How NT Authors Found Christ in the Scriptures (5 of 7)

Presuppositions in Practice: NT Authors Found Christ in the OT

What follows is a brief survey of the different ways the OT bears witness to Christ, as exemplified in the preaching and writing of the NT authors.

1) Redemptive-historical Progression

One of the most straightforward ways the above presuppositions is practiced by the NT writers, and should be by us, is explicitly pointing out how God’s redemptive history moves toward, pivots upon, and proceeds from Christ. For instance, Matthew presents Christ as the successor of a royal line in his opening genealogy (Matt 1:1-17).[1] Luke prominently presents Jesus “as the midpoint of redemptive history,” who asserted that “the Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it” (Lk 16:16).[2] Likewise Paul preaches Christ using redemptive-historical progression, aiming at both past and future trajectories.[3]

2) The Fulfillment of OT Promises

Christ is seen and preached in the NT as the one active in the fulfillment of promises God made in the OT. This NT approach is not novel in hermeneutics, for the promise-fulfillment pattern is germane to the OT’s treatment of itself. Genesis 18:10 is fulfilled by Genesis 21:2. Genesis 17:8 is fulfilled by Joshua 21:43-45. Often God makes a promise, fulfills it, and shows the promise has a heightened fulfillment that is still future. When the “great nation” promise to Abraham seemed to reach its fulfillment in David’s kingdom, God escalated the promise exponentially, guaranteeing an eternal throne to David (2 Sam 7:16), the hope of which was complicated by the exile, re-sparked by the returning remnant, and still longed after in its future completion.[4]

Thus in the NT, we see Jesus teaching about himself via the promise-fulfillment pattern.[5] Matthew typically uses promise-fulfillment formula quotations (e.g., Mt 12:15-21), while Luke “lets the event speak for itself and declare its fulfillment.”[6] In Acts, Luke uses the words of others to declare promise-fulfillment.[7] Sometimes fulfillment language can refer both to OT promises and types as in Matthew’s use of “fulfilled” (Mt 2:15); other times Matthew’s fulfillment language refers neither to an OT promise nor a type, as in the use of Ps 78:2 in Mt 13:35.[8] This highlights the fact that “Matthew sees the whole Old Testament as the embodiment of promise; [so] all kinds of Old Testament writing (not just prophecies) can be drawn on in relating that promise to Jesus.”[9]

3) The Use of Typology

Typology occurs when a writer sees both a correspondence between an earlier (type) and later (antitype) person, event or institution, and a heightening of the type in the antitype. We may define typology as “the study of analogical correspondences among revealed truths about persons, events, institutions and other things within the historical framework of God’s special revelation, which, from a retrospective view, are of a prophetic nature and are escalated in their meaning.”[10] Beale helpfully provides the criteria of a type:[11] 1) there must be analogical correspondence between the OT person/event/institution and the NT event; 2) historicity; 3) a pointing-forwardness “i.e., an aspect of foreshadowing or presignification”;[12] 4) escalation, where “the antitype is heightened in some way in relation to the OT type”; 5) retrospection, observed in the fact that “it was after Christ’s resurrection and under the direction of the Spirit that the apostolic writers understood certain OT historical narratives about persons, events, institutions to be indirect prophecies of Christ or the church.”[13]

Other criteria of a type may be 1) “evidence in the immediate context of the focus OT passage itself that the reference was already conceived to be part of a foreshadowing pattern”[14]; 2) “the literary clustering of repeated commissions and failures… like that of the judges, prophets, priests, and kings… is evidence of a type within the OT itself,” and thus, in these instances “we can recognize OT types as having a prophetic element even before the fuller revelation of their fulfillment in the NT”;[15] also 3) if “a later person is seen as an antitype of an earlier person, who is clearly viewed as a type of Christ by the NT, then this later OT person is also a likely candidate to be considered a type of Christ”;[16] 4) and any of “those major redemptive-historical events that in some fashion are repeated throughout the OT and share such unique characteristics that they are clearly to be identified with one another long before the era of the NT” (22).[17]

Typology is employed not only within the NT,[18] but also within the OT.[19] In every case, typology involves correspondence and escalation, as in Jesus’ teaching on Jonah (Matt 12:40-42). Sometimes, in so-called NT typos texts, the Greek word typos (pattern, image, copy) is used

to articulate a specific relationship between a pattern and its replica, [linked both by continuity and discontinuity] in which persons or events [or institutions] in the history of Israel were designed by God to prefigure Christ and his redemptive work […] and therefore [the type, pattern, template] interprets and is interpreted by its Christological fulfillment[20]

Another way typology surfaces in the NT is when actual people, institutions, and events are presented as “fulfilled” in the NT, rather than verbal promises. Johnson makes a helpful distinction between promise through word (prophecy) and promise through event (typology).[21]

Typology may also be at work in passages where OT passages are not explicitly quoted, but rather alluded to. Some allusions are easier to recognize, while others are more debatable or subtle. Johnson points out Luke’s unmistakable allusions to the ministry of Elijah as he narrates Jesus’ earthly ministry (Lk 7-9).[22] Likewise the apostle John makes allusions to aspects of OT history, presenting Christ as their antitype.[23] Sometimes it seems impossible that certain texts in the OT could have any reference to Christ. In response to this, Johnson counsels the reader to step back and look at broad themes like covenant mediation positions (prophet, priest, king, judge) or creation and covenantal frameworks—the broad patterns of the OT that are picked up in the NT.[24]

4) Analogy and Contrast

Sometimes NT writers “highlight the continuities in the history they relate by casting later events and persons more or less in the image of earlier events and persons.”[25] The OT depicts Abraham as a new Adam; Joseph as a new Noah; Samuel as another Moses; David as another Joshua; and the NT uses analogy as a movement from “what God was for Israel to what God through Christ is for the New Testament church.”[26] Analogy in the NT is “the use of O.T. language and concepts to describe N.T. realities, as, for instance, when Paul refers to the Galatian Christians as ‘the Israel of God’ (Gal 6:16).”[27] The NT is replete with analogies between Yahweh and Christ, substituting Lord or Jesus for Yahweh;[28] analogies between Israel and the Church;[29] and analogies between God and Israel and the relationship between Christ and his church.[30] Contrast, as the inverse of analogy, is also redemptive-historical approach in the Scriptures, such as when Jeremiah declares that the New Covenant would be “not like” the Old Covenant (Jer 31:31-33).[31]

5) Longitudinal Themes

Finally, broad themes like covenant, rest, temple, priest, sacrifice, exodus, exile, resurrection and many more—some more prominent than others—can be traced from the OT to find their ultimate meaning in Christ himself, as revealed in the NT.[32]


[1] Greidanus, Preaching Christ, 204 (cf., Gen 12:3, 2 Sam 7:16).

[2] ibid., 204 (cf., Acts 2:22-23; Acts 7:2-52; Acts 13:16-41).

[3] ibid., 204 (cf., Rom 1:1-3; 5:18; 8:21; Gal 3:24; 4:4-5; Col 1:26; 2 Cor 6:2; Eph 1:8-10)

[4] ibid., 208.

[5] ibid., 209-10. (cf., Lk 4:21; Son of Man in Mk 14:62 fulfilling Dan 7:13-14; Servant in Isa 42:1-9; 49:1-13; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12 fulfilled and merged into one figure by Mk 10:45; Isa 53:12 in Lk 22:37; in Lk 18:31-33 and Matt 26:56, Jesus  knew he was fulfilling the OT figures; he fulfills time itself, Mk 1:15).

[6] Darrel Bock, The Use of the Old Testament in the New, 502, as quoted in Greidanus, Preaching Christ, 211 (cf., Acts 8:32-35; Luke 1:1; 2 Sam 7:16 in Lk 1:32-33; Lk 1:55; 1:69-70; 24:44).

[7] ibid., 211 (cf., Acts 2:16-17; 3:13,18,26;8:32-35;13:23,27,29;26:22-23).

[8] ibid., 206-207.

[9] Wright, Knowing Jesus, 63-64.

[10] Beale, Handbook, 14.

[11] ibid., 19-25.

[12] ibid., 14.

[13] ibid., 14.

[14] ibid., 19.

[15] ibid., 20-21.

[16] ibid., 21. Such as Joshua, seen a second Moses, and Moses, seen by the NT as a type of Christ.

[17] ibid., 22. Such as “(1) the emergence of the earth out of the water of Noah’s flood has a multitude of affinities with the emergence of the first earth out of the chaos waters described in Genesis 1… (2) In several ways the redemption of Israel from Egypt is patterned after the creation in Genesis 1… (3) Israel’s return from Babylonian exile is pictured as a new creation, modeled on the first creation. Likewise, it is commonly recognized that second generation Israel’s crossing of the Jordan is depicted like the first generation’s crossing through the Red Sea, as likewise is Israel’s restoration from Babylonian exile portrayed as another exodus like the first out of Egypt. Israel’s tabernacle, the Solomonic temple, and Israel’s second temple are all uniquely patterned in many ways after essential features in the Garden of Eden…In each of the three above examples of creation, exodus, and temple repetitions, the earlier events may not only correspond uniquely to the later events but within the OT itself may also be designed to point forward to these later events. Accordingly, these earlier OT references that are linked together also typologically point to these same escalated realities in the NT’s reference to Christ and the church as the beginning of a new creation, the end-time exodus, and the latter-day temple. But even when key redemptive-historical events are not repeated, a candidate for a type can still be discerned” (Beale, 22).

[18] Greidanus, Preaching Christ, 218-20 (cf., Jn 1:14 using Exod 40:34; Jn 1:29, 36 using the OT’s Lamb of God as also in 1 Pet 1:19 and Rev 5:6; Exod 34:28 in Mk 1:13; Moses going up and down the mountain in Deut 9:9 and Exod 34:29 LXX picked up in Matt 5:1 & 8:1); Exod 12:46 and Num 9:12 in Jn 19:33, 36; the typology prevalent in Hebrews: Melchizedek [Heb 7:1-2]; Moses [3:2-6]; the high priest [2:17;8:1-6;9:12-14, 24-28;10:1-10]; and the first/second covenant [8:6-13; 9:15]).

[19] ibid., 215-17. Isaiah pictures the Babylonian exile as a new exodus [Isa 43:2, 16, 19; 11:15-16; 48:20-21; 51:9-11; 52:11-12]; Jeremiah speaks of the New covenant in the terminology of the old [Jer 31:33]; another King David is promised [Ezek 34:23-24; 37:24-28; Jer 23:5-6; 30:9; Hos 3:5]; a new heavens and earth are seen created in Isa 65:17-25. Note that in all these passages, there is correspondence as well as escalation.

[20] Johnson, Him We Proclaim, 200, 202 (cf., Rom 5:14; 1 Cor 10:6,11; 1 Pet 3:21.

[21] ibid., 207-09 (cf., Gen 2:7 in 1 Cor 15:45, the creation of Adam; Gen 2:24 in Eph 5:31, the union of Adam and Eve; Ex 12:46 in John 19:36, The Passover Lamb; Ps 16:10 in Acts 2:27; Ps 41:10 in John 13:18. cf., Acts 1:20: David’s betrayal by a friend; Ps 35:19 in John 15:25, baseless hostility; Ps 22:1 in Matt 27:46, the Cry of one forsaken by God; Ps 22:18 in John 19:24, Casting lots for clothing; Ps 78:2 in Matt 13:35, The imparting of wisdom; Isa 6:9-10 in Matt 13:35, Israel’s deafness to the prophets’ words; Jer 31:15 in Matt 2:18, Rachel weeping for her children in Ramah; Hos 11:1 in Matt 2:15, because Jesus is the true Israel, rescued form infanticide, brought out of Egypt, tested in the wilderness, etc.; Jesus is not replacing Israel; rather, Jesus is Israel’s very fulfillment).

[22] ibid., 210-211. Notice Luke’s typology of Elijah/Elisha spread throughout Luke 7-9 in the resurrection of the widow’s son, the transfiguration appearance of Elijah, the calling down of fire from heaven, the man being called from the plow, and the healing of a gentile general.

[23] ibid., 211. Jesus’ body as the temple (Jn 2); Jesus as the bread from heaven (Jn 6; 2 Sam 7; Zech 4); as the bronze serpent (Jn 3); the rock that gave water (Jn 7; Ex 17); the light of the world through the fiery cloud in the desert (Jn 8; Ex 13); the good shepherd that David’s sons failed to be (Jn 10; Jer 23, Ezek 34); and the true vine that Israel failed to be (Jn 15; Isa 5; Ps 80).

[24] ibid., 216.

[25] Greidanus, Preaching Christ, 220.

[26] ibid., 220-221.

[27] John Drane, Typology, 199, as cited in Greidanus, Preaching Christ 221,

[28] e.g., Malachi 3:1 in Mt 11:10; Ezek 34:11-16; Isa 40:11 in John 10:1-16; Isa 8:13 in 1 Pet 3:16

[29] e.g., Jer 2:2 & Hos 2:14-20 in 2 Cor 11:2 & Eph 5:32; Deut 10:15 & Exod 19:6 in 1 Pet 2:9

[30] e.g., Joel 2:32 in Rom 10:9,13; Isa 45:23 in Phil 2:10-11

[31] Greidanus, Preaching Chirst, 224-35.

[32] Biblical Theology (ID 5000), as class at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, D.A. Carson