“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins” ( Hebrews 10:1-2 )
This is a good question. For the time period this was written this would have made them stop and think. If the sacrifices, repeated endlessly, could have cleared the conscience and cleansed once for all, wouldn’t they stop being offered? While we don’t offer animal sacrifices today, this truth remains, as believers we spend a lot of time and energy wrapped up in traditions and doctrines of men instead of focusing on the person of Jesus Christ and in the finished work of the cross. While in reality, many of those things are realized in Christ and we are merely paying attention to a type and shadow of what has already come.
Here’s the contrast. If I were to come around a building with the sun to my back, you would be able to see my shadow coming. You would be able to ascertain certain things about me. You could see if I was tall or short, fat or thin, if I had long hair or short hair, there would be many things that you could get a glimpse of by the shadow that was arriving around the building before me. However, once I appeared, you wouldn’t need my shadow to determine how I look, you would have the real thing standing in front of you. The same is true for Christ. The Law gave an outline of what Christ would be, but it merely served as a shadow to the real thing. Once Christ came, there is no need for the shadow. It is ridiculous to pay more attention to the shadow than the person.
This passage states this very clearly, “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves” To bring the point home, the writer draws attention to the fact that if they could have worked, they would have only needed to make the offering once, instead of time and time again. Pointing out that the one sacrifice would have cleared the conscience and absolved them from the guilt associated with sin. But this was not the case. This proves that the Law wasn’t the means to an end, the reality of it could only be found in Christ.
Which is exactly the point made in Hebrews chapter 10. The writer contrasts the endless sacrifices dictated by the Law with the one sacrifice made by Jesus and stresses many times that it was all that was needed to forgive sins and cleanse those who draw near, by faith, without any guilt or shame associated with sin.
“First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them” (although the law required them to be made). Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin” ( Hebrews 10:8-18 ).
It is an incredible thing to grasp. The Law was a rude outline expressing what was coming. Christ is the reality of it. And since He has come, there is no need to continue in the things that were a type and shadow. Paul confirms this in Colossians, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” ( Colossians 2:16-17 ).
This is an amazing truth with which to renew our minds. Through Christ Jesus, we have been forgiven and cleansed of all guilt associated with sin ( Hebrews 10:18 ). We have been freed from the sin nature that previously held us captive ( Romans 6:6 ). And we have been given the Holy Spirit to assure our hearts before God ( I John 3:19-20 ). Resting in the person of Jesus Christ is far better - in every way imaginable - than being wrapped up in the type and shadow of what has already come.