ISAAC AND JESUS
Philippe R. Sterling
Isaac Is a Type and Shadow of Jesus Christ
There is a two-fold reason God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. First, He wanted to test Abraham (Gen. 22:1). Second, He wanted a picture of what He would do with His Son two thousand years later. Isaac is one of the clear types of Christ in the Old Testament. Here are some of the parallels!
Isaac and Jesus Are Sons of Promise
Isaac was the long-promised son to Abraham (Gen. 12:3). Jesus was the long-promised Messiah and Son of God (Gen. 3:15; 13:3, John 1:1-12).
Isaac was Abraham's son, through whom God promised to make a great nation, and bless all the nations of the earth (Gen. 18:18). Jesus is the promised One through whom God blesses all the nations (Gal. 3:16).
Isaac and Jesus Had Miraculous Births
Sarah could not have a child because she had been beyond child-bearing age for years. Mary could not have a child because she was a virgin. Yet both women had sons for Abraham.
Isaac and Jesus Were Only Begotten Sons
The language used regarding Abraham and Isaac is almost identical to the language used in the New Testament regarding God the Father and His Son. In Gen. 22:2 God said to Abraham, “your son, your only son.” He repeated these words two more times:
Gen. 22:12—“And He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.’”
Gen. 22:16—[The Angel of the Lord] said: “By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son.”
God does not use highlighting, italics, underlining, or bold for emphasis, but He does repeat Himself when He wants to ensure we do not miss something. God wants us to recognize Isaac was, “[Abraham’s] son, [his] only son.” Abraham had another son, Ishmael, so how can God refer to Isaac as Abraham’s “only” son? It is referring to Isaac being Abraham’s special, one-of-a-kind son.
This makes Isaac look like Jesus, the only begotten Son of God. “Begotten” does not mean “created.” The Greek word for “only begotten” is monogenes, and it means, “single of its kind.” It means Jesus is God’s unique Son. This separates Him from believers who are sons and daughters of God by adoption, and angels who are also called “sons of God” (Gen. 6:4, Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7 cf. Hebrews 1:5-14).
God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, instead of Ishmael, because He wanted him to sacrifice his only begotten, special, unique son. This looked forward to God sacrificing His only begotten, special, unique Son.
Isaac and Jesus Were Named by God
In Gen. 22:2 God said, “…your only son Isaac…” The mention of Isaac’s name draws a connection to Jesus. Isaac also had the rare distinction of being named by God, instead of being named by earthly parents. Notice the parallelism between these verses:
Gen. 17:19 — “Sarah… shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac.”
Matthew 1:21 — “[Mary] shall bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus.”
Isaac and Jesus Were Sacrificed in Moriah
Abraham and Isaac went to the mount specified by God in the land of Moriah. Near the same place on Calvary, Jesus was sacrificed for the sin of the world.
Isaac and Jesus Were Burnt Offerings
In Gen. 22:2 God said, “…and offer him there as a burnt offering…” God did not just ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. He specifically said to “offer him as a burnt offering.” Again, God is repetitive to make sure we do not miss this. The words “burnt offering” occur six times between verses two and thirteen. Almost every other verse reminds us Isaac was to be a burnt offering.
Leviticus 1 describes burnt offerings. Burnt offerings make a fitting picture of Christ. Three times they are called: “an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the Lord” (Leviticus 1:9, 13, 17). Paul applies this imagery to Jesus: “[Christ] has given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma (Ephesians 5:2).
A key verse is Leviticus 1:4. Let’s look at it, piece-by-piece:
Leviticus 1:4a says “[The priest] shall put his hand on the head of the burnt offering.” This communicated the transmission of the sin to the sacrifice, and it looked to the way our sins are transmitted to Christ. Isaiah 53:6 says “the Lord has laid on [Jesus] the iniquity of us all.”
Leviticus 1:4b says the burnt offering “will be accepted on [the sinner’s] behalf” looking to the way Christ died in our place.
Leviticus 1:4c says the burnt offering will “make atonement for [the sinner]” looking to the way Jesus made atonement for our sins.
Isaac and Jesus Carried the Wood for Their Sacrifices
“So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together” (Gen. 22:6a). The account emphasizes the wood for the burnt offering — mentioned five times in verses 3, 6, 7 and twice in verse 9.
The wood looks to the cross. In both accounts, the wood was the physical instrument on which both Isaac and Jesus would be sacrificed: “[Jesus], bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha” (John 19:17). Just like Jesus carried the wood for His sacrifice on His shoulders when He went to die, so did Isaac carry the wood for his sacrifice on his shoulders when he went to die.
Isaac and Jesus Were Sacrificial Lambs
But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” Then he said, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” So the two of them went together. (Gen. 22:7-8)
Abraham thought he would sacrifice Isaac, and then God would raise him from the dead: “He [concluded] that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead” (Hebrews 11:19). If Abraham expected to sacrifice Isaac, why did he also say God would provide a lamb? The best solution is Abraham saw Isaac as the lamb to be sacrificed.
When Isaac said, “Where is the lamb?” he asked one of the most important questions in history. When Abraham answered Isaac’s question, he provided one of the most important answers in history.
God would provide a lamb, and John the Baptist identified Him two thousand years later when he said “Behold! The Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). This was when Isaac’s question was finally answered, and Abraham’s words were finally fulfilled.
Isaac and Jesus Were In Agreement with Their Fathers
[Abraham and Isaac] went together…and Abraham said, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” So the two of them went together (Gen. 22:6, 8). The unity between father and son is shown through the repetition of, “the two of them went together.”
The agreement between Abraham and Isaac pictures the agreement between God the Father and God the Son. Consider these verses:
John 3:16—“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
1 John 3:16—“By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us.”
The gospel makes us think of the Father’s love for lost sinners (John 3:16), and the Son’s love for those He died for (1 John 3:16), but this all required the Father and Son working together. The Father and Son cooperated, and this was prefigured two thousand years earlier when Abraham and Isaac walked to Mount Moriah together.
Isaac freely submitted to be bound and tied upon the altar. Jesus voluntarily went forth to death, and freely surrendered His spirit into the hands of His Father.
Here the resemblance terminates. God stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son and provided a substitute, God did not spare His own Son, Jesus, from dying on the cross. If Jesus had lived, the rest of humankind would have died. God sent His only Son to die for us so that we can be spared eternal death and receive eternal life.
Special Area of Focus: Resurrection
When Abraham offered Isaac, and God stayed his hand from slaying him, the Bible tells us Abraham received him back as a type (Heb. 11:19). From Abraham's perspective, he received Isaac back as from the dead when God stopped Him from slaying him.
"By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, 'In Isaac your descendants shall be called.' He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type (Hebrews 11:17-19).
When God stopped Abraham from slaying his son, Abraham considered that God raised him from the dead (Heb. 11:19). God raised Jesus from the dead (Rom. 6:4).
- From the beginning the Triune God decreed the death and resurrection of God the Son.
- From the beginning the Triune God provided prophetic images of the death and resurrection of God the Son.
God the Son became man, died on the cross for our sins, rose from the dead, and promises everlasting life which can never be lost to all who believe. Do you believe this?