Shadows of the Gospel in the Old Testament (Pt. 2)

This article was originally posted to

The Old and the New Testaments need and compliment each other. 

Alpha and Omega

In my last post, I defined typology and how it helps us find Christ in the Old Testament. I want to provide some further examples of this, but I first want to talk about the way God relates Himself to us in the Old Testament (OT) versus the New Testament (NT).

It’s often hard not to think that the OT and the NT are pitted against one another in characterizing God. We can run the risk of Marcionism when we reject the God of the OT. We can also run the risk of creating a sadistic, distant God when we solely characterize Him through the OT. The fact is, God is whole and the Bible does portray a whole God, but His motives seem complicated because we’re only seeing a small picture. The scriptures are the footnotes of God’s cosmic plan.

The Reconciliation of All Things

In Colossians 1:19-20, we learn that God’s plan has always been to reconcile all things in heaven and on earth to Christ. The Cross was in God’s mind all along. Noah, Abraham, Jacob, David, etc. and many more smaller bit-players in scriptures were all there to lead the world into union with God through Jesus Christ. The part that’s tricky is how we hammer out the most difficult, violent parts of scripture in regard to this sovereign plan. God was dealing with humanity in a way where humans could still draw near to Him and not be totally overtaken by the plague of sin.

St. Irenaeus said, “If anyone, therefore, reads the Scriptures with attention, he will find in them an account of Christ, and a foreshadowing of the new calling. . . . The treasure hidden in the Scriptures is Christ, since He was pointed out by means of types and prophecies.” 

In Jesus, all things were fulfilled in their meaning. (Gal. 4:4). Let’s examine some further examples of this:

The Bronze SerpentNumbers 21:4-9 is one of my personal favorites. In this story, the people of Israel were growing tired and impatient of waiting to get to the promised land (again), so God sent poisonous snakes to them. Of course, people got bitten and were sick from the poison. God told Moses to make a bronze snake statue and put it on a pole, so whoever looked toward the serpent on the poll would be healed. Now, there are many different ways to unpack this story, but the simplest comparison is to see the bronze statue as representing Christ and an allusion to John 3:16, where whoever looks to Christ and believes on Him will have life. The serpent also is interesting because it is a graven image. The Jews weren’t supposed to make graven images to worship, but Moses wasn’t making one to worship. He was making one as giving life to the people. This story is often pointed to be Catholics and Orthodox as a precursor to how icons are used and viewed in the Church.

Cities of Refuge: The Levites have been considered a line that leads directly to Christ throughout scripture, particularly in Hebrews (Hebrews 3:1, Hebrews 4:14-16), but there’s also the various ways the Levites interceded for the sinners and criminals in Israel. In Numbers 35, the Israel is given instructions to provide cities to the Levites and not only that, but the cities were to be cities of refuge. Murderers could flee to the city to be detained until they saw justice. Just as these refuge cities were a place of peace, Christ is our refuge and peace.

The Fall of Jericho: In Joshua 6 we read the story which everyone knows from Sunday School – Joshua and the fall of the city of Jericho. The strongest parallel can be found in the walls crumbling down after the people had completed their walk around the city to Christ’s trampling down death during his three days in the tomb. Israel itself prefigures the Church and it was God who actually destroyed the walls, but Israel/the Church walked in faith through that. The priests trumpeting, according to the Orthodox Study Bible, are a representation of the prophets that heralded this coming victory and Christ’s own defeat of the Enemy.

Water from the Rock: In Exodus 17:1-9, we see Moses is dealing with some very crabby Israelites. They’re thirsty and weary from their journey so far, so God instructs Moses to go to a large rock in Horeb and strike it with his staff. He did it and the water came out for the people to drink. Pretty simple, huh? The symbolism is carried over by Paul in 1 Cor. 10:4 and Ambrose of Milan were a few sources we see pointing to the “rock” as being a shadow of Christ. The water that came from it symbolizes the water of life which Christ mentions more than once, most notably with the woman at the well in John 4:10. Furthermore, St. Ambrose points to this event as a shadow of the Eucharist and of Christ’s own body, because the rock brought forth water, which is against it’s very nature. Likewise, the bread and wine become something other in their mysterious state. The Eucharist, like the rock is a mysterious paradox.

In conclusion, my goal in pointing to these passages, whether obvious or not, is to direct your mind to seeing the Old Testament through the lens of Christ. The Israelites wandering through the desert is not some metaphor of how you’re wandering through life and you, personally, just need to find your purpose. Maybe it could be, but I find that reading more suspect than just looking at the bigger picture. What if Israel’s wandering through the desert is this – it is a shadow of the universal waiting the faithful have done since the beginning of the story of God (a.k.a., scripture) and the Promised Land is our eternal home with Christ.

If we focus less on ourselves, our wants and our needs…maybe we’ll find something more meaningful. Maybe we’ll find Christ. And the questions we find when reading the Old Testament will be either fulfilled in their meaning to us now or in the day of His return. Either way, we should always keep looking for Him in the pages of the scriptures.

Read part one here.



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