Given the choice, we like the real thing. We prefer not to settle for a mere representation or copy. Coca-Cola capitalized on this idea in a classic advertising campaign.
We don’t want outlines, silhouettes, or shadows. We want the genuine article in its fullness.
The Book of Hebrews gives us a little insight about shadows. It talks about the sacrificial system (Heb 8:5) and the Law (Heb 10:1) as being mere shadows of reality. The Old Testament priests didn’t have the whole picture.
Reading this could make God sound somewhat unfair. It could look like He was holding back, providing a very skewed and partial look at the heavenly realities. Why would he do this?
On a recent trip, I witnessed this sight:
That cross is perhaps 15 feet away from the man sitting there…but the shadow is only 2 feet away.
The shadow is nearby. Close. Approachable.
Some things are too wonderful for us to fully appreciate, and so a shadow is–ironically–easier to grasp. When it comes to heavenly realities, shadows may be a little more down to earth, a little more suited to our human faculties.
The danger comes when we stop realizing that the shadows are only shadows, that they are only representations of something else, something more real, something with even more depth, substance, majesty.
One of the blessings that we enjoy living in this period after the resurrection of Christ is that God has given us a more complete view of the truth of reality. He’s replaced some of the shadows with the real thing. Jesus–fully God, fully man–came to earth so that we could know God in a very real way. It was no longer just the shadows of prophecies and types. He came in the flesh.
Sacrifices for sin were no longer rituals. They became reality through the death and resurrection of Christ.
We still see only in part (1 Cor 13:12). I struggle with understanding the reality of eternity, what it means to have a spiritual body (1 Cor 15:44). There are plenty of things yet beyond my grasp. But despite my incomplete understanding, God doesn’t give up on me. He gives shadows to remind me that there are heavenly realities, wonderful things yet to be fully revealed. He’s easing me into the fullness of what’s to come.
But for now, the cross is approachable. The shadows are approachable.