For everything which was written in the past was written to teach us, so that
through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
The Israelites had been grumbling again. ?Why do we follow this fellow Moses?? ?Who does
he think he is?? ?Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die here in the desert?
?There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!? (Numbers 21:5).
Suddenly, a great number of venomous snakes appeared among the people who
were doing the complaining. Not surprisingly, the people now regretted their lack of faith
and decided that repentance was the path to follow, but what was to be done
about the snakes? Upon God?s instruction, Moses made a replica of a snake and held
it up on a pole. Everyone who was bitten by the snake and looked to the snake
held up on the pole was miraculously healed.
This is a great story in and of itself. There was much for the Jews to learn
from the situation. Many lessons can be gleaned from it about human proclivity
toward rebellion and our amazing tendency to forget the great gifts of God. On
e can also see here a dramatic lesson about God?s willingness to forgive those
who turn to him for help.
That is well and good, but in the New Testament, what happened in the desert
around 1430 BCE becomes an historical prefigure of the saving power of Jesus
Christ. As Jesus himself said, ?Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so
the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have
eternal life.? (John 3:14). When God asked him to make a statue of a snake and hold
it up before the people, Moses must have been tempted to question God. ?You said
idolatry is wrong. You told me to destroy the golden calf. How can you ask me to make
an image of a snake for the people to look at it? Won?t they be tempted to make
this an idol??
When Moses held up the snake, he knew that he was obeying the command of God
so that his people might be saved. What he did not know was that He was acting out
a physical symbol of the Messiah himself. The snake in this story is clearly symbolic
of sin. When people are bitten by the venomous snake known as sin, it is always
fatal. ?For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in
Christ Jesus our Lord.? (Romans 6:23). ?There is no difference, for all have sinned
and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through
the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.? (Romans 3:23,24).
If one continues to read in Romans 3, one discovers that the only antidote for
the venom of sin is to look upon the Messiah, Jesus Christ. He is the one who was
held up on that pole in the wilderness. In this one act of Moses in the wilderness we
have both a symbol of Christ and a foreshadow of his saving grace.
But why, one might ask, was a snake held up? How can a snake, a symbol of sin,
stand for Jesus Christ, the son of God? ?God made him who had no sin to be sin
for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.? (2 Corinthians
5:21). Jesus became sin for us. He took on all our sin, and in so doing, became our
righteousness. He became the antivenom for the venom of sin. What a beautiful picture of the
grace of God and of the saving power of the blood of Jesus!
But here is the point. When Jesus pointed to what Moses had done there in the desert
over fourteen centuries before his ministry on the earth, he was doing more
than simply saying that the snake could serve as a symbol of what can happen
when people look at him. What Jesus was telling us is that God told Moses to hold
up the snake because he foreknew that many centuries later it would stand for
the saving power of Jesus Christ. It is not that Jesus was scanning history to find
interesting events which could serve as examples of his teachings. God caused Moses to
hold up the snake, knowing that more than a millennium later, it would become
a symbol of the saving power of Jesus Christ. The point is that God caused the event
to happen on purpose so that it could serve us who read the New Testament so
that we could see in it a picture of the Messiah. In his sovereign power, God entered
human history to provide a symbol and message to us about his plan to send a
Messiah to save us from our sins.
Let me give an example to show how unique and amazing what God did here truly
is. It is a common human practice to use an historical event from the past as
a symbol of a greater idea. For example, Americans use the heroic acts of the Minutemen
at Lexington and Concord as a symbol of heroism and bravery and the American
spirit of independence from tyrrany. The acts of these patriots serve as a great symbol
of the American spirit. Let us change this scenario. Let us imagine someone wanting to have
a really neat symbol of the American Spirit. Imagine this person saying to himself,
?I know what I will do, I will get in my time machine, go back to the year 1774,
talk to a bunch of those rebels and help them to form a plan so they can serve
as a symbol of the fight for liberty?.? One can see right away that this scenario will
not work. One cannot go back in history to create an ideal situation which one can
later use as a symbol of a concept.
True, but in essence this is what God did, both in history and in his inspired
word. God, knowing that the Son would come as a saving Messiah, asked Moses to hold
up the snake and then miraculously healed the people from the effect of the
snake venom. God knew that the event would be recorded. In fact, God caused it to be
recorded in the Old Testament. Could there be any greater evidence that the Bible is
the inspired word of God? Could there be any greater evidence that God had a plan
all along for people to come to him?
If the story of Moses holding up the snake in the wilderness was the only example,
one could argue that this is all just a fortuitous coincidence. In the previous paragraph,
a rather large claim was made. In fact two claims were made, and these support the
central theme of this book. First, in the snake in the wilderness, we see God?s
hand directing the actual events in the history of his people, Israel. We can
?see God causing his people to act out a play which serves as a symbol to us
of his saving grace in Jesus Christ. Second, it is claimed here that not only did
God cause the events in question to happen, he also caused these same events
to be recorded in the Old Testament. In other words, the prefigures and foreshadows in
Old Testament history provide proof positive that the Bible is the inspired
word of God.
To the skeptic (and I hope we are all skeptics, at least to some extent) the
one example quoted above would not serve as sufficient proof of this claim. It is
the sum of the evidence which makes the case. In this chapter we will look at a
great number of examples of how God has entered history to create a symbol,
type or foreshadow which he would later cause to serve as a lesson to us ?on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.? (1 Corinthians 10:11). The Old Testament
itself and the events recorded in it serve as a foreshadow of what we have in
Before turning to some of these examples, let us consider the Bible, and especially
the Old Testament as history. Amongst the world?s religions, Judaism and Christianity
are unique in that their teachings and theology are immersed in history. The Bible
is a record of a story?a story of God creating a people to whom and through
whom to send the Messiah. The story takes place over thousands of years. Without the story
of God working in history, the New Testament does not make sense. If the history
recorded in the Old Testament is not true, then the hundreds of antitypes in
the New Testament lose much or all of their power to teach.  None of the
other world religions–not Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Confucianism, or B?hai?
find their teachings worked out in history.
Historians often will scan all of human history to find examples of related
events and themes which seem to tell a story about the human condition. In order to do
so, the historian must inductively discover some sort of pattern of human behavior
in the patchwork of recorded history. The student of the Bible has a much easier job.
?The Bible has a theme and a series of closely related events, not because the
historian is searching for a pattern, but because God?s all-powerful hand was
reaching into history to create a story which can teach us about him. ?These things
happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom
the fulfillment of the ages has come.? (1 Corinthians 10:11) God caused these things
to happen, saw that they were recorded in his word, and inspired the New Testament
writers to use them as examples to teach us. Quite a plan!
ADAM AND EVE
Let us start at the beginning. Consider Adam and Eve. Admittedly, this is a
somewhat risky place to start. The Bible is by far the most accurate book of ancient
history, without a rival. Having said this, the first eleven books of Genesis
are essentially pre-history. The historically/archaeologically confirmable material in
the Old Testament begins with the life of Abraham in Genesis chapter twelve. One?
s faith in the reliability of the story of Adam and Eve is based on the very
strong evidence for the reliability of the Old Testament in general.
Having said this, the Old Testament begins with a great example
of a type in Adam and Eve. It is assumed here that the reader is familiar with
this story, but if not, please read Genesis chapter three. When Adam and Eve ?fell?
in Genesis three, in a very real sense they were standing for all of us. Adam
?and Eve are the type. You and I are the antitype. The story of Adam and Eve is the story
of every one of us. Adam and Eve were created to know and have an intimate relationship
with God. God gave them freedom, but he also gave them choices which had consequences. Unf
ortunately, Eve and Adam abused that choice, as did all of us. The result of that
choice was death?not immediate physical death as the first couple had perhaps
been anticipating (the serpent created a lot of confusion here), but death and
separation from God were the ultimate result of their choice to trust their
own wisdom over the loving admonishment of God. Can anyone relate to this scenario? Is this
?not, in a single, simple and beautiful story, the human condition? Thousands, millions
of books, poems, songs, plays and the like have been produced by people to express
the human condition, yet God outdid them all right in the beginning of the Bible
using the simplest of stories.
The great thing about this story is that it really happened, and yet it serves
as an exact representation of every person?s relationship with God. God is teaching
us in this story and is laying the groundwork for the New Testament message
of our need for Jesus Christ right at the beginning. ?Therefore, just as sin entered
the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came
to all men, because all sinned.? (Romans 5:12).
The type and antitype found in Eve and especially in Adam goes further. When God creates
a historical picture/symbol/prefigure/type, he is able to do it in layers and
on many levels.
Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even
over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern
of the one to come.
But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one
man, how much more did God?s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the
one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like
the result of the one man?s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation,
but the gift followed many trespasses, and brought justification. For if, by the trespass
of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those
who receive God?s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness
reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men,
so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings
life to all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were
made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be
made righteous. (Romans 5:12-19)
God uses Adam as a type of Jesus, but in a very special way. They are the same
and yet they are opposites. Notice the emphasized words, ?Adam who was a pattern of the
one to come.? The one to come, in this case, is Jesus Christ. This is one of the deepest
passages of scripture. Entire books could be written on this passage: in fact they have!
?Let us keep it simple. Just as the sin of Adam set a pattern and produced a terrible
result for all who would follow him, so the perfect life and the sacrifice of
Jesus set a pattern and produced a wonderful result for all those who would
turn from the sin of Adam to the righteousness of Jesus Christ. This is deep stuff, but
God caused an event to happen in the distant past which would later serve as
a type of his saving grace in Jesus Christ. In a very real sense, the life of Adam
serves as a living prophecy of the antitype; Jesus Christ.
There is still more prophecy in the story of Adam and Eve. The subject of messianic
prophecy will be reserved for a later chapter in the book but it is hard not
to mention what is almost certainly the first messianic prophecy in the Old
Testament. This is found in Genesis 3:14,15. In this passage, God speaks to the serpant, or
Satan, telling him that because he deceived Eve, ?I will put enmity between
you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head
and you will strike his heel.? This is a prophecy concerning Jesus, the offspring
of the woman, the ?he? in this passage. Satan will do some damage to
the work of God
in Jesus Christ, he will strike the offspring?s heel, but the Messiah will eventually
crush the work of Satan through his willing sacrifice on the cross and through
his resurrection from the dead. The theme of this book is revealed to us again. From
?the very beginning of mankind?s fall, God had a plan to deal with the problem
of sin. Yes, the consequences of Eve and Adam?s sins were terrible, but God had
a plan from the beginning to send a saviour to crush the head of the one through
whom the temptation came, and through whom temptation comes to us.
NOAH AND THE FLOOD
Noah?s flood (which was really God?s flood) is one of the most significant
of the events recorded in the Old Testament. This story is dripping with types which
find their fulfillment in the New Testament. In fact, that is Peter?s point in 2 Peter
For if God? did not spare the ancient world when he
brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness,
and seven others,? if that is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men
from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing
Of course, the story of Noah and his family stands on its own, providing great
lessons to the Jews who read it. However, in addition, when God brought on the
flood in the day of Noah, he was creating a type whose antitype is Judgment
Day. In fact, Peter uses the type (the flood) to explain what the antitype (Judgment
Day) will be like in 2 Peter 3:3-7
First of all, you must understand that in the last days
scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say ?Where
is this ?coming? he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it
has since the beginning of creation.? But they deliberately forget that long ago by God?s
word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these
waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present
heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgement
and destruction of ungodly men.
Every spiritual teaching in the New Testament has some sort of physical foreshadow
in the Old. Judgment Day is no exception.
There is more detail to the foreshadow which is Noah?s flood. There is
a silver lining in the cloud of the flood of Noah. The same silver lining is found
in the New Testament teaching about Judgment Day. In this horrible flood which
cleared the earth of sinful men, a few were saved through the water. As with the
type, so with the antitype. Only a few, namely Noah and his immediate family, were saved
from the flood through their faith and obedience to what God commanded. Similarly, with
the second judgment, only a few will be saved, this time through the water of
baptism. The water of the flood is a symbol of the cleansing which God carries out
for us in baptism.
God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark
was being built. In it, only a few were people, eight in all, were saved through
water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also?not the removal
of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves
you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at
God?s right hand. (1 Peter 3:20-22)
As Jesus was raised from the dead, so Noah and his family were raised above
the waters and saved through their faith and obedience to God. In the story of
Noah we have the horrors of Judgment Day and the glory of salvation in the waters
of baptism. This brings to mind the statement in Romans 15:4, ?For everything that
was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance
and encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.? There is warning and there
is hope in the story of the flood.
ABRAHAM, ISHMAEL AND ISAAC
An entire book could be written just on the subject of the life
of Abraham as a foreshadow and as a type of the fundamental teachings in the
New Testament. Through his faith, Abraham became the father of many nations (Genesis
17:5). He also became the father of all those who through faith, receive the promise
of eternal life in Jesus Christ. God used Abraham as perhaps the most important type
in the Old Testament. Abraham is a type of all those who would be saved by faith under
the New Covenant. Abraham?s antitype is anyone who is saved by the blood of Jesus.
We have been saying that Abraham?s faith was credited
to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised
or before? It was not after but before! And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal
of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is
the father (ie. type) of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order
that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is also the father (type) of
all those who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of
the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. (Romans 4:9-12)
Abraham is the type of those who are saved, not by being born a Jew and are
therefore circumcised physically, but by faith and by being born again into
Christ. Abraham was a living, walking, breathing example and proof that we are justified
by faith. In order to drive his point home, Paul reminds his readers that Abraham
is the type, not only of the Gentiles, but also of the Jews who would accept
Jesus Christ as savior: ?those who not only are circumcised but who also walk
in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had?.
Paul brings his point home in Romans 4:16,17.
He is the father (forefunner, but also type) of us all.
As it is written: ?I have made you a father of many nations.? He is our father
in the sight of God, in whom he believed?the God who gives life to the dead
and calls things that are not as though they were.
When God saw the faith of Abraham, in his mind he also saw us. When God saw Abraham,
willing to leave his life of leisure to wa
nder in the wilderness, believing
the promise of a son, even though his body was as good as dead, and willing
to give up his promised son, in his heart God saw all of those who would in
the future live out what Abraham foreshadowed: the life of faith in God. When God credited Abraham?s
faith as righteousness, he was, by a vicarious foreshadow, doing the same for
There is much more foreshadow to be found in the life of Abraham. Cons
ider the birth of his children. Sarah had been promised a child despite her barrenness
and advanced age. Unfortunately, she wavered in her faith and sent Hagar to lay
with Abraham. ?Go sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her? (Genesis
16:2). This unfaithful union led to the birth of Ishmael. Ishmael is a type of the nation Isra
el and of the Old Covenant. Despite her unfaithfulness, God blessed Sarah with the promised
child, Isaac. This scene is an amazing foreshadow of God?s grace toward us. Isaac serves
?as type of the Church, of the promise of adoption into God?s spiritual family. A
s with Ishmael, the nation of Israel, the Jews, are the people of God through
natural birth. As with Isaac, the disciples of Jesus Christ are the people of God
through miraculous birth?both the miraculous birth of Jesus and the miraculous
rebirth in baptism (more on that later).
It would be fair to say that the Jewish people would not easily be
willing to see themselves as the antitype of Ishmael. This is especially true because
the descendants of Ishmael became their traditional enemies; the Arab people. Th
e Arabs have been the avowed enemies of Israel even to this day. Yet God, in his
wisdom and foreknowledge made Ishmael, the child by natural descent a type of
Israel. Of course, the news for the Jews is not all bad because the promise
of salvation–of spiritual circumcision and adoption into spiritual family line
of Isaac?is available to the Jews as well if they will come to the Messiah,
Paul provides more details about the nature of the foreshadow God
created in Ishmael and Isaac;
Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not
aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by
the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born
in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of
These things may be taken figuratively (as symbols or
foreshadows), for the women represent the two covenants. One covenant is from Mount
?Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is
in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our
mother?.Now you, brothers, like Isaac are children (types) of promise. At that time
the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the
Spirit. It is the same now. But what does the Scripture say? ?Get rid of the slave woman
and her son, for the slave woman?s son will never share in the inheritance with
the free woman?s son.? Therefore, brothers, we are not children (antitypes) of the
slave woman but of the free woman. (Galatians 4:21-31)
After Hagar became pregnant, Sarah was embittered and jealous. She drove Hagar off
into the wilderness. An angel appeared to Hagar and told her to return to submit to Sarah,
saying of Ishmael, ?He will be like a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be
against everyone and everyone?s hand against him, and he will live in hostility
toward all his brothers.? (Genesis 16:12). Could any more accurate prophecy about the nation Israe
l have been spoken? It is deeply ironic that Ishmael became the physical father of
the Arab peoples, yet God made him the type of the nation of Israel.
Thirteen years later, the child of promise, Isaac, was born. Shortly after, in a
fit of jealousy, Sarah said to Abraham, ?get rid of that slave woman and her
son, for that slave woman?s son will never share in the inheritance with my
son Isaac.? (Genesis 21:10). Little did Sarah know when she acted on her jealousy,
that she would be acting out a foreshadow of what would occur over eighteen
centuries later. Forty years after the birth of the church of Christ on the Day of
Pentecost, Jerusalem was destroyed and the Old Covenant sacrificial system ended
forever in AD 70. God had rejected his former child, physical Israel and replaced
?it with spiritual Israel?the New Testament church.
Is there any chance that this is all just a set of chance events? Could the writers
of the New Testament have simply scanned the various stories in the Old Testament
until they found ones appropriate to making their theological points? Again, if there
were only one or two examples of this sort of thing, this might be a reasonable
conclusion, but the weight of evidence is mounting, and we have a very long
way to go!
In 1 Corinthians 10:11 Paul says that ?These things happened to them as examples
and were written down as warnings for us?? Paul is claiming that God caused
the events in the life of Abraham, Isaac and others to happen in a specific
way in order to teach us how to live.