Recently in the Bible study group I am attending we were studying the Epistle to the Hebrews. As we were reviewing this fascinating New Testament letter I remembered some notes on the Hebrews I wrote twenty years ago. I am now sharing those notes, put together and slightly updated.
“When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already hear, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once and for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption… For Christ did not enter a man man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.” Hebrews 9:11.12.24. NIV
The entire Old Testament, or the old covenant religious system – with its law, tabernacle, sacrifices, festivals, observances and every other aspect of religious life – was a shadow, or a copy of the real deal, Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate, God’s final and complete word to men. By the virtue of His redemptive work, achieved through the ministry of His life, death and resurrection, Jesus inaugurated a new covenant, or “the time of the new order”, thus making the old one obsolete (Hebrews 7:22., 8:7.13., 9:10). The entire Book of Hebrews majors on underlining the supremacy of Jesus over every detail of the old covenant.
Thus Jesus stands for – a better Moses (3:2.), a better Sabbath (4:9.), a better priesthood (7:12.24.), a better law (7:12.), a better high priest (7:188.8.131.52.), a better sacrifice (7:27., 9:26., 10:12.), a better ministry (8:6.), a better hope (7:18.), a better promise (8:6.7.), a better covenant (7:22., 8:13., 9:13.), a better order (9:10.11.), a better tabernacle (chapter 9), and a better access to the Father (6:19., 10:19-22.).
As the destination of our journey is superior to all the signs pointing to it along the way, and as all the signs become obsolete once we have reached the destination, so it goes with all the elements of the Jewish religious décor which were only the prophetic signposts along the Old Testament road to Christ; they are now obsolete and void (Hebrews 8:13) because they were consumed and contained in the Real Deal, namely in Jesus Christ. A copy, or a shadow of an important object only has a meaning and purpose as long as the object it reflects is out of sight. Likewise, a shadow (or a copy) of an object is always inferior to the entity it represents. Once the real thing is revealed, to continue adoring its shadow might easily become an act of idolatry.
In other words, to retain the elements of the inferior shadow-like old covenant as if they were the worshiping realities in themselves, would mean to veil, even undermine the impact and significance of the ‘mechanism’ by which the New Covenant was put into effect; namely the Atonement once-and-for-all completed in the life and death experience of Jesus Christ. To keep on adoring his shadow (old covenant), once the person of Jesus was fully revealed (Hebrews 1:1-3), would amount to believing and acting as if the Jesus Christ’s sacrifice was not adequate and complete means of restoring us back to God. It would also mean to remain unnecessarily “under the veil”, under the law, dull and blind for the reality of Christ. (2. Corinthians 3:12-16)
Here is the case in point.
In our understanding of the heavenly intercessory ministry of Jesus Christ, we may go with the logic that the heavenly sanctuary (tabernacle, temple) is only a better shadow of the earthly one; only a more solid and better looking physical object. We may look only for a higher quality of design, more impressive liturgy, more grandiose furniture, without ever asking: does the pattern, according to which Moses was asked to build the tabernacle, point only to a more lavished pattern somewhere else? Or, does it go beyond the geography, the visual, the physical – reaching its true meaning and purpose in something by far more important than physical walls, tables, altars, veils, even if they were all made of the most precious materials? What if the entire décor of the heavenly tabernacle has very little to do with a grandiose physical object somewhere in the distant celestial spaces? What if it has to do much more with the divine plan and certainty of salvation, and the assurance of our secure place in the embrace of God, thanks to the perfection of the saving work of Jesus Christ, our only true Intercessor, High Priest, and the eternal King of Kings?
The following thoughts of C.S. Lewis might illustrate the point further:
“An early peasant Christian might have thought that Christ’s sitting at the right hand of the Father really implied two chairs of state, in a certain spatial relation, inside a sky place. But if the same man afterwards … discovered that God has no body, parts, or passions, and therefore neither a right hand nor a palace, he would not have felt that the essentials of his belief had been altered. What had mattered to him, even in the days of his simplicity, had not been supposed details about celestial furniture. It had been the assurance that the once crucified Master was now the supreme Agent of the unimaginable Power on whom the whole universe depends. “ C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock
Heaven is for real. The Kingdom of God is for real too. Salvation is for real, and the life eternal is for real too. However, we need to recognize in all humility that “all language, except about objects of sense, is metaphorical through and through” (C.S. Lewis). In other words, from the moment our human existence became drastically altered by sin, and our alienation from God became real, God has been painstakingly working in and through Christ on making His and our reconciliation story real, truthful and meaningful to us despite the workings of all our limitations.
At the end of the day the promise remains: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived, (these are) the things God has prepared for those who love him”. 1. Cor. 2:9.