Many Old Testament accounts of people and events tell of things that are still to come. For example, Moses told the Israelites of another prophet like him, who would come later and who would require the people’s obedience. The Psalms describe the experiences of David, yet they also speak of David’s son to come, the Messiah.
Perhaps one of the best-known and loved Bible accounts is the story of Joseph and his coat of many colors. Joseph’s story offers valuable lessons and applications, yet there is also a prophetic aspect to this account that foreshadows the Messiah. There are many (over one hundred) fascinating parallels between Joseph, the beloved son of Jacob, and Jesus, who would arrive on the stage of human history centuries later.
Joseph is adored by his father, and it caused strife between him and his brothers:
Now Israel [Jacob] loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him (Genesis 37:3–4).
When Jesus is baptized by John, he received a similar message of fatherly approval:
Behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17)
Joseph is like a root out of dry ground, a symbol of new life in his father’s old age. Later in the Old Testament, it is prophesied that the Messiah shall grow up “like a root out of dry ground,” also a symbol of new life during a time of spiritual depravity (Isaiah 53:2).
Because Joseph’s father showed him favoritism, his brothers treated him with hatred, remorse, and violence. They stole the coat off his back, threw him into a pit, and then sold him off to strangers (Genesis 37:23–27).
Jesus, having done nothing wrong, was delivered into the hands of Pilate and then was beaten, mocked, and crucified. He too was stripped of his clothing (Matthew 27:28). He would also be thrown into a tomb, a “pit” of sorts (Matthew 12:40). Jesus said, “But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause’” (John 15:25).
In Joseph’s dream, he sees himself and his brothers binding sheaves in the field. His sheaf arose and stood upright, and his brothers’ sheaves bowed down to his (Genesis 37:7). His brothers felt threatened by his supposed authority and accused him of being deluded.
Jesus proclaimed his divine status and authority. Even prior to his crucifixion, before the council, the high priest said to him “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:63–64). Jesus was continually told that he was out of his mind (Mark 3:21), and “they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” (Matthew 27:29).
Joseph’s brothers sold him to the Ishmaelites for “twenty shekels of silver,” and Joseph was taken to Egypt (Genesis 37:28). Similarly, Judas asked the chief priests what he will receive if he delivers Jesus to them, “and they paid him thirty pieces of silver” (Matthew 26:15). Both Jesus and Joseph were treated as commodities and discarded by people that were supposed to care for them.
After Joseph’s brothers throw him into the pit, Judah suggested that they sell him to the Ishmaelites. So, “they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit” (Genesis 37:28). After his crucifixion, Jesus “was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:4). They were both brought low but were delivered by God from the “pit.” God used their situations for a greater good—not just for physical deliverance.
Both Jesus and Joseph lived a life of servitude and selflessness. Joseph was brought down to Egypt and became a servant “in the house of his master” (Genesis 39:1–2).
Jesus’ ministry was characterized by service, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). He “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7).
Potiphar’s wife tempted Joseph to sleep with her, but he continually refused (Genesis 39:7–12). Jesus lived in a human body that experienced hunger, anger, and a range of other feelings and emotions. He was even tempted in the wilderness by Satan with promises of glory and satisfaction (Matthew 4:1–11). Yet in all the ways he was tempted, he did not sin (Hebrews 4:15).
But unlike Jesus, Joseph was prone to sin. Although he resisted temptation, we cannot say that Joseph led a blameless life as Jesus did.
Potiphar’s wife accused Joseph of harming and mocking her (Genesis 39:17–18), and Potiphar put him in prison though he did nothing wrong (Genesis 39:20) Jesus died on account of things he did not do (Matthew 26:60) and was crucified between two criminals (Luke 23:33).
When Pharoah cannot find anyone to interpret his dreams, his chief cupbearer remembered that Joseph accurately interpreted his dreams (Genesis 41:9–13). Joseph was summoned to the Pharoah and he correctly interpreted his dream that seven years of plenty would be followed by seven years of famine.
Jesus also knew the future and often told his disciples what was to come, although they did not understand. He told his disciples, “I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he” (John 13:19).
Joseph was esteemed in the land of Egypt as a wise and discerning man, and Pharaoh established him over his house as second in command over Egypt (Genesis 41:39–40).
Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah will be called a wonderful counselor (Isaiah 9:6). The book of Philippians tells us that “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9).
Because Joseph discerned Pharaoh’s dream, he was able to prepare the people and the land for the upcoming famine. As such, when the famine struck, nations came to Egypt, and he provided grain and cared for them (Genesis 41:57).
After feeding the 5,000, Jesus said that he is “the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35). Jesus both physically and spiritually provided for people’s needs.
When Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt to collect grain during the famine, he recognized them, but they did not know him (Genesis 42:8). Joseph eventually revealed his identity to his brothers. “And he said, ‘I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life’” (Gen. 45:4–5).
Jesus told one of his disciples, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me?” (John 14:9). Many people did not know who he actually was or understand his purpose, although Jesus told them. But after his death and resurrection, Jesus appeared to many and revealed himself. While Joseph reconciled with his brothers who sold him into slavery, Jesus’s death reconciled all to God.