by Bill Nugent
It’s hard to overestimate the impact of the sacrifice of Isaac on Jewish thought and literature. Jewish writings, be they ancient, medieval or modern, contain frequent references to Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac which is recorded in the 22nd chapter of Genesis. Jewish writers bring out many deep and hidden moral insights from this unique episode in the life of Abraham. In this article we will delve into the Messianic Jewish insight into the sacrifice of Isaac as a prophetic prefigurement of the sacrifice of Jesus the Messiah. (Messianic Jews are Jewish people who believe that Jesus is the Messiah.)
Let’s take a look the event itself and insert some of the prophetic parallels. God promised Abraham a son but his wife was barren. Abraham and Sarah waited many years in anticipation. God miraculously enabled Sarah to conceive and bear Isaac long after the normal age of childbearing. The name Isaac is actually the anglicized version of the Hebrew “Yitzhak” which means laughter. They were overjoyed with laughter at the thought of Sarah giving birth at such a late age.
A prophetic parallel is that the Messiah was also a promised Son. A messianic prophecy from Isaiah sheds further light on this.“For a child is born unto us, A son is given unto us; And the government is upon his shoulder” (Isaiah 9:5 The Holy Scriptures According to the Masoretic Text, The Jewish Publication Society of America). The Jews waited many centuries until Messiah Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The Messiah, who is to rule the nations, came first to die for the sins of the people.
In Genesis 22 we read of how God spoke to Abraham and commanded him to take Isaac to the land of Moriah and offer him as a burnt offering (sacrifice) on one of the mountains there. It is interesting to note that Jerusalem was later built on Mount Moriah. Jesus was crucified at Jerusalem at a place called Calvary which is an outcropping of Mount Moriah. So it seems that Abraham was prepared to sacrifice Isaac at the very place that Jesus would later die for the sins of the world.
Genesis 22:4 says that “on the third day” Abraham saw the place where he was to sacrifice Isaac. This means that Abraham had borne the grief of the impending loss of Isaac for three days. It was a prophetic foreshadowing of the fact that Jesus would be in the grave until the third day and therefore his disciples would endure grief for three days.
Genesis 22:6 says that Abraham took the wood of the sacrifice and laid it on Isaac. This too is a prophetic picture of Jesus the Messiah who, centuries later, would bear His wooden cross to Calvary to be sacrificed on it. The purpose of a sacrifice is substitutionary atonement. The lamb or bull offered in sacrifice under the Old Testament sacrificial system bore the death that the people deserved. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Jesus, as the ultimate lamb of God, bore the sins of all people and died for all people and thus fulfilled and ended the animal sacrificial system.
As they approached the place of sacrifice, Isaac, who hadn’t been told that he was to be the sacrifice, asked Abraham “‘where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’ and Abraham said: ‘God will provide Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son’” (Genesis 22:7-8 from the same Jewish Bible quoted above). The wording “God will provide Himself the lamb” as rendered in English by a Jewish Bible is striking in that it implies that God Himself will be the sacrificial lamb. This too was fulfilled in the promised Messiah, who as the only begotten Son of God asserted that He Himself is divine and He is one with the Father. The Old and New Testaments contain many passages that teach the divinity of Messiah. It is beyond the scope of this article to quote and discuss them now.
Isaac was not sacrificed because God stopped Abraham from killing him. Finally and interestingly Isaac is not mentioned again in the book of Genesis until two chapters later when he receives his bride Rebecca. This is a prophetic picture of the second coming of Messiah. Jesus has been in heaven for nearly two millennia. He will soon come to receive His church which is His bride.