Through Types and Shadows: Preaching Christ from the Old Testament

Many Christians struggle with the unity of the Scriptures, especially in the issue of Christ in the OT.  Yet, passages such as Colossians 2:16-17 show the reader the connection between the festivals, laws, and rituals of the OT with Christ: “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.”  The apostle Paul helps the believer unlock the key to understanding the OT: through types and shadows, these covenants, laws, festivals, rituals, and prophecies all hearken to their ultimate fulfillment found in Christ. 

The writer of Hebrews alludes to this notion as well.  After explaining the importance of Melchizedek and how Christ is from his priestly line (Hebrews 7), the writer explains that a high priests now exists who is in the true tabernacle in heaven, having offered the proper sacrifice of himself for the remission of sins.  He writes, “They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Hebrews 8:5a).  The “they” refers to the high priest, the tabernacle, the gifts, the sacrifices and promises revealed and implemented under the Old Covenant.  All of these are a copy and shadow of the things in heaven, made manifest here on earth.  The Old Covenant, while flawed (Hebrews 8:7), hearkened forward to a New Covenant, a better covenant, where the laws and promises would be written on the hearts of the believers, and where God would dwell not in the Holy of Holies, but in the temple of one’s heart (Hebrews 8:9-12; cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34). 

While many believers read their Bibles with a sharp demarcation between the OT and the NT, in essence reading the Scriptures ‘horizontally’ (in regards to their viewing of the Book itself), Christians must read the Bible ‘vertically,’ that is, read the Scriptures in seeing Christ all through Scripture from Genesis to Revelation.  The apostle Paul and the writer of Hebrews, among other places in Scripture, encourage believers to see the reason for the “types and shadows” of the rituals and laws in the OT that point the believer to see all of Scripture as a Christian book.

Fred Malone describes covenantal theological interpreters as those who “understand the quotations of the OT prophecies as biblically fulfilled literally in the NT if there is a historical correspondence and a heightened fulfillment.[1]  Whereas dispensationalists require an exact fulfillment of certain prophecies (such as that of the Temple) either in this age or in a millennial age to come, covenantalists see the Temple and sacrifices being fulfilled in Christ rather than in another physical building (which will be discussed below).  Understanding typology correctly in interpreting the Scriptures from OT prophecy to NT fulfillment is critical in understanding the redemptive narrative and in preaching Christ from the OT.

The purpose of this paper is to encourage those who preach from the OT to recognize the fulfillment Christ provided in the types and shadows found in that OT and to preach the OT as a Christian book.  The apostle Paul provides a template by which this issue may be examined.  In Romans 9:4-5, he wrote, “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.  To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever.  Amen.”   Each of these areas serves as specific landmarks of the Old Covenant, but also as windows by which one may look into the fulfillment in the New Covenant in Christ.

The Adoption
When Moses returned to Egypt after his encounter with Yahweh in the burning bush, He instructed Moses to perform all the miracles, then say to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son” (Exodus 4:22).  In Jeremiah 31:9, God tells all who will listen that “I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.”  In these key passages, God reminds the people of Israel that He adopted them “not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8a). 

This relationship serves as a foreshadowing of how the Father would adopt those faithful in the New Covenant.  God the Son would be “born of a woman, born under the Law to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).  God did not redeem us in the New Covenant because of our righteousness but because of His love bestowed on us through the Covenant of Redemption, actualized in the Covenant of Grace imparted here and now.  We are “begotten sons” because we are in Christ, the begotten Son (Psalm 2:7; John 3:16). 

The Glory

Paul continues in that in the Israelites, “Theirs is … the glory.”  The glory of what?  The glory of the divine presence of God manifested only to His people in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple.  As the Israelites erected the Tabernacle, Exodus 40:34 says, “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.”  The presence of the Lord was found in the Ark of the Covenant, which would be carried into battle denoting how God would go before His people(Numbers 14:44; 1 Samuel 4); and if capture, how God would terrorize the enemies (1 Samuel 5:8-12).  In the ark contained the tablets containing the Ten Commandments, with the Book of the Law by its side (Deuteronomy 31).   When the ark was captured by the Philistines, Phinehas’s wife gave birth when she heard of this news and named him “Ichabod,” for “The glory has departed from Israel.”  The glory of God in each of these cases represented the presence of God among His people.

Yet, even with this glory found in the OT, a barrier remained.  In reference to the Exodus 40:31 passage above, the following verses report that Moses nor none of Israel could enter into the Tent of Meeting.  To see the unvarnished, unhindered glory of God would mean death, unless by God’s grace you were allowed to live (Exodus 33:20).  The book of Hebrews brings to memory that “our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29).       

The glory is a type and shadow of the Christ that was to come.  John 1:14-18 says:

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side,he has made him known.

The dwelling among us here on earth of the Word (Christ) is the same type of word in the Greek from where we translate ‘tabernacling.’  The connection between the dwelling/tabernacling and that of seeing His glory hearkens back to the OT connection of the Tabernacle and the glory of God amongst His people.

The Covenants

The Israelites were also given the covenants (9:4).  What is a covenant?  Fred Malone defines a covenant as “a solemn arrangement divinely imposed, which places binding obligations upon the recipients.”[2]  O. Palmer Robertson offers an even more concise definition:  “A covenant is a bond in blood sovereignly administered.”[3]  He continues:  “When God enters into a covenantal relationship with men, he sovereignly institutes a life-and-death bond.  A covenant is a bond in blood, or a bond of life-and-death, sovereignly administered.”[4]  Meredith Kline offers a more detailed definition:

[A] berith (Hebrew word for covenant) is a legal kind of arrangement, a formal disposition of a binding nature. At the heart of a berith is an act of commitment and the customary oath‐form of this commitment reveals the religious nature of the transaction.  The berith arrangement is no mere secular contract but rather belongs to the sacred sphere of divine witness and enforcement. The kind of legal disposition called berith consists then in a divinely sanctioned commitment. In the case of divine—human covenants the divine sanctioning is entailed in God’s participation either as the one who himself makes the commitment or as the divine witness of the human commitment made in his name and presence.[5]

In the context of Romans 9, the two covenants that govern what is known as covenant theology are the Covenant of Redemption (the sovereign work of from the counsels of heaven from all eternity) and the Covenant of Grace (the application of the Covenant of Redemption in here on earth).  These covenants grant the paradigm in which to look at the other covenants.  In fact, the other covenant God established was that back in the Garden of Eden, the Covenant of Works, summed up in the phrase, “Do this and live.”  Yet, the various covenants revealed in Scripture progressively reveal the Covenant of Grace among His people.  These covenants are:

The Covenant of Adam: God promised life to Adam should he obey.  In Genesis 2:15-17, we read:

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.  And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:15-17, emphasis mine). 

Here we see the Covenant of Works: should Adam obey, he will live.  Should he disobey, he will “surely die.”  When Adam and Eve trusted the word of Satan over the command of their Creator, the curse of death fell on them—a curse that still plagues the heart of man to this day. 

The apostle Paul tells us that Christ is the Second Adam, recognizing the typology:  “Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come” (Romans 5:14).  Through the Covenant of Works, Adam brought death into the heart of mankind.  Christ came to complete and fulfill that Covenant of Works for those in Adam whom God chose, and to reverse the curse and bring justification to many (Romans 5:15-21). 

The Noahic Covenant:  Where the earth was destroyed due to sin so that the covenant of redemption mind move forward—sealed with the sign of the rainbow.  When Noah offered the offering after the flood had subsided, the Lord, after smelling the “pleasing aroma… said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.  Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done’” (Genesis 8:21).  Then in Genesis 9, he reinforces and fleshes out the nature of this covenant:  “I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth . . .  I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth” (Genesis 9:11, 13).  This cove

The Abrahamic Covenant.  In Genesis 12:1-3, Abraham would be the one through whom all nations would be blessed.  The seed promised to Abraham was not Isaac, but was a type of Isaac who was a child of promise—the Messiah (Galatians 3:16).  The circumcision was God’s way of carving out a line that would, ultimately, come in Christ.  Baptism therefore is not the fulfillment of circumcision, but divine regeneration (Romans 2:28-29).  The children of Abraham are not Jews, but only those who are born of God and have saving faith in Christ. 

The Mosaic Covenant.   God gave His law to Moses on Mount Sinai as they travelled toward the Promised Land.  The law came as a moral, civil, and ceremonial law to govern the people of Israel as a set-apart society, chosen by God.  This helped deter the influence of the nations that sought and often did influence them in ungodly ways.  Galatians 3:23-25 shows that the law is a guardian and a tutor to show us our sin and bring us to Christ—but the Law as unable to save, only to show the extent of our sin and our need of being clothed in His righteousness rather than counting on ours (Romans 3:1-26).  The Ten Commandments (moral law) still applies and is still binding, while the rituals and ceremonies are types and shadows finding their fulfillment in the substance which is Christ (Colossians 2:16-17). 

The Davidic Covenant.   God promised that there would always be one to sit on this kingly throne (2 Samuel 7:11-16).  Solomon, though he would be the son who would build the temple in David’s stead, would not nor could not serve in this capacity as God intended, for this would be an “eternal throne.”  Christ fulfills this Davidic, kingly line (Psalm 110; Acts 2:29-36).  In fact, the genealogies in Matthew 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38 served to demonstrate how both Joseph and Mary descended from the kingly line of David (along with Abraham).  Thus, in both the biological (in Mary’s case) and adoptive (Joseph’s), God would fulfill His prophecy from 2 Samuel 7:11-16 from all angles. 

The Giving of the Law

As alluded to above, God gave Moses His law as the people of Israel were led by God from Egypt toward their 40-year journey to the Promised Land.    In Deuteronomy 4:9-14, Moses taught God’s people the reason for Him giving the law through His servant: so they would not “forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life” (4:9).  These actions and commandments that Yahweh gave to His people were to be remembered, obeyed, and made know “to your children and your children’s children” (4:9).  God knew the heart of His people and how they were prone to wander.  The law served as a guardian for their hearts as they entered into the Promised Land, seeking to guard them from the influence of the pagan nations they were about to run out. 

The Worship

In this sense, we understand that this worship is that of the Temple worship (that is, the worship of God that took place in the Temple).  God gave Solomon the privilege of building the Temple that served as a witness to the nations (and to the people of Israel) of God’s abiding presence among His chosen people.  God gave Solomon exact details by which to build the Temple, each having a certain area significance in God’s redemptive narrative.  Not everyone could approach God from the same distance.  The Jews could come into the Inner Court, the Gentiles had a court further away, the Women had a court of their own—but only the circumcised, male Jews could approach the closest in order to worship. 

When preaching Christ from the OT, the preacher again may hearken back to John 1:14-18, where the “Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14-15).  Christ is the Cornerstone (Psalm 118:22; cf. 1 Peter 2:7-8), with the apostles and prophets serving as the foundation of the church (Ephesians 2:19-22).  Those who have surrendered to Christ alone for their salvation are the living stones chosen by God, building that spiritual house—kept in line by the cornerstone, Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:4-10).  God is present among His people through Christ living in their Temple which houses the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:16-20), using us to build a spiritual house.  Christ is a fulfillment of the Temple—where the Spirit resides, and where His body, the church, serves as a witness to the surrounding nations of God’s justice and mercy among His people and the world He created. 

The Promises

The apostle Paul next refers to the promises.  To which promises is the apostle Paul referring?  He refers to the promises of the coming Messiah.  The gospel of Matthew and the letter to the Hebrews serve the church well in understanding these promises.  In Matthew, we see over 60 promises in regards to the Messiah fulfilled by Christ’s coming.  In just the first two chapters, the Spirit inspires Matthew to show the fulfillment of Christ being born of a virgin (Matt 1:22-23; Isaiah 7:14), being born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:6; Micah 5:2), being brought back from Egypt after his flight from Herod (Matthew 2:15; Hosea 11:1), and Herod’s infanticide (Matthew 2:18; Jeremiah 31:35).  This sets the table for Matthew’s gospel to the Jews to show that this child that was born in that manger and who grew up among them was a fulfillment of the very Scriptures to which they looked for hope. 

The Christ, Who is God over All, Blessed Forever

As mentioned above when dealing with the Davidic Covenant, one sees clearly from Scripture that from the line of Abraham and David came the Christ.  This Christ is the second person of the Trinity who became a man.  “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11).  Who were his own people?  They were none other than the biological children of Abraham.  John Calvin insightfully notes, “If he honoured the whole human race when he connected himself with it by sharing our nature, much more did he honour the Jews, with whom he desired to have a close bond of affinity.”[6]  Yet, they rejected him.  Why? 

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring (Romans 9:6-8).

The people of Israel, along with everyone else, are not saved by their race—they are saved by God’s grace extended through His sovereign work in Christ.  Isaac came as a result of a promise—and thus he is a type and shadow of Christ, who also came by a plethora of promises as God unfurled His redemptive work.  The NT displays that people are saved by the promise of the New Covenant rather than the national pedigree under the Old.  No wonder the apostle Paul possessed “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” in his heart (Romans 9:2).  His brothers, to whom he belonged in the flesh, believed they were rescued by a way that could never rescue.  

Pastoral Application

In the various Southern Baptist contexts in which I have served over the past twenty years, I am passionate about showing the unity of the Scriptures and how Christ is found in all points of Scripture.  Many of the parishioners in the various churches in which I have served are dispensationalists, even if they do not recognize the term.  For many, the NT is simply a parenthetical work between His work in the Old Covenant and in the seven-year tribulation and millennial age to come.  In this view, the OT and NT are disconnected more than they should be.  The fulfillment of the sacrifices and Temple, for example, are often relegated to the coming millennial age. 

I would borrow a phrase from the late W.A. Criswell (1909-2002) that there is a “scarlet thread through the Bible” that runs from Genesis to Revelation.  Paul’s epistles, especially the book of Galatians, serves the church in showing the unity of the Scriptures and how so many of the people, events, rituals, and laws foreshadowed Christ and His salvific work.[7]  This propels the motivation of the preacher to look back to the OT passages referenced in the NT, as well as look forward from the OT to show how Christ fulfills the law and other rituals and events in the NT.  St. Augustine gives the proper principle, “The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed; the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed.” 

By repeatedly and consistently demonstrating the unity of Scriptures from a covenant theology aspect in my pulpit ministry, and by preaching from all of Scripture as a Christian book—and, as a result, preaching Christ from all of Scripture—the saints will hopefully see the point of all aspects of the OT that, at first glance, seem unimportant to their Christian walk.  Rather than ignoring these areas of Scripture because they do not seem to impact them directly or are seen as ‘old,’ they will begin to see all of Scripture as an unveiling of God’s redemptive narrative coming to full fruition in His time. 

[1] Fred Malone, Baptist of Disciples Alone: A Covenantal Argument for Credobaptism vs. Paedobaptism (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2008), 32.

[2]Ibid., 1.  

[3]O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Co., 1980), 4

[4]Ibid., 4.  

[5]Meredith Kline, Kingdom Prologue (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2006), 1‐2.

[6]John Calvin, The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (Oliver & Boyd, 1540), 195.  Quoted in John Stott, Romans: God’s Good News for the World (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 265.

[7]W.A. Criswell, The Scarlet Thread of Redemption.  Accessed 19 December 2012.  Available at [on-line]; Internet.


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