Friday, March 13, 2015


Sometimes my brain explodes in Bible class.  I'll be reading along, listening to my sisters and brothers chat about the verses when all of sudden someone will say something I've never thought of quite that way before and the possibilities will blow up my brain.  It might be days before I can clear my brain of all the shrapnel and implications.

It happened recently as we were studying a familiar passage in Colossians where Paul had been talking about how our freedom is based on Christ's blood soaked sacrifice.  The explosion came as a sister commented on verses 16 and 17...
Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day--things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.
When I read it, my brain went in a familiar direction; we have the freedom to celebrate or not celebrate Old Testament holidays and to observe or not observe some Old Testament commandments (like circumcising our little boys).  But my sister's brain was going a different way.  She posited that these things must be foreshadowing something, but what?

And there it went.  Boom.

I suddenly remembered that all over the book of Hebrews are indications of shadowing.  Not prophetic foreshadowing, the way that Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac foreshadows God's sacrifice of his only son Jesus, but a strikingly different kind. The Hebrew writer instead envisions many Old Testament things (like the tabernacle) and roles (such as the high priest) being mere shadows of heavenly realities.  The Hebrew writer says,

Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law;   who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, "SEE," He says, "THAT YOU MAKE all things ACCORDING TO THE PATTERN WHICH WAS SHOWN YOU ON THE MOUNTAIN." (Hebrews 8:4-5)
This short quote doesn't do the idea justice; you really need to go back and read Hebrews 8-10, but in case you're super busy today, I'll give you the short version.  The author says that the tabernacle that Moses built, including the Holy of Holies, is only a shadow of God's heavenly temple.  Moses had to be extra careful to get it right (Exodus 26:30) because it reflected heavenly realities. Jesus could be high priest even though he wasn't a Levite, because he could enter the true and heavenly Holy of Holies with himself as the perfect sacrifice to cleanse us all from our sins.

Our passage in Colossians indicates that along with a heavenly temple with a holy of holies, the festivals, new moons and Sabbaths of the old Law foreshadow some wonderful heavenly thing.  But what?  That's the intriguing question that got me thinking.

I had always assumed that these festivals, new moons and Sabbaths were fulfilled in Christ.  And to some extent that is certainly true.  Jesus does say he came to fulfill the law and the prophets (Matthew 5:18-20).  The Hebrew example shows the way he fulfilled the sacrifices, and the connection between Jesus and the sacrificed Passover lamb is made amply clear in John.  Yet the verse from Colossians says these things ARE shadowing things to come.  What heavenly things could the Sabbath or the festivals or the new moons be a shadow of?

It's a question I'll be chewing on for a while.  And I'm glad for it. The word is fathomlessly deep, and amazingly united.  We would laugh at a child who, having memorized the multiplication tables declares, "I have mastered mathematics." And so might God laugh at us when we have for example learned the law of the Sabbath in Sunday School and assumed we thereby have conquered the "Sabbath rest of God" (Exodus 20:8-11, Hebrews 4:9-11).  My assumptions and understandings may only be surface ones; as I study together with other Christians and teachers of the word I am often astonished at what I don't know or never thought to ask. I am so glad to be part of a congregation of Christians who aren't afraid to ask questions or consider the Word carefully and who laugh at the concept that it's the preacher's job to chew their meat for them.  I am glad that God revealed so much of himself and his plan in his word that it lends itself to a lifetime of study.   And I am grateful that God, the world's first and greatest teacher, made his will plain enough that even a child can understand! 

Don't give up studying.  Don't assume you understand.  God is waiting in the pages of the scripture to reveal himself to you.  Go back, find a friend, read it again!


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