The thought arises: how could Abraham have understood the promise as referring to a heavenly city, the beautiful cleansed Bride of Christ, which will one day descend from heaven in perfected state in a new heaven and in a new earth?

This question is suggested by the from of the verb in the text which is translated “looked for.” Now in this term there is the idea of seeking and of eager expectancy of faith and hope. And the form of the verb is in the imperfect tense. This tense is the historical tense, it is the moving picture. A.T. Robertson calls it “the picturesque progressive imperfect (exedecheto), the patientand steady waiting in spite of disappointment.” It is the confident expectation of a living hope. Such was the life of Abraham’s sojourn with Isaac and Jacob. Abraham thus walked for one hundred years in the land, and Isaac his one hundred and eighty and Jacob his one hundred forty-seven years. And all the while their expectation was constant and living, they confessed that they were pilgrims and strangers in the earth. Truly, the Patriarchs understood more and more that the promise was not of an earthly land but of a better country, that is, an heavenly. 

This was due to the very words of the promise to Abraham when the God of glory appeared unto him as recorded in Genesis 12:1-13. For here we have the promise of God in which all is said. The Architect and Builder of the city which has foundations is laying out the master-plan, the blue-print, so to speak, of the perfected Church in Jesus Christ. We have noticed in a former essay what the terms were. We merely sum them up here briefly: 

1. “And I will make of thee a great nation.” 

2. “And I will bless thee and make thy name great.” 

3. “And thou shalt be a blessing.” 

4. “And I will bless him that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee.” 

5:”And in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” 

Here we have the basic foundation of the Church of the living God both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. Here we have all the lines as they lead from Abraham to David, to Christ, (the SEED) and in Him the church gathered from every nation, tongue and people. These lines shew that in this promise and command Abraham now can and will walk, with Isaac and Jacob, in the frame-work of the Architectural lines of the heavenly Jerusalem. Such is the pedagogy of the Lord. 

Now by faith Abraham can do a bit of “accounting.” Faith has its own ratiocination, its own process of exact thinking. And Abraham was a prophet. He has the Spirit of the Lord to guide him into the truth of the promise. He could and did work out his salvation with fear and trembling. And he saw with faith’s exactitude, and that unerringly, that all the lines of the promise led to the “Seed.” Yes, he had his fainting spells when his faith needed more instruction as to the details. We have here but to think of the great revelation of the Lord spoken on in Genesis 15. We notice how the Lord here predicts the initial receiving of the land after four hundred years of bondage in a strange land. (Gen. 15:13-18). Here again the Lord not only comes and renews the promise but gives more details of how and when these things shall come to pass. And then the faith of Abraham laid hold on each new and more detailed explication of the first formulation of the promise and that made for “a looking for” the heavenly city, of which God is the Builder and Maker. Abraham had to wait each time for renewed instruction as God was building His city out of his very loins. In Isaac shall the Seed be called. And, finally, Abraham sees it on the mount and obtains the promise with much faith and longsuffering. In the Mount of the LORD it shall be seen! Jehovah-jired! (Gen. 23:14) For it was here that faith did its highest and most accurate exact thinking. It saw that God must raise from the dead. And so Abraham ends his pilgrimage in purchasing a burial place in the land, insisting that he is a stranger and a pilgrim amongst the children of Heth: “I am a stranger and a sojourner in your midst,” reasoning “I seek a better country, that is, an heavenly.” I see the city by faith in the dim, distant future, and I rejoice even in burying my dead. 

Thus the LORD led Abraham and the other Patriarchs from step to step on their pilgrim journey. They saw the day of Christ from afar and rejoiced. (John 8:56) We have but to read the accounting of the blessing wherewith Isaac blesses Jacob when he says “…let peoples serve thee, and nations bow down to thee…cursed be every one that curseth thee and blessed be he that blesses thee,” to observe this seeing of Christ’s day from afar, looking even in the prophetic perspective for the sufferings to come upon the Christ and the glory to follow. And Jacob, when he is about to die, blesses his sons and speaks of the things that will befall them in the time when the Seed shall have come “Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise . . . The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come, and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.” (Genesis 27:28Genesis 49:8-11) Here we see the people gathering in the city, the people, redeemed out of all ages, which shall be the city, the Bride prepared for the Bridegroom. (Revelation 21


God is called in the Holy Scriptures from this time forth the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. God deems this compatible with His divine glory, the truth of the promise and the power of God which is revealed in the resurrection of all things, changing the earthly and corruptible into the heavenly and immortal. 

That God his called the God of the Patriarchs in Scripture is quite clear from many key-passages both in Moses and in the Prophets. The verb here to call is “epikaleisthai,” which means to name upon. This verb indeed has various senses and meanings. In Romans 10:12, 14 the meaning of the verb is “call upon” and refers to the believer’s calling to the Lord for help and salvation from sin, guilt and corruption. There, quoting Joel, Paul says that everyone who calls upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved. However, when Paul appeals his case to Caesar in Rome, then the term has another meaning. (Acts 25:11, 22Acts 26:32Acts 28:19) In our text here in Hebrews 11:16 the meaning is to surname. God is surnamed the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In this sense the verb is used in I Peter 1:17 where we read “If ye call Father, who without respect of persons judgest according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning in fear and trembling.” 

In the Genesis record God Himself calls Himself by this “Title,” by which He is not ashamed to be called. He appears to Jacob at Bethel, when the latter was fleeing from Esau, in a dream. Standing at the head of the ladder which reached from earth to heaven, he says “I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac etc.” Earlier He had appeared to Isaac in the night and said “I am the God of Abraham thy Father; fear not, for I am with thee, etc.” (Genesis 28:13Genesis 26:24) Jacob is very conscious of the meaning of this “title” and the intimate care and relationship between God and the Patriarchs expressed in this name, since he uses it in his apology with his father-in-law Laban and replies to the latter “Except the God of my father, the God of Abraham had been with me, surely thou hadst sent me away empty.” It was this God who was “with him” that gave Jacob his wives, children and great multitude of sheep, oxen and camels. Thus Jacob also addresses God in his fervent prayer in the night of his Peniel when he says, “O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac the LORD which saidst unto me return to thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee. . . .” (Genesis 31:42Genesis 32:9

Later it is David who also addresses the Lord and says, “O LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel our fathers, keep this forever in the imagination and thoughts of the heart of thy people. . . .” (I Chronicles 29:18, 19) And Elijah on Mount Carmel pleads with God at the altar, which had been drenched with water, “Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known this day that Thou art God in Israel, etc.” (I Kings 18:36

But that God is not ashamed to be “called” the God of the Patriarchs is still more abundantly proven by the fact that He Himself calls and pin-pointedly designates Himself by this name. There is here something of unending, condescending covenant faithfulness, goodness and mercy in God’s usage of this Name. Here is the covenant Jehovah in his coming down to pick up Israel in all her sorrows and bondage in Egypt. And to assure Moses that He is indeed the God of Israel and of Moses He says, “I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. . . .” (Exodus 3:6) Small wonder that the prophets later addressed God by this Name! And it shows the utter blindness of the unbelieving and rationalistic Sadducees that they had never seen the grandeur and implication of this self-manifestation of Almighty God. Truly they erred because they knew neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. One must know the meaning of the Scriptures to know what is implied in this surname of God. There is something truly sublime in this,” He is not ashamed to be called their God.” And it is this, that it postulates the great eternal and infallible truth of the “anastasis” the resurrection of the saints in glory, but also the resurrection of all things, changing all the earthly into the heavenly. God will one day change all the earthly pilgrimage-plane of the saints, where they tread their three score years and ten, into the heavenly glory of a new heaven and of a new earth. (Rev. 21) For God is not the God of the dead but of the living. Really Jesus says God is not the God of dead ones but of living ones. He does not use the article in the Greek. The absence of the article shows that Jesus is pointing out the quality of living. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are still living. He that liveth and believeth shall never die! 

No, God is not ashamed to be called their God. He calls Himself by this name and we call him by this name, and all the wondrous heavens will be the realization of the truth of the resurrection expressed in this name as unerringly interpreted by Christ Himself. Let all the multitude then marvel at this teaching!