The writer of Hebrews is about to expand the great theme of his epistle: the High Priestly ministry of Jesus (Ch. 5-10). Because he uses terms such as shadow (8:5), patterns (9:23) and images (10:1), it is timely to interject an overview of typology. Used sixteen times in the New Testament, the term typos is variously translated as figure (Rom. 5:14), print (Jn. 20:25), fashion (Acts 7:44), example (I Cor. 10:6), manner (Acts 23:25), and form (Rom. 6:17).
The Greek term typos originates from the concept of an image imprinted by a heavy blow, or the impression made on a coin by the strike of a die. Webster defines a type as “a person, thing or event that represents, symbolizes or has the distinctive characteristics of another”. But a type can only be accurately defined by its scriptural context. A type is best described as an Old Testament event, person or object, having a notable feature corresponding to a New Testament event, person or object. The term “antitype” is often used to refer to the type’s future counterpart and fulfillment. Obvious similarities between a true type and its antitype help to define them.
The three foundational rules regarding the proper interpretation of types are as follows:
1. The only authority for any type is God’s Word. Because types and antitypes are preordained by God, they cannot be established on similarities alone.
2. A type can be interpreted and understood only in light of its antitype.
3. A true type has a central truth which corresponds to its antitype and is always in harmony with the rest of Scripture.
Types and antitypes are visual aids provided to help us understand God’s Word more comprehensively. Biblical imagery and symbolism usually foreshadow things that are better and greater. In this regard, typology serves as an aspect of prophecy. We must bear in mind the central figure of all prophecy and doctrine is Christ. When one believes something to have typological meaning, the first question to ask is, “What does this teach me about Jesus?”
In most cases, a type takes something in the Old Testament and applies it to something in the New Testament. For example, it is clear from the terminology employed in Hebrews the earthly tabernacle represents heavenly realities. The rituals served only as a figure for that particular era in Israel’s history (9:1). In the redemptive plan of God, both the tabernacle in the wilderness and the temple in Jerusalem would eventually become obsolete. The basic symbolism behind the tabernacle was purification from sins. It provided a place of access to God, but only on strict conditions. The prominent centric location of the tabernacle in the Israelite encampment is symbolic of God’s priorities (Num. 2:17). As we will discover, most things associated with the tabernacle have some typological or symbolic meaning. Numerous Biblical passages attest that all animal sacrifices involve atonement for sin. The Levitical high priesthood foreshadowed the high-priestly ministry of Christ, for He is specifically named as the antitype (Heb. 4:14). He is “our High Priest of good things to come” (9:11). Twenty-eight times in the book of Revelation, Jesus is referred to as The Lamb of God. He is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). We are redeemed through the blood of the spotless Lamb of God (I Pet. 1:18 & Rev. 5:9).
Any legitimate Biblical doctrine, such as typology, can be proven by comparing and contrasting Scriptural passages. When one sees a type emerging in Scripture, the primary consideration should be its application. If it is a true type, what specific truth is it designed to convey? Beginning with the fifth chapter, the author of Hebrews devotes a large part of his epistle to the contrast between Old Testament shadows and New Testament realities.
Christ Himself made allegorical references. For example, “As Jonah was three days in the whale, so the Son of Man will be three days in the earth” (Lk. 17:26). He indicated the brass serpent typified His own crucifixion (Num. 21 & Jn. 3). He called Himself the true manna from heaven (Jn. 6:32-35). He spoke of destroying the temple and raising it again in three days (Jn. 2:19). John then pointed out that Jesus was referring to His own body (v. 21).
Sometimes Scripture provides the specific meaning behind a type. Paul’s allegory in Galatians provides clear typological teaching, contrasting Sarah with Hagar, Isaac with Ishmael, and Mt. Sinai with Jerusalem (Gal. 4:22-31). He states the rock the Israelites drank from in the desert represented Christ (Num. 20:11 & I Cor. 10:4). Adam is seen as a type of Christ (Rom. 5:14-15). Paul declares the Passover to be symbolic of the redemption found in Jesus (Ex. 12:13 & I Cor. 5:7). This same concept is further clarified by Peter (I Pet. 1:19).
Many ignore typology altogether, refusing to see typological relevance in anything. Others take the opposite view and seeing imaginary types in everything. It is theologically reckless to ascribe typological meanings arbitrarily. Peter warns us not to wrestle with Scripture in self-destructive ways (II Pet. 3:16). Extremists heralding themselves as “typologists” attach mysterious meanings to trivia, thereby destroying “the simplicity that is in Christ” (II Cor. 11:3). A real type does not bog itself down with small details. Those who lack doctrinal discipline tend to over-spiritualize God’s Word, thereby distorting His original intentions.
Self-acclaimed theologians who force typological meaning often reach “conclusions” bordering on the absurd. For example, some allege the four colors of the tabernacle curtains represent Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Others say Balaam’s donkey has something in common with Jesus’ donkey (Num. 22 & Mt. 21). It has been supposed that the ring Pharaoh gave to Joseph has some direct typical association with the ring the father gave to the prodigal son (Gen. 24 & Lk. 15).
The enigma of “Biblical Numerology” – supposing every number in the Bible contains a coded message – has reached epidemic proportions. Although we are told Peter caught 153 fish, it does not mean this particular number has spiritual significance (Jn. 21:11). It is impossible that the twelve stones placed in the Jordan River represent either the twelve apostles or twelve loaves (Josh. 4; Mt. 10; Mk. 6). While it is true that Satan goes about as a lion (I Pet. 5) and Jesus is the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Rev. 5), it does not follow that these two “lions” have anything in common. Such conjectures make typology confusing and destroy God’s preordained meaning behind true types.
A sound doctrinal perspective requires any type to have a clear antitype. In order to maintain a balanced view of typology, always look for the obvious connection. If it is actually a type, the link to its antitype will never be obscure. Types serve to validate existing doctrines; they do not create new ones. We must not complicate what the Lord has made simple, for “God is not the Author of confusion” (I Cor. 14:33). The best approach is a balanced one. Be cautious about attaching symbolic meanings based on conjecture, faulty logic, assumption, or irrelevant speculation. True types exist for the purpose of edification, not mystification. Our safeguard against false interpretation is the Holy Spirit, for He will lead us into all truth (Jn.16:13). Asking for His guidance is a vital aspect of solid biblical exegesis.
QUESTIONS: CHRIST AND TYPOLOGY
1. According to I Corinthians 5:6 and Galatians 5:9, what is the general purpose of leaven?
2. In a negative sense, to what is leaven compared in I Corinthians 5:8?
3. In a positive sense, to what is leaven compared in Luke 13:20-21?
4. Read Acts 2:3 and Mark 9:47. The fire that came on the Day of Pentecost is symbolic of hell fire: True or False?
5. According to Revelation 21:12-14, there is a definite connection between the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles: True or False?
6. What does the central position of the tabernacle in the Israelite encampment signify? (Numbers 2:17)
7. According to Matthew 11:13-14, who is the antitype of Elijah?
8. What does John call Jesus in John 1:29?
9. According to Revelation 5:6 and 7:17, who is seen on the throne?
10. In Genesis 17:12, men are to be circumcised as a sign of their dedication to God. According to Romans 2:19, what also needs to be “circumcised”?
11. List any strange typological teachings you may have heard.
12. Write a paragraph concerning how a particular typological teaching has been a blessing to you.