So far in this series on Jesus in the Old Testament, we have been talking about prophecies of Jesus. Now we're going to look at types of Jesus. Types are pictures of Jesus in the Old Testament. Michael Vlach, in an article called "Interpreting Types," explains the differences between prophecies and types. "Prophecies verbally predict what will happen in the future. Types are things that nonverbally prefigure some greater New Testament reality. You can spot an Old Testament prophecy from reading the Old Testament alone, but the New Testament must indicate either explicitly or implicitly whether some Old Testament person, object, ceremony, or institution functioned as a type."
The Old Testament is full of these kinds of pictures, whether they are pictures of Jesus or of various spiritual ideas. I'm going to briefly look at two of my favorite types of Jesus.
The story of the bronze serpent takes place in Numbers 21. The Israelites were in the wilderness and began to complain.
"Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient because of the journey. The people spoke against God and Moses, 'Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.'" Numbers 21:4-5 (NASB).
God had already miraculously provided water for the Israelites on more than one occasion, and He was providing manna for them to eat each day. And yet they complained about their provision and didn't trust that He would continue to care for them.
"The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. So the people came to Moses and said, 'We have sinned, because we have spoken against the Lord and you; intercede with the Lord, that He may remove the serpents from us.' And Moses interceded for the people. Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.' And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived." Numbers 21:6-9 (NASB).
Jesus Himself in John 3 compared Himself to the bronze serpent. Speaking to Nicodemus, He said, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.'" John 3:14-15.
Jesus was lifted up on the cross in the same manner the bronze serpent was lifted up on the pole. Both of these events brought healing and life, although one was a physical healing and the other was a spiritual healing.
In the book of Exodus, the Israelites had become great in number in Egypt. They were originally brought into the country as honored guests of the second-in-command, but because there were so many of them, Egypt chose to oppress and enslave the people. After many years as slaves, God made a move with the man he had been preparing for forty years: Moses.
By command of Yahweh, Moses spoke to Pharaoh several times, commanding that he release the Israelites. In response to his continual refusals, the people of Egypt were struck by multiple plagues, including water turned to blood, frogs, and locusts. The final plague was the death of all the firstborns in Egypt.
Jesus is often described as the Lamb of God, which ties back to the preparations the Israelites were instructed to make in order to be protected from this plague. John the Baptist, long before Jesus was crucified, said of Jesus, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" John 1:29 (NASB). In Revelation, Jesus is called the Lamb multiple times. "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing." Revelation 5:12 (NASB).
"On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers' households, a lamb for each household. . . . Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, then the whole assembly of the congregation is to kill it at twilight. Moreover, they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. . . . For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments--I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague shall befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt." Exodus 12:3, 5-6, 12-13 (NASB).
Each year, the Israelites were instructed to memorialize this event by reenacting it. Each household would kill a lamb to eat, and the blood of that lamb would mark the house in the same way it was done in Egypt in order to symbolize the protection God gave them from the tenth plague.
The Passover lamb protecting the firstborn in each family is an image of Jesus' death on the cross protecting us from the plague of sin. In the same way that the blood of each Passover lamb covered the doorposts of each house, Jesus' blood covers us. According to the book of Luke, Jesus' sacrifice even took place on the same day as the lambs were sacrificed during the annual Passover feast in Israel.
"Then came the first day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. And Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, 'Go and prepare the Passover for us, so that we may eat it.'" Luke 22:7-8 (NASB). This Passover feast that Jesus sent Peter and John to prepare became what the church usually calls the Last Supper. That night, Jesus would wash the feet of His disciples, establish the Eucharist, and then allow Himself to be betrayed, arrested, tried, and crucified. All in order to be our Passover lamb.
Something very important to remember when studying types is that we must be careful not to take the type further than was intended by the Bible. For example, the fact that the serpent was bronze as opposed to gold is irrelevant to the type, and we should not try to make it more important than it is. Every type can run the risk of being stretched farther than it should be. In the same way that all analogies break down at some point, types can only be taken so far before they fall apart.
If you are interested in types, I would suggest you take a look at the article from Michael Vlach quoted above. He includes more information on studying and interpreting types, as well as a short list of types in the Old Testament.
What is your favorite picture of Jesus in the Old Testament?