“And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.” (Genesis 22:9)
Abraham’s offering of Isaac is a well-known picture of the cross of Jesus Christ. Hebrews 11:17-19 tells us that Abraham “…offered up his only begotten son… Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.” This is a very important figure for all the saints. The figure is of God the Father making the Sacrifice of His only-begotten Son, Whom He then raised from the dead. In His Sacrifice we have remission of sins. In His Resurrection we have newness of life. What wonderful news for us!
There is another point of similarity between the type and its fulfillment that we need to understand. Jesus laid His life down willingly (John 10:18). The fact that Isaac was also wiling to be offered is seen in that he allowed himself to be bound by Abraham. This speaks a great deal about the young man’s faith in the promises of God. The question arises: If Isaac was willing to be offered, why was be bound? The answer to this question is found in a Messianic Psalm: “God is the LORD, which hath shewed us light: bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar” (Psalms 118:27).
God had given illumination to Abraham and to Isaac. The sacrifice of the Messiah was to be bound “with cords, even to the horns of the altar.” The altar of burnt offering for sin had four horns, one on each corner (Exodus 27:2). Here the purpose was to fully show the sacrifice of Christ on the altar of the cross. As the sacrificial Lamb, Christ was in fact bound to the cross by more than nails. This binding was not a result of human weakness. Nor was it due to a lack of heavenly power. So what were the cords of the cross?
1) God’s will – “And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt“ (Mark 14:36). In His humanity, Jesus most certainly did not look forward to the suffering set before Him. Crucifixion was meant to be agonizing in itself, but Jesus had also been scourged. Such horrendous torture was enough to make the cross unbearable. Nevertheless, Christ was eternally bound to the cross by God’s will. “Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;” (Hebrews 5:7-9)
2) God’s purpose – “For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living” (Romans 14:9). Ultimately, the suffering of the cross was to manifest the Lordship of Christ. This was the purpose of His incarnation; and His death on the cross was only one part of this purpose, albeit a very important one. It was on the cross (as an altar) that Christ (as the burnt offering) took upon Himself the sins of the people. It was the fulfillment of God’s purpose that bound Christ to the cross. “But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool” (Hebrews 10:12-13).
3) God’s love – “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). There is no greater love than God’s love, “…for God is love” (1 John 4:8). His love is a sacrificial love; that which gives of itself sacrificially for the benefit of those loved. Jesus willfully gave His life for those He loves – the ultimate sacrifice for the ultimate love. Christ has forever manifested God’s love to us (1 John 3:16) by His death on the cross. “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).
4) Our sin – “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth… Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed” (1 Peter 2:22, 24). Here is our part in the crucifixion of Christ. It must be remembered that the burnt offering was for sin. The first three cords we discussed were God-ward. This final cord is us-ward; in that He had no sin of His own, and yet He very much had the entirety of our sins upon Him, holding Him to the cross.
The fact of our guilt in the crucifixion of Christ is one we must understand in order to appreciate the work of grace in the act. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” Without exception, each and every one of us have sinned. Our transgressions must needs to have been paid for by death. This is one aspect of our guilt in Christ’s crucifixion.
A second aspect of our guilt is that our very nature is one wholly given to sin. Our heart is “full of evil” (Ecclesiastes 9:3). Not only do we need propitiation for individual acts of sin, but also for our sin nature. Even “… them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression…” (Romans 5:14), have the guilt of sin passed on them. As such, man sins by nature.
“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
Having thus ascertained guilt by our sins, as well as by our sin nature, we must necessarily see that Christ imputes His righteousness to us while receiving the wages of our sin upon Himself. His gift to us is life, as He accepts the death that we deserve physically and spiritually. This is the message of grace. This is the work of redemption, wrought by Jesus Christ on the Cross of Calvary.
Here then we see why the sacrifice was to be bound. The cords of the cross serve to illustrate redemption in its fullness – God’s will, God’s purpose, God’s love, and our sin. All four cords give a true picture of God’s sovereignty at work in bringing salvation to us by His grace.