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Abraham embraces his son Isaac after receiving him back from God.
Picture is Public Domain

Isacc as a Type of Christ

Perhaps it is wrong to play favourites with Bible characters, but I like Isaac. Surely in God’s eyes, all his children are equal. The reason for my preference is that Isaac seems to be the important 'filling' in a 'Patriarchal sandwich', between Abraham and Jacob about whom much more is written. For that reason, perhaps, Isaac is overshadowed.

What are ‘types’?

We are thinking about Isaac as a 'type' of Christ. As explained in an earlier article, Isaac’s life foreshadowed Jesus' life and several key events were the same, or at least have strong similarities (see Light Magazine volume 32.1 page 37). We use the word 'type' in a different context from the everyday. We could say 'prototype', but that carries the idea of someone trying out a few things and using some trial and error to get the final version right. God doesn't use trial and error! We could also use the word 'precursor', but this does not tell the full story either. 'Forerunner' is perhaps the nearest, which means "something or someone that acts as an early and less advanced model for what will appear in the future, or a warning or sign of what is to follow".

Isaac was certainly earlier than Jesus and less advanced! But we see the similarities and parallels as showing us something about God's plan for the world and humankind. Just as the patterns in Creation point to a Designer, so the patterns in the Bible show us the Divine Author. A summary of Isaac’s life 'Types' do not match every single aspect of the life they foreshadow, only some of the critical events or characteristics. So, let's see what the Bible tells us about Isaac:

  • God promised Isaac’s parents, Abraham and Sarah that they would have a son when they were well on in years and Sarah was

long past child-bearing age

  • Genesis 17:15-16
  • God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac
    • Genesis 22:1-2
  • God stopped Abraham from actually carrying out the killing of Isaac and provided a ram as a substitute sacrifice
    • Genesis 22:10-13
  • Isaac married Rebekah
    • Genesis 24:67
  • Isaac had twin sons, Jacob and Esau
    • Genesis 25:21-26
  • Isaac dwelt in the territory of Abimelech the Philistine for a time and misled him about Rebekah being his sister
    • Genesis 26:1-7
  • Isaac’s servants quarrelled with his neighbours over water for their flocks
    • Genesis 26:15-23
  • Jacob deceived Isaac, who then gave him the blessing which he intended to give to Esau the firstborn
    • Genesis 27:1-29
  • Isaac was a child of promise
    • Romans 9: 6-13, see the section below "Isaac a child of promise".

How did Isaac foreshadow Jesus?

Although the Bible tells us about many of the events in peoples’ lives, we do not generally get much of a biography. We know more about Jesus than many Bible characters, but from an infant to an adolescent we know nothing at all, and from an adolescent to the age of thirty, again we are told nothing. So, it is not surprising that we know a lot less about Isaac. In his general demeanour we know that Isaac was a devout man; he was a devoted son and a devoted father – although both he and Rebekah his wife played favourites with their sons, which led to friction later. Isaac was patient, avoided trouble and tried to live peaceably with his neighbours. Was Isaac like Jesus because he was devout and patient? They undoubtedly shared those same characteristics, but so do many others. The main similarities are that they were both children of promise, and both were offered as sacrifices by their father – Isaac as a type of the sacrificial work of Jesus.

More about Isaac

The first sighting of the adult Isaac gave an indication of his character – in a time of meditation with eyes raised to heaven. Isaac lived in the land of the South, and he went out to meditate in the field in the evening.

  • Genesis 24:62-63

We are reminded of the frequent times when Jesus went off by himself to pray. Was Isaac praying for the success of his father's mission to find him a wife? Was he meditating about the greatness of God and his wonderful Creation? We are not told, although both are possible. God blessed Isaac with bountiful crops and wealth, which suggested he found favour with God. The blessing was so great that the Philistines became jealous and stopped up the water wells Abraham had dug. We can see the peaceable nature of Isaac, in that the Philistine king asked Isaac to move, and Isaac complied, moving from place to place, digging new wells when his neighbours quarrelled with him over the water. The Philistine king soon realised that Isaac had been blessed by God and made a treaty of peace with him.

  • Genesis 26:26-31

This again gives a good indication of Isaac's nature, and we can see another parallel with Jesus. But what is the main connection between Isaac and Jesus as the child of promise? This is a title used in the Bible, for Isaac and indeed for believers as 'children of promise', but can the same be said of Jesus?

Compare the following New Testament passages:

Isaac as a child of promise:

"By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, 'In Isaac your seed shall be called,' accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense."

  • Hebrews 11:17-19

Jesus as a child of promise:

" ... we declare to you glad tidings – that promise which was made to the fathers. God has fulfilled this for us their children in that he raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm: 'You are my Son, today I have begotten you' "

  • Acts 13:32-33

If that was the end of the story, we would say that God kept His promise to Abraham and gave him a son, and God also kept the promise He made in the Bible to provide humanity with a Messiah, or Saviour. The offering of Isaac, referred to in the passage from Hebrews, also reminds us of the sacrifice of Christ. Abraham was told by God to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Even though he had eagerly waited to a great age to have a son with Sarah, Abraham was ready to obey. Ultimately, this was proof of Abraham's great faith in God, but he would have also remembered that God had promised that Abraham's descendants will come through Isaac

  • Genesis 17:19 and 18:18

So, although Abraham could not know exactly how things would work out, through faith he knew that there was a divine plan to raise Isaac from the dead. It is worth noting that up until the time of Abraham, no-one we are told about had ever come back from the dead. The first was not until the time of Elijah, so this puts even greater emphasis on the faith of Abraham – and Isaac! Conversely, it is likely that child sacrifice was practiced by pagan peoples in the neighbourhood, so whilst no-one had yet been brought to life, plenty of young people had been put to death!

Note the similarities between the two sacrifices (see chart below) and see how close a match they are:

  • Isaac was not killed. The ram was offered as a substitute.
  • Jesus was killed; He was not a substitute but a representative of humanity – he died for us.


Isaac, being saved from death, led a full and faithful life, living to the age of 180. Such was his faith, that we are told clearly that Isaac will be in the Kingdom of God: "There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out."

  • Luke 13:28

For us, there is the wonderful hope that if we become brothers and sisters of Christ, we too will become children of promise and have a place in that future Kingdom!

"Now you brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise."

  • Galatians 4:28 NIV
The wood of the burnt offering was laid on Isaac to carry (Genesis 22:6)Jesus had to carry his cross at first, but had been so weakened that Simon of Cyrene was compelled to carry it (Luke 23:26)
He had done nothing deserving deathHe had done nothing deserving death
Isaac allowed himself to be bound and placed on the altar (Genesis 22:13)Jesus allowed himself to be crucified rather than calling on legions of angels to free him (Matthew 26: 25–36)
A ram caught in a thicket was offered in place of Isaac (Genesis 22:13)Jesus was the ‘Lamb of God’ and died as a representative of humanity (John 3:16)
Andrew Longman
Milton Keynes, UK
Source Light on a New World reprint from Volume 32.3

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