Often times, when we discuss types in Scripture, we may assume that an Old Testament type passes away when the New Testament antitype brings it to fulfillment. Often times, this is the case. Here are some examples:
- The Old Testament Levitical priesthood has now passed away. It pointed us forward to Christ, who is now our permanent high priest in the order of Melchizedek (see Hebrews 7). Fulfillment requires the passing away of the type.
- The Old Testament sacrificial system has now passed away. It pointed us forward to Christ, who is now our permanent sacrifice (see Hebrews 10). Again, fulfillment requires the passing away of the type.
- The Old Testament holy places (tabernacle, then temple) have now passed away. Jesus is the true Temple, the new covenant locus of God’s presence with us. Fulfillment requires the passing away of the type.
Some Dispensationalists have argued that we should expect a rebuilt temple, with a re-established sacrificial system, which would presumably require a reconstituted priesthood, in the millennial kingdom. Yet the purpose of the sacrifices will not be atonement but rather public testimony to the finality of Christ’s sacrifice (and yes, I realize how ironic that concept is). Overall, however, this has been a minority position in church history, and I do not regard it as biblically persuasive.
So, most Christians agree that a number of Old Testament types pass away when the New Testament brings them to fulfillment. But does this mean that all types pass away? Is it possible that at least some types do not pass away but rather are incorporated into the fulfillment? And if so, by what principle could we determine types that pass away from types that don’t?
I have a proposal on this question, but first, let me give two examples:
(1) Israel is a type of Christ. As God’s son, Israel is by and large disobedient. But Christ is the true, obedient Son who succeeds where Israel failed. The 40-day wilderness temptation narrative in the Gospels clearly echoes the 40-year wilderness wanderings of Israel, but the two stories have very different results. Christ transcends and surpasses Israel as antitypes always transcend and surpass their types. In doing so, he unites in himself “one new man” of Jews and Gentiles, a worldwide, redeemed family, the church.
And yet, this does not entail the elimination of Israel as such. In fact, the argument of Romans 9-11 strongly affirms that God’s gifts to and calling of Israel are irrevocable. National Israel still has an important role in God’s plan, and God’s promise of redemption to the nation will be fulfilled (I know there are other ways of reading Romans 9-11, but I find them unpersuasive). The antitypical fulfillment of the Israel type in the New Testament does not entail the passing away of Israel as such. Instead, national Israel will be incorporated into the fulfillment at the return of Christ.
(2) The Davidic dynasty as a type of Christ. This too plays on the themes of sonship (2 Sam. 7:14). On the whole, the Davidic dynasty failed, sending Judah into exile. Christ has come as a new David, an obedient Son, not to eliminate the Davidic dynasty, but to bring it to fulfillment. Interestingly, there will be no son of Aaron representing us as a priest forever; that priesthood has passed away. But there will be a Son of David representing us as a king forever. David’s line remains covenantally significant into the new creation.
By what principle can we distinguish between a type that passes away, such as the Levitical priesthood, and a type that is incorporated into the fulfillment, such as the Davidic dynasty? I would argue that we should give attention to the particular covenant to which the type is connected, and determine whether or not that type is bound up with an everlasting promise. Covenants that make everlasting promises will have everlasting types. The covenant that was specifically designed for a temporary role (i.e., the Mosaic Covenant) will have temporary types.
The priesthood is bound up with the Mosaic Covenant. Now that the covenant, having fulfilled its role in history, has passed away, so has its priesthood. Type has given way to antitype. The Davidic dynasty, on the other hand, is bound up with the Davidic Covenant, which in turn represents an extension of the promise to Abraham. These two covenants do not pass away, and so their types remain.
I would argue that the same is true for national Israel. Although many aspects of Israel’s national identity are bound up with Mosaic Covenant, there are also numerous promises to national Israel tied to the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants. Therefore, Israel as such does not pass away but will be incorporated into the new creation in Christ.
One proposal that is more controversial involves the land promise in the Abrahamic Covenant. If the principle I have articulated is applied consistently, we would have to conclude that it has ongoing significance. In fact, it is difficult to imagine how a corporate salvation of “all Israel” (Rom. 11:26) could occur apart from a land in which Israel may be constituted as a nation. The inheritance of the land of Palestine for a restored kingdom of Israel seems to be entirely in keeping with consistent principles of biblical typology. Of course, the New Testament does expand the land promise to encompass the whole earth (Rom. 4:13), but just as the redemption of the Gentile nations in Christ does not entail the exclusion of Israel as a nation, neither does the inheritance of the whole earth entail the exclusion of one portion of the earth for one particular nation in the consummated kingdom.
Does this sound like a two-tiered kingdom, with Israel getting a real sonship status and the Gentiles getting left to a lower form of the inheritance? Before making that charge, consider the fact that Israel undeniably has at least one privilege over all of the other nations in the kingdom: Jesus is, and forever will be, a Son of David, one who belongs to the nation of Israel. In addition, most commentators on Romans today agree that Romans 9-11 entails the fulfillment of a national promise to Israel, and if that is indeed the case, it would mean that God has promised something to Israel that he has promised to no other nation on earth, namely, the salvation of that nation as a nation, and not merely as a collection of individual representatives from that nation. If we accept both of these premises, are we really going too far if we suggest that Israel’s connection to the specific land promised to them remains intact in the eschatological fulfillment of the promises to Abraham?
As a Gentile believer in Christ, I rejoice in the reestablishment of the Davidic dynasty, the promised future salvation of Israel, and the anticipation that God’s everlasting promise of land to Abraham will be fulfilled. As an heir of the new creation, I don’t see the promise of land to Israel as excluding me, but rather including me through the expansion of the land promise to incorporate the whole earth, but not the exclusion of Israel’s particular inheritance in Palestine. Gentile believers are saved in Christ, not through the obliteration of or replacement of Israel, but through incorporation into a renewed Israel. We are wild olive branches whose only hope is that we may be grafted into the cultivated olive tree.