SYNOPSIS – The types and “shadows” of the old covenant find their substance in the Son – Hebrews 8:1-5.
The epistle to the Hebrews develops its exhortation for believers to persevere in the faith from its theme of fulfillment – What God has accomplished already in Jesus. His partial word has been superseded by the complete one “spoken” in His “Son.” Most likely, the letter was addressed to a congregation with a significant complement of Jewish believers. It was facing the possibility of persecution; consequently, some members began to withdraw from the assembly and were contemplating a return to the synagogue to avoid trouble – (Hebrews 2:15, 10:32-34, 12:4, 10:24-31, 13:24-25).
But if the fulfillment of the past promises of God have arrived in His Son, returning to the incomplete revelations of the ancient faith amounted to embracing the shadows rather than the real thing now standing in plain sight.
(Hebrews 8:1-5) – “A crowning point on the things being spoken: — such a one as this have we as high-priest, who hath 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, which 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 hath received intimation, when about to complete the tent — For see! saith he — Thou shalt make all things according to the model which hath been pointed out to thee in the mount.”
The letter opens with a paragraph that sets the tone of the entire document – “In many parts and many ways long ago God spoke to the fathers in the prophets; upon these last of days, he spoke to us in a Son.” Yahweh did speak in the past but only partially, here a little and there a little. But with the advent of His “Son,” He has “spoken” with great fulness and finality – (Hebrews 1:1-4).
The earlier word was true but promissory and incomplete. It prepared the way for the final and ultimate revelation of God in the Son. The letter introduces the subject of angels and, thereby, begins to contrast what God has done in the past with what He has now achieved in Jesus. Thus, the Son “became superior to the angels by as much as going beyond them, he inherited a more excellent name.” The purpose is not to digress into a discussion about the nature of Christ or angels but to demonstrate the superiority of the “Son” over them.
The comparison with angels leads to the first exhortation of the letter – “If the word spoken through angels became firm and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, how shall we escape if we neglect” the superior word spoken in Jesus? Ignoring the divine words mediated by angels comes with great consequences, so how much greater will the consequences be for ignoring the vastly superior “word” spoken in a “Son?” – (Hebrews 2:1-4).
Angels are God’s ministers and glorious. The Law was given by God and is just and excellent. Yet the word “spoken” in the “Son” is vastly superior to any word given through angels.
The letter continues with this line of argumentation, comparing the “Son” to Moses, Aaron, his priesthood to the Levitical priesthood, his sacrifice to the repeated sacrifices of the Tabernacle, and the Old Covenant to the New. In each case, he does not disparage the Old but demonstrates the clear superiority of what God has done in the “Son” – (Hebrews 3:1-6, 5:1-10, 7:1-27, 9:26).
A dire warning against forsaking the “Son” follows each contrast. The comparison with angels ends with a warning to not “drift away” from the word spoken in him. The comparison to Moses produces a warning against being hardened through the deceitfulness of sin and unbelief – (Hebrews 2:1-4, 3:1-4:16).
The initial description of his superior priesthood is followed by a dire warning against “falling away” – Going disastrously beyond the pale by once again publicly crucifying the “Son” and holding him up for public ridicule – (Hebrews 6:1-8).
The more detailed expositions about the priesthood of Jesus, his sacrifice, and the New Covenant inaugurated by him are followed by a fourth warning against the dreadful fate that awaits those who desert the superior faith found in the Son:
(Hebrews 10:25-31) – “Anyone having set aside a law of Moses…dies. Of how much sorer punishment do you suppose he shall be accounted worthy, who has trampled underfoot the Son of God and esteemed the blood of the covenant a profane thing…”
The Law was incomplete and not without 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.” There was a setting aside of the former commandment because of “its weakness and un-profitableness, for the Law was unable to perfect anyone” – (Hebrews 7:11-22).
Jesus became the “guarantee of a better covenant” – The “Son” is the mediator of a “better covenant legislated on better promises,” for if the first covenant had been complete or “faultless” there would have been no need for a second – (Hebrews 8:7-13).
The Old Covenant with its system of sacrifices and offerings was ordained by God. The priests who served in the Tabernacle did render divine service, but only as of the “glimpse and shadow of the heavenly realities”, “copies” or “patterns” of the heavenly and real things that they foreshadowed – (Hebrews 8:5, 9:23).
In contrast, Jesus did not enter the “copy” but into the very presence 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).
The temptation was not to revert to a grossly sinful or pagan life but to re-embrace the “shadow” of the Heavenly Reality now revealed in Jesus; effectively, to reject the appointed high priest of God and the “purification of sins” achieved by him – To retreat to the old system that is now made obsolete by the new and vastly superior covenant established by the “Son.”
This theme is one found throughout the New Testament – Fulfillment in Jesus. The old has been superseded by the new and the promised substance is now found in him – “All the promises of God are Yea, and in him Amen!” – (2 Corinthians 1:20).
As Paul wrote:
- “We are filled full in him who is the head of all principality and authority, in whom we have also been circumcised with a circumcision not made by hand…having been buried together with him in our baptism, we also have been raised together through our faith in the energizing of God, who raised him from among the dead.”
- “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 offences, 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 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 Jesus, why return to the shadows that he casts? To do so is to regress to that which was always partial, fragmentary, and promissory, and not without fault.