Typology in the Old Testament

What is typology? Webster defines it as a person, thing or event that symbolizes or represents another. A type is a representation, form, figure or pattern of someone or something else. Generally speaking, when we look at the Old Testament scriptures, the one prefigured in the ‘type’ represents not a mere man, but the great ‘I AM,” the God who became man, also known as Jesus.


Genesis and The Cross

The chief scene that many of the ‘types’ in the Old Testament foreshadow is the most solemn event that has ever taken place on earth: the scene of Jesus’ death on the cross. There are quite a few examples we can study to see these types that foreshadow His life and death on the cross.

First, in Genesis 4, we see the story of Abel’s lamb as a type for the sacrifice of Jesus thousands of years later. God declares Abel’s sacrificial offering of the “firstborn of his flock” as worthy and that of Cain’s unworthy. See Genesis 4:4. Abel’s offering comes through a repentant and faithful heart, giving his best of his work from the land, while Cain’s heart is unrepentant and he fails to sacrifice his best fruits in the offering. This “firstborn” mention of the lamb is possibly a type that refers to Jesus as the “firstborn of all creation” that reconciled all things to Himself through the shedding of His blood. (Colossians 1:15) Abel’s offering signifies the individual sacrifice that Jesus made for each individual in His own sacrificial death.

Secondly, there is the identification of Jesus in the New Testament with the Old Testament remembrance of the Passover lamb. The Passover celebration was initiated with God’s rescuing the Israelites from the Egyptians by putting the blood of the sacrificial lamb over their doorposts. (See Exodus 12) When Jesus comes to earth, He identifies Himself as the Passover lamb, the ultimate and final sacrifice for the people’s sin. This sacrifice then, represents the sin of the nation atoned for via first the lamb’s sacrifice, and now, via Jesus’ death once and for all. It was revealed to John the Baptist that Jesus was the lamb, as he cries out in John 1:29 and 35, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” In the institution of the Last Supper, Jesus recognizes that He will be the final Passover lamb to sacrifice for the sins of the world, saying, “This is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19)

Thirdly, in Genesis 22, we have a typical scene on Mount Moriah showing Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his own son on the altar as God has commanded. God commands Abraham, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 22:2) This scene represents a type for God giving His only son to the world for the cleansing of sin. See John 3:16.


Psalms, Prophets and The Cross

In various writings of the psalms and prophets we can also observe the ‘types’ presented that are brought to new light with events of the New Testament. For example, In Psalm 22, we see a detailed description of Christ’s sufferings and the specific events of the cross. The Psalmist cries, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1) The Psalmist even mentions the “dogs” piercing his feet and casting lots for His clothes, a type which clearly represents the occurrence of Christ’s crucifixion and the guards casting lots for His clothing as He was dying on the cross. See John 19:24 and Matthew 27:35.

In Psalm 69, we see the Psalmist lamenting rejection experienced in his life, typifying the kind of rejection that Jesus would later experience. He cries, “My throat is dry; my eyes fail while I wait for my God. Those who hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of my head; they are mighty who would destroy me.” Psalm 60 extends this type by giving an example of the mocking that Jesus would endure at the cross. The Psalmist cries out to God, saying, “For innumerable evils have surrounded me; my iniquities have overtaken me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of my head; therefore my heart fails me. Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me; O Lord, make haste to help me! Let them be ashamed and brought to mutual confusion who seek to destroy my life; let them be driven backward and brought to dishonor who wish me evil. Let them be confounded because of their shame, who say to me, “Aha, aha!” Even the prophet Isaiah describes the suffering in much detail that eventually will come to describe that of the Lord Jesus. In Isaiah 53 we are told, “He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.”


Other Typology in Genesis

There are also several ‘typical’ representations in Genesis that are referenced in the New Testament from which we can draw important lessons. Then in Genesis 2 we can see the church foreshadowed through a ‘typical’ picture. This shows the account of the formation of Eve, her indissoluble union with Adam. God creates Eve, and Adam says, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Here we learn that “a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” (Genesis 2:23-25) In Ephesians 5:31-32, Paul tells us that this is a type of our relationship with Christ. Quoting from Genesis 2:24, Paul says, “The two shall become one flesh.” Then he adds, “this is a great mystery, but I am speaking of something deeper still, the marriage of Christ and the church.”

The Ark is another wonderful type of the Lord Jesus. God found the earth to be wicked and desired to destroy everything on it. We are told that “God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.” (Genesis 6:12) But the ark bore the wrath of God’s judgment against sin and was the secure place of refuge from judgment for Noah and his descendants. The ark had only one door for its entry, in a similar way that there is only one way to heaven, through Jesus Christ. In John 14:6, Jesus teaches, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

We also observe in Genesis that it is the seed plot of the Bible, containing in germ form many of the great doctrines of the New Testament. The truth of salvation is revealed in type in Genesis 3. Our first parents were naked and unfit for God’s presence, yet God clothed them with coats of skin. (See Genesis 3:21) To procure those skins, death had to occur, blood had to be shed, and the innocent had to die instead of the guilty. This was the only way that man’s shame could be covered, and the only way he could stand before God. The vicarious death of the Lord is foreshadowed through this imagery. It was God who provided the skins, made them into coats, and clothed our first parents, while Adam and Eve did nothing. This is evident in the type of salvation we are granted through Christ’s death for us on the cross. We are saved by grace, not by anything we merit or do ourselves. (See Ephesians 2:8)

Genesis also teaches us through the example of Joseph, who was also a ‘type’ for Christ. When we read the story of Joseph’s life in Genesis 30-50, we see that he is the most beautiful type of Christ in the Scriptures, with seemingly no blot on the pages of his life to mar him. Joseph is loved by his father, clothed by him, and sent forth on a mission for him. His brothers, who plot to kill him, strip him of his robe, and sell him to the Gentiles of that age, the Egyptians – they hated him. Joseph’s sorrow, suffering, shame, and exaltation are depicted in a series of word pictures. His brothers put him into a pit, he is bought for a price, he is deceived at Potiphar’s house, put into prison, and then works in the palace in a highly revered position; finally, everyone, including his brothers, bow to him.

In these images, we can see a representation of Christ that resembles the life of Christ. The pit reminds us of what the Psalmist cried in Psalm 69:2, foreshadowing Jesus’ own suffering: “I sink in deep mire where there is no standing.” Secondly, Joseph is sold for twenty pieces of silver, the price of a slave. The Lord is also “sold” to those who would condemn him for thirty pieces of silver by his betrayer, Judas. (See Matthew 26:15 and 27:9) Next, Joseph becomes a servant in the Egyptians household, and as such he is falsely accused, despised, imprisoned, and numbered with the transgressors. The Lord could also identify with false accusation and imprisonment, saying, “They hated me without cause.” (See Psalm 69:4 and John 15:25) When Joseph is in prison he gives a message to two malefactors, just as Jesus gives a message of life and death to the two people on the crosses beside Him at Calvary. Joseph is ultimately exalted to the highest place in the palace as the Pharaoh with an honorable reputation. Jesus, similarly, is lifted up and glorified as the Savior of the world, sitting at the highest throne on the Father’s side. He has been exalted to the apex of the universe. However, we see that the Lord is described by Paul as the One who voluntarily empties himself, makes himself of no reputation, and takes upon him the form of a servant. (See Philippians 2:5-11) But the ‘anti-type’ of Jesus goes far lower and humbler than the type of Joseph. Jesus humbles himself and becomes obedient unto death, even death on a cross, so for this we have no parallel in Joseph’s life. The Lord goes far below Joseph in his humiliation, and rises far above him in his exaltation.


Typology of the Holy Spirit

The Old Testament also utilizes several symbols of the Holy Spirit. For example, in Exodus 13:21-14:19, the pillar of cloud represents God’s presence among the Israelites, guiding, admonishing, and assuring them of His faithful leading, for much the same purpose that the Holy Spirit was granted to God’s people much later at Pentecost. In the wilderness, redemption for Israel had been accomplished, the paschal Lamb had been slain, and the blood sprinkled. But the blood-bought people now required a guide, so God gave them the pillar of cloud to lead them by day and night. This pillar offered God’s presence, protection, and provision. It sheltered them from the sun, it gave light in the darkness, and it never left them until they arrived in the land. The Lord said much the same thing about our present Guide, the Spirit we have been given by Jesus.  

In John 14:15-16, Jesus promises, “And I will pray to the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever - the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” A second example of a type is in Exodus 17:1-7, where Moses strikes a rock to provide water for the grumbling Israelites. Here, the water that flowed from the rock is a type of the Holy Spirit, since water is often a symbol of the Holy Spirit that was employed by Jesus Himself several times.

The first time Jesus refers to water and the Holy Spirit, He identifies it as an upspringing water in John 4:13-14, when He speaks to the Samaritan woman at the well. He says, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” Again in John 3:5-8, Jesus speaks about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and references the “living water” of the Holy Spirit. He says, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Lastly, Jesus refers to the overflowing nature of the Holy Spirit in John 7:37-38, when he promises the coming of the Holy Spirit: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”

A third example of the Holy Spirit as a ‘type’ in the Old Testament scriptures is through the imagery of wind. This type is seen in Ezekiel 37:9, where Ezekiel testifies to this ‘wind’ giving mighty power, saying, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”’ This wind identified in Ezekiel is a representation of the Holy Spirit that came upon the early church at Pentecost. Today, we need the mighty pushing of the Pentecostal winds to blow upon us as individuals and assemblies.


Typology of the Word

Furthermore, the manna is a ‘type’ of the written word as well as the living word, which we identify as Christ. The manna for the Israelites’ provision was a supernatural gift. It was small in size, pure, gathered daily by stooping, yet nevertheless despised by the grumbling multitude. These characteristics resemble the written Word as believers now use it as their spiritual food, a small book that is holy, divine, read daily for nourishment and at times an undesired discipline for believers. We can also see how the manna is also a type for the living Word, because it was given in a time of great need. The glory of God was linked with the giving of the manna; it was a free gift from God, it came down to where the people were, and met a daily need. It was sweet to the taste, and ultimately became the lifeline of Israel that sustained them for forty years. Our living Word, Jesus, is also a free gift from God that came to earth to be where His people were, and still daily meets all of His people’s needs. Indeed, if we consider the quantities involved with the collection of the manna, the result is startling. There were around two million Israelites, and each day each person gathered one omer, or the equivalent of six pints. This means that everyday, twelve million pints, or nine million pounds, were gathered to feed the multitude! In one year, that is one million tons, and in forty years, that makes forty million tons. In other words, God sent manna amounting to forty million tons to provide for the Israelites’ need over those forty years. In much the same way, the written Word and the Living Word, Jesus, have met the spiritual needs of millions upon millions of saints throughout the ages and will continue to do so until the Church is raptured into His presence!


New Testament Use of Typology

There are also alternative names for the term “type,” such as symbol, prefiguration, foreshadow, or example. The types of the Old Testament have the same function as the parables of the New Testament in that they are windows to seeing and understanding a certain subject or object in terms the audience can understand. Consider the parable of the lost sheep we read about in Matthew 18. This image of sheep and the idea of Israel as secure or straying sheep is rampant in Old Testament passages such as Jeremiah 13 and 23, Psalm 23 and 119, and Ezekiel 34 among others. Or consider the letters to the churches that appear in Revelation 2-3, in which several images recall Old Testament imagery or vocabulary commonly known or recognized at the time of Jesus. (See Ezekiel 1, Daniel 1 and 7, Isaiah 45, 49, and 55) It is extremely helpful and important for us to know that the typology of the Old Testament is the alphabet and vocabulary in which the language of the New Testament is written. For example, it is said that “the New is in the Old contained, the Old is by the New explained.” Many prophecies or images that appear in the Old Testament do indeed become more deeply understood and explained with new clarity through the events, characters, and statements of the New Testament.


Jesus and Paul’s Typology

Both Paul and the Lord showed how important the subject of typology is in their teaching. Paul, in Romans 15:4, says, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning.” He also states in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 that the wilderness experiences of the children of Israel, spanning the history of Israel from the place of bondage to the land of promise, happened to them for our example, as figures or types that were recorded to teach us important lessons. Paul also uses them as examples or types to instruct us as we travel homeward, to avoid lusting after evil things. He says, “Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them…Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” Secondly, the Lord, the great anti-type, also used certain types to explain significantly important truths. In Numbers 21:4-9, we see the story of Moses providing the people with the brazen serpent on a pole, lifted up, so that those who might look upon it would live. This “lifting up” of the serpent on the pole is a type of the Lord Jesus, who was lifted up on another pole so that those who looked upon Him and believe might live too. In the gospel of John this type is confirmed with Jesus’ statement: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:14) A third representation exists in the story of Jonah, which is explained in Matthew’s gospel by Jesus Himself. Jonah’s time spent in the belly of the whale is represented by Jesus’ time between his death and resurrection as the sign that He has conquered death. Jesus predicts his death and the repentance of the world though his atonement for their sin using this analogy. He says, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.” (Matthew 12:39-41) Lastly, Jesus uses the city of Sodom in Matthew 11:23-24 to recall a type that represents unrepentant cities, like Capernaum. He laments the doom of the Capernaum in its trying to make itself known in the world much like Sodom had attempted to do. Jesus cries, “And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.”


Typology in the Gospel of John

If we examine the gospel of John, we will find constant references to types. In John 1:29, as we have previously examined, we see the Lamb of God that hearkens back to all the lambs that had been sacrificed from Abel’s lamb in Genesis 3 to the final lamb offered in the temple as part of the Old Testament law given to the Israelites by the Lord Himself. At the end of John 1 there is a reference to Jacob’s ladder and angels “ascending and descending” towards heaven and earth. (See Genesis 28:12) Jesus tells his new followers, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” (John 1:51) Secondly, in John 1:14, Christ is shown as the anti-type of the tabernacle from the Israelites’ wanderings in the desert. John writes, “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” This dwelling among us, as Jesus came to earth to live with us, was like Jesus pitching his tent and living with us in our camp. Later, the Lord again compares Himself to the temple. Jesus claims, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it again.” (John 2:19) This reference is most certainly referring to his death and resurrection after three days, where He Himself has become the temple in which the people of God should worship. Jesus identifies Himself as the brazen serpent, which we have already examined. (See above and John 3:14) Thirdly, in John 6, Jesus tells us that he is the true manna, thereby identifying Himself as the spiritual food for God’s people we have also previously examined. Again in John 7 we are reminded of Christ the smitten rock, which poured forth rivers of living water before Moses and his people. In John 8:12 and 9:5, Jesus calls Himself “the light of the world,” which hearkens back to the pillar of cloud and fire that we examined earlier. (See the “Typology of the Holy Spirit” above) In John 10:11, Jesus represents the anti-type of all the shepherds that are mentioned in the Old Testament, calling Himself the “good shepherd.” John 13:3-17 presents a new and distinct type in how the Lord prepares His disciples for service in the Holy Place by the use of the laver. He shockingly cleanses His disciples through the washing of their feet. If we recall the use of the laver in the Old Testament law, it was extremely important for the purity regulations and holiness of the temple the priests were commanded to keep. Here the laver represents both a physical washing and a spiritual cleansing as the Lord equips His disciples to go out after His death and be witnesses for the gospel. Finally, in John 15, Jesus calls Himself the true vine, which contrasts and recalls the commonly named “vine” of the Israelites that God brought out of Egypt but who failed to produce fruit and bear witness to God through obedience to Him. (See Isaiah 5:1-7 and 27:2-6) John clearly draws on many Old Testament images to portray Christ in a new and distinct way with the knowledge of His death, resurrection, and ascension. 


If we consider the entirety of the Old Testament, there is really no end to the symbolism and typology. A cursory look at symbols in the tabernacle, like the brazen altar, the laver, the covering of the skin, the candle stick, the oil, the altar of incense, the showbread, the scapegoat, the leper, the veil and the mercy seat all point to many themes, sayings, and teachings in the New Testament much later. (See Exodus 29-31 and Leviticus 14 and 16) Many types point to the suffering and death of the Lord and our sins having been borne away, but most of the typology that exists in Scripture can be examined through the lens of the teachings of Jesus and the events of His life on earth. The certainly all display our almighty and powerful Lord as the Savior of the world and sinless, perfect fulfillment of all the types illustrated in the Scriptures.