Shadow to Substance

The types and “shadows” of the old covenant find their substance in the Son of God, Jesus Christ – Hebrews 8:1-5

Forest Shadows - Photo by Kiwihug on Unsplash
In its eighth chapter, 
Hebrews highlights the incomparable benefits believers have in the New Covenant inaugurated by Jesus. If the fulfillment of God’s promises has arrived in him, returning to the incomplete revelations of the past amounts to embracing types and “shadows” rather than the substance that is available in him - [Photo by Kiwihug on Unsplash].

The Law was incomplete, and not without its 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.”

Thus, the former commandment has been set aside because of “its weakness and un-profitableness, for the Law was unable to perfect anyone.” That deficiency included the Levitical sacrificial system and the previous covenant concluded at Sinai.
  • (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 previous but now outmoded system of sacrifices was ordained by God. The priests who served in the Tabernacle did render divine service, but only of the “glimpse and shadow of the heavenly realities”, “copies” patterned after the heavenly realities that were foreshadowed by the Tabernacle, its furnishings, and sacrifices.

In contrast, Jesus did not enter the “copy,” but instead, into the very presence of God, where he now remains forever:
  • 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).

As a result of his achievement, he became the “guarantee of a better covenant,” one that is “legislated on better promises.” And if the first covenant with its “glimpses and shadows” had been “faultless,” there would have been no need for any replacement.


Rather than one generation of priests after another, along with repeated animal sacrifices, the new legislation 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 Hebrews are not facing the temptation to revert to paganism or gross immorality, but instead, to return to the “shadow” of the Heavenly Reality that they already possess in Jesus.

Effectively, if they take the easy path to escape pressure and persecution by returning to the synagogue, they will reject God’s appointed high priest and the “purification of sins” achieved by him. They will regress to the obsolete and incomplete “shadows” of the old legislation.

The theme of fulfillment in Jesus is found throughout the New Testament. The old has been superseded by the new, and the substance is now present in him, no longer casting shadows. As Paul wrote to the Colossians:
  • 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 a 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 has arrived in His “Son,” why return to the “shadows” cast by him? To do so is regression to what was always partial, fragmentary, and promissory, and not without fault.



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