When I began this personal study of Abraham, I was hoping to discover why he has such a prominent place in the heroes of salvation chapter, Hebrews 11. What I discovered is more personally satisfying and troubling than I anticipated—satisfying, because I learned that he deserved the honor. Troubling, because I realized we each are challenged to duplicate Abraham’s faith. Abraham has not been merely set on a pedestal without an explanation of why he has such strength of character, but is shown to have been intricately designed, honed by hardship, honest labor, and time into a real yet remarkable human being who is upheld and illustrated multiple times in God’s Word. We must emulate his efforts if we wish for the eternal rewards he is promised.
Instructions from the authors of the four Gospels
In the New Testament, we read the name Abraham in the very first verse. We are told that Jesus Christ’s heritage came through David from Abraham. The Jews back then were concerned that Jesus Christ had a proper pedigree. Matthew was making sure that the audience he wrote for was well informed that this was so. Israelites in general and the tribe of Judah in particular have no problem honoring the greatness of Abraham. But, as shown in Matthew 4:4, there is much more to life than physical heritage: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
We read early in Matthew 8 how Jesus heals a servant of a Roman centurion. This Roman was, as far as we know, completely outside the physical promises that God made to Abraham and his children. God was looking for something more than physical ancestry in order to dispense His blessings. The lesson is clear: faith will be rewarded. Promises were made to Abraham, and they will all be fulfilled, but having faith now can be rewarded now. Those who witnessed Jesus saying, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel” (verse 10), must have scratched their heads in wonder.
We conclude Matthew’s references to Abraham with Jesus’ own statement that “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:32). The people that Jesus was talking with knew Abraham was dead, but Jesus spoke powerfully, if simply, “God is not the God of the dead!” Abraham will rise again. Our challenge is to emulate the faith of Abraham in ourselves so that we can likewise be rewarded and rise with him to meet Jesus in the air when He returns to the earth (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17).
Proceeding through the New Testament, we see Mark’s one reference to Abraham in Mark 12:26. This reference reiterates the lesson we just read in Matthew 22.
Luke’s account of Christ’s parable shows the role of Abraham as a father. His references surround our reading in his Gospel account like kids around the dinner table. Consider the parable that Luke alone relates in Luke 16:19-31. Abraham is portrayed as a loving father, who wants to see his children born into the Kingdom. He must lead them to look back to the scriptures that can help them. Abraham makes that decision: “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (verse 31).
I find this parable compelling because Abraham is appealed to as chief dispenser of blessings rather than recipient of the blessings that God promised: “Father Abraham…send Lazarus…[to my] five brothers…lest they also come to this place of torment” (verses 24 and 28).
Leaving aside the deeply theological aspects of this parable, which are clearly and completely explained in many of our other publications, you may note the filial connections: father Abraham…five brothers. God is our Father though most humans only dimly acknowledge this. We are all brothers, though the record of history mostly shows destructive warfare! What a botch!
God is our Father; Christ is our Brother. Only by following the faith exemplified by Abraham, over and over again, can we be given the insight to acknowledge and choose the road that ends up on the correct side of that “great fixed gulf” (verse 26). God wants a large family, but the children must be born according to His Word.
John shows love to and reveres Abraham appropriately in his inspired Gospel account. John 8, also places Abraham in his correct position. What is that position? The Jews esteemed Abraham too highly. “Then Jesus said to the Jews who believed on Him, ‘If you continue in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ They answered Him, ‘We are Abraham's seed and were never in bondage to anyone. How do you say, You will be made free?’” (John 8:31-33) They held Abraham in much higher esteem than they should have. In verse 53 they confronted Jesus with these words, “Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets are dead; whom do you make yourself out to be?”
Isaiah 45:22-24 and Romans 14:10-12 show all humans—including Abraham—kneeling before the Eternal. That is the appropriate position for us all and we should choose to do it always. John quotes Jesus: “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). What did he mean? Jesus, before he took on human nature at His birth, was the Eternal, the I Am, the Lord that Abraham had interacted with and known. Abraham was truly a friend of God, but he also worshiped that particular friend.
Instructions from other New Testament writers
Peter, in the first of his New Testament Pentecost sermons, appealed to the promises that the Eternal made to Abraham (Acts 3:25). Peter is an excellent example of one who made gross human errors before he received God’s Holy Spirit. He did not allow his mistakes to steal his God-ordained potential and continued to move forward in faith. In that regard, he was like Abraham (and, we hope, like us too).
Stephen refers to the relationship Abraham had with God and shows that his following the direction of the Eternal was appropriate. He displayed great faith and trust (Acts 7:2). Stephen then clearly states the time that must pass before the promises were to be fulfilled in Abraham’s life. He thus says to us that we too must wait—a good lesson for all of us today.
In Acts 7:17, continuing his summary of Israel’s history, we see Stephen insinuate that at least some of the fulfillment of the promises were and are very physical. The Eternal multiplied Israel as slaves in Egypt before they had any thought about greatness as a nation. Then He brought them out of bondage to a land of milk and honey. Abraham did not see this promise unfold, but he believed it would. Do we believe God’s promises for us?
Paul continues to point the early Church to Abraham’s example
The apostle Paul never tired of bringing up the subject of Abraham to initially gain the attention of his audience (Acts 13:26). He soon found that focusing on the physical descendants of Abraham was not the way God intended him to use his talents (Acts 13:46). But he never could entirely allow Abraham and Abraham’s example of faith to lie dormant (Romans 4:9-13, 16; 9:7-8; 11:1-2). He knew that everyone must learn and practice the faith of Abraham if they want to be given eternal life (Galatians 3:1-9).
Abraham was just a man who will need to be raised from the dead to glory. There was another Man who gave up the glory that He had already enjoyed. Abraham is a great example, but Jesus Christ is the perfect example. Paul begins by showing us that, like Abraham Jesus Christ was born a man (Hebrews 2:14-17). He was much more before He became a Man, and He returned to that glory again (Hebrews 6:9-7:28). I encourage you to read all of Hebrews 7 and 8 to understand the perfection of the faith of Jesus Christ.
Paul ends his writings on Abraham by focusing on Abraham’s hope in the future (Hebrews 11:8-10). We, too, only see that city, New Jerusalem, through a dark glass. We are not there yet.
Jesus Christ is the perfect, complete example, but Abraham is also a good example for us: “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. And he was called the friend of God” (James 2:23). We must also always seek that same kind of relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ.
To learn how to develop the kind of faith that Abraham possessed, request our free booklet, You Can Have Living Faith.