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Types And Predictive Events

Main Verses

Finally, types are not allegories. Allegories tend to ignore the original historical event and focus instead on finding spiritual meaning for us today. The allegorical use of Old Testament history often ends up looking like expanded moral examples, but the original meaning in the Old Testament story is often ignored. Some early Christian writers loved to compare each detail in Israelite history to our spiritual lives as Christians; one example: the Israelites going to Egypt and ending up as slaves “really means” our frequent temptation to seek higher paying jobs and often ending up spiritual slaves to money. This may be a good warning for us, but it turns the historical events into a spiritual example and ignores the fact that God told JACOB to journey to Egypt. Even when more carefully done to teach a spiritual truth (David’s fight with Goliath used to represent our spiritual fight against evil), it is still allegory, not typology. Allegory turns history into symbolic words to find a spiritual meaning for today.2 However, typology depends on history for both the earlier type and the later fulfilling antitype. Types are recurrent divine patterns in Salvation-History, and both the type and the antitype must be important parts of God’s redemptive plans.

Different Categories of Types

There are several different ways to categorize types. One way looks at whether the types point mainly to similarity or to contrast. Usually, types focus on similarity, such as the blood sacrifices of animals in the Old Testament and Jesus’ blood sacrifice on the cross. Sometimes, however, the type and antitype are contrasted to show how they are opposite in some important way. Although Adam and Christ are similar in many ways, New Testament writers were more interested in contrasting them. For example: just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous (Romans 5:19).

Another way to categorize types is to look at whether the two events are both earthly events (horizontal types) or whether one is a heavenly event (vertical type). Most biblical types are horizontal within earth history, such as Adam and Christ, or the Mosaic sacrifices and Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Only a few are vertical types, comparing a heavenly person or event with an earthly person or event. Remember that the heavenly type is real—in fact more real than the earthly antitype. It is surely not less real. The author of Hebrews compared the earthly tabernacle with the more real tabernacle in heaven: Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy (antitype) of the true one; he entered heaven itself (Hebrews 9:24; compare 8:5 with Exodus 25:40).

A special kind of biblical typology compares Old Testament events with New Testament sacraments. In 1 Corinthians 10:2–3,16–17, Paul compares the Israelites’ supernatural passage through the Red Sea with Christian baptism, and also seems to compare God’s miraculous provision of manna and water from the rock with our communion with Christ during the Lord’s Supper. Paul even claimed that for the Israelites the spiritual rock that accompanied them . . . was Christ Himself (10:4), although this moves beyond typology. Peter pointed out that the connection of salvation with water baptism fulfilled another Old Testament type. The water of the Flood symbolizes (is a type of) baptism that now saves you also (1 Peter 3:21). Notice that baptism is not symbolic of the Flood. Rather, the Flood is a type of water baptism. Both the Flood and baptism are historical realities with historical effects. In Hebrews 10:19–22, the writer points to the sprinkling and washing in the tabernacle as a type of water baptism (Exodus 30:18–21; Numbers 19:1–22), and may also compare the Lord’s Supper in the church with the high priest’s entry into the Most Holy Place on the Day of ATONEMENT (Leviticus 16:2–16).

Many New Testament antitypes were openly proclaimed with direct quotations from the Old Testament. Often, however, New Testament writers only hinted at types, by using special words or unusual grammar to point to an Old Testament passage written about the person or event they saw as an antitype. For example, Jesus accepted the title “Son of David” (Matthew 1:1; 21:9–16), but all the JEWS knew that it meant more than biological descent from King DAVIN. It meant that Jesus was the Messiah (Matthew 12:22–29; 22:42). Ezekiel had prophesied long after King David died that God would place over His people “one shepherd, my servant David” (Ezekiel 34:23–24). So the Jewish leaders in Jesus’ day agreed that King David was a type of the Messiah. Unlike most of the Jewish leaders, however, the New Testament writers believed that Jesus truly was that promised Messiah. Since David was a type of the Messiah, New Testament writers often claimed that the Davidic promises were either already fulfilled by Jesus, or would be fulfilled at His second coming in the future.

Sometimes both the type and its antitype are found within the Old Testament. For example, Old Testament writers regularly compared the Exodus to God’s original creation (compare Genesis 1:9 with Exodus 14:21; and Psalm 89:9–11 with Isaiah 30:7; 51:9–10). In turn, the prophets frequently compared any later return from exile with the Exodus from Egypt (for example, Jeremiah 16:14–15; 23:7–8). Isaiah (using contrasting typology) predicted a future time when God would again strike Egypt with a plague as He had done at the Exodus, but this time it would cause the Egyptians to repent and turn to the Lord (Isaiah 19:21–22). Most types, however, compare an Old Testament type with a New Testament person or event, such as Adam with Christ. In fact, using typology is the most common way New Testament writers interpret the Old Testament. There are far more comparisons of New Testament persons and events with Old Testament history than there are references to the fulfillment of direct word prophecies.

Are Types Predictive Events?

A biblical type, then, is an historical person, event or thing that biblical writers pointed to in order to show a theological truth about later historical persons, events or things in God’s redemptive history. The later antitype is usually seen as exceeding or completing the earlier type. So far, most Christians agree. And, since God controls both history and the inspiration of the Bible, most agree that He must have arranged or prepared the types we find described there. But are types only recurring patterns in history? Or did they point to their own fulfillment? Did the earlier historical event predict the future recurrence? Not all Christians agree that they did.

Some Christian scholars argue that the earlier types were not predictive at all. They point out that predictive prophecy looks to the future, but typology looks to the past. New Testament writers only recognized the earlier type after the later antitype had already occurred. Even though antitypes in the New Testament are sometimes said to be “fulfillments” of Old Testament historical examples, these scholars believe that fulfillment words can only mean something like “completion,” not actual prediction. The Old Testament passage by itself did not point to a future person or predict the New Testament event (compare Jeremiah 31:15 with Matthew 2:18). According to this first view, the meaning of the original type did not include any idea of future fulfillment, but New Testament writers actually changed the original meaning of the Old Testament passage (for example, compare Hosea 11:1 with Matthew 2:14–15). Because the HOLY SPIRIT inspired the writers’ new interpretation, we can and should accept the new meaning. But this first group denies actual prediction in the original historical events, and cautions against any use of typology by us today to find new types in Scripture. They advise scholars to study only those types that were already discovered by the prophets and apostles, and recorded in the Bible.

Other Christian scholars believe that types were truly predictive, but in an indirect, non-verbal way. They agree that typology looks to the past, but they point out that God’s purposes were not always completely fulfilled in a particular Old Testament event. Therefore, they suggest that a similar event must occur again—this time in a fuller or more complete way. They believe God actually gave a non-verbal promise in those “unfinished” Old Testament events. In other words, the Old Testament not only records many unfulfilled word predictions, but also many events that remained unfinished or unfulfilled until the time of Jesus Christ. Often, these events appear to be predictive—at least by pointing to the need for future fulfillment. Yes, Matthew liked to use the Greek word fulfill for direct predictive words (1:22; 8:17; 12:17; 21:4), but he also claimed that events in Jesus’ life fulfilled similar events in the Old Testament (Matthew 2:15,17). These scholars do not believe that the meaning of fulfillment words changed when they were used for indirect predictive events, or types. And Matthew learned this use of types from Jesus Himself. For example, Jesus claimed that Judas’ betrayal of Christ was about to fulfill David’s past betrayal by a friend (Psalm 41:9; John 13:18), probably by Ahithophel (2 Samuel 15:12). Jesus also taught that the world hated both Jesus and the Father—to fulfill the historical time when David’s enemies hated him (Psalms 35:19; 69:4; John 15:25).

John wrote that Isaiah’s mission to the hardened Israelites before their exile was “fulfilled” in Jesus’ mission to the hardened Jewish leaders of His day, and even went so far as to claim that Isaiah said this because he actually saw Jesusglory and spoke about him (John 12:37–41). Isaiah clearly saw far more about God’s future plans than he recorded for us. We cannot insist that all Old Testament writers knew that the events they recorded were predicting (or at least pointing to) a later fulfillment in the Messiah. Probably many did not. But according to the second view, New Testament writers did not change the meaning of the original events. Yes, they sometimes uncovered an additional meaning that may not have been noticed by the original hearers and readers (or even by some of the original human writers). But any additional meaning they found there did not contradict the original meaning. Even if many Old Testament writers did not recognize persons of their own day as types of the Messiah, after arriving in heaven and learning about Jesus, those original writers surely would have agreed that a Messianic meaning did not contradict their original understanding, but only enhanced it.

Whether we believe types are predictive or not, everyone agrees that some word prophecies have only been fulfilled indirectly, through an antitype. For example, the Jews believed Elijah had to return before the Messiah (Malachi 4:5–6). “Elijah has already come,” Jesus answered. Malachi’s prophecy was not fulfilled directly by Elijah himself, but indirectly through John the Baptist, Elijah’s antitype (Matthew 17:10–13; Luke 1:17). Like word prophecies, types also can have double fulfillments. Some scholars suggest that the two witnesses predicted in Revelation 11:5–6 are antitypes of MOSES and Elijah (compare 1 Kings 17:1; 2 Kings 1:10–12). If so, then Malachi’s direct prophecy about Elijah will have two historical fulfillments—by two different indirect antitypes.

Types of Christ in the Psalms

The book of Psalms is full of verses that are quoted throughout the New Testament and applied to Jesus Christ. This is especially true of those psalms that have been called the Royal Psalms, because they were written for coronations or royal weddings. Indeed, so many verses from these psalms have been applied to Jesus that many simply call them all Messianic Psalms. However, the Royal Psalms did not record direct prophetic words, such as that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). Instead, they referred to historical events, which indirectly pointed to many things in Jesus’ future ministry. It can be exciting to study the many similarities to Christ in these psalms, and many Christians believe they truly predicted much about the life and death of Jesus Christ.

However, we would make a mistake if we thought that the Royal Psalms were just poetic ways to prophesy about the future Messiah. They were originally written about historical kings from the dynasty of David. Although Psalm 45:6–7 was applied to Jesus Christ by the writer of Hebrews (1:8–9), the entire psalm was originally written about a royal wedding to a foreign princess centuries before Christ. Yet even the original hearers surely knew that the words Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever were pointing beyond their human king to someone greater. Again, we know that Psalm 72 was written to celebrate a coronation, possibly Solomon’s, but it described an ideal perfect king, which could only be fulfilled in the Messiah. Indeed, both Jewish rabbis and early Christians believed Psalm 72 presented the king as a type of the Messiah. Psalm 2 was another coronation hymn, but the Davidic king being crowned was seen as a type of Jesus Christ by New Testament writers (Acts 4:25–26; 13:33; Hebrews 1:5).

Not all Messianic Psalms describe types of the Messiah’s glorious rule. Some pointed to Messianic suffering as well. Psalm 22 is quoted more frequently in the New Testament than any of the others. It vividly describes David’s anguish at being mocked and attacked by his enemies. But his suffering is portrayed so terribly that even readers in David’s time must have thought it pointed to some greater event in the future. Psalm 22:16–18 accurately describes what later happened to Jesus on the cross: they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing. While He was dying, Jesus actually shouted out the first verse, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). Jesus’ disciples recognized that David’s suffering was a type of Jesus’ suffering, and surely remembered Psalm 22 when describing the crucifixion (Matthew 27:35,39,43; John 19:23–24,28). Therefore, most Christians believe that Psalm 22 truly predicted Jesus’ crucifixion—not directly, but indirectly through types.

A Final Word

After His death, Jesus made it clear that much of the Old Testament referred to Him (Luke 24:27). Some of the things written about Jesus were direct prophecies, but most of them were indirect events, or types. That is, these types were historical people, events or things that were repeated in a greater or deeper way in the life and death of Jesus Christ. By understanding types, we can better understand some of the unusual uses of Old Testament quotations by New Testament writers—such as the verse from Hosea 11:1, which we noticed at the beginning of this article. Now we can see that Matthew believed the original Exodus from Egypt was a type of Jesus’ return from Egypt thousands of years later. Indeed, we now know that the Exodus was such an important part of God’s redemptive plan that biblical writers often referred back to it as a type of some supernatural deliverance later in history.

Pointing out the fulfillment of direct word prophecies can help unbelievers see that God is in control of history. But typology is mainly helpful to believers. Pointing to the fulfillment of types is a wonderful tool for teaching those who are already convinced that God controls history, those who have already accepted Jesus Christ as God’s greatest revelation to the world. While reading the Scriptures, Christians expect them to speak to their own personal trials and troubles—even through the historical events and stories. Therefore, we should not be surprised that Scripture’s historical events also illuminate the life of Jesus Christ, the greatest Person to have ever lived. Jesus Himself taught, “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44).

1 New Testament writers mainly used two Greek words, “type” and “antitype.” Most scholars use “type” for the earlier person/event, and “antitype” for the later, fulfilling person/event.

2 Paul’s claim that Hagar and Sarah represent two covenants is an allegory (Galatians 4:21–31). But he also used typology to compare Ishmael and Isaac to two real groups later in Salvation-History: Hagar’s slave son was a type of his fellow Jews in slavery to the Law, and Sarah’s son was a type of his fellow Christians freed from the Law. Paul made sure that both kinds of comparison fit the original history and meaning.

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