From Shadow to Substance
The eighth chapter of Hebrews highlights the incomparable benefits believers now receive under the New Covenant inaugurated by the death of Jesus. If the fulfillment of the promises of God arrived in him, especially in his death and resurrection, to return now to the incomplete revelations of the past “spoken in the prophets” would mean embracing the glimpses and “shadows” of the “coming good things” rather than the substance and abiding reality provided by the Son of God.
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The Law was incomplete, and not without its 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.” 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 via Moses at 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,For see, He says, You shall make all things according to the model which has been pointed out to you in the mountof 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, ” - (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, Jesus, by means of his “once-for-all” unique sacrifice, did not enter the “copy.” Instead, he entered the very presence of God in the “real tabernacle” where he now remains 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).
The Son of God became the “guarantee of a better covenant,” one that is “legislated on better promises.” Moreover, if the first covenant with its “glimpses and shadows” had been “faultless,” there would have been no need for a replacement.
ONCE FOR ALL
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, namely, Jesus - (Hebrews 7:18-24, 8:7-13).
The recipients of the Letter to the Hebrews were not facing the temptation to revert to paganism or gross immorality, but instead to return to the local synagogue and thus to the “shadows” of the Heavenly Reality that they possessed by God’s grace.
Effectively, 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 on their behalf. They would regress to the obsolete and incomplete “shadows” of the old legislation – (compare Colossians 2:9-17).
If the fulfillment of the promise, the substance foreshadowed by the old but now obsolete Levitical system, why return to the “shadows” cast by him?