Shadows and Substance

The eighth chapter of Hebrews highlights the incomparable benefits believers receive under the New Covenant inaugurated by the death of Jesus. If the fulfillment of the promises arrived in him, especially in his Death and Resurrection, returning to the incomplete revelations of the past means embracing the glimpses and “shadows” of the “coming good things” rather than the substance provided by the Son of God.

The Law was incomplete, and not without shortcomings. The fact that a new priesthood was necessary indicated from the start the need for a change of law - “For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.”

Mattherhorn shadow - Photo by Jean-Daniel Calame on Unsplash
[Photo by Jean-Daniel Calame on Unsplash]

Thus, “upon the last of these days,” the former commandment was set aside because of “its weakness and un-profitableness, for the Law was unable to perfect anyone.” Moreover, this deficiency included the sacrificial system described in the Book of Leviticus and the “former covenant” instituted through Moses at Mount Sinai.

  • 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 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” - (Hebrews 8:1-5. Compare Exodus 25:40).

The previous but now outmoded system of animal sacrifices was ordained by God. The priests who served in the Tabernacle did render divine service, but only as “glimpses and shadows of the heavenly realities”, “copies” of the substance that was foreshadowed by the Tabernacle, its furnishings, and repeated sacrifices.

In contrast, through his “once-for-all” sacrifice, Jesus did not enter the “copy,” but the very presence of God in the “real Tabernacle” where he has remained ever since interceding for his people at the “right hand of the Majesty on high:

  • 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).

He became the “guarantee of a better covenant… legislated on better promises.” Moreover, if the first covenant with its “glimpses and shadows” had been “faultless,” there would have been no need for its replacement.

Rather than one generation of priests after another, along with repeated animal sacrifices, the New Covenant founded by the “Son” is based on the once-for-all sacrifice and the endless resurrection life of its one High Priest, Jesus Christ - (Hebrews 7:18-24, 8:7-13).

The recipients of the Letter to the Hebrews were not facing the temptation to revert to paganism. Instead, they considered returning to the local synagogue and thus to the “shadows” of the Heavenly Reality. This made no sense since they possessed the substance of that reality. Doing so would be regression, and ultimately, apostasy.

If they took the easy path and escaped opposition by returning to the synagogue, they would reject God’s appointed High Priest and the “purification of sins” achieved by him – (compare Colossians 2:9-17).

If we possess the substance of the promise foreshadowed by the obsolete Levitical system, why return to the “shadows” that were cast by the Son of God?

  • His Incomparable Covenant - (Jesus inaugurated the superior New Covenant through his Death and Resurrection, rendering the old covenant obsolete – Hebrews 8:6-13)
  • The Tent Pitched by God - (Jesus intercedes without ceasing for his people in the true heavenly Tabernacle, one not made with human hands)
  • God has spoken! - (God spoke His definitive word in His Son, Jesus of Nazareth. All previous words spoken in the prophets were preparatory, promissory, and partial)



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Going on to Perfection