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Abraham

Sal­va­tion his­to­ry, prop­er­ly so-called, begins with Abram, whom God named Abra­ham which means “father of a mul­ti­tude.” Abra­ham was the first patri­arch of the peo­ple of Israel. The word patri­arch means “the father of the peo­ple.” In the per­son and life of Abra­ham, the cen­tral events of the sal­va­tion of the world by Christ in the New Tes­ta­ment have been pre­fig­ured.

God made the first promise of His sal­va­tion of all the peo­ple of the earth to Abra­ham, with whom He also made His covenant to be faith­ful for­ev­er.

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your coun­try and kin­dred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make you a great nation, and make your name great, so that you will be a bless­ing … and in you all fam­i­lies of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:1–3, See also 17:1–8, 22:1–18).

The ful­fill­ment of the promise to Abra­ham comes in Jesus Christ. He is the descen­dent of Israel’s first father in whom all the fam­i­lies of the earth are blessed. Thus, Mary, the Moth­er of Jesus, sings at her time of wait­ing for the Savior’s birth, that all gen­er­a­tions will call her blessed because the ful­fill­ment has come from God “as He spoke to our fathers, to Abra­ham and to his pos­ter­i­ty for­ev­er” (Lk 1:55, see also Zachariah’s Song in Lk 1:67–79). All through the New Tes­ta­ment the claim is made that God’s promise to Abra­ham is ful­filled in Jesus.

Now the promis­es were made to Abra­ham and to his off­spring. It does not say, “And to off springs,” refer­ring to many; but, refer­ring to one, “And to your off­spring,” which is Christ (Gal 3:16).

The faith of Abra­ham is pro­to­typ­i­cal of al those who in Christ are saved by faith. The New Tes­ta­ment stress­es faith as nec­es­sary for sal­va­tion. The mod­el for this faith is Abra­ham.

Abra­ham believed God, and it was reck­oned to him as right­eous­ness (Gen 15:6, Rom 4:3).

Abraham’s faith was unit­ed to his works, and was expressed in his works.

Was not Abra­ham our father jus­ti­fied by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was com­plet­ed by works, and the scrip­ture was ful­filled which says, “Abra­ham believed God, and it was reck­oned to him as right­eous­ness;” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is jus­ti­fied by works and not by faith alone (Jas 2:21–24).

God test­ed Abra­ham by com­mand­ing him to sac­ri­fice his beloved son Isaac as a burnt offer­ing. Abra­ham believed and trust­ed in God. He obeyed his will, and went to the moun­tain to slay his child. God stopped him and placed a ram in Isaac’s place say­ing “for now I know that you fear God, see­ing that you have not with­held your son, your only son, from me” (Gen 22:12). Then once more God made the promise that “by your descen­dants shall all of the nations of the earth be blessed …” (Gen 22:18).

The sac­ri­fice of Isaac is not only a tes­ti­mo­ny to Abraham’s faith. It is also the orig­i­nal sign that God Him­self does what He does not allow the first and fore­most of His Peo­ple to do. No ram is put in the place of God’s Son, His only Son Jesus, when He is sac­ri­ficed on the cross for the sins of the world.

The per­fect priest­hood of Christ is also pre­fig­ured in Abraham’s life. It is the priest­hood of Melchizedek, the King of Peace. It is the priest­hood in which the offer­ing is bread and wine. It is the priest­hood which is before that of the Levites, and the one which is that of the Mes­si­ah, Who is “a priest for­ev­er accord­ing to the order of Melchizedek” (Ps 110:4, Heb 5–10).

So also Christ did not exalt Him­self to be made a high priest, but was appoint­ed by Him Who said to Him, “Thou art my Son, today I have begot­ten thee;“as He says also in anoth­er place, “Thou art a priest for ever, after the order of Melchizedek.”

In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and sup­pli­ca­tions, with loud cries and tears, to Him Who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard for His god­ly fear. Although He was a Son, He learned obe­di­ence through what He suf­fered; and being made per­fect He became the source of eter­nal sal­va­tion to all who obey Him, being des­ig­nat­ed by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek (Heb 5:5–10).

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abra­ham return­ing from the slaugh­ter of the kings and blessed him; and to him Abra­ham appor­tioned a tenth part of every­thing. He is first, by trans­la­tion of his name, king of right­eous­ness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is king of peace. He is with­out father or moth­er or geneal­o­gy, and has nei­ther begin­ning of days nor end of life, but resem­bling the Son of God he con­tin­ues a priest for ever (Heb 7:1–3).

The most sub­lime of the New Tes­ta­ment rev­e­la­tions, that of the Holy Trin­i­ty, was also pre­fig­ured in Abraham’s life. This is the famous vis­it of the three angels of God to Abra­ham under the oaks of Mam­re.

And the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mam­re, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lift­ed up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men stood in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed him­self to the earth, and said, “My lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your ser­vant. Let a lit­tle water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest your­selves under the tree, while I fetch a morsel of bread, that you may refresh your­selves, and after that you may pass on … since you have come to your ser­vant.” So they said, “Do as you have said” (Gen 18:1–5).

Abra­ham address­es the three angels as one, call­ing them Lord. They eat in his pres­ence and fore­tell the birth of Isaac from Sarah in her old age. In this vis­i­ta­tion of God to Abra­ham, the Ortho­dox Church sees the pre­fig­u­ra­tion of the full rev­e­la­tion of the Holy Trin­i­ty in the New Tes­ta­ment.

Because there can be no depic­tion of God the Father and the Holy Spir­it in human form, Ortho­dox iconog­ra­phy has tra­di­tion­al­ly paint­ed the Holy Trin­i­ty in the form of the three angels who came to Abra­ham. The most famous icon of the Holy Trin­i­ty, the one often used in the Church on the feast of Pen­te­cost, is that of Saint Andrew Rublev, a dis­ci­ple of Saint Sergius of Radonezh in Rus­sia in the four­teenth cen­tu­ry.

Thus the sal­va­tion of the world which has come in Christ was pre­fig­ured in the life of Abra­ham, as well as the Chris­t­ian doc­trine about faith and works and the Chris­t­ian rev­e­la­tions about the sac­ri­fice, the priest­hood, and even the most Holy Trin­i­ty. Tru­ly in Abra­ham every aspect of the final covenant in Christ the Mes­si­ah was fore­shad­owed and fore­told.