Series in Christology

By John F. Walvoord

Chapter 8

Part 4: The Incarnation of the Son of God

II. Christological Typology (Continued)

Typical Things

It is an essential postulate of theism that creation reveals the Creator. In fact, the material world was evidently designed by God to illustrate spiritual things. Such elements as life and death, light and dark, the sun, moon, and stars—in a word both the macroscopic and the microscopic—speak of corresponding ideas in the spiritual world. It is not strange or unexpected that God should expressly appoint certain things to constitute illustrations of spiritual truths. Where God appoints a thing to reveal a truth, we have a type. The Old Testament is full of things which have a typical meaning. Often there is express Scriptural warrant for such interpretation, but there is a vast field which is left to the insight of the interpreter without mention in the New Testament. If the study is confined to the more obvious types two fields of typology stand out—the sacrifices of the Old Testament and the Tabernacle. Both were designed and revealed by God Himself and were unquestionably intended to be types and illustrations of spiritual truth. In addition to these, there are a few other outstanding typical things in the Old Testament such as the rod of Aaron, the brazen serpent, and the smitten rock.

The Old Testament sacrifices. The sacrifices of the Old Testament are clearly intended to be a typical foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Christ. Almost every aspect of the meaning of the death of Christ is anticipated. Central in the sacrifices is the feature of shed blood, looking forward to the shed blood of Christ. The explanation given in the Old Testament is that the blood was given and shed to make an atonement: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh atonement by reason of the life” (Lev 17:11 A.R.V.). This central truth dominates the typology of the sacrifices.

Among the sacrifices, the offering of a lamb was most common. This was practiced even before the Mosaic law (cf. Gen 4:4; 22:7 ). At the institution of the Passover, the lamb was used by Israel for its observance. Under the Levitical ritual, a lamb was offered morning and evening as a sacrifice and two lambs were offered on the Sabbath. As a general rule the lamb was an acceptable sacrifice for most other offerings. Without exception the lamb was to be without blemish and its blood was shed. The New Testament makes plain that in all these sacrifices the lamb prefigured “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The lamb speaks of the purity of Christ (1 Pet 1:19), of the gentleness and submission of Christ to the will of God (Acts 8:32; 1 Pet 2:21-23) and of substitution—bearing sin which was not His own. In Revelation, Christ is given repeatedly the title, the Lamb.

Other animals were, of course, used and sometimes prescribed. The ox or bullock was used frequently in the burnt offerings (Lev 1:5; Num 7:87, 88; 2 Sam 24:22; 2 Chron 5:6; 7:5 ). In the sin-offering the bullock is again specified as an acceptable offering (Lev 4:3, 14) especially for sins by priests or of the whole congregation. The sacrificed bullock typifies Christ as the one “obedient unto death” and bearing the burdens and sins of others. Another animal frequently used in sacrifices was the goat. Like the lamb it was used before the Mosaic law (Gen 15:9), was permitted for use in the Passover (Exod 12:5). It was used as a burnt offering (Lev 1:10), as a sin offering (Lev 4:24; Num 15:27), and as a peace offering (Num 7:17). A special case is the use of two goats on the day of atonement, one of which was killed and the other allowed to escape as a scapegoat (Lev 16:5-10). In all the instances the use of the goat seems to emphasize the thought of substitution. Even in common English the word goat has come to mean a scapegoat or one bearing blame for others. It anticipates that Christ would become the sin bearer for the sins of the whole world. The live goat of Leviticus 16 illustrates Christ bearing away our sins from before God—His present work as Advocate in contrast to His finished work on the cross. In every instance Christ takes the sinner’s place and fulfills in antitype all that was anticipated in the type. Christ is not only our sin-offering, but our burnt offering—whose righteous obedience is accepted as on our behalf—and as our peace offering, the one in whom and through whom we have peace.

The special offering of the red heifer has its own place in the sacrificial offerings. As described in Numbers 19, the ceremony of its sacrifice and the sprinkling of blood was designed as a means of cleansing from defilement, a clear instance being found in the purification of an unclean person (Num 19:17). The sacrifice speaks of Christ as cleansing the believer from the defilement of sin through His sacrifice.

Other sacrifices only enlarge the typical truth already mentioned. The turtle-dove or pigeon was the offering of the poor, and refers especially to the fact that Christ became poor that we might be rich (2 Cor 8:9). The pigeon was acceptable for burnt offerings (Lev 1:14), sin offerings (Lev 5:7), trespass offerings (Lev 5:7), and for various rites of cleansing (Lev 12:6, 8; 14:22, 30 ; 15:14, 29 ). The usual pattern was to offer one dove as a sin-offering and the other as a burnt offering. Of special interest is the fact that Mary, when offering for her cleansing according to commandment of Leviticus 12:6, 8, brought the offering of the poor (Luke 2:24). Two birds were also used in the ceremony of the cleansing of the leper (Lev 14:4-7) in which one bird is slain and the other dipped in blood and released, somewhat after the pattern of the two goats on the Day of Atonement. In this sacrifice we have again the two aspects of the work of Christ for sinners—His death and His present work.

Taken as a whole the sacrifices point to the one sacrifice of Christ as forever putting away sin. They make the death of Christ essential to God’s plan of salvation and speak of the most profound truths of Biblical revelation.

The Tabernacle. Of all typical things in the Old Testament, undoubtedly the Tabernacle was the most complete typical presentation of spiritual truth. It was expressly designed by God to provide not only a temporary place of worship for the children of Israel in their wanderings but also to prefigure the person and the work of Christ to an extent not provided by any other thing.

In view of the many excellent works on the structure and meaning of the Tabernacle, we need to offer here only a brief résumé of its more important aspects. The Tabernacle itself was surrounded by a linen fence, speaking of the righteousness of Christ and supported and displayed by wooden posts, the wood speaking of the humanity of Christ throughout the Tabernacle. The posts themselves rested on sockets of brass, typical of the righteousness of God, and were fastened together by fillets of silver, the metal of redemption. The fence as a whole shut out those outside both from entrance and from seeing within. It typifies the fact that Christ in His righteous life and sacrificial death excludes all from participation who do not come through the door.

The door of the fence was to the east. It was some thirty feet wide (twenty cubits) and hung on four pillars. The gate was made of white linen which was embroidered with blue, purple, and scarlet, four colors which seem to anticipate the four Gospels. Matthew is the Gospel of the King—purple, Mark of the Servant of Jehovah who came to be obedient unto death—scarlet, Luke the perfect man—white linen, and John, the Gospel of the Son of God come from heaven—blue. There seems to be a planned connection between the door of the court, the door of the Tabernacle, and the door of the Holy of Holies. Frank H. White has commented: “By comparing Ex. xxvi.31, 36 , and xxvii.16 , it will be seen that the ‘Gate of the Court’ was made of the same materials, with exactly the same arrangement of colours as the door of the Tabernacle and the Beautiful Vail, excepting that the latter had cherubic figures worked upon it. The entire dimensions were also the same. The Gate of the Court being twenty cubits by five, or one hundred cubits square, whilst the hangings for the door and the vail were both ten cubits by ten, making also a square of one hundred cubits. Do not these facts indicate that the same truth is prefigured in each instance? There was but one gate to the Court, one door to the Tabernacle, and one vail by which to enter the Holiest of All.”1 The gate clearly refers to Christ as the door of salvation and worship. As Christ Himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).

Two items of furniture stood between the gate of the court and the Tabernacle itself. The first of these was the brazen altar. It was made of wood covered with brass, constructed in a square shape five cubits to each side and three cubits high. It was equipped with staves on each side for the purpose of carrying it and various pots and pans formed a part of the equipment. On this altar the priest offered the various sacrifices. In many respects it was the most used and most prominent item of the Tabernacle. Standing as it did between the gate and the Tabernacle it speaks of the death of Christ as the means of access to God. The brass represents the righteousness of God which required a sacrifice and the wood underneath signifies the humanity of Christ. The righteousness of God was revealed in the incarnate Son of God dying as a sacrifice. The altar was the meeting place of a righteous God and sinful man.

Near the brazen altar was the laver, also made of brass and containing water for the cleansing of the priest in his daily ministrations. The laver clearly speaks of the cleansing of the believer priest. The water used in the laver represents the cleansing provided by the Word of God (cf. Eph 5:26). Apparently there was a place for water at the foot of the laver as well as on the top. In this the priest washed his feet. The central fact taught by the laver is that the priest must have clean hands and feet, representing spiritual purity in service and walk, in order to fulfill the functions of a priest at the altar. Its relation to Christology is stated in Ephesians 5:25-26, “Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word.” The laver, then, anticipates the present work of Christ in the cleansing of the believer by the applied Word of God.

The Tabernacle itself provides a pleroma of typical revelation afforded in no other single thing in the Old Testament. The Tabernacle was constructed in the shape of a parallellogram ten cubits wide and thirty cubits long with the entrance on the narrow side which faced east. It was constructed of wood boards ten cubits long and one and one-half cubits wide set on end in sockets of silver, two to each board. Transverse bars of wood held them together. All the wood of the Tabernacle was covered with gold and was therefore completely hidden from view. The combination of wood and gold speak here as elsewhere of the hypostatic union—the human and divine combined in one person—but viewed from the standpoint of the divine. All is glory in the Tabernacle. The sockets of silver upon which the boards rested refer again to redemption in Christ as providing the basis for all the truth typified in the Tabernacle.

The Tabernacle had four coverings. The outside which was visible was of badger skins (Exod 26:14). These were apparently dark in color, and not particularly attractive, giving no hint of the glories within. This signified that to human sight the Christ was to be ordinary in appearance at least before the cross and, in the words of Isaiah, was to fulfill the prediction, “He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him” (Isa 53:2 A.R.V.; cf. Phil 2:7). Underneath the badger skins was the second layer of covering made of ram skins dyed red. Here was a covering made from a ram which was classified as a clean animal (contra badger). The rams were killed to provide the covering, and everything in the Tabernacle was under the skins of the sacrificed rams. The red color brings out the thought of shed blood specifically. As rams were used in the consecration of priests, it signifies that the blood of Christ has made us holy—in a word, accomplished our sanctification. The believer’s sanctification like the holiness of Christ Himself is often hid from the world by our present humiliation, i.e., the badger skins. The sanctification of the believer is nevertheless a present reality in the sense that all true believers are here and now set apart as holy to God through the sacrifice of Christ.

The third layer of covering was made of curtains of goats’ hair of sufficient dimensions (Exod 26:7-13) to cover the top and also the sides of the Tabernacle. While the dimensions of the two outer coverings are not given, it is clear that the goats’ hair covered everything. No explanation is given of the use of this material, but here again we have reference to an animal of sacrifice, the goat, which is used typically to emphasize substitution. The believer-priest as he ministered in the Tabernacle was completely covered by that which a substitute provided.

The fourth layer invisible from the outside but which could be seen in the Tabernacle from the inside was made of fine linen with cherubims embroidered in blue, purple, and scarlet, speaking of angelic presence and ministry, but more specifically of the glory of Christ which is seen by angels. As the priest looked up, he was in a figure looking into heaven itself. The colors speak of the various perfections of Christ as indicated in the description of the gate of the court. The inner layer of linen curtains may have hung down also on the inner side of the Tabernacle.2 Whether the linen or the gold boards appeared, everything spoke of Christ in the Tabernacle.

The door of the Tabernacle, mentioned before, was embroidered in blue, purple, and scarlet, and made of fine linen, suspended by gold hooks from five pillars of gold-covered wood. Like the inner veil of similar construction which separated the holy place from the holy of holies, the doors speak of Christ as the door to the presence and fellowship of God. In Hebrews 10:20, it is revealed that the veil represents the flesh of Christ—His humanity in its display of the holiness of God. The veil was rent as the body of Christ was rent, and the way is now open to every believer into the holiest of all.

In the holy place were three significant items of furniture: the golden lampstand, the table of showbread, and the altar of incense. The golden lampstand as described in Exodus 25:31-40 was made of pure beaten gold with seven individual lamps burning olive oil. The exact specifications given by God were followed. In its material it spoke of Christ in His divine perfections, represented by pure gold. The fact that the gold was beaten typifies His sufferings even as the Son of God. The number seven has reference to the perfection of all the attributes of Christ. The point of central significance in the lampstand, however, is the fact that it gave light only when supplied with pure olive oil, representing the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Tabernacle, being without windows, was dependent upon the light of the lampstand to reveal the glories within and to permit the priestly functions to be conducted. In type this represents the indispensable ministry of the Holy Spirit in making Christ known. The light required the constant attention of the priests, speaking of human agency in making known the revelation.

The table of showbread stood on the north side of the room opposite the lampstand on the south. It is described in Exodus 25:23-30 as a small table of two cubits long and one cubit wide, a cubit and a half high, made of wood covered with gold. The table in itself representing Christ in His incarnate state—human and divine as typified by wood and gold—was designed to present the work of Christ for Israel. On the table each week the twelve pieces of unleavened bread were placed, identical in size, and made fragrant by frankincense. Each piece represented a tribe of Israel. The weekly renewal spoke of God’s constant provision for them. The bread being unleavened typified the purity of Christ to which Israel was also called. The bread was made of fine wheat flour, ground and sifted, and baked in fire, signifying the sufferings of Christ. Frankincense represented the attractiveness of Christ. On each Sabbath, the priests ate the showbread, anticipating the fact that Christ is the believer’s food.

The altar of incense was placed just before the veil before the holy of holies. Like the table of showbread it was made of wood, covered with gold, smaller in area but higher—one cubit square and two cubits high. On it the priests were to burn the prescribed incense morning and evening. The instructions concerning its construction and use are precise (Exod 30:1-10, 34-38). The incense itself was composed of stacte, onycha, galbanum, and frankincense, each of which apparently had typical meaning. The incense was to be burned by taking a coal off the brazen altar and bringing it to the altar of incense. This meant that the priest had to offer the sacrifice first and come for cleansing to the laver, typifying the fact that true worship requires cleansing by blood and water beforehand. Once a year the altar of incense was cleansed by blood (Exod 30:10).

Without doubt the holy of holies was the most sacred part of the Tabernacle. In it were the ark of the testimony in which were placed the tables of the law, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the golden pot of manna (Exod 25:10-22; Heb 9:3-5). The ark itself was an imposing article of furniture protected by the most solemn instructions for preservation of its holiness. It was a chest two cubits and a half in length, a cubit and a half in breadth, and a cubit and a half in height. Made of wood, it was overlaid with gold, and provided with staves for carrying. On top of the ark of the covenant and serving as a lid was the mercy seat, which was made of a pure slab of gold the same size as the top of the Ark. At the two ends of the mercy seat, cherubims were made of beaten gold with wings stretched over the mercy seat. It was in this sacred spot that God promised Israel He would meet Moses and the high priest. Yearly on the day of atonement the holy of holies was sanctified by the sprinkled blood of the sacrifice. The holy law of God contained in the tables of the law and representing God’s righteousness was made into a mercy seat where the sinner could meet God through the shed blood. The priest coming into the holy of holies typified Christ entering into heaven itself to become the Mediator between God and man. The whole scene in the holy of holies was designed to represent a sinner coming into the presence of a righteous God. Israel was represented by the priest, even as the Christian is represented by Christ Himself. Through Christ every believer has access into the holiest of all—the very presence of God.

Taken as a whole, the Tabernacle speaks of Christ in every part. In it is prefigured the person, sacrifice, intercession, and provision of the Savior for those who trust Him. It is the Gospel in illustration and undoubtedly is more rich in its meaning to the believer of this dispensation than to the Old Testament saint who only dimly understood all the typical representation. The Tabernacle remains an almost exhaustless source of illustration of spiritual things relating to the Son of God.

Other typical things. Among other typical articles in the Old Testament, mention should be made of Aaron’s rod that budded, representing as it does the resurrection of Christ which is not given much space in the Old Testament. The background of the significance of this article is found in Numbers 16, where it is recorded that the children of Israel rebelled against the authority and leadership of Moses and Aaron. This was followed by two judgments, the first in which the earth opened and swallowed up the leaders of the revolt and the second consisting in a plague which destroyed the people who accused Moses and Aaron of killing the leaders of the insurrection (Num 16:42). God then ordered a test to show that Moses and Aaron were chosen of Him (Num 17). Twelve rods, one for each tribe, were laid up in the holy of holies overnight. In the morning the rod of Aaron budded, bloomed and yielded almonds. This signified God’s approval of Aaron, and the rod was placed in the ark of testimony as a reminder (Heb 9:4). The rod of Aaron became by this background a significant type of the resurrection of Christ. Though dead and without life, the rod had come to life and borne fruit. In bearing the testimony of its new life, it authorized the priesthood of Aaron. So Christ in His resurrection not only manifested life but authenticated His person and His work. As Christianity alone has a truly, resurrected Savior, so alone among the twelve rods the rod of Aaron was resurrected.

The brazen serpent of Numbers 21:5-9 bears the testimony of Christ Himself that it is an important type (John 3:14-16). As a result of rebellion of Israel against God and Moses, a plague of fiery serpents was sent among them which resulted in many dying. Upon confession of their sin, God provided for Israel a way of salvation from death. Moses was instructed to make a serpent of brass, set upon a pole, to which if the people bitten by the serpents would look they would be healed. Christ uses this as a striking illustration of His own death on the cross, revealing that just as the serpent lifted up brought life to Israel, so Christ lifted up would bring life to everyone who believed in Him.

The smitten rock of Exodus 17:5-7 constitutes the next type which will be discussed. As in many other instances in the Old Testament, the rock is typical of Christ. Express confirmation of this type is given in 1 Corinthians 10:4. Because of the need for water for Israel, Moses was commanded to smite the rock in Horeb. God promised that water would come out to satisfy their thirst. Moses obeyed and the water gushed forth. It represents the fact that Christ smitten and crucified provided the water of salvation which completely satisfies. As in the case of Israel, so the believer in Christ after the cross receives this gift of God though unworthy and the supply is given freely and abundantly to all who will partake. The water itself speaks of the fullness of ministry of the Holy Spirit which is made possible by the death of Christ. Of interest is the fact that when Moses struck the rock twice in Numbers 20:11 instead of speaking to it, a later incident than that in Exodus, he is severely punished by God for disobedience and unbelief. The rock once smitten need not be smitten again. The death of Christ need not be repeated for abundant life-giving water.

Noah’s ark has represented to the people of God of all ages the work of God in delivering His own from judgment. That the ark of Noah has typical significance can hardly be questioned. It is frequently mentioned in the New Testament in various connections (Matt 24:37-38; Luke 17:26-27; Heb 11:7; 1 Pet 3:20; 2 Pet 2:5). Its historic setting in the deliverance of Noah and his family from the flood which engulfed the world is fraught with much meaning. In general, the ark represents the deliverance of the people of God from the judgment which overtakes the world—an illustration of the truth stated by Peter, “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished” (2 Pet 2:9). The ark was constructed by divine commandment and is a product of divine, not human, wisdom. Like the cross of Christ, the ark was foolishness to Noah’s generation. The ark had only one door and those passing through it were made safe, just as those who come through Christ the door enter into salvation and safety. The ark was constructed with only one window and that apparently in the top or roof of the ark. Those in the ark could only look up, speaking spiritually of faith and dependence upon God. The ark also represented the fact that safety is for those who enter into it. There was perfect safety inside, but no amount of human effort could have saved one outside the ark. Of interest also is the fact that the Hebrew word for pitch כפר (Gen 6:14) is translated atonement elsewhere in the Old Testament and 100 times appears with this or similar meaning—merciful, forgive, reconciliation, purged, cleansed, etc. As Noah and his family were covered by the ark from the judgment of God, so the sinner is protected from judgment for sin if he avail himself of the atonement provided.

In the New Testament application is made of the historic use of the ark with various spiritual meanings. The suddenness of coming judgment is illustrated by the fact that the rain came the very day Noah entered into the ark (Matt 24:38; Luke 17:27). The ark was a monument also of the faith of Noah—”By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith” (Heb 11:7). The relatively few who are saved is referred to in 1 Peter 3:20, in spite of the longsuffering of God in waiting: “Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.” The salvation provided in this instance—salvation by water—is not a proof of baptismal regeneration, as the water never touched Noah or his family. Rather it is an illustration of the fact that the very judgment which condemned and destroyed the world was an act by which Noah was separated from the sins of his generation. As it prefigures the death of Christ, it speaks of the fact that not only are believers redeemed from the guilt of sin but also separated from the present power of sin.

Both from the Old Testament historic setting and the New Testament use of the incident, it is clear that in Noah’s ark and its use we have an illustration of the principles of God’s dealing with the world and with the believer. The deliverance of Noah will have a large-scale repetition in the deliverance of the church before the time of tribulation which will overtake the world and also the preservation of some who believe in that tribulation time. Exceedingly precious to the believer in times of apostasy and approaching judgment is the promise of God that He will deliver.

The field of typical things in the Old Testament is, of course, almost exhaustless. It is not possible here to include them all, but the principal types as presented will serve at least to illustrate this rich area of revelation which has been so greatly neglected in traditional theological treatment of the person and work of Christ. The study is its own apologetic for giving attention to this important subject.

Dallas, Texas

(To be continued in the January-March Number, 1949)



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