Christological Typology in Genesis

INTRODUCTION

Typology

“Typology is the dominant and characteristic method of interpretation for the New Testament use of the Old Testament.”[1] When the New Testament authors sought the Scriptures for wisdom and insight, they primarily viewed them through the hermeneutical lens of typology, meaning that they viewed the Old Testament characters, history, and events as being typical of a future event that was to occur. For example, in 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, Paul likens the desert wanderings of the Israelites as typological of the Christian life, saying that these events were recorded in Scripture to serve as an example for us, that we would not pursue evil like they did. And even more blatantly, the author of Hebrews repeatedly refers to several aspects of the Psalms, the Mosaic Law, the temple, the sacrifices, etc., of the Old Testament to show that Christ is the greater fulfilment of what these elements pointed to (Hebrews 1:8-9; 2:2-3; 7:11-28; 8:1-13; 11:17-19). Put simply, typology is “the interpretation of Old Testament events, persons, and ceremonies as signs which prefigured Christ’s fulfilment and new covenant with the apostolic church.”[2]

Typology in the Old Testament is everywhere and it is particularly abundant in the book of Genesis. In Genesis, we are introduced to several major typological subjects: Hagar and Sarah as types of two different covenants (Galatians 4:21-31), the promised land as a type of heaven and our eternal rest (Hebrews 11:9-10; 13:14), etc. And this book is especially ripe with Christological typology. This is to be expected, given that the Lord Jesus himself explained in several places that the entire Old Testament was written to testify of Himself and His saving work on our behalf.

The Central Theme of the Old Testament

After his resurrection, Christ confronted two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus and rebuked them for their despair over his crucifixion: “’O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-27). These disciples of Christ should have known what was to happen to him because per Jesus, “Moses and all the Prophets”, that is, the entire Old Testament, spoke of these things. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees in the same way. The Pharisees claimed to be experts of the Torah and considered themselves devoted adherents to the Mosaic Law, but Christ spoke against their self-righteousness, saying, “if you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me” (John 5:46). Additionally, Jesus summarized the entire substance of his teaching to his disciples in Luke 24:44-48:

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

Not even taking into consideration the testimony of Paul (Acts 26:22-23), Peter (1 Peter 1:10-11), and the author of Hebrews (Hebrews 8:4-6), it is clear that Christ and his death, burial, and resurrection are the subjects to which the entire Old Testament points, alludes, and prepares for. Christ’s incarnation and crucifixion are the central focus points that the Old Testament was designed by God to hone in on. Dr. Iain M. Duguid, Professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, agrees:

  According to Jesus and the apostles, then, when you interpret the Old Testament correctly, you find that its focus is not primarily stories about moral improvement, calls for social action, or visions concerning end-times events. Rather, the central message of the Old Testament is Jesus: specifically, the sufferings of Christ and the glories that follow—both the glorious resurrection of Christ and the glorious inheritance that he has won for all of his people.[3]

Considering the New Testament teaching on this subject, this paper will attempt to view certain people and events in the book of Genesis through this interpretive lens: that all of Genesis is meant to point to the person and work of Christ. The goal is to better understand how Christ’s person and his work was foreshadowed in the book of Genesis and then show how this foreshadowing was fulfilled as recorded in the New Testament.

THE PERSON OF CHRIST PROMISED

The Protoevangelium

There is a promise of the coming Messiah found very early in the biblical narrative. In the familiar story of the fall, Adam and the woman (she hadn’t been named by Adam yet) disobeyed God’s command not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, choosing instead to put their trust in the serpent that deceived them rather than God. God proceeds to pronounce curses upon the man, that he would toil in his labor, and the woman, that she would suffer in childbirth and be subject to her husband. Then God turns to the serpent, curses him to eat the dust of the ground[4] and to be at constant battle with mankind, and mankind ultimately rising as the victor, saying “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). Here we have what theologians call the “protoevangelium”, or “the first gospel.” God promises that an offspring from the woman will come and bruise the head of the serpent, putting an end to the enmity between each of their offspring. “This gracious promise becomes an organizing theme for the rest of Scripture and the rest of human history, as every character and event find their place in relation to the great battle that now unfolds between the conquering Seed of the woman and the resistance of Satan.”[5] Adam was told by God that if he ate of the tree, then he would surely die (Genesis 2:16-17). Adam ate, and God administered grace instead of judgment, even going so far as to promise a redeemer for Adam, his wife, and their offspring. An evidence that Adam believed God’s promise is that after this Messianic promise, Adam names his wife Eve, “the mother of all living” (Genesis 3:20), expressing his confidence that God would keep mankind alive until the Deliverer would come.[6]

Christ as the Promised Offspring of the Protoevangelium

That Christ is the fulfillment of this prophecy is most clearly seen in the twelfth chapter of Revelation. The woman has given birth to a child that “is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron,” (v. 5), namely Jesus. The child is born and is then caught up to heaven (v. 4-5), where soon after Satan is thrown out (i.e. his head is crushed [v. 7-9]). This causes a celebration in heaven because the enemy has been overcome by Christ, being conquered by the blood of the Lamb and the testimony of all those who trust in Him (v. 10-12). Another support for Christ being the fulfilment of the promised offspring of Adam is that John explains that Christ came to “destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8), and Paul clarifies that this happened at the cross of Jesus: “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15). Since the fall, mankind has suffered spiritual death, struggled in war against Satan, and engaged in rebellion against God—we need to be healed, saved, and ransomed. But amidst the chaos of the fall, God promised a Remedy, a Rescuer, a Redeemer. From the very beginning, Christ was promised.

THE WORK OF CHRIST FORESHADOWED

God’s Covenant with Abraham

Genesis 15 contains the covenant that God made with Abraham and is a fascinating study. God has previously told Abraham that he would be the father of a nation and that nation would bless the world (Genesis 12:2-3). Abraham complains to God that he has no child of his own to receive his estate and a servant of his is his only heir (Genesis 15:2-3). God then assures Abraham that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky (v. 4-5). Abraham asks God how he can be sure that such a promise will come to pass (v. 8), and then God initiates a ritual with Abraham:

He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.” (Genesis 15:9-21)

This ritual is a strange one, but it is explained in Jeremiah 34:18-20:

 And the men who transgressed my covenant and did not keep the terms of the covenant that they made before me, I will make them like the calf that they cut in two and passed between its parts— the officials of Judah, the officials of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, the priests, and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf. And I will give them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their lives. Their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth.

So, the intention of the ritual is to act as a sort of self-imprecating oath between the parties. In essence, each party was making a declaration of “may I become like these animals if I break my word.”[7]

Unpacking the Meaning of the Covenant Ritual

But notice that in this ritual it was not Abraham and God who passed through the severed animals. Abraham fell into a deep sleep and it was “a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch [that] passed between the pieces.” Several times in Scripture God’s presence is linked with the elements of smoke and fire. God appeared to Moses as “a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush” (Exodus 3:2). When God led the Israelites through the wilderness, He did so by “going before them by day in a pillar of smoke to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light” (Exodus 13:21). And when the Israelites stood at the foot of the mountain to meet God “Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly” (Exodus 19:18). Even though God made the covenant with Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 15:18), it was not God and Abraham that passed through the animals, it was God alone. God made a promise to Abraham, and when Abraham asked for assurance of that promise, God ratified his commitment to him with a covenant that he made to himself (Galatians 3:17; cf. Hebrews 6:17-18). God was telling Abraham that not only was he going to fulfill his promise to him, but even if Abraham and his descendants didn’t uphold their end of the deal to be a blessing to all the nations, God would take upon himself the punishment due a covenant breaker. “Yahweh took on himself a self-maledictory oath as he himself passed between the pieces of the divided birds, calling on himself the curses of the covenant should he prove unfaithful to his promises, effectively guaranteeing to Abraham his faithfulness to his covenantal word.”[8]

Christ as the Curse-Bearer

The typological weight of this ancient event is apparent in numerous places. God took upon himself the curse of the covenant if that covenant was ever broken by either himself or Abraham and his offspring. We as the descendants of Abraham have utterly failed at upholding the conditions of our agreement with the Lord. and Paul says very plainly that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). Remember that the effect of breaking the covenant was a dissolving of fellowship between the two parties (Jeremiah 34:18-20), and as part of Christ’s curse bearing, “Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matthew 27:46). God told Abraham that he was Abraham’s shield (Genesis 15:1), and God shielded Abraham from his own wrath by pouring it out on his son. At the cross, Christ took upon himself the punishment that was due to Israel for breaking their covenant with God. As early as Genesis 15, the penal substitutionary atoning work of Christ was foreshadowed by God.

The Ancient Gospel

But more clearly, Paul directly says that through this whole event, “the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying ‘in you shall all the nations be blessed” (Galatians 3:8). Paul draws attention back to the original promise that God made to Abraham in Genesis 12 and says that through this promise the gospel was preached to Abraham. It was this promise that God ratified to Abraham with the covenant ritual in Genesis 15. In short, the Gospel message is that even though we are not perfect like God demands, Christ has taken the punishment for our imperfection upon himself and those that believe in him by faith will be saved and brought into the family of God. Through the events that unfolded in Genesis 12-15, Abraham could see that God required perfection (Genesis 12:1; cf. 17:1), and that His promise was conditional upon his obedience, but the penalty for his disobedience would be taken by God himself (Genesis 15:7-21). With these conditions in place, Abraham could “believe God and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). Note that God’s declaration of Abraham’s righteousness through his faith took place before the covenant of circumcision that was instituted in Genesis 17. This uncovers another layer of the Gospel for us in that 1) Abraham’s righteousness was completely devoid of his obedience to the “work” of circumcision, showing that his salvation was by faith alone, and 2) Abraham’s obedience to God in circumcision was a result of the faith that he had in God, not a cause of it, which also affirms that our works are the evidence of our faith (James 2:14-26; Hebrews 11:19). The Gospel was certainly preached to Abraham all those years ago, and salvation through faith alone, by grace alone, and in Christ alone was God’s plan from the start.

                                                                                           

CONCLUSION

The book of Genesis is a treasure trove of typological references to Christ. This short treatment would not allow space or time to discuss the Christological typology around Melchizedek (Genesis 14; Hebrews 7), Abraham’s offering of Isaac (Genesis 22; Hebrews 11:19), and Christ as the second Adam (Romans 5:14). “All of these things were a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Colossians 2:17). But we can be assured from what we’ve seen that the person and work of Christ were intentionally pointed to and prefigured by God in the redemptive history he ordained and recorded for us in the Old Testament. The assuredness of God’s faithfulness concerning the work of his son compels us to trust Him in all things, knowing that God never intended to leave us in our sin or forsake us to hell. Every good intention of God’s heart towards his people has found its fullest expression in the person of Christ, for indeed “all the promises of God find their ‘yes’ in Him” (2 Corinthians 1:20).

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

David L. Baker, “Typology and the Christian Use of the Old Testament”, SJT 29 (April 1976): 141.

Donna M. Campbell, “Puritan Typology”, Literary Movements, Department of English, Washington State University. July 4, 2013. Web. Accessed on 12/5/2016. <http://public.wsu.edu/~campbelld/amlit/typology.htm>

Iain M. Duguid, Is Jesus in the Old Testament? (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Seminary Press, 2013), 11.

Iain M. Duguid, The NIV Zondervan Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015), 1535-1536.

John Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013), 66.

Robert Letham, The Work of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 48.

Willem VanGemeren, The ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 9.

ENDNOTES

[1]David L. Baker, “Typology and the Christian Use of the Old Testament”, SJT 29 (April 1976): 141.

[2]Donna M. Campbell, “Puritan Typology”, Literary Movements, Department of English, Washington State University. July 4, 2013. Web. Accessed on 12/5/2016. <http://public.wsu.edu/~campbelld/amlit/typology.htm>

[3]Iain M. Duguid, Is Jesus in the Old Testament? (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Seminary Press, 2013), 11.

[4]A metaphor for humiliation. See Micah 7:16-17.

[5]Willem VanGemeren, The ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 9.

[6]John Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013), 66.

[7]Iain M. Duguid, The NIV Zondervan Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015), 1535-1536.

[8]Robert Letham, The Work of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 48.

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