This is an adapted excerpt from They Spoke of Me: How Jesus Unlocks the Old Testament.
The famous (or infamous, depending whom you ask) story of Noah and the flood fills Sunday school classes, kids’ books, and Christian art. The depictions are always the same—a bunch of cute zoo animals on a boat captained by a jolly old man, sun shining overhead, clouds puffier than cotton candy. If you had no backstory, you might think Noah loaded up some exotic animals to tour the Atlantic Ocean.
Others think the flood is an ancient recounting of an angry God who arbitrarily hates people. Non-Christians are especially susceptible to this idea, though many Christians also assume “the God of the Old Testament” is like a petulant child with a magnifying glass, scorching us like ants out of sheer maniacal pleasure.
Both postures are wrong.
Noah’s flood isn’t simply a Sunday school story about sunny skies and rainbows. Real people died; real sin was punished in a real flood. At the same time, Noah’s life isn’t just a grim story about fury and death. Even though God did execute judgment because people refused to forsake sin, he still showed grace to those who trusted him.
The problem, though, is that Noah’s ability to build an ark and survive the flood didn’t include any power to escape the corruption in his own heart. There needed to be another Noah story that didn’t end in sin or curses—one that would conclude with consistent obedience, salvation, and a guarantee that water judgment would never be needed again.
Jesus brings us this better story. Here are four ways he fulfills and retells Noah’s story.
1. Jesus’s Return Reflects Noah’s Flood
Jesus preached to people who, for the most part, imitated the attitudes of Noah’s generation. Even more amazingly, Jesus predicted that the kind of crowd that rejected God in Noah’s day would also be around when he returns to establish his kingdom on earth. Therefore, the climate in which Noah lived would be replicated when Jesus returns in two ways.
First, people will ignore Jesus’s pleas for repentance, choosing instead the trivial pleasures of life. Such willful ignorance will not deter the worldwide judgment that will consume them.
Second, the rebellion of the unbelieving masses will incur the same result as in Noah’s day, except without any water. Instead of a flood washing away sinful humanity, Jesus will return with fire to remove his enemies, defeat the Devil, and allow his people to inherit a truly renewed creation.
When Jesus finally returns for good, there won’t be any sinful seeds ready to sprout up again.
2. Jesus Brings Salvation like the Ark of Noah
Jesus also delivers us from judgment, just as the ark did for Noah. According to Peter, the flood is an ancient simulation of what happens in Christian baptism (1 Pet. 3:18–22). Originally, Noah and his family survived because of the ark’s protection. Now, believers are baptized in water in identification with Jesus, who was plunged into the earth and ultimately raised from the dead.
Just as Noah obeyed God by climbing onto a boat to save a few, Jesus obeyed his Father by climbing onto a cross to save many.
While a wooden ark delivered Noah from physical death, a wooden cross delivers us from spiritual death. Just as Noah obeyed God by climbing onto a boat to save a few, Jesus obeyed his Father by climbing onto a cross to save many.
3. Jesus Succeeds Where Noah (and Adam) Failed
When the floodwaters receded, the world was like a new creation. Yet Noah still sinned after the boat hit land. Nevertheless, Noah was still linked to the promise the Lord had given to Adam—that the woman’s seed would eventually crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15).
Jesus Christ became the man Adam chose not to be and the man Noah never could be. Adam was born without sin but chose to sin; Noah was born into sin and could never escape it.
But instead of temporarily obeying his Father only to succumb to failure, Jesus obeyed completely so he could be authorized to judge sin and crush Satan (Rev. 1:18).
Jesus’s new creation surpasses what Noah received after the flood, and even what Adam experienced before sin entered the world.
4. Jesus Ensures the End of Judgment
As we’ve seen, the flood teaches several things. First, it’s a sober reminder that God judges rebels who don’t repent. Also, it’s a precursor to the final judgment facing all of humanity. Yet it’s laced with promises of grace, because the flood was part of a bigger story that includes promises of final restoration and salvation.
Creation won’t groan in chaos and be at odds with humanity. It will be restored, and a new Adam will lead a redeemed humanity to rule over it.
Even in washing most of humanity away, God proved faithful. He spared one family who would lead to the birth of the Savior. History was being pushed toward a better day—a day when the earth will be restored. Creation will no longer groan in chaos. It will be restored, and a new Adam will lead a redeemed humanity to rule over it.
When Judgment Ceases
We all know floods aren’t pleasant. They destroy property. Worse, they take lives. They leave huge amounts of destruction in their wake. Floods remind us that nature is in disarray, and that things aren’t as they should be. Theologically, floods are illustrations of the conflict that still exists between God and man outside of Christ.
Nevertheless, we’re assured that when Christ returns, there will be no more sea, no more tears, no more heartbreak, and no more funerals. Creation will be renewed and those who took refuge in the ultimate ark—Jesus Christ—will embark into eternity with forgiveness, resurrection, and a new earth immune to God’s curse.
One day we won’t be like Noah, hoping to not stain the world with sin once again. Instead we’ll look to King Jesus, whose eternal reign will never be challenged, and who will conquer the chaos of sin once and for all.