Author: Ron Graham
Symbols of Christ’s Death
—In Old and New Testaments
In the Bible we find many symbols of Christ’s death. Time would not permit us to look at all of them. Generally speaking, there are symbols in the Old Testament looking forward to Christ’s death, and symbols in the New Testament looking back to it.
1 Old Testament Types
• Greek τυπος tupos  “type”, symbol, figure, pattern (Romans 5:14).
In Old Testament times there were many persons, practices, objects, and events, that were a kind of prophecy of Christ’s death and the redemption and reconciliation it would make possible. Here are just a few examples (to notice briefly) of these "shadows of the good things to come" (Hebrews 10:1)
- Animal sacrifices (Hebrews 10:1, 11-12)
- The scapegoat (Leviticus 16:7-10,20-22)
- Serpent in wilderness (Numbers 21:5-9; John 3:14)
Note: this became an idol (2Kings 18:4)
- Jonah and the big fish (Matthew 12:38-41)
- Abraham offering Isaac (Hebrews 11:17)
There are symbols of Christ’s death in the New Testament too. Because the New Testament was written after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, these symbols look back rather than into the future.
Take for example the "Lamb standing as though slain" in one of the visions given to John (Revelation 5:5-6).
There is, however, one symbol of Christ’s death which all obedient believers enter into in order to benefit from the sacrificial death of Jesus and his resurrection. This is baptism.
Paul shows us the “meaning” of baptism —what baptism represents. It symbolizes Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6:3-11).
Notice that Paul calls baptism "the likeness of his death... the likeness of his resurrection" (Romans 6:5).
We should not think that because baptism is a symbol that it is merely a symbol and therefore is not really necessary to salvation.
We all understand that it is the death of Jesus and his resurrection that saves us, and his body and blood —not a pool of water— that has the power to take away our sins.
The question is, however, when does that power operate for us? Paul answers this question in the most certain terms: "as many of us as have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into his death" (Romans 6:).
The symbol is not the sacrifice, but the symbol provides the moment at which the sacrifice does its work. If you refuse or neglect the symbol, then you miss the moment in which you come into Christ’s death.
3 The Lord’s Supper
Another New Testament symbol of Christ’s death is the Lord’s Supper. The bread is a symbol of the Lord’s body sacrificed on the cross; the cup of the fruit of the vine is a symbol of the Lord’s blood shed for the forgiveness of sins (1Corinthians 11:23-26).
Again we should not confuse the symbol with what it represents. The bread is not Christ’s body, nor does the cup contain his blood. What we eat and drink at the Lord’s Supper are emblems or symbols.
When Jesus instituted the Supper, and held out food and drink, the disciples would know, when they heard him say, "This is my body... this is my blood", that he was giving them symbols for a memorial supper. They were not to eat his body or drink his blood, but eat bread and drink the fruit of the vine in remembrance of his body and blood given in sacrifice.
If I showed you a photo of my mother and said, “This is my mother” you would know that it was a photo picturing my mother and helping me to remember her.
We should participate in the Lord’s Supper week by week to help us remember Jesus who died that we might live. Jesus said, "If you love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15); "You are my friends if you do what I command you" (John 15:14).