Throughout the Bible we discover God’s patient plans for humanity expressed through the actions of His creation. Sometimes God reveals His plans explicitly to individuals like Adam, Noah, and Abraham. Sometimes He reveals His plans indirectly by implementing miracles, like the plagues of Egypt, the return from Babylonian exile, or the resurrection of Jesus. And at other times He employs prototypes throughout history to gradually introduce themes and elements for His people to recognize not only what He is doing but why. Underneath God’s particular plans through the centuries lies a common thread: All roads point to Christ. Jesus Himself explicitly taught the disciples this very idea in the New Testament:
“Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” – Luke 24:27
The way God set about laying the foundation for the things concerning Christ in the Old Testament was by establishing events in history that could later be drawn to parallel the events of Christ and the New Covenant. In other words: At crucial moments in the Old Testament, key individuals were actually living out a representation of what would later become Christ’s own experiences and purpose in His time on earth. In so doing God used these small-scale, Old Covenant examples to look ahead to a grand-scale fulfillment in Christ and the New Covenant.
The first way God establishes these small-scale examples is with objects of significance. In the Old Testament God led the Israelites out of Egypt and into the desert where He gave specific plans to build a holy site so that He could live among them. This site was called the tabernacle:
“Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them… I will meet there with the sons of Israel, and it shall be consecrated by My glory.” – Exodus 25:8; 29:43
The tabernacle was built based off a blueprint or “pattern” given to Moses on Mount Sinai:
“See that you make them after the pattern… which was shown to you on the mountain.” – Exodus 25:40
The pattern shown to Moses was a representation of Heaven itself; the dwelling place of God. Matthew Henry elaborates: “It is observable here that the sanctuary of God on earth is a pattern of heaven, and communion with God in his sanctuary is to his people a heaven on earth.”
The earthly tabernacle was only a preview of coming attractions, however, a mere copy and shadow of things to come, as Paul describes in the New Testament:
“… there are those [Jewish priests] who offer the gifts according to the Law; who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, ‘See,’ He says, ‘that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown to you on the mountain.’” – Hebrews 8:4-5
Paul is the first to designate the term copies and shadows as a way to describe God’s redemptive plan for humanity. Here in Hebrews we discover that the tabernacle, and then later the Temple of Solomon (constructed based on the tabernacle blueprint), actually pointed ahead to a time when the dwelling place of God would be established in the hearts of believers:
“‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them’… I [God] will put my law within them and on their heart I will write it…” – Revelation 21:3; Jeremiah 31:33
The tabernacle, i.e. the Old Covenant symbol, was established in the wilderness first for the Israelites as a way to introduce over time God’s ultimate purpose: to return to an Eden-esque form of worship, i.e. a personal relationship with Him. This form of personal relationship was eventually brought about through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ:
“For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands [like the tabernacle, which was] a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us;” – Hebrews 9:24
So Jesus entered the true tabernacle in Heaven and offered a sacrifice for sins that would last for all time:
“By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” – Hebrews 10:10
In so doing He superseded the earthly temple and replaced it with the New Covenant where God would dwell in believers’ hearts and no longer in a holy place made with hands. The tabernacle, therefore, was merely a shadow of the substance of Christ (Colossians 2:17).
The second way God establishes these copies and shadows is through individuals. Adam, the first of God’s creation was merely a shadow of Christ who, as the last Adam, came to Earth to reestablish the type of relationship that God had with His creation in the beginning:
“Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him [Jesus] who was to come… So also it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living soul.’ The last Adam [Jesus] became a life-giving spirit.” – Romans 5:14; 1 Corinthians 15:45
Theologian John Gill further explains the prototypical kinship of Adam to Christ: “… of him [Christ] the first Adam was a type, in his human nature, in the formation and quality of it; as the first Adam was made by God of the virgin earth, the second Adam was born of a virgin;” But Adam is not the only one who was a type of Christ. Joseph, the ruler of Egypt, is also viewed as a type of Christ as they both share some key similarities:
- Joseph was his father’s most beloved: “Now Israel [Jacob] loved Joseph more than all his sons…” – Genesis 37:3
- God expresses the same feelings about His Son, Jesus, when He was baptized: “and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.’” – Matthew 3:17
- There is not one bad characteristic or action recorded about Joseph in the entire Bible. Some would say this means he was about as close to purity that a man could reach.
- Jesus was absolutely flawless. He taught the gospel and performed miracles as perfect and sinless God in human flesh.
- Joseph was betrayed by his own brothers and was believed to be dead but was found later, by his family, to be very much alive.
- Jesus was betrayed by His own people, was murdered but then came back to life three days later.
- By the age of 30, Joseph had begun reigning over the land of Egypt.
- At the age of 30, Jesus began His Messianic ministry spreading the gospel throughout the land of Israel.
There are many Old Testament counterparts that are considered to be shadows or types of Christ; including Job, the priest Melchizedek, King David, and Jonah to name a few. As a matter of fact, Jesus specifically mentions Jonah’s ties to Himself in Matthew:
“for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth… behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” – Matthew 12:40-41
The third way God establishes copies and shadows of the things to come in Christ is through Old Testament events themselves. For instance, in Genesis, Abraham is told to take his son Isaac up to Mount Moriah and sacrifice him:
“He [God] said, ‘Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.’” – Genesis 22:2
A quick side note: A lot of hay has been made about this command from God. What kind of cruel God could tell a father to do such a thing? What is often forgotten is that God distinctly told Abraham that Isaac would be the father of many nations:
“through Isaac your descendants shall be named.” – Genesis 21:12
Abraham most likely remembered this particular promise by God when he was tested by Him later. And, as Abraham bound Isaac and stood over him about to perform the sacrifice, an angel of the Lord stopped him, crying out:
“Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” – Genesis 22:12
If God was going to stop Abraham all along why ask him to do it in the first place? Because this was a symbolic event foretelling of Jesus’ own destiny. The area of Mount Moriah, through many generations, eventually became known as Golgotha in the first century. This means that in approximately the same spot where Abraham almost sacrificed his son, Jesus Christ would be crucified many centuries later:
“Then they brought Him [Jesus] to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull… And they crucified Him…” – Mark 15:22-24
Abraham’s actions with his son on Mount Moriah foretold of the destiny of the coming Messiah. Abraham, albeit unwittingly, even spoke about Jesus when his son asked him where they would find a sacrifice on Moriah. He responded:
“God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” – Genesis 22:8
Many centuries later, John the Baptist would utter these words when he saw Jesus approaching him for the first time:
“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” – John 1:29
There is no coincidence here. God foreshadowed the death of His only Son through the actions of Abraham and his child; both events tied through the centuries by the same scenario at the same location.
Our Creator deemed it necessary to not only speak and perform miracles to His followers throughout history but also employ objects, people, and events to unfold a live representation of His plans in Christ. This strategy began with Adam and spanned thousands of years to Jesus, all with the patient knowledge that the ultimate substance of the redemption of humanity would come through His Son. For Christians today, that are far removed from the events of the Bible, we can still benefit from the historical record by understanding God’s everlasting patience in love and benevolence in wisdom as His careful design for His children is revealed.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” – John 3:16
 Matthew Henry, The Comprehensive Commentary on the Holy Bible: Acts-Revelation (Boston, MA: Brattleboro Typographic Co., 1839), 539.
 John Gill, “John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible,” http://www.ewordtoday.com/comments/romans/gill/romans5.htm (accessed September 23, 2014).