For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities … (Heb 10:1)
As we arrive at chapter 10 of Hebrews, in the first 18 verses we will conclude the central theological argument of the book. Beginning in chapter 5, the superior high priesthood of Jesus Christ has occupied our attention in our Hebrews studies since the beginning of the year! In the first 18 verses of chapter 10, we find a recapitulation of the themes introduced in the previous 5 chapters. Recall back in chapter 9, we examined the worship practices of the Tabernacle associated with the Hebrew high holy day of Yom Kippor, the day of Atonement. We spoke of the two sections of the Holy Place divided by the curtain which separated the people and priest from the presence of God; and how one day a year, only the high priest could enter within that curtain to make an offering to atone for the sins of God’s people. As important as this sacrifice was for Israel, it fell far short of the intended goal of worship – the reconciliation of God and man. These sacrifices could not, perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation (Heb 9:9-10). This deficient worship is contrasted in the next verses – Hebrews 9:11-12: But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.
In Hebrews 10:1-18, the contrasts between the Levitical offerings and Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice which stood out in chapter 9 are reiterated and intensified – the shadow/reality contrast in 10:1-4; sacrifice/obedience in 10:5-10; the finality of the priesthood in 10:11-14, and the finality of Christ’s sacrifice in 10:15-18. As we examine Hebrews 10:1-4 this week, we will look at what the author describes as the shadow of the law and its true form or reality. We will find that the inadequacy of the Old Testament sacrifices exposed a fundamental weakness in the law, as the blood of animals was not only unable to remove sin (v. 4) but in fact, it provided a yearly reminder of sin (v. 3).