The Bible is not a mysterious book of codes that can’t be cracked, though some might try and lead you to believe that.
We know that the water can be metaphorically muddied rather quickly when there are countless faulty interpretations of books like Revelation, Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and other prophetic or apocalyptic literature. Typology is another misunderstood, and often misapplied, method of Bible study. I’m convinced that if we can spend some time studying the different “types” found in scripture, we can see God’s message for mankind more clearly and have a more profound grasp of His Word. This also happens to be a great way to grow our knowledge of scripture more quickly!
So first, let’s try to clarify exactly what Typology is.
Summed up in one sentence it’s referring to Old Testament things which are prefigured or symbolized by events and characters of the New Testament.
This may sound a little confusing, but let’s look at a few examples.
John 3:14 says that just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of man must be lifted up (Num. 21:9). The Christ “type” is the bronze serpent. We know because of a specific New Testament reference.
1 Peter 3:20: “…God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built, only a few people, 8 in all were saved through water,” This illustrates how in the same way baptismal water saves those who submit to Christ today.
Typology is not some mystic Bible code where we are free to translate events and characters in scripture as we please because God tells us exactly what He intended to say.
1 Cor. 14:33 says that God is NOT the “author of confusion.” He has a message for us all— and it’s a message of hope.
Are you interested in learning more about typology? The perfect book for you to study would be the book of Hebrews as it makes more Old Testament references than any other New Testament book. By diving into Hebrews you will appreciate and understand both the Old Testament, and the Bible as a whole.
Standing before a lantern flashlight, I happened to notice my shadow on the wall. I won’t lie. I was displeased by what I saw. My large stomach? No, that is not what bothered me. That has been with me most of my life. What disturbed me was seeing evidence of how advanced my ankylosing spondylitis has become. To put what I witnessed in self-deprecating humor: my shadow confirmed that a certain cathedral in France could hire me to be a bell ringer. I should start practicing my dialogue. “Sanctuary!”
Though I am confident of my person at this point in my life, I appear to be hunched over with insecurity since my head seems downcast. I admit to being perturbed by that since confidence is a part of the initial impression one makes on another. I must bend my knees to straighten upright (somewhat). It isn’t easy to walk with your knees bent! I take a TNF inhibitor to slow the progress. (Ankylosing spondylitis has no cure.) However, my shadow is a preview of things yet to come, the substance of who I will later be. If only my material substance was going to be as marvelous as the spiritual “substance” I will eventually enjoy (1 John 3.2).
Paul calls the Old Testament the “shadow of things to come” (Colossians 2.17). The New American Standard Bible adds the adjective “mere” (“a mere shadow”). Yet, what the Old Testament portended was the wondrous substance of Christ. It is odd to see the shadow of something before seeing that which cast the shadow, but that was the case with God’s eternal plan. One might philosophize about humanity’s ability to witness the substance first that he could not do so.
Suppose you recall the people’s reaction to Moses’ glowing face after he had been in God’s audience (Exodus 34.29-30). In that case, you ponder whether they could have endured seeing something as glorious as the transfigured Christ, like Peter (Matthew 17.1ff). Whatever the reason, God had selected the optimum time for the incarnation of Christ. That time coincided with the Roman Empire’s days (Daniel 2.40-45; Galatians 4.4). However, even then, the appearance of Christ remained as unexpected to them as vegetation sprouting from the parched ground (Isaiah 53.2).
Paul said that this “shadow” served like a tutor taking people to Christ (Galatians 3.23-25). A “tutor” during the days of Paul was a servant who took the master’s children to their teacher. In the twenty-first century, we might call the Old Testament the “bus driver.” I can recall several of the bus drivers I had in my youth. I think a couple of drivers would serve as a good role model, but at least one would have invited me along to commit mischief.
We note that bus drivers only need a high school diploma with no disrespect intended toward bus drivers. (I’ve had family serve as bus drivers.) On the other hand, teachers must go to college and earn a specialized degree. The teacher is the one to whom you entrust the child’s education. Yet, we have people showing a preference for the “bus driver” today. These prefer the shadow to the substance. That preference is not in the best interest of his or her undying spirit.
In what ways do people show a preference for the shadow? For example, in worship, they might indicate a preference for manmade mechanical instruments of music allowable under the Old Testament but unauthorized in the New Testament (cf. Ephesians 5.19; Colossians 3.16; Hebrews 13.15). In Hebrews 8-10, the Hebrews’ writer discusses at length the necessity for covenant change and the transference of authority from one to the other. Saying one can use a guitar or piano because David employed a lyre in his songs overlooks that David lived in the shadow.
People also show a preference for the shadow when doing things like following the kosher diet of Judaism for religious purposes. Some of these same people will likewise insist that the day of worship remains on Saturday. Even though Gregory XIII, an apostate from the Faith, changed the calendar, he did nothing to change the verbiage indicating Sunday (“the first day of the week”) as the day of observing Christ’s memorial feast and giving of one’s means (Acts 20.7; 1 Corinthians 16.1-2). We might also note that when people prefer the religious use of iconography and incense, they likewise demonstrate a desire to live in the shadow rather than walking by faith (2 Corinthians 5.7).
Yes, the Old Testament was only the shadow of things to come. It cannot save (Hebrews 10.1-4). We can enjoy and fellowship with the Substance, Jesus Christ. Come out from the shadow today! Live in the blessed Sonshine of Jesus Christ.