One of the marvelous ways in which God reveals His glorious plan and method of redemption within the framework of Old Testament Scripture is through a system of types known as typology. God’s infinite wisdom has determined that various people, objects, and events throughout Old Testament history should prefigure and/or foreshadow the person and work of Jesus Christ upon earth. The ark built by Noah is an example of such a scriptural type that demonstrates, in some small way, the glory and beauty of Jesus Christ and His gracious salvation.
IS THE ARK A TYPE OF JESUS CHRIST?
Genesis chapters six through nine reveals the history of Noah, the building of the ark, and the destruction of the first world by the flood. A critical examination of this narrative is very important for coming to a right understanding of its correct relationship to typology. Our only warrant for determining the validity of calling the ark a type of Jesus Christ is the Holy Scriptures themselves. Therefore it is imperative that we prayerfully and carefully search the Scriptures in order to find the single and full meaning that is intended by the Holy Spirit in revealing to us this remarkable history.
What do the Scriptures teach us regarding the Ark built by Noah?
In the first place, the Scriptures teach us that the ark was a place of salvation from the wrath of God revealed against the first world. Several texts verify this idea. Hebrews 11:7 teaches that Noah “prepared an ark to the saving of his house”. Again, in the 2 Peter 2:5 we find that when God spared not the old world, He provided the ark and “saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness”. This portrayal of the ark as the means and method of salvation directs our attention to the one and only Saviour of wrath-deserving sinners (Romans 5:9).
There is one other Scriptural reference that defines the ark as a means of salvation. In 1 Peter 3:20 we find the declaration that through the ark, “eight souls were saved by water”. Fairbairn comments regarding this salvation that “the deluge had a gracious as well as a judicial aspect”.1 He goes on to say that the salvation of Noah was not “from the violence and desolation of the waters”2 but rather from “the corruption, enmity and violence of ungodly men”.3 This interpretation of the text is supported by the immediate context of verse 21 which declares the flood waters to be typological of an antitype, namely baptism. “In the believer, there is a perishing of an old world of sin and death, and the establishment of a new world of righteousness and life everlasting”.4 Matthew Henry also comments on this passage by stating that “Noah’s salvation in the ark upon the water prefigured the salvation of all good Christians in the church by baptism. That temporal salvation by the ark was a type of the eternal salvation of believers by baptism. To prevent mistakes about this, the apostle declares what he means by saving baptism. It is not the outward ceremony of washing with water, which in itself, does no more than put away the filth of the flesh, but it is that baptism wherein there is a faithful answer of a resolved good conscience, engaging to believe in, and being entirely devoted to, God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, renouncing at the same time the flesh, the world, and the devil”.5 Understanding this Scriptural interpretation of the flood waters as a figure of the antitype of baptism, does not detract from the validity of viewing the ark as a type of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ remains the only Saviour of sinners whether this salvation is from the wrath of God against sin or whether it is from spiritual and moral corruption.
As was already noted by Fairbairn in the preceding paragraph, “the deluge was not less essentially connected with a work of judgment than with an act of mercy”.6 Here our attention is turned to the fact that the Scriptures evidence a clear correlation between the flood and the final judgment of God. The clearest example of this correlation is found in 2 Peter 3:6-7: “Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.” Such an unmistakable connection between the flood and the final judgment is a strong argument for developing a typological connection between the ark and Jesus Christ. As it will be at the end of the world, so at the time of the flood there was “grace still sparing and preserving, even when storms of judgment [were] bursting forth upon the guilty!”7
Is there anything in the history of the Ark that correlates to the person or work of Jesus Christ?
The Scriptures make a strong comparison between the time of the flood and Christ’s second coming. An example of this is in Matthew 24:37-39 which declares: “But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” This analogy between the days of Noah and the days of the Son of Man has several instructive lessons. One of these lessons is helpful in establishing the typological significance of the ark. The people in the days of Noah did not repent from their sins and repair themselves to the ark for refuge from the impending destruction by the flood. In a comparative way, Christ declares that at the time of His second coming, the world at large will be found to be impenitent and unbelieving. The delay of repentance and escaping for refuge to Jesus Christ, will result with the majority of the men of this age suddenly finding themselves facing eternal condemnation without any refuge for their souls.
Did God intend the Ark to have typological significance?
Our prior consideration of several New Testament passages gives us adequate reason to affirm that God intended the history of the ark to have a typological significance. There are, however, several Old Testament Scriptures that also significantly help in coming to this persuasion. Several Old Testament references speak of God as a refuge, and at times, even as a refuge from raging waters. Psalm 46: 1-3 is a noteworthy illustration of this fact. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.” In Psalm 32:6 David declares that “the floods of great waters…shall not come nigh unto him” who has sought unto God for refuge in a time when He might be found. Such references as these plainly show that attributing the character of refuge to God is warranted by the Scriptures. This then allows for holding a typological view of the ark as a type of Jesus who is the God appointed refuge for sinners from the fiery floods of God’s wrath.
Would we lose anything by not viewing the Ark from a typological perspective?
By not viewing the ark from a typological perspective, a person loses many practical and personal benefits. If the ark only has historical significance for us, it will have little or no application to our personal lives. Then the doctrine of Christ as our Refuge will be much more obscure and we will lose a significant and blessed encouragement to rely wholly on Jesus for our Saviour in light of God’s impending wrath decreed against the ungodly. Finally, by considering the ark in exclusion from Jesus Christ, we may be lead to conclude that Noah did not find grace in God’s eyes, but rather, that he was preserved by chance and/or merit. Upon considering the negative effects of a strictly historical interpretation of the ark, we have yet another reason for concluding that the ark is a valid type of the Lord Jesus Christ.
HOW IS THE ARK A TYPE?
Having arrived at the thesis that the Holy Scriptures give adequate reason for attributing a typological interpretation to the ark built by Noah, it is now necessary to make examination of the ways in which the ark typifies Jesus Christ. Closely examining the narrative of the ark in Genesis 6-9 will further confirm and establish the validity of using typology in relation to the ark.
The necessity of a refuge.
The historical narrative of Genesis 6-9 sets before the reader several important truths regarding the ark that are typified in Jesus Christ. The first point that should be considered is the reason for why the ark was necessary. Genesis 7:4 declares plainly the necessity of the ark: “For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain … and every living substance…will I destroy from off the face of the earth.” There is wrath decreed by God against His creation. This should further turn our attention to chapter 6:5-7 where we find the essential reason for why God is ready to pour forth His wrath. God’s judgment on the first world is just and righteous for man has grievously sinned. God now purposes to purge the world from the filth and uncleanness of sin. The necessity of the ark turns our attention to the necessity of the incarnation and death of Jesus Christ. He is the only refuge from the storm and wrath of God’s divine judgment (Isaiah 32:2). “It behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day” (Luke 24:46) so that He might be the suitable ark of refuge for sinners from divine and eternal malediction.
Salvation thought of and decreed by God.
The source of the idea and plan for the ark also has deep typological significance. Genesis 6:14-16 set forth the command and description of the design of the ark. Not a single detail is left up to the human imagination. God is in this way the divine Architect of the ark. He is the one who decrees the building of the ark and He is the one who designs how it must be made. Ephesians 3:11 brings us to the antitype Jesus Christ who “according to the eternal purpose” is the wisdom and power of God unto salvation. Salvation in Jesus Christ was thought of and planned by God from eternity. He is the eternally chosen, prepared, and appointed Saviour of sinners.
Moreover, the gracious provision of the ark is rich in significance. Genesis 6:8 declares, “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.” God did not have to provide the ark for the sparing of anyone and yet He graciously provided a way of deliverance at the very moment when He was ready to pour forth His wrath. God graciously establishes His covenant with Noah (verse 18: “but with thee will I establish my covenant”) at the very moment when He has just declared to destroy “all flesh, wherein is the breath of life.” Both verses 8 and 18 have a reference to God’s gracious deliverance immediately after His declaration of judicial judgment. Noah is also flesh, and yet he finds grace with God. The typological significance of grace in the time of judgment directs our attention to the words in Ephesians 2:8: “for by grace are ye saved”. Jesus Christ is God’s gracious provision for wrath deserving sinners. Jesus is the gracious substitute for sinners who deserve to be eternally drowned in the flaming waves of hell (2 Corinthians 5:21).
The only way of salvation.
The narrative of the deluge in Genesis 6-9 reveals that there was a distinction made between those who were saved and those who perished in the waters of the flood. This distinction was determined by each individual’s special relationship to the ark. Those who were within the ark were spared and those who were not in the ark perished. Genesis 7:23 makes this distinction very clear: “And every living substance was destroyed…and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark.” The only way in which there was safety from the flood was through being in the ark. Outside of the ark there was no other way of escape for God saw to it that “the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth” until the very highest mountains were covered. The fact that the ark was the only way of salvation for the inhabitants of the first world declares plainly the typological truth that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation for sinners. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among me, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
The necessity of faith.
Noah and his household were spared through the means of the ark. There was one thing, however, that was absolutely necessary in the heart of Noah in order for him to be saved. Hebrews 11:7 says that “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.” Although faith itself did not save Noah, but rather the object of faith, i.e. the ark, Noah still needed faith to believe God concerning the coming of the flood. Furthermore, he needed faith to believe that the ark would be a suitable refuge. Noah’s obedience in building the ark was the obedience of faith. He believed God and therefore he moved with godly fear and prepared the ark. “It was because he held and exercised faith, that the deluge brought salvation to Noah, while it overwhelmed others in destruction”.8 The same is true for the sinner who is saved in Jesus Christ. Faith is absolutely necessary in the God-provided Remedy, the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith is what unites a sinner to the Saviour. Faith assents to the obedience and righteousness of Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation and causes the sinner to trust in Him as his/her only hope of deliverance from the penalty, power, and presence of sin.
Those who were near to the ark, in the time of Noah, were not more safe than those who lived very far away. As we pointed out earlier, there was only one determining factor in whether or not a person was saved from the flood. “Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark” (Genesis 7:23). The ark was the object of Noah’s faith, and because of his faith, when the decreed desolation suddenly came upon the earth, Noah and his household were found safe within the ark. The typological application from this truth has its analogy in Matthew 7:21-23. There Jesus teaches that only those who upon the obedience of faith have done the will of His Father will enter into the kingdom. The will of the Father is to believe in the Son whom He has sent. In verse 22 Christ teaches that it will not be enough say in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name? and in Thy name have cast out devils? and in Thy name done many wonderful works.” There must be a personal uniting to Jesus Christ by faith. It will not be enough to have eaten and drunk in the presence of Jesus Christ if one is still missing faith that gives vital union to the Saviour and works by love. Only those who are within the Ark Christ Jesus are safe. “All [who] were not received into the ark, perished. So all who get not spiritually by faith into Jesus Christ…shall be damned and perish eternally”.9
Genesis 7:1 reveals God’s call to Noah to come into the ark. God from within the ark calls to Noah, “Come thou and all thy house into the ark”. This call to Noah is an excellent type of the call of God that comes to sinners. Through the gospel, God invites, beseeches, and commands sinners to come and find refuge in Jesus Christ. God could have told Noah to go into the ark, but rather He called Noah to come into the ark. This teaches that God’s presence was in the ark. He was calling Noah to come and find refuge where He Himself was. Sinners in the gospel are not told to go away, but are lovingly invited and commanded to “come”. Jesus calls sinners in Matthew ll:28 with the words “come unto Me…and I will give you rest”. God knew how suitable the ark was a place of refuge for Noah and He knows how suitable His Son is for sinners. Therefore, with all urgency and sincerity He pleads with sinners through the gospel to come to Jesus Christ. “The word says, “Come;” ministers say, “Come;” the Spirit says, “Come, come into the Ark”.10All who hear this word are invited by God to hide in the wounds of the God-provided Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.
Enough room for all.
The history of Genesis 7:7-9 teaches that Noah, all his house, and all the various beasts and birds came and went into the ark. There was room enough in the ark for them all. There was not one that came to the ark and was turned away. This history directs us to Jesus Christ who is the great Antitype of the ark. In Jesus Christ there is an abundance of room and provision for all who come (Luke 14:22). There is no sinner too black, too filthy, and too vile. In Christ there is salvation for the worst and chief of sinners (Luke 5:32). No sinner needs to fear that he will be turned away at the very door of salvation. There is great provision and still plenty of room today in Jesus Christ for a thousand worlds of sinners.
The sovereignty of God.
After Noah, his family, and all the birds and animals had entered the ark, we read in Genesis 7:16 that “the LORD shut him in”. The door to the ark was shut by God Himself. Then not a single person could any more enter or leave the ark. It was too late for those who had delayed the day of repentance and faith. The day had finally arrived when it had become too late. Those within were also most safe. There own foolishness could not cause them to leave the ark and yet perish in the flood. Their security was now in the hands of God Himself. The last part of the parable of the virgins in Matthew 25:10-13 teaches the typological significance of the door being shut: “And they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut…watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.” The way of salvation in Jesus Christ will one day be barred and shut to the impenitent and unbelieving sinner. Eternally shut out! There will never be anymore even a glimmer of hope for salvation. It will be forever too late. But for those who are in Christ, there will remain and ever be eternal security. There will never come a time when that they will have the possibility of yet going lost. Those who have fled for refuge to Christ will never perish. Their security is in the hands of God.
The first epistle of Peter, chapter 3 verse 20 teaches that “few, that is, eight souls were saved” by being in the ark. There was sufficient room for others, and Noah, who was a preacher of righteousness, certainly warned the people of his day to turn from their sins and to turn unto God. Yet the truth of Matthew 22:14, “for many are called, but few are chosen” also applied to the preaching under Noah. Many were called, and so today, many are called to turn from sin to the living God. Many are called today to come and find rest for their sin-weary souls in Jesus Christ. Yet, alas, how few are blessed by putting their trust in Him (Psalm 2:12).
Redemption through judgment.
The deliverance of Noah from the flood was redemption through the way of judgment. The same waters that lifted the ark high above the storm were the very waters of destruction for those outside of the ark. Moreover, the waters that lifted up Noah and his family above the storm surely beat upon the ark itself. These waves of God’s wrath beating upon the ark may also typify God’s wrath falling upon Jesus Christ. The wrath that was meant for sinners came upon Jesus Christ that they might escape the righteous judgment of God. Even as Noah and his family were safely sheltered within the ark during the storm, so the Church was safely carried upon the heart of Christ as He endured the wrath of God against her sins. In Christ Jesus God can be both just in punishing sin and yet be a justifier of the ungodly.
Perfect place of refuge and safety.
The salvation of those in the ark spoken of in Genesis 7:23, “And Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark”, evidences that the ark was a safe place during the flood. This characteristic of safety in the ark has its parallel in the Lord Jesus Christ. None who have fled to Christ will ever perish (John 10:28) In Christ there is absolute and eternal security. Those who have found their refuge in the Saviour are forever safe and forever blest. As by covenant sign and oath God declared “that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth” (Isaiah 54:9), so will God never again be wroth or rebuke His children in Christ. But God instead says to them, “My kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of My peace be removed” (Isaiah 54:10).
After the flood came to an end, we read in Genesis 8:18-19 that “Noah went forth, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons’ wives with him: Every beast, every creeping thing, and every fowl, and whatsoever creepeth upon the earth, after their kinds, went forth out of the ark.” These words are full of importance since they show that everyone and every creature that had entered the ark survived while in the ark. They all were perfectly safe while in the ark and they were privileged to come forth and walk upon the renewed earth. Here we find another important typological element that directs us to Jesus Christ. Jesus declared in John 17:12b: “Those that Thou gavest Me I have kept, and none of them is lost.” Jesus lost none of His sheep. Not a single one of the redeemed shall be missing among the heavenly throng in glory. None for whom Christ has shed His blood shall ever perish.
The ark was a perfect place of safety for three other reasons that have been covered in some detail previously. In the first place, the ark was designed by God Himself. He was in control that it would be strong enough to endure the roughest waves. Secondly, God’s presence was within the ark. The words in Genesis 7:1 are full of rich meaning. God calls from within the ark for Noah and his house to “come into the ark”. Later, in Genesis 8:16, God says to Noah to “go forth of the ark”. These two references reveal that God Himself was within the ark. Surely it could not sink or be broken to pieces while God Himself was there. Finally, the words in Genesis 7:16 “and the LORD shut him in” teach us that the security of those within the ark was not in the hands of man but in the hands of God. As the ark was a perfect place of refuge and safety for Noah and his family, how much more is Jesus Christ a most suitable, perfect, and unfailing Saviour. Truly, He saves to the uttermost.
HOW IS THE ANTITYPE MUCH GREATER THAN THE TYPE?
The ark is beautiful type of Jesus Christ and His salvation. The similarities between the ark and Jesus Christ are illustrative and instructive. Jesus Christ, however, is much greater than the ark. The ark pales in beauty and glory in comparison to the great Antitype. The ark remains only a figure of that which is to come and must fall away in light of Jesus Christ.
There are several dissimilarities between the ark and Jesus Christ. Jesus is an eternal refuge while the ark was only a temporary refuge. Moreover, Jesus is a living refuge although the ark was only an inanimate, lifeless structure. Jesus Christ can be touched with the feeling of all our infirmities and we can have communion with Him for “He ever liveth to make intercession for [us]” (Hebrews 7:25). Furthermore, Jesus is the only refuge that will carry a sinner through the final judgment. The ark that was made of gopher wood will not endure when it is tried by fire (2 Peter 3:7).
Additionally, there is the dissimilarity between the ark and Jesus Christ in that Jesus is the only refuge in which divine justice is satisfied. The ark could not take away sin but only gave temporary protection from temporal wrath. The ark only protected Noah and his household from the immediate penalty of sin but it did not deliver Noah and his heirs from the pollution, power, presence, and eternal penalty of sin. Only through salvation in Jesus Christ can there be deliverance from the eternal judgment of God. Christ also delivers from the bondage of sin and brings reconciliation between God and His creature.
Finally, “Jesus Christ is an Ark already prepared, in whom alone we can be safe when death and judgment come.”11 The ark that preserved Noah and his household had to be built through much hard labor and over much time. The Antitype, however, is ready to receive and welcomes sinners today without money and without price. The salvation in Jesus Christ is forever complete and finished.
WHAT ARE THE APPLICATIONS OF THE ARK BEING A TYPE?
The typological interpretation of the ark has varied applications. The practical application for the impenitent unbeliever is that he/she must make haste to Jesus Christ lest it be with him/her as it was with those who perished in the days of Noah. The unbeliever should take much encouragement from the history of the ark to seek for refuge in Jesus Christ. Christ is a most suitable Saviour for the very need of his/her soul. The unbeliever must be careful, however, to never delay the day of repentance and faith since it will be forever too late when God shuts the door of His grace. Furthermore, he/she must never trifle with the preaching of the gospel as those who perished under the preaching of Noah. “Those that refused and rebelled against Noah, and his ministry, were destroyed by water; and those that refuse and rebel against Christ shall be destroyed by fire”.12 He/she must never rest outside of Jesus Christ.
The application of the typological interpretation of the ark for the believer is one full of comfort and consolation. The believer in Christ is forever safe. “All who were in the ark were safe. Nobody fell out of that divinely appointed refuge; nobody was dragged out; nobody died in it; nobody was left to perish in it. All who went in came out unharmed. They were all preserved in it; they were all safely brought through the dread catastrophe. The ark preserved them all, and so will Jesus Christ preserve all in Him”.13 When the wrath of God will be poured out upon the impenitent, unbelieving world, he/she will be eternal secure in God his/her Saviour and will be lifted high above the destroying waves.
Clowney, E. P. 1988. The Unfolding Mystery. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing.
De Graaf, S. G. 1977. Promise and Deliverance. St. Catherines: Paideia Press.
De Haan, M. R. 1995. Portraits of Christ in Genesis. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications.
Fairbairn, P. 1989. Typology of Scripture. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications.
Fortner, D. 2002. Discovering Christ in Genesis. Auburn: Evangelical Press.
Habershon, A. R. 1967. The Study of the Types. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications.
Henry, M. 1998. Matthew Henry’s Commentary. Grand Rapids: Hendrickson Publishers.
Keach, B. 1975. Preaching from the Types and Metaphors of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications.
Pink, A. W. 1922. Gleanings in Genesis. Granbury: PBM Desktop Publishing.
1 Patrick Fairbairn, Typology of Scripture. (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1989), 272.
2 Ibid., 273.
3 Ibid., 274.
4 Ibid., 277.
5 Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary. (Grand Rapids: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998), 6:827.
6 Fairbairn, 275.
7 Ibid., 281.
8 Fairbairn, 277.
9 Benjamin Keach, Preaching from the Types and Metaphors of the Bible. (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1975), 973.
10 Henry, 1:47.
11 Henry, 1:47.
12 Keach, 972.
13 Charles Spurgeon, Noah’s Flood. [sermon on-line] available from http://www.arky.org/newsltr/speech/
Spurgeon.htm; Internet; accessed 16 December 2005.