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The Cross in the Old Testament

Christ upon the cross is foreshadowed in the Old Testament, as far back as when Abraham offered his only son, Isaac, as a sacrifice upon the altar atop Mount Moriah.

  • J. Grant Swank, Jr.
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Christ upon the cross is foreshadowed in the Old Testament, as far back as Genesis 22 when Abraham offered his only son, Isaac, as a sacrifice upon the altar atop Mount Moriah.

The parallels are so striking as to strongly suggest the divine work through Abraham and Isaac was nothing less than a cross-symbol predating the crucifixion of Christ upon Mount Calvary.

First, Abraham’s obedience was tested by God’s command to offer Isaac as a living sacrifice. In parallel, Jesus’ obedience, being mortal as well as divine, was tested. Thankfully, He was found true in His commitment, being "obedient, . . .even unto the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:8).

Further, when God called out Abraham’s name at the outset of his trial, the Father of the Faithful replied with "Here I am." Likewise, Jesus stated as much when He assured the Father that Jesus knew His time had come for laying down His life for the world’s sins (John 17:1).

In addition, Scripture states that Isaac was Abraham’s sole, much loved son. Jesus, too, was the only begotten of the Father (John 3:16).

God explicitly stated to Abraham that his offspring would be yielded as a human sacrifice, a burnt offering atop Mount Moriah. So was Jesus offered as the human-yet-divine, perfect sacrifice—a whole burnt offering sacrifice, if you will—atop Mount Golgotha.

Abraham chopped up wood for the stone altar sacrificial proceedings. For the journey, Abraham also placed the wood on Isaac’s shoulders for carrying to the summit. Jesus likewise was pressed against the wood—the cross, His holy shoulders carrying it up Golgotha’s slopes.

Genesis states that the whole sacrificial scene for Abraham and Isaac was at a place, a particular geography. So it was that Jesus was led to a particular place outside Jerusalem. In other words, both incidents were historically located; they were not fiction, but fact.

As Abraham was leading his son onward, Abraham told his servants to wait at the foot of the mountain. Likewise, Jesus took His close comrades with Him to Gethsemane—but only so far. The rest of the trek was to be seen through alone with Father God.

Abraham promised his servants that it would not be long until both he and his son would return to them. How interesting that Jesus forecast that, though He would be slain, it would be but a brief time frame until He would return to His servants. As forecast, so it occurred.

On the journey up the hill, father and son making the journey together, Isaac called out, "Father." So it was with the Son at the Calvary location; Jesus cried out, "Father."

Isaac asked father Abraham the whereabouts of the sacrificial lamb. The wood was there. The makings of the fire were there. The stones would be gathered atop the mountain. But where was the lamb? The youth wanted to know.

Here the parallel breaks down—purposefully. The reason? Jesus knew Himself to be the sacrificial Lamb foreordained prior to the planet’s creation. It was He, Jesus, who created the planet. It would be He, Jesus, who would redeem the planet. At some future date, it would be He, Jesus, who would rule upon the planet.

When Isaac asked his father the whereabouts of the lamb, wise Abraham responded by comforting that God would supply the lamb. Likewise, Father God promised Old Testament believers that the Lamb of God would be provided by heaven’s resources, earth not equipped to yield such a provision.

Eventually, Abraham and Isaac reached the summit. There they built an altar. In parallel, the altar of the cross was hoisted at Golgotha’s height.

Then it was that Isaac was laid upon the altar. So it was that Jesus was laid upon the altar.

Abraham took the knife to kill his only son. Jesus too was struck through—hands, feet, side—by the knives of the Roman regime.

Yet Abraham could not follow through with the slaying of His only heir. An angel cried out for the father not to kill his son. Such a final slaying would be reserved for the perfect sacrifice—Jesus Christ. Isaac would be rescued; Jesus would be murdered. Isaac was the foreshadowing of the Christ Sacrifice.

Abraham named the place "The Lord will Provide." Likewise, Calvary has been honored, indeed reverently cheered by repentant souls, as the literal, earthly location where God provided His ultimate for our salvation.

In the Old Testament record, one can locate the cross shadows.


  • J. Grant Swank, Jr.
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