“… since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law; who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, …” Hebrews 8:4, 5
There is nothing wrong with copies and shadows. When driving a bus it is quite helpful to look for a shadow behind as a warning that someone is too close. The vehicle may be unseen but the shadow tells of its presence. However, the shadow is not the concern. The real concern is the object that casts the shadow. If the shadow is cast over the bus it will do no damage but if the object that casts the shadow comes in contact with the bus there may be serious damage.
The writer of Hebrews explains that the priesthood, tabernacle and offerings were given by God and therefore very important to Israel. However, they are but shadows of heavenly things (v 5). They have a limited appearance of the real but have no substance in themselves (10:1).
Israel has generally taken the shadow as the real. When the real came down from heaven they did not recognise Him because they thought the shadow was the substance. The law given by God through Moses in every aspect was a shadow of Jesus Christ. The moral aspects of the law describe Jesus and the ritual aspects describe how he would reconcile men to God. It was the scribes’ and Pharisees’ focus on the shadow the blinded them to that which is the real object.
When a church becomes stagnant it may be because the people have ceased gazing upon the real and focused on the shadow. Paul warned Timothy that in the last days there would be religious people who have “a form of godliness but deny its power” (2 Timothy 3:5). We are in those last days and the people he is describing are people who worship the shadow and not Jesus.
In a similar way that the law, tabernacle and objects in the tabernacle were shadows of heavenly things so is our church building and the objects we use in worship. They have no intrinsic value so far as our relationship with God is concerned. This may unsettle some but the pulpit and communion table could just as easily have been firewood and may yet become that. The unused contents of the cup and the bread taken at communion go down the drain or into the rubbish bin. These are shadows and the sooner we grasp that the better because then we will give our worship, love and attention to the real object of which these are but shadows. Just as it has been for Israel it is possible that we may give our attention to shadows instead of the One who casts the shadow.
The writer of Hebrews says that the law was a shadow of heavenly things (10:1). Well, John writes in his Gospel that heaven came down in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ and dwelt among us. Matthew records two names for the One who casts the shadow in chapter one of his Gospel: “Jesus” for He will save His people from their sins (v 21) and “Emmanuel” which means God with us (v 23).
Like Israel the professing church in our day may be becoming more preoccupied with the shadows of Jesus Christ. We cannot change the focus of others, but we can ensure the focus of our attention and faith is on the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ – and not the shadow He casts.