“Finding Jesus Christ in the Old Testament,” Ensign, June 2002, 24
Modern prophets echo the Savior’s invitation, “Look unto me in every thought” (D&C 6:36). “All members of the Church [are] to live with ever more attention to the life and example of the Lord Jesus Christ,”1 urged President Howard W. Hunter (1907–95). President Gordon B. Hinckley has reinforced this principle: “Whenever a man has a true witness in his heart of the living reality of the Lord Jesus Christ, all else will come together as it should. … That is the root from which all virtue springs among those who call themselves Latter-day Saints.”2
Thus, as we continue our concentrated study of the Old Testament this year, it seems helpful to be reminded that the Book of Mormon prophet Nephi taught, “All things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of [Jesus Christ]” (2 Ne. 11:4).
Some of the most poignant and powerful symbols of Christ in the Old Testament are found in the persons whose callings, speech, and actions mirrored those of the Savior. They were themselves anointed in ancient Israel to perform their special duties in imitation of the Anointed One. Following His Resurrection, the Savior taught His disciples to look to the contents of the scriptures—in other words, the Old Testament—and see all things “concerning himself” (see Luke 24:13–32). Thus, the lives of these Old Testament personalities—prophets and priests—are types or similitudes of the life of the great Prophet and Priest.
As Adam and Eve’s fall brought life in mortality and the gift of a physical body to all of Heavenly Father’s faithful premortal children, the Atonement of Christ also gives life with an immortal, perfected physical body for every son and daughter of Adam and Eve. The Apostle Paul recognized this similitude when he wrote: “The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam [Christ] was made a quickening spirit. … And as we have borne the image of the earthy [man], we shall also bear the image of the heavenly [man]” (1 Cor. 15:45, 49). Just as Christ can be called the “last Adam,” so is the first Adam a type or foreshadowing of Christ.
Abel’s death was a similitude of the death of Jesus Christ. Satan and Cain conspired in Abel’s premeditated murder, and Abel was delivered by Satan into the hands of a wicked man (see Moses 5:29). In parallel fashion, Jesus was delivered by Satan into the hands of wicked men (see Luke 9:44) and was crucified as a result of a conspiracy. Furthermore, Satan “entered into” Judas Iscariot, the instrument of Jesus’ betrayal (see John 13:27; Luke 22:3). Just as Abel’s death resulted in the shedding of his innocent blood, so too Christ’s sacrifice and death were accomplished by the shedding of His innocent blood.3
The Apostle Paul taught that Christ was “after the similitude of Melchisedec” (Heb. 7:15). There is much we do not know about this great patriarch, but his name, Melchizedek, means “King of Righteousness.” He was also known as the Prince of Peace, the King of Peace, and the King of Heaven (see Alma 13:14–19; JST, Gen. 14:26–36, Bible appendix; JST, Heb. 7:3, Bible appendix). These name-titles not only refer to Melchizedek as the king-priest of Salem, but also denote names for the Lord Jesus Christ. The high priesthood, originally called the “Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God,” was renamed the Melchizedek Priesthood (see D&C 107:2–4). Thus, “the priesthood held by Melchizedek is the very priesthood promised [to] the Son of God during his mortal sojourn, which is to say that Christ was to be like unto Melchizedek.”4
One of the most easily recognizable types of the Messiah in Old Testament times is the patriarch Isaac, he whom Abraham was commanded by the Lord to offer up as a sacrifice in “similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son” (Jacob 4:5). The Apostle Paul referred to the parallel between Isaac’s life and the Savior’s when he wrote, “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son” (Heb. 11:17). Only two people in the standard works are called an “only begotten son”—Christ and Isaac. Thus, we may ponder as we “read the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of his son, Isaac, that our Father is trying to tell us what it cost him to give his Son as a gift to the world.”5
The Lord taught Moses, the great lawgiver and deliverer of Israel, that he was a similitude of Jesus Christ: “And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten; and mine Only Begotten is and shall be the Savior” (Moses 1:6). In addition, Moses taught the children of Israel that the Messiah would be like him: “The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken” (Deut. 18:15). This prophecy and testimony is mentioned in all our standard works (a truly significant fact), including a statement from the Savior to the Nephites that He was the fulfillment of Moses’ prophecy (see 3 Ne. 20:23; Acts 3:22; Acts 7:37; D&C 133:63; JS—H 1:40). Here are some of the specific ways the lives and ministries of Moses and Christ are alike: both were foreordained in premortal life; both were deliverers, lawgivers, and judges; both taught of the Atonement; both had control over the elements, especially the waters, and provided food for their peoples; and both were known as the meekest of men.
The book of Ruth contains a wonderful story of loyalty and love that takes place in Bethlehem. Its heroine, an ancestor of Jesus of Nazareth, gave up her homeland, religion, and life to unite with her mother-in-law in Israel (see Ruth 1:14–16). Her life strikingly shows that participation in the kingdom of God is not decided by bloodlines but by obedience to God’s will. In the story God provides Ruth with a kinsman-redeemer named Boaz. The Hebrew word used to describe Boaz’s relationship with Ruth is go’el. It is translated as “kinsman,” but it literally means “redeemer.” Boaz redeemed the estate of his deceased relative by marrying the widowed Ruth and having a child by her, thus reenfranchising her as a member of Hebrew society. Thus Boaz is a type of Christ’s love and redemptive power. We have a Redeemer who has purchased or rescued us with a price—His precious blood (see Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 6:20).
Elijah and Elisha
The lives and ministries of these two mighty prophets foreshadowed the life of Christ in many impressive ways. Both Elijah and Elisha multiplied a widow’s food supply to sustain her family (see 1 Kgs. 17:10–16; 2 Kgs. 4:1–7), episodes that foreshadowed two of Christ’s great miracles, the feeding of the 5,000 and the 4,000. Elisha fed 100 men with only 20 loaves and some grain, with food left over, much like Christ (see 2 Kgs. 4:42–44; Mark 6:33–44; Mark 8:1–9). Like Christ, Elisha healed the sick (see 2 Kgs. 5). Elijah and Elisha raised young boys from the dead (see 1 Kgs. 17:21–22; 2 Kgs. 4:32–35) as Jesus raised a widow’s son (see Luke 7:11–17).
There are many other prophets and priests in the Old Testament who are types of the Messiah, such as Noah, Joshua, Samuel, and Jeremiah. According to the Savior’s own testimony, Jonah’s three days and nights in the belly of a great sea creature specifically prefigured the Savior’s burial and sojourn in the spirit world (see Matt. 12:39–40). The prophets and priests of the Old Testament represent a small fraction of the similitudes of Christ waiting to be discovered and pondered. To search for and find them is to open a wellspring of new thoughts and feelings relative to the Atonement. The Lord has told us the celestial kingdom will be populated with righteous individuals, who are similitudes of the Savior (see D&C 76:56–59; D&C 138:38–49). May all of us so live that we may be among them.
The life of the patriarch Joseph was in many ways symbolic of the Messiah.6
Joseph was the beloved son of his father (see Gen. 37:3).
Jesus Christ was Heavenly Father’s well-beloved Son (see Matt. 3:17).
Joseph was rejected by his brothers (see Gen. 37:4).
Joseph was sold at the urging of his brother Judah into the hands of Gentiles (see Gen. 37:25–27).
Jesus was sold by Judas, a form of the name Judah, and delivered over to Gentiles, the Romans (see Matt. 27:3).
Joseph was sold for 20 pieces of silver, the price of a slave his age (see Gen. 37:28).
Jesus was sold for 30 pieces of silver, the price of a slave His age (see Matt. 26:15).
The attempt to get rid of Joseph eventually led to the temporal salvation of Joseph’s family (see Gen. 45:4–5).
The attempt to destroy Jesus led to the Atonement and salvation for Heavenly Father’s family (see 2 Ne. 9:7–8).
Joseph was age 30 when he began his mission (see Gen. 41:46).
Jesus was age 30 when He began His mortal ministry (see Luke 3:23).
All knees bowed to Joseph when he became a ruler in Egypt (see Gen. 41:43).
All knees will eventually bow to Jesus (see D&C 88:104).
Joseph generously provided food to his family (see Gen. 42:33, 35).