a brief glance at typology


When God created the world he described it as ‘very good’. He placed Adam and Eve made in his image into a garden and to them was given the task of caretakers of creation. The were to rule it on God’s behalf. This mandate would in time take them beyond the boundaries of the garden or perhaps extend to boundaries of the garden as the cultivated and husbanded the resources of the world they had been given. The potential seemed boundless.

But it was not to be as planned. Sin entered the world and with it death. The pall of death seemed to settle on the world and with it the frustration of all human potential. However, death was not the end. God had a plan. It was a plan that would bring life out of death and a new creation out of bondage to decay. God had a way to renew, redeem, restore and regenerate – to create a new Eden, a new heavens and earth that would in glory far exceed the old.

The Bible story is how he does this.

He does it by shaping history towards his purpose. In the course of this history he introduces events, places, people, and institutions that point to the world to come. They are a form of promise, the shape of things not yet seen. They may be rudimentary but they correspond to the reality they indicate. They are promise looking for fulfilment; and fulfilment always eclipses the promise. They are models shadowing the reality which is always an escalation of the model. We call these models ‘types’. Types of course abound: Adam, the tree of life, the Sabbath, Isaac, Israel, Exodus, Canaan, Jerusalem, David, the temple, the sacrifices, the exile etc. Sometimes the type is dark: Babylon; Nimrod.

When we begin to explore the trajectory of fulfilment we find it is often realised in unexpected ways. Adam, for example, the man from the earth is a type of the man from heaven; he prefigures a future head of a new humanity who will come from a different realm and introduce a humanity of a different kind. Ancient Babylon becomes Babylon the whore in Rev 17,18. It seems to describe human civilisation in opposition to God or perhaps some variant on this. Few would see it as simply ancient Babylon rebuilt on the plains of Shriner. The exodus from Egypt is a type of the salvation accomplished by Christ upon the cross; the fulfilment corresponds to and eclipses the original though it is in many ways different from it.

It is important to see that the fulfilment does not require to be a mere replica of the original. This would place fulfilment in a straight jacket. We can see from Scripture this is not how types function. The many sacrifices of the temple point to the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ. While there is correspondence there are clearly differences, not least the temple atonement sacrifices were animals while the sacrifice of the antitype was human. The involuntary animal sacrifice is eclipsed by the obedient, voluntary human sacrifice. Correspondence and escalation are both evident.

Solomon’s temple is a good example of correspondence without being merely a copy. We can see how the temple goes through various phases. In the OT and NY it is an impressive building. In the gospels it becomes the person of Christ. At Pentecost it becomes the church. In the New Jerusalem it has disappeared and the whole city is a temple. The point is the temple is where God dwells. At different times the temple may look quite different but if it is always the dwelling place of God.

Correspondence and escalation seem to be key to types. Types find a correspondence and escalation in their fulfilment. We have seen this in the escalation of animal sacrifices into a human sacrifice who by one obedient volitional sacrifice removes sins (and the need for animal sacrifices) forever. We have seen how the temple becomes a person then a people then the New Jerusalem (itself a people). The promised land, Canaan, becomes presently life in the heavenlies (as opposed to earthly Canaan) in Christ and ultimately a new heavens and new earth.

In the new creation, these types will all find their final realisation. Types are prophetic and prospective. Their promise in embryonic form being finally realised in escalated reality. Thus, just as covenants and prophets anticipated the arrival of the age of fulfilment so to do the types. In fact, the OT in a great variety of ways strained towards the new creation which has begun already in Christ and will be completed in a fully realised new creation.

The thing about typology is it contains within it elements of the reality to which it points. The type is the seed kernel that produces the flower. Or perhaps we should thing of the communion meal. The communion meal is the foretaste of the full heavenly banquet of the people of God. There is a correspondence between the meal and its eschatological reality. There is also an escalation from the Lord’s supper to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev 19). The type participates in but is exceed by the reality it anticipates.

If we grasp this we will be saved from too literalistic and wooden fulfilment expectations. Fulfilment will transcend the initial form. As we’ve noticed this is self-evidently the case in many of the types.

In the new creation there will be a realisation of God’s purposes in the initial creation only more so. There is a new heavens and new earth. The Eden garden has become a garden-city. Creation types have been occluded in the fulfilment that is the new heavens and new earth.

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