Where Do We Find Jesus in the Old Testament?

I have copied a post from Desiring God’s “Images of Divine Things” and posted it below.  This particular post was written by Joe Rigney of Bethlehem Seminary.  It was very helpful for me and I think it has something wise to say regarding the nature of Old Testament revelation and history that stands in contrast to some of what I have heard in some of my classes at seminary.[1]  I think it is always healthy to listen to and chew on mulitiple perspectives.  You can read the article in its original location here.


For me, one of the most exciting elements of Scripture is its use of typology. Put simply, [Typology is] the idea that persons (e.g., Moses), events (e.g., the exodus), and institutions (e.g., the temple) can — in the plan of God — prefigure a later stage in that plan and provide the conceptuality necessary for understanding the divine intent (e.g., the coming of Christ to be the new Moses, to effect the new exodus, and to be the new temple) (Graham Cole, He Who Gives Life, [Wheaton: Crossway, 2007], 289).

I love to read the New Testament and see the ways in which the biblical authors read their Old Testaments in light of Christ. I love that Matthew depicts Jesus as the true Israel, who escapes from a wicked king like Moses did (Matthew 2:13-18; cf. Exodus 1:15-2:10), who passes through water and is declared God’s son like Israel (Matthew 3:13-17; cf. Exodus 14, 4:22-23), and then is led by the Spirit through the wilderness to be tested for forty days (Matthew 4:1-11; cf. Exodus 40:34-38). But unlike Israel who failed the test (Deuteronomy 8:1-3), Jesus succeeds (Matthew 4:3-4), triumphing over temptation and returning to launch the invasion of Canaan (Matthew 4:12-25), a new Joshua ready to remove the seed of the serpent that is polluting his land and his people.

Interpretive Questions Arise

For many evangelicals, such typological interpretation is fraught with danger. A host of questions immediately arises: Are we justified in seeing Christ in the Old Testament only in those places explicitly mentioned by the biblical authors? Or can we imitate apostolic interpretive methods and find Jesus in other places in Scripture?

Jesus says that he’s a greater Solomon (Matthew 12:42), Paul says that the Rock that followed Israel in the wilderness was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4), and the author of Hebrews recognizes Jesus in Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:1-3).

But is Jesus also the greater Joseph, persecuted by his brothers and foreigners, thrown into a pit and a prison, and then emerging to become ruler over all? Is Jesus a greater Elisha, who comes after Elijah (John the Baptist) with a double portion of his predecessor’s spirit?

Edwards Saw a Typological World

Jonathan Edwards certainly believed so. Edwardsbelieved that the entire Old Testament gives us a “typical (or typological) world.” Everything in the Old Testament is typological, from the ceremonies of the law to the history of Israel to the state and circumstances of God’s people throughout Scripture. Edwards believed that it is unreasonable to restrict types to the explicitly interpreted instances in Scripture. “For by Scripture it is plain that innumerable other things are types that are not interpreted in Scripture (all the ordinances of the Law are all shadows of good things to come)…” (“Types”).

He writes, “The Apostle himself teaches us that only so small a thing as the silence of Scripture in not giving an account of Melchizedec’s birth nor death was [typological] (Hebrews 7:3). If so small things in Scripture are [typological], it is rational to suppose that Scripture abounds with types (“Types”).”

How then should we define types? How can we detect them? How can we determine whether something is truly a God-intended type in Scripture? Where are the breaks on this thing? Perhaps Edwards will be of some help to us. . .

Joe Rigney is Assistant Professor of Theology and Christian Worldview at Bethlehem College and Seminary.


[1]In one of my classes at RTS we learned that Biblical typology means the study of types; the study of correspondences between persons, events, and things within the historical framework of God’s special revelation.  The word comes from the Greek word tupto, which means to leave a mark or impression by a thrust or blow.  For example, this word is used in John 20:25 of the marks in Jesus hands made by the nails.  It can also be taken as prefiguration or a pattern.  The prophetic nature of the tupto can be seen in Rom 5:14 where Adam is a tupto of Christ; a “type” of Christ.  Typology is also prophecy, just a different kind.  It’s a direct foretelling of events, but through history, not words; it is less direct; it prefigures by events, persons, and things.  For example, the exodus prefigures Christ’s deliverance of his people from their sins.  Both of these are prophetic; they differ in form but not in essence.  The NT does not distinguish between the two, but acknowledges that both have a prophetic nature.  Typology should be compared with direct verbal prophecy (dvp) which is prophecy through words (a direct foretelling of the future through words like in Amos 9:14-15 – “I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel…says the Lord God” or in Matt. 1:22-23).  Matt. 2:15.  The ideas communicated by direct verbal prophecy and typology are the same but the form is different. 

One point that scholars disagree about especially is how you know if something is typology or not.  What I have been taught at RTS is that the form of typology is strict.  There are 4 essentials: (1) there are general similarities between the pattern and its fulfillment; or general correspondences; be careful, they must be strong correspondences; (2) historicity; both true types, both the type (type) and the antitype (fulfillment – anti, doesn’t mean against, but fulfillment) must be historical; (3) intensification; a heightening from the pattern to the fulfillment; (4) Predictiveness; that in fact this type has been set up by God, that this is true prophecy. 

This view of typology seems pretty solid to me, but what I am beginning to see is that some theological presuppositions regarding the Old Testament and the New Testament can affect how one views typology.  One place this is clear is in regards to the law.  Traditional Reformed theology (which is unreservedly held at RTS) divides the Mosaic Law up into many parts and then attempts to interpret NT statements about the law.  One of the standard moves after the law has been divided up is to argue that the moral (i.e. Decalogue) law remains in tact while the civil and ceremonial aspects of Moses are passed away.   However, as some have pointed out, these divisions are not supportable exegetically.  When Paul says that it is in fact the Old Covenant itself, “written and engraved in stones,” that has passed away these kinds of divisions miss the point.  “It is Moses en toto that he says has gone (2 Cor. 3).  This is because all the law had the same prophetic function, “looking forward to Christ”; the whole of the law was a kind of type, not just one part of it.  (See Tom Wells, and Fred Zaspel, New Covenant Theology: Description, Definition, Defense [Frederick, MD: New Covenant Media, 2002], 151, 156.).


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