What a blessing it is to see Christ in the Old Testament! The Christian’s reading of Scripture should be permeated with Christ at the forefront of his mind. This does not mean that Christ is underneath every rock or that everything somehow is meant to be interpreted allegorically in order for it to depict Christ. However, it does mean that the stories of Scripture are full of arrows that point to the only begotten Son.
Why don’t we take a look at the story of Cain and Abel so you can see for yourself? Genesis 4:1-16 is packed with Scripture that allows the Christian to meditate on the work of Christ.
Christ seen as the Keeper of the sheep
At the outset, the Bible tells us that Cain was a worker of the ground, while Abel was a keeper of the sheep. The book of Genesis starts quickly with arrows that point to Jesus. Adam is declared to be the legal representative of mankind; Jesus is declared to be the second Adam, for Jesus is the legal representative of all who come to Him in faith. In addition, God promised that the Messiah would come and crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). More could be said about the various arrows that point to Christ leading up to the text at hand, but let us not get off track.
It is no mere coincidence that Abel was said to be a keeper of the sheep. Abel was the good brother and the brother who lived for the Lord and pleased the Lord. He kept the sheep faithfully and offered to God a sacrifice out of his fold.
Jesus is said to be the Good Shepherd, and He is the fulfillment of the Shepherd role. Scripture says, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (KJV, John 10:11). Here we see that Jesus came as the Good Shepherd to give His life for His sheep. We see in Genesis 4:1-8 that Abel was also a keeper of sheep who gave his life in service to God.
Christ seen in the lamb that was slain
Next, we see Christ in the lamb that was slain. It is said that Cain brought to God the fruit from the ground. In the case of Abel, it is said, “And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof…” (Gen. 4:4). Here, we see that Abel brought the firstborn from his flock.
In the book of Hebrews, the Bible tells us that Christ is the firstborn. When Abel brought to God a sacrifice, he did not bring any lamb that he so chose. He brought the firstborn of his flock. In the same way, Christ was offered up as the firstborn, the only begotten.
Christ seen as the acceptable sacrifice
Not only did Abel bring the firstborn lamb to offer to God as a sacrifice, but the sacrifice of Abel was pleasing in God’s sight. Any offering that man so chooses to give will not do. Cain sought to bring the fruit of the ground to God, and God turned his offering away. However, God looked upon the sacrifice of Abel and was pleased with Abel’s offering.
In a much greater way, God is pleased with the offering of His son. God did not turn a blind eye to the sacrifice of Christ. The sacrifice of Christ was an acceptable sacrifice, so much so that there could never be a sacrifice after it. It was the greatest sacrifice of all time; none could compare. The spotless Lamb of Calvary has been slain, and the Father “had respect” unto Jesus “and His offering.”
Christ seen as His brother’s keeper
As the story goes on, we get a glimpse into the sinful heart of Cain. Scripture says, “And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper” (Gen. 4:8-9). It is evident that Cain was a selfish man. His response to God said it all.
The fact of the matter is that the Christian is called to be selfless and interdependent. Thus, the Christian is called to be involved in the lives of others. Could you imagine if Christ responded to His calling in the same way that Cain did?
Nevertheless, Christ did not respond in like manner. Christ is the Keeper of the sheep, and thus He is the Keeper of the brethren. The author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus, “…is not ashamed to call them brethren” (Heb. 2:11). In this verse, it is made plain that the believer is Christ’s brother. Scripture says, “The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep” (John 10:13). Jesus, on the other hand, cares a great deal for the sheep, so much so that He laid down His life for the sheep that they might be saved.
Later, Jesus tells us of His ministry to the sheep, “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:28). Here is Jesus as the Keeper of the brethren; the One Who will keep His own until the end.
Christ seen as bearing the punishment that man could not bear
When God meets with Cain and confronts him with his punishment, the words of Cain can be thought of as the cry of all mankind. Cain says, “…My punishment is greater than I can bear” (Gen. 4:13).This is the reality of the situation that every man finds himself in; it is not unique to Cain. The punishment for sin will be unbearable.
However, God has made a way that man could be forgiven of his sin. While God does punish sin, He also provides the way of escape so that the sins of man can be blotted out. In Christ, forgiveness is found. In Christ, the solution to Cain’s cry can be found.
While there is an unbearable punishment that is coming to those who will not humble themselves before the Lord and accept Christ’s forgiveness, this does not need to be the case in the life of each individual. Accept Christ this day. Turn to Jesus in faith and repentance. Embrace the work of Christ. Look to Him, the Author of faith and forgiveness.
Christ seen as the solution to separation from God
Finally, the story draws to a close. Some may wonder why all mankind is being punished for the sin of Adam. In the story of Cain and Abel, we get a glimpse of the reality that man has sinned against God and has only complicated the problem even more.
After Adam and Eve sinned against the Lord, God banished them from the Garden of Eden. God told them that they must leave, and He set cherubim on the east of the Garden to guard the entrance. Adam and Eve’s banishment from the Garden depicts the reality that man is separated from God.
However, when we encounter Cain, we read, “And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord…” (Gen. 4:16). When Cain sinned against God, Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, as well.
The fact of the matter is that while Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden and all mankind fell in Adam, man only makes matters worse and ultimately is no different than his first parents. Cain sinned against the Lord, and this caused Cain to be separated from the presence of God.
However, there is a solution, and there has always been One. His name is Jesus Christ. When Christ hung on the cross, He knew what it was like to be separated from the Father. The earth turned black, and Christ cried out in agony, “…My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken, me?” (Matt. 27:46). Jesus has endured separation from God so that man can be near God, both now and throughout all eternity.
Father, I thank You for the work of Christ. Teach me to see the work of Christ as I read the Bible and glory in His glory. In Jesus’ name, Amen.