Shadow of Things to Come
A shadow is a vague outline of something more substantial. Ancient Israel was established by God as a shadow of greater things to come. It had a rich culture involved laws, rituals and sacrifices that foreshadowed future events. Through physical means God presented spiritual concepts that revealed His plan of salvation for all of mankind.
Four hundred years prior to the emergence of Israel as a nation, God disclosed His plan to Abraham (Abram) patriarch of the Israelites and made certain promises. He promised that Abraham’s descendants would become a prosperous nation and that through Abraham all families of the earth would be blessed.
The material blessing involved territory, status and wealth for his descendents and along with those blessings God instructed them in a way of life that separated them from the other nations, identifying them as His people. But the spiritual blessing involving all families of the earth, not just Israel, is the opportunity of eternal life in God’s spiritual Kingdom for all of mankind, “Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3).
They Knew God’s Intention
Abraham was an old man when his son Isaac was born and although he knew he would not live long enough to see his descendents emerge as a powerful and wealthy nation, he knew that he would eventually benefit from the spiritual blessing, “For he (Abraham) looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” (Hebrews 11:10). He and others after him knew that a heavenly kingdom awaited, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country..…But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:13-16 RSV).
The New Bible Commentary confirms that through faith Abraham perceived that the promised city of God belonging to a better heavenly country – a heavenly Jerusalem. It is the common destination of all who are converted and that the Israelite kingdom in Canaan was a provisional foretaste of that (paraphrased from page 93 of the 3rd edition).
Men of God like King David and Samuel the priest, who lived at the height of Israel’s prosperity understood that the material blessings were only temporary and pointed toward something better in the future. These men and women of faith listed in Hebrews 11 all looked forward to the same heavenly city that Abraham sought, “And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:….…And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:” (Hebrews 11:32-39). Many of them had already experienced the material blessing bestowed upon Israel, but had not received the spiritual promise to which they still looked forward.
That heavenly city they sought is described in the Book of Revelation, “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.” (Revelation 3:12). Also, “And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (Revelation 21:2).
These events describe a spiritual city in the context of a spiritual Kingdom populated by people resurrected to eternal life. Life in Israel in all its earthly glory at the height of its existence was a mere shadow of a better spiritual existence yet to come.
The law foreshadowed a better way of life that in the future would become second nature, “For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.” (Hebrews 10:1). It pictures a time when God said, “I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:” (Hebrews 8:10).
Both the tabernacle and later the temple, which were central to life in Israel, were carefully patterned after God’s instructions, “…..as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount.” (Hebrews 8:5). It portrayed the concept of God’s Spirit dwelling in man, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (I Corinthians 3:16, see also 6:19, II Corinthians 6:16 and Ephesians 2:21).
The High Priest of the temple foreshadowed Jesus Christ who is our spiritual High Priest today, “But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building;” (Hebrews 9:11).
Once a year the High Priest was required to enter the Holy of Holies, an inner sanctum of the temple, with a bowl of blood that he was to offer for the remission of sins for his people. This represented Christ who by the way of His own sacrifice opened up the way for all mankind to be forgiven of sin and to receive God’s Spirit which is a prerequisite for eternal life. The whole of chapter nine in the Book of Hebrews explains the significance of this ceremony culminating in the following passage, “It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” (Hebrews 9:23-28)
The lamb offered at Passover symbolized the Lamb of God who was to be the sacrifice for all of mankind. He is the savior through whom all families of the earth are to be blessed, “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.” (Galatians 3:16). Jesus Christ is that Lamb, “The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29).
The temple priests represented God’s people who at the end of this age will assist Christ to implement the plan of salvation for the rest of mankind, “And from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” (Revelation 1:5-6 RSV, see also 5:10).
Substance of the Shadow
Israel’s unique culture was a mere shadow of the more superior spiritual blessing that God had in store for all of mankind. That spiritual blessing can only come through Jesus Christ who is the substance of the promise.
A shadow is a representation cast by light of an object that has substance. Paul recognised what was being portrayed when he said, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” (Colossians 2:16-17). Jesus Christ was the substance of what these shadows represented. He is the key to salvation. There is no other way to eternal life in God’s Kingdom than through Him, “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6). Also, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12).
Through the symbolism of the unique culture of ancient, physical Israel God revealed His plan of salvation to the world. He promised Abraham that all families of the earth would be blessed through Jesus Christ who was a direct descendant of Abraham. Jesus Christ and His key role in the plan of salvation was the substance of the symbolism. Every thing points toward Him because it is only through Him we gain eternal life in God’s Kingdom. He will return at the end of this age to fulfill the promise made to Abraham by implementing God’s programme for the salvation of mankind.