So what exactly is meant by “types and shadows”? Types and shadows occur when God uses people, places, or events to depict a higher spiritual reality/meaning. This principle is important if we are to gain further understanding of God's purpose in Christ and His process in accomplishing it.
There are quite a few places in scriptures where God flat out tells us what the spiritual meaning is meant by the physical representation. Here are some examples:
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, "IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED." He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type. Heb 11:17-19 NASU
Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, Heb 8:4-5 NASU
For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things,Heb 10:1 NASU
Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise. These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written: “Be glad, barren woman, you who never bore a child; shout for joy and cry aloud, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.” Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman. Galatians 4:21-31
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. John 2:19-21
These and other scriptures clearly show us that there is a greater spiritual reality the Lord is more concerned about which He conveys to us through people, places, and events. So then, why is this concept of types and shadows important for us to understand? Let me give you an illustration.
Say you are going to teach your child addition. We will assume your child knows how to count to 100 or higher. Starting with the basics, you show them an apple and say “One apple”. Then, you show them another apple and say “One apple”. Putting the two apples together you say “Two apples”. Then you say, “One apple (showing the first apple) plus one apple (showing the second apple) equals two apples”, and so forth. For some time you, figuratively speaking, spell it out for them. You do this so that they have a foundation to build on. Once they understand the concept, then you give them problems that they have to solve using the foundational principles you’ve given them.
The Lord is doing the same thing. He specifically tells us that certain people, places, or events mean such and such in the spirit. Then, He does it again using another person, place, or event, and so on. What He is doing is laying a foundational principle. That is, that which is of the spirit, or of a spiritual nature, is of greater importance than the earthly type which represents it. But just as we eventually expect our children to learn the principles of addition, the Lord also expects us to learn this principle of types and shadows.
By understanding this principle, we begin to see that there are other types and shadows that the Lord doesn’t just “spell out” for us. Don’t get me wrong, the correlation is there in the scriptures, it’s just hidden. And just to make things even more difficult, you aren’t likely to learn these things through seminary, pastors, Sunday School teachers, books, videos, etc. So, does that mean you have to be someone “special” to get this deep spiritual understanding? Absolutely not!
God has shared with us these basic principles,
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. John 3:6
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son ,… Hebrews 1:1-2
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Revelation various verses).
You won't see these types and shadows through any carnal understanding or reasoning. It is only through the Spirit of God that He will reveal the hidden things. Now, God’s Spirit can speak to you directly, or through someone else. Wait a minute!! Didn’t I just say you're not likely to learn these things through pastors, teachers, etc? Sure did. Here are a couple of roadblocks that hinder us from hearing what the Spirit says.
1. We expect certain people (pastors, teachers, authors, professors, etc.) to have the answers and we blindly accept what they say because it “makes sense” or because we just accept them as the expert or authority. After all, haven’t they studied extensively on the subject in order to write their book? Haven’t they have spent years getting a degree in theology. I’m not saying the Lord won’t speak to you through these people, but we need to be honest about our attitude toward them and not put anyone on a pedestal, regardless of their relationship with the Lord (1 Cor 1:12-13). We must be willing for the Lord to speak to us through anyone (even a donkey Num 22:28) and not judge what’s being said based on the person’s perceived credibility.
2. Fear. Let’s face it. When we read the scriptures we do so through a basic set of beliefs. Many times a belief will become foundational to other beliefs and these will build on one another. Because of this, we interpret the scriptures to mean certain things based upon the belief structure we have built. For example, if you believe a certain way about hell or the lake of fire, you are apt to interpret other scriptures in light of that belief. We feel safe when we are around people who have pretty much the same belief structure we have. We may differ in some aspects, but as long as our foundational beliefs (whatever we may set up in ourselves as foundational) are not threatened, we’re ok to “fellowship” with one another.
Now, you meet someone and get into a discussion with them and they have a different “structure” to their belief. They begin to raise some questions about what you believe and you don’t have answers, or, your answers somehow seem inadequate. Something inside of you nudges you and you get some vague impression that something of what this person is saying seems to be right. Not necessarily all of it, but there is something there. However, it goes against what you’ve been taught all your life, or what you’ve studied. It threatens to undermine your structure or “foundational” beliefs.
Our first reaction may be defensive. We are reacting out of fear. We don’t want to talk to them for fear of going down the wrong path; of being “led astray”. We close door on that conversation and say good-bye. So, that little “nudge” we felt? We ignore it. We don’t want to give up what we have been taught to believe and go astray.
Another reaction we might have would be to decide that we are going to just plant our feet and not budge on our belief because “that’s what the Bible says” (so we think – based on our belief structure). So we either close down the conversation or let what is being said pass from one ear to the other.
One of the consequences of taking either action is that we just may have “quenched” the Holy Spirit (1 Thes 5:19). Note what Paul exhorts after this, “Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil” (1 Thes 5:20-22). Unfortunately, we may not actually be rejecting evil (the supposed false doctrine we’re hearing) but the prompting of the Holy Spirit (remember that nudging?) who is trying to reveal to us where we have already gone astray.
So how do you know whether it’s the Holy Spirit nudging you or your own carnal reasoning that could lead you astray? You’re not going to like my answer but here goes --- (in a whisper) Trust God! Haven’t you heard? Trust Him with what? All of your heart (Proverbs 3:5). That also includes your beliefs. God is perfectly capable of not only keeping you from going astray, but if you should go astray, He is perfectly capable of bringing you back. So, why are you worried? Are you afraid of offending our Creator? Making Him mad? Going astray? If your heart is in the right place to “Seek Him with ALL your heart”, I can PROMISE YOU, that He will not be upset or lose you if you should let go of one of your “foundational beliefs” because you now may have a question about it. Quite possibly, HE’s the one who is prompting you to question it. Either because it’s wrong (or some part of it is wrong) OR, He wants to more firmly plant that truth in you.
So, what does all this have to do with types and shadows? I believe that one of the things you will find as the Lord opens up deeper insights into His word, is that He will show you that there are some very common Christian “doctrines” that are absolutely false but readily believed. When your eyes are opened, you will discover that these doctrines paint a horrible picture of our heavenly Father. You will also begin to see more clearly that our Lord’s purpose goes beyond just saving people; beyond the idea of mansions in heaven and streets of gold; a purpose that extends through many ages. I also think it has a little to do with growing up. We don't want our children to be satisfied with just learning addition. Nor does the Lord want us to just be satisfied with Jesus saves, or how good and wonderful Jesus is, or that Jesus is always there to guide me and protect me. These are wonderful truths and we need to be reminded of them from time-to-time. There is a time for childishness, but there is a time to grow up and put childish ways/thinking behind us.
1 Peter 2:2 - Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,
Hebrews 5:12-13 - In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.
1 Corinthians 13:11 - When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.
One last important point. As our eyes are opened up to the truths these types and shadows present, we must be very careful with what we do with the interpretation. What sometimes happens is we take something that is referring to a greater spiritual nature and say that it means such and such in the physical realm. This happens many times with the book of Revelation. Folks will take what the Lord is showing John that is of a higher, spiritual order, and try to create an earthly, physical, meaning out of it. For example, they might say that such and such represents a certain person, group, or country, or that such and such are really tanks, or nuclear weapons, etc. We must remember that a type and shadow ALWAYS points to a greater spiritual reality; NEVER the other way around.