From 40 Questions About Typology and Allegory
“All roads lead to Rome,” the saying goes. But do all types lead to Christ? The simple answer to the question is yes, biblical types point to Christ. He is the antitype that the earlier types prefigure and anticipate. But then an interpreter might ask, What about the old Jerusalem pointing to the new Jerusalem? What about the deliverance of Noah and his family pointing to Christian baptism in water? What about the earthly judgment of one nation pointing to the final judgment of all nations? These questions—and others—confirm that our simple answer is not quite so simple after all.
A Christological Prism
When you focus light at a prism, the beam goes into and through the prism, revealing beautiful colors. The same is true when you focus types at Christ: they go into and through him, revealing beautiful things.
Biblical types receive their significance when they are seen in light of Christ’s person, work, and achievements. Let’s return to our two questions in the opening paragraph of this chapter and answer them. While the old Jerusalem points to the new Jerusalem, Christ is the one who has inaugurated the new creation, and thus the consummation of all things—a new heaven and new earth—is inseparably connected to Christ and his accomplishment. While Noah’s deliverance through the water points to the act of Christian baptism, baptism is a picture of the believer’s union with Christ’s death and resurrection. While the earthly judgment of one nation points to the judgment of all nations, Christ is the righteous judge who will gather the nations before him at his return and then confirm the eternal states of the righteous and the wicked.
Jesus endows types with their significance, and they are rightly understood in association with him.
A Christological Narrative
The christological significance—in some form or fashion—of types is not surprising at all, once we remember that the story of the Bible is a christological narrative. Or, as others have framed it, the Old and New Testaments have a promise-and-fulfillment relationship. In the Old Testament the Messiah is promised and patterned in multiple ways, and in the New Testament his arrival is heralded for the world to hear. As the story unfolds, the types contribute to the expectation and are themselves a form of expectation.
Consider some more examples of how the christological narrative endows types with a christological significance. Believers are truly Canaan-bound (Heb. 11:13–16), but it is Jesus who leads them into Sabbath rest in that promised land. The church is the temple of God (1 Cor. 6:19), but that identity is true because we are united to Christ, who was the Word tabernacling among sinners and whose body was torn down and then rebuilt on the third day (John 1:14; 2:19–22). Believers are heirs of God’s promises to Abraham but only because we are coheirs with Christ, who is the seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:16, 29; 4:1–7).
This post is adapted from 40 Questions About Typology and Allegory by Mitchell L. Chase. If you are interested in adopting this book for a college or seminary course, please request a faculty examination copy. We will also consider requests for your blog or media outlets.
“Mitch Chase deftly shows how the Old Testament, through prefigurings, promises, and patterns, leans forward to anticipate the coming Messiah. With clear structure and short chapters, this is a handy resource to consult as you prepare to teach the Scriptures, all of which center on Christ. The Old Testament may be a room dimly lit, but there are stores of treasure to be seen.”
Matt Smethurst, managing editor, The Gospel Coalition, author of Before You Open Your Bible