Michael S. Horton
Thursday, October 31st 2013
Nov/Dec 2013

A Sunday school teacher once asked the class, "What has a bushy tail, scurries around for nuts, and lives in trees?" Puzzled, one of the boys replied with hesitation, "Well, it sounds like a squirrel, but I'm going to say 'Jesus.'" Typology is a treasure trove, but only if we keep our imagination in check. We have it on apostolic authority that Jesus Christ is the Rock from which water flowed in the wilderness (Exod. 17:6 with John 4:14 and 1 Cor. 10:4). But we should beware of trying to find Jesus under every rock.

Scripture itself is not only full of types; its whole structure is a single drama divided into Old Testament promise and New Testament fulfillment. In normal usage, a "type" (tupos) was an original pattern that was pressed into wax or metal to make an official seal. In Scripture, types are historical events, people, places, and institutions that are intended by God to direct faith to something greater’namely, the reality to which the type pointed. Synonyms are skia (shadow), hupodeigma (copy), and parabole (parable). The reality to which a type refers is called the antitype (antitupon).

The type is not a fable but an actual person, place, or thing in history. Creation is the type for the new creation (for example, in 2 Cor. 4:6). Adam "is a type [tupos] of him that was to come" (Rom. 5:14). The flood in Noah's day is a type of the judgment coming upon the world (Matt. 24:37-38) as well as salvation through water in baptism (1 Pet. 3:20-21). Jesus invoked the historical event of God's providing manna in the wilderness (Exod. 16:14-16) as the type pointing to himself (John 6:32). Melchizedek, the mysterious priest-king (Gen. 14:18-20; Ps. 110:4; Zech. 6:12-13) is the type of Christ, who holds both offices (Heb. 5:5-10; 6:29; 7:1-17).

The "sacrifice" of Isaac (Gen. 22) is a type of the offering up of God's only Son and the ram caught in the thicket (sparing Isaac) is also a type of Christ. Joseph's being thrown into a pit by wicked brothers but raised up by God's power is a type of Christ's death and resurrection.

Jesus is the true Israel, the only begotten son whom God called out of Egypt (Matt. 2:15), the one "lifted up" like the bronze serpent in the wilderness (Num. 21:8 with John 3:14). Moses himself is a type of the greater prophet (Acts 3:22; 1 Cor. 10:2; Gal. 3:19, 27; 1 Tim. 2:5). In fact, the entire sacrificial system’encompassing the sacrificial animals, the high priest, and the temple’is typology on a grand scale. Right down to the accessories worn by the priests and the furniture in the sanctuary, it was all an earthly copy of the heavenly reality. The old covenant is therefore called a "shadow" of the "reality," which is Christ (Col. 2:17; Heb. 8:5; 10:1), a "copy" of the heavenly reality (Heb. 8:4; 9:23), a "parable" (Heb. 9:9; 11:19), and an antitype or pattern (Heb. 9:24; 1 Pet. 3:21). Consequently, we are not to return to the "shadows" of the law now that the reality has arrived (Col. 2:16-17). Indeed, that point is the principal burden of the letter to the Hebrews. Jesus referred to "the sign of Jonah" as a type of his own death and resurrection after three days (Matt. 12:38-42; 16:1-4; Luke 11:29-32).

Egypt and Babylon are types of the demonic world system that will be judged on the last day, according to the book of Revelation. Sinai and Hagar serve as a type of bondage, while Zion and Sarah are a type of the heavenly rest (Gal. 4:23-25).

In identifying types, we have to be careful. We should stay close to Scripture, allowing it to identify genuine types. They all point to Christ. In medieval typology, imaginations ran riot. Even Protestants displayed a penchant for correlating biblical types with contemporary events. The English defeat of the Spanish Armada was interpreted as the defeat of the dragon in the book of Revelation. New England was the "new Zion," and so forth. The best way to stay on track with both of these warnings is simply to read the New Testament's quotations of the Old Testament and make the connections they did.

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Michael S. Horton
Michael Horton is editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation and the J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California in Escondido.
Thursday, October 31st 2013

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

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