Justin Taylor recently linked to Calvin’s New Testament preface. It contains a heart-warming account of OT typology. Let me quote a few lines…
[Christ] is the victorious and noble king David, bringing by his hand all rebellious power to subjection.
He is the magnificent and triumphant king Solomon, governing his kingdom in peace and prosperity.
He is the strong and powerful Samson, who by his death has overwhelmed all his enemies.
It’s a Keller-style “Jesus is the true and better…” long before Keller. Well of course, it’s a thoroughly biblical – a thoroughly Christian – way of reading the bible.
But let’s not forget that Christ is also David’s Lord (Psalm 110:1); Solomon’s Fount of Wisdom (1 Kings 3:5); and the Angel of the LORD foretelling Samson’s birth (Judges 13).
In other words, Christ is not merely patterned in the OT (through the types). He is not merely promised. He is present. He is there as the consciously-known object of saving faith in all ages. David Murray gets at why this is so important here.
I’m massively encouraged by the church’s renewed interest in preaching Christ from the Old Testament, and especially by the increased willingness to see how Old Testament people, places, events, etc., point forward to Christ. This “types and trajectories” (or redemptive-historical) hermeneutic has many strengths.
However, I’m a bit concerned that an overuse of this tool can give the impression that Christ is merely the end of redemptive history rather than an active participant throughout.
Puritans such as Jonathan Edwards were masters of balance here. In his History of the Work of Redemption, Edwards shows Christ as not only the end of redemptive history, but actively and savingly involved from the first chapter to the last. He did not view Old Testament people, events, etc., as only stepping-stones to Christ; he saw Christ in the stepping-stones themselves. He did not see the need to relate everything to “the big picture”; he found the “big picture” even in the “small pictures.”
I’d also like to encourage preachers and teachers to be clear and consistent on the question: “How were Old Testament believers saved?” The most common options seem to be:
1. They were saved by obeying the law.
2. They were saved by offering sacrifices.
3. They were saved by a general faith in God.4. They were saved by faith in the Messiah.
Unless we consistently answer #4, we end up portraying heaven as not only populated by lovers of Christ, but also by legalists, ritualists, and mere theists who never knew Christ until they got there. Turning back again in order to go forwards, may I recommend Calvin’s Institutes Book 2 (chapters 9-11) to help remove some of the blur that often surrounds this question.
I agree wholeheartedly with that recommendation. It gives the other side to Calvin’s teaching on the matter. Christ is not simply the true and better Adam, He is Adam’s true and only hope! Jesus is not simply better than Noah. Faith in Him is not simply better than faith in a sub-Christian God. It’s Christ alone or not at all. This is why we can never be content with merely preaching Jesus through OT types. Let’s hear Calvin some more…
[The OT saints] had and knew Christ as Mediator, through whom they were joined to God and were to share in His promises.” (II.10.2).
“Holy men of old knew God only by beholding Him in His Son as in a mirror. When I say this, I mean that God has never manifested Himself to men in any other way than through the Son, that is, His sole wisdom, light and truth. From this fountain Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others drank all that they had of heavenly teaching. From the same fountain, all the prophets have also drawn every heavenly oracle that they have given forth. (IV.8.5)
Christ is the fountain, not simply the finale! Therefore it’s vital to maintain both the christological promises and patterns of the OT and the presence of Christ.
But let me conclude with a word to those who bang the “presence” drum (people like me). We mustn’t forget the patterns and promises. The OT saints did not merely rest in a correct doctrine of God. The fact that they grasped the Divine Sent One as ‘God from God’ did not save them! The fact they knew Christ as a distinct Member of the Godhead is not, in itself, salvific. They trusted in the Christ they knew there and then but also in what He would do when He came to save them. Their faith was not merely in the Person but also the work of Christ. The object of their hope was not merely the Word of the LORD but His redeeming work as the Seed of the woman.
To use Calvin’s phrase, Christ always comes clothed in His promises. No-one can behold a naked Christ and we mustn’t preach a naked Christ in the OT. Christ is the root and offspring of David (Rev 22:16). If we only preach Christ as the root then we miss His incarnate – i.e. His saving – work. And no-one can rest their faith on a non-incarnate – i.e. non-saving – Christ!
Let’s hear one last time from Calvin who helpfully upholds both sides for us: the presence and the promises/patterns:
The fathers, when they wished to behold God, always turned their eyes to Christ. I mean not only that they beheld God in his eternal Word, but also they attended with their whole mind and the whole affection of their heart to the promised manifestation of Christ. (Commentary, John 1:18)