How does the story of Cain and Abel point us to Jesus? Let’s find out!
From Genesis 4:1-16
Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” 2 And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. 3 In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. 6 The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
8 Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. 9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. 11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” 13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14 Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” 15 Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. 16 Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
In Genesis chapter 3, Adam and Eve have fallen into sin. They received God’s curse and were kicked out of the Garden of Eden. But God, in the midst of his curses, also makes a promise of salvation. I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. God promises that from Eve’s offspring, a Savior would come to defeat the devil.
Then the very next chapter, Eve bears a son. Adam and Eve have their first offspring, named Cain. Could he be the Savior? We know, of course, that this is not God’s plan. Instead of being the bringer of life, Cain is the cause of death. Cain is well known as the first murderer. He kills his brother Abel out of envy and anger. Why did God accept Abel’s offering and not Cain’s? Hebrews 11 provides the answer. By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. One could argue that Abel was really the first martyr. He was killed for his faith in God.
God cursed Cain for his actions and made him become a fugitive on the earth. Abel, Adam and Eve’s second son, was dead. But God provided them with another offspring, Seth, and God used Seth to fulfill his gracious promise made in Genesis 3:15. The line of Seth eventually led to Jesus, the true giver of life, who was himself killed despite his innocence. Jesus, born of a woman, is the true and greater Abel, who though innocently slain, his blood cries out not for our condemnation but for our acquittal. The sacrifice of Jesus is the truly God-pleasing sacrifice for all sin, and the offering of Abel in faith points forward to Jesus’ own offering of His innocent life. The Lenten hymn “Glory Be to Jesus” describes this well:
Abel’s blood for vengeance
Pleaded to the skies;
But the blood of Jesus
For our pardon cries.
Jesus’ death and resurrection was the end of death. The story of death begins with Cain, and it ends with Christ. For Christ has defeated death and has promised resurrection and eternal life to all who believe in his innocent sacrifice on the cross.
Only the Creator can destroy life. Cain usurps this ultimate right of the Creator and becomes a murderer. why does Cain murder? Out of hatred towards God. This hatred is great. Cain is great, he is greater than Adam, for his hatred is greater, and this means that his yearning for life is greater. The story of death stands under the mark of Cain.
Christ on the cross, the murdered Son of God, is the end of the story of Cain, and thus the actual end of the story. This is the last desperate storming of the gate of paradise. And under the flaming sword under the Cross, mankind dies. But Christ lives. The stem of the Cross becomes the staff of life, and in the midst of the world life is set up anew upon the cursed ground. In the middle of the world the spring of life wells up on the wood of the cross and those who thirst for life are called to this water, and those who have eaten of the wood of this life shall never hunger and thirst again. What a strange paradise is this hill of Golgotha, this Cross, this blood, this broken body! What a strange tree of life, this tree on which God himself must suffer and die. The tree of Life, the Cross of Christ, the middle of the fallen and preserved world of God, for us that is the end of the story of paradise.