At our Church we are working through the book of Jonah in our Sunday morning sermons and in small groups. Jonah is a small book in comparison to other prophetic books of the Old Testament, but Jonah gets special treatment as he is mentioned by Jesus in both Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels,
“But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, someone greater than Jonah is here.” – Matthew 12:39-41
The Greater Jonah
In the sermons so far, we have used the phrase “Jesus is a greater Jonah”. Meaning, that where Jonah fails by running from God, resenting God’s plan, and spending three days in the belly of a fish; Jesus obeys God perfectly, submits to the Father’s will, and spends three days in the heart of the earth to purchase our salvation.
I want to suggest that not only is Jesus’s interpretation of Jonah’s story correct, but Jesus intended us to understand the entire old Testament like this. The entire story of the Bible is a collection of types and shadows that lead us to see the revelation of Jesus as the perfect consummation of God’s work from Genesis 3:15 onward.
I want to outline a few ways that the New Testament uses the Old Testament to show this was the intention of the Biblical authors as well as God himself in telling the stories of Biblical History the way he did.
The Apostles Did It:
The Gospel of Matthew is intimately concerned with proving Jesus is the rightful king of Israel, the Son of David. Matthew understands God’s promise to David with more nuance than just a literal meaning.
2 Samuel 7:12-14 – “When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son.”
Matthew 1:1 – “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.“
Matthew 1:20 – “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife,“
Matthew 9:27 – “And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.””
The “son” who will reign after David will be his literal son, Solomon; but ultimately, Matthew understands this promise as alluding to Jesus himself, a better David and a better Solomon to rule and reign over Israel forever in prosperity and build a temple of living stones: the Church. The promise to David is about Jesus, not Solomon.
In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul takes his readers all the way back to Genesis, to Adam, in order to show that Adam’s headship of the human race is just a shadow and type of the headship that Christ will claim over all.
Romans 5:18, “therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.”
And again, in both Romans and Galatians, he makes sure to explain that the promise God made to Abraham was not merely for physical offspring, but points to the explosion of God’s people from the ethnic Jewish community to the Gentile nations through Christ.
Galatians 3:29, “and if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”
The most extensive treatment of this typological thinking is done in the book of Hebrews. The entire book lays out the supremacy of Christ over earthly things and contrasts how there are heavenly realities reflected all over the Old Testament law and prophets:
Hebrews 3:1, “for Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses.”
Hebrews 4: 14, “since then we have a great high priest who is passed through the heavens, Jesus, the son of God, let us hold fast to our confession.”
Hebrews 6:15, “this becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily dissent, but by the power of an indestructible life.”
Hebrews 8:5, “they serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God saying, “see that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.””
Hebrews 9:11-12, “but when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, none of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”
The book of Hebrews is showing how the moral, ceremonial, and civil law of the Old Testament points to heavenly realities made flesh in Jesus Christ and the order of the Kingdom of Heaven. The author’s point is we cannot understand the temple, temple law, or the priestly office properly without acknowledging how it alludes to and points to Jesus as its fulfillment.
Jesus Did It
The most compelling case for a typological reading of the Old Testament is that Jesus himself read the Old Testament this way. On the road to Emmaus Jesus takes time to teach the Bible to a few ignorant disciples,
“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” – Luke 24:27
The hermeneutic (fancy word for method of interpreting the Bible) that Jesus wants his disciples to know in the short time between his resurrection and the ascension, is that the Law, History, and Prophets of Israel are about him. In Matthew 12, Jesus makes the claim that he is the point and fulfillment of the temple (12:6), the prophetic office (12:41), and the royal line of David (12:42). Jesus saw his own ministry and existence as the focus of all of God’s interaction with his people up until this point.
We Need to Do It
This changes how we read our Old Testament. The challenge is no longer to get through it every couple of years in our “Bible-In-A-Year” Plan, but rather to see Jesus on every page and be awestruck at God’s intentionality at guiding history to glorify himself and his Son, Jesus!
Without this type of reading and understanding, the Old Testament can seem like either a list of heroes to emulate or a long list of bad ideas. If Christ is not the point of the Old Testament, when God calls Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, he seems like a manipulative monster. When Christ is the point, we see that the very hill that Abraham climbed with Isaac was the hill that the temple would later be built upon. On those very slopes, Jesus would climb bearing the wood for his own sacrifice as the perfect Lamb of God. The shadow of Christ over the story does not take away from the message of Abraham’s obedience. Rather it intensifies it and places it where it belongs, under God’s sovereign rule and reign and his amazing grace.
Every imperfect prophet who proclaims God’s message, every good or evil king, every faithful or unfaithful priest makes us long for the perfect Prophet, Priest, and King – Jesus Christ. He is the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets and brings thousands of years of history into a beautiful mosaic of God’s artful rule over history to bring salvation to all who believe. Look for Jesus on every page of your Bibles no matter how imperfect the shadow might be, it encourages our hearts to long for the perfection Christ brought and is bringing again when he returns.