Preaching Christ in the Shadows

by Pastor Ricky Kurth

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Recently I asked my trainer at the gym if I could start shadow boxing. He said, “Sure! Knock yourself out.”

Speaking of shadows, in Acts 7, Stephen was on trial for his life before the Jewish Council for preaching Christ. Some false witnesses had charged him with blasphemy, so when they gave him a chance to address the council, you’d think Stephen would have taken the opportunity to defend himself. Instead, he took the opportunity to preach Christ some more!

But he sensed that the mere mention of the Lord’s name might keep them from allowing him to continue to speak, just as the mere mention of the word “Gentiles” would later keep them from allowing Paul to continue (Acts 22:21,22). So he decided to preach Christ from the shadows, from the types found in their Old Testament Scriptures. That would serve to provide the additional benefit of proving to those unsaved Jews that their Scriptures were all about Jesus Christ. Besides, he knew they loved hearing the history of their nation, so he knew he would have their undivided attention if he rehearsed it.

Let’s begin our study by reading what the high priest asked Stephen about the charge of blasphemy that had been leveled against him.

“Then said the high priest, Are these things so?

“And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran,

“And said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall shew thee” (Acts 7:1-3).

When Stephen begins by addressing the Jewish council as “brethren” and “fathers,” it shows that while they considered him an enemy, he considered them to be family. Is that how you think about brethren who falsely accuse you of things? It’s hard, I know, but it’s what Stephen did, and it’s what God would have us do as well (Rom. 12:14).

Next, when Stephen said that “the God of glory” had appeared to Abraham, that would have gotten those Jews to thinking, because God wasn’t called “the God of glory” until long after Abraham was dead (Psa. 29:3). That means you’d have to read that title back into those early verses about Abraham. And that’s what Stephen is about to do with Christ! He’s going to read the Lord back into those verses about Abraham as well.

Abraham Cast a Long Shadow

For instance, when God sent Abraham to Canaan, telling him, “Get thee out of thy country,” it was a picture, a type—an Old Testament shadow—of how “God sent forth His Son” (Gal. 4:4). God had His Son leave the country of heaven, and sent Him to earth to pay for our sins.

As Stephen noted, Abraham lived in Mesopotamia, the location of the Garden of Eden. So in the beginning of his life, Abraham lived in the place that was the beginning of life on earth. That’s a picture of where God’s Son lived “in the beginning” in Genesis 1:1, before He began to create life on earth and in heaven. We know from Scripture that it was “in the beginning” that God planned our redemption, before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). That’s when He told His Son that He would have to get out of His country in heaven to go to a new land on earth.

When God told Abraham to leave “his kindred” behind, it was a picture of how the Lord had to leave His kindred behind, His Father and the Holy Spirit. When we’re told he left “his father’s house” (Gen. 12:1), that would have included his servants (cf. 15:1-3), a type of how God the Son left His servants as well—all the angels who ministered to Him in heaven. In other words, the Lord would have to leave all the comforts of home behind—just as we see pictured in the type of Abraham. That’s how Stephen began preaching Christ from the shadows.

Now it’s possible that the Jews on that council would miss those types that we can easily spot with the benefit of hindsight, as we look back at them with completed Bibles in our hands. But Stephen is just getting started in preaching Christ from the shadows. If those Jews hadn’t caught on to what he was doing yet, we know they soon did. There’s a reason they stoned Stephen at the end of his lengthy oration, even though he never once mentioned the name of Christ. They knew he was preaching Christ from the shadows of their Scriptures.

A Tale of Two Fathers

We see another shadow as Stephen went on to say of Abraham,

“Then came he out of the land of the Chaldaeans, and dwelt in Charran: and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell” (Acts 7:4).

When Abraham obeyed God and came to the place where God asked him to go, it foreshadowed how the Lord came to the earth, the place where God had asked Him to go. Of course, before Abraham got to the place where the Jewish council now dwelt in Jerusalem, he spent some years in Charran—just like the Lord spent some years in Bethlehem and Nazareth before coming to Jerusalem to initiate His ministry.

In other words, Abraham waited in Charran until his father died to ultimately go where God told him to go, just as the Lord waited until His earthly father Joseph died to ultimately go where God told Him to go in Jerusalem. We know Joseph was dead at the end of the Lord’s ministry, for He asked John to care for His mother with His dying breaths (John 19:27). That’s something He wouldn’t have had to do if Joseph had still been alive.

But we know Joseph was dead at the very beginning of the Lord’s ministry, for after He performed His first miracle, John wrote:

“This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee.… After this He went down to Capernaum, He, and His mother, and His brethren, and…went up to Jerusalem” (John 2:11-13).

You’ll notice that the Lord’s mother and brethren are mentioned in this trip to Jerusalem, but Joseph is conspicuous by his absence. So it is safe to extrapolate that the Lord waited until His father Joseph was dead to begin His ministry, for that’s when we read things like,

“Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him” (Matt. 3:13).

That’s when the Lord first came to the area where the Jewish council now dwelt in Jerusalem, after His father was dead—just as we see pictured in Abraham.

The Inheritance to Come

Next, Stephen continues with the story of Abraham in Acts 7:5 where, speaking of what God gave Abraham in the promised land, we read:

“And He gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: yet He promised that He would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him….”

Abraham was promised the land of Israel for an inheritance— that’s why it’s called the promised land! But he didn’t receive his inheritance during his first trip to that land. He won’t receive it until his next trip there in the resurrection. That’s why it says of him in Hebrews 11:9,

“By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles.…”

Abraham lived in tents because he couldn’t put down roots in a land that he didn’t officially possess yet! Doesn’t that remind you of what we read about the Lord during His first trip to the earth?

“And Jesus saith…The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head” (Matt. 8:20).

Does that sound like the Lord received His inheritance during His first trip to Planet Earth? We know He won’t receive it until the arrival of the kingdom in the regeneration, just as we see typified with Abraham.

If you’re wondering what His inheritance was, Hebrews 1:1,2 says,

“God…hath…spoken unto us by His Son, whom He hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds

Someday the Lord will inherit “all things,” including the “worlds” He created—including this world. But He will only receive His inheritance in His resurrection— just as Abraham will receive his inheritance after his.

When the Lord returns, He and his spiritual seed (the Jews who believed on Him) will “inherit the earth” (Psa. 37:11,22) in the kingdom of heaven—just as Abraham’s seed won’t receive their inheritance until the kingdom comes (Acts 7:5).

Double Trouble

But before the Lord’s spiritual seed can inherit the earth in the kingdom, they’ll have to go through the Tribulation. Abraham’s seed also had to go through some tribulation before they could get to the land God promised them, something we see as Stephen continues his narration of Abraham’s life story:

“And God spake on this wise, That his seed should sojourn in a strange land; and that they should bring them into bondage, and entreat them evil four hundred years” (Acts 7:6).

God told Abraham that his seed would have to suffer bondage to Pharaoh in Egypt before getting to their inheritance in the promised land, just as the Lord’s spiritual seed will have to suffer bondage to the Antichrist in the Tribulation before getting their inheritance in the kingdom.

What happened to Pharaoh and his people in Egypt after the time of Israel’s bondage was through? In case you forgot, Stephen reminds us as he went on to say of the Egyptians,

“And the nation to whom they shall be in bondage will I judge, said God: and after that shall they come forth, and serve Me in this place” (Acts 7:7).

Did God “judge” the nation of Egypt before Abraham’s seed got to go to their inheritance? Just ask Pharaoh and his Soggy Bottom Boys! Will the Lord judge the Antichrist before His spiritual seed gets to go to their inheritance in the kingdom? Just ask the birds who will feast on the flesh of the beast’s armies (Rev. 19:17-19)!

Now the reason Abraham’s seed had to go through that time of bondage in Egypt was due to something we read about in Genesis 15:13,16, where God told Abraham,

“…thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years… for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.”

Compare that to what we read about the Antichrist in Daniel 8:23,24:

“…when the transgressors are come to the full, a king of fierce countenance…shall…destroy… the holy people.”

Abraham’s seed couldn’t go to their inheritance in the land until the iniquity of the Amorites was full, and Christ’s spiritual seed won’t get their inheritance in the kingdom until the transgressions of the Antichrist and his cronies are full.

If you’re not convinced that those 400 years that Abraham’s seed suffered in Egypt were a type of the Tribulation, do a study of the 10 plagues that ended those 400 years. You’ll see that those plagues will match the judgments that will fall in the Tribulation. The waters turning to blood, the frogs, the locust, the darkness—it’s all coming again when that fateful day befalls the earth.

Your Typical Savior

Of course, Abraham and his seed needed a Savior to save them from their sins if they wanted to rise from the dead to inherit the promised land, for without salvation there can be no resurrection to eternal life. We see this pictured in Acts 7:8, where Stephen tells us about something else God gave Abraham:

“And He gave him the covenant of circumcision: and so Abraham begat Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat the twelve patriarchs.”

Abraham’s son Isaac was also a type of Christ our Savior, when He was obedient unto death when His father went to sacrifice him in Genesis 22.

Did you ever wonder why God gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision before Isaac’s birth? It was because God had promised him a son, but when He took so very long to give him a son, Abraham got tired of waiting and had a son with his wife’s maid. That happened in Genesis 16, and God gave him the covenant of circumcision in Genesis 17. That was God’s way of looking at Abraham’s illegitimate son and saying, “What’s this? I didn’t ask for this. I don’t accept this! And I’ll show you what I think of this. Cut the head off the member that produced this son.”

And that part of the shadow of Abraham’s life was a type of how God promised the Jews a Messiah, but since they rejected Christ as their messiah, they are going to be plenty tired of waiting for their Christ by the time the Tribulation arrives. So the seed of Abraham will someday produce their own messiah in the Antichrist, just as we see foreshadowed when Abraham fathered Ishmael.

The Shadow of Joseph

But Isaac was the seed of Abraham that counted with God. And as it says in Acts 7:8, Isaac begat Jacob, who begat the twelve patriarchs. That brings us to another beloved figure in Israel’s history who was also a type of Christ:

“And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with him” (Acts 7:9).

Joseph was a type of Christ in countless ways. He once said,

“…I seek my brethren….And Joseph went after his brethren… And when they saw him afar off, even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him” (Gen. 37:16-18).

Doesn’t that remind you of how Christ said, “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” among His brethren in Israel (Luke 19:10)? Joseph’s brethren coveted his part of their inheritance, just as the Lord’s brethren coveted His. Matthew 21:38 says:

“…when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill Him, and let us seize on his inheritance.”

The religious leaders in Israel wanted to rule God’s people, so they conspired to seize the Lord’s right to rule Israel from His hands while He was conducting most of His ministry “afar off” from Jerusalem. Not long after He began His ministry, we read:

“…the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him” (Mark 3:6).

You probably remember why Joseph’s brethren wanted to kill him. “His brethren envied him” (Gen. 37:11 cf. Acts 7:9). Hey, isn’t that why the Lord’s brethren wanted to kill Him too (Matt. 27:7,18)?

No Blood On Their Hands

Next we read of Joseph,

“…when Joseph was come unto his brethren…they stript Joseph out of his coat, his coat of many colours…” (Gen. 37:23).

What a picture of how we read of the Lord Jesus that “they stripped Him” (Matt. 27:28). Of course, it was the Roman soldiers who did that. The Jews didn’t want His blood on their hands, so they got the Romans to do their dirty work—just like we read about Joseph when his brother Reuben said to his brethren,

“…Shed no blood…lay no hand upon him…and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmeelites…and they brought Joseph into Egypt” (Gen. 37:22 cf. v. 28).

Joseph’s brethren sold him to the Ishmeelites, the enemies of Abraham’s seed in Isaac, and let them do their dirty work—just as the Lord’s brethren sold Him to the Romans, the enemies of Abraham’s seed in Christ’s day, to let them slay the Lord.

Aren’t God’s types amazing? You may want to share this article with a Jewish friend, to explain to him how our faiths are joined. Then you may want to dig into the rest of Acts 7, for we’ve just touched on the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the typology of Stephen’s message that day. A study like that might be a blessing to you both.

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