In Galatians 3:16, Paul identifies Christ as the offspring who received the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant as Christ. Did Abraham also think that Christ was the recipient of the promise that worldwide blessing would come to all through Him?
Perhaps the best way to understand the promise to this offspring is to understand offspring in a generic sense and yet realize that it also referred to one specific male offspring who would see the promise realized in full. This understanding seems to be how Abraham and others would have understood it then, which explains why Paul would have identified the offspring as Christ as well.
The recipient of Abraham’s promise was his offspring, which could refer to anyone who was his offspring. Whether Isaac, Jacob, or Israel as a nation, they, too, received the promises first given to Abraham. And, the blessing to the nations through them would have come by these nations blessing them and having faith in the promise themselves (Gen 12:3). The Offspring who received the promise to Abraham and brings blessing to the nations in full is obviously Christ because of what He did on the cross. By blessing Him, so to speak, through believing in Him, anyone among the nations of the earth may find himself blessed in that he is declared righteous before God through his faith.
The term offspring in two other instances is used similarly. First, Gen 3:15 promised that the seed of the woman would strive with but eventually crush the serpent. While it was singularly “he” who would crush the serpent’s head (obviously Christ), we find later that Satan’s crushing also involves the feet of believers as well (Rom 16:20). The struggle between Christ and Satan is shown through the plural offspring of each throughout the ages, as seen as early as the struggle between Abel and Cain in Gen 4 (cf. 1 John 3:9–10, 12). So, while Christ is the singular Offspring who crushes Satan in the end, so also all the offspring of the woman who are in Him will enjoy victory over Satan as well. Offspring can refer to both Christ and many offspring.
Second, 2 Sam 7:12–13 promised to David that his offspring would have his kingdom established and that the throne would be established forever. While some of David’s offspring were kings who saw their thrones established in part, the greatest Offspring of David is obviously Christ who will come again and rule forever. Again, offspring here refers ultimately to Christ while previously referring to other offspring before Him.
Added to all of the above is the fact that we have seen at least three stands of promises to offspring that all find their greatest fulfillment in Christ. The original readers of the OT would easily have understood the offspring from one promise to the other to find partial fulfillment in their day, knowing that one day the promise’s greatest fulfillment would be in the greater Offspring to come.
Pastor regularly writes articles for our Sunday bulletin. See his bio on our staff page.