I would like to make my best attempt at explaining the characteristics and nature of types/shadows, used as a teaching tool in Scripture. We find their use by the Holy Spirit in the Word of God to be quite extensive, and so, understanding their elements and substance becomes important. We want to avoid confusion and misunderstandings that easily arise when interpretation is required, and in this case, actually demanded by the teaching instrument’s use. And we should always be careful, as Christian believers, concerning this word ‘interpretation’ and the situations in which we exercise its use.

Only Use Interpretation When Absolutely Necessary

The understanding of the majority of Scripture is simply a matter of translations, and the use of words inspired by God Himself, their definitions and meanings, and how these words are grouped together in the use of language in the human race. In this statement concerning the study of Scripture, I do not use the word ‘interpretation’; it is not needed, is not necessary, and its use is improper in view of the majority of Scripture. You hear many who comment when disagreeing, saying, “That is your interpretation and I see things differently” — in other words, I have a different interpretation than you on this matter. When often, it is not a matter of interpretation at all, and the use of interpretation is wholly improper in the given situation, where definitions and meanings of words used by the Holy Spirit is all that should be in consideration.

Christians tend to be guilty often of abusing the idea of a ‘personal privilege of interpretation’ as some sort of God given rite. It isn’t. But this perceived privilege is used to justify, sustain and, if you will, exalt the thoughts of man, and that against the truth of God. At a certain level this abuse is used to tickle one’s own ears, so that we can maintain our own personal excuses that justify the things we do and the situations we involve ourselves in, as believers. At a different level, this abuse is used to sustain the teachings and doctrinal systems of men, and again, that as against the mind, purpose, and counsels of God. And it is a sad thing to see and witness. We stubbornly hold to our own ways and to ‘self’, while resisting the thoughts of God and the Comforter, the Revealer of all truth (John 16:13). We have Scripture that speaks somewhat directly to this issue of ‘personal privilege of interpretation.’

 2 Pet. 1:19-21

“And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”

No prophecy of Scripture should be subjected to a ‘personal privilege of interpretation’. And this is referring to the entirety of the Word of God. It is inspired and given by the Spirit of God and its meaning subject to the mind and thoughts of God only. Let God speak from His Word. Pursue only the thoughts of God, the counsels of God, and the principles of God’s ways found in the Scriptures.

An Example of How Personal Privilege is Abused

I can think of a similar example in which a perceived rite or privilege becomes an issue among believers and unbelievers alike; our understandings of the free will of man.   These limited thoughts concerning this topic are, all so often, vehemently defended as a rite and privilege of all men in absolute and without exception. This perceived rite is then held up in the face of God, as limiting and restricting Him, under some dubious reasoning of voluntary acquiescence on His part. Think about such reasoning! The infinitely unlimited and all powerful God is voluntarily limiting and restricting Himself as a favor for fallen man! If such be the case, then God is truly sitting back and hoping that things will somehow go according to His counsels and plans. These counsels, supposedly established before the foundations of the world, yet now, as they play out, are subject to the will of the creature and limiting God to observation and mere wishing that all goes well. God had better have plan two or three ready, or for that matter, an infinite number of plans. If the free will of the creature limits and restricts the free will of the Sovereign in any way, then it becomes ridiculous to think that the Sovereign has a set plan for the future, or that the Sovereign had control of the past. If God is not absolutely sovereign, how can He even be God? By the reasonings of our finite minds we then become guilty of creating a god that is not the One True Living God.

If God be God, there can be only one God. God is God because He is absolute and infinite in all His nature, character and attributes; that would mean there is no room for even the possibility of another god existing. That is the reasoning in scripture, when it says, concerning the gods men create, that they neither speak nor hear, nor can they answer when men call on them. They cannot move, and perhaps they are sleeping. Why? Because it is not possible that they even exist! If God is God, there is no room for another!

False gods exist in the minds of men, created there by man’s reasoning and thoughts. To this point let’s consider Greek mythology; a system created by the mind of man which contains multiple gods. Neptune, I believe, is the god of the oceans and seas. He has a limited scope of power and influence, does he not? How can he be considered a god if he is restricted and limited? What happens to Neptune when he is on land? This isn’t much different than a comic book character with a super power

Can a Sovereign God Ever be Limited?

We should be able to see the foolishness of such creations of the mind of man. But what about the thoughts we have in our minds of the One True Living God? Are those thoughts the same as God has revealed about Himself in His Word? Are we guilty in our thinking of trying to limit and restrict who God is in any way? If God is infinite and limitless, how can we be justified in placing limits on Him as the Sovereign God? We need to study God and know Him.

My argument on this matter does not stem from my experience of looking around in this world, viewing the circumstances I find man in, and trying to explain the nature and character of God by those circumstances. Nor am I viewing the world and the circumstances of life and then going to the Word of God and twisting and turning it to explain what I see. That can never be a proper way of receiving the knowledge of God, and is a path that will always be froth with error and supposition. Rather I’m starting with the idea of God, and if there is a God, what would God have to be to be God? And I hope the reader can see and understand the difference in that. In the end, I believe, all mankind will be made to see that the One God is absolutely sovereign, and rest assured, any thoughts different will be proven to be only the foolish notions of man.   And as far as the number of plans God has, there is, and always will be, only one. For greater understanding on this let us look to Scripture.

God’s Word is Sovereign

Isaiah 55:11

“So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”

God’s Word never returns to Him void. This remains true regardless of all and any of the doings of men and, I must add here for understanding, regardless of the decisions and will of men. His sovereign will always accomplishes His good pleasure. God’s sovereign will is unrestricted by man and absolutely independent from man’s will. It always fulfills absolutely its purposes and intentions.

Look closely at the above verse; these are God’s very own words out of His own mouth describing the absolute sovereignty of His own Word. God will not have it any other way. His Word is of this nature and character, which simply reflects His own nature and character as Sovereign.

Therefore it isn’t hard to imagine or understand that the plans and counsels of God are of the same character. They are sure and unchanging as well, and will always accomplish all His good pleasure, as He is, once again, sovereign in them.If this wasn’t a basic truth concerning how God operates and works, if you think honestly about it, chaos would reign, evil would prevail, God’s Word would be worthless, prophetic Scripture would be undependable, and we would absolutely have no security for the future. But He is the Lord God, He changes not…in Him there is no variation or shadow of turning…and we can read in Eph.1:11…who works all things according to the counsel of His will…   This verse alone is a great truth concerning the principles of God in His counsels and ways. He works all things? Yes, He works all things. According to the counsel of His will? Yes, according to His will. That’s the definition of a sovereign. That is what a Sovereign God does.

The Free Will of Man was Only Exercised in Paradise

I have one parting thought on this subject of ‘the free will of man’ and the way it is defended as an absolute truth by so many. What men point to as free will, and their understanding of it, is as Adam was in paradise. There man’s will was free, when he was in innocence, before the fall. And man exercised his free will in paradise while still there. But things changed, did they not? Right away something was wrong because man hid himself in the bushes and trees from the presence of God. Man is no longer in paradise. Man was forcibly driven out of paradise, away from the presence of God, the cherubim guarding the way of life. Sin had entered into the world, and death was on its coattails (Rom. 5:12).

Was man’s will unaffected by all these events? God’s Word is clear, that after the fall, man’s will became a slave to sin (John 8:34). And sin reigned as a master over all men (Rom. 5:21).   Now here is the long and short of my argument. If man’s will is a slave, then in no way is it ‘free’, no possible way. If man’s will is ‘free’ as many say it is, then in no possible way is there any slavery associated with it. There is no middle ground for these two, no percentage between them. It is either a slave, or it is free. As for man and his will after the fall, what is the teaching of Scripture? This is where we are so tempted to look at the world around us and the experiences and circumstances of living, and allow these things to define and interpret the Word of God for us. But I ask again, as for man and his will after the fall, what is the teaching of Scripture?

The Proper Use of Biblical Interpretation

Having chased this rabbit a good bit, let us return to our subject and the point from where we departed. I have voiced my thoughts about the abuse of the perceived rite of interpretation by many; so let us look at situations where the use of interpretation is necessary and even demanded in Scripture. There are three obvious instances needing proper interpretation – all parables, all types/shadows, and all symbolic prophetic language (some prophetic language is quite literal, and should be treated in such a way, requiring some spiritual discernment in knowing the difference).   In speaking of types and shadows, we will always find certain characteristics concerning this particular teaching tool.

The Characteristics of Types and Shadows

The first characteristic common to all types/shadows is the pairing of two things; this is usually either two experiences, two persons or groups, or two objects. These pairings will have similarities, but also important distinctions and differences in contrast. Other common elements found is that the types/shadows will always be of a lesser value or a lesser reality in contrast to the actual fulfillment, as well as always preceding and prefiguring the fulfillment in time (foreshadowing). Types are shadows, and therefore lack distinct details and form inexact images. It is the similarities that form the pairings and establish them as teaching tools, but it is usually the distinctions that do all the teaching. Case in point;

Matt. 12:39-40

“He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.For 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.”

Here the Lord uses the experience of the prophet Jonah as a type of the coming experience of the Son of Man in redemption. Jonah was certainly a real person with a particular life experience; however, as the type, his experience is of lesser value in comparison and preceded the Son of Man. The similarities are there – three days and three nights hidden. The distinctions are present as well – Jonah didn’t die and he wasn’t in the belly of the great fish innocently, or on the behalf of others. Still it is easy to see the foreshadowing of Jonah’s experience, and why the Lord used it as a sign.

Here is another type/shadow used by Jesus in John 3, which falls along similar lines as this previous example.

John 3:14

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,”

The serpent lifted up on a staff by Moses is an object in type/figure, and the Son of Man lifted up on the cross in crucifixion is the fulfillment of the type. The Son of Man on the cross is of far greater value than the serpent in the wilderness. And the serpent predates the Son of Man lifted up as well. What is being taught by the use of the type is interesting. The serpent lifted up on the staff represents God judging and condemning Israel’s sin in the wilderness. The greater reality of the fulfillment is the Son of Man on the cross. Jesus was judged and condemned by God there, for He bore our sins upon the tree (Heb. 9:28) and was made sin for us (II Cor. 5:21). It is judgment and condemnation from God being taught in this particular example.

The book of Hebrews is filled with the use of types/shadows. In Hebrews 8, we have a passage of Scripture that not only teaches spiritual truths by the use of types/shadows, but also points out some of the elements that characterize them.

Heb. 8:4-6

“For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law; who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, “See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”  But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.”

The similarities and contrasts between the shadows and the greater realities as fulfillments are important for believers to see and understand. That which is shadow in this example are two things; the earthly priests (or Aaronic priesthood) and the earthly tabernacle (all its different objects, furniture, veil, tent, courtyard, etc.).  As shadows, these have the nature of the lesser value and lesser reality. If I’m not mistaken however, there is actually two more shadows/types found here; Moses, as a mediator, and the covenant of law which he mediated.

Now, all four types presented to us have specific and distinct fulfillments that are future in time to them. The fulfillments always will have the character of being a greater reality with greater value. Also they have similarities to the prefiguring types, but also important distinctions that teach believers the spiritual truths. Here are the pairings:

Types and Fulfillments:                     The Similarities and the Distinctions in Contrast

Earthly priests and a Heavenly Priest Both of these are priesthoods, but the lower one is earthly, while the other is heavenly and the more excellent ministry
Earthly tabernacle and Heavenly Things (v.5) Both of these are tabernacles, but the earthly is only a copy, while the heavenly is far greater in value and nature. The earthly tabernacle serves an earthly people, while the heavenly serves a heavenly calling
Moses, as a mediator and the Mediator of verse 6 Both are mediators of covenants, but the Mediator of verse 6 is far greater in glory and accomplishments
Covenant of Law vs. the Better Covenant and Better Promises Both are covenants of God, but the Law is a shadow of the good things to come (Heb. 10:1); that which replaced it is a Better Covenant established on Better Promises (v.6)

We can see that there is a lot going on in these few verses. The idea that the fulfillments are always of greater worth and reality is seen by the use of the words, ‘better covenant’ which is established on ‘better promises’, and ‘the more excellent ministry’. In Hebrews 9, the thought that the fulfillments are always of greater value and reality is brought home.

 Heb. 9:23-24

“Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us;”

Better sacrifices were required to purify the true places made without hands in the heavens. And the blood of Christ is a purifying agent of infinite value and worth, of this there can be no doubt.

One last thought concerning types/shadows. In general, types should disappear and cease to exist as to their purpose in God’s plan once the fulfillment comes about or is a present reality (I say, ’in general’ because this isn’t true in 100% of the cases). This is an important understanding for many believers to come to because we like to hang on to things; often these things have outlived their use, or worse yet, are things that God no longer acknowledges. A case in point; in Colossians 2 we read,

Col. 2:16-19

“So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the Head…”

All these things are types and shadows, and had their fulfillment, their substance, in the coming of Christ. As believers, we should not hang on to them any longer; they are mere shadows passing away. What we should do is as instructed here; hang on only to the Head, which is Christ. To see clearly on this matter, Paul says by the Spirit of God, just two verses before;

Col. 2:14

“…having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”

The Law of Moses, the Religion of the Jews, is ‘Wiped Out’

The only handwriting of requirements that I ever heard of in a biblical setting is the Law of Moses, the religion of the Jews, with all its ordinances, observances, requirements, etc. This was unceremoniously nailed to the cross of Jesus Christ as ‘wiped out’; that means it is over and finished, and clearly, as he says, “…out of the way…” This should be understood in pertaining to a believer – his relationship to the law is finished, abolished, and no more.

There has always been a nagging question in my mind as to when and how Gentiles were ever placed into a relationship with the Law of Moses. I see the law given at Sinai to Israel, but I do not see the Gentiles there. I do not see God ever giving it to the Gentiles. I can see how the law kept Israel separated from the Gentiles. God gives the law to Israel, and this is one of His main reasons in doing so – for the Jews to be set apart. The only way Gentiles have any association with the Law of Moses is through the thoughts and reasoning of men. But the Spirit of God speaks further through Paul in this same chapter;

Col. 2:20-22

“Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations— “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men?”

Here is what we need to see in this passage, and it certainly is eye-opening for believers. Judaism is identified by the Spirit of God as the basic principles of the world. And the further implication is said, “…as though living in the world…” Christians are not to be of the world, as Christ is not of the world (John 17:16); and when the Spirit says, ‘as though living in the world’, it is a negative assertion being made. Judaism, in any form or appendage, connects the Christian to this earth and makes him a part of this world. How is this so? Israel, as the people of old, and as the physical descendants of Abraham, always was part and parcel of this world. Divided up, this world is made of Jews and Gentiles. Israel, as a people, has a wall of partition raised up around them, separating them from the Gentile nations (Isaiah 5:1-7); yet still very much part of this unbelieving world. God raised up this wall, giving the Law to Israel, with all its rituals, observances, and services.   He effectively separated them from all Gentiles (Eph. 2:11-15, Exodus 19:4-5).

Judaism, the Law of Moses – of the World, of the Earth, and of the Flesh

Let’s look at more scriptural evidence concerning this point; Judaism as the basic principles of the world. In the book of Galatians, Paul is combating the influence of Judaism on the Christian faith among the Galatian believers. This is obviously the issue when reading Gal. 3;

Gal. 3:2

“This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?”

The works of the law is Judaism. That was the problem in Galatia, the addition of Judaism to the Christian faith, or more specifically, an addition to Christ. The Spirit of God would not tolerate this, and the whole book is the expression of the mind of the Spirit against this evil. We see the progression of the thought from verse two,

Gal. 3:3

“Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?”

They began well, in the Spirit by faith in Christ.   Adding Judaism to Christ would simply be a work of the flesh. In Gal. 3:10, we have anyone of Judaism – that is, “of the works of the law” – will eventually receive judgment and condemnation from God (under the curse). This is exactly in line with what the Spirit of God says in II Cor. 3:7-9. Judaism, written and engraved on stones was a ministration of death and condemnation. So that, in Gal. 4:3, Judaism is the bondage of the elements of the world, and further, in Gal. 4:9, it is the weak and beggarly elements of worldly bondage. In Gal. 4: 24-25, the covenant from Mt. Sinai, which is the Law of Moses, the religion of the Jews, gives birth to bondage, and Jerusalem and her children (the Jews) are the products of this earthly bondage. And finally, in Gal. 5:1, Judaism is the yoke of bondage not to be entangled with. There is more scriptural testimony on this matter, but what we’ve mentioned already is overwhelming and conclusive. As a believer, do not add any part of Judaism to Christ or Christianity. He alone is sufficient, no rather, infinitely more than enough. Faith in Him alone brings life and righteousness (Gal. 3:21-22).

Isaac a Type of the Son of Man Raised from the Dead

Before ending this chapter of types/shadows, I want to share with you one more that is intimately connected to the title and work of Christ, the Son of Man. It is found in Hebrews 11;

Heb. 11:17-19

“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called, concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.”

The covenant of Promise was confirmed in a singular Seed (Gal. 3:16).  Now in Abraham’s time this singular seed was Isaac his son.  If you look closely at Rom. 9:6-9, God speaks clearly, “Through Isaac shall your seed be called.”  And again He says, “…For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son,” (notice the phrase, ‘word of promise’).

But I thought the Seed was Christ?  Here is where this beautiful type comes in.  In Heb. 11:17-19 the writer quotes the same words of God, “…Through Isaac shall your seed be called…” and here shows that Isaac is a type/prefiguring.  But there is presented here a special character to this type for us to properly understand. Because Isaac is offered up, he prefigures Christ offered up by the father (Father) who would not spare his (His) son (Son).  This isn’t all, the prefiguring goes farther.  Abraham receives Isaac back from the dead, in type, in resurrection (v.19) and the greater reality fulfilling the type, is God receiving Christ back from the dead, a risen Christ after His sacrifice was accomplished.

The promise of the blessing of the nations wasn’t given to Abraham and his many seeds. It was made to Abram alone (Gen. 12:3), and confirmed by God in his one Seed (Gen. 22:18).   Paul, by the Spirit of God, makes this very clear (Gal. 3:16). Further, it is not that there weren’t any promises made to Abraham and his many seeds by God, for certainly there were. For example, an important promise made to the many seeds of Abraham (Israel) in Gen. 12:7 and Gen. 13:14-17 concerns a physical piece of land known as the Promised Land.  Here we have this promise given directly to his many seeds. Important for our understanding is to note that the many seeds are physical descendants (after the flesh), and the land is a physical piece of this earth. The Jews’ future restoration there (for this promise has never yet been fulfilled, not in the sense God says “…I give to you and your descendants forever”) is very much a physical restoration of prosperity and fruitfulness (Jer. 30:18 – 31:14, Jer. 33:6-14, Joel 2:21-27, Joel 3:17-18). These many seeds after the flesh and the many promises, all physical in character, are associated with Christ as Messiah to Israel, who will be, in the end, the source of all these blessings and restoration (Isaiah 59:20-21, Rom. 11:26-27, Isaiah 61:1-7, Isaiah 9:6-7).

Some Types and Shadows that Prefigure the Church

Let us look at some types that prefigure the church. It can easily be seen, that the physical seed of Abraham is type of the spiritual seed of Abraham. Israel, as physical descendants of Abraham after the flesh, is type of the body of Christ, the children of Abraham by faith (Gal. 3:7, 9, and 29). As with all types, the lesser always precedes the greater. That is why Israel’s promises and blessings are earthy; they are descendants after the flesh. Israel is of this world, separated by a wall of partition from the other nations of the world, part of which is their circumcision in the flesh, and their promised land having physical boundaries. This is why Israel is constantly the subject of prophecy – it deals with Israel as part of this world, part of this earth, and the Gentile nations and powers in how they’ve treated the Jews. And Abraham understood the lesser precedes the greater in types; for consider, in him were both, the type (the physical seed) and the greater reality in fulfillment (the spiritual seed, the believer and church, Gal.3:29).

Yet Abraham himself, identifies with the spiritual seed (the church), for he sojourned in the land of Promise as in a foreign country…for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God…and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland…but now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country…(Heb.11:8-16). The fulfillment of all types is always greater and better, as are the promises associated with the fulfillment. As it is said here, “they desired a better…a heavenly country…for (God) He has prepared a city for them.” Abraham then is also a type of the believer in a number of ways: first, as a friend and confident of God, entering into His counsels, God not hiding from him what He was about to do; second, as a pilgrim and stranger on this earth, looking for a better homeland, that is, a heavenly country; third, in his calling, he is told to leave country and kindred behind, severing all ties to this world. We can learn much from Abraham’s life, good and bad, as examples. He is the father of faith.

The First and Last Adams

To finish off our chapter on types and shadows we need to consider the two Adams. In Romans 5, the first Adam is said to be a type of Christ:

Rom. 5:14

“Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.”

Jesus Christ, as the fulfillment of the first Adam in type, is in the title and character of the Son of Man. Adam is the first man, while Christ is presented as the last Adam (I Cor. 15:45). The redemptive work of Christ is the subject and focus of Romans 5 and 6, contrasted with the sin and offence of the first Adam when he fell. Not only does Jesus Himself identify the redemptive work with the Son of Man as we have seen previously in the gospels, but the Spirit of God through Paul does the same. Then we see that all of I Cor. 15 is about the Son of Man as well, there the reference to the gospel of suffering, death and resurrection (vs. 1-4). Also there we see the millennial kingdom of the Son of Man (vs. 24-28) over all creation. But clearly the main idea presented in the chapter is how intimately the resurrection and glorification of the Son of Man is associated with the believers’ resurrection and glorification. This event in the believers’ future, regardless of whether our bodies are corrupting in the grave or we are among those in Christ alive and remaining, is all predicated on and consequent to the glorification of the Son of Man (I Cor. 15:12-23, 35-57, John 12:23).

There are many more truths concerning Christ as the Son of Man found in scripture. We have barely touched on Ephesians 1 and 2, Hebrews 2, 9, 10, Revelation 1-5 and Colossians 1 to name a few. These chapters present both the redemptive work and results of the Son of Man. They show His glorification to the right hand of the Majesty on high with all associated blessing and results. One last thought: it is Adam before the fall that is a type of Christ as the Son of Man. Therefore Eve, as his help-meet, serves as a type as well. This we will take up in later chapters.