The effect of Adam’s sin cascaded upon all men who would come after. A very short time after the expulsion from the garden, Cain kills Abel in the world’s very first act of fratricide. Cain is cursed, but a pattern was established which was mirrored somewhat in Ishmael and Isaac, Jacob and Esau, and even Jesus and the Jewish authorities of his day.
As Cain was born before Abel, Ishmael and Esau were born before their counterparts but bore a burden related to being “children of the flesh” – the firstborn was of the earth, the second was righteous and heavenly. This notion is represented many times in New Testament writings, as the writers were deeply embedded in Jewish culture, and knew they were making a radical claim.
[1Jo 3:10-12 ESV] 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. 11 For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.
The reference here to “Children of God” vs “Children of the Devil” should not be missed. This is written by an Apostle of Jesus who was the one who rested his head on Jesus’ chest. In John’s gospel:
[Jhn 8:42-44 ESV] 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
“Murderer from the beginning” is a reference to Satan but also to Cain, since the first recorded murder in biblical history was that of Cain. Cain’s service to God was not accorded with due credit in his eyes, so he persecutes the righteous one, as Satan eventually persecuted Israel and the Church.
Jesus is being theologically deliberate here in calling the Jewish leaders the children of the devil. This ties into the context of God’s goals during the Old Testament. The fall of “the devil”, or Satan, is recorded in a few other places:
[Isa 14:12-22 ESV] 12 “How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! 13 You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ 15 But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit. 16 Those who see you will stare at you and ponder over you: ‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms, 17 who made the world like a desert and overthrew its cities, who did not let his prisoners go home?’ 18 All the kings of the nations lie in glory, each in his own tomb; 19 but you are cast out, away from your grave, like a loathed branch, clothed with the slain, those pierced by the sword, who go down to the stones of the pit, like a dead body trampled underfoot. 20 You will not be joined with them in burial, because you have destroyed your land, you have slain your people. “May the offspring of evildoers nevermore be named! 21 Prepare slaughter for his sons because of the guilt of their fathers, lest they rise and possess the earth, and fill the face of the world with cities.” 22 “I will rise up against them,” declares the LORD of hosts, “and will cut off from Babylon name and remnant, descendants and posterity,” declares the LORD.
The King of Tyre is likened to Satan in another passage:
[Eze 28:12-16 ESV] 12 “Son of man, raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him, Thus says the Lord GOD: “You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. 13 You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle; and crafted in gold were your settings and your engravings. On the day that you were created they were prepared. 14 You were an anointed guardian cherub. I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked. 15 You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you. 16 In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned; so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire.
Satan killed Jesus because his own works were evil and Jesus’ were righteous:
[1Jo 3:12 ESV] 12 We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.
Abel’s blood is compared to Jesus’ in another place:
[Heb 12:22-24 ESV] 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Jesus was made for a little while lower than the angels so he could be given dominion over all.
[Heb 2:7-9 ESV] 7 You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, 8 putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. 9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
Note this important description of the relationship between angels and humans:
[Heb 1:13-14 ESV] 13 And to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? 14 Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?
Jesus was like Abel in that he died after offering himself as a pleasing sacrifice by the hands of those who had preceded him (the Jewish leaders). Cain was before Abel, but Abel was righteous. For a little while, Jesus was made to be at the level of men, and was killed by the evil one, but rose from the dead in defiance of the original act of Cain.
So not only did Jesus defy the pattern of Adam and redeemed the woman by his own sacrifice – but he also made right the death of Abel by the same pattern in which he overcame a death he voluntarily submitted to at the hands of the “children of Cain.” Angels were made ministering spirits, and Satan and those fallen angels refused to serve humans who were made lower than they were at the pleasure of God. Likewise, the Jewish leaders refused to recognize Jesus and instead had a hand in his death, worried that the substance of Jesus’ teaching would cause them to lose their worldly authority that was preserved by the Romans.
It was an accurate assessment that if Jesus truly was the Messiah, they would have to give up their worldly authority, and many years of persecution awaited the church for believing that there was a king superior to Caesar. Jesus’ sacrifice was better than that of the Jewish leaders. For that he was killed, and his blood cries to us as Abel’s did.