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Theology > Church > History of the Church > Anticipations in the Old Testament


Numerous anticipations of the Church can be found in the Old Testament; three will be briefly presented: the word to the serpent; the promise to Abraham and the nation of Israel; and the inclusion of the Gentiles.

The Word to the Serpent

Following the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden, God spoke to the Serpent. In His word to him God informs him of his future as well as the future determined by God for those He had created. The future determined by God would include the Seed (the Son of God born of a virgin), a wound inflicted upon the Seed (the crucifixion of Christ), and the bruising on the serpent’s head, meaning that full and final victory belongs to God. The serpent’s future would be characterized by enmity and complete destruction.

And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed: He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel (Gen. 3:15; see: Protoevangelium).

It is to “that serpent of old”, that is, “the Devil and Satan” (Rev. 12:9) that God makes the declaration and prediction of salvation. The evil one is informed that his rebellion will not continue, but that ultimate victory belongs to God. Though the Devil will inflict a wound upon the Seed, the head of the serpent will be crushed by the Seed in and through the wound.

The ability of Satan to subvert the good creation of God through his temptation of man will not remain in place; he will not have the final word. God will show Himself mighty to save, and will create a people for Himself. Paul gives to us the proper interpretation of God’s word to the serpent:

But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons (Gal. 4:4-5).

Note that the words of Paul end with the word “sons,” meaning that the word of God to Satan regarding his vile act is ultimately about God securing a people for Himself—an assembly, a congregation, a Church.

The Promise to Abraham and the Nation of Israel

The call of Abraham and the promise made to him speaks of “a great nation” that will come from him, and of people “from all the families of the earth” who will be blessed in him (Gen. 12:1-3); prior to this point it seems that the Scriptures are concerned with general history, but with this event the focus becomes the Hebrew people, the nation of Israel.

The nation and the people of the nation find their meaning in the spiritual people that come to prominence in the New Testament; the true Israel is composed of those who follow Christ. On this point the New Testament is specific; see: Jo. 8:33, 39; Rom. 2:28; 4:11-12, 13-16; 9:6-9; Gal. 3:7-14, 29.

Thus, the words of the promise to Abraham—“nation” and “families”—are harbingers of the New Testament Church, which is composed of the true spiritual children of Abraham. In this sense Abraham is foundational:

All of the plan of redemption, of course, from eternity past, has reference to the church as preparing for its creation, hence truly “foundation.” The entire history of the Messianic nation—call, selection, growth, training, discipline and judgment, from Abraham to Joseph and Mary—which produced Jesus Christ, Lord of the church, is foundational (Culver, ST, 837).

It is instructive to note that two facts relate the nation of the Old Testament to the Church of the New Testament. One, in the Septuagint, particularly in Deuteronomy, ekklēsia, the Greek word for Church translates the Hebrew qāhāl, a word which refers to the assembly or congregation of God’s people (Deut. 4:10; 9:10; 10:4; 18:16; 23:2-3; 31:30; Josh. 8:35; Ps. 22:23); so the assembly of the nation is spoken of as the Church in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Two, there is one specific reference to Israel as the church in the New Testament: Acts 7:38, which speaks of “the church (ekklēsia) in the wilderness.”

The Inclusion of the Gentiles

Inclusion of the Gentiles in the people of God is another anticipation of the Church in the Old Testament. As the nation’s emphasis on ethnic nationalism increased Israel lost its spiritual mission of redemption which was all-encompassing with regard to the nations. The descendants of Abraham were those who truly belonged to Israel, but not descendants according to the flesh but descendants according to faith. In the popular understanding of Israel this concept was lost, meaning that it was not only abandoned but was also violently attacked. Israel’s vision of its true future was terrible skewed.

Numerous hints, or declarations, abound in the Old Testament that God’s plan included the Gentiles:

Rejoice, O Gentiles with His people (Deut. 32:43; see: Rom. 15:10);

Therefore I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the Gentiles (Ps. 18:49; see: Rom. 15:9);

Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples! (Ps. 117:1; see: Rom. 15:11);

In that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, who shall stand as a banner to the people; for the Gentiles shall seek Him, and His resting place shall be glorious (Isa. 11:10; see: Rom. 15:12);

I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth (Isa. 49:6; see: Acts 13:47; 26:16-18, 23);

The Gentiles shall come to your light (Isa. 60:3);

Also see: Ps. 64:9; Isa. 42:4, 6; 51:4; 52:10; 56:6-8; 61:11; 62:2.

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