Where Do We Find Jesus in the Old Testament?

For me, one of the most exciting elements of Scripture is its use of typology. Put simply,

[Typology is] the idea that persons (e.g., Moses), events (e.g., the exodus), and institutions (e.g., the temple) can — in the plan of God — prefigure a later stage in that plan and provide the conceptuality necessary for understanding the divine intent (e.g., the coming of Christ to be the new Moses, to effect the new exodus, and to be the new temple) (Graham Cole, He Who Gives Life, [Wheaton: Crossway, 2007], 289).

I love to read the New Testament and see the ways in which the biblical authors read their Old Testaments in light of Christ. I love that Matthew depicts Jesus as the true Israel, who escapes from a wicked king like Moses did (Matthew 2:13-18; cf. Exodus 1:15-2:10), who passes through water and is declared God’s son like Israel (Matthew 3:13-17; cf. Exodus 14, 4:22-23), and then is led by the Spirit through the wilderness to be tested for forty days (Matthew 4:1-11; cf. Exodus 40:34-38). But unlike Israel who failed the test (Deuteronomy 8:1-3), Jesus succeeds (Matthew 4:3-4), triumphing over temptation and returning to launch the invasion of Canaan (Matthew 4:12-25), a new Joshua ready to remove the seed of the serpent that is polluting his land and his people.

Interpretive Questions Arise

For many evangelicals, such typological interpretation is fraught with danger. A host of questions immediately arises: Are we justified in seeing Christ in the Old Testament only in those places explicitly mentioned by the biblical authors? Or can we imitate apostolic interpretive methods and find Jesus in other places in Scripture?

Jesus says that he’s a greater Solomon (Matthew 12:42), Paul says that the Rock that followed Israel in the wilderness was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4), and the author of Hebrews recognizes Jesus in Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:1-3).

But is Jesus also the greater Joseph, persecuted by his brothers and foreigners, thrown into a pit and a prison, and then emerging to become ruler over all? Is Jesus a greater Elisha, who comes after Elijah (John the Baptist) with a double portion of his predecessor’s spirit?

Edwards Saw a Typological World

Jonathan Edwards certainly believed so. Edwards believed that the entire Old Testament gives us a “typical (or typological) world.” Everything in the Old Testament is typological, from the ceremonies of the law to the history of Israel to the state and circumstances of God’s people throughout Scripture. Edwards believed that it is unreasonable to restrict types to the explicitly interpreted instances in Scripture. “For by Scripture it is plain that innumerable other things are types that are not interpreted in Scripture (all the ordinances of the Law are all shadows of good things to come)…” (“Types”).

He writes,

The Apostle himself teaches us that only so small a thing as the silence of Scripture in not giving an account of Melchizedec’s birth nor death was [typological] (Hebrews 7:3). If so small things in Scripture are [typological], it is rational to suppose that Scripture abounds with types (“Types”).

How then should we define types? How can we detect them? How can we determine whether something is truly a God-intended type in Scripture? Where are the breaks on this thing? Perhaps Edwards will be of some help to us. . .