There is, perhaps nothing so faith-building in the OT–apart from the explicit Messianic prophecies–as God’s covenantal structuring of history that gave us people, places, and events to prefigure the coming Messiah. In their chapter on “God’s Covenant with Man,” the Westminster Divines explained the richness of the Old Testament revelation as it regards types and ordinances foreshadowing Christ. There we read:
This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the Gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all fore-signifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the Old Testament.1
While there are clearly explicit types–or explicit allusions to types–mentioned by Jesus and the Apostles in the pages of the New Testament (i.e. Adam, Abel, Melchizedek, Isaac, Moses, David, Solomon, Jonah, the Tabernacle, the Temple, the festivals, etc.), Geerhardus Vos has aptly observed that we must learn to take the principles from the explicit types and apply them to the implicit types in the Old Testament. He wrote::
Such types as were recognized to be types in the New Testament…were called typii innati, ‘inborn types.’ The others whose typical significance had to be discovered by research were called typii illati.2
Last year I wrote a post on “Christological Principles of Typology” in which I recommended the following helpful Reformed resources to deepening our understanding of the hermeneutical principles of typology:
Edmund Clowney’s WTS lectures, “Christ in the Old Testament: Typology/Use of Symbolism in the NT” and “Christ in the Old Testament: Biblical Metaphor and Typology,“ are two of the best audio resources available on principles of typology. Patrick Fairbairn’s classic volume, The Typology of Scripture, and Benjamin Keach’s Tropologia: A Key to Open Scriptual Metaphors are two of the most thorough works on this subject. Though much shorter and less academic, William M’Ewen’s Grace and Truth: The Glory and Fulness of the Redeemer Displayed is a worthwhile historical treatments of this subject…The best exemplar of how to incorporate Reformed and Covenantal typology into an exposition of Scripture is Jonathan Edwards. His Typological Writings (which can be found online here) is one of the most developed–albeit, at times, fanciful–works in this branch of hermeneutics.
In addition to these helpful resources, I would recommend David Murray’s forthcoming, Jesus on Every Page. Murray provides some of the most basic and yet profound principles of covenantal typology.
As we walk through redemptive history, we quickly discover that there are many explicit and implicit types of the Redeemer and/or His saving benefits. Apart from the many clear events and objects that are types of the redemptive work of Christ, consider the following persons who were types of Christ in redemptive history:
Adam is explicitly said to have been a type of Christ in that he was the representative of humanity (Rom. 5:12). Paul unfolds one of the foremost ways in which he was a type of Christ in Romans 5:12-21. Adam’s federal headship–together with the guilt, corruption and death that his disobedience brought on all humanity–is contrasted with the federal headship of Christ, and the subsequent justification of believers through His obedience and substitutionary death. Adam is also seen as a type of Christ in 1 Corinthians 15 where his earthly body is contrasted with the resurrected body of the glorified Christ and His people. In both of these places there is similarity and contrast in the type.
Abel is shown to be a type of Christ in that he was the first one to suffer for righteousness sake (Matt. 23:34-35). The hostility that Cain directed toward his brother was ultimately meant for God. Charles Spurgeon said, If Cain could have gotten at the throat of God he would have done so. This is precisely what men did in the crucifixion of Christ. Abel died because he worshiped God rightly. Jesus died because He always did the will of His Father in Heaven. Abel was the first martyr. Jesus is the anti-typical martyr. The writer of Hebrews tells us that “the blood of Jesus speaks better things than that of Abel” (Heb. 11:4; 12:24). As was true of Adam, so Abel was a type of Christ by way of comparison and contrast. He is compared with Christ in that he was martyred for righteousness; he is contrasted with Christ in that his blood cried out for vengeance while Christ’s blood cries out for mercy.
Seth was a type of Christ in that he was the “seed” of the woman who–as his name intimates–was “appointed/placed/set” in the place of Abel. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the “Seed of the woman” in the sense of ultimate fulfillment of the promise of Genesis 3:15. Seth was merely a typical step in the fulfillment of the Covenant promise to send a “Seed-Redeemer.” Here it is imperative for us to note a guiding interpretive principle when studying the Old Testament. Because the revelation of God is organically related to the first promise of a redeemer (Gen. 3:15), and since that first promise was to be fulfillment by “the woman” bearing a male child, every subsequent generation from Adam and Eve forward were to look expectantly to the fulfillment of the promise of redemption. We see that in Eve naming Cain. We are told in Genesis 4:1, “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, ‘I have acquired a man from the Lord.'” In faith, Eve was hoping that God had fulfilled His promise to give her a Redeemer, though nothing could have been further from the truth. The expectation of the Redeemer is bound also to the establishment of the covenantal line from which Christ would come. Seth stands at the head of that covenantal line.
Enoch was a type of Christ in that “he walked with God and was not.” Enoch was an example of exceptional uprightness. In his being taken away to heaven bodily he prefigured the bodily ascension of Christ who “walked with God and was not.” The bodily ascension of Enoch prefigures the resurrection and ascension of Jesus–as well as the bodily resurrection of all those united to Christ by faith.
Noah was a type of Christ in that he served as a sort of “second Adam;” he was not “The second Man,” or “the Last Adam,” but was a type of the One to come. Just as God had given Adam creation mandates to be fruitful and multiply so He gave Noah re-creation mandates. The Lord had given Adam instruction concerning what he could eat. So too Noah received instruction concerning food. Noah would typically be the federal representative of a new humanity. Jesus is THE federal head of the new humanity. Noah’s name meant “rest.” His father named him “Rest,” saying, “This one will give us rest from the ground that the Lord God has cursed.” Noah only brought rest in a typical sense when he walked off of the Ark with his family to inhabit a typical new creation. But Christ, the greater Noah, actually gives rest to the souls of men and women (Matt. 11:25-30). Christ alone has secured the new creation through His death and resurrection.
The Lord preserved mankind after the flood in order to fulfill His promise (Gen. 3:15) to send the “seed” of the woman to crush the head of the Serpent. He also preserved Noah on the Ark because the Redeemer was in his loins–so to speak (Luke 3:23, 35-37). Because Messiah had not yet come, God would have been unfaithful to His promise if He had utterly destroyed the world. He left a remnant so that men might multiply, and that the Christ might come and redeem a multitude of people to great to number. Though the flood had been a judgment on the wickedness of the fallen world, it could never take that wickedness out of the hearts of men, only the saving work of Christ could do so. God promised never to destroy the world in the way that He had done so for the very same reason for which He had destroyed it in the first place (Gen. 6:5-7; 8:20-22). In short, the humanity of Christ was in the Ark in Noah’s loins, and everything in the Ark with Noah was going to be used in the unfolding plan of redemption.
Job was a type of Christ in that he was a righteous sufferer. Job underwent a humiliation and exaltation that finds it’s antitype in the suffering and glory of the Redeemer. Job was tested by God when he was tempted by the devil. Jesus was tested by God when He was tempted by the devil. Just as God meant good for Job through his sufferings (Job 42:12), so He meant good for Christ through His sufferings. Jesus is the righteous sufferer who shows forth the righteousness of God
Melchizedek was a type of Christ in that he was the King/Priest who blessed Abraham. No one in the Old Testament serves in both offices. Jesus is the Prophet, Priest and King of His church. Melchizedek typified Him in two of the three offices (Zech. 6:12-13). He was “King of Righteousness” and “King of Priest.” Jesus is the King in whom “righteousness and peace kiss” at the cross (Ps. 85:10). Like Melchizedek before Him, Jesus had “no beginning of days, nor end of life.” He is the eternal Priest to whom Melchizedek pointed. He was never, and never will be, replaced as High Priest of the Church.
Abraham was a type of Christ in that he was the prototypical stranger and foreigner. Like the Redeemer, He functionally “had nowhere to lay his head.” As the federal head of the Covenant, he was also the father of many nations. Jesus is the “Everlasting Father” (Isaiah 8:18, 9:6; Psalm 45:16; Hebrews 2:13) of believer who federally represented His people from every tongue, tribe, nation and language. The promises in Scripture are said to have been made to “Abraham and his Seed…who is Christ.” All the promises made to Abraham were made to Him as the typical representative of the Covenant of Grace. Ultimately they were made to, and fulfilled in, Jesus Christ.
Isaac was a type of Christ in that he was the promised “son of Abraham.” The promises of God were given directly to Abraham with respect to His son (offspring). Everywhere in the NT are we taught that Jesus is the true promised son of Abraham. However, in the original giving of the promise Isaac was the promised son in view. The birth and life of Isaac also typify the Redeemer. Just as Isaac’s birth was the result of the supernatural power of God so too was it true of Jesus. Isaac typified the Redeemer in that he is the only other human sacrifice that God commanded, and–though God stopped Abraham from going through with the sacrifice of Isaac–he is said to have died and been risen “figuratively” (Hebrews 11:19). Jesus, the true and greater son of Abraham, was sacrificed, raised and returned to His Father.
Jacob was a type of Christ in that He was the chosen one who was named ‘Israel’ by God. Before Israel was a nation, He was a person. This is significant since Jesus is shown to be the true Israel in the Gospels. The fact that the name “Israel” is first given to a person reveals that the anti-typical Israel would be a person. Jacob’s gave birth to the nation-church; Jesus gives birth to His church. Jesus is God’s “chosen One” (Is. 42:1). He is the “last man of Israel” and the representative of the true Israel.
Joseph was a type of Christ in that he suffered unjustly and then was exalted to save his brethren. Undergoing a series of deaths and resurrections, Joseph typified the “sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow” (1 Peter 1:10-11). He was envied and hated by his brothers, suffered at their hands and was exalted to a place of power over the most powerful nation of the world. Jesus, the greater Joseph, was envied and hated by His countrymen and brethren, murdered by them and then exalted to the highest place of power and honor to save the world by feeding them with the rich granaries of heaven.
Moses was a type of Christ in that he was the typical Redeemer of the Old Covenant. He was the only other Mediator between God and His people in redemptive history; and though his mediation was also typical, He stood in the most unique position as the redeemer and lawgiver of the Covenant people. Jesus is THE Mediator between God and man–since He is both God and man. Just as Moses had a supernatural deliverance at his birth, so did Jesus. Just as Moses led Israel out of Egypt, into the wilderness, up on the mountain to give them the law, so Jesus went down into Egypt, up from Egypt, through the water, into the wilderness and up on the mountain to give God’s people the law. Jesus leads His people out of bondage to Satan, sin and death through His own “exodus” (Luke 9:31) in His death and resurrection.
Joshua, as his name in Hebrew indicates, is a type of Christ in that he was the one who would lead God’s people into the Promised Land. Joshua was a savior of the covenant people. Jesus is the Savior of the covenant people. Joshua went before the people to bring them to the inheritance. Jesus goes before His people to bring them to the true inheritance.
The Judges were all, respectively, types of Jesus Christ in that they were deliverers and redeemers of God’s oppressed people. Whenever Israel sinned the Lord sent foreign nations to punish them for their rebellion. When they came to an end of themselves and cried out to the Lord He raised up a deliverer. In each case, the judges won the victory against God’s enemies by an unexpected and unlikely victory. While each of the circumstances were different, they each had the unlikely prospect and unexpected victory in common.
Samson was a type of Christ in that he was the mightiest of all the judges. He defeated more of God’s enemies in his death than he did in his life. This is also the case with the Lord Jesus. By his sacrificial death the Lord Jesus destroyed the enemies of God and His church. Jonathan Edwards drew out this typological parallel when he wrote: “the true Samson does more towards the destruction of his enemies at his death, than in his life, in yielding up himself to death, he pulls down the temple of Dagon, and destroys many thousands of his enemies, even while they are making themselves sport in his sufferings; and so he whose type was the ark, pulls down Dagon, and breaks off his head and hands in his own temple, even while he is brought in there as Dagon’s captive.1
David was one of the clearest types of Christ, as is seen in the fact that the Redeemer is called “David” in the book of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 34:23-24; 37:24-25). David was a shepherd from Bethlehem who was chosen by God to be the King of Israel. David was a mighty warrior King. Jesus is the mighty warrior King. David was a shepherd/King who ruled over God’s people in faithfulness. Jesus is the Good Shepherd and the King of Kings who rules over God’s people in perfect covenantal faithfulness. David faced off against the enemy of the OT church and defeated him with his own weapon. Jesus faced off against the ultimate enemy of the church and defeated him with his own weapon. David was a type of Christ in that he entered into a battle of representative warfare. David had a number of men who were with him in his sufferings. Jesus had a band of “mighty men” who were with Him through the period of His humiliation and suffering. David’s mighty men were with him when he ate the showbread in the Tabernacle. Jesus’ mighty men were with Him when they walked though the grain fields on the Sabbath (Matt. 12: 1-8). David had a betrayer who–when his plot was uncovered–went and hanged himself. Jesus had a betrayer who–when his plot was uncovered–went and hanged himself. David crossed over the Brook Kidron when he was betrayed by Ahithophel. Jesus crossed over the Brook Kidron when He was betrayed by Judas.
Solomon was a type of Christ in that he was the “son of David.” He was the initial fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant. Ultimately, Jesus was “the son of David” who sits on his throne forever. Solomon was King of Peace. Jesus is the King of Peace. Solomon was wiser than all the men who had ever lived. Jesus is “the wisdom of God.” Jesus explicitly drew a parallel between Solomon and Himself when he noted that the Queen of Sheba came from the ends of the earth to see the wisdom of Solomon. Gentiles now come from the ends of the earth to hear and see the wisdom of the greater Solomon. Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus builds the true and greater Temple through His death and resurrection. Solomon brought peace “from the river to the ends of the earth.” Jesus brought peace in the fuller and antitypical sense “from the river to the ends of the earth.”
Elijah was a type of Christ is that he called the covenant people to repentance. He was rejected by all, and was, in a very real sense, a man of sorrows. His preaching of righteousness and calling the people to repentance led to his being despised by the King of Israel. Even though the King despised him, he was feared by the king. Jesus also was a preacher of righteousness, who called the covenant people to repentance. He was despised by the Herod the King and yet the king also feared Him.
Elisha was a type of Christ in that he was greater than the one who preceded him. Just as John the Baptist said of Jesus, “He who comes after me is preferred before me,” so it was true of Elisha. Elijah, who was himself said to be a type of John the Baptist by our Lord Jesus, did many signs and wonders. Elisha did twice as many miracles as Elijah.
Nehemiah was a type of Christ in that he rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. When Nehemiah was in the process of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, the enemies of God came and functionally said to him, “Come down.” He responded, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down” (Nehemiah 6:1-3). When Jesus was hanging on the cross, building the walls of the true Jerusalem, His enemies said, ” If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him” (Matt. 27:42). The greater Nehemiah responded by saying, “It is finished.” Through His death and resurrection, our Lord Jesus Christ built the walls of protection around His Church.
Jonah was a type of Christ in that he was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights. Just as he underwent a typical death and resurrection, so our Lord Jesus died and was raised for our justification. After Jonah was typically resurrected from the belly of the fish he went to the Gentiles. After Jesus was raised from the dead He went, though His apostles, to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles.
Jeremiah was a type of Christ in that he underwent a death and resurrection when he was thrown into a pit and brought out (Lam. 3:52-57). He was a Prophet of sorrow and acquainted with grief. Jesus is the Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief who was thrown into the pit of God’s wrath and then brought out in the resurrection. As was true of Joseph and Daniel before Him, the principle of sufferings and glory surround the stories of this prophet.
These are only a few of the personal types that are found in the Old Testament. There are many more that could be set forth in keeping with a covenantal approach to typology. Hopefully these will stir up the minds of God’s people to dig into a more thorough study of this glorious instrument of God’s redemptive instruction on the pages of Scripture.