When I started my Bible study in December, 2009, I thought we read the Old Testament to: 1) learn about God and the history of Christianity and 2) help us see that God loves and uses people who mess up. I have always loved the stories and the people in these stories! As I began to seriously study these books, God opened my eyes to the ways in which I am like the people the stories tell us about. There are short biographies in my Life Applications Bible, which taught me a lot about them that I didn’t know. At some point in my study I came across this question: When is the first time Jesus appears in the Bible?
Well, what a silly question, I thought! The first time Jesus appears in the Bible is in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John when we read of His birth. I knew there were prophecies about Him somewhere in the Old Testament, but that wasn’t the question. The question was when does He actually make His first appearance? The answer surprised me: Jesus first appears in the Bible in Genesis. I grabbed my Bible to expose this false teaching! But, sure enough, there it was: Genesis 1:26: “Let US make man in OUR image, in OUR likeness….” I never noticed or, most likely, had just skipped over the words “us” and “our” and moved on. As I’ve said before, the Bible speaks volumes in one or two words and we have to really slow down and pay attention to get the full meaning!
I was then directed to look at Genesis 3:15, the first prophecy of Jesus: “I will put enmity between you and the woman…. He will crush your head and you will strike His heel.” I assumed this passage was referring to people; don’t ask me to explain that conclusion. The thought that He was talking about Jesus never occurred to me but, again, I never took the time to study the passage. I just read the words, pretended to know what God was saying or made up something so I could move on. I took simple truths away from the Bible like God loves me, Jesus died for me, we are to love and forgive people, Jesus will come back one day. Those are important truths to understand, but God wants us to mature in our knowledge of Him.
These verses are examples of predictive prophecy or straightforward prophecies like we find in Isaiah, for example. But there is another type of prophecy found throughout the Bible. It is known as typological prophecy and it makes reading the stories kind of fun. Typological prophecy utilizes types (also called shadows) and anti-types. The type/shadow foretells a greater reality (the anti-type, or fulfillment). Here’s an example: the unblemished animal sacrifice is the type/shadow, Jesus is the anti-type/fulfillment. I use the word “type” only because I learned it first as I worked to master the concept, but honestly, shadow is easier to grasp hold of. You can picture the shadow of something coming from around the corner: first you see its shadow then you see the actual thing.
A quick example is the Jewish people, Israel, as a shadow used throughout the Old Testament. They point to today’s church, the body of believers. Israel is the shadow (type), today’s church the fulfillment (anti-type). As we read about God’s people, Israel, in the Old Testament, picture the Jewish people but also keep in mind Christ’s church. For example, in Psalm 44:21 the psalmist says “And Israel,  you are My servant; I have formed you, you are My servant….” The Psalm is directly referring to Israel, but we can also understand that it can be applied to the church today. God formed the nation of Israel to serve Him and He is gathering the church today to serve Him. Jerusalem is frequently used as the shadow of God’s eternal kingdom.
When Abraham took Isaac to sacrifice him in obedience to God I realized that, while it is a story about Abraham’s great faith, it is also a story about a father willing to give his son as a sacrifice. Through my new “Jesus lens” of types and shadows, Abraham willing to sacrifice his son was a shadow of God willing to give His Son, the ultimate sacrifice. When God told Abraham not to kill Isaac and the ram showed up, we see another shadow: God provided Abraham the required sacrifice just as He provides the required sacrifice for us: Jesus.
Let’s look at Noah and the ark as types/shadows and figure out what the anti-types are. The flood was coming because of the people’s great sin. God directed Noah to build the ark as a way to escape the flood. Noah tried to convince people to turn from their sin and back to God. They could have boarded the ark if they had turned from their sinful lives. The flood is the shadow of eternal death, Noah is a shadow of Jesus, the people are a shadow of non-believers, and the ark a shadow of the cross. See it? It becomes a challenge to see shadows and fulfillments throughout the Old Testament!
How about Jonah in the belly of the big fish? The type/shadow: God sent Jonah to Nineveh to warn the people to turn from their sin. After three days inside a big fish God caused the big fish to spit Jonah out. Jonah went back to Nineveh, the people repented and were spared God’s judgment. The anti-type: Jesus came to warn us about our sin. He died and was resurrected after three days (death “spit” Him out three days later). That one may be a little obvious but before learning about types/shadows I would simply read the story and rejoice at Jonah’s survival and Nineveh’s change, never seeing Jesus in the story. We’ve added a whole new layer of understanding to our Bible reading.
Let’s try Ruth and Boaz. Ruth was trying to survive in a world that didn’t provide much for widows. But Ruth, following the direction from Naomi, her mother-in-law (also a widow), submitted herself to a kind man who rescued them. We (Ruth) must submit our lives to Jesus (Boaz) and He will bless us, although not always in worldly ways as we see Ruth experiencing in this story. Another interesting aspect of Ruth and Boaz as shadows: Ruth was not Jewish yet Boaz accepted her. Gentiles are the anti-type to Ruth’s shadow; Boaz shadows God extending His grace and mercy to the Gentiles. That one wasn’t so obvious, I struggled with it!
One of the more amazing shadows in the Old Testament is the system of sacrifice and the Ark of the Covenant and the Temple. These are actually types/shadows of saved believers. God first dwelled in the Ark of the Covenant then in the Temple in Jerusalem. At each, He required sacrifices of unblemished animals as payment for sin. The Ark, Temple and perfect animal sacrifices are all shadows. The anti-types are the believers as we are now the dwelling place of God and, again, Jesus is the ultimate unblemished sacrifice. God no longer needs a building or vessel in which to dwell. He dwells in each one of His believers through the Holy Spirit when we accept Jesus.
A couple of years ago I went to a Bible study about developing spiritual disciplines. One of the disciplines was to find a plan for reading through the entire Bible and start doing it. Several people were fighting the “discipline” the study was meant to teach them and mentioned that they had never read the entire Old Testament and didn’t feel there was a real need to read ALL of it. I figured they were talking about some of the tougher parts to read and I could understand their thinking if they weren’t aware of the concept of types and shadows. As we begin seeing the shadows, we see that God has been working out His plans since the beginning of time. They reinforce my knowledge that God is in control and the world is progressing towards an end He has planned. They also compound how amazing the Bible is and confirm it is God’s own words. Even those Levitical laws that I struggle to read illustrate God’s requirement that His people be set apart from the world, to live in ways so others will see there is something different about us.
Types/shadows in the New Testament point to the ultimate anti-type – God’s kingdom on earth when Jesus returns. Today’s church is the type/shadow. We can get a taste of what the new world will be like when we walk closely with God and enjoy fellowship with other sincere, committed believers, but it is nowhere close to what the new world will be like – our Christian life here is a mere shadow of what is to come.
The entire Bible paints a big picture of God’s plan for this world. Looking back at the Old Testament, we can see that the world is not a hodge-podge of events determined by the decisions of human beings. We can see that our world continues to progress in a fashion ordered by God. He continuously works toward the fulfillment of His plan and we can anticipate what is to be by reading about what was and experiencing what is. We need only take time to understand what He is trying to show us.