"For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call," Acts 2:39
The Promise

The Promise

Serious Questions, Serious Issues

The Real Promise, The Real Keeper

2. The Promise of God

Peter speaks the word of the gospel to those pricked in their hearts when he says, "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 2:39. This word of the gospel sets before us the real promise of God and the real keeper of it which is God. We need to first of all look at what is meant by the promise.

The Promise is the Gospel

The Word of God in Scripture repeatedly speaks, as Peter does in his sermon in Acts 2, of the promise. While the immediate reference in this sermon is to the outpouring of the Spirit set forth in Joel (Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:16-21), yet that fulfilment of promise is the work of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Psalm 16:10,11; Acts 2:25-31). It is also wrought by God through the exaltation of Jesus Christ to God's right hand, that is, to the throne of God (Psalm 110:1ff; Acts 2:34,35). There is, in fact, one work of God in Jesus Christ by the Spirit.

While the riches of the work of God and His word reveal themselves as exceeding precious promises, there is an essential unity to the promise of God. The apostle Paul says, "For all the promises of God in him (Christ) are yea, and in him Amen (true), unto the glory of God by us." II Corinthians 1:20. There is one work of God in Christ by the Spirit. It is thus that the Apostle Paul preaches. He says, "But as God is true, our word toward you was not yea and nay. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us, even by me and Silvanus and Timotheus, was not yea and nay, but in him was yea." II Corinthians 1:18,19. God is true. His promise is sure; it rests in Christ and in the truth of God who keeps His word. The promise rests in Christ Who is Truth. God's promises are not contradictory or conditional. God does not promise one thing and fail to perform it. We need to keep this in mind as we consider the promise.

When Peter says "For the promise is unto you...," he is making a declaration of the gospel, which is sure. That promise is for His people, those in the context in Acts 2 who are of the Jews, who are by God's grace were called, pricked in their heart and brought to repentance. Peter assures them they shall receive the promise of the Holy Ghost in the way of repentance, "For the promise is unto you..." That promise is unto "even as many as the Lord our God shall call." Acts 2:39.

That promise forms the glad tidings of the gospel. Paul preaches, "And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he that raised up Jesus again:..." Acts 13:32,33. The glad tidings of the gospel are the glad tidings that the sure promise has been fulfilled. The glad tidings of the outpouring of the Spirit, as Peter explains it, are that Christ, being exalted, "and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he (Christ) hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear," Acts 2:33. The gospel is the good news that the promise has come. The Old Testament was the revelation of the gospel by promise. The New Testament is the fulfilment of the promise in Christ.

The Promise is a Work of Grace,

That promise is revealed in many passages of scripture; it is bound up with the unfolding of God's covenant, which was revealed as "covenants of promise" or the promise, Ephesians 2:12. It is revealed already in Genesis 3:15. It is declared to Noah (Genesis 6:18, Genesis 9:9). It is repeatedly emphasized in God's word to Abraham and his seed throughout the Old Testament.

Of particular importance is that the form in which God reveals His covenant promise always embraces a believer and his seed, but in a very carefully defined way. It is always sovereign in grace. In Genesis 3:15, God makes a distinction between two seeds, "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." The distinction between these two seeds is a spiritual distinction.

Negatively, there is the spiritual fruit of the fall, of the spiritual seed of sin and the devil in the generations of our first parents. Such was Cain, who is of that "wicked one," I John 3:12. Likewise, the unbelieving Pharisees are described by John the Baptist, "...O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? " Matthew 3:7. Jesus speaks of the same thing when He says to them, "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?" Matthew 23;33. Those to whom Jesus and John the Baptist spoke were the children of Abraham after the flesh (John 8:37,39,44).

This point concerning children after the flesh, the fallen, spiritual seed of the serpent is repeated in various ways in Scripture. Jesus explains it to Nicodemus when he says, "...Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God," John 3:3, and in that connection says, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit," John 3:6. Man by nature is born fallen in sin. David says, "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me." Psalm 51:5. Sin and death are the fruit of the fall of man into sin in Adam (Romans 5:12;18.) The Word of God also speaks of this concerning the promise when it says, "That is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed," Romans 9:8

It is against that background of the fall and the development in sin in the generations of sinful man after the flesh, that the word of God directs us to God's promise. There is a wonder set forth in the word of God. That wonder is of another seed, a spiritual seed of promise, gathered in the generations of believers. A seed which is the work of grace. It is the work of God Who says, "I will put enmity..." God causes this division. He works it. He causes there to be a seed of the woman, by grace standing at enmity with sin, the Devil, and the seed of the serpent, and positively standing as friends of God.

This spiritual seed of the woman in Genesis 3:15 is centrally Christ, (Galatians 4:4; Revelation 12:5) but it is also righteous Abel who was in Christ (Hebrews 11:4). After Abel's murder, that the promise of God might not fail, we read, "And Adam knew his wife again; and she bare a son, and called his name Seth: For God, said she, hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew," Genesis 4:26. Grace and God's power cause His promise to stand.

In that line of Seth are found the godly, from Seth to Enoch to Noah, and in that line of grace the promise of Christ. To Noah and his seed God speaks His promise, "And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you," Genesis 9:9 ( See also Genesis 6:18). It is God Who establishes His covenant. It is God Who saves believing Noah and his house in the ark and by the flood from the wicked world that perished. That work of grace embraces not only man, but ultimately the living creature (Genesis 6:19; Genesis 9:10; Romans 8: 19-23) which shall be brought ultimately into the glory of a new heavens and earth, of which the deliverance by the flood was a type or picture.

It is in that light that God, over the course of Abraham's life, speaks to Abraham the promise of the wonder and power of His grace. God shows Abraham the stars of heaven and says, "so shall thy seed be," Genesis 15:5. God declares unto Abraham:

"And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee." Genesis 17:7.

When Abraham, by faith, offers up Isaac, God says:

"And the angel of the LORD called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son : That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice." Genesis 22:15-18.

God's promise was to Abraham and his seed in his generations, that God would be his God and the God of his seed after him. God would save Abraham and his house, bless them, multiply them and in them the nations also would be blessed. This is the promise in its full scope and beauty.

Now, there are several things we must notice about this revelation of the promise.

The Promise is in Christ

1. First, the Word of God says that in speaking of a seed (singular) particularly in Genesis 17:7, God was speaking centrally of Christ. The Word of God says:

"Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ." Galatians 3:16.

The Apostle Paul in making this point adds also in connection with it, that that promise of Christ was a matter of mere grace in God Who promised. Nor could it depend on the law, the keeping of the law, or man's works and obedience. He adds concerning the promise:

"And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect." Galatians 3:17.

God's word to Abraham rests upon God alone Who says, "I will establish." It is God's word of promise, which God has spoken, and to further confirm it sworn by himself as His sure word unto us.

For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself, Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. Hebrews 6:13-20

God's promise is an unconditional promise of grace which God realizes in Christ the mediator who is the seed of Abraham. In the same way, Jesus is also the seed of David. God says to David:

"And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever." II Samuel 7:12,13.

The Promise is to a Spiritual Seed Born of the Promise

2. Secondly, the promise embraces those who are born by the power and wonder of God's sovereign and effectual grace. God establishes His covenant with us, "To be a God unto thee," Genesis 17:7, as God said to Abraham. The promise of God does not rest upon the flesh but upon God Who keeps and fulfills His word, upon His grace in Christ which saves His people. The Word of God explains this not only by pointing out that we must be born of the Spirit of God to believe and enter God's kingdom (John 3: 3-6) but by pointing us to the birth of Isaac itself. Isaac and Ishmael were both born to Abraham. They had the same father. They were children of Abraham's flesh. But Isaac was born by the power of God's grace and according to His promise. Isaac was the fulfilment of God's word of promise, the work of God in the life of Abraham and Sarah when they were too old to have children from a physical point of view.

Now in pointing this out the Scriptures do so to make it clear that all of God's promises, the promise, rest upon grace alone, upon His power and faithfulness to His word. We read:

"Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed." Romans 9:6-8

Isaac is a child of God, born by the wonder and power of God's grace, not by the power of man. The word of God applies this to believers and how they are saved. Paul declares, "Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise," Galatians 4:28. We were born of the promise of mere grace, born again unto faith and life in Christ. Our spiritual birth is like that of Isaac.

What distinguishes a believer from an unbeliever, a child of God from one who is not, is mere grace. This is even underscored, for Jacob is a child of the promise and of grace while Esau is not. The Apostle Paul in Romans is aware that Isaac and Ishmael, while children of Abraham after the flesh, have nevertheless different mothers. In the case of Jacob and Esau, however, they are twin brothers of the same parents, and God also spoke His word to their parents before they were born.

"That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son. And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated." Romans 9:8-13.

The apostle rests this distinction between the children of the promise and the children of the flesh upon God's eternal election and effectual calling. For God speaks His word even before they were born or had done any works. So it is not because one man chose and another did not. God chose, called, spoke His word, declared His promise and by His grace realized it in the life of Jacob. Grace made them to differ from one another. It is true that Esau, born a sinner, walks in hardened unrepentant sin as a child of the flesh, of the seed of the serpent. But the wonder is that there is Jacob, who though in himself a sinner, is made, of God's grace, a child of God.

The underlying reason: God said, "Jacob have I loved." God, of mere grace, commands His grace, calling, and election to run in the generations of believers, that their should be children of the promise, born by the Spirit and by the power of grace. The wonder in the generations of Abraham is not an Ishmael and an Esau born after the flesh but an Isaac, the child of promise, and a Jacob, whom God loved.

Peter address this in his sermon on the promise. While the truth of God in Christ and the wonder of the Spirit, poured out, is proclaimed to all who hear, It is to those pricked in their hearts who cry out, "Men and brethen, what shall we do?" that Peter says:

"...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 Ghost. 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

The promise comes to a Jewish audience. It is an echo of God's promise in Genesis 17:7 Moreover, Peter has in view also, not only his Jewish audience but the promise of God to Abraham, "And in thy seed (Christ) shall all the nations of the earth be blessed," Genesis 22:18. So Peter adds that the promise is to you... and to all that are afar off (namely the Gentiles) The promise is to Jew and Gentile whom God, of mere grace, gathers in Christ according to the promise. Hence, Paul can say to the Galatian Gentile believers, "Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise." Galatians 4:28. He can say also to the Gentiles concerning the promise, "And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." Galatians 3:29. The qualifier in all that Peter says is grace, electing grace, and an effectual call, "as many as the Lord our God shall call," Acts 2:39.

In the light of this wonder of grace we can also understand aright what the Word of God says,"

"But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1: 12,13.

This often quoted and misused text does not set forth man's work of reception in saving himself and God's approval. It teaches rather God's work of grace: we received Christ as God's powerful gift wrought in us. And it explains that the cause of this reception was not man's birth, nor man's fleshly will such as a man making a decision out of his fleshly so-called free will, nor his birth by the will of a man, or father. We received Christ because we were born of God. Being born of God, children of the promise, we received Christ and were given by that birth after the Spirit power to become the sons of God. God made us His children. He begat us, called us effectually, Acts 2:39 and we repented and turned unto God in faith. He did so by the exceeding greatness of His power, Ephesians 1:18-19, out of an eternal love, Ephesians 1:3-12. We are, as Jesus said, born again and therefore see and enter the kingdom. John 3:3-6.

The Promise is Unto Your Children

3. The third element is significant, the promise includes our children. It speaks of our families and in that also of marriage and our homes. Peter declares the promise is unto you, and to your children..." God does not save merely individuals. He sets His grace in families and works in generations. God saved not merely Seth, appointed in the place of Abel, but caused His grace to run in his generations, so that there was a believing Enoch, "who walked with God," Genesis 5:22; Hebrews 11:5). Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord, (Genesis 6:8), likewise walked in covenant fellowship with God, (Genesis 6:9, 18) and built an ark "to the saving of his house." (Hebrews 11:7). God was Abraham's God according to His covenant promise (Genesis 17:7) but also of his seed, a spiritual seed, in his generations, so that there was Isaac, the child of promise, and Jacob, God's chosen. This truth Peter also proclaims to those who turned unto the Lord on Pentecost. The promise is unto you and to your children. Not to you, an adult individual only, Jew and gentile, but unto your children.

This is an integral part of the promise and the word of the gospel. It is the foundation of the Christian home and family. Corrupt it, make salvation man's work and you will lose the foundation of the family and the gospel also. To the Gentiles also, who are spiritually Abraham's seed in Christ and "heirs according to the promise," Galatians 3:29, the same promise of the gospel is spoken. Thus we read of the Philippian Jailor, that the word of the gospel to him was, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." Acts 16:31. God saves households. The promise declared to the jailor, was a promise to the jailor of what God would surely work through faith in his salvation personally, but also in his house as a father and husband in his family. God would save him and his house. The promise was to him and to his children.

This element because of its importance, as belonging to the foundation of the Christian home and family, warrants further study and discussion and we turn to it next: the promise...and to your children.

For Further Study

Sections for Further Study

  1. The Promise & the Gospel
  2. The Work of Grace
  3. The Term Covenant
  4. The Salvation of the Children of Promise
  5. Israel and the Church
  6. "Seed" and the Text of Scripture

1. The Promise & the Gospel

The issues raised in this article are serious ones which go to the heart of the gospel. Strange doctrines and errors multiply which subvert the truth of God's word. Christians are to be like the church in Berea who search the scriptures. We read of them, "...they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so." Acts 17:11. Are you doing this?

The promise of the gospel is an important matter for a sound faith. The gospel is the proclamation of the promise. For a further exposition of this truth, go to:

2. The Work of Grace

God's promises are His sure word. There is a difference between a promise and a contract. A promise depends on the one making it for its fulfillment. A contract has benefits offered by one depending on the works and conditions fulfilled by the works of another. Salvation is by promise in God's grace. Teaching which departs from this truth is a repackaged form of salvation by works in a contract. The Word of God declares of salvation, "So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. " Romans 9:16. Salvation is not by good deeds or merit. Neither is salvation by the works of the will of man in repenting and believing. God, Who works repentance and faith, promises to work them in the hearts of His people, whom He renews, begetting them anew so that they are born again and called. For a further exposition of this, go to:

3. The Term Covenant

The promise of God is called in various ways in Scripture God's covenant promise. The idea of the covenant is important. In The Old Testament, it is God's word of promise, "I will be thy God," and based on God's declaration, "I will establish my covenant," Genesis 17:7. It is not a contract. God alone confirms the covenant, both in a figure by passing between the torn pieces of animals Genesis 15, and by swearing an oath to perform it in Genesis 22:15-18. In the New Testament, the word for covenant is testament, a word referring to a last will and testament by which as father determines who his children are and what their inheritance shall be, Galatians 3: 14--18; Hebrews 9:14-17. The word for a contract is never used of God's work in Christ. The word covenant as a contract is only used in the New Testament of Judas' contracting with the Pharisees to betray Jesus. For further study, go to:

4. The Salvation
of the Children of Promise

This subject also touches on the sovereignty of God in salvation, for God makes the promise, realizes it in Christ, and applies it by the Spirit to the children of promise. Go to:

5. Israel and the Church

"For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel," Romans 9:6. By these words the word of God also confronts a serious departure from the gospel. The text plainly makes a very specific distinction. That distinction is between Israel, true spiritual Israel, and that which is "of Israel," that is, the biological descendants of Jacob. While the nation of Israel in the Old Testament in its form and institution was the visible expression of the people of God, the true Israel of God, within the nation, were God's believing people, who had the faith of Abraham, not simply his offspring. The Apostle writes, "That is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed," Romans 9:8.

The Jews after the flesh were not the people of God. Believing Israel only were the people of God. Jacob is God's chosen by election. Moreover, the Gentiles who were once afar off are now the people of God. We read, " Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;" Ephesians 2:19. The word of God declares of believing Gentiles, "And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." Galatians 3:29. Jesus Himself said of Jew and Gentile that there should be one fold and one shepherd, He declares of the Gentiles, "And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd." John 10:16.

The children of promise are gathered now out of all nations by grace through faith. One does not read the Holy Spirit's word "literally" when one imposes an interpretation on the word Israel so that Israel =Jews, when the Holy Spirit, the Author of Scripture, tells us explicitly, that we are not to read our Bibles this way!

The separation that is made between Israel and the church, which is called dispensationalism, is not the teaching of the gospel but an invention of J. N. Darby of the Plymouth Brethren in the mid-1800's. This heresy and false gospel is not the truth of the gospel nor historic Christianity. The doctrine of Christ's second coming associated with it is likewise a perversion of the Scriptures. True spiritual Israel, now gathered out of Jew and Gentile are one, together enduring tribulation now and shall together be delivered at the one bodily, visible return of Christ to raise the dead. For a further sutdy of the issue of Israel and the church, go to:

For a further study of the doctrine of Christ's coming, go to the End Times section, which includes also an exposition of the book of Revelation, Behold He Cometh.

6. "Seed" and the Text of Scripture

The Word of God, throughout the entire Bible, uses the word "seed" in a very specific way in both Hebrew and Greek. Occasionally it refers to the natural seed of a man, after the flesh. Usually the word is used in the sense of a spiritual seed, children of promise, gathered in the generations of a natural seed. The term "seed" is, in fact, a very important doctrinal term. The word is used in the singular, because centrally that "seed was Christ," Galatians 3:16, where the apostle's entire argument is based on the singular. To use a so-called Bible version which falsely renders this word is to undermine a key doctrine in scripture.

If the Bible you ordinarily use renders any or all of the following passages (and the list is not exhaustive) by another word than "seed," such as offspring or descendants (plural), then understand that you are using a corrupted paraphrase of the Scriptures and not a true translation. List: Genesis 3:15; Genesis 9:9; Genesis 17:7; Deutronomy 30:6; Isaiah 53:10; Isaiah 59:21; Romans 9:8; Galatians 3:29.

The Bible is the Word of God, verbally inspired. Corrupting the translation of the term seed obscures the promise of the gospel and hides the truth of Christ and His saving work. On this basis alone the Authorized or King James Version, as it is called, is still the only reliable version in English.

It is ironic that so many who call themselves evangelical, claim to believe in the fundamentals of Scripture, and interpret the Bible "literally," use such paraphrases and corruptions. If the word is to be taken literally, as the Holy Spirit explains it, then that begins by using a genuine translation, not a paraphrase, which is man putting his words in the place of what the Spirit said.

Nor is the claim that such versions are founded on a better, more modern understanding of the text in the Greek New Testament, or what is called textual criticism, of any value. If you are not translating the words accurately, if you are in fact paraphrasing and using your own words, all the so-called claims to modern textual criticism are simply meaningless propaganda. You are not translating what the text says, but paraphrasing. Nor is it the case that the claims made about a modern text are all that they claim to be. For more on this subject go to: