How Is Joseph a Type of Christ?

How Is Joseph a Type of Christ? (Genesis 50:20)

How is Joseph a type of Christ? Read or listen to this chapter from Enduring Trials God’s Way to see a list of ways Joseph is a type of Jesus.


The text in this post is from Enduring Trials God’s Way: A Biblical Recipe for Finding Joy in Suffering, and the audio is from the accompanying audiobook. I am praying God uses the book and audiobook to strengthen your faith and exalt Christ!

When Abraham “sacrificed” Isaac, it was secondarily about an earthly father sacrificing his earthly son. Primarily it foreshadowed God the Father sacrificing His Son. When Job “saved” his friends, it was secondarily about Job and his friends. Primarily it foreshadowed Jesus saving His friends. Abraham and Job’s trials were supremely about Jesus. Similarly, our trials are secondarily about us. Supremely they are about Jesus—His glorification is the primary end intended by the Lord. John 11:3–4 records:

Therefore [Lazarus’s] sisters sent to [Jesus], saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” When Jesus heard that, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Joseph’s Trials Were Supremely About Christ

Genesis 37 records Joseph being rejected by his brothers, thrown into a pit, and then captured by Midianites, but Genesis 37:2 says, “This is the history of Jacob.”

Why would a chapter about Joseph say it is Jacob’s history? Jesus came from Jacob instead of Joseph, which puts the focus on Jacob, even though Joseph is discussed. The bigger picture in Genesis 37 is Joseph gets to Egypt. Twenty years later, his family moves to Egypt. Joseph’s brothers have enough descendants to become the twelve tribes of Israel. Fast-forward fifteen hundred years, and that nation produces a Savior.

Joseph serves as a type and shadow of our Savior. Whether Joseph understood it, everything that happened to him was only secondarily about him. Supremely, Joseph’s life was about Jesus.

Joseph and Jesus Were Sent by Their Fathers

Then [Joseph’s] brothers went to feed their father’s flock in Shechem. And [Jacob] said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers feeding the flock in Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.”
So he said to him, “Here I am.”
Then he said to him, ‘Please go and see if it is well with your brothers and well with the flocks, and bring back word to me.’ So he sent him out of the Valley of Hebron, and he went to Shechem.”

Genesis 37:12–14

Jacob sent Joseph to his brethren, like Jesus’ Father sent Him to His brethren, the Jews. In Matthew 15:24 Jesus said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Joseph and Jesus Sought Their Brethren

Now a certain man found him, and there he was, wandering in the field. And the man asked him, saying, “What are you seeking?”
So he said, “I am seeking my brothers. Please tell me where they are feeding their flocks.”
And the man said, “They have departed from here, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.'” So Joseph went after his brothers and found them in Dothan.
Now when they saw him afar off, even before he came near them, they conspired against him to kill him.

Genesis 37:15–18

Notice the repetition of “seeking.” Joseph was seeking his lost brethren, revealing the heart of Christ in seeking His lost brethren:

  • Luke 15:4—“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?”
  • Luke 19:10—“The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Joseph and Jesus’ Brothers Rejected Them and Plotted Their Deaths

Then they said to one another, “Look, this dreamer is coming! Come therefore, let us now kill him and cast him into some pit; and we shall say, ‘Some wild beast has devoured him.’ We shall see what will become of his dreams!”

Genesis 37:19–20

When Joseph came to his brothers, they would not accept him, and when Jesus came to His brethren, they would not accept Him. John 1:11 says, “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.”

It is hard to put into words the wickedness of Joseph’s brothers plotting his death, but even these dark verses beautifully reveal Jesus. John 11:53 says, “Then, from that day on, they plotted to put [Jesus] to death.”

Reuben Tried to Deliver Joseph, Like Pilate Tried to Deliver Jesus

But Reuben heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands, and said, “Let us not kill him.”
And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit which is in the wilderness, and do not lay a hand on him”—that he might deliver him out of their hands, and bring him back to his father.

Genesis 37:21–22

Reuben was the oldest, which made him the de facto leader. He knew Joseph was innocent and should not be murdered, so he tried to deliver him out of his brothers’ hands. Pilate was the leader of the Jews. He knew Jesus was innocent and should not be murdered, so he tried to deliver Him out of the Jews’ hands. The Jews said, “Let Him be crucified!” and Pilate said, “Why, what evil has He done?” (Matthew 27:22–23).

Joseph and Jesus Were Stripped of Their Tunics

So it came to pass, when Joseph had come to his brothers, that they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the tunic of many colors that was on him.

Genesis 37:23

Joseph was stripped of his tunic, like Jesus was stripped of His: “Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments…and also the tunic. Now the tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece” (John 19:23).

Joseph and Jesus Found Themselves in the Pit

Then they took him and cast him into a pit. And the pit was empty; there was no water in it.

Genesis 37:24

They threw Joseph into the pit to die. In the Old Testament, “the pit” is another name for the grave, so this pictures Christ’s death and burial.

Joseph and Jesus’ Brethren Were Indifferent Toward Their Suffering

And they sat down to eat a meal.

Genesis 37:25a

They threw Joseph into a pit to die while they sat down to eat. It is hard to believe they could treat anyone like this, much less their brother, but again, Christ is revealed. Their indifference toward Joseph resembles the indifference shown to Jesus when He was on the cross: “The chief priests [were] mocking with the scribes and elders” (Matthew 27:41).

Joseph and Jesus Were “Resurrected” Out of the Pit

Then they lifted their eyes and looked, and there was a company of Ishmaelites, coming from Gilead with their camels, bearing spices, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry them down to Egypt. So Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit is there if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother and our flesh.’ And his brothers listened. Then Midianite traders passed by; so the brothers pulled Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit.”

Genesis 37:25b–28a

They did not want to murder Joseph because it would not make them money, so they lifted him out. Since he was in the pit to die, this figuratively pictures his resurrection from the dead. Jesus said, “For You will not leave My soul in the pit, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption” (Psalm 16:10 cf. Acts 2:31 and 13:35).

Joseph and Jesus Were Sold for the Price of Slaves

…and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver.

Genesis 37:28b

Joseph was sold for the price of a slave, and so was Jesus. Exodus 21:32 identifies thirty pieces of silver as the value of a slave, and Matthew 26:15 says, “[Judas] said, ‘What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?’ And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver.

Joseph and Jesus Were Taken to Egypt

And they took Joseph to Egypt.

Genesis 37:28c

Jesus was also taken to Egypt. Matthew 2:14 says, “[Joseph] took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt.” The account appears tragic, but with the words of Genesis 37:28 we see “the end intended by the Lord.” Joseph is in Egypt, which will serve as the womb for Israel to grow into a nation.

Joseph and Jesus Were Separated from Their Brethren

Joseph—like Asa, Abraham, and Job—is another example of God blessing after the individual persevered through the trial. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery when he was seventeen1, and they did not see him again until he was thirty-nine. Joseph and his brothers were apart for twenty-two years. For Jesus and His brethren, the Jews, it has been over two thousand years.    

Joseph and Jesus Were Filled with the Spirit

Pharaoh said to his servants, ‘Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God?”

Genesis 41:38

The way Pharaoh spoke of Joseph looks forward to, “Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4:1).

Joseph and Christ Were Exalted Rulers

Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “There is no one as discerning and wise as you. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall be ruled according to your word; only in regard to the throne will I be greater than you.”

Genesis 41:39–40

While Joseph and his brothers were apart, several things took place. Joseph went from being the lowly, rejected brother to the revered ruler.

Joseph was over everyone and everything except Pharaoh, like Jesus is over everyone and everything except God the Father. First Corinthians 15:27 says, “‘[the Father] has put all things under [Jesus’] feet.’ But when [the Father] says ‘all things are put under Him,’ it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted.”

Joseph and Christ Have Every Knee Bowed to Them

Then Pharaoh took his signet ring off his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand; and he clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. He had him ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried out before him, ‘Bow the knee!’ So he set him over all the land of Egypt.

Genesis 41:42–43

Joseph was exalted by Pharaoh, and every knee was made to bow to him. God does the same for Jesus (Philippians 2:9–10). When Joseph’s brothers rejected him, they had no idea what would happen later. When the Jews rejected Jesus, they also had no idea of what was to come. “The last will be first” (Matthew 19:30, 20:16), and “the humble will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). Joseph is a good example of these verses, but the greatest fulfillment takes place with Christ.

People Look to Joseph and Christ to Be Saved

So when all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. Then Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, ‘Go to Joseph; whatever he says to you, do.”

Genesis 41:55

The Egyptians began to starve, and Pharaoh directed them to Joseph. Although Joseph could say to the people, “Look to me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth,” (Isaiah 45:22), only Jesus can say these words in the true and greater sense. Joseph gave the people physical life, but Jesus offers eternal life.

Joseph and Christ Offer the “Bread of Life”

There was no bread in all the land; for the famine was very severe…Joseph gathered up all the money…in Egypt and Canaan, for the grain.
All the Egyptians came to Joseph and said, ‘Give us bread, for why should we die?’
Joseph said, ‘Give your livestock, and I will give you bread for your livestock if the money is gone.’ They brought their livestock to Joseph, and Joseph gave them bread…Thus he fed them with bread.
They came to him the next year and said…‘There is nothing left in the sight of my lord but our bodies and our lands. Why should we die before your eyes? Buy us and our land… for bread…that we may live and not die.’”

Genesis 47:13–19

Bread is mentioned seven times, serving as the focus of the verses. Three times the people asked for bread so they would not die. Regardless of the amount of bread they ate, they still died some years later. In light of eternity, were their lives really lengthened? No. God is not primarily concerned with temporarily extending people’s lives. He does not offer bread that adds a few more decades of life. There is a true and greater Bread God gives His people.

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger…If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” (John 6:35, 51). The years Joseph added to people’s lives cannot compare to the eternal life Jesus provides:

“Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.”
Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?”
Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”

John 6:27-29

Joseph gave the Egyptians bread in exchange for money, livestock, and even their bodies. They sacrificed everything (they did “labor”) for bread that perished. Jesus freely offers eternal life. He said the “work of God” is believing in the Son.

The Greatest Act of Evil God Meant for Good

Genesis 41:56 says, “The famine was over all the face of the earth.” Joseph was the savior of the known world in his day. He did not understand what God was doing during his trials, but he looked back later and understood the end intended by the Lord. When he reconciled with his brothers he told them:

“But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”

Genesis 50:20

Joseph spoke the truth, but only Jesus can say these words in the true and greatest sense: “The world meant evil against Me, but God meant it for good, in order to save many people.” The worst act of evil did not take place against Joseph. It took place against Jesus. The greatest act God meant for good did not take place through Joseph. It took place through Jesus. Joseph accomplished much good, but how much greater was the good Jesus accomplished? God had an intended end in Joseph’s suffering, but think of the greater end God intended through Jesus’ suffering. Joseph saved many people physically, but how many more people has Jesus saved in the only way that truly matters—spiritually and eternally? What Joseph did—as great as it was—pales in comparison to what Jesus did.

Whether Joseph understood it, everything that happened to him was only secondarily about him. Supremely, it was about Jesus. In the same way, whether we understand it, everything that happens to us is only secondarily about us. Supremely, it is about Jesus. Perhaps we will be able to look back as Joseph did and see the good God brought from our trials—if not on this side of heaven, then in the next life.

Walking by Faith

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This verse was true in Joseph’s life in a way we will never understand. Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, but Joseph lived before he was born. He faced trials without Scripture at his disposal. He could not be encouraged by the heroes of the faith. Joseph was busy being one of those heroes: “By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones” (Hebrews 11:22).

We, on the other hand, have the entirety of God’s Word available to us. Even if we do not understand what God is doing, we can walk by faith as we lean on these truths:

  • A spiritual, eternal perspective allows trials to be viewed with joy (James 1:2, 1 Peter 1:6).
  • Trials test our faith and prove the genuineness of it (1 Peter 1:7).
  • Trials produce patience which produces maturity (James 1:3–4).
  • There is blessing for enduring trials, whether in this life or the next (James 1:12, 5:11).
  • There is an end intended by the Lord—He works all things together for good (James 5:11, Romans 8:28).
  • During trials God is still being very compassionate and merciful (James 5:11).
  • Jesus, the bread from heaven, gives us eternal life (John 6:32, 47).

Our suffering is not meaningless. God loves us. He is for us. He works in our best interests. When we become discouraged during trials, these are the truths we need to remember.

Discussion Questions

  1. How is Joseph a type of Christ in any other ways?
  2. How does Joseph’s life exalt Christ?
  3. What other examples in Scripture can you think of individuals suffering which brought forth good?
  4. In what ways is Jesus the Bread of Life? Why did He use this title for Himself?


  1. Joseph was seventeen years old when sold into slavery (Genesis 37:2). He was “thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh” (Genesis 41:46). There were seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine (Genesis 41:29-30). Joseph brought his father, Jacob, into Egypt when there were two years of famine left (Genesis 45:6, 11). This means Joseph was about thirty-nine when he was reunited with his brothers: 30+7+(7-5).

8 Responses

  1. I would add his scepter (Hebrews 11:21) was a type of Christ the Priest (not just Savior and Lord), since Jacob revered it, and not forgetting that the pericope about the Baker and the Cupbearer (Bread and Wine) prefigured Christ’s Eucharistic sacrifice, right down even to Joseph asking to be “remembered”. Just as Paul says in Hebrews that the offering of Christ’s Blood took place in the true sanctuary while the bodily death outside the camp (Hebrews 13:11-12), so the Cupbearer had an ongoing ministry in the good graces of the Pharaoh, yet the Baker was to be killed by being impaled (the MT even adds “on a tree”, prefiguring the wooden cross).

    Warmest regards,

    Dr. Dom

  2. You are so right. Everything is about Jesus! I love it when God uncovers connections, and this article gave me some more food for thought for the next time I get back around to Genesis in my Bible reading.

    1. Angela,
      I’m glad to hear that my post encouraged you. I have been very blessed seeing types and shadows of Christ in the Old Testament. Once we start to look for Jesus in the pages of Scripture, versus inserting ourselves, Scripture takes on a whole new meaning. God bless!

  3. The cupbearer -to-be in prison would go on to potentially lay down his life for the pharaoh (if or when the cup is poisoned) – specifically a wine cup.
    The baker in prison would be hanged on a tree – we don’t know why.
    Joseph would save and again fellowship with his brethren.

    Interesting that these three characters may possibly point to Jesus – but the three being in prison , interesting!!!

    1. Hello Christa,
      Thanks for sharing this. Yes, it is interesting. So often I find myself looking at details like this and trying not to read too much into them, but at the same time wondering what, if anything, I am missing. There’s always this tension between looking to deeply but being afraid of missing something.

  4. Is there a type and shadow that links Joseph’s silver cup with that used in the Last Supper?

    1. Hi Denise,
      Thanks for asking. Instead of saying there is a type and shadow – because I’m not completely convinced there is one – I’ll say some people see one. Here are two examples.

      This post, The Mystery of the Passover Cup, records:

      That cup became an indictment against Benjamin and a symbol of judgment—certain death, as far as the brothers could see. They all tore their clothes in horror and returned with Benjamin to Egypt. There they discovered the true identity of the prince of Egypt and were reunited with the brother who had every right to execute all but the youngest—not for his silver cup—but for selling him into slavery. The cup that brought them back to Egypt was, to them, a symbol of judgment and death. Yet, it became the occasion for redemption and forgiveness.

      Also, John Morris writes in the third volume of The New Nation:

      The silver chalice or Communion cup of Christen dom, whatever may be said about Christ’s supper with his disciples, really represents and commemorates Joseph’s silver drinking cup, supper and drinking bout with his brethren.

      What do you think? Do you see a type and shadow, or do you think it’s a stretch? I do think types can be taken too far, but I also think this could be a type. Sorry for not being more helpful :).

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