A reader of this blog requested that I write a post about the symbolic significance of the Jordan River crossing in Joshua chapter 3.
This week I began teaching Bible class at Longmont Christian High School. This class is doing an overview of the Old Testament, and I picked up where the previous teacher had left off: in the Book of Joshua.
One of the concepts I shared with the students as we’ve been studying Johsua is Biblical Typeology, or how certain characters, events or places in the Old Testament function as types of New Tesament truths.
In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul writes this: For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. (1 Corinthians 10:1-6 ESV)
What Paul is talking about here are how the Old Testament stories are both historically true, and yet were also so masterfully crafted by God that He, in His divine providence, embedded them with symbolic meaning, that is only realized by us now as being a pattern or type or foreshadowing of New Testament truths, i.e. Christ and the Christian life.
For example, in Luke 24, we read how after Jesus resurrected from the dead, he gave the best Bible study ever given: he took his disciples through the Olt Testament, showing them how everything actually pointed to him.
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, (Luke 24:27, 44-45 ESV)
In other words, reading the Bible is a lot like watching the movie “The Sixth Sense”. If you’ve seen the movie, it’s about a boy who sees dead people. The boy starts meeting with a psychologist, played by Bruce Willis, who talks him through what’s going on, but at the end of the movie you realize something that changes everything: the psychologist is dead too – he’s been dead all along. And then, when you realize that, you can never watch the movie the same way again. In fact, you feel compelled to watch the whole movie all over again, because this time you see the whole thing in a completely different way: you realize that no one ever looks at the psychologist – people look right past him, because they don’t see him.
That’s how it is with reading the Bible too! Once you know the end of the story – that it was all building up to Jesus Christ, and you come to understand the Gospel, you can never read it in the same way again! This is what happened to the Apostle Paul! As soon as he came to see that Jesus was the Messiah, he could never read the scriptures the same way ever again (see Acts 13:13-41).
The whole Old Testament is full of such types of Christ and of the New Life in Christ. For example: Melchizedek (Genesis 14). Hebrews 7 says that Jesus is a high priest in the order of Melchizedek. What does that mean? It means that Melchizedek was an Olt Testament type of Christ. The name Melchizedek means: King of Righteousness. He was king of Salem, which means peace, and he gave Abraham bread and wine and Abraham gave him a tithe.
The Exodus narrative is another example of Biblical Typeology. Think about it:
- The people of Israel are in bondage in Egypt, just as we in our natural condition are in bondage to sin, vanity and futility.
- The people of Israel cry out to God to set the free, and so God saves them by the blood of the Passover lamb; if anyone is covered by the blood of the lamb, their house is passed over by tha angel of death. In the same way, if we are covered by the blood of the true and ultimate Passover lamb, Jesus Christ, we will be saved from the judgment of God.
- After saving them by the blood of the lamb, God led the people of Israel out of bondage in Egypt. They were separated from Egypt (which is commonly considered a type of “the world”) through the Red Sea, which Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10 is a type or picture of baptism.
- After they cross through the Red Sea, the next thing that happens is that God leads them to the Mountain of God, where they came out and God gives them His Word. In the same way, once we are saved and set free, God gives us His Word and instructs us in His ways.
- After that, they are to enter the Promised Land, which they fail to do because of their lack of faith, out of fear of the obstacles. There has been debate as to what the Promised Land would be a type of. Many old songs refer to it as a type of Heaven. However, I disagree. The Promised Land is a place where there are battles to be wages, there are enemy forces. There are victories to be won, but defeats are also suffered. There are obstacles and difficulties in the Promised Land, but there is the primise of victory if the people will obey God by faith and take hold of everything He will give them if they assertively take hold of it. For this reason, many, including myself, would say that the Promised Lamd is rather a picture or type of the Victorious Christian life that God promises to those who are in Christ (see Ephesians 1). Some would also refer to this as the Spirit-Filled Life.
- Because the Israelites were unwilling to enter the Promised Land, they ended up wandering in the wilderness, going in circles and getting nowhere for 40 years, until they died, having lived lives of aimless wandering, not taking hold of what God would have given them and wanted to give them, because they allowed fear to hold them back from engaging in mission God gave them. Yet, they were saved by the blood of the lamb, baptized in the Red Sea and had received the word of God. This is clearly a type of the Christian life as it is lived by some.
- That brings us to the issue of the Jordan River crossing in Joshua 3. What is this a type of? Well, it is the entrance into the Promised Land, a step which must be taken by faith. Just as the Red Sea crossing is a type of baptism, the Jordan crossing would seem to also picture baptism: a second baptism: the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Once you’ve read the book and seen Jesus, you can never read the book the same way again!