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Emblems and Types of the Holy Spirit

Michael Hardt

T&T 2015 Q2

Emblems are similar to types but not exactly the same thing: emblems are more generic items or objects (such as a seal) that represent another object or concept, while types are more specific people or things (such as ‘the servant in Luke 14’). However, both provide us with illustrations that help us understand the character or features of the person or matter they represent.

The Bible uses a remarkable number of emblems and types to bring home to us the many different ways in which the Holy Spirit serves and benefits us. The following is not a complete list but covers the main ones.

The first three emblems — sealing, unction and earnest — all speak of the blessing of being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, but each expression shows us a different aspect of this blessing.

1.           The Earnest

‘Earnest’ is an old word for deposit, down payment, or guarantee. When a buyer of a house pays the deposit you know he intends to pay the balance. In this sense, the Holy Spirit is called ‘the earnest of our inheritance’ (Eph. 1:14; 2 Cor. 5:5): God has already given us His Spirit, so He will also give us the future inheritance — to share in Christ’s universal dominion (Eph. 1:10, 22, 23). This is why it continues to say: ‘to the redemption of the acquired possession’ (v. 14). It is a future redemption: the inheritance is already ours but still needs to be ‘redeemed’, like a cheque you have already received but is only redeemed when it is presented to the bank.

2.           The Seal

Christians who have believed the gospel of salvation are ‘sealed’ with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13; 4:30; 2 Cor. 1:22). The seal speaks of authenticity and authority (like the seal on a king’s letter: Esther 8:8) and of ownership (e.g. the seal on the foreheads in Rev. 7:3ff.; 9:4). It also stands for finality: nobody can interfere (Dan. 6:17; Matt. 27:66; Rev. 20:3).

Accordingly, the believer who has been sealed with the Holy Spirit (i) is real, (ii) belongs to God, and (iii) has these things forever. Sealing occurs as a consequence of faith, not experience (Eph. 1:13).

3.           The Anointing or Unction

In Old Testament times anointing occurred with a view to receiving a special task or office, for example as a king (1 Sam. 10:1; 16:13), a prophet (1 Ki. 19:16), or a priest (Ex. 28:41). The anointing (or ‘unction’, which is an alternative translation of the same Greek word) therefore speaks of being consecrated to a task or service, and of being equipped with insight (1 John 2:27) and power. This connection becomes particularly clear in the following references (which primarily speak about the Lord): Luke 4:18; Acts 4:27; 10:38.

4.           The Oil

The oil more generally, and not only in the context of anointing, is also a picture of the Holy Spirit. Consider, for example, the following:

  • Oil gave light (Ex. 27:20–21; Zech. 4:2–6). The Holy Spirit illuminates and teaches (1 John 2:20, 27).
  • The vessels of the tabernacle were anointed with oil to consecrate or sanctify them for God (Ex. 40:9; Lev. 8:10–12). The Holy Spirit sanctifies (1 Pet. 1:2).
  • The ‘oil in a cruse’ (1 Ki. 17:12) shows the Spirit of God abiding with us forever (John 14:16) — without diminishing over time in any way, even if we share our blessings with others.
  • The vessels that had to be filled with oil (2 Ki. 4:2ff) show that believers should be filled with the Spirit.
  • The ‘Good Samaritan’ poured oil in the wounds of the man who had fallen among thieves (Luke 10:34). This oil was for healing and overcoming the effects of sin. It is by the Spirit that the righteousness of the law is fulfilled (Rom. 8:4) and the activity of the flesh is subdued (Gal. 5:16).
  • The ‘oil of gladness’ (Ps. 45:7) speaks of the joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17).
  • The ‘oil to make his face to shine’ (Ps. 104:15) reminds us that, ‘looking on the glory of the Lord, with unveiled face’, we are transformed by the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18).
  • The ‘holy oil’ (Ps. 89:20) reminds us that the Spirit is holy and makes holy.

5.           Living Water

Water as such is a picture of the word of God, but living water speaks of the word being made alive and applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit (John 4:10; 7:37–39). ‘Running water’ in Numbers 19:17 has the same typical meaning. The Holy Spirit applies the word to our hearts.

6.           A Dove

John the baptist said: ‘I beheld the Spirit descending as a dove from heaven, and it abode upon him’ (John 1:32). The dove is a clean bird. Genesis 8 shows that, unlike the raven, the dove was not comfortable in a surrounding marked by death and uncleanness and hence returned to Noah’s ark until the waters receded (vs. 8–9). But the Spirit could remain[1] on the Lord because He was sinless. The Spirit is pure and holy.

7.           Wind

‘Wind’ and ‘spirit’ are translations of the same Greek word (pneuma). In speaking of new birth the Lord compared the working of the Holy Spirit to the blowing of the wind: invisible, undefinable, and yet clearly detectable (John 3:8). The wind speaks of the Spirit’s mysterious and yet directed operation.

8.           A Sound of a violent blowing that filled the house (Acts 2:2)

Here we have a picture of the Spirit’s indwelling of, and powerful operation in, the church (cf. 1 Cor. 3:16; 12:6).

9.           Cloven Tongues

On the day of Pentecost ‘there appeared to them parted tongues, as of fire, and it sat upon each one of them’ (Acts 2:3). This sign accompanying the coming of the Holy Spirit shows two aspects of His operation: (i) the purifying effect through judgment of evil (fire); and (ii) the power for testimony (cloven tongues): not to the Jews only but also to Gentiles.

10.        The Servant in Genesis 24

This servant has the task of finding a bride for Isaac and of preparing her for, and bringing her to, Isaac, a picture of the Holy Spirit who is instrumental in forming the church and in awakening and kindling her affections for Christ, the Son and heir. He shows us Christ’s glory and makes us long for Him (John 16:14; Rev. 22:17).

11.        Waters Flowing from the Smitten Rock (Ex. 17:5–6)

This rock, a type of Christ (1 Cor. 10:4), had to be smitten once with the staff of judgment. Then water flowed out. This shows that the gift of the Holy Spirit was consequent upon Christ’s bearing — once for all — God’s judgment on the cross (John 7:39).

12.        Joshua

In Exodus 17:8–10, we see Moses praying on the mountain. He is a picture of Christ interceding for us. Joshua, leading the battle in the plain, is also a type of Christ — but Christ in us by the Spirit, leading the battle and giving us the victory.

13.        The Cloud Filling the Temple

Solomon’s temple was filled with a cloud after the sacrifices had been offered (2 Chr. 5:6, 13, 14). This is a picture of the divine presence by the Holy Spirit in the assembly — based on the finished work of Christ (John 19:30; Eph. 2:22).

14.        The Innkeeper in Luke 10:35

The ‘Good Samaritan’ (a picture of Christ) showed mercy to the man fallen among thieves. After attending to this man’s immediate needs he arranged for him to be looked after in an inn (perhaps a picture of an assembly), kept by an innkeeper, a type of the Holy Spirit. The Samaritan’s request was: ‘Take care of him’. We are not left as orphans. The Holy Spirit takes care of us and of our concerns as the Comforter (John 14:16, 18, 26; 15:26; 16:7).

15.        The Servant in Luke 14

This servant asks men to come to the ‘great supper’ (Luke 14:16) — a picture of the gospel feast of grace. In contrast to the parable in Matthew 22, here we have only one servant. He invites, reports back to his lord, receives commands from him and ‘compels’ people to come in: a fitting picture of the Spirit’s work in the hearts and consciences of men, making them sensitive to the gospel invitation.

16.        The Woman with Light in Luke 15

In this parable the three persons of the Godhead are shown to be active in the salvation of sinners: Christ typified by the man seeking the lost sheep, the Father typified by the father receiving the prodigal son, and the Holy Spirit’s activity illustrated by the woman using the light to find the lost drachma. The Holy Spirit is engaged in the salvation of man by showing his lost condition in divine light.

17.        The Man Bearing a Pitcher in Luke 22

When Peter and John asked the Lord where they should prepare the Passover, He instructed them to enter the city and to follow a ‘man … bearing a pitcher of water’ there (Luke 22:10). This man may be seen as an illustration of the Holy Spirit’s activity in leading and guiding us, using the word of God.

18.        The Porter in John 10

Only the good shepherd can enter by the door — that is, can demonstrate the credentials satisfying all the requirements of Messianic prophecy (son of David, born in Bethlehem, etc.). As the porter, the Holy Spirit opens the door for Him by demonstrating that the Scriptures clearly mark out and identify Christ as Messiah. John the baptist was one of many voices — albeit a very important and prominent one — used by the Holy Spirit in this process.

19.        Possible other types

A number of further types have been suggested by various expositors and are listed here for prayerful consideration: (i) the cloud leading the people (Ex. 13:21; see also item 12 above); (ii) rain, especially the ‘latter rain’ (Joel 2:23); (iii) dew[2] (Ex. 16:13, 14); and (iv) the small gentle voice[3] (1 Ki. 19:11).


[1] It is only after redemption that the Holy Spirit can remain and dwell in man. See comments under point 12 (‘the cloud’). 

[2] ‘Dew, moisture, is a reminder of the freshness of the Spirit. The manna is Christ, the bread of God from heaven, to be our food; it was in connection with the dew that the manna came. It is the Holy Spirit who makes Christ our food.’ (Samuel Ridout).

[3] ‘The Holy Ghost is our Leader. He graciously gives us to hear His still small voice within us saying, "This is the way; walk ye in it."’ (H H Snell).