Seeing Christ in Old Testament Types

Recently the faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia released a book entitled Seeing Christ in All of Scripture. The book’s intent is to help people understand the beautiful, Christ-centered structure of the Bible—certainly something to be commended for.

Recognizing this “Christ-centered structure,” though, is often a challenge for us when it comes to the Old Testament. How do we see Christ there in his saving power and grace? One way is through typology. A few years ago we sat down with Dr. Matthew Patton in an episode of Christ the Center on this topic. Dr. Patton elaborated on the presuppositions and rationale for typology and then employed King Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24–25) as a fascinating example of a type of Christ. We’ll look to summarize some of what he had to say below, but before we get there it might be helpful to first define “typology.”

What is Typology?

In his helpful book on this topic, The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament, Edmund Clowney has this to say about “typology”:

… [T]he Old Testament gives us types that foreshadow the New Testament fulfillment [i.e., the antitype]. A type is a form of analogy that is distinctive to the Bible. Like all analogies, a type combines identity and difference. David and Christ were both given kingly power and rule. In spite of the vast differences between David’s royalty and Christ’s, there are points of formal identity that make the comparison meaningful.

Yet it is just this degree of difference that makes biblical types distinctive. The promises of God in the Bible do not offer a return to a golden age of the past. David’s Son to come is not simply another David. Rather, He is so much greater that David can speak of Him as Lord (Ps. 110:1).[1]

In more technical terms, typology relates “the past to the present in terms of a historical correspondence and escalation in which the divinely ordered prefigurement finds a complement in the subsequent and greater event.”[2] Types, then, have to do with persons (e.g., Moses and David), institutions (e.g., tabernacle and sacrificial system) or events (e.g., the flood and the Exodus).

What is Typology Presupposing?

In order to make these typological connections, we presuppose something about the nature and authorship of Scripture. The Scriptures are divinely inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16), which means they have a fundamental unity with God as their author. For this reason the entire canon of Scripture is so crucial for interpretation. Dr. Patton rightly states, “It’s a whole canon pursuit to understand any individual text.”

Does a Type have to be Explicitly Stated in the New Testament to be Valid?

Dr. Patton answers this question, No. And he does so for two reasons.

First, we need to ask where are we getting our method for understanding the Scriptures, if not from the Scriptures themselves? If we want to understand how to read the Old Testament then we need to look to the method of the New Testament authors. Dr. Clowney once wisely remarked, “The New Testament is the answers in the back of the book to the odd number problems.” By using its method, then, we can answer the even number problems in the same way.

Second, Dr. Patton makes the point that it’s not eisegesis (reading something into the text) to read the New Testament into the Old as though it were something foreign that you were reading back into it. Since the New and the Old Testament have fundamentally the same author, it’s not an intrusion to bring the New back into the Old or to have the New shed light on the Old.

Geerhardus Vos would agree with this conclusion:

The mere fact that no writer in the New Testament refers to a certain trait as typical, affords no proof of its lacking typical significance. Types in this respect stand on a line with prophecies. The New Testament in numerous cases calls our attention to the fulfillment of certain prophecies, sometimes of such a nature that perhaps we might not have discerned them to be prophecies. And yet we are not restrained by this from searching the field of prophecy and looking in the New Testament for other cases of fulfillment. … The instances of typology vouched for by the New Testament writers have nothing peculiar to themselves. To recognize only them would lead to serious incompleteness and incoherency in the result.[3]

King Jehoiachin as a Type of Christ

Jehoiachin reigned only three months in Jerusalem before he was carried away in exile to Babylon (2 Kings 24:6ff). He didn’t put up any resistance, but simply consigned himself to Old Testament “hell,” that is, exile. According to Jeremiah, he goes bearing a curse over him. In the next and final chapter of 1–2 Kings, Jehoiachin reappears as one who is graciously dealt with by the king of Babylon. He’s released from prison, given new garments to wear and for the remainder of his life dines at the king’s table—a partial restoration has taken place (2 Kings 25:27–30).

What is fascinating about him though is that each of the major prophets of his day say to Israel, “If you want to know the future of the people of God, then you need to look to Jehoiachin.” In Ezekiel 17 a sprig is taken from the top of a cedar—a symbol of Jehoiachin—which God brings to Mt. Zion where it grows into this noble cedar. So as far as Ezekiel is concerned the future of the Davidic line is through this cryptic figure, Jehoiachin. The paradox that this exiled king with a curse looming over him would be the future is at the heart of the prophet’s message. Dr. Patton says, “Only once you have gone through judgment can you become an heir of restoration.” This too is at the heart of Jeremiah’s message. In fact, Jeremiah has no good words to speak to Israel until after they have been exiled. Right after Jehoiachin is exiled, Jeremiah 24 is penned which speaks of the good figs, which symbolize those who have gone through exile and yet have a future because God will graciously restore them.

We then come to the New Testament and the rhetorical words of Christ himself, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:25–26). Of course it was! And one place you could’ve gone to learn this was Jehoiachin. He first undergoes the punishment of the curse of the covenant (exile) and then goes on to become the future as a type of Christ. This redemptive-historical pattern (especially as it is lived out in a kingly sense) points forward to Jesus who must go to the cross and suffer the curse first. For this reason Peter’s rebuke—”this shall never happen to you” (Matt. 16:22)—is satanic. For Christ not to go would rip apart the very fabric of redemptive-history and the subsequent restoration and accompanying blessings would remain locked and inaccessible. No other king in Israel’s history so clearly shows this pattern of “suffering unto glory” or “judgment unto restoration” like Jehoiachin, a type of Christ.

[1] Edmund Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament, 14–15.

[2] Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, gen. ed. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, 823.

[3] Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology, 146.

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Camden Bucey

3 years ago

Excellent post Dan. This is such an important topic, and I only hope that more of the Christian world will embrace the riches these biblical theologians are sharing.

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