said, “not for Himself,” but, astoundingly, for the fallen human race. He died “for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3; Galatians 1:4; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 John 2:2; 3:5; 4:10). In so doing, He would reveal to the world the highest, strongest, and most beautiful manifestation of love imaginable—absolute self-sacrifice for the eternal well-being of sinful human beings. The apostle John declared, “By this we know ________, because He laid down His life _____ ___” (1 John 3:16).
And Paul said, “God __________________ His own _______ toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died ____ ___” (Romans 5:8).
“Love . . . for us.”
“Love . . . toward us.”
Suffering and death for Him.
This is the heartbreaking and beautiful point of the entire Old Testament—that God so deeply, so passionately, so selflessly loves each of us
that He was willing to save us at any and all cost to Himself, and the cost was great.
When the Bible says, “God is love,” it basically means that God is relationally faithful to all others at any and all cost to Himself. The voluntary sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is the proof. Promise made, promise kept—that’s the whole Bible in a nutshell. In the Old Testament God says, I love you with a faithful, unstoppable love that will never fail, and in the New Testament God demonstrates the truth of His love in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. When the apostle Paul looks at Jesus, he says, “For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us” (2 Corinthians 1:20). In other words, in Jesus all God promised through the prophets is fulfilled. Everything God said He would do, He has done. His love has proven itself reliable, faithful, true. We can trust Him because He is trustworthy.
It is my desire to experience restored trust in my heart toward God by believing the truth of His love for me. God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). Coming to know—not merely factually, but experientially—the truth of who God really is will save us from the perceptual, relational, and moral effects of the Fall. Thank you, God, for making Your true character known through Christ!