Tinkering with Typology in Zechariah

Zechariah 2:1-5

1 And I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, a man with a measuring line in his hand! 2 Then I said, “Where are you going?” And he said to me, “To measure Jerusalem, to see what is its width and what is its length.” 3 And behold, the angel who talked with me came forward, and another angel came forward to meet him 4 and said to him, “Run, say to that young man, ‘Jerusalem shall be inhabited as villages without walls, because of the multitude of people and livestock in it. 5 And I will be to her a wall of fire all around, declares the Lord, and I will be the glory in her midst.’ ”

Prophetic promises in the Old Covenant often carry with them something far greater than they appear to promise. The promises are sometimes pictures foreshadowing that which is to come. When this is the case, we call them types, a theological word for something that points to something else, its antitype.

I recently heard Sam Renihan present three truths about biblical types. A type in the Old Testament includes analogy, escalation, and otherness. Analogy is that element of the type that helps us to have a depiction of what is to come. So, as an example, a sacrificial lamb is analogous of Christ, because the lamb’s blood is shed for the sins of others. Once one sees the Christ to whom the lamb points, it is not hard to imagine how the lamb is analogous, a picture, of the Savior.

Escalation indicates that the antitype is always something greater than the type. No shadow is as great as the substance being shadowed. The sacrificial lamb in an Old Covenant blood sacrifice is nothing near as great as the shed blood of the Son of Almighty God. The fulfillment is always greater.

Otherness indicates that the fulfillment of the type is not merely a bigger experience of exactly the same thing. The type depicts something that has in itself a true difference from the sign that pointed to it. Jesus is not a physical lamb. Instead, Jesus is God who took on human flesh. Jesus is not just a bigger and better sacrificial animal; Jesus is something altogether different, altogether other, altogether greater. The death and resurrection of Jesus does not bring about momentary forgiveness with a requirement of sacrificial repetition, but instead grants eternal, once-and-for-all forgiveness to the believer by grace through faith.

If we are to see the glory in many events and promises in the Old Testament, we need to grasp that many of these are also analogies the fulfillments of which are truths that are both greater and other than the signs. Take Israel in the Exodus as an example. God pulls a single people group out of physical slavery in Egypt. This is a sign that points forward to God, in Christ, rescuing (analogy) a multiethnic people (escalation) from slavery to sin and death (otherness).

Thinking these things through helps me to rejoice in the prophecy that I cite above from Zechariah 2:1-5. In a vision—which helps us to expect typology—a man goes to measure Jerusalem. An angel sends a message to tell the man that the city will be inhabited by so many people that it will be like an unwalled village with God himself as its protection. What do we do with this promise?

In an immediate application, the people of Zechariah’s day should have seen a promise from God of provision and protection. The people were not to underestimate the Lord’s ability to restore and rebuild. They should not assume that God’s ability to accomplish his will is something they could encompass with the measure of their own expectations. God is greater and will do greater things than they imagine. And God will surely accomplish his plan with Jerusalem.

Has this promise come to pass? Certainly God restored Jerusalem and kept the city whole until the arrival of Messiah. But, when we see the grand expanse of the promise, it is a promise that has not yet come to pass in a literal and physical sense. The fulfillment of this promise requires a time in which God makes Jerusalem a great city over which he personally stands guard. Because of this, many expect this to literally be what will come after the return of Christ but before the eternal state, a millennial Jerusalem under the rule of Christ.

For the pre-millennial thinker, the promise of a vastly expanded and supernaturally ruled Jerusalem as the city ruled by Jesus who will be physically present during a thousand-year reign. For those who hold to other eschatological positions, this promise is either something that is yet to be literally fulfilled or something that will be figuratively accomplished. Without attempting to argue for an eschatological millennial position, I want to suggest that it is possible that this prophecy offers us something more, a typological promise that is glorious.

What would applying our grasp of types and antitypes tell us about this promise. The shadow is a promise that God will preserve Jerusalem, fill it with many people, and protect it. If this is typology, then this is an analogy for something else, something similar but greater. Might it not in fact be God using the city of Jerusalem and promises relating to it as analogous promises of what God will do with his people as a whole? After all, Galatians 4:26 refers to “the Jerusalem above,” while Hebrews 12:26 mentions “the heavenly Jerusalem,” something greater than the earthly capital city of physical Israel. We see something very similar as we look at all the symbolism connected to the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21. It is not hard to imagine a biblical analogy of a promise to a city being a promise that will actually be for all the people of God.

How then is there an escalation? The promise is that God will bring lots of people, presumably Jews, to Jerusalem, so many that it will spread beyond its boundaries. What does God actually do? God saves a people for himself out of every nation, not Jews only, and they spread over the entire globe. This is escalation in multiple ways. The globe is greater than the city. The multiethnic kingdom of God is greater than monoethnic Judea. The protecting presence of the Spirit of God over his people is greater than God simply being a wall to a city.

And otherness is easy to grasp. The promises made here talk about God preserving a city. But the actual promise fulfillment is other. The fulfillment, which is greater and better, has to do with the salvation of god’s people and the establishing of his kingdom in Christ forever.

While many people will interpret this passage as a literal future promise for a literal city in a singular geographical location—and that is certainly possible—I believe that we can see even more. We have reason to see this as a type. The fulfillment of this type is analogous, greater, and other. The promise is for a city. The fulfillment is the Kingdom of God in Christ. The promise is physical safety. The fulfillment is eternal life and spiritual salvation. The promise is for a single people group. The Fulfillment is for people from all nations in Christ.

And, if a typological take on this passage is correct, we can cling to this promise with hope and joy. We may think we can measure what God will do. WE cannot. We may look for earthly protection, but God has something greater for us. God will save a multitude of people for himself from all nations, expanding beyond the bounds of many people’s imagination. God will be in his people, giving his Spirit to protect us and show us his glory. For sure, eventually, there will be a day when the Lord Jesus physically reigns on this earth, and all will be made right. This prophecy certainly may be pointing us in that direction too. But even before we see that take place, The fulfillment of this type is something we can experience and rejoice in because of the mystery of Christ now made known in the gospel.