Christ the Meaning of all Scripture, Life and History (Part 1)
Chapter 3 — Christ, the Meaning of Old Testament History
The recurring rhythm of Old Testament history is perfected in the Christ event. Jesus sums up and completes that history. In the light of His death and resurrection the Old Testament becomes clear. The great acts in Old Testament history are seen as a typology of Jesus Christ.
Typology is not allegory. The Old Testament events were real events. They had historical significance for their time. What is said about them may be understood by grammatical-historical investigation. But a divine hand had arranged the pattern in the events for the sake of Jesus Christ.
We should be careful not to push typology to fanciful extremes. But we are on solid ground when we follow where the New Testament leads us. In their witness to Jesus as the promised Messiah, the apostles generally do not follow a proof-text method. They present the account of Jesus' life, death and resurrection so that its correspondence with Old Testament history becomes apparent to anyone acquainted with that history. We must immerse ourselves in the Old Testament if we are to grasp the force of what the apostles say about Christ.
Since Creation and the Exodus are the two great events of the Old Testament, we will see how they are recapitulated in the Christ event.
Christ, the Recapitulation of Creation
The idea that God would recapitulate Creation is not novel to the New Testament writers. This was the hope expressed by Old Testament prophets. Isaiah declared that God would act to create a new heaven and a new earth (Isa. 65:17). Daniel 7 recapitulates Genesis 1:
1. The four winds blow upon the sea (Dan. 7:2).
2. Four beasts come up out of the sea (Dan. 7:3).
3. The Son of Man stands before God (Dan. 7:13).
4. This Man is given dominion over the beasts and over the whole created order (Dan. 7:14, 27).
The rabbis believed that the "Son of Man" in Daniel's vision represented the coming Messiah or Deliverer. The apostles show that this expectation is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The New Testament recalls the Creation in a number of remarkable ways. With words clearly reminiscent of Genesis 1:1, John begins his Gospel, "In the beginning was the Word" (John 1:1). The same Word which spoke the world into existence became incarnate in Jesus Christ (John 1:1-14).
The angel announced to Mary, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35). This corresponds with Genesis 1:2: "The Spirit of God was moving [hovering protectingly] over the face of the waters." Jesus is God's new creation (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10). The humanity of Christ is the new creation of the Holy Spirit. This Man is also the new Adam of God's new creation (Rom. 5:12-19; 1 Cor. 15:45). Paul says that the first Adam was a figure (Greek, tupos) of Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:14). Commenting on this, Irenaeus, the early church father, said:
Therefore Adam was said by Paul to be tupos tou mellontos [the type of Him to come], because the Word, who made all things, had formed beforehand for himself the Economy of mankind which would center in the Son of God; God predestinating the natural man to be saved by the spiritual man.1
As the new Adam, Christ is the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3; cf. Gen. 1:27). He is the ideal man, the one true specimen of humanity who is all God designed man to be. He is the man in whom God is well pleased (Matt. 3:17). Man is only man in relationship to God, to others and to the world. Jesus is presented in the New Testament as the ideal man because He is in ideal relationship to God (in perfect subjection), to others (in loving service—Mark 10:45; Acts 10:38; Phil. 2:5-7) and to the world (in exercising dominion—Heb. 2:6-9).
We see the dominion Adam had "over the fish of the sea . . . and over every living thing" (Gen. 1:28) being exercised by the new Adam. The fishermen who became His disciples recognized that Jesus had authority over the fish of the sea. At His command they caught so many fish that neither their nets nor their boats could hold them—and this after the time for successful fishing had vanished with the night. In obedience to the word of Jesus, Peter took up the coin from the fish's mouth. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on an unbroken colt, yet it was perfectly submissive to Him. The angry waters were subject to Him. (In the light of the Old Testament waters, how full of Messianic significance is Christ's act of rebuking the sea!) As the true Adam, Christ is Lord—Lord over all creation, disease, demons and even death itself. He is the Danielic Son of Man, who receives all authority and dominion from the Father (Dan. 7:13, 14; Matt. 28:18).
Christ is also the new Adam, put to death so that from His pierced side the church is brought into existence. Thus Paul likens the church to Eve (2 Cor. 11:2, 3), who was taken from Adam's side.
In summary, we may say Jesus Christ recapitulates Creation and Adam. He becomes all Adam was meant to be. As the antitypical Adam, He transcends Adam the first. He passes over the ground of Adam. He not only does what Adam should have done as the covenantal partner. He undoes the results of Adam's breaking the covenant. Because of Adam's sin the earth was cursed to bring forth thorns, and mankind was cursed to death (Gen. 3:18, 19). But the new Head of the race bears the crown of thorns and tastes death for every man. Adam the first left us a legacy of condemnation and death. Adam the second leaves us a legacy of justification and life eternal (Rom. 5:17-19).
Christ, the Recapitulation of the Exodus
Israel not only commemorated the Exodus. They looked forward to its recapitulation at the end of the age. The Old Testament is an unfinished book because the real exodus was still to come. The Old Testament is a promise. It awaits fulfillment.
Moses had said that God would raise up a prophet like himself (Deut. 18:15). Glasson shows that the rabbis of the first century expected a new Moses, another deliverer who would recapitulate the Exodus.2 They wondered how this new Moses would feed the people with manna and do what was done under the administration of the first Moses. The New Testament tells us that when John the Baptist and Jesus appeared, all men were in expectation (Luke 3:15).
In presenting Jesus as the Messiah, the apostles show us that Exodus typology is gathered up in His life, death and resurrection. More is said of the Christ event as the new exodus than as the new creation. The Exodus imagery is so widely used in the New Testament that it merits a separate book.3 We will merely trace some highlights here.
Jesus Is the New Israel. The apostles show the remarkable correspondence between Christ and Israel, not by a series of proof texts, but by weaving together a pattern of the Christ event. The book of Matthew is an example. Matthew presents a replay of Israel's Exodus from Egypt.
1. Jesus is Mary's firstborn—and God's (Matt. 1:25; cf. Col. 1:15).
2. Jesus is brought up out of Egypt (Matt. 2:15).
3. He passes through the waters—His baptism (Matt. 3:14, 15).
4. He is led into the wilderness and tested forty days and nights. In resisting Satan's three temptations, Jesus actually quotes the three scriptures found in the setting of Israel's testing in the wilderness (Matt. 4:4; Deut. 8:3).
5. The final chapters of Matthew describe Jesus' second baptism of suffering and blood and His entrance into the glory of the heavenly Canaan.
Jesus is therefore the new Israel of new-covenant history. As the new Israel, He passes over the same ground as old Israel. Whereas they murmured against God, broke the covenant and failed miserably, He trusted God, kept the covenant and triumphed gloriously. He did what Israel should have done. And He undid the results of their failure.
When Israel broke the covenantal stipulations, she stood exposed to the covenantal curses. In Leviticus and Deuteronomy 28-30 the curses come in handfuls. These awful threats may first appear out of all proportion to the sins committed. But sin, as a breach of the covenant, is an affront to the covenant God. It is an insult to His infinite majesty. The prophets invoked the covenantal curses against disobedient Israel. The curses included hunger and thirst (Deut. 28:48; Isa. 65:13), desolation (Isa. 5:6; Zeph. 1:15), poverty (Deut. 28:31), the scorn of passers-by (Jer. 19:8), darkness (Isa. 13:10; Amos 5:18-20), earthquake (Isa. 13:13; Amos 1:1), being "cut off" from among the people (Ex. 12:15, 19; 31:14; Lev. 7:25; Jer. 44:7-11), death by hanging on a tree (Deut. 21:23), a brass heaven (Deut. 28:23) and no help when one cries for help (Deut. 28:31; Isa. 10:3).
Christ must fulfill the stipulations of the Sinaitic covenant. He must also carry away the terrible curses pronounced in the covenantal documents. For this reason He was hungry (Matt. 4:2; 21:18). He was so poor He had nowhere to lay His head (Matt. 8:20). On the cross He cried, "I thirst!" (John 19:28). He was mocked and derided (Mark 15:19, 31) and deserted by His friends (Matt. 26:69-75). He was hanged on a tree as a cursed man (Gal. 3:13) and "cut off" from His people (Isa. 53:8). As He hung on the cross, the heavens were as brass. He was as one who cries for help and receives none (Mark 15:34). He died as the great covenant breaker and endured the unabated fury of all the covenantal curses. The cosmic scope of these curses is portrayed in Matthew. As Christ bore the sins of the broken covenant, darkness descended over the earth (Matt. 27:45), the ground quaked, and the rocks were rent (Matt. 27:51). But by dying Jesus carried away the curses of the covenant.
Jesus Is the New Moses. Jesus is not only the new Israel of the new Exodus. He is also the new Moses.4
1. The prophecy of Deuteronomy 18:15—"a prophet like me"—is often used in the New Testament to apply to Jesus (Acts 3:22, 23; 7:37).
2. Jesus too is hid from the wrath of the king who kills all the male children. Jesus also returns to the homeland after the one who sought His life is dead (Ex. 4:19; Matt. 2:20, 21).
3. Both Moses and Jesus are unrecognized by their own people as God's elect (Acts 7:27). On occasion the people try to stone them both (Ex. 17:4; Num. 14:10; John 10:31-33; 11:8).
4. The close communion Moses enjoyed with God is surpassed by Christ (Ex. 33:20; John 1:17, 18).
5. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount reminds us of another lawgiver on another mountain (Ex. 19; Matt. 5).
6. Jesus appoints seventy elders just as Moses did (Num. 11:16; Luke 10:1).
7. Both Jesus and Moses fasted forty days before giving the law to the people.
8. Both were glorified on a mountain.
9. Jesus fed the multitude in a desert place. This reminded the people of Moses and the bread from heaven (John 6).
10. Jesus said He was the water of life. This declaration was made at the Feast of Tabernacles when the people were celebrating the water from the smitten rock (John 7:37-39).
11. Jesus declared He was the light of the world while the people were celebrating the pillar of fire which led Israel through the wilderness (John 8:12).
12. Our Lord said to Nicodemus, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up" (John 3:14).
13. Jesus' final discourse to His disciples presents a remarkable parallel to Moses' farewell speech recorded in Deuteronomy. Some of Jesus' parting words are quoted directly from Deuteronomy.
Jesus, of course, not only recapitulates Moses. He supersedes Moses. This is a truth taught in biblical types and antitypes. Thus John the evangelist not only makes parallels between Christ and Moses. He contrasts them and shows the superiority of Jesus (John 1:17). This reveals an important argument presented by John. The Jews had absolutized Moses as he was represented in the law—the Torah. The rabbis taught that the Torah was the Logos—the divine wisdom or word (cf. Prov. 8). They also said the Torah was the bread, water and light which lead to the life of the age to come. John denies these popular assumptions. He declares that this Logos, this bread and water and light of eternal life, are embodied in the second person of the Godhead, incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. We too must remember that the Scriptures are only a witness to Jesus Christ. A high view of scriptural inspiration is no guarantee of life (John 5:39). Faith in an inerrant Bible is not the test of evangelical faith.
Jesus Is the New Temple. The entire Levitical priesthood and temple ritual are summed up in Jesus. He is the new Aaron. And just as He supersedes Moses, He supersedes Aaron. He is a priest after the better order of Melchizedek (Heb. 7). He is also the new temple whose glory exceeds the former (Hag. 2:9; John 1:14). He is the restored temple, the temple rebuilt after being destroyed by the king of Babylon (Dan. 8:14; Zech. 6:13; John 2:19-21).
In short, Jesus Christ is the new exodus event. On the mount of Transfiguration Moses and Elijah "appeared in glory and spoke of His departure, which He was to accomplish at Jerusalem" (Luke 9:31, RSV). The Greek word for "departure" is exodos. How fitting that the Moses of the first Exodus should be found communing with Christ just before the great exodus of the ages took place in His death and resurrection! The writer to the Hebrews understands Jesus' resurrection as the replay of Moses' coming up out of the Red Sea. This is clear from a comparison of Isaiah 63:11 with Hebrews 13:20:
Then He remembered the days of old, Moses, and His people, saying, Where is He that brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of His flock?—Isa. 63:11, KJV.
May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep. —Heb. 13:20.
In the great acts of God in the Old Testament, there is a recurring pattern of events. This recapitulating history moves forward and reaches its summary and perfection in Jesus Christ. The events of the Old Testament exist for the sake of Jesus Christ. They mirror Him and therefore find their true meaning in Him. Christ is the meaning of Old Testament history. He is God's great act of creation and redemption.
We have seen that the Old Testament is a history of captivity and restoration. Man sins and is cast away into captivity by the God of the covenant. But man is rescued again by the God of the covenant. In the Babylonian Exile God cast His people out of His sight. But then in mercy He gathered them again. This was like a judgment of death and resurrection. Hosea could write:
"Come, let us return to the Lord;
for He has torn, that He may heal us;
He has stricken, and He will bind us up.
After two days He will revive us;
on the third day He will raise us up,
that we may live before Him."
—Hosea 6:1, 2.
This and other Old Testament scriptures mirror the death and resurrection of Christ. In His death He was Adam and Israel, cast out of God's sight as the great covenant breaker. In His resurrection He was Adam (mankind) and Israel, restored to God's favor as the great covenant keeper. God spared Adam (mankind) and Israel from the full penalty of sin because behind all this covenantal history stood the Surety and Mediator of the covenant. The judgments which fell on Adam and Israel were tempered with mercy because the account was to be paid in full by Jesus Christ in the fullness of time.
As Old Testament history recapitulated, Jesus Christ is Old Testament history rewritten. There are two histories of man: the history of the old covenant and the history of the new. The old is a history of continual failure on the part of Adam and Israel. This history stands under the judgment of God. But God has rewritten this history of failure in Jesus Christ. It is now a glorious, triumphant and holy history. By His death God buries the old history—our old history. And by His resurrection He brings forth for us a new holy history. This is the gift of His righteousness to be accepted by faith alone. Here is a history—a righteousness—with which God is well pleased. When the church is satisfied with this holy history and rests on it as her only righteousness before God, when she stops imagining that she must write a new holy history for her justification, then this song will be sung:
"Let us rejoice and be glad
and give Him glory!
. . . His bride has made herself ready."
1 Cited in G. W. H. Lampe and K. J. Woollcombe, Essays on Typology, p.49.
2 T. Francis Glasson, Moses in the Fourth Gospel.
3 See D. Daube, The Exodus Pattern in the Bible, for an excellent treatment of the Exodus pattern.
4 See Glasson, Moses in the Fourth Gospel, for an excellent, detailed treatment of Moses and Jesus.