Shadow to Substance

Stone Column Bun Burst - Photo by Damian Markutt on Unsplash

In its eighth chapter, Hebrews highlights the incomparable benefits believers have received 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 and reality that God has provided in His Son.


The Law was incomplete, and not without its shortcomings. The fact that a new priesthood is necessary indicates 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 is 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 former covenant concluded at Mount 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 “glimpses and shadows of the heavenly realities”, and “copies” of the substance that was 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 interceding for his people at the “right hand” 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).

One result of his achievement is that 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 “shadows” of the Heavenly Reality that they already possess in Jesus.


Effectively, if they take the easy path to escape persecution by returning to the local synagogue, they will reject God’s appointed high priest and the “purification of sins” achieved by him on their behalf. They will regress to the obsolete and incomplete “shadows” of the old legislation – (compare Colossians 2:9-17).


If the fulfillment of the promise has arrived in His “Son,” why return to the “shadows” cast by him? To do so is regression - the return to what was always partial, fragmentary, and promissory, and not without fault.

Alexander Beach, Fidalgo Island, by Mary L. Maas