The Old Testament Foreshadows Jesus
Typological interpretation of the Old Testament has taught us to see Jesus in the Old Testament. And we can see him not only in the broad sweep of the Old Testament story line but also in its details. That’s why Keller looks for Christ in “every major Old Testament theme… promise… image… figure,” and so forth. The rest of this blog skims the surface of some key Old Testament events, people, institutions, and concepts that foreshadow Jesus Christ.
From the Old Testament Side
For example, the story of creation “in the beginning” teaches us to look for new creation “in the last days.” The story of our fall into sin and the eviction from paradise teaches us to hope for a return to paradise and renewed access to the tree of life in Christ. The story of bondage in Egypt and liberation through the exodus causes us to rejoice on the redemption from bondage to sin that we have in Christ.
From the New Testament Side
Or, looking at things from the New Testament side, we’re taught to see the flood and the Red Sea crossing as a foreshadow of our baptism into Christ. When we read of the conquest and life in the land, and then of exile and eventual return, we’re reminded that in Jesus Christ we inherit not just little slice of land “about the size of New Jersey” but the earth—more precisely, the renewed heavens and the earth.
Adam’s Sin and Offspring
Adam was God’s created “image and likeness” (Gen 1:26–28). So he foreshadows Jesus Christ, “the exact likeness of God” (2 Cor 4:4) and the “visible image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). Of course, we cannot establish a one-to-one analogy between Adam and Christ. Indeed, the important typological links often display contrast rather than likeness. For example, while living in paradise, Adam succumbed to temptation, fell into sin, and was driven out of the garden. But when the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness, he to was tempted but didn’t succumb, didn’t sin. So those who are “in Adam” inherit sin, but those who are in Christ Jesus inherit life (Rom 5:12–21). Expanding on this, Paul says,
The Scriptures tell us, “The first man, Adam, became a living person.” But the last Adam—that is, Christ—is a life-giving Spirit…. Adam, the first man, was made from the dust of the earth, while Christ, the second man, came from heaven. Earthly people are like the earthly man, and heavenly people are like the heavenly man. Just as we are now like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly man….
Let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?
For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor 15:45–57)
After the human race fell into sin, God foretold a history of warfare between the serpent’s offspring and the offspring of the woman, which would culminate in final victory through the seed of the woman:
And I will cause hostility between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring.
He will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel. (Gen 3:15)
When she gave birth to Cain and then Abel (Gen 4:1–2), Eve must have thought, “here’s a serpent-slaying son.” But Cain turned out to be a brother-slayer rather than a serpent-slayer—he was offspring of the serpent. And Abel’s innocent blood contributed nothing to the redemptive program that would crush the serpent’s head. So the old covenant saints could only await what the book of Hebrews announced: “You have come to Jesus, the one who mediates the new covenant between God and people, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks of forgiveness instead of crying out for vengeance like the blood of Abel” (Heb 12:24).
Old Testament saints awaited the woman’s offspring who would defeat the serpent. In the end, it’s Jesus, offspring of the virgin, whose victory gets announced this way: “This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels” (Rev 12:9; 20:9). And everyone who is in Christ Jesus shares in that victory: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom 16:20).
After the fall, sin spread throughout the human race (Gen 6:1–8). Eventually, “The LORD observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil” (v, 5). So he determined, “I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth” (v. 7). “But Noah found favor with the LORD” (v. 8). And God used Noah to save a remnant from the flood. Through Noah, humanity got a new start—a renewed creation (Gen 6:9–8:22). Indeed, when the flood waters had receded from a cleansed earth, God renewed the creation mandate in terms that echoed his earlier charge to Adam and Eve:
|Creation Mandate||Noahic Covenant|
|Then God said, "Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground." So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Then God blessed them and said, "Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground." (Gen 1:26-28)||Then God blessed Noah and his sons and told them, "Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth. All the animals of the earth, all the birds of the sky, all the small animals that scurry along the ground, and all the fish in the sea will look on you with fear and terror. I have placed them in your power. I have given them to you for food, just as I have given you grain and vegetables." (Gen 9:1-3)|
Even after that restart, the contagion of sin cropped up immediately, in Noah’s own tent (Gen 9:20–22), and it spread throughout his descendants, who fathered the nations. Genesis 10 is the first time in the Bible that we hear anything of nations, and chapter 11 depicts them fomenting a conspiracy against God at the tower of Babel, a conspiracy that God squelches by confusing and scattering the nations. And that sets the scene for the call of Abraham in chapter 12.
Abraham’s Call and Offspring
Call and Blessing of of Abraham
God told Abraham, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous” (Gen 12:1–2a). After reading the flood story and then the international death spiral, you might think, “God is blessing Abraham and moving him out of harm’s way before he judges the nations, perhaps by raining down fire on them.” But the call of Abraham concludes, “all the families on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen 12:3b).
God’s “Friend”The Old Testament records the life and work of five men that God calls “my servant.” The first is Abraham (Gen 26:24), the second is Moses (Num 12:7–8; 2 Kgs 21:8; Mal 4:4), the third is David (2 Sam 3:18; 7:5, 8; 1 Kgs 11:32; 14:8; 2 Kgs 19:34; 1 Chr 17:4, 7; Isa 37:35; Ezek 34:23–24; 37:24), the fourth is Job (Job 1:8; 2:3; 42:7–8), and the final one is the one whom we know as the Servant of the Lord (Isa 42:1–9; 52:13–53:12). In each of these figures, we see a rich trajectory that points forward to ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ.
Yes, God would protect and bless Abraham and his offspring (Gen 12:2–3a), but he preserved and commissioned them to bless the nations of chapters 10 and 11, which we already know to be undeserving. Here’s how Paul explained what was going on: “The Scriptures looked forward to this time when God would declare the Gentiles to be righteous because of their faith. God proclaimed this good news to Abraham long ago when he said, ‘All nations will be blessed through you'” (Gal 3:8).
Abraham Offering Isaac
And what will we say of Isaac, the beloved son of Abraham? Abraham took him to the altar as a sacrifice (Gen 22)—at the apparent cost of obliterating the Abrahamic covenant. As Hebrews explains this, “God had told him, ‘Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted'” (Heb 11:18).
And Abraham didn’t go to Moriah in obedient despair, he went in the obedience of faith: “Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead” (Heb 11:19).
Bloodshed signals all divine covenants (Exod 24:8; Heb 9:20), and this act of obedience signaled ratification of the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 22:16–18). But it wasn’t to be Isaac’s blood that signaled the covenant. As Abraham approached the altar, “Isaac turned to Abraham and said, ‘Father?’ ‘Yes, my son?’ Abraham replied. ‘We have the fire and the wood,’ the boy said, ‘but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?'” (Gen 22:7).
Abraham’s answer spoke more than he knew: “God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son” (Gen 22:8). Then he continued in obedience with altar stones, firewood, and knife—even a knife raised over the beloved son on whom all covenantal hopes rested (Gen 22:9–10). At that point, God stopped proceedings and provided the needed substitute. For Abraham, it was a ram caught in a thicket (Gen 22:13). And for us, it is the beloved covenantal Son. So John introduced him this way: “Look! The Lamb of God!” (John 1:29, 36).
Abraham and Isaac could never have announced, “This is my blood, which confirms the covenant” (Matt 26:28; Mark 14:24). And the blood of bulls and goats could not establish the new covenant, but only that of Jesus Christ (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25). But Abraham could rename Moriah “Yahweh-Yireh” (which means ‘the LORD will provide’)” (Gen 22:14).
God did provide, and Isaac survived to sire Jacob, the next covenantal son of Abraham. And by grace—and after a rocky start as a bit of a con artist—the heel-grabbing trickster (yaʿqov) got a new name, “Israel” (yisraʾel).1 More importantly, God was pleased to call the nation of Israel “my son,” deliver them from Egyptian bondage (Hos 11:1), and lead them through thick and thin into a land that flowed with milk and honey.
Moses-Jesus typology proves to be particularly rich. God chose Moses to lead his people from bondage to paradise, a task that Jesus Christ fulfills in a deeper way. God saved Moses from slaughter in the crib (Exod 1–2), as he would later do for his liberating Son Jesus Christ (Matt 2).
God used Moses to give bread and water to his people on their journey to the promised land, an Old Testament shadow of the bread (John 6) and water of life that Jesus gives (John 4:14; 7:38; Rev 7:17). Because of this “new Moses,” we hear this:
Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb…. The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let anyone who hears this say, “Come.” Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life. (Rev 22:1, 17).
God told Israel he would speak through Moses and a succession of prophets like Moses (Deut 18:15, 18). And he proved faithful to that promise. God sent Isreal a succession of prophets at key junctures. Then he brought that promise to climactic fulfillment when he sent Jesus (Acts 3:22; 7:37). And just as God used Moses to deliver the law of the old covenant on Mount Sinai, he later led his people to another mount. There Jesus delivered the law of the new covenant, which we know as the Sermon on the Mount.
And what shall we say of David, the king of God’s own choosing (1 Sam 13:14)? God designated him as “my son,” qualifying him to rule over the people of God (Ps 2:6–7). The messianic typology is richly sown throughout David’s story, this scion from Judah. It all comes to fulfillment in the Christ after this fashion:
As far back as when Jacob was passing along his patriarchal blessing, he said, “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants, until the coming of the one to whom it belongs, the one whom all nations will honor” (Gen 49:10). In the end, we hear John reporting these words out of heaven itself: “Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory” (Rev 5:5).
The prophet Isaiah looked forward to one who would received ultimate Davidic authority: “I will give him the key to the house of David—the highest position in the royal court. When he opens doors, no one will be able to close them; when he closes doors, no one will be able to open them” (Isa 22:22). In the end, John heard these words resounding from heaven: “This is the message from the one who is holy and true, the one who has the key of David. What he opens, no one can close; and what he closes, no one can open” (Rev 3:7).
When David made plans to build God’s “house” (i.e., palace-temple), God told him no, I’ll build your “house” (i.e., dynasty, 2 Sam 7:1–17). He told David that he would put his son on his throne after him (v. 12), his son would build the “house” (vv. 12–13a), and God would call royal sons from David’s line “my son” (v. 14a).
Well, Solomon fulfilled the Davidic dynasty’s promise in one measure—including what God said he would do if the Davidic sons sinned (2 Sam 17:14b). But there is one greater than Solomon who has come (Matt 6:29; Luke 12:27). Solomon started out great in wisdom (1 Kgs 4:29–34; 5:7) but fell into folly and sin. On that count alone, Jesus proved greater in wisdom than Solomon did (Matt 12:42; Luke 11:31). But he’s not just greater by fractions or even multiples. No! “In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3, cf. Rom 11:33; 1 Cor 1:24, 30).
Solomon built and dedicated a glorious temple—and a fine palace for himself to boot (1 Kgs 6–8). Solomon himself recognized that it couldn’t really contain the God of heaven and earth (1 Kgs 8:27–30). But God was happy to dwell there.
Body of Christ
And then by the incarnation, God fully came to dwell among us (John 1:1–14). Jesus promised to raise up the greater temple in three days (John 2:19–21)—and he did. So we call the church the “body of Christ” and “temple of God” (1 Cor 3:16–17). And an individual believer is “the temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 6:19)—no man-made temple of stone, but one made of living flesh.
In the end, we hear of the ultimate fulfillment of that promise: “I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever'” (Rev 21:3–4). More than that, when John looked to see what this situation looked like, he reported, “I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Rev 22).
Jeremiah as a Second Moses
One last Old Testament figure, the prophet Jeremiah. Looking backward from Jeremiah into Old Testament history, the promise to Moses that God would raise up a prophet like himself (Deut 18:15, 18; Acts 3:22; 7:37) is fulfilled in considerable detail in Jeremiah. He can almost be called a “second Moses.”
Jesus as Second Moses and Second Jeremiah
Looking forward from Jeremiah to Jesus’s ministry in the New Testament, we note so many analogies that we might call Jesus a “second Moses” and “second Jeremiah” as well as “last Adam” (1 Cor 15:45). Jeremiah wept over Jerusalem’s sins and her punishment (Jer 9:1, 10; 31:16), denounced the profaned temple, and predicted its destruction (Jer 7:1–15). Likewise, Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Matt 23:37–39; Mark 13:34–35), denounced its temple practices (Matt 21:13), and foretold its destruction (Matt 24:1–2; Mark 13:1–2; Luke 21:5–6).
But Jesus, one greater than Jeremiah, also promised to raise up a cleansed and eternal temple in three days (John 2:19–21, cf. Matt 26:61; 27:40; Mark 14:58; 15:29).
We could make the same kind of Christological connections between institutional types found first in the Old Testament whose trajectory came to climactic fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Here we would speak of the tabernacle and temple of stone, the fulfillment of which we have already described. We could look at ceremonial law with its early provisions promises of cleansing, redemption, and purification that come to fulfillment in Jesus Christ. He’s our absolutely pure great high priest (Heb 4:14). He’s the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” whose sacrifices provides sanctification “once for all” (Heb 10:10). As we’ve noted already in talking about David, we could say the same for Israel’s monarchy, which comes to fulfillment in the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus Christ brings a whole range of concepts to their ultimate fulfillment through his blessing or judgment.
Light and Darkness
Both light and darkness manifest themselves throughout the Old Testament from creation to exile and then come to fulfillment in Jesus Christ, who is the light of the world (John 1:9; 4:29; 8:12; 9:5). This means two things:
- The “people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine” (Isa 9:2; quoted in Matt 4:16).
- The people who reject Christ are consigned to darkness in this life (John 12:46; 2 Cor 4:4) and will spend an eternity in “outer darkness” (Matt 8:12; 22:13; 25:30).
Paradise and Exile
Paradise and the land flowing with milk and honey come to their fulfillment by Jesus’s offer of paradise for the thief on the cross and the promise of new Jerusalem and the new heavens and earth for saints and angels. Likewise, expulsion from paradise and exile from the promised land finds some New Testament fulfillment in excommunication from the church and ultimate fulfillment eternal exile from the presence of God in hell.
Blessing and Curse
Blessing and cursing both manifest themselves throughout the Old Testament (Lev 26; Deut 28) but come to their culmination in the woes and blessings of Jesus Christ. We see the blessings in the Beatitudes (Matt 5) and in the consummate blessing: “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world'” (Matt 25:34). Likewise, we see the curses in his repeated pronouncement of “woe” upon those who fought against the kingdom of God (e.g., Matt 11:21; 18:7; 23:13–29; 26:24).
Throughout the Old Testament wisdom literature, wisdom and folly pair up closely with blessing and cursing. And just like blessing and cursing come to fulfillment in Jesus Christ, so too wisdom and folly climax in him. On the one hand, Jesus is the one who’s wisdom is greater than that of Solomon (1 Kgs 4–5; Matt 12:42; Luke 11:31). On the other hand, Jesus subjected his own life to futility to free us from futility—even took up the curse on our behalf.
Sabbath began as a creation ordinance: “On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation” (Gen 2:2–3). And Sabbath comes to fulfillment in the work of Jesus Christ, who issues this invitation: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). Just as God the Father had called creation “finished,” Jesus Christ cried out, “It is finished” (John 19:28–30); and the work he had completed guarantees our rest.
Of course, the author of Hebrews warns against failing to enter that heavenly rest (Heb 3:11, 18; 4:1–11). Indeed, our ultimate destiny is defined by the presence or absence of rest. Those who forsake the true Christ for the Antichrist have this fate: “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night” (Rev 14:11, ESV). But thanks be to God, John said, “I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this down: Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, they are blessed indeed, for they will rest from their hard work; for their good deeds follow them!'” (Rev 14:13).
We could extend this kind of discussion ad infinitum, and we would have had license to do so from Jesus’s notice that he is found in all of Scripture (Luke 24:25–27, 44). For example, we could point to many incidentals that find fulfillment in Jesus Christ. We could find it in David’s complaints and petitions about…
- Not being left among the dead to rot in the grave (Ps 16:10; Acts 2:31; 13:35)
- Being forsaken (Ps 22:1; Matt 27:46; Mark 15:34)
- Being mocked (Ps 22:6–8; Matt 27:39, 43; Mark 15:29)
- Having his hands and feet pierced (Ps 22:16)
- Having his clothes divided (Ps 22:18; John 19:23–24)
- Being offered sour wine (Ps 69:21; John 19:28–29).
Or we could treat Zechariah’s visions of…
- Jerusalem’s restoration and future when the Lord promises, “I, myself, will be a protective wall of fire around Jerusalem, … and I will be the glory inside the city!” (2:5; Rev 21:23).
- Jerusalem restored as habitation of God and the nations (2:10–11; Rev 5:9–10; 7:9–12; 21:3)
- The Lord’s promise of “my servant, the Branch” and a day when he would “remove the sins of this land in a single day” (3:8–9)
- Zion’s king riding a donkey (9:9; Matt 21:5)
- The Lord’s prophecy, “They will look on me whom they have pierced” (12:10)
- The promise “On that day a fountain will be opened for the dynasty of David and for the people of Jerusalem, a fountain to cleanse them from all their sins and impurity” (13:1)
- The enigmatic, “What about those wounds on your chest?” to which the response is “I was wounded at my friends’ house” (13:6)
- “Strike down the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (13:7; Matt 26:31; Mark 14:27)
Or what if we talked of the Christology and restoration promised throughout the book of Hosea, the new covenant promised in Jeremiah 31:31–34, the cleansing promised in Ezekiel 36:25–27, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit promised in Joel 2:28–32? Or what of the judgments against the nations foretold in the Obadiah, Amos (1:1–2:3), and Jeremiah (chs. 46–51), or great work of restoration described and foreshadowed in Ezekiel, Nehemiah, and Haggai?
But we must stop, because if we attempted to write it all, “I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25)—-let alone a single chapter in a single book.
- The name contains the divine title ʾēl (cf. ʾelohim), and we get various suggestions for the first syllable, which may come from (1) sarah (“to strive, contend,” that is “to strive with God”), reminding us of Jacob wrestling with God (Gen 32); (2) from sarah (“to rule,” or “prince of God”), a reference to Jacob’s special status before God, or (3) from yashar (“upright,” as an antonym to his former name Jacob), which would “express the transformation of character from deviousness to moral rectitude” (Nahum M. Sarna, Genesis: The Traditional Hebrew Text with New JPS Translation, The JPS Torah Commentary [Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989], 405).