Old Testament Portrayals of the Church

The mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints … Christ in you, the hope of glory.
—Colossians 1:26,27

Homer Montague

Shortly after the transgression in Eden by the first pair, a hint of future retribution against the serpent (Satan) was given for instigating this disobedience. “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).

Throughout past ages the identity of mankind’s deliverer was unknown, though holy men of old spoke about a coming period of restitution when all that was lost by the human family in Eden would be restored (Acts 3:19-21). Today Christians generally acknowledge Jesus as the Savior of mankind though they may not fully understand the philosophy of atonement. Even less well comprehended is that since Pentecost, God has been selecting the church as a bride for his son, who in a soon-to-be-established kingdom will be intimately associated with Christ Jesus in reconciling humanity back to the heavenly Father.

There are many Old Testament examples depicting the church. Most are closely connected with, yet appropriately subordinate to, a readily identifiable picture of Christ.

The Lord’s Goat

The Lord’s goat for a sin offering (Leviticus 16:7-9,15) represents the church in the flesh just as the bullock of the sin offering (Leviticus 16:3,6,11) pictures the man Christ Jesus at his first advent. At age thirty he delighted to do the heavenly Father’s will by offering himself in sacrifice on behalf of humanity, recognizing those slain animals in ancient Israel’s tabernacle services were merely of a typical nature and could never take away sin (Psalm 40:6,7). This is further affirmed in the New Testament: “But Christ … neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Hebrews 9:11,12).

The church is also connected with the tabernacle picture and identified as a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9) and as members of the antitypical high priest’s body (1 Corinthians 12:12). A specific connection between Christ and the members of the church in their sacrificial work is furnished by the apostle: “For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach” (Hebrews 13:11-13). The beasts whose bodies were burned without the camp as offerings for sin typify Jesus who suffered without the gate (verse 12) and “us,” the church, who in like manner are exhorted to go forth unto Jesus without the camp, bearing his reproach.

These words are connected directly with the Leviticus 16 sacrifices of the bullock and the Lord’s goat on the day of atonement. No sacrifices other than the sin offerings were burned outside the camp, nor was the blood of any other sacrifice sprinkled in the Most Holy as atonement for sin.

The Lord’s goat was treated in the same manner as the bullock on the day of atonement: “Then shall he kill the goat of the sin offering, that is for the people, and bring his blood within the veil, and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it upon the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat” (Leviticus 16:15).

Is it correct to say the Lord’s goat typifies the church since its members are imperfect and could have nothing worthy of acceptance to offer? Yes, it is, because the merit is in the perfect sacrifice of the bullock (Jesus) and through the imputation of that merit the church receives the benefit of Christ’s blood, which merely passes through the church and becomes available for Adam and the human race at the end of the antitypical atonement day (the end of this Gospel age). It is for this reason we read, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1,2).

The Lord’s goat was taken from the congregation of Israel (Leviticus 16:5) showing how the church is called from out of the world. It was Aaron, however, who came into the tabernacle’s court with the bullock for a sin offering (Leviticus 16:3), thus attesting that Jesus was holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners (Hebrews 7:26).

The sacrifice of the bullock was for Aaron and his house (Leviticus 16:6), picturing the members of Christ’s body and the household of faith, the great multitude who will be a spiritual class even though not described as a part of Christ’s body. The secondary sacrifice of the Lord’s goat was for the people (Leviticus 16:15), which pictures the world of mankind. When Christ, the antitypical high priest, completes his offering of the symbolic Lord’s goat, the church will be united in glory with him, and the blessings for all the families of the earth will commence.

The Golden Candlestick

The construction of the golden candlestick within the holy of the tabernacle is described in these words: “He made the candlestick of pure gold: of beaten work made he the candlestick; his shaft, and his branch, his bowls, his knops, and his flowers, were of the same: and six branches going out of the sides thereof; … three bowls made after the fashion of almonds in one branch, a knop and a flower; and three bowls … in another branch … all of it was one beaten work of pure gold” (Exodus 37:17-22).

The union between Christ and the church is shown by the six branches carved out of the sides of the center shaft. That center shaft represents the Lord and reminds us of  a similar relationship taught by Jesus: “I am the vine, ye are the branches:

he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). Just as the branches separated from the vine could have no standing, in the golden candlestick the six branches must be attached to the center shaft to have any standing.

The church is represented in the branches of the candlestick, especially lovely in workmanship with a fruit and flower alternating with the top part of each branch being shaped like an almond. This teaches that the character of the church is both beautiful and fruitful. “A peculiarity about the almond tree is that fruit-buds appear before the leaves. So with the ‘Royal Priesthood,’ they sacrifice or begin to bring forth fruit before the leaves of profession are seen.”—Tabernacle Shadows, p. 122.

The light from the golden candlestick depended upon olive oil representing the holy spirit of enlightenment which enables the Lord’s people to understand the deep things of God. Each day the high priest trimmed the wicks and replenished the oil in the lamps. How solicitous the Lord is toward the members of the church as light bearers, to insure they receive the necessary experiences to trim away the dross of their humanity as they shine forth in this world of comparative darkness.

Gideon’s Army

Gideon’s band of three hundred that fought against the Midianites, using only a trumpet and a torch within a pitcher, pictures the church under the leadership of the antitypical Gideon, the glorified Christ and captain of our salvation (see Judges 7:1-8).

Spiritual new creatures must battle fleshly appetites, weaknesses, ambitions, and oppositions pictured by the Midianites. There were thirty-two thousand who responded to Gideon’s invitation to join him in battle, a number which seems to symbolize those of the Christian world as a whole who are exhorted to count the cost to determine their willingness to consecrate their lives to God (Luke 14:28). Of those, twenty-two thousand were fearful and returned home. The ten thousand remaining represented the spirit begotten who devote themselves to the heavenly Father’s service during this age.

Gideon applied a test to the ten thousand, directing them to drink water from a brook. Three hundred stooped and lapped from their hands in a state of vigilance; the remainder bowed down upon their knees to drink. This suggests the three hundred (the little flock) are circumspect as they imbibe the truth whereas the rest, symbolizing the great company, were not selected for duty. Their partaking of the truth is for personal satisfaction, instead of imbibing its spirit by serving others and combating sin along with its fleshly inclinations.

The members of Gideon’s band had a trumpet, a pitcher, and a torch or lamp placed within that pitcher. The church uses a “trumpet” to proclaim the word of truth, the pitcher represents the earthen vessels of the flesh which are to be broken in the Lord’s service (2 Corinthians 4:7), and the lamps represent the light emanating from each new creature as a result of the holy spirit’s influence (Matthew 5:14-16).

An appreciation of the details and symbolisms concerning the victory by this band of three hundred over the enemy under Gideon’s leadership should inspire all of the church to faithful service, especially with the knowledge that the promised deliverance draws nigh.


Caleb typifies the church just as Joshua symbolizes Jesus Christ. During Israel’s wilderness wanderings, one man from each of the twelve tribes was chosen to spy out Canaan. After forty days in the promised land, ten of the scouts brought back an evil report indicating the dangers of attempting to defeat the Canaanites. Caleb and Joshua said the nation should be courageous and proceed in the strength of the Lord to conquer the land. Their report was rejected and God punished the adult Israelities for their lack of faith.

The antitypical spying out of the land may represent the investigation of present truth with its harmonious doctrines and the Bible’s teachings, which demonstrate the magnificent character of God. Additionally illustrated were the wonderful provisions made to effect the ransom and restitution of humanity, as well as the revealment of the hidden mystery that the church, as a called-out class, is being developed now as part of The Christ and consists of 144,000 and one which will bless the world of mankind during Messiah’s glorious reign.

In one sense, Canaan represents the earthly phase of the kingdom in which humanity will enter under the leadership of the antitypical Joshua (Jesus—see marginal reference for Hebrews 4:8), and learn to overcome all their weaknesses and imperfections as they walk up the highway of holiness.

Caleb at the age of eighty-five received a promised inheritance whereby he was able to claim Mount Hebron (Joshua 14:6-14). He was rewarded for certain actions, which picture behaviors the church should manifest to obtain its reward. Caleb was willing to proclaim the truth even though he was in the minority (Numbers 13:25-31). As peculiar people the church should let its light shine regardless of what others may do (1 Peter 2:9). Caleb waited upon the Lord (Numbers 14:28-34). Believers are to exercise patience and watch for God’s leadings (James 1:4). Caleb had a goal in sight as he was seeking Mount Hebron (Joshua 14:12). The church also must know and pursue the objective it seeks (Romans 2:7). Caleb wholly followed the Lord (Joshua 14:8). The church is required to be faithful unto the end of its course (Revelation 2:10). The commendation that Caleb wholly followed the Lord could not be more superlative. All of the spirit begotten would do well to have such a statement serve as their epitaph.


Asenath, the wife of Joseph, was a symbol of the church just as Joseph typified Christ. Joseph was especially loved by Jacob and Jesus was the heavenly Father’s beloved son (Genesis 37:3; Matthew 17:5). Both Joseph and Jesus were hated by their brethren (Genesis 37:4,5; John 15:25). Both were imprisoned, Joseph literally and Jesus went into the prison-house of death (Genesis 39:20; 1 Peter3:18). Both Joseph and Jesus were highly exalted to a position where all would bow to them in recognition of their supreme authority (Genesis 41:40-43; Philippians 2:9,10). Both Joseph and Jesus provide deliverance and salvation (Genesis 45:7; Acts 4:12).

Regarding Asenath we read: “Pharaoh gave to Joseph a wife, named Asenath (signifying “favor”), and she became Joseph’s associate in honor and dignity, and co-laborer and helpmate with him in his work of blessing Egypt, so Jehovah God proposes a bride for his exalted Son, our Lord, and she also will be a favorite. It has required all of this Gospel age for her betrothal and preparation for the marriage, and the time is now nigh at hand when she shall be brought near to the King, as the bride, the Lamb’s wife, adorned in the glorious linen robe of her Lord, fitly embroidered with the elements of character which he can approve.”—Reprints, p. 2888.

Few Scriptures relate to Asenath directly. It is important to realize her being used to picture the church relates to the fact that as it was God’s purpose to provide a bride for Christ, so Pharaoh desired to give Joseph a wife as part of his exaltation to be next to him in rank throughout all Egypt. Thus Asenath is given to Joseph after his suffering in prison just as the church was betrothed unto Christ at Pentecost, following his resurrection and being seated at the right hand of the Father.

Asenath is identified as the daughter of Potipherah (Genesis 41:45). It would appear she was of heathen origin, thus showing the church would be taken from Gentiles as well as from Jewry. She was chosen for Joseph during a time of plenty. The blessings of the high calling during this age are abundant. The Lord’s people have been well-fed from God’s word and strengthened by the exceeding great and precious promises that are available to help them make their calling and election sure.

Asenath’s marriage and exaltation preceded the seven years of famine in which Jacob and his sons and all the Egyptians had to acknowledge Joseph as the one who would provide food for their sustenance. In similar fashion, the church will be united with her Lord as a part of The Christ who will nurture the nation of Israel, represented in Joseph’s brethren and the world of mankind as symbolized by the Egyptians. What a blessed privilege awaits the antitypical Asenath, the church in glory.


Rebekah is one of the most familiar symbols of the church recorded in Scripture. Isaac, as Rebekah’s husband, fulfils the typical picture as the means by which the Abrahamic promise will result in the blessing of all the families of the earth (Genesis 22:16-18). Antitypically this blessing will come through Christ and the church for we read, “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, and to thy seed, which is Christ. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:16,27,29).

In Genesis 24 Abraham was a type of the heavenly Father who sent Eliezer, picturing the holy spirit, to find a bride, symbolized by Rebekah, for his son Isaac, representing Jesus. Unlike Asenath, the wife of Joseph, Rebekah was related to Abraham. This demonstrates that originally God did not seek the church from among the heathen but solely from the nation of Israel (Amos 3:2).

Eliezer’s ten camels may represent God’s word or certain basic doctrines taught in Scripture. Eliezer found Rebekah at the well. After she gave water to the camels, he gave her golden bracelets and earrings, illustrative of the blessings received by those who respond to the holy spirit. Her labors in providing the needed water indicate the qualities that should be manifest among those who would be among the bride class: the spirit of service and of sacrifice.

Eliezer went to Rebekah’s home and explained his mission to her family; Rebekah was prompt in acknowledging that she would go with him. This illustrates how the church responds to the call to joint-heirship with Christ. We leave all behind, walking by faith, not knowing where the holy spirit will lead. Rebekah’s journey with Eliezer must have been long and arduous over different types of terrain and weather conditions. Similarly, the church experiences difficulties of various kinds along the narrow way but we are reminded of the Scriptural encouragement, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).

Rebekah was enthusiastic when she saw Isaac near the end of her journey (Genesis 24:64,65). This should be our attitude toward our present bridegroom. Do we acknowledge who Jesus is and how blessed it is to be in subjection to him? That is at least part of what is meant by Rebekah covering herself as she approached him. It was an act of submission to Isaac, and in our own lives we should submit to what the master desires of us. Proof of such a submissive attitude would be shown in our seriously striving to do all the things the Scriptures indicate would be pleasing to God and therefore pleasing to the bridegroom.

From Genesis to Revelation the Scriptures contain abundant testimony concerning God’s purpose in selecting a called-out class to become the bride of Christ and a part of the divine family. May we who have responded to this gracious invitation be faithful in running with patience the race set before us that we may attain this glorious reward.