Shadow or Substance: Heeding the Warnings of the Book of Hebrews

Text: Hebrews 8:1-13, esp. v 5
by Bob Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

In Heb 1:1ff, the writer clearly foreshadows that his writing will concentrate on Jesus. He wants his readers to understand the significance and centrality of Jesus Christ. Failing to properly understand Jesus is a danger point to faith. As one reads on through the book, it becomes clear that there are other danger points. It is easy to dwell in the shadows and miss the substance. It is easy to erect a shadowy reality with no substance. It is easy to miss the substance of God's plan. One book on Hebrews is titled, From Shadow to Substance. I am reminded of James 1:17-18.
How does one tell the difference between a substitute and the real thing? They look a lot alike; they are sometimes easily confused, especially by the uninitiated. (Illus: counterfeit money). The book of Hebrews is often outlined as being organized around five major warnings:

  • 2:1 Therefore we must pay closer attention--JESUS
  • 3:12 Do not turn away from the living God--FAITH
  • 5:11 Grow up--GOD'S WORD
  • 10:19 Draw near to God in full assurance--WORSHIP
  • 12:14 Don't miss God's grace--RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
    Each of these five warnings is in a larger context that suggests a topic associated with the warning. Here are five important principles with lessons for life. Shadow is nothing-substance is everything, especially with regard to these five concepts.

    Look again at the warning in 2:1ff. Jesus Christ is superior to angels.
    Shadow is nothing-substance is everything. Does your Jesus have substance? The entire first chapter is about Jesus' superiority to angels. The second chapter is about Jesus' connection with humankind. The third and fourth chapters connect the two concepts by presenting Jesus as a faithful and merciful high priest.
    There is a great difference between knowing about Jesus (shadow) and knowing Jesus (substance).

    Shadow is nothing--substance is everything. Most Bible studies identify Hebrews with faith due to chapter 11. The message of Hebrews concerning faith actually begins much earlier than chapter 11. Faith is the subject of the second warning, a warning which introduces the faith theme which runs throughout the book. Jesus Christ is superior to Moses, because Jesus is a son whereas Moses was a servant. The people Moses led had a faith problem, a problem that Jesus solves. The problem in the wilderness was a belief problem.
    Is your faith a shadow or does it have substance? Think again about Heb. 11:1.

    The next section, including the third warning in 5:11, may be summarized by saying that Jesus is superior to Aaron as a high priest. That is the point the Hebrew writer introduces in the context of chapter 5. The essence of Jesus' role in God's eternal plan demands that we learn how to listen to God's word, that we learn how to be nourished by God's teachings. How closely do we listen to God's word?
    Shadow is nothing-substance is everything. Many remain in infancy, fail to grow up and mature in Christ. Some know only a few select Scriptures. Some are at sea and wander aimlessly and cluelessly when you take away 30 or 60 pet Scriptures. Such never can teach; they are always in elementary school spiritually. This is the theme of chapters 5-6. Does your awareness of God's Word have substance, or are you content to dwell in the shadows of what could be?
    Why do those once enlightened fall away? The answer is: they are seeking to be nourished by the shadows. There is world of difference in knowing about the Bible and knowing the Bible. Do you merely know its content, or do you understand and apply its message?

    Shadow is nothing-substance is everything. Jesus Christ establishes superior promises. The subject of the fourth warning may be summarized as focused on how we worship God. Is your worship shadow or substance? Why would some Christians quit assembling together, as apparently was the case, based on this context? The answer is again the same: too much shadow, too little substance. The entire OT was shadow. Reliance upon physical attractions is shadow.

    Shadow is nothing-substance is everything. The fifth warning introduced an extended section that seeks to establish the foundations of a firm, continuing relationship with God through Jesus. Is your relationship with God shadow or substance? How does one know? Consider your attitude toward God's grace. See that no one misses God's grace. Grace is the foundation of our relationship with God.

    We can have confidence in our salvation. Our worship results from the centrality of Jesus Christ. We worship, we hope, we live by faith.

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    Last updated May 5, 2011