17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: 19 Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure. Heb. 11:17-19
Recently, during sharing time in one of our services, an old man in our congregation slowly stood up and walked up to the front. Slowly, he turned and faced the congregation. Then, haltingly and with great difficulty, he spoke up. He said, “Brethren, this gospel of the cross is very difficult to live. I have come to the realization that I have to fully and truly die. That is something that I find very difficult.”
And with those words the old man made his way back to his seat.
Now, let us embark on our study of Hebrews 11 above. Notice the word “figure” there. The Old Testament is all about figures. Figures and shadows. But there are no shadows or figures in the New Testament. It is all real. The New Testament is the reality of God.
God does not chase shadows. He goes after the real thing. And right here, in this portion of scripture, we find probably the most profound truth concerning the gospel: that, under the Old Covenant, Isaac did not die; but in the New Covenant, Isaac died. We all know from the account in Genesis chapter 22 that Abraham did not kill Isaac on that fateful day. An angel of the Lord appeared and stayed Abraham’s hand and therefore Isaac’s life was saved.
But in the New Testament, the real Isaac, Jesus, was killed. And that is why both Abraham and Isaac are such important figures in the Bible. For, long before he lifted up the knife to plunge it into Isaac’s heart, long before the angel appeared, Abraham had already offered up Isaac. In fact, we could surmise that Abraham offered up Isaac the minute God told him to. In Abraham’s heart, Isaac was long dead before any physical deed ever took place.
The Isaac that lived after the event at Mt. Moriah was therefore a ‘resurrected’ Isaac. That is why it says in verse 19,
“Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.”
The Bible says right here that Abraham received Isaac from the dead. In other words, Isaac died. He died to Abraham.
Now, notice verse 18 which is central to our understanding the New Covenant.
“Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called.”
This is why Abraham is such an important figure in the Bible. The Bible says that Abraham, to whom the promises were made, accounted that God was able to raise Isaac up from the dead. Moreover, the Bible says that Abraham “received” him from the dead! In other words, Abraham received the promises of God through a ‘resurrected’ Isaac, an Isaac who had died and risen from the dead!
Try as we might, we will never know the true promises of God this side of life. The true promises of God are received on the other side of a resurrected life. Most believers think that the promises of God are miracles, signs and wonders. But no. The true promises of God are a life that is victorious over sin. It is that simple. That is why, one day, Jesus stopped all miracles and brought up a different gospel, the gospel of eating His flesh and drinking His blood. He was introducing the true gospel, the gospel of identifying our lives with His life in dying and resurrecting.
And after Jesus we see the Apostle Paul, who declared that he wanted to know nothing
“save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor.2:2)
That is why the doctrine of the cross is central to the faith of every believer. Not the doctrine of miracles, signs and wonders (1 Cor. 1:22-23).
The church needs to come to an understanding of the need to crucify the flesh. And, being that the New Covenant is more real than the old, the flesh must die a true death. Not half dead, not make-believe dead; but fully and truly dead. That is how we will come into the promises of Abraham: a new, victorious life in the Spirit.
This is a difficult lesson. The cross is a difficult undertaking. But thank God we have the Holy Spirit to help us. He is our Helper (Jn. 14:16-18).
[The grand old Hilton Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya]