Tom Hayes

Abel, A Type Of Christ

A friend told me about an old house burning to the ground. Nothing was left but the ashes and the memories. But, as the family returned and mourned over their losses, one of the children picked a flower which grew near the walk. When other family members saw the little one holding the beautiful emblem of nature, the family responded positively. Out of the terrible tragedy, the flower, a token of mercy, seemed to bring renewed hope into their lives.

Having driven Adam and Eve from the Edenic environment, the Lord "placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life" (Gen. 3:24). This safeguard, while keeping them out of the garden, also assured that man would not eat of the tree of life, and, thus, live forever in his fallen state. So, with their ejection, the couple became aware, not only of the holiness of God, as represented by the flaming sword, but of the mercy of God, as well, as seen in the Cherubims, which are emblems of mercy throughout the Old and New Testaments.

One of the first mercies that Adam and Eve experienced outside the garden was the addition of children to their union. "And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD. And she again bare his brother Abel" (Gen. 4:1, 2). Certainly, we will all agree, Eve was deceived about Cain. He did not turn out to be "a man from the Lord" at all, did he? In fact, the Scriptures tell us that Cain "was of that wicked one" (1 John 3:12), meaning he was a child of the devil. However, Abel proved to be a token of mercy and blessing from the Lord.

The primary attribute that is praised in this second son of Adam is that of righteousness. Jesus spoke of "the blood of righteous Abel" (Matt. 23:35) in His sermon to the self-righteous Pharisees. John mentions that the reason Cain slew Abel was "Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous" (1 John 3:12). Abel was right with God! Of course, as the Hebrew writer reminds us, the principle of faith cannot be separated from righteousness. "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts" (Heb. 11:4).

From this perspective, we must agree that Abel was a type of a believing soul. He was righteous, but his righteousness was not of himself. It was a righteousness "which is of God by faith" (Phil. 3:9). The path that Abel walked, Walter L. Wilson pointed out, "is the path the true believer takes today. He feels his need . . . and . . . trusts his soul and life to the living Lamb on the Throne of God Who makes the death of Calvary and the shed blood effective for the one who believes."

In this study, however, the intention is to set forth Abel as a type of Christ. Like Adam, his father, Abel portrays Jesus in many facets of his brief life. Admittedly, it is never stated that Abel is a figure, or a type, of the Lord Jesus. But, from his birth to his death, he points us to Him. "At least," wrote A. W. Pink, "thirty-five points of resemblance can be traced here between type and antitype." As we reflect upon his likeness to Jesus, may the blessed Holy Spirit be pleased to bring out of the treasury of his life "things new and old" (Matt. 13:52) about our blessed Lord.

Notice, firstly, that Abel portrays Christ:


One of the first things said about Abel is that he "was a keeper of sheep" (Gen. 4:2). In other words, Abel was a shepherd. In this position, he not only becomes a forerunner of many great people on the shepherd-list, but, as "the first shepherd . . . is a type of Christ" (Ada Habershon). For sure, Jesus said, "I am the good Shepherd" (John 10:11, 14). He is also called both the "great shepherd" (Heb. 13:20) and "the chief Shepherd" (1 Pet. 5:4). As "a keeper of sheep," Abel typifies Christ in several ways.

A. Abel Was Responsible For The Sheep

In that special shepherd chapter of the Bible, Psalm 23, several processes involved in keeping sheep are related to us. To summarize these requirements, a shepherd must be able to govern, guide, gird, guard, and gratify the sheep. Abel took all this responsibility, and, in doing so, typifies Jesus, our dependable Caretaker. Because of Christ's great love for us, and His total ability to minister to His Own, we can all say with the Psalmist, "I shall not want" (Psa. 23:1).

B. Abel Was Ruler Over The Sheep

The nature of the sheep demands that they have one in authority over them. The prophet Isaiah indicated that sheep are prone to wander when he said, "All we like sheep have gone astray" (Isa. 53:5). Thus, as "a keeper of the sheep," or lord of the pastures, Abel directs us to Christ, our Shepherd-Lord. Thank God, we are not left to ourselves, to wander in our ignorance. As "His people, and the sheep of His pasture" (Psa. 100:3), we are under His Lordship and supervision.

C. Abel Was Revealed Through The Sheep

As one must have a bride to play the part of a bridegroom; as one must have children to be a parent; and, as one must own a servant to carry out the role of a master, so one must possess sheep to be considered a shepherd. As "a keeper of the sheep," Abel could show his shepherd-qualities, and, consequently, characterize the Lord Jesus. Christ owns a people He calls His "little flock" (Luke 12:32), and He reveals His Shepherd-traits in and through them.

Secondly, notice that Adam portrays Christ:


Although it is not clearly stated, we believe that God showed Adam and Eve the way of approach when He made "coats of skins, and clothed them" (Gen. 3:21). Certainly, an innocent life had to be sacrificed to provide a covering for their nakedness. In turn, they must have taught their sons the laws of sacrifice. Whereas Cain decided to approach God through the fruit of his own labor, Abel believed and obeyed God. And, in his obedience, he reflects "the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5).

A. Abel Obeyed In Acknowledgement Of Heavenly Decrees

Why did Abel not follow the way of Cain and bring "of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD" (Gen. 4:3)? Why did he offer "of the firstlings of his flock" (Gen. 4:4)? Because he consented to God's ordained procedure. He acknowledged the decrees of the Almighty! And, by obeying God's will, Abel prefigures Jesus, Who said, "I came down from heaven, not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him That sent Me" (John 6:38).

B. Adam Obeyed In Agreement With Holy Demands

God would only accept a lamb. Thus, when Abel brought his sacrifice, "The LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering" (Gen. 4:4). God's demands had been satisfied! And, the Lord not only "recognized the obedience of faith," wrote Henry Blunt, "but a type of the promised seed, 'The Lamb slain from the foundation of the the world.'" Now that Christ has been "brought as a lamb to the slaughter" (Isa. 53:7), the righteous demands of God have been satisfied.

C. Adam Obeyed In Attachment To Humble Death

The obedience of Abel cost him his life. It could be said of him, as it is of Christ, "In His humiliation His judgment was taken away: and who shall declare His generation? for His life is taken from the earth" (Acts 8:33). Adam's humble death is very depictive of Christ's death, "And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:8).

Next, as Abel renounced the will of man and obeyed God, he typified Christ:


To use the words of the Hebrew letter, "Adam offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain" (Heb. 11:4). We gather that both men came to the same place (east of the Garden), for the same purpose (to worship), with the same presentations (offerings) to the same Person (God). However, only Abel's offering was accepted because it was the sinner's provision. Thus, his "more excellent sacrifice" is illustrative of "the offering of the body of Jesus Christ" (Heb. 10:10).

A. The Altar Of Abel's Offering Is Interesting

There is no altar mentioned in these verses. But, we believe that the Lord provided His own altar, or, if you prefer, a mercy seat, at the east end of the garden for those who would come to Him. As in the Tabernacle and the Temple, the Cherubim are found in this most holy place. Similarly, Christ's altar, the cross, was God's own altar for His Son. In eternity, the cross, and Christ's death there, were in the divine plan.

B. The Approach Of Abel's Offering Is Intriguing

It is said that he "brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof" (Gen. 4:4). While Abel's offering portrays Christ, "Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree" (1 Pet. 2:24), Abel, himself, the offerer, represents Jesus, our High Priest, "Who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God" (Heb. 9:14). Christ is so complete in His vast Person, He fulfilled both divine functions at once. Bless His holy name!

C. The Acceptance Of Abel's Offering Is Inspiring

The aforementioned verse, ""The LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering," indicates that the Lord accepted the offering Abel brought to Him. His laws were fulfilled. His wrath was appeased. His judgment was satisfied. In this light, Abel "might well speak to us of Him Who, not for Himself indeed, but as Man for men, offered to God that one acceptable offering in which all others find their consummation and their end" (F. W. Grant).

Fourthly, Adam is set forth as a type of Christ:


Although "the LORD had respect unto Abel and his offering" (4:8), his sacrifice was not without contest. Revealing his hatred for and disgust of Abel's righteous conduct, "Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him" (Gen. 4:8). Again, we are pointed to Christ, Who was bitterly opposed by the religious system of His day, and eventually the One "they slew and hanged on a tree" (Acts 10:39).

A. This Opposition Was Based Upon An Attitude Of Rejection

Cain's controversy was not just with Abel. He actually rejected God's plan and God's way. Consequently, he rejected everyone and everything that had to do with God. Of course, when hearts reject God, they reject Jesus. Thus, Isaiah prophesied that Jesus would be "despised and rejected of men" (Isa. 53:3). Also, John tells us, "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not" (John 1:11).

B. This Opposition Was Borne With An Arm Of Rebellion

Cain's rejection took on another terrible form. The Bible says, "Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell" (Gen. 4:5). He didn't get his way, and something would have to be done! Oh, how this reminds us of the religious system of Jesus' day. Basically, the religionists "preferred," wrote C. A. Coates, "their righteousness . . . to Christ." And, when they could not have their way, they "consulted that they might take Jesus by subtilty, and kill Him" (Matt. 26:4).

C. This Opposition Was Bound To An Act Of Retaliation

The end result, as previously mentioned, was that "Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him." Overwhelmed by bitterness and anger, Cain unhesitatingly assaulted and killed Abel. In similar fashion, the Lord Jesus became the object of the religious leaders' wicked retaliation. Showing neither mercy nor sorrow, they blindly "crucified the Lord of glory" ( 1 Cor. 2:8).

Finally, Abel typifies Jesus:


In the Scriptures, we are exhorted to be constantly "Looking unto Jesus" (Heb. 12:2). And, certainly, through the special lenses of typology, we are privileged to view Him from different angles and in varied ways. Using the gory death of Abel as a type of Christ's death, we behold more of Jesus and His redemptive death upon the cross. Here are three brief comparisons.

A. Abel's Body Was Slain

According to John Gill, the Jews traditionally believe that Cain "struck a stone into his (Abel's) forehead, and killed him." However, the word, "slew," as used later by John, indicates "to cut one's throat" (see 1 John 3:12). It was as though Cain was saying, "Let me show you what it's like to cut one's throat!" This points us to the Crucified One, Who yet stands in the midst of the throne as a Lamb, having "been slain" (Rev. 5:6).

B. Abel's Blood Was Shed

Upon Abel's death, the Lord said to Cain, "the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto Me from the ground" (Gen. 4:10). Abel's shed blood cried out unto the Lord for judgment. Of course, we are told that the precious blood of our Mediator "speaketh better things than that of Abel" (Heb. 12:24). Christ's blood has cleansed us from our sins and cries out in justification! Hallelujah! What a Savior!

C. Abel's Brother Was Sentenced

The Lord said to Cain, "And now art thou cursed from the earth" (Gen. 4:11). God put a mark upon him. Likewise, every person that rejects the Lord Jesus Christ, God's way of salvation, is under the sentence of divine judgment. The Apostle John wrote, "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him" (John 3:36).

A converted Scotchman was taught, when searching the Scriptures, to look for truths concerning Christ. In testifying of his experience, he said, "It's like going into a wood to look for wood; it's all wood together!" Oh, may that be our experience, as well. And, may it please "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph. 1:3) to use these feeble thoughts and comparisons in helping us see, better know, and worship His dear Son! Amen.