For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so
the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
Prefigures of the Messiah
When Jonah spent three days and nights miraculously preserved within a huge
fish; that certainly was one of the most amazing miracles recorded in the Old
Testament. Jonah was a prophet of God whose life taught Israel many lessons about the
nature of God. From Jonah the Jews learned that when God commands one of his prophets
to speak he is very serious and will not take no for an answer. They also learned
that God will go to great lengths to see that his message is preached. God miraculously
?provided a massive storm and a very unusual fish both to give Jonah a strong
message and to preserve his life. One of the great lessons of the book of Jonah
is that God loves the Gentiles as well as the Jews. Surely this was a hard lesson
to swallow, not just for Jonah, but also for the Jewish people as a whole.
The book of Jonah had much to offer to its original audience: the nation of Is
rael. However, with the entrance of Jesus Christ onto the world stage, much of
the hidden message in Jonah came into the light. Jonah was a living prefigure of
the Messiah?Jesus Christ.
Jesus made it clear that he saw Jonah as a prefigure of his own life and ministry.
When Jesus was pressured by the Pharisees into performing a public miracle he
?A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be
given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three
nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and
three nights in the heart of the earth.? (Matthew 12:39,40)
Jonah spent three days and nights interred in a huge fish, after which he was
spit out onto dry ground. Jesus spent three days and nights interred the heart of
the earth. Jonah was preserved for three days and miraculously delivered from his
presumed grave. Jesus was also delivered from death on the third day and miraculously
freed when the angel moved the stone. Coincidence? No, God. Jonah was a prophet?a spokesman
for God. Besides that, his life was a living prophecy?living out a prefigure of
the life and, in this case, the death of the Messiah.
The three days and nights in the belly of the huge fish is not the only aspect
of Jonah?s life and ministry which foreshadowed that of Jesus Christ. Consider his
birth. Jonah was born in Galilee; in Gath-Hepher in the tribal territory of Zebu
lun. This town is very close to Nazareth, where Jesus was raised. One of the criticisms
of Jesus during his ministry was that the Messiah could not possibly come from G
alilee. The Jews of Judea were very prejudiced against their hillbilly brothers up
there in Galilee. ?How can the Christ come from Galilee? Does not the Scripture
say that the Christ will come from David?s family and from Bethlehem, the town
where David lived?? (John 7:41,42). In criticizing Nicodemus, they taunted him; ?Are
you from Galilee, too? Look into it and you will find that a prophet does not come
out of Galilee.? (John 7:52) They forgot about Jonah. In fact, God had prophesied through
Isaiah over seven centuries before;
In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in
the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along
the Jordan?. He will reign on David?s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and
upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time and on forever. (Isaiah
Both Jesus and Jonah are reminders to the Jews that God will be moving his focus
away from Jerusalem.
Another detail in the life of Jonah which stands as a prefigure of the life
of Christ has to do with how he ended up in the belly of that huge fish for
three days in the first place. While on the ship fleeing to Tarshish, a great storm
blew up which threatened to destroy the transport ship on which Jonah had hitched
a ride, with all its occupants. In a scene which prefigured the guards casting lots over
Jesus? clothing, the sailors on the ship cast lots to see which of their number
was responsible for the danger they were in. The lot fell to Jonah. Because of this,
and at Jonah?s suggestion, they threw him overboard. Jonah was condemned by Gentiles
and (in their minds) killed to save the same Gentiles who had condemned him. D
oes anyone see a parallel to Jesus here? ?Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard,
and the raging sea grew calm.? Jonah, like Jesus, calmed God?s anger when he was
sacrificed in order to save the Gentiles caught up in the boat with him. Again
, is this coincidence, or is God creating a miraculous prefigure of the Messiah,
Jesus Christ? Let the reader decide.
Still another foreshadow of Jesus found in Jonah is that he, unlike the other
prophets of Israel, offered repentance and a relationship with God to the Gentiles.
?Is it a coincidence that the prophet who was a prefigure of the Christ is also
the one who broke the taboos of Judaism to bring repentance to Nineveh? Wa
s it Jonah?s idea? Definitely not! When God asked Jonah to go east to Nineveh to prea
ch repentance (and presumably salvation) Jonah fled to Tarshish; the westernmost city
in the known world! Jonah was a reluctant revolutionary. Jesus was not so reluctant.
?For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to
this generation?. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgement with this
generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and
now one greater than Jonah is here.? (Luke 11:30,32).
Again, in this statement, Jesus acknowledges that he is the fulfillment of
the prefigure established in Jonah. In Jonah, God was telling the Jews that his Messiah
would minister repentance and forgiveness to the Gentiles. God had to prepare the hearts
and minds of the Jews for this revolutionary teaching. In case anyone is still holding
out for coincidence here, that person should bear in mind that the people who
recorded this story of God reaching out to the Gentiles were at their core extremely
prejudiced against the Gentiles. The Jews were very resistant to ministering to the
Gentiles, right up through the first generation of the New Testament church. In orde
r to get the apostle Peter to offer salvation to the Gentiles, God had to theologically
hit him on the side of the head (see Acts 10). Despite this ingrained prejudice,
God miraculously got the story of Jonah preaching to the Ninevites into the
Jonah is the first of several examples of messianic prefigures we will be looking
at. Two striking claims about the Old Testament have already been made. First is that
the theme of the entire Old Testament is ?The Messiah is coming.? The second is that
the Old Testament is filled with foreshadowings and prefigures of New Testament
teachings. If both of these are true, then it stands to reason that the Old
should be riddled with prefigures of the coming Messiah. If one scans the Old Testament
looking for characters whose life God shaped into symbolic prefigures of the
life and work of Jesus Christ, one will certainly not be disappointed.
In preparing prefigures of the life and Ministry of Jesus Christ, God left out
very few details. As we will see, God has given us symbolic foreshadows in Old Testament
figures of some of the smallest details of the life of the Messiah who, in God?s
eyes, was ?slain from the creation of the world.? (Revelation 13:8)
In creating a theocracy (religious government) for his people, God gave them
three offices to provide spiritual and political leadership. Israel had prophets, priests
and kings. The prophets were spokesmen for God, providing warnings and encouragements
to keep Israel on the right path. The priests provided some spiritual teaching,
but their primary role was to make intersession for the sins of the people of
God. They were to perform the ritual sacrifices which kept the nation Israel i
n communion with their God. The kings of Israel were to set a spiritual example
to the people. However, their primary role was to lead the government and to protect
the people of God from their enemies.
All three roles are foreshadowing of what we have in the Messiah. God combined the
three roles: prophet, priest and king, in the one man; Jesus Christ. Jesus is for
us prophet, priest and king. Some of those who are foreshadows of Jesus on the Old
Testament were, like Jonah, prophets. Others, as we will see, were priests. Still others were
kings (or judges or governors, depending on the political setting). The amazing thing
is that God was able to combine all three prophetic aspects of ministry to his
people in one unique individual: Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
Adam is unique as a prefigure of the Messiah. Rather than being a copy of Christ, he
is, in a sense, the mirror image of the Messiah. As German theologian Leonard Goppelt
put it, ?Adam and Christ are related to one another as a photographic negative
to its positive print or as a mold to the plastic shaped by it.? What Adam did,
Jesus undid. Yet, even in that, the two are parallel.
Adam was the first born of physical humanity, where Jesus is the firstborn from
the dead (Colossians 1:18). In other words, Jesus is the first to be raised
from the dead for eternal life. Both were the product of a miraculous creation. Where Adam
was the first human to sin (well, technically he was the second), and therefore
brought death to all men, Jesus was the first human to not sin, and therefore
brought release from death. In both cases, the act of a single person had an effect
on all humanity. As Paul put it,
?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 for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man (Adam) the
many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man (Jesus
Christ) the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:18,19).
In fact, Paul states the matter with Adam quite simply. He calls Adam ?the pattern
(prefigure) of the one to come.? (Romans 5:14).
Romans chapters five through seven are pretty deep reading, but the essence
of the message is that what was caused by the sin of Adam could not be undone
by the Law of Moses, so a second Adam?Jesus Christ?had to come to undo the destructive
work of Adam.
The typological relationship relationship between Adam and Jesus is also discussed
by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23;
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who
have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead
comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made
alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those
who belong to him.
In this passage Paul implies that looking for types in the Old Testament to
explain and predict the workings of the New Covenant is the normative mode of
biblical exegesis. In other words, Paul is saying that, given that death came to humanitiy
through one man in the Old Testament, we could have anticipated that resurrection
would have come through the life of one man under the New Covenant.
Certainly Melchizedek is one of the most intriguing and mysterious figures in
the entire Bible. He is also a prefigure of the Messiah. We are introduced to Melchizedek
in Genesis fourteen when he meets up with Abraham:
Then Melchizedek king of Salem (Jerusalem) brought out bread and wine. He was
priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abraham, saying,
?Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Creator of heaven and earth.
And blessed be God Most High,
who delivered your enemies into your hand.?
Then Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. (Genesis 14:18-20).
As already mentioned, Jesus combines in one person prophet, priest and king. Me
lchizedek was both priest and king. Melchizedek was the temporal king of physical Jerusa
lem, while Jesus is the spiritual king of the spiritual Jerusalem. When queried
on the subject, Jesus said to Pontius Pilate, ?My kingdom is not of this world?
and ?You are right in saying I am a king.? (John 18:36,37).
As great as Abraham was, we have in this mysterious character Melchizedek one
greater than Abraham. To quote the relevant passages in Hebrews:
This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning
from the defeat of the kings and blessed him?. First, his name means ?king of
righteousness;? then also ?king of Salem? means ?king of peace.? Without father or
mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days of end of life, like the
Son of God, he remains priest forever.
Just think how great he was; even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of
the plunder! Now the law requires the descendents of Levi who become priests to collect
a tenth from the people?that is their brothers?even though their brothers are
descended from Abraham. This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet
he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. And without
a doubt the lesser person is blessed by the greater. In the one case, the tenth is
collected by men who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be
living. One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through
Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of
his ancestor. (Hebrews 7:1-10)
Melchizedek, figuratively, was like Jesus. He was king of righteousness and he was
king of peace (Isaiah 9:6). He was the king of Salem. Salem is the Hebrew shal
om, which literally means peace. Melchizedek was the prince of peace. Melchizedek, like
Jesus (and unlike the priests descen
ded from Levi), is a priest forever. Apparentl
y, like Enoch (Genesis 5:24), Melchizedek did not die. According to the Hebrew
writer, when Abraham bowed to Melchizedek and paid him a tribute from the war
booty, he was figuratively paying tribute to the spiritual Melchizedek, Jesus
There are many more parallels between Jesus and Melchizedek. The Levites were priests by
birth. By contrast, Jesus, like Melchizedek, was a priest by direct appointment of
God. The Hebrew writer continues:
If perfection could have been gained through the Levitical priesthood?, why
was there still need for another priest to come?one in the order of (prefigured
by) Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? For when there is a change of priesthood,
there must also be a change of law?. And what we have said is even more clear if
another priest like Melchizedek appears, one who has become a priest not on
the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of
an indestructible life. For it is declared:
?You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.?
?The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind:
You are a priest forever.?
Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. (Hebrews
The writer of Hebrews quotes Psalms 110:4, proving that he is not just conveniently
making up the connection between Melchizedek and the Messiah. David had mentioned
the same connection over one thousand years before.
God was prophesying to us, through Melchizedek, that the Messiah, the ultimate
priest of God, would not be a priest by descent?that he would not be a Levite. As
?usual, the foreshadow in the Old Testament is very precise in its representation
of the New Testament reality if prefigures. In Melchizedek, God was telling us before
the Aaronic priesthood was even established, that a greater priesthood would
later replace it, in the order of Melchizedek. God knew and prophesied to us before the
first covenant was even established that he would have to offer a second covenant.
This is pretty deep stuff, but that is what God did in Melchizedek.
By the way, did you notice back in Genesis 14:18, quoted above, what Melchizedek
brought as an offering to bless Abraham? He brought bread and wine. This, too, is a prefigure
of the sacrificial offering of Jesus? body and blood. If the writer of Genesis had
only known how accurate a picture of the Messiah he was creating.
From Melchizedek we learn that the Messiah would be priest and king, that he
would be king of Jerusalem, that he would bring in a priesthood, not by natural
descent, but by divine choice, that the Messiah would offer body and blood,
that he would bring in a New Covenant. What a great picture of Jesus we have in Melchizedek.
As already alluded to, we could mention both Abraham and his son Isaac as types
of the Messiah. Instead we will skip to Joseph. Joseph is one of the clearest messianic prefigures,
acting out the life of Jesus.
Joseph was the eleventh child of Jacob, the son of Isaac. God had changed Jacob?s
name to Israel. Israel literally became the father of the nation Israel.
Jacob became the father the nation of Israel, and Joseph was his favorite son
(Genesis 37:3). Similarly, God is the Father of spiritual Israel, and Jesus is his
one and only son. Joseph tended sheep (Genesis 37:1), while Jesus is the good shepherd
(John 10:14). Joseph was betrayed and sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers
for twenty pieces of silver. Jesus was betrayed and sold by one of his apostles for
thirty pieces of silver.
Joseph was brought to Egypt by God to protect him from the jealousy of his brothers.
?I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed
and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save
lives that God sent me ahead of you.? (Genesis 45:4,5). Similarly, Jesus was taken
into Egypt to protect him from the jealousy of Herod, who would have killed
him (Matthew 2:14,15).
Many other details in the life of Jesus are foreshadowed in the life of Joseph. G
od prophesied through his dreams that Joseph would rule as king over his brothers.
?Do you intend to rule over us? Will you actually rule us?? (Genesis 37:8). In fact,
that is exactly what happened. When God raised up Joseph, his brothers did indeed bow
before him, calling him lord (Genesis 44:16). Similarly, Jesus, though born into a
humble family, was raised up by God to become Messiah and king of the true sons
of Abraham. ?Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS
JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS.? (Matthew 27:37).
Joseph?s brothers conceived a plan to kill him out of jealousy (Genesis 37:17-19).
Similarly, Jesus brother Israelites conceived a plan to kill him. God turned Joseph?s
brother?s plot to kill him into an opportunity to save Israel and his family,
and therefore to save the entire nation Israel. Despite having been sold into
slavery for no fault of his own, God miraculously raised Joseph up from prison
to become the second in command of all Egypt. From this exalted position, Joseph
was able to save his family from a terrible famine which struck the land. ?For two
years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there
will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a
remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.? (Genesis 45:6,7).
?Wow! These prophetic words certainly do ring down the ages. Similarly, God used
the successful attempt by the Jewish leaders to have Jesus executed ?to preserve
for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.?
Notice even more detail here. Joseph was sent into slavery in Egypt, a prefigure
of being ?in sin? in the New Testament, for no fault of his own so that he could
save Israel. Similarly, Paul said of Jesus, ?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
When Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, from their perspective they were
receiving him back from the dead. In fact, Israel had already mourned his dead son
(Genesis 37:34). This is a prefigure of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Even though they
had conceived a plot to kill him and had sold him into slavery, Joseph recognized
that God had used their jealousy to save Israel and forgave his brothers. ?Then
he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept and Benjamin embraced
him, weeping. And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them.? (Genesis 45:14,15). As with
Joseph, so with Jesus. ?Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.? (Luke
To summarize, Joseph, like Jesus, left his position at the right hand of his
father to the lowest position as a slave, but was raised by God to the right
hand of the king. Joseph was savior of physical Israel, while Jesus was savior of
spiritual Israel. The writer(s) of G
enesis had no idea they were recording
an amazing prefigure of the life of Jesus in the story of Joseph.
One of the clearest parallels between the life of Jesus Christ and a figure
in the Old Testament is found in Moses. Of all the partriarchs, Moses is held in
highest regard by the Jews. It is hard for this author to imagine how Jews who read
the story of Moses? ministry to Israel can fail to grasp that his entire life
was a foreshadow of Jesus Christ. In fact, God told Moses that ?I will raise up for
them (Israel) a prophet like you (an antitype of you) from among their broth
ers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command
him. If anyone does not listen to my words, that the prophet speaks in my name,
I myself will call him to account.? (Deuteronomy 18:17-19). God was telling the prophet
Moses that his life was a foreshadow of the great Prophet he would send to
To demonstrate that Moses is a prefigure of Jesus Christ, let us go back to
the beginning of his life. ?Then Pharoah gave this order to all his people: ?Every
boy that is born you must throw into the river, but let every girl live.? ? (Exodus
1:22). It is hard to miss the parallel here to the birth of Jesus. When Herod learned
from the Magi that a king was born in Bethlehem, ?he gave orders to kill all
the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in
accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. (Matthew 3:16). It is striking
to note that in the case of both Herod and Pharaoh, God can even use those who
are hard-hearted enemies of his to fulfill his plan to bless the world. In both cases,
a king?s jealousy for his own power nearly caused the saviour of Israel to be
killed as an infant.
Perhaps one could argue the parallel between the births of the saver of Is
rael (Moses) and the savior of Israel (Jesus) is just a coincidence, but this would
be quite a coincidence! By the time we look at the other parallels between these two men,
coincidence will no longer be a reasonable explanation. Both in the case of baby Moses
and of baby Jesus God protected them from those who sought their life.
It is very interesting how God saved Jesus from his persecutors:
When they (the Magi) had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a
dream. ?Get up,? he said, ?take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. S
tay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill
So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for E
gypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had
said through the prophet: ?Out of Egypt I called my son.? (Matthew 2:13-15)
In this case, Matthew is quoting the prophet Hosea (Hosea 11:1). In this very interesting
prophecy of Hosea, he is both looking back to what God had done to save the
nation of Israel from slavery, and looking forward to what God would do to save
spiritual Israel from slavery to sin. God called his son out of Egypt, both when
Moses led Israel through the Red Sea and when Jesus came out of Egypt after
?the death of Herod. Again we see that God made Moses a prefigure of the Messiah.
The writer of Hebrews certainly saw a parallel between Jesus and Moses. Just as Moses
was the most faithful in all of God?s house on earth (Israel), Jesus was faithful
to the one who appointed him over God?s spiritual house (Hebrews 3:2). As with other
type/antitype relationships, the antitype is greater than the type; ?Jesus has
been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house
has greater honor than the house itself.? (Hebrews 3:3).