Isaac is a picture of Jesus Christ’s substitutionary atonement for sin (Genesis 22:1-19):
One of the best pictures of the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament is God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. The command to sacrifice Isaac, the solitary ascend by Abraham and his only son to the place of sacrifice, the painful process of binding him and laying him on the altar, Isaac’s willing submission to his father, the last minute intervention from heaven, is a clear picture of Jesus’ sufferings up to His resurrection. (Carson… [et al], 1994:76). From a New Testament perspective, there is more to the sacrifice of Isaac than the supreme example by Abraham to obey God completely (Heb. 11:17-19). It is a picture of our heavenly Father’s sacrificial love. Abraham gave his only son as a sacrifice, and in the same way the Father did not spare His own Son for the world (Rom. 8:32; John 3:16).
The greatest theme of the Bible is about Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God. In Genesis 4, we see Abel bringing the first offering of the best of his flock. In Genesis 22, we see how Abraham had to go and offer his own son. In Exodus 12, we saw the Passover lamb to protect the Jews against the death of the first-born. In Isaiah 53, we read about the lamb which was led to be slaughtered. In John 1, we read about the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world. In the final book of the Bible (Revelations 5), we read about the Lion of the tribe of Judah who was slain like a Lamb for the sins of the world. He bought people for God with His blood. The final book of the Bible conclude with praise and glory to the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who is worthy to receive all honor as the greatest theme of the Bible.
In Genesis 22, the words “test” and “love” are used for the first time in the Bible (Johnson, 2007). When we read Matthew, Mark and Luke in the New Testament, the first reference to love is when God the Father announced His love for His son Jesus Christ. In the book of John, the first reference of love is in John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” It is therefore significant to notice that the first incident of love in the Old Testament was about a father who loves his only son. In the New Testament, it was about our Heavenly Father who loved His only son. Our heavenly Father sacrificed His son for us as Abraham had symbolically sacrificed his son. God also provided a replacement for Isaac as foreshadowing to Jesus Christ who was sacrificed in our place.
The Old Testament narrative of Abraham and Isaac is a foreshadow of the New Testament atonement of Jesus Christ as the Son of God the Father (Houdmann, 2009). Jesus Christ was crucified on the cross as the lamb for the sins of humanity. God the Father loved His own son and gave Him, as a sacrifice in our place, just like the ram was offered in Isaac’s place. Abraham loved his son Isaac who was the heir of the covenant promised by God. Jesus said many centuries later, “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). Through faith, Abraham saw Jesus Christ in the testing he underwent with the sacrifice of his own son. His faith in God’s promises was reckoned to him as righteousness.
From the Biblical accounts of Isaac and Jesus Christ, there are certain parallels (Houdmann, 2007):
• “Take your son, your only son, Isaac” (Gen. 22:2); “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…” (John 3:16).
• “…with him, and his son Isaac…” (Gen. 22:2); “he went out, bearing his own cross” (John 19:17). Abraham and his son was on their Via Dolorosa in the same way as God the Father and His son.
• “Go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there…” (Gen. 22:2); it is believed that this area is where the city of Jerusalem was built many years later (Johnson, 2007), where Jesus was crucified outside its city walls (Hebrews 13:12).
• “Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering” (Gen. 22:2); “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3).
• “Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac” (Gen. 22:6); Jesus, “carrying his own cross. . .” (John 19:17).
• “But where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (Gen 22:7); John said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
• Isaac, the son, acted in obedience to his father in becoming the sacrifice (Gen 22:9); Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).
• Resurrection – Isaac (figuratively) and Jesus in reality: “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’ Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.” (Hebrews 11:17-19); Jesus, “that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:4).
The covenant of salvation to the whole world:
After the testing of Abraham’s faith, God pronounced a covenant with Abraham. This covenant was recorded in Genesis 22:15-18. God swore by Himself to ensure the outcome of this covenant (Gen. 22:15; Heb. 6:13-18). The covenant contains two parts (Crossway, 2010:88). The covenant was for Abraham and all his descendants. This covenant was looking forward to Jesus Christ and the gospel to all the nations (Eph. 3:6; Rom. 4:13-17). Abraham was obedient to God in the call to sacrifice his own son (Gen. 22:16, 17), and in the same way God the Father will send His own Son as a sacrifice for the sins of the world (John 3:16). People from every language, tribe and nation (Rev. 5:6) will also look to Christ in faith, in the same way as Abraham (Gal. 3:8, 9). This faith will be counted to them as righteousness in the same way as Abraham looked forward to Christ. Everyone who believes in Christ, is a descendant of Abraham (Gal. 3:7). In this way, Abraham is blessed and his descendants multiplied as the sand of the see and the stars of the sky (Gen. 22:17).
Secondly, this covenant looked at a Person (offspring) named Jesus Christ and how he will destroy His enemies (Gen. 22:17) and mediate blessing to all the nations of the earth (Gen. 22:18). This offspring is a single person (Gal. 3:16) and a fulfillment of what God promised in Gen. 3:15 (Crossway, 2010:88). The “offspring” of Eve will crush Satan’s head. Genesis traces a single unique offspring which will eventually bring forth a special King, who will rule over Jew and Gentile. Isaac is set apart from Ishmael as Abraham’s heir. The oath to Abraham was fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Acts 3:25–26; Gal. 3:16).
Crossway. 2010. The ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Bibles.
Houdmann, S.M. 2009. Got Questions: Bible Questions Answered – Answers to the Questions People Are Really Asking. Enumclaw, WA: WinePress Publishing. http://www.gotquestions.org/ Date of access: 20 May 2013.
Johnson, S.L. 2007. The Old Testament’s Greatest Scene: Genesis 22:1-24. Dallas, Texas: Believers Chapel. http://www.sljinstitute.net/sermons/old_testament/pentateuch/pages/genesis37.html Date of access: 21 May 2013.
Carson, D.A., France, R.T., Mortyer, J.A., Wenham, G.J., eds. 1994. New Bible commentary: 21st century edition. 4th ed. Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press.