Shadow or Substance

The types and “shadows” of the old covenant find their substance and fulfillment in the Son – (Hebrews 8:1-5). 

Forest Shadows by Kiwihug on Unsplash
In chapter 8, 
Hebrews exhorts believers to persevere in the faith from the claim of fulfillment in Jesus; most especially, on the inauguration of the New Covenant. If the fulfillment of the past promises of God have arrived in His “Son,” returning to the incomplete revelations of the ancient faith meant the believer would embrace the “shadow” rather than the genuine article now standing in plain sight - [Photo by Kiwihug on Unsplash].
  • (Hebrews 8:1-5) – “A crowning point on the things being spoken; such a one as this we have as high-priest, who sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, of the Holy place a public minister, and of the Real Tent that the Lord pitched and not man. For every high-priest for the offering of both gifts and sacrifices is constituted; whence it was necessary for this one also to have something which he might offer. If indeed, therefore, he had been on earth, he had not, in that case, even been a priest since there are those who are offering the gifts, according to the law, who, indeed, are rendering divine service with a glimpse and shadow of the heavenly things; even as Moses received intimation, when about to complete the tent, For see! He says, You shall make all things according to the model which has been pointed out to you in the mount.
The Law was incomplete and not without shortcomings. The fact that a new priesthood was necessary indicated the need for a change of law – “For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.” There was a setting aside of the former commandment because of “its weakness and un-profitableness, for the Law was unable to perfect anyone” - (Hebrews 7:11-22).

The previous system of sacrifices and offerings was ordained by God. The priests who served in the Tabernacle did render divine service, but in doing so, only of the “glimpse and shadow of the heavenly realities”, “copies” or “patterns” of the heavenly and real things foreshadowed by them - (Hebrews 8:5, 9:23).

In contrast, Jesus did not enter the “copy” but into the very presence of God:
  • For the law having a shadow of the good things to come, not the very image of the things, can never with the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect those who draw near” (Hebrews 9:24, 10:1).
The result of his achievement was that Jesus became the “guarantee of a better covenant,” one “legislated on better promises.” And if the first covenant with its “glimpses and shadows” had been complete or “faultless,” there would have been no need for a second - (Hebrews 8:7-13).

The temptation faced by some of the first recipients of the epistle was not to revert to paganism or gross immorality, but to re-embrace the “shadow” of the Heavenly Reality now revealed and made available in Jesus; effectively, to reject God’s appointed high priest and the “purification of sins” achieved by him – To resort to the obsolete and incomplete system.

The theme is one found throughout the New Testament – Fulfillment in Jesus. The old has been superseded by the new, and the promised substance is now found in him – “All the promises of God are Yea, and in him Amen!” As Paul wrote:
  • We are filled full in him who is the head of all principality and authority, in whom we have also been circumcised with a circumcision not made by hand…having been buried together with him in our baptism, we also have been raised together through our faith in the energizing of God, who raised him from among the dead.”
  • Though we were dead in our offenses and by the uncircumcision of our flesh, he has brought us to life together with him, having in grace forgiven us all our offenses, having blotted out the handwriting against us by the decrees…and having taken away the same nailing it up to the cross…Let no one, therefore, be disqualifying you in eating and in drinking, or in respect of feast, or new moon, or Sabbath, which are a shadow of the things to come, whereas the substance is of the Christ” - (Colossians 2:9-17).
If the fulfillment of the promises of God has arrived in His “Son,” why return to the “glimpses and shadows” that he casts? To do so is to regress to what was always partial, fragmentary, and promissory, and not without fault.


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