Biblical Principle #84: A Shadow Points Toward a Substance

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In the Bible, a shadow points towards a future substance.


When GOD tested Abraham by telling him to sacrifice Isaac, there was a deeper significance than simply what was happening in those moments.

As we previously established, GOD sent Abraham to a specific location—Mount Moriah—which was later the site of the Israelite temple in Jerusalem (see 2 Chronicles 3:1).

Mount Moriah, where GOD told Abraham to offer Isaac, would later become the very site where the Israelite temple would be built, in the then-future city of Jerusalem.

About 2,000 years later, Jesus would be offered, near, if not upon, this very mountain just outside the gates of Jerusalem.

As a result, Abraham’s offering of Isaac were a shadow of Jesus’ then-future crucifixion—GOD offering His Son upon the cross.

In everyday life, a shadow forms a visual pointer towards something physical, something substantive. Likewise, in the Bible, events recorded earlier in time sometimes point forward towards more significant events later in time, but also recorded or referenced in Scripture. Most often, these shadows point forward to Jesus.

This shadows concept is discussed several times in the New Testament writings:

16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

Colossians 2:16-17 NIV

1 Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, 2 a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man.

3 For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices. Therefore it is necessary that this One also have something to offer. 4 For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law; 5 who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, “See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” 6 But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.

Hebrews 8:1-6 NKJV

1 For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the form of those things itself, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually every year, make those who approach perfect. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? 3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Hebrews 10:1-4 NASB

While the specific word “shadow” may not always be mentioned, the New Testament Scriptures are full of references to this concept. For example:

  • Paul compared the Israelites Red Sea crossing to the early Christians’ water baptism into Jesus (see 1 Corinthians 10:1-4).
  • Paul compared Hagar and Sarah to the old and new covenants GOD made with Israel (see Galatians 4:21-31).
  • Peter compared the flood of Noah to water baptism (see 1 Peter 3:18-22).

By recognizing these shadows and their substance, we gain a deeper appreciation for what happened, why it was recorded, and how we should understand the details of these events and their significance through their respective parallels.

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