Prefiguring of Christ In the Old Testament
This chapter (Footnote 1) deals with a unique phenomenon; it is found as a distinct pattern only in the Bible, not in any other literature. Many incidents (thirty are listed here) in the Old Testament have a double meaning; the obvious meaning of the words in their original setting is called the literal sense; yet sometimes the actions or persons there described have a further meaning to be realised later in Christ; this second meaning is what is known as the typical sense.
There are two reasons why this does occur in the Bible. The Old Testament was a preparation for the New; in the preparatory stage God wished to give glimpses of what was to come. It is as though Calvary, the central fact of God’s plan for mankind, cast a shadow back over the whole Old Testament. A second unique fact about every book in the Bible is that each has two authors: God, the primary Author, and the actual man who wrote it under inspiration. The human author and his Old Testament readers need not fully comprehend all that God intended to be understood in these types; that would come only with the fullness of New Testament revelation.
How can we be certain that God meant these Old Testament incidents to be types of Christ? The only answer to this is revelation: God himself must tell us. For more than half of the thirty types we have a passage in the New Testament telling us that they are types of Christ. For the rest we rely on the authority of the Church to interpret Scripture; we are aware of the Church’s teaching in this matter chiefly through the writings of the early Fathers and through the liturgy (missal and breviary). At times it is not easy to tell whether the passage in question is merely a parallel to something in our Lord’s life or whether God intended it to be an actual type.
These types are found throughout the Old Testament, but most abundantly during the Exodus (twelve types). They are listed in biblical order in the Index. At the end of this chapter there is a summary of our Lady’s place in the Old Testament with a list of types (ten) of her.’ (This chapter has not been included in our on-line presentation since (whilst invaluable in its own right) it does not offer optional Scripture readings appropriate for the Electronic Prayer Book.)
(Footnote 1) This Chapter — This paper is in fact “Chapter 6 : Types of Christ”
from the book “Waiting For Christ” by Ronald Cox.For details of this book,
plus Acknowledgement — Click here.
Reprinted by Permission of the Copyright holders
1. ADAM is the first type of Christ. Both were representative men; each in his own way represents the whole race. Adam brought death to the human race (Gen. 3), Christ healed the breach between the human race and God: ‘Mankind begins with the Adam who became, as Scripture tells us, a living soul; it is fulfilled in the Adam who has become a life-giving spirit’ (1 Cor. 15: 45). The classic contrast between Adam and Christ is Romans 5: 12 — 21; there St. Paul explicitly states that ‘Adam was the type of him who was to come’ (Rom. 5: 14).
2. NOAH’S ARK was the means used by God to save a family from destruction (Gen. 6 — 7). St. Peter says: ‘That ark in which a few souls, eight in all, found refuge as they passed through the waves, was a type of the baptism which saves us now’ (1 Pet. 3: 2O). Christian baptism signifies passing through the waters of death; it is the plank by which men are carried to salvation (Wis. 14: 7). Many of the Fathers also see in Noah’s Ark a type of the Church, by which men are saved from the waters of destruction.
3. As Abraham was returning from a victorious battle to his home in Hebron, he passed through Jerusalem; nearby he was met by the king of that city, MELCHISEDEK: And he, priest as he was of the most high God, brought out bread and wine with him, and gave him this benediction, “On Abram be the blessing of the most high God, maker of heaven and earth, and blessed be that most high God, whose protection has brought your enemies into your power.” To him, Abram gave tithes of all he had won. (Gen. 14: 8 — 2O). David is the first to link up Melchisedek with the person of Christ: “You are a priest forever in the line of Melchisedek” (Ps. 1O9: 4). St. Paul, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, demonstrates how Melchisedek is a type of Christ: Jewish priests received their priesthood by descent; their power to offer sacrifice came from their genealogy. Melchisedek stands alone, like Jesus; his priesthood is directly from God (Heb. 7). Patristic writers liken Melchisedek to Christ in that both offered bread and wine, not sheep and oxen, as the material of their sacrifice to God.
4. ISAAC was mocked by his half-brother Ishmael (Gen. 2I: 9). St. Paul sees in this a foretelling of the persecution that is to afflict the Church, ‘the son whose birth is a spiritual birth’ (Gal. 4: 29). Probably he means this only as an illus¬tration, not as a true type intended by Cod. But the Fathers see in another incident of Isaac’s life a foreshadowing of Christ carrying his cross to Calvary. This is Genesis 22, where Isaac carried the wood of sacrifice up the hill of Jerusalem (p. 15).
5. Readers of the breviary are familiar with St. Augustine’s attempt to explain Jacob’s deception of his father Isaac by pretending to be his brother Esau (Gen. 27). According to Augustine (Second Sunday of Lent) JACOB, also called Israel, was a type of Christ: the goatskin in-Which he dressed himself represents sin, not his own but the sins of others (it was our sins Christ bore, Isaiah 53: 4). There is no certain proof that God intended Jacob to be a type of Christ; it seems more likely that it is only an ingenious explanation thought up by St. Augustine.
6. There is a close parallel between the life of JOSEPH, the favourite son of Jacob, and that of Jesus. Joseph was sold by his brothers out of hatred (Gen. 37), yet he eventually was to become the saviour of his people. In Egypt he was imprisoned on a false accusation, but rose to great eminence and became known as ‘Saviour of the World’ (Gen. 41). But again there is no certain evidence that God wished to fore¬shadow the life of the Messiah in these incidents of the life of the patriarch Joseph.
7. MOSES gave up his life at Pharaoh’s court to share the sufferings of his own people, the Hebrews. St. Paul sees in this a foreshadowing of Christ giving up the glories of heaven to redeem mankind (Heb. 11: 26). There is an obvious parallel between Moses and Christ in that both led their people from bondage to the freedom of the promised land (Heb. 3 — 4). Both inaugurated covenants with the chosen people of God (Mt. 26: 28; Heb. 9: 12 — 22), though the New Covenant far surpassed the Old: ‘Through Moses the law was given to us; through Jesus Christ grace came to us, and truth’ (Jn. 1: 17).
Many incidents from the Exodus under Moses had a typical sense in the mind of the Holy Spirit. When the prophet Hosea later referred to the Exodus in the words, ‘I called my son out of Egypt’ (Hos. 11: 1), St. Matthew sees, in the call of the chosen people from exile, the return of Jesus from Egypt after his flight there from Herod (Mt. 2: 15).
8. THE PASCHAL LAMB (Ex. 12) is the best known type of Christ in the Old Testament. St. John the Baptist is probably referring to it when he points out Jesus to his disciples with the words, ‘Look, this is the Lamb of God’ (Jn. 1: 29). St. John the Evangelist concludes his account of the crucifixion, in which not a bone of Jesus’ body was broken, with a reference to it: ‘Not a single bone of his shall be broken’ (Jn. 19: 36).
9. St. Paul sees in the PILLAR OF CLOUD (Shekinah), and the passage of the Red Sea (Ex. 14), a type of baptism: “Our fathers were hidden, all of them, under the cloud, and found a path, all of them, through the sea; all alike, in the cloud and in the sea, were baptised into Moses’ fellowship” (1. Cor. 1O: 1 — 2). Moved and guided by God (the Shekinah), men must cross from the bondage of sin to the kingdom of Christ through the waters of baptism (Ex. 14).
10. The rite of initiation into the chosen people, CIRCUMCISION (Gen. 17), was also a type of baptism. (It is the opinion of St. Thomas Aquinas that although it was not a sacrament, it was the occasion when God remitted original sin because of the future merits of Christ.) St. Paul mainly brings out the contrast, rather than the parallel with Christian baptism (Rom. 2: 29; Col. 2: 11).
11. When the Israelites were hungry, the Lord gave them bread from heaven. This food which fell in their camp for forty years was called MANNA, which means ‘What is it?’ (Ex. 16). According to St. Paul (1 Cor. 1O: 3) and St. John (6, 31ff.), it was a type of the food of the new Covenant, the Blessed Eucharist.
12. Likewise the WATER from the rock (Ex. 17: 6; Num. 2O: 1O — 1) was a type of the graces to come through Christ (1 Cor. 1O: 4). Jesus himself seems to allude to it: ‘If any man is thirsty, let him come to .me, and drink’ (Jn. 7: 37).
13. All the blood shed in animal sacrifices in the Old Testament pointed to the perfect Victim who would one day atone for all sin by shedding his blood on Calvary. The paschal lamb was the most important annual sacrifice; next in importance was the Day of Atonement, when the SCAPEGOAT was sacrificed for the sins of the people (Lev. 16): ‘God laid on his shoulders our guilt, the guilt of us all’ (Is. 53: 6). Just as the scapegoat was put to death outside the camp of Israel, so Jesus died outside the city walls (Heb. 13: 11-12).
14. The RED HEIFER (Num. 19) also was immolated, like Jesus, outside the camp (Heb. 13: 11). The lustral water made from her ashes was used by the Hebrews to cleanse those who had in¬curred legal defilement; this was a foreshadowing of the blood of Christ, which cleanses sin from the souls of men (Heb. 9: 13 — 14).
15. When the Israelites were complaining against God, towards the end of the forty years in the desert, he sent serpents upon them, and many died of the serpents’ bites. When they had confessed their sin, the Lord told Moses to make a BRONZE SERPENT and set it up on a pole; and as many as looked towards it were healed (Num. 21: 4 — 9). Our Lord quoted this incident to Nicodemus: ‘And this Son of Man must be lifted up, as the serpent was lifted up by Moses in the wilderness; so that those who believe in him may not perish, but have eternal life’ (Jn. 3: 14 — 15). As the non-venomous image of the serpent, looked upon with faith, healed the poisoned wounds, Christ, incarnate in the likeness of sinful man, heals the wounds of sin (2 Cor. 5: 21).
16. — 17. The text of Hosea 11: 1 is quoted by Matthew 2: 15 as fulfilled in Christ: ‘I called my son out of Egypt.’ Christ’s return from EGYPT TO PALESTINE is understood by Matthew as a SPIRITUAL EXODUS in Christ all humanity was journeying from the Egypt of sin to the promised land of peace with God. In Psalm 94, St. Paul (Heb. 3 — 4) gave a Christian meaning to the exodus from Egypt; it had more of a lesson for the Christians of his day than for the Jews for whom the psalm was written. He bases his argument on two words in the psalm, ‘Today’ and ‘Rest’. It is an eternal Today of Rest in Christ.
18. JOSHUA is the Hebrew form of Jesus. He crossed the Jordan (a symbol of baptism, like crossing the Red Sea) and led his people into the promised land (Josh. 3). So too, Jesus brings us through Baptism into his Church.
19. GIDEON won a spectacular victory over the Midianite host with a puny force of three hundred men (Jg. 7) ;our Lord sent twelve apostles to conquer the world.
20. SAMSON, (Jg. 13 — 26) was a combination of great strength and weakness: He was betrayed by his kinsmen and handed over to the Philistines, just as Jesus was sold by Judas and handed over to his enemies. Samson offered his life when he pulled down the house on the Philistines; so Jesus offered himself as a victim for all mankind.
21. The title most in use for the Messiah when our Lord was born was ‘SON OF DAVID‘ (Ezekiel 37: 24 simply calls him ‘David’). We would expect this greatest person in the Old Testament to foreshadow his most famous Son. DAVID ‘was born in Bethlehem; so too was our Lord. David slew the Philistine Goliath (1 Kg. 17); Jesus slew the giant Sin with the wood of the cross and his five wounds (David carried a staff and five stones). During the rebellion of his son Absalom, David was betrayed by Achitophel, his trusted counsellor (2 Kg. 16 — 17). Psalms 4O and 54 were written about this incident. Our Lord himself quoted a verse from Psalm 4O as being fulfilled in the treason of Judas Iscariot: ‘The man who shared my bread has lifted his heel to trip me up’ (Jn. 13: 18).
22. The name SOLOMON means ‘peace’. Isaiah predicted the coming of the Messiah as ‘THE PRINCE OF PEACE’ (Is. 9: 6). Solomon had the most glorious reign of all the kings of Israel; our Lord’s kingdom would far outshine it with all the treasures of divine grace. Solomon was noted for his wisdom, a gift of God (1 Kg. 3); Jesus is the Wisdom of God personified, whom the whole treasury of wisdom and knowledge is stored up’ (Col. 2: 3). Solomon raised up a temple of cedar and stone; our Lord raised the temple of his body by his resurrection (Jn. 2, 19 — 22). The Queen of Sheba brought costly presents to Solomon (1 Kg. 10 ); the Wise Men from the East brought their gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Christ-child (Mt. 2).
23. ELIJAH was one of the most colourful characters in the Old Testament (1 Kg. 17: — 2 Kg. 2:). In one sense he foreshadowed John the Baptist (Mal. 4: 5; Mt. 17: 1O). He also appeared at the Transfiguration in company with Moses. He seems to have been a type of the Messiah in that he was persecuted and felt great mental anguish, even to the point of death, like Jesus in the garden of Gethsemene. He too was comforted by an angel and was taken up bodily from this earth. Two other incidents of his life bear a close resemblance to our Lord’s: he raised a widow’s son to life and miraculously multiplied food.
24. Whether JONAH was a real, historical person or merely a fictional character from the book that bears his name, he is presented by our Lord himself as a type of his own resurrec¬tion after three days in the tomb: ‘Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea-beast, and the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth’ (Mt 12: 4O).
25. The importance of the prophets is mainly in the message they speak to the people from the Lord; but with JEREMIAH it is his own personal living of the life of the suffering Mes-siah. He bears the closest likeness to Jesus of all the persons in the Old Testament. He preached to the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, shortly before it fell to the Babylonians in 587 B.C. His message, like our Lord’s, went unheeded, and like our Lord he aroused so much animosity that his enemies plotted to take his life: “Hitherto, I had been unsuspecting as a cade (Footnote 2) lamb that is led off to the slaughter-house; I knew nothing of the plots they were hatching against me,” as they whispered, “Let us give him a taste of the gallows-tree; let us rid the world of him, so that his very name will be forgotten!” (Jer. 11: 19). Often the words he uses could have been spoken by Jesus himself: “They thought to compass my death by their clamour; to all my warnings would pay heed no longer” (Jer. 18: 18). Those words remind us of the attempt to throw our Lord over the precipice at Nazareth (Lk. 4: 39), as well as the scene of Jesus’ Trial and Death. When the scribes and Pharisees tried to trap our Lord with the question of tribute to Caesar, he might have replied in the words of Jeremiah: “Cunning the snare they laid, deep the pit they dug to entrap me” (Jer. 18: 22). Actually our Lord does quote Jeremiah (7: 11) when he cleanses the temple: “My house shall be known for a house of prayer, and you have made it into a den of thieves” (Mt. 21: 13). Jeremiah wept over the fallen city of Jerusalem in his Lamentations; he reminds us of Jesus weeping over the same city (Lk. 19: 41) : “Keen anguish for the overthrow of an unhappy race, that dims eye with tears, that stirs my being to its depths, as my heart goes out in boundless compassion!” (Lam. 2: 11). The words of Lamentations are put on Jesus’ lips in the liturgy of Holy Week. The Temple soon to be destroyed was not made of wood and stone, it was Jesus’ own body (Jn. 2: 19 — 21). That is why the Church puts these words on the lips of Christ: ‘Look well, you that pass by, and say if there was ever grief like this grief of mine’ (Lam. I: 12).
(2) Cade lamb — a lamb awaiting slaughter.
26. Back in the time of Abraham there lived a man famous for his patience under affliction; his name was JOB. His story was written up into a powerful drama by a Hebrew poet (some argue from Ecclesiasticus 49: 11 that Ezekiel was the author), probably after the Babylonian exile. The literary figure of Job presented in the dialogue of the book that bears his name is a type of Christ: “Poor man nor helpless orphan cried to me in vain; how they blessed me, souls reprieved from instant peril; with what comfort the widow’s heart rejoiced! Dutiful observance was still the vesture I wore, my robe and crown integrity; in me, the blind found sight, the lame strength, the poor a father”. (Job 29: 12 — 15). Those words could have been spoken by our Lord of his public ministry; they show his charity and his concern with doing his Father’s will at all times. But it is mainly his intense mental anguish that makes Job a type of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemene: “But here is grief words cannot assuage, nor silence banish; grief that bows me down till my whole frame is lifeless; these furrowed cheeks are the witness of it” (Job 16, 7 — 9). Like Jesus, job was an innocent man; unlike our Lord, he did not know the cause of his sufferings. But he expresses his reactions to physical and mental suffering more deeply than any other character in the Old Testament. The whole of job’s words can be read with profit, particularly the final two chapters (3O — 31) of the dialogue.
The sad state to which the Jewish people were reduced because of their sinful lives is vividly pictured in Isaiah 1: 5 — 6: “Everywhere bowed heads, and faint hearts; no health anywhere, from sole to crown, nothing but wounds, and bruises, and swollen sores, that none binds up, or medicines, or anoints with oil.” Since Jesus bore all the sins of mankind in his body during his Passion, these words take on a deeper significance when applied to him, particularly after his Scourging at the Pillar by the Roman soldiers.
27. The return from exile in Babylon was looked upon by the Hebrew prophets as a second Exodus (Is. 44: 26 — 46; 14). As in the first Exodus under Moses, we find here also some types of Christ among those who led the exiles back to the promised land. There is not the same wealth of type, actually only three. The first is CYRUS, the Persian king who signed the decree permitting the Jews to return to their homeland (1 Ezra 1: 1 — 4). Isaiah calls him a king anointed by the Lord (Isa. 45: 1); he is the Lord’s shepherd, appointed to carry out the divine purpose (Isa. 44: 28). He also seems to be ‘an anointed prince’ of Daniel 9: 25. He is a type of Christ because on him rested the task of rescuing the chosen people from bondage and exile from the Lord. His high prin¬ciples made him a suitable instrument to carry out the divine command.
28 — 29. The two Jewish leaders who led the exiles back to Jerusalem in 538 B.C. are types of Christ; he would lead all peoples home to the friendship of God by his death on the cross. ZERUBBABEL was the grandson of the last king to reign in Jerusalem; with the high priest JOSHUA, he marched at the head of the returning exiles. Zerubbabel is called the Lord’s ‘signet ring’ (Hagg. 2: 24); this meant he was acting with the authority given him by God (documents were signed by stamping with a ring, Genesis 41 — 42). The prophet Zechariah (6: 9 — 14) was told to make a crown for Joshua. This unusual procedure (priests were anointed, not crowned) seems to point to Christ, the priest and king of the New Covenant.
30. The, last person to prefigure our Lord lived in the time of the Maccabeen revolt in the second century B.C. He was the high priest ONIAS; who was murdered as he left the temple in Jerusalem (2 Macc. 4: 34) (Footnote 3). He is alluded to in Daniel 9: 26: ‘An anointed priest is done to death, one who is truly innocent’. He is a type of Christ both in his death and his innocence.
(Footnote 3) 2 Macc. — The two books of the Maccabees are the last two books of the Old Testament in the Vulgate translation of the Bible and translations associated with it.