How to Study the Bible: Prophecy and Typology

by Sean Perron

by Sean Perron

Prophecy and Typology – Audio.mp3

The Bible has one main story.

  • A helpful way to summarize the overarching story of the Bible is the four categories of Creation > Fall > Redemption > Consummation.
  • Essential to this story is the road to Emmaus
  • Luke 24:13-27 – The disciples had slow hearts and did not realize the Scriptures spoke about Jesus.
  • John 5:37-46 – The Pharisees hearts were hardened and did not see Jesus in the writings of Moses.

How does the Old Testament point to Jesus?

Often prophecy in the New Testament can perplex readers. Sometimes is seems as though the New Testament writers were not consistent in their use of the Old Testament. Here is an imperfect illustration that may help shed light on how the New Testament writers understood Old Testament prophecy.

The two main painting styles I am familiar with are “Replication” and “Abstract”.

One type of painting technique attempts to replicate a photo or event with minute detail and accuracy. This was my choice of style when I first began to paint. I loved to paint fruit as realistic as possible or reduplicate photographs on a canvas. Another form of art is known as Impressionism. Abstract art uses a much broader stroke of artistic interpretation yet still conveys a message or picture. Against all odds (and to my grandfather’s chagrin), most of my current paintings lean towards the way of Van Gogh. The lines may be blurry, the colors may be abnormal, but it is beautiful in my eyes.

I have learned to appreciate both mediums and understand their places in the art realm. Neither one is wrong but they both have their benefits.

This analogy may be helpful in relation to Scriptural prophecy.

1. Literal Fulfillment

Matthew 2:6 is a direct fulfillment of Micah 5:2. Jesus’ birthplace is predicted hundreds of years in advanced and is fulfilled exactly as foretold. I would equate this with replication type paintings. The Old Testament prophet says “A+B will make C” and thus the New Testament equation unfolds.

2. Typological fulfillment.

An example of this would be found in Matthew 2:15. Matthew saw the life of Israel and the life of Jesus and did not think it was a coincidence. In Hosea 11:1-4, the people of Israel were wandering away from God! They were in Egypt because they were being sinful. Jesus was not in Egypt for slavery but for safety. Jesus is the true and better Israel and fulfills everything Israel was not. In this medium of prophecy, the New Testament writers see a divine foreshadow, theme, or event in the Old Testament and connect it with the life or ministry of Christ. Though these prophecies are not necessarily a detailed blueprint that would have been anticipated, they depict pictures of the Messiah which the inspired authors used. I would compare this type of prophecy with impressionistic art. (e.g. Mt 2:16-18, 2:23)

Both are right and both have their beauty and place in the realm of Scripture. The New Testament writers knew how to read the Bible properly and we would do well to follow their method of study.

In his book, What is Biblical Theology?, Dr. Jim Hamilton correctly points out that in the book of Hebrews, Jesus is the new and better Moses, David, Priest, Sacrifice, Law and Covenant. A good question to ask when reading the Old Testament is: How is Jesus a true and better picture of this character or event? This is how the author of Hebrews interpreted the Old Testament. Look for connections the New Testament apostles make and seek to understand how they interpret the Old Testament.

What about the Old Testament Prophets?

The books of the prophets are often neglected by most Christians. These books include: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.

Here are four common theme found in the books of the prophets. Each of these major themes includes a different nuance of prophecy that is important when interpreting the Bible.

1. Prophets warned of future judgment

  • Some prophecy is conditional (Jonah 3:1-5)

The prophecy that Nineveh was going to be overthrown was conditioned upon repentance. If they repented, then God would not destroy them. If they did not repent, then God would destroy them. It is only uncertain from our perspective. God is all knowing and ordains our steps and from his vantage point, he can see what Nineveh will do. Yet from our perspective as a reader, we cannot.

  • Some prophecy is unconditional (Micah 5:2 – Jesus was going to be born from the tribe of Judah and there is no stopping it.)

2. Prophets called for current repentance

  • Seek to understand the original context of prophecy

It is a mistake to read the Old Testament and jump straight to Jesus! The Old Testament has much value in its original context and we should soak in it before getting out of the tub. Many prophecies are complex and cannot be simplified in a sentence or two. It is important to understand the Old Testament context and then seek to understand how New Testament writers understood that particular passage. An example of this is in the passage of Hosea. We would miss out on the need to repent in the text if we did not explore the surrounding context of Hosea 11.

3. Prophets told about future deliverance

  • Seek to understand how Jesus fulfills prophecy

Prophetic foreshortening – This is like viewing Mountains from a distance. The mountain range appears to be all lined up from the Old Testament point of view, but as you get closer, you realize the peaks are miles apart. Some Old Testament passages lump several events together that appear as one event from the Old Testament perspective. One example of this is Isaiah 61:1-2. This passage declares the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of judgment. Yet when Jesus reads this passage in Luke 4:16-19, he stops half way through verse 2 in Isaiah 60 and does not mention the Day of Judgment. This day had not yet come. The two events appeared as one in the Old Testament but in reality were separated by thousands of years.

4. Prophets called for genuine religion

  • Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:8 – This prophecy is more typological in nature.

Studying the prophetic books should cause us to examine our hearts and make sure we are currently walking with God. The prophets give a clear call for authentic faith that is more than mental agreement with facts. God wants worshipers who love him with their hearts and not just their lips. We know more than Moses and David did about these prophecies. Are we amazed? 1 Peter 1:10-12

Small Group Discussion Questions:

  1. Are you confused by prophecy in the Bible? What was discussed tonight that can help you when you come across Biblical prophecies?
  2. Prophets rebuked religious hypocrisy. Are you the same person around your friends as you are at home? Are you the same person at school as you are at church?
  3. Prophets wanted genuine religion. How would you describe your heart’s affection (love, desires) for God? Are they strong, weak or non-existent?
  4. Prophets called for repentance. Do you simply ask Jesus for forgiveness but not ask him for power to change your behavior? Would you feel comfortable sharing a recent specific instance you repented and turn from sin?
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One thought on “How to Study the Bible: Prophecy and Typology

  1. Pingback: How to Study the Bible « Unspoken

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