Shadow and reality

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Hebrews 10: 1 Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach. Otherwise, would they not have ceased being offered, since the worshipers, cleansed once for all, would no longer have any consciousness of sin? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin year after year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

**** Disclaimer: I started writing this early this morning and, needing to move on to my meetings for the day, ran out of time to write what I originally intended. This is a truncated version I share in hopes God might use it anyway. ****

The writer is making the case that Jesus’ sacrifice was superior to the sacrifices of the Jewish priests in the temple of Jerusalem. I’m struck this morning by v.1: “Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities…”. What realities is the writer referring to? Here’s my take.

Reading the book of Genesis (the first book of the bible) and the story of Adam and Eve we see people in right relationship with God and with one another. There is harmony all around. There is no evil or sin in the world. With the temptation of Adam and Eve by the serpent (assumed to be Satan), and their eating of the forbidden fruit (often referred to as “original sin”), that relational harmony is broken – both with God and with one another. Adam and Eve are cast out of the Garden of Eden away from God, and for the first time experience enmity in their relationship with one another. As we read further into scripture the broken relationships are never healed. The damage appears to be permanent.

But then God gives the people the 10 Commandments after their release from slavery in Egypt via Moses. The commandments (referred to as “the law”) provide rules for people to govern their relationships with God and with one another. In essence, the law is intended to provide a framework where the damage of original sin can be healed and people can live in a manner consistent with God’s original intent. There is hope the day would come when the law is no longer needed because it would be deeply engrained in the culture of God’s people, making righteousness the de facto way of life as it was in the beginning (what God refers to as the “law written on the heart” instead of on tablets of stone).

It’s a great idea, but it never comes to pass. The human inclination to rebel against God and do violence to one another remains despite God’s punishment of Israel over the generations. The covenant of the law proves insufficient to restore people to God and one another. This is what the writer of Hebrews points out in the verse below:

1 Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities

Even when people comply with the law, the human heart remains rebellious. People obey the letter of the law, but not the spirit in which the law was given. This is what the writer of Hebrews is getting at. The law does not result in the transformation God hoped for.

Thankfully we are brought near to God and to one another through Jesus Christ – who fulfills the law on our behalf, overcoming our bondage to sin and death. But sin remains and will continue until Jesus comes again to usher in the new era of the Kingdom of God. Then the “true form” of which the author speaks will be a reality. Lord, let it be so. Amen.

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