Prophetical Types (Part 2)

I began the discussion of prophetical types in a previous blog, where I introduced this class of types and discussed “Possibility 1” out of four that Fairbairn suggests. Now we’ll move on to the other three of those four prophetical types.

Prophetical Types

Possibility 2

Something typical in the past or present might be represented in a distinct prophetical announcement, as going to appear again in the future; thus combining the typical character embodied in the historical note cited. (Fairbairn, Typology, 1.111–14, esp. 111)

Let me hasten to add that we’re not talking about a double sense; rather, we’re speaking of a de facto double prophecy. On the one hand, we have a typical prophecy in action; on the other hand, we have an express prophecy in words. Fairbairn says this is a matter of the mind naturally availing itself of what is known from the past to explain what is unknown and yet in the future (1.112). Even if the theoretical description may elude you, I think you’ll easily see the typological dynamic in the following examples:

  • The bondage in Egypt will be fulfilled in another state of bondage that might also be termed “Egypt,” even though it will happen in Assyria. So Hosea twice used “Egypt” as a symbol of bondage, saying, “to me their sacrifices are all meaningless. I will hold my people accountable for their sins, and I will punish them. They will return to Egypt” (Hos 8:13); and saying, “You may no longer stay here in the LORD’s land. Instead, you will return to Egypt, and in Assyria you will eat food that is ceremonially unclean” (Hos 9:3). But when he uses Egypt literally, he says, “But since my people refuse to return to me, they will return to Egypt and will be forced to serve Assyria” (Hos 11:5).
  • The postexilic rebuilding of the physical temple foreshadowed a more glorious temple in the future.1
  • The shepherd-king David foreshadowed the Messiah’s role as the Good Shepherd.2
  • Elijah serves as a typical prophet, whose function reappears.3

Possibility 3

The typical, not expressly and formally, but in its essential relations and principle, might be embodied in its accompanying prediction, which foretold things corresponding to nature, but far higher and greater in importance. (1.115–25, esp. 115)

Again, as in possibility two, it’s not a matter of a double sense, but rather a double prophecy, that is, a typical prophecy in action coupled with a verbal prophecy in word. Fairbairn says this is much like possibility two, except that here the prophet’s own words looked to the future instead of to the past, even though he was using the past to explain the future (1.115). Once again, the examples should make this clear for you:

  • The song of Hannah (1 Sam 2:1–10) referred to its immediate occasion, but it used such lofty language that in implied a greater fulfillment than Samuel’s birth would accomplish. Indeed, the Virgin Mary took up this son in its fulfilled sense in the Magnificat (Luke 1:46–55).
  • The language accompanying the enthronement of Davidic kings was often more lofty than could be properly fulfilled in any lesser son of David than Jesus himself, even though it obviously have reference to the enthronement at hand in the Old Testament record. Some of this language even depicted the divine element (Pss 2, 22, 45); however, it would also depict the human element (Pss 40, 64, 114). And sometimes this dual language would be organically interwoven so that it could not be split into separate messages, some referring to Solomon as the anointed Davidic son and others referring to Jesus as the Messianic Son of David. For example, Nathan’s prophecy (2 Sam 7:14–16; 1 Chr 17) was an integrated promise to the Davidic line, which could be realized at one level in Solomon and subsequent descendants, even though they had their faults; and then it could only be entirely fulfilled in Jesus, who was without fault.

Possibility 4

The typical might itself be still future, and in a prophetic word might be partly described, partly presupposed, as a vantage-ground for the delineation of other things still more distinct, to which, when it occurred, it was to stand in the relation of type to antitype. (1.115–25, esp. 115)

In this case, as in possibilities two and three, we’re not dealing with a double sense but rather with a double prophecy. In this case, we a typical prophecy lying in the nearer future but looking forward to a greater fulfillment in the more distant future as well. The fulfillment of the prophecy in the more immediate future might be typical, and only its more distant fulfillment in the eschaton would be the ultimate antitypical fulfillment.

  • The return from Babylonian exile and rebuilding in the land: The postexilic community could experience the fulfillment of those prophecies, experiencing them at the same typical level that their ancestors had experienced the exodus; therefore, it might even be construed as a “second exodus” (Isa 60–66). But the fullest import of the language would not be realized until the liberating work of Jesus.
  • Isaiah 34 indicated judgment on the nations as something that would follow the exile; however, it was also a typical note of God’s final judgment on the nations in the eschaton.
  • Matthew 24 probably spoke of the near future (i.e., AD 70); however, it was also a typical note of God’s coming in consummate eschatological judgment.