In the Gospel of John, Jesus made the bold claim that Abraham was glad that he would see the day when he would come. (John 8:56) In other words, Jesus was saying that he was the promised heir of Abraham’s blessing. But what blessing is he referring to? According to Genesis 12:2-3, God said to Abraham:
“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Conservative scholarship attributes Genesis to Moses, who wrote 1,500 years before Christ. Liberal scholars date the book to around the 5th century BC. By this time, Israel had seen its heyday come and go. I’m referring to when the kingdom was still united and not taken away into captivity — the time of David and Solomon.
If the dating of Genesis is much later as the critics claim, they can rightly cry foul. Israel did become a great nation but only after the fact of the prophecy. However, one huge element of the promise was still unfulfilled — you couldn’t say that all the nations of the earth were blessed through Abraham. Even during the time of Jesus, it hadn’t happened yet.
Israel to be a light to all nations
Another prophet – Isaiah (or Deutero-Isaiah according to more critical Bible scholars) – made some similar lofty predictions about Israel becoming a light to all nations. We see these prophecies in Isaiah 42:1-7, 49:1-12, 50:4-11, and 53. Here’s a couple of the relevant passages:
“I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”(Isaiah 42:6-7)
“And now the Lord says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him— for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord, and my God has become my strength— he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth. Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation, the servant of rulers: “Kings shall see and arise; princes, and they shall prostrate themselves; because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”(Isaiah 49:5-7)
Quick aside — some Jewish and skeptical critics say that the Servant is Israel and only Israel. But if the nation of Israel is gathering Israel to himself, then this interpretation becomes non-sensical. It has to be referring to a particular Servant. Anyway, we’re seeing a recurring theme here. Israel, or more specifically the Servant of Israel, is going to be a light to all nations. Like with the promise made to Abraham, all the nations of the earth will be blessed through this descendant.
It’s impossible that the prophecies were written after the fact
The Dead Sea Scrolls date back to 150 BC, which includes the entire book of Isaiah, so the prophecy was written before then. That’s a gimme. One of the most popular criticisms against the New Testament is that the gospel writers retrofit the Old Testament prophecies to fit their narrative, or contrived ‘prophesied’ events after the fact.
But there’s the problem with that argument here –during the time the NT was being written, the Jewish people had little spiritual, cultural or intellectual influence outside of Israel and a handful of small Jewish communities. Jews didn’t mix with Gentiles; they wouldn’t even eat with them. They didn’t emphasize proselytizing. Very few Gentiles were interested in the God of Israel. Only a small percentage of the world was even aware of the Hebrew scriptures. Most were polytheists.
All that changed when a guy named Paul came along. After his conversion in the 30s, Paul and other disciples spread the gospel to Europe, parts of Asia, and North Africa within a short time. Despite this radical shift towards the God of Israel throughout much of the world, this wouldn’t yet count as blessing all the nations of the earth.
Today all the nations of the earth have been blessed by Abraham’s offspring
Fast-forward to today — there are 14 million Jews, 2.2 billion Christians, and 1.5 billion Muslims who claim to worship the God of Abraham. There would be no Islam without Judaism and Christianity, and even if you don’t count Islam, a third of the world’s population worships Yahweh.
These believers exist on every continent — in developed nations as well as under-developed nations. Even in communist China, there are an estimated 31 million Christians. Truly Jesus of Nazareth, a descendant of Abraham, has become a light to all nations. This longshot of a prediction has come to pass. Christian philosophers Ken Boa and Rob Bowman’s hit the nail on the head here:
“Genesis predicted that through Abraham the people of Israel would influence the faith and life of people all over the earth. At the end of the entire Old Testament period, that prediction was not even remotely coming true. However, two millennia later, the worldwide influence of the Abrahamic heritage is an indisputable fact…who could reasonably have expected two thousand years and more ao that half the population of the Earth — some three billion people now — would consider themselves believers in the God of Abraham?”20 Compelling Evidences That God Exists: Discover Why Believing in God Makes So Much Sense
Not only has the world been blessed spiritually through Jesus, but Christianity has also made a myriad of other contributions to the world, including:
- Fine arts
- Sexual morality
- Civil rights
Granted, there have been dark times in the church’s history. Christians helped perpetuate the slave trade, while many others worked to end it. Sadly, there have been wars and persecutions that have come through the hands of Christians, but all of these things were practiced by people who ignored Christ’s love command and lived at the expense of others. But on the whole, consistently-practiced Christianity has been a force for good in the world.
What are the odds?
To appreciate these prophecies, I think it’s important to think about the odds of their fulfillment by mere chance. Here I’ll refer to the work of Christian philosophers John Bloom, Hugh Gauch, and Robert Newman:
The “light to the nations” prophecy, in the course of over 2,000 years since it was made, has been fulfilled in a rather spectacular manner. The largest religion in the world today was founded by a Jew, who has turned multitudes of pagan Gentiles into worshipers of the God of Abraham. How does one calculate the probability of something like this happening? The founder of the world’s largest religion must belong to some people group. What fraction of the world’s population, at the time the prediction was made, or the time it was fulfilled, were Jews?
The current fraction of Jews in the world is 0.3%. In spite of the Holocaust, the fraction of Jews living today is probably higher than in antiquity, since the Jews have participated in the huge population expansion of first world countries during the previous several centuries whereas many other ethnic groups have not. Anyway, staying with 0.3%, the antecedent odds of this prophecy coming true for the world’s largest religion are 1:300. But more conservatively, if we assume “light to the Gentiles” would be fulfilled by any of the major world religions—say 5 of them—then the odds would fall to 1:60.
What fraction of famous Jews would be “despised and abhorred by the nation” (Isa 49:7)? Not a very large fraction normally. Like any ethnic group, Jews tend to take pride in those who have done well in the larger society. Of course, Jesus is viewed as a religious innovator, and the fraction of Jewish religious innovators who are abhorred by the Jews is doubtless larger than in non-religious cases. Yet one of the standard objections against the Messiahship of Jesus is his rejection by the Jews! So something unusual is going on here, and odds of 1:10 seem fair. Hence, the total odds of the “light to the nations” prophecy are 1:600.Public Theology And Prophecy Data: Factual Evidence That Counts for The Biblical World View, Robert C. Newman, John A. Bloom, And Hugh G. Gauch
600 to 1 odds isn’t something most gamblers would go all-in on. That’s a 99.8333% chance of getting it wrong. So even apart from other more popular Messianic prophecies, this “all nations of the world will be blessed” promise unquestionably stands out.
Erik is a Reasonable Faith Chapter Director located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He’s a former freelance baseball writer and the co-owner of a vintage and handmade decor business with his wife, Dawn. He is passionate about the intersection of apologetics and evangelism.