A Greater than Abraham
John Griffiths, Port Talbot, Wales [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
The question is posed, ‘Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead?’ John 8. 53. Unequivocally, Luke states of Christ, ‘He shall be great’. He is our great High Priest, the great King, the great Shepherd and the great God and our Saviour, Jesus Christ. He is personally great in goodness and beauty, and He proffers great love and a ‘so great salvation’.
Let us consider Christ, a greater than Abraham.
Abraham and his Frequency of Mention
There are about 300 references to Abram/Abraham in the concordance. Fourteen out of fifty chapters of Genesis record his history. Twelve verses out of forty in Hebrews 11 speak of his faith. Stephen allocates seven verses in Acts chapter 7 to this man.
But Christ is greater even in the space devoted to Him: ‘Christ in all the scriptures’. John would go further in stating, ‘And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen’, John 21. 25. Who can compare with Him?
Abraham and his Faith
Paul in Romans, James in his Epistle, and the writer of Hebrews all make much of Abraham’s faith. It is truly impressive, given his background, that he believed God, obeyed His commands, and trusted His promises, Gen. 12. 1-3.
Yet, of Christ we read, ‘the author and finisher of our faith’, Heb. 12. 2, literally, the Pioneer and Perfecter of faith. Abraham could never claim such a distinction. Christ is unique. Psalm 16 begins, ‘Preserve me, O God: for in thee do I put my trust’. ‘He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him. But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts. I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s belly’, Ps. 22. 8-10 (here hope means trust).
His enemies confirmed Christ’s faith with the use of a Hebrew word for ‘trusted’, which occurs only here in the Bible, and indicates rolling the burden wholly and completely upon the Lord, Matt. 27. 43.
The nine-fold fruit of the Spirit is seen in all its fullness in Christ and includes faith. The absolute dependence of Christ upon His Father during His earthy life of thirty-three years as a man and a bondservant is remarkable. Not even in the wilderness amidst wild beasts, having fasted forty days, could Satan cause our blessed Lord to act independently of His Father. What faith!
It was, of course, in the exercise of faith that Abraham occasionally failed. He could not trust God in a famine and went down to Egypt. He could not wait God’s time for the promised seed to be born and with Sarah’s co-operation took Hagar and produced Ishmael and not Isaac!
However, of Christ it is written, ‘He shall not fail nor be discouraged’, Isa. 42. 4. Abraham failed in his strongest point, faith; Christ never failed, having no strong or weak points. In Christ faith excels.
Abraham, the Friend of God
How unique is this title bestowed on Abraham and referred to on three occasions! It has been suggested that two features mark friendship: faithfulness and fellowship.
(i) Faithfulness - the fidelity of Abraham was never more greatly tested than when God asked him to offer Isaac as a burnt offering. Isaac was miraculously conceived and born when Abraham was 100 years old. In him were vested all God’s covenant promises yet, Abraham is being asked to offer his only son Isaac, whom he loved. How incredible to read, ‘And Abraham rose up early in the morning and saddled his ass’, Gen. 22. 3! And again, ‘I and the lad will go yonder and worship and come again to you’, v. 5. There was no reluctance to obey the Lord. Indeed, he had such implicit faith in God that he believed God would raise Isaac from the dead, if this was necessary to fulfil His promises. Abraham’s fidelity was born out of Abraham’s faith, ‘God will provide (out of) himself a (the) lamb for a burnt offering’.
Abraham is the first of ten people in our Bible described as faithful, the last being Antipas, ‘my faithful martyr’, Rev. 2. 13.
‘But the Lord is faithful’, 2 Thess. 3. 3. He is ‘faithful and just to forgive us our sins’1. He was ‘the faithful witness’2 during the years of his ministry on earth. He will be the faithful Warrior when He comes forth to engage His foes. Currently, He is a ‘faithful high priest in things pertaining to God’3. His faithfulness not only extends towards us, but He was ‘faithful to him that appointed him’. Our blessed Lord can never be accused of unfaithfulness, unlike the best of men, even Abraham! Undoubtedly, our Lord’s greatest act of obedience to His Father was Calvary. No substitute was found for Him, as there was for Isaac. Christ was the substitute!
(ii) Fellowship - friendship includes fellowship. Abraham’s fellowship with God is rightly acclaimed in scripture. In half of the fourteen chapters of Genesis that speak of Abraham, there is spiritual communion between God and His friend. God appears to Abraham on seven occasions. We read of Abraham’s worship, the first use of the word in scripture. We learn of Abraham’s intercession for Lot, and the cities of the plain. Though Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed Lot was delivered. We see God and two angels visiting Abraham’s tent and taking lunch. What an unimaginable privilege!
Consider Christ’s fellowship with His Father. Think of the nights spent in the mountains in communion with the Father. He did and said only those things that He had seen and heard in conversation with His God. ‘I do always those things that please Him’.4 Isaiah’s third servant song records, ‘The Lord God hath opened mine ear’,5 and, ‘The Lord God . . . he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned (disciple)’, v 4. His prayer life is recorded for us particularly by Luke. Meditate on the loftiness of His High Priestly prayer in John chapter 17, or experience the agony of His prayer with strong crying and tears in Gethsemane. What an intercessor He was! ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do’, Luke 23. 34. Three of the seven utterances at the cross were ‘prayers’.
Abraham, the friend of God? Thank God ‘there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother’, Prov. 18. 24. ‘Faithful are the wounds of a friend’, Prov. 27. 6. Christ was called ‘a friend of publicans and sinners’, Matt. 11. 19. ‘Henceforth, I call you not servants . . . but I have called you friends’, John 15. 15. No wonder we sing, ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’!
Abraham, the Father of Multitudes
Abraham was a patriarch, He is ‘the father of multitudes’, for such is the meaning of his name. He is the father or founder of the Hebrew race, the father of the faithful, and the father of us all. As the ‘father of multitudes’ he incorporates the descendants of Ishmael and Isaac. As the ‘father of the circumcision’ he is linked with the Jew. As the father of all them that believe, the line of faith is envisaged. As the father of us all, he includes even the Gentiles, who will come into blessing in the millennial reign of Christ. Nevertheless, Abraham could never lay claim to the title of Christ, ‘Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace’, Isa. 9. 6, or, perhaps more accurately, ‘the Father of Eternity’! As a father, Abraham has his seeds. The most important of which is recorded in Galatians chapter 3 verse 16, ‘And to thy seed which is Christ’. Matthew’s genealogy refers to Christ as ‘the son of Abraham’.
Of any natural seed, Isaiah asked, ‘And who shall declare his generation?’ Cut off out of the land of the living, Christ had no natural seed. Christ’s seed is spiritual. Consequent upon His trespass offering, ‘He shall see his seed’. They are the ‘many’ who are justified. David takes this a step further when he declares, ‘A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation’. ‘Instead of thy fathers shall be thy children whom thou mayest make princes in all the earth’, Ps. 45. 16. Commenting on this verse A. G. Clarke states ‘It seems better to refer this verse to the King; the Hebrew pronouns are all masculine. Fruit of the Messiah’s union with Israel; rulers established throughout the whole earth. Messiah’s spiritual descendants will eclipse in greatness and glory His human progenitors. Men boast in their ancestry, Christ rejoices in His seed’.
Abraham and the Features of his Life
Non-biblical literature suggests Ur of the Chaldees was as advanced in Abraham’s times as Egypt in Moses’ day. Abraham would have lived not in a tent but a house. Here are some comparisons and contrasts with Christ:
Abram left a luxurious home for a pilgrim’s tent.
Christ left ‘the ivory palaces’ to become a homeless stranger.6
Abram left his ‘country . . . kindred and his father’s house’, Gen. 12. 1-3.
Christ left the splendour of heaven, the special relationship with the Father in glory, and His Father’s house.
Abram was chosen of God for his mission, Neh. 9. 7.
Christ was the chosen One for the mission God gave Him.
Abram had to take a long journey to a far-off land (Ur to Hebron).
Christ left heaven for earth. He bypassed angels in His coming to planet earth.
Abram was redeemed by God, Isa. 29. 22.
Christ is Himself the Redeemer and never required redemption.
Abraham met with Melchisedek, the king-priest, ‘made like unto the Son of God’.
Christ is the King-Priest after the order of Melchisedek. He is the Son of God.
Abraham received bread and wine at the hand of Melchisedek to strengthen him.
Christ took bread and wine and instituted the Lord ’s Supper, giving to His disciples.
Abraham was the beneficiary of God’s promises but did not see their fulfilment.
Christ was the subject and theme of all God’s promises and Bible prophecies, 2 Cor. 1. 20.
Abraham requested that God’s covenant should be ratified, Gen. 15. 9-17.
Christ ratified the New Covenant at the cross when He shed His precious life’s blood.
Abraham and his seed were flesh and blood but subject through fear of death to a lifetime of bondage.
Christ ‘took part of the same’, flesh and blood. ‘He took on Himself not the nature of angels but the seed of Abraham, with a view to helping through his death upon Calvary. He dealt with Satan who was responsible for their lifetime of bondage’, K. Wuest.
Abraham’s greatest trial came at the end of his life – to surrender his son as an offering to God.
Christ’s greatest trial came at the close of His earthly life – to surrender Himself as an offering, without spot, to God.
Abraham was buried in the cave of Machpelah, which means a place of two doors suggestive of death and resurrection.
Christ passed through death’s door only to leave at the other opening as He rose from the dead. Hallelujah, what a Saviour!
Abraham provided the type.
Christ was the Antitype.
Abraham and the Pharisees
In John chapter 8 verses 51-59, the Pharisees claim that Abraham is their father and they his children. Christ contests their claim and plainly tells them, ‘Ye are of your father the devil’. The Pharisees are incapable of raising their thinking from the natural to the spiritual plane.
Christ states, ‘If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death’, John 8. 51. The Pharisees cannot see beyond the fact that Abraham and the prophets have died and been buried. They have refuted Christ’s argument, or so they think! Christ is the Son of God with authority over death. He is able to grant, not natural life only, but eternal life to the man who keeps His saying.
The Lord declares, ‘Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad’,
v. 56. Still speaking in human and natural terms, they scorn such a claim. After all, this Jesus has not reached fifty years of age and Abraham lived two millennia before. But Christ is the Son of God. He is not limited to time, like mortal men, He is part of eternity: the pre-existent and eternally existent One. Hence, the claim, ‘Before Abraham was, I am’. The ever-present, immutable Son of God: before John the Baptist, before Abraham, and before the world was!
Abraham recognized in this ‘son of Abraham’, the Seed, the heavenly Isaac. No wonder he was filled with exultation concerning Messiah’s day. He recognized and acknowledged the Son of God and King of Israel by faith in divine revelation. ‘And to thy seed, which is Christ’, Gal. 3. 16.
The Pharisees, whom Christ prevented from stoning the woman taken in adultery in the opening verses, now take up stones to stone Christ for blasphemy. How blind are those who do not want to see?
Christ – a greater than Abraham? ‘He is greater than the greatest; far better than the best’!
- 1 John 1. 9.
- Rev. 1. 5.
- Heb 2. 17.
- John 8. 29.
- Isa. 50. 5.
- ‘Out of the ivory palaces, into a world of woe, only His great eternal love, made my Saviour go’, words of the chorus of a hymn by Henry Barraclough.