Summary: This article was written and published Oct. ’14. The story of Cain and Abel is about approach and acceptance of fallen man before God. But most interesting is where these two brothers and their different sacrifices take us in type. Abel’s lamb represents Jesus Christ and His death, the foundational work which provides Christian believers approach and acceptance with God (Eph. 1:3-7). Cain’s vegetables represent fallen man’s futile attempt at approach and acceptance before God based on his own works and labor. Ultimately the two different sacrifices look forward to show the basic principle difference between Judaism and Christianity, and the two brothers themselves represent the difference between Jews and Christians. Who would have thought that this amount of truth and principles would come out so early in God’s revelation, albeit obscurely by types and shadows prefiguring future things? For this reason God has given all true Christians the Holy Spirit – that we may see and comprehend these divine truths.
I will start this article by sharing an important truth for our understanding. One day Jesus was asked by a lawyer about the importance of the law. He summed things up by saying, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:36-40) The reality of the Law is that it is a testing of human nature. It is the full and exact measure of whether human righteousness can be produced before a holy God. It is a perfect rule of man’s righteousness in his present state as a child of Adam. All the Law and prophets are easily condensed down to these two commands.
When Adam committed his one act of sin he believed the serpent instead of God. He disobeyed God’s one command given to him, showing disrespect to his Creator. He failed to love God as he should. He is guilty of sinning and breaking the first and great commandment as outlined above by Jesus. After man was evicted from paradise he is found separated from the presence of God. Cain kills his brother. His sin is breaking the second commandment mentioned above. Cain sins against his neighbor. With Adam and Cain man’s sin is complete – the first against God, the second against man’s neighbor. The history of man’s perverseness is encapsulated in these two examples. How telling is this truth?
God came down to man in the garden to fellowship with him. But as a result of Adam’s disobedience man was judged and fallen, and he was chased out of paridise. Man was now away from the presence of God. The cherubin with the sword made sure man did not return (Gen. 3:24). However, being out of the garden, man had to have a proper means of approach to God for worship. The story of Cain and Abel is about this – approach to God when man had been driven away, and whether he may be accepted. It was not about sins. Rather it was about man’s state of sin and being away from God. The Lord says to Cain, “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” (Gen. 4:7) In their examples God shows us how approach to Him is to be accomplished.
Until the law was given to Israel, all the sacrifices offered to God were burnt offerings. The law defined in a specific way what were offences and trangressions. The sin offerings in the law were for this. But the law was a long way from Abel. The burnt offering is about man’s nature as fallen, God’s divine nature as holy and righteous, and man approaching and being accepted before God.
Abel’s sacrifice was “propitiatory” and gave him a right standing before God. The testimony in Scripture of Abel’s sacrifice is quite simple – “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.” (Heb. 11:4) Propitiation is a judicial term which means to estimate the value of an offering or gift. God was estimating the value of the gifts Abel brought to Him. It was said, “And the Lord respected Abel and his offering.” (Gen. 4:4) Through his gifts he obtained witness that he was righteous – he gained a right standing with God.
Abel offered a blood sacrifice. Blood means the death of the offering. It also means that an innocent life was sacrificed on behalf of another. Abel comes to God by the acceptance and perfectness of another, one who gave his life for him. This was not his own work at all. In a sense Abel offered a sacrifice that cost him nothing.
Abel offered his sacrifice in faith. In his offering he acknowledged he was a sinner, outside of paradise, and away from the presence of God. By his sacrifice Abel understands that death had come in. Without the shedding of blood there is no remission (Heb. 9:22). Death and blood were a requisite. Through his “more excellent sacrifice” he drew near to God.
By faith Abel’s blood sacrifice point’s to Christ. By faith this was what his lamb prefigured – the perfection of another who gives His life for him. Jesus Christ, offered up to die for us, is the only ground of acceptance before God. “…Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.” (Eph. 5:2) This is the essence of the burnt offering – what it is for God. Through the propitiatory sacrifice on our behalf, we have a standing in righteousness before God (Rom. 3:25-26, II Cor. 5:21). Being made the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus is the believer’s acceptance. This is according to God’s estimated value of Christ and His sacrifice. Jesus offered Himself for the glory of God. The work of the cross so glorified God that it is said, “…and God is glorified in Him.” (John 13:31) “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God…” (I Pet. 3:18) He became the perfect sacrifice so that He might bring us to God.
Cain’s offering was nothing like Abel’s. Cain brought the fruits of his own labors, his own works. His gifts were the sign of the curse pronounced on man by God – “Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face your shall eat bread till you return to the ground…” (Gen. 3:17-19) Cain had no knowledge of his fallen state before God. He had no idea how he should approach God or gain acceptance. He offers to God the fruits of the curse on man. He offers to God his own works as the means of gaining acceptance. God looked at Cain’s sacrifice and did not respect Cain or his offering (Gen. 4:5).
This is the moral basis of the difference between Cain and Abel. This is the reason for God’s preference of Abel over Cain. Abel brings a blood sacrifice that speaks of Jesus Christ and the value of His work, and by this he gains a standing before God – a witness that he was righteous (Heb. 11:4). Cain offers his own works, his own efforts to God. Cain thinks he can approach God just as he is. He thinks he is acceptable to God in his present state, by what he was in himself. Abel was aware of his condition as a sinner, driven away from God’s paradise; Cain was indifferent to his state before God. One sacrifice glorifies God – Abel’s. The other sacrifice glorifies man – Cain’s. God has respect for one, while He has no respect for the other.
At times man will acknowledge his duty to worship God, his Creator, but often without any sense of his own state and condition as fallen sinners before God. This is just what Cain did, and he was rejected by God. A similar thing is done by those practicing the law of God (Judaism) – it is a duty to obey the law, just as it is a duty for man to worship his Creator. But man trying to keep the law is man denying his condition as a sinner – again, just as Cain did. Scripture declares, there is none righteous, no, not one; there is none that seek after God (Rom. 3:9-18). Just as Cain was not accepted by God, neither can those practicing the law be accepted as well.
It should not be difficult to see the types and shadows that are presented through this story by the Spirit. Cain and his sacrifice represents Judaism – the religion of human effort and what man might make of himself, by himself, by his own sweat and labors. Cain presents to God the fruits of the curse on mankind in Adam. “For as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse…” (Gal. 3:10) All of Judaism is of the works of the law. All Israel was under a curse. The Jews sought acceptance from God in the same way that Cain did – by presenting themselves in their sinful state by their own human effort and labor. Israel sought a right standing (righteousness) before God, but by what means did they employ? – by the works of the law and seeking to establish their own righteousness (Rom. 9:30-32, 10:1-3).
But the type goes further. Cain not only represents the religion, but he also is type of the Jews themselves. Cain killed his brother. Jesus came to His own, but they rejected Him (John 1:11). They crucified Him and put Him to death. When Jesus returns to save Israel, it is said, “Then they will look on Me whom they have pierced; they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn…and someone will say to Him, ‘What are these wounds in your hands?’ Then He will answer, ‘Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.'” (Zech. 12:10, 11:6)
Abel represents Christianity and Christians. His sacrifice was a blood sacrifice. It was a perfect, innocent life given for him; that is, the death was mediatorial ground. It was the recognition that death had come in, and that without death and blood there would be no approach to or acceptance by God (Rom. 6:23, Heb. 9:22, 24-26). Abel’s sacrifice obtained the witness that he was righteous. By Christ being made to be sin as a sacrifice on the cross, God was perfectly glorified as to man’s sin, and we (Christians) are made the righteousness of God in Him (II Cor. 5:21). Abel’s lamb cost him nothing. It cost the lamb everything. Christianity is never about what you are for God or what you can do for God. This is the evil leaven – Arminian and Judaizing thoughts. Christianity is always about what God has done for you. It is what God has accomplished in the redemptive work of Christ, and then in results, what God does as His own work. Christianity is only this. The more we truly understand who God is and what Christianity is, the more we will see this truth. In one sense it is quite comprehensive, that is, for sinners and believers alike – all that really matters or is of any eternal significance, is what God has done or will do, although His counsels were established before the foundations of the world. “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly…but God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us…for if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son…” (Rom. 5:6, 8, 10) This is for the sinner, or I should say, for us when we were still nothing but sinners. Notice how the verses emphasize the death of Christ for us. Christianity involves His death and the shedding of His blood as the foundation of God’s love in saving the sinner. Abel’s more excellent sacrifice prefigured all these truths.
Christianity is not a religion that you can “do.” All the religions of the world, including Judaism, are religions that man “does.” They are religions based on the principle of human responsibility – human effort and human works. That is why the adherents of these religions will fight and defend them so strenuously, even with violence (the violence itself becomes their efforts and works to be pleasing to God – John 16:2). Man is proud of what he can do and he loves to compare himself to others. He loves to have a reason for boasting. Cain could boast of his labors and sweat, but Abel had no reason for boasting. Why? “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain…” Christianity is by faith – it is a reckoning on the perfect sacrifice of Christ to provide the believer his basis of standing before God, and therefore receiving his acceptance and blessing. Faith excludes all human boasting (Rom. 3:27-28, Eph. 2:8-9).
As I mentioned, Abel’s sacrifice cost him nothing. He did not present his own works. This is true Christianity. It costs you nothing and you “do” nothing. God did the work and Christ paid the price. “Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” The two brothers, representing the two religions – Judaism and Christianity – are on opposite sides of the spectrum. The two religions are only as similar as the two brothers were.
You might say that once we are justified from our sins and saved, once we are Christians and have a relationship with God through Christ, then we have to “do” our Christianity. That is hardly a correct thought. That is not the proper understanding of our Christian walk. If we are “doing” our religion it will only be a walk in the flesh. It will be a walk by sight, instead of a walk by faith (II Cor. 5:7). We will be under law and sin, and we will be miserable. But if God’s work justified and saved us, freely redeeming us in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:24, 4:25), then does He not do any work in the power of grace to help us walk properly before Him? This is what I find the Scriptures teach; “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:13) And Paul would always say things like this; “According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise masterbuilder I have laid the foundation…” And again he would say, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” (I Cor. 3:10, 15:10) God’s grace is His working in the believer to accomplish His own good pleasure. And His grace for us in our Christian walk is always sufficient, regardless of the situation or circumstances (II Cor. 12:9-10).
The believer’s “walk” in this world involves fulfilling the responsibilities and duties that flow from the relationship he now has with God. By faith in Jesus Christ he is a son of God (Gal. 3:26). By God’s grace he has this new relationship as “created in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:8-10). However, let us not get full of ourselves. If our responsibility – our walk – is not sustained by divine strength from God’s grace, we will stumble around and fail; if our walk is sustained in grace, then we will have a walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” (Col. 1:10) Our walk must be characterized by our dependence on God and His grace working in us. This is the principle clearly taught by all the above quoted scriptures. Jesus tells us, “…without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
How then are you going to be sustained by God’s grace in your walk? By faith – by believing all the above quoted scriptures. And here are more. “…Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.” (Rom. 6:9-10) Being raised from the dead, Christ Himself has a new life. Then it is understood, “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him…you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 6:8, 11) Christ is in a new life. He is risen, and I am alive unto God through Him. I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me. The life I live now in the flesh, that is, the walk I have, is by faith in the Son of God (Gal. 2:20). It is God’s grace working in me, Christ living in me as the life I now have, and the Holy Spirit given to me as the power of that life (Rom. 8:2). Therefore I may in faith’s confidence readily believe and expect that I will walk not according to the flesh, but rather according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:4). And I come in full agreement with this: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” (Rom. 8:14) Our walk in this world is nothing less than the proof of this verse.
If Cain is a type of the Jews, then Abel is a type of Christ. When God did not respect Cain and his offering, he became very angry. He hated his brother and slew him. When Jesus came as God in the flesh, He came to His brothers after the flesh, the Jews. He was hated and slain by His own (John 15:22-25, Luke 9:22, Acts 2:22-23, 3:14-15). Further, we may see Cain as a type of something else – dwellers and inhabitants of the earth in the book of Revelation (Rev. 8:13, 12:12, 17:2). When Adam sinned against God, the earth was cursed. But when Cain had killed his brother, he was cursed from the earth and driven out of the presence of God (Gen. 4:11). In the judgment the dwellers of the earth will be removed from the earth and forever banished from the presence of God. Those who settle in the earth share in the curse of Cain. They will also share in his judgment (Is. 26:21, Jer. 25:29-30).
Cain went out from the presence of God, and what does he do? He builds a city. What comes of this? Away from God he is in the world. Actually Cain building a city is Cain building the world. And the characteristic feature of Cain’s city is that it is away from God. There is no presence of God in the world. Then you get Tubal-Cain with the arts and sciences, and Jubal with the pleasing sounds, the harps and organs. Cain builds a world that is away from God. The reality we find in Scripture is that all mankind in the fallen Adam were driven out from the presence of God. All unbelievers, to one measure or another, are occupied in the pleasures, amusements, profits, and pursuits of a Christ-rejecting world. So man has to have his amusements to entertain himself, to make himself content and comfortable being away from God. This is what man has so cleverly crafted. This is the world order. This is what Cain went out to build.
After Adam sinned he hid himself in the trees and bushes of the garden. Why? Because fallen man cannot tolerate the presence of God. There wasn’t anything wrong or evil with the trees- they were the creation of God. But God’s creation was meant to be enjoyed by man in the presence and glory of his Creator. It wasn’t designed for man to use it to hide himself from God. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with the arts, sciences, and music. It is just that in the world man uses these things to hid from God, or as a substitute for the presence of God. Satan will use these things as a distraction. He will use these things as a trap, to move the believer farther from the presence of God.
If we would think about it, in a general way, all of Scripture is about this issue – the presence of God. When Adam was in paradise he enjoyed the presence of God, fellowship and communion with Him, and enjoyed all that God had created as a blessing to him. However his sin against God changed all this. Adam hides from God, he knows he is naked, and he is driven from paradise. Cain kills his brother, the sin of man is complete, and he is cursed from the earth. Cain goes out away from God and builds a city. These are the consequences of what man has done. But what will we see as the results of what God will do? What is the end of God’s counsels? In Rev. 21 we see a new heaven and a new earth and the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. And the vision tells us,“Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.” It is all about the presence of God.
Through Adam’s disobedience sin came into the world (Rom. 5:12) and the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). But the truth is that God had His counsels before the world was, and God was at work. So the Scriptures say, “For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh.” God did this work by condemning Christ to death (Rom.8:3). There is this great principle in all worship – death must come in between us and God. Cain does not acknowledge this when he approaches God to worship. He brings what every natural man, every man in Adam, brings before God – the fruit of his own works on which the curse of man’s sin rested. His offering testifies to the insensibility of man’s heart to what he really is before God. It was the sacrifice of an arrogant proudful man; at best we might consider it the sacrifice of a fool. In a word, Cain’s offering proved there was no faith, no sense of sin, no conscience of God’s judgment against man, and a complete passing by of the shedding of blood for remission and acceptance. Cain’s sacrifice witnessed of a hardened conscience and blinded heart. However Abel’s was a more excellent sacrifice than this. By faith Abel acknowledged that death must come in between himself and God. There is no worship without this. Death must come in.