Those who spiritualize the land promise fall prey to what Robert Saucy calls “the common view that the Old Testament deals with material and earthly realities while the New Testament deals with higher, spiritual matters” (Case for Progressive Dispensationalism, 242). Against this “common view” Paul places the bodily resurrection at the heart of the gospel:
For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. . . . When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? [1 Cor. 15:21-22]
Redemption involves reversing sin and its effects, with death as the chief consequence of sin. Thus the redeemed are given life in the inner man: “and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:26). But life in the inner man alone is not the conquest of death. Christ conquers death in the outer man as well: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). (For futher explanation, see here.) At the heart of the gospel is something physical, the resurrection body.
Sin also affected the physical creation in the cursing of the creation blessing. Attending the seed blessing is pain in childbirth (Gen. 3:16) and the blessing of dominion over the land is frustrated (Gen. 3:17-19). Paul notes that “the creation was subjected to futility,” a reference to the curse. Furthermore, Paul connects the creation waiting for freedom “from its bondage to corruption” to “the redemption of our bodies,” a reference to the resurrection (Rom. 8:19-23). The reversal of the curse on creation, therefore, is an important part of redemption.
Given the tight relationship between redemption and the material creation, Saucy is certainly correct when he rejects “the common hermeneutical tendency to see statements dealing with material things as symbolically depicting New Testament spiritual realities.”
Progressive Covenantalists are in line with Saucy here. Martin writes:
Jesus taught his disciples to pray that God’s (heavenly) kingdom would come to earth (Matt. 6:9-10). The hope for Jesus’s followers, then, is not an ethereal, non-physical existence, but the consummation of spiritual realities coming into effect on the earth. Likewise, in Matthew 19 the future place of Jesus’ disciples is not described as a destruction of the earth or a spiritual, non-physical kingdom, but a palingenesia, a new world (19:28). Thus the earth has a territorial connotation and the Beatitudes an eschatological dimension. When put together, Matthew describes an eschatological reborn earth for those in the kingdom. Amazingly, the ‘blessed’ in Matthew will inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5)—the kingdom of heaven (vv. 3, 10)—and though they mourn in the present, they will reign with Christ in the new earth. [Bound for the Promised Land, 126]
This point of agreement is significant, for it forms the foundation for a commonality of viewpoint and the possibility for rapprochement that would not be possible if the land promise was spiritualized.
This is part of a series of posts on Progressive Covenantalism and the land theme in Scripture.