Similarities between Abraham and Isaac and Jesus and God

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Abraham and Sarah, Easter (Passion Week), Jesus, Men in the Bible, Old Testament


Do you see a tie in between Abraham almost sacrificing Isaac and God/Jesus? Passages in 1 John and Hebrews seem to suggest this. “For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (1 John). “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac. He had received the promises, yet he was ready to offer up his only son” (Heb.). Any ideas on this?


If the questioner wishes to know whether there are linguistic connections between the two events, the prevailing opinion is “yes.” There are several others in addition to the phrases already mentioned. For example: Abraham is instructed to take Isaac to the “land of Moriah.” Many scholars think Moriah is the site of Jerusalem. Jesus is crucified in Jerusalem. Abraham “took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac.” Jesus carries his own cross. Isaac asks, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” John refers to Jesus as “the Lamb of God” (see John 1:29). Isaac is obedient to his father; Jesus is obedient to his Father. Some scholars believe that Abraham really does sacrifice Isaac and that he is resurrected. Jesus is raised from the dead after three days.

There is no doubt that the linguistic connections are compelling. However, relating the two events theologically is a lot more complex. Some scholars believe that the binding of Isaac is really the basis for the atonement whereby Jesus is killed for the sins of mankind. In its context, however, the binding is presented as a test for Abraham. No one knows, of course, why he has to be tested, but that hasn’t deterred scholars from speculating upon possible scenarios.

Consider this: from the very beginning the promises are freely given to Abraham by God. At every crisis in his life and whenever he demonstrates a level of faith, the promises are affirmed. At no time is Abraham given an opportunity to demonstrate that his devotion to God is unconditional. Yet, he is designated to be the founder of a new nation, a nation with a high destiny among all nations. Must he not at some point prove his worthiness to be so chosen? Up to this point, so much of his journey has been focused on the goal, on getting that heir, and on being in the land. When it finally happens, when all the material things are in place, he needs to be able to let go of them. Isn’t it time for him to elevate his own view, his own understanding about God’s promises? So he is tested.

Others feel that sacrifice is built into the system from the very beginning. God is holy; people are not. Through prayer and rituals people can achieve a level of holiness, but it is usually temporary. So God provides the means whereby sinful people can restore themselves to a holy state, allowing them to be in His presence. This requires sacrifices, which the people routinely offer to God.

The problem here, of course, is the nature of said sacrifice – “…take your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac…” The hard reality is that God alone determines what is an acceptable sacrifice. With no explanation, in Genesis, he rejects Cain’s but accepts Abel’s. The result is that Cain kills Abel. In this case, God chooses Isaac, but at the last minute he substitutes a ram. Substitution is allowed, which sets the stage for seeing Jesus’ sacrifice as a substitution for our sins. Exactly how sacrifice restores the sinner to a state of holiness is not clear. Some believe that offering the lifeblood of an animal to God atones for whatever sin has been committed. Others believe it motivates the sinner to be better and to live a better life.

Yet, as these time-honored truths and traditions are subjected to modern tools of critical thinking, newer questions arise. How can God make such a request? How can a loving father agree to it, even if it does come from God? This is made ever more problematic by the myriad of Old Testament passages that condemn child sacrifice. Three times in Jeremiah, God refers to the burning of children and states, “…a thing which I never commanded them nor had it entered my mind” (emphasis added; see Jer. 7:31; 19:5; 32:35). How do we hear these words in light of 1 John 4:9-10? “God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

Today, scholars are more likely to tackle some of these hard questions. Add to that a modern world that takes issues of parental/child abuse seriously. “I was only following orders” is no longer a legitimate defense. I remember vividly the Sunday evening when my (at that time) young son asked in a tentative voice, “If God told you to kill me, would you?”

Many brilliant theological arguments fall short in light of an innocent child’s simple question.

If you have any questions related to the Bible, please feel free to email us.