The Jordan


It is a mistake to assume that OT types are exact pictures of truths contained in the NT. Typical teaching is often imperfect. The crossing of the Red Sea, for example, brought the children of Israel into the wilderness and they left that wilderness many years later by crossing the river Jordan into the promised land. In type, the Christian ought to know something of all these four things—sea, wilderness, river, and inheritance—but not in the linear succession or timescale described. Both the Red Sea and the Jordan illustrate one event (the death of Christ) and as in the benefit of that one event, the Christian is not only brought into the wilderness, but also the land. The wilderness pictures my pilgrimage here on earth as a Christian in dependence upon God, while the land typifies the “things [that are] above” which are mine to lay hold of even now, since they are “where the Christ is” (Col. 3: 1) and I am “in him” (Eph. 1: 4). Thus, while the land and the wilderness are distinct, they are concurrent.

The Meaning of the Land (or Inheritance)

If the land is to be experienced practically now, then it follows that the common idea (reinforced by hymnology) that the Jordan is a picture of the physical death of the believer, while the land typifies heaven is incorrect. God had given Israel title to the land of Canaan (see Deut. 4: 20-22, 37-38 etc.), but it had to be won by fighting. By contrast, there will be no conflict for us in heaven. Heaven cannot therefore be the land—although, of course, we will not lose our heavenly blessings when we do get to heaven.

   As may already be apparent, in many ways, the book of Joshua finds its NT answer particularly in the Colossian and Ephesian epistles. The Christian is not waiting to go over the Jordan, for he is over Jordan now by virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection. Thus: “ye have died, and your life is hid with the Christ in God” (Col. 3: 3, my emphasis), “ye have been also raised with [him]” (Col. 2: 12, my emphasis) and God “has quickened us with the Christ, (ye are saved by grace,) and has raised [us] up together, and has made [us] sit down together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2: 6, my emphasis)—none of these things are presented as future for they are true now. Being ‘over Jordan’ is an accomplished fact for the believer. Of course, Christians often do not feel like they are in the land, but our position in heavenly places is not a question of what we can see or feel. The Christian is there because he is in Christ Jesus. Has Christ been raised up? Yes! Therefore, so has the Christian.

   The next question is, ‘But if I am in the land, what do I know of it?’ On crossing the Jordan, the children of Israel were in the land, but they still had to make the land their own: “Every place whereon the sole of your foot shall tread have I given to you” (Josh. 1: 3). In the same way the spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ (see Eph. 1: 3) need to be laid hold of by the Christian. Hence the Scripture already quoted: “If therefore ye have been raised with the Christ, seek the things [which are] above, where the Christ is, sitting at [the] right hand of God” (Col. 3: 1). To seek the things which are above is no light matter because it means that I must be prepared to fight. We see this illustrated in the type, for the book of Joshua is a military book. Other Scriptures describe the richness and goodness of the land (see Deut. 8: 7-10 etc.), but Joshua is pre-eminently about its conquest, describing how every step forward that Israel took in Canaan required conflict. It is no different for Christians, except that since our progress is to be spiritual, our struggle is therefore “not against blood and flesh, but against principalities, against authorities, against the universal lords of this darkness, against spiritual [power] of wickedness in the heavenlies” (Eph. 6: 12). On hearing this, however, many fall into the trap of over-dramatizing it in their minds—as if this warfare was something exceptional that only a few very able believers engage in. The truth is that if any believer seeks to lay hold of any of the heavenly blessings that God has given him title to as “in Christ” (Eph. 1: 3), then he will be resisted by spiritual powers seeking to frustrate his progress.

   Fundamental to the conquest of the land was the crossing of the Jordan. What then, does this event signify?

The Meaning of the Jordan

The word Jordan in Hebrew is yarden, from the verb yarad, to go down. It literally means The Descender and, in keeping with that, the river ends its downward course in the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth. The association with the idea of death seems inescapable (see Ps. 115: 17; Prov. 5: 5; 7: 27 etc.). However, while the Red Sea is mentioned in the epistles (see 1 Cor. 10: 1-2) the Jordan is not. Is this a problem? No, because the doctrine it pictures is there, and this has already been touched on in relation to the land—for the Jordan is introductory to the land. Crossing the river of death finds its NT answer in that we “have died with Christ” and “have been raised with the Christ” (Col. 2: 20; 3: 1, my emphasis). Again, as noted previously, we are not waiting for any of this to take place—we have died, and we have been raised. The river itself speaks of our death with Christ, while crossing over speaks of our being quickened with the Christ (see Eph. 2: 5). Furthermore, this quickening is in view of the heavenly inheritance. God’s “kindness towards us in Christ Jesus” (v7) is not so much our entrance into the wilderness experience (necessary as that is) but that we might be sat down “in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus” (v6). That is where Christ is, and, as ‘in Him’, that too, is our place!

   Now the Jordan does not just put me into the land, but it puts me there in a position to conquer. As noted already, the book of Joshua is a military book, and the crossing of the Jordan must be understood in that context. How am I placed in a position to conquer? The answer is counter-intuitive to the reasoning of the natural mind: by the fact that I have died! My death with Christ is the death of what I am by nature—my natural strength—and I am then brought in resurrection power to where Christ is by being raised with Him. I cannot lay hold of heavenly blessings in my own natural strength and so that man must go. What conquers the land is resurrection might. In OT language, it was the power that dried up the Jordan that conquered the land. Of course, these things have to be worked out in a practical sense, which is why Paul exhorts us to “be strong in [the] Lord, and in the might of his strength” (Eph. 6: 10) and describes to us the armour of God (see vs. 13-18)—for while “walking in flesh” we do not “war according to flesh. For the arms of our warfare [are] not fleshly, but powerful according to God to [the] overthrow of strongholds” (2 Cor. 10: 3, 4).

   At this juncture, it may be helpful to retrace our steps a little and see how crossing the Jordan compares to the passage of the Red Sea:

The Jordan and the Red Sea Compared

Now as pointed out already, the Red Sea also pictures the death of Christ, and it follows that there will be points of correspondence between it and Jordan. Joshua himself alludes to this similarity: “On dry land did Israel come over this Jordan; because Jehovah your God dried up the waters of the Jordan from before you, until ye had passed over, as Jehovah your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up from before us, until we had passed over” (Josh. 4: 22, 23). It is important, however, that we keep the two types distinct in our minds because God has given them as two, not one. They refer to the same event but emphasise different aspects of it—though not excluding features that might be seen more clearly in the other type. The difference between the Red Sea and the Jordan is summarised by Josh. 24: “and he put darkness between you and the Egyptians, and brought the sea upon them … And ye went over the Jordan” (vs. 7, 11). In the one, I am dead to sin (and the law)—as pictured in the Egyptian bondage (see Rom. 6: 2; 7.4 etc.)—for God “brought the sea upon them”. In the other I am raised to heavenly blessing: “ye went over the Jordan”. The Jordan does not free me from bondagethe Red Sea does that—but instead brings an already liberated people into the inheritance.

   Again, it was the Jordan not the Red Sea that was preceded by the wilderness. What is the significance of this? We do not (like Israel) leave the wilderness for the land, for we are already in the land—already over Jordan. However, there is a moral order here that is fitting. The wilderness experience is there to teach me experimentally what I am taught doctrinally. In the wilderness, the incapacity of the flesh to enter into God’s inheritance is learned (see Num. 13: 28-14: 4 etc.), and morally, this precedes the laying hold of heavenly blessing.

   The Red Sea, of course, is introductory to the wilderness, both in the imagery and in reality. Thus, the believer is to reckon himself “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6: 11)—otherwise he would still be in Egypt (under the bondage of sin). Now the word reckoned is in the present, imperative, active tense, meaning that it is a never-ending day-by-day matter throughout our pilgrimage here. Doctrinally, the truth of deliverance will be arrived at in the history of a soul at a particular point in time, but practically, it needs to be constantly maintained. However, what is taught in Romans 6, important as it is, only brings the believer into the wilderness, not the land, for while we are said to “have died with Christ” (v8), we are not taken off the earth. In Colossians and Ephesians, we are viewed as having been raised already, but in Romans it is still future: “so also we shall be of [his] resurrection” (Rom. 6: 5, my emphasis). The emphasis in Romans is what have been saved from (the bondage of sin), and so our death with Christ is taught. It has to be taught, because unless I reckon myself dead to sin (see v11), sin will still exert its dominion over me. In Colossians and Ephesians, the emphasis is on what we are saved to (the land) and so there not only have we died with Christ, but we have been raised with Christ.

The Power of God

The river Jordan was the divinely appointed route into the land. Others might seek to come the way of the Philistines (see Exod. 13: 17; Josh. 13: 2)—which typifies nature bypassing the death of Christ—but the Jordan is the only way for the believer to get in.  Thus “Jehovah spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ attendant, saying, Moses my servant is dead; and now, rise up, go over this Jordan, thou and all this people, into the land which I give unto them, to the children of Israel” (Josh. 1: 1, 2). “Go over this Jordan” is inextricably linked with “into the land”.

   Now the powers in the land might seem to be daunting, and unbelief would conclude (as it did earlier in Israel’s history) that “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we” (Num. 13: 31). Faith, however, would “Come Hither, and hear the words of Jehovah your God” (Josh. 3: 9). What does God tell the children of Israel? “Hereby shall ye know that the living God is in your midst, and [that] he will without fail dispossess from before you the Canaanites … Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is going over before you into the Jordan … And it shall come to pass, when the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of Jehovah, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of Jordan, the waters flowing down from above, shall be cut off, and shall stand up in a heap” (Josh. 3: 10, 11, 13, my emphasis). The river might be “full over all its banks throughout the days of harvest” (v15), but the waters were going to be put clean out of sight, “very far” and “completely cut off” (v16). The ark is a picture of Christ, and all the power of death is as nothing before Him. It was marvellous enough for Christ to be “marked out Son of God in power … by resurrection of [the] dead” (Rom. 1: 4)—that is, by raising others from the dead—but He said concerning His own body, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2: 19, my emphasis). This is the power that accompanies the people of God as gone over Jordan to possess the heavenly land. God not only tells His people of the “riches of the glory of his inheritance” but also “the surpassing greatness of his power towards us who believe, according to the working of the might of his strength, [in] which he wrought in the Christ [in] raising him from among [the] dead, and he set him down at his right hand in the heavenlies, above every principality, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name named, not only in this age, but also in that to come; and has put all things under his feet” (Eph. 1: 18-22).

   In the light of these things, how foolish it would be to seek to fight for my spiritual inheritance in my own natural strength! No, I must drop myself—drop the weak thing that can never prevail against the enemy—and rest in divine power. You see this in the type, in that as having crossed Jordan, Israel immediately submitted to circumcision (see Josh. 5: 3). There that was a removal of a token amount of flesh, but in Colossians 2: 11 we read of “the putting off of the body of flesh, in the circumcision of the Christ”. Just as the waters “rose up in a heap, very far, by Adam” (Josh. 3: 16) so all that I am as a child of Adam is cut off, and all that Christ is, I am before God as being “in Christ” (Col. 1: 2). The new position is that if “any one [be] in Christ, [there is] a new creation” (2 Cor. 5: 17) for we are “not in flesh but in Spirit” (Rom. 8: 9). What is of nature cannot go over and cannot go in.

The Crossing

Israel crossed through the Red Sea during the night (see Exod. 14: 24). That crossing was preceded by fear and trembling but ended with shouts of triumph. By contrast, Israel crossed over the empty bed of Jordan in the full light of day, and after three days of expectation and preparation—but we read of no song of victory, no tambours, and no dances accompanying the passage (comp. Exod. 15: 1, 20). A solemn stillness pervaded the nation as they watched the ark go down for them into the flooded Jordan, and then, wonder of wonders, the flood disappeared! Deliverance from the bondage of sin results in exultation, but at the passage of the Jordan the believer’s spirit is overwhelmed into silence at the completeness of the work, and the thought of the One who has done it. While the people needed to follow the ark to reach the land, they were not to “come near it” (Josh. 3: 4) and two thousand cubits was to be maintained between it and them. Thus, while there is association with Christ, Christ is also set apart as distinct, precious, and unfathomable. “Come hither” (v9) says Joshua, and so we, at a respectful distance, are directed to look at Christ, see what He has done, and where He now is. He went down into death, and God has raised Him from among the dead, and “set Him down at His right hand in the heavenlies” for “He that descended is the same who has also ascended up above all the heavens, that he might fill all things” (Eph. 1: 20; 4: 10). At the Red Sea, it was fitting that Moses lifted his staff and stretched out his hand over the sea (see Exod. 14: 16). In the Red Sea we get the judgment of sin, and so the staff is there. At the river, however, there is no staff, and all eyes were to be upon the ark, because we are blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ” (Eph. 1: 3, my emphasis). Thus Joshua’s instruction was that “When ye see the ark of the covenant of Jehovah your God, and the priests the Levites bearing it, then remove from your place, and go after it … and all Israel went over on dry ground, until all the nation had completely gone over the Jordan” (Josh. 3: 3, 17).

   There was also something at the Jordan that was not present at the Red Sea crossing—a memorial. Thus, twelve stones were taken out of the Jordan and set up in the land, and another twelve stones were set up in the midst of the river (see Josh. 4: 8, 9). Now just as “the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of Jehovah stood firm on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan” until “all Israel went over” (Josh. 3: 17), so in the antitype, we recall One who went into the waters and stayed there until all His people (here, all twelve tribes) had passed through. The twelve stones in the river speak of death, and the twelve on the bank speak of resurrection—God would ever have us remember the passage of the ark that brought us into blessing, the sorrow and the exaltation, the depth and the height. At the Red Sea, Israel rejoiced to see their enemies dead on the seashore; but in the Jordan, Christ Himself is magnified to my soul. It must be so, for as “in Him” (Eph. 1: 4), I am “where the Christ is, sitting at [the] right hand of God” (Col. 3: 1).   


Of course, a lot more could be said, but space is finite. However, the subject cannot be left without a serious question: why do we not enter livingly into these truths? Even when our heavenly character is understood doctrinally, the practical working out of it seems to be a matter of great difficulty. It surely must be because we are not really heeding the apostle’s injunction to “have your mind on the things [that are] above, not on the things [that are] on the earth” (Col. 3: 2). If we are occupied with things here, then our interest in the heavenly things will be correspondingly diminished.  We are heavenly—let us therefore live accordingly!