18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). – Matthew 1:18-23 (NIV)
The book of Isaiah contains some beautiful and powerful prophecies about Jesus. This is especially true of Isaiah 7:14, which is what Matthew 1:23 is citing. When reading this it is normal to wonder, “How did Jesus’s birth fulfill this prophecy?” It’s a valid question considering the fact that Isaiah 7 was dealing with something else entirely. Originally, Isaiah 7 was a prophecy to King Ahaz, King of Judah about 700 years prior to Jesus’s birth. King Ahaz was in distress. The Assyrians threatened the safety of his whole nation. While the kings of Israel and Syria came to try to spark an alliance, God sent Isaiah to comfort Ahaz, telling him to ask for a sign from the Lord (Isaiah 7:10-11). But the faithless king rejected the offer (Isaiah 7:12). But the Lord was determined to reveal a sign of salvation’s arrival. Enter Isaiah 7:14.
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
Ahaz didn’t get it. And the chances are many Jews did not understand this passage in its entirety until the truest meaning of it came along. Enter Jesus, as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel.
For Matthew, there is no way to understand the arrival of the Messiah without the typological expectation of Him, found of course in the Hebrew Scriptures. As a literary artist, Matthew interweaves passages from all over the Old Testament to make His case that the story of Israel (especially the character types of David and Abraham, cf. Matthew 1:1) are coming to a unified apex in the Messiah.
Biblical typology is a study in how key persons and events act as a symbol for something to come, usually something greater!
Typology—as a literary tool—establishes important links between the testaments themselves as a means of exhibiting how Jesus as the “Messianic King” comes to both continue and complete the Old Testament narrative.
In this regard, one can begin to see how typology is an indispensable tool for showcasing the continuity and capstone of the testaments. However, typology is not unique to the New Testament (as if the first-century authors fabricated the method). Within the Old Testament itself, typological comparisons are made. For example, the Exodus becomes a type of salvation in Isaiah’s prophecy. Also, the wilderness rebellion is referenced in Psalm 95:7-11 as an example of hardness of heart, etc. F.F. Bruce elaborates.
“In the New Testament, salvation is presented as the climax of the mighty works of God, as the ‘antitype’ of his ‘typical’ mighty works in the OT. The Christian salvation is treated as a new creation, a new exodus, a new restoration from exile.”
These typological themes are pervasive in Matthew’s Gospel. Typology, though, must not be confused with allegory. As Craig Evans helpfully points out: “Allegorical interpretation assigns, usually rather arbitrarily, so-called deeper meanings to biblical stories and their various details. The actual history of the biblical story is unimportant. … But in typological interpretation history is essential.” Thus, the original historical event serves as an archetype that the later corresponding event (antitype) parallels, fulfills, and (or) sometimes even transcends (as will be shown through two case study examples in Matthew).
A typology will demonstrate a correspondence between the type and antitype, since, though, it is not a one-to-one correlation and will have a mixture of continuity and discontinuity. The point is to read the typology for the intention it serves without overstating its purpose.
Another way of understanding typology is to think of a shadow and the substance. A shadow relates to the real thing but is also not the real thing. The shadow leads you to substance, without baring the same significance.
Thus, Scripture works in a similar way where Jesus is foreshadowed in many explicit and implicit ways, yet His arrival was confounding. Who else could be called “God with us” other than the God-man Himself? No one. And that is the point. Without the advent of Jesus, Isaiah 7 would have an anticlimactic resolution.
Therefore, Jesus’s birth, as the antitype, represents the truest and fullest meaning of Isaiah 7:14’s prophecy. That is why Matthew 1:22 reads: “all this [the events of Jesus’s birth] took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet.” The message of Isaiah would have been left wanting if the Christmas story never occurred. In other words, there is a vacant hole in the story of Scripture that can only be “fulfilled” by the coming of the Messiah.
Jesus binds the whole story of the Bible together.
And so, typology is a rich literary feature that enhances our understanding and appreciation of the Bible.