Types and Antitypes

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The Word of God comes to us in many ways, with many figures and devices. We are comfortable with many of them, and not quite so comfortable with others. One of the areas of discomfort is the biblical practice of using types and antitypes. This is not just a literary device of God as He inspired the Scriptures to be written—it is also a literary device of His in the writing of the actual history of our world. We must be careful, of course, because “fanciful” interpretations are always a danger. But, if we are honest, we must recognize that many scriptural interpretations would strike us as fanciful if they weren’t in the Bible. And so this is an area where we must be willing to grow. The imagination must not be flighty—it must be disciplined by the Scriptures and by the mind of Christ.


“Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him. But we see Jesus . . .” (Heb. 2: 8-9a).


The author of Hebrews has just cited the eighth psalm, where David is amazed that God cares for man, and that God has placed everything (in principle) under man’s feet. And when God did this, the writer maintains that nothing was excluded—everything in the world was placed under the authority of man (v. 8). But there is just a little hitch—man appears to lack the kind of authority and control over all things that the psalm appears to promise. We do not yet see all things subject to him (v. 8). Yes, but we see Jesus (v. 9). Now we can only see Jesus at the center of the world, at the center of the promises, at the center of the Old Testament if we take care to see a certain way in faith. Jesus Christ is not visible to the eye of unbelief, and Jesus is not visible to the eye of modernity’s demand for proofs, which amounts to unbelief.


In order to see Jesus in this way, there are certain prerequisites. First, we must understand the total, complete, and exhaustive sovereignty of God. If God is not driving the car, we cannot ask Him where He is taking us. Second, we must have absolute confidence in the Bible as the Word of God. This means, among many other things, that we must allow the Bible to teach us how to read the Bible. Adam was a type of Christ (Rom. 5:14). Israel in the wilderness was a type of the Church (1 Cor. 10:6). The earthly tabernacle was built according to a type of the heavenly tabernacle that was shown to Moses on the mountain (Heb. 8:5). The earthly holy places are the antitype of the heavenly places (Heb. 9:24). Christian baptism is the antitype of Noah’s Flood (1 Pet. 3:21). These things are not numinous anomalies in an otherwise ordinary world—they are ordinary mountain peaks in an ordinary world. This is the way the whole terrain works. And last, we must know that God has exalted Jesus to the very highest place, such that it is appropriate for us to believe that everything is somehow, in some way, about Him (Phil. 2:9; Col. 1:18). Neither type nor antitype is necessarily “senior.” Just think of them answering to one another, as deep calls to deep.


So let’s take a few examples of this from the book of Hebrews. We have already noted that Paul teaches that a type/antitype relationship exists between Israel in the wilderness and the Church between the resurrection of Jesus and the destruction of the Temple. Paul is explicit about it. “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples (lit. tupos, type): and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world (ages) are come” (1 Cor. 10:11). Paul is not talking about the end of the space/time continuum here, but rather about the end of the Judaic aeon. Just as Israel spent forty years in the wilderness before they invaded Canaan, so the Church spent forty years in her wilderness before she invaded the world.

This typological parallel is also made very plain in Hebrews (3:7-4:11). The children of Israel hardened their hearts during their wilderness experience. God rebuked them for it in Psalm 95—do not harden your hearts as you did in the wilderness. Then this warning is cited by the author of Hebrews and applied to his readers in their peculiar situation (4:3). During this forty year period, God’s Word was delivered to both groups on the verge of a great invasion. Some were faithful like Joshua and Caleb. Some were not. 


Hebrews tells us that Christ was a priest after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 5:6). But how? Melchizedek is an obscure king/priest mentioned briefly in the book of Genesis, and then fleetingly in Psalm 110. The whole argument for the Melchizedekan priesthood of Jesus is typological. If we excluded typological reasoning, about the only fact we have is that Jesus was not from the tribe of Judah. Here are the assumptions: the Old Testament is talking about Jesus (5:6, 10); that he was great enough for Abraham to tithe to (7:2, 4-6); etymological considerations of his name and the name of his city (7:2); no recorded genealogy (7:3). Christ was in the likeness of Melchizedek (7:15).



Types and antitypes can function in history, bridging the old and new covenants. But they can also serve as a bridge between the old covenant and heaven. In the horizontal use, the type is in the Old Testament and the antitype is in the New. In the vertical use, the type is earthly and early and the antitype is heavenly. Sometimes it is the other way around (9:24). For an example of the former use, the law was a shadow of the good things to come (10:1). The whole temple apparatus was a parable for those using it (9:9). The whole served this function, and the details of the whole served this function (9:5).

For an example of the latter, the earthly tabernacle and all its furniture were made according the pattern shown to Moses on the mount. The tabernacle was a symbolic holy mountain and was built in accordance with the pattern that was shown to Moses on the holy mountain.


The emphasis in the New Testament leads us to draw a strong correlation between the heavenly things and new covenant things—we who are in the new covenant have a simpler form of worship than they did in the old, and less typological, precisely because of our participation in the heavenly worship (12:22), and the free access we have been given to the heavenly courts (4:16).

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