An Introduction to Old Testament Christological Typology

The Christological Witness of the Old Testament

Then, beginning with Moses and with all the prophets,
He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. Luke 24:47

Shortly after His resurrection, Jesus met two of his disciples traveling on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  He engaged them in a unique and monumental Bible study, walking them through the prophecies, Christophanies, and types of Himself contained in the Old Testament.  As a practical matter, He gave them an intense lesson in Old Testament Christology, which is a branch of Christian Theology.

Jesus regularly referred to the Old Testament Scriptures as having spoken of Himself (Matthew 26:54, Mark 12:10, Luke 24:25, John 5:39). Old Testament Christology is the platform from which Paul argued that Jesus was the Christ (Acts 18:28). At Pentecost, it was Peter who argued the case for Christ from the Old Testament Scriptures (Acts 2). Stephen used the Old Testament Scriptures in similar fashion in his sermon to the Sanhedrin (Acts 7). The apologetic or evangelistic encounter may well be served by the use of Old Testament Christology.

Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned
in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. Romans 5:14

Christological Typology is a subset of Old Testament Christology, and is primarily concerned with identifying and interpreting the parabolic representations of the person and work of Jesus Christ that are found in the people, things, and events of the Old Testament. A “type” is a person, thing, or event that foreshadows something that comes after it. The thing being foreshadowed is the “antitype.” Types are forms of parables or similitudes. Throughout the Old Testament, the second person of the trinity can be seen in these parabolic forms. This literary device not only accurately and prophetically presents significant aspects of the person and work of Christ, but it also demonstrates the supernatural character of the Old Testament text and the transcendent nature of its Divine Author.

A Brief List of Old Testament Christological Types

People – The lives of many of the actual human beings portrayed in the Old Testament bear an uncanny resemblance to the person and work of Jesus Christ. God’s providence and intervention shaped their lives such that various aspects of Christ were foreshadowed. What follows is a limited set of examples:

  • Adam – Miraculous birth (Genesis 2:7), entered the world in a sinless state (Genesis 1:31), was begotten of God (Luke 3:38), was lord of creation (Genesis 1:28), had a Gentile bride (she was not a Jew), condescended to her condition and took her sin upon himself (Genesis 3:6), his death brought about her salvation (had he not joined her in her sin – which brought about his own death – and produced offspring, the Messiah would not have been born).
  • Isaac – His father’s only begotten son (Hebrews 11:17), dead in His father’s eyes and was given his life back “on the third day” (Genesis 22:4), offered as a sacrifice to God on Calvary (2 Chronicles 3:1), carried the wood for his own sacrifice on his back (Genesis 22:6), his father believed his son would be resurrected from the dead (Hebrews 11:19).
  • Joseph – His father’s favorite son (Genesis 37:3), a prophet (Genesis 37:10), rejected by his brothers who plotted his death (Genesis 37:18), betrayed for pieces of silver by Judah (Genesis 37:26-28), falsely accused and condemned (Genesis 39:17-20), rose to the right hand of power (Genesis 41:39-44), became the savior of the world by providing the bread of life (Genesis 42:57).
  • Boaz – name means “in him is strength,” lived in Bethlehem, was the kinsman redeemer, restored the land to Naomi (a type of Israel), married Ruth the Moabitess (a Gentile bride and type of the church), was introduced to his bride by an unnamed servant who was the lord of the harvest (a type of the Holy Spirit), was the great-grandfather of King David (upon whose throne Christ would sit).

Things – Events, ceremonies, and physical objects in the Old Testament are used to typify the person and work of Christ. These include:

  • Noah’s Ark (Genesis 6-8) – was provided by God’s grace, was preached as the only way of escaping God’s judgment, man was invited to enter in, one had to be “in” the ark when the judgment came, it was covered in “pitch,” (which is the same Hebrew word – kippur – as in Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement), which covers sin, was made of something alive (wood) that had to die in order to be able to save, it had only one door, it completed the work of salvation for all those who trusted in it, those carried by it emerged after the flood on the same calendar day as the resurrection of Christ.
  • Passover Lamb (Exodus 12) – the lamb had to be an unblemished male, its innocent blood was presented to God to save the lives of those who trusted in it, those not covered by it received God’s judgment.
  • Bronze Serpent (Numbers 21) – the serpent (the embodiment of sin – Genesis 3) had bitten the people and brought about their deaths, a bronze image of the serpent was lifted up on a pole such that those who looked to it were saved (Christ became sin and was lifted up on the cross for those who would trust in Him – John 3:14-15), looking to the serpent was the only way of escaping certain death since no other way was made, looking to the serpent was a voluntary volitional act in response to God’s invitation, those who failed to trust in the serpent died.

A Balanced Approach Is Required

Work in Christological Typology can easily fall into one of two extreme categories: seeing Christ in every detail of the Old Testament and limiting legitimate types to those explicitly revealed in the New Testament. Seeing Christ in every detail of the Old Testament reduces Scripture to little more than a cosmic code, invalidating its historical reality. Limiting types only to those explained in the New Testament renders impotent Old Testament prophecies not so explained. Two other fallacies also require mention. Some have erred in the tendency to over-allegorize a text such that its original meaning and application are obscured or lost. This undermines authorial intent and leads to hyper-subjective interpretations of Scripture. Others have erred in the denial of the device itself. But, this fails on account of the Bible’s express claim of the use of types (Hosea 12:10, Hebrews 11:19, Colossians 2:16-17). Biblical evidence and practical reason must be brought to the study of Old Testament types. Certain rules should apply to identifying and interpreting the parabolic representations of Christ found in the Old Testament:

  1. Discern between typology and allegory. Types are drawn from actual historical facts which foreshadow future events, and are thus prophetic in nature. Allegories are extended metaphors, which may be fictional, and whose hidden meaning differs from the plain reading of the text.
  2. Types are consistent with orthodox Christian theology. Types (foreshadows) refer to their antitypes (ultimate subjects). God’s known doctrines and plans are reflected in the type-antitype relationship.
  3. Types should be obvious, once revealed. The person, place, or event in the Old Testament should have significant correspondence with some aspect of the person or work of Christ. Types should not be thin or weak or require imagination to grasp.
  4. Types don’t teach new doctrines. A type is a literary device designed to foreshadow a future event. A type cannot be used to introduce a new doctrine. Types can only reiterate that which is plainly stated in Scripture.
  5. The original audience/author need not have been aware. The original human author may not have understood the typological significance of what he wrote. The intended audience may also have missed it. Types cannot be discerned until after the appearance of their antitypes. Abraham’s offering of Isaac (Genesis 22), for example, does not become an obvious type of Calvary until God offers His Son on the cross at the same physical location. See 1 Peter 1:10-12.
  6. Don’t press them too far. Types eventually break down into absurdity if carried too far. While they point to specific future events, they are general in their presentation. Be careful not to overemphasize minutiae or seek prophetic meaning in every detail of an Old Testament event or person.

The Apologetic and Evangelistic Value of Christological Typology

No other so-called holy book demonstrates the foreshadowing and fulfillment of types and antitypes as the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Given the overwhelming documentation of the life and ministry of Jesus, and the clear typification of His person and work in the people, things, and events of the Old Testament, one would strain credulity to deny the supernatural nature of Scripture. How else could it be possible that the person and work of Christ could be so clearly represented in these things unless the bizarre notion could be proved that the Old Testament was written after Jesus walked the earth? Quoting Psalm 40:7, the writer of Hebrews ascribes these words to the preincarnate Christ:

Then I said, “Behold, I have come – in the volume of the book
it is written of Me – to do Your will, oh God.” Hebrews 12:10

Suggested Reading

DEVER, MARK, The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made, Wheaton, Crossway, 2006

EDWARDS, JONATHAN, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 9, A History of the Work of Redemption. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1989.

KAISER, WALTER C., Messiah in the Old Testament, Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1985

MACARTHUR, JOHN, The Jesus You Can’t Ignore, Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2008

ROBINSON, HADDON, Biblical Preaching, Grand Rapids, Baker, 2001

STUART, DOUGLAS, Old Testament Exegesis, Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2001

WALVOORD, JOHN F., Jesus Christ Our Lord, Chicago, Moody, 1969



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