No Fear in Meeting God

“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” Hebrews 10:31

Like all verses in the Bible it is important to understand the context and not assume a context. The immediate context is the quotes from Deuteronomy, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” and “The Lord will judge His people” but the broader context of chapters nine and ten is a comparison between the temple sacrifices and Christ’s sacrifice of Himself.

We are discovering that many people groups have stories of a great flood and the survival of just a few ancestors in a vessel of some sort. We also have in many people groups the practice of offering blood sacrifices to appease their god. It would seem that both these have their origin in Noah and the ark. When Noah emerged from the ark he offered blood sacrifices (Genesis 8:20-21).

The law given through Moses also required sacrifices but the writer of Hebrews affirms that such sacrifices did nothing to turn away God’s wrath for sin. They were but shadows (Hebrews 8:5; 10:1). If I promised a new car to my son and only gave him a photograph of that car he would be disappointed. The photograph is useless for the function of a car. It may be cheap but it won’t take him anywhere. Likewise, shadows have no substance. They promise but do not deliver. Jesus Christ is the only sacrifice for sin and all others are mere shadows or representations to point to Him. Anyone holding onto the shadow is the subject of verse 31 quoted above.

Jesus Christ offered Himself “once to bear the sins of many” (9:28; 10:10, 12, 13) so any continuance in offering the shadow is to say that Christ’s death is insufficient or inadequate. It would also deny all the attestations of God that He is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” In essence they are trampling the Son of God underfoot, counting the blood of the covenant a common thing and insulting the Spirit of grace (Hebrews 10:29). Not surprisingly, they have a fearful expectation.

We may also fall into this trap if we are not careful. It is possible that we may be offering sacrifices of service or money with a wrong motive. We read, “But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God … for by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (10:12, 14). When we offer service or money from the motive that seeks removal of guilt or to gain God’s favour we deny the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice. By doing so we call God a liar and no believer would want to do that.

Rather, we are not among those who are in fear of meeting our God, we are “those who eagerly wait for Him” for His second appearing “apart from sin, for salvation” (9:28).

Blinding Shadows

“… 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.