Christians tend to forget they share a common history with the Jewish people. Gordon Fee once wrote that, “as Christians the Old Testament is (our) spiritual history. The promises and calling of God to Israel are (our) historical promises and calling (Gal. 3:29).” Hence it is important that we understand what the Bible has to say about the human ancestry of our Lord Jesus Christ. For instance, the apostle Matthew tells us that Jesus is the “son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1). Too often we read those words and never consider the implications that they have for our faith.
Matthew’s intention in writing his gospel was to prove to his skeptical countrymen that Jesus was in fact the promised Messiah. He confirms this by showing his readers how Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecy. According to Matthew, Jesus is the true son of David (Matt; 1:1), the true Israel (Matt.2:15), the king of the Jews (Matt.2:2), and the focus and intent of the law (Matt. 5:17). At least forty times Matthew directly references Scripture to prove that Jesus is the fulfillment of all that God had promised to His people (cf. 2 Cor. 1:20). Nonetheless, one might say that Matthew’s most important declaration concerning Christ was the fact that Jesus is the son of Abraham (Matt.1:1). Today, we Christians may not need to be assured that Christ is the descendant of Abraham; perhaps we need to be schooled with respect to the significance of that fact.
The apostle Paul elaborates on this theme, going so far as to claim that Jesus is the only true seed of Abraham. He says that the promises which God made to Abraham and his seed were actually made to Abraham and his one (ultimate), offspring who is Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:16). Paul’s point was that one did not need to become a Jew in order to be a Christian. Honestly you might say that one became a Christian in order to be a Jew – a descendant of Abraham. Thus, “if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:29).
Now, there’s a bundle of things that are part of being an heir “according to the promise.” Yet in this short article, I want to focus on a single item; God’s unusual behavior when He cut a covenant with Abraham. You see, when a covenant is made between a sovereign and his vassal the participating parities kill animals and cut them into pieces. Then both parties (representing themselves and their countrymen), walk between the parts of the animals and take an oath saying; “may it be done to me and my house as it has been done to these (animals), if I do not uphold this covenant.” However, when God made a covenant with Abraham, only one party to the bond passed between the sacrificial animals; and that one was God (Gen 15:9-21).
In other words, God promised to temporarily uphold Abraham’s part of the agreement, along with His own because He knew that Abraham and his descendants could not do so. Let’s face it, no one can live a perfect life. If Abraham had passed between the pieces of the animals, he would not have lasted a day. It would have been done to him as it had been done to the sacrificial animals and Abraham’s line would have ended along with the covenant agreement. Yet, in order for the covenant to be truly ratified, Abraham – or one of his descendants – had to pass between the animals and then fulfill the covenant stipulations. If that representative did so then Abraham and all of his descendants would be reckoned as legal participants in the covenant as well.
Consequently, the significance of “Jesus Christ… the son of Abraham.” Jesus passed between the animals and indeed, it was done to Him as it had been done to the sacrifice – not for His failure to uphold the covenant, but for ours. Sinless Jesus, son of Abraham, died a brutal death on the cross so that we might have eternal relationship with the Father. Truly, “only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham” (Gal. 3:7).