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Bible Q

In what way were sacrifices “shadows”?

A shadow is a picture cast by a tangible object.

  • The sacrifices were a representation of the atonement/reconciliation/forgiveness of sins the coming messiah would achieve.
  • Jesus the Messiah was the tangible reality.
  • The sacrifices were the picture illustrating aspects of this amazing salvation to come through Jesus.

The Law of Moses, extensively used physical things to represent spiritual things. It was like a parable to demonstrate to the Israelites their sin and need of redemption. The sacrifices under the law were also like this.  Colossians 2:16-17:

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.  (17)  These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

The sacrifices were introduced:

  • To make people aware of their own sinfulness.     Hebrews 10:1-18:

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.  (2)  Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins?  (3)  But in these 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.  (5)  Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me;  (6)  in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.  (7)  Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.'”  (8)  When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law),  (9)  then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second.  (10)  And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.  (11)  And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.  (12)  But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,  (13)  waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.  (14)  For by a single offering he has perfected for all timethose who are being sanctified.  (15)  And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,  (16)  “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,”  (17)  then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”  (18)  Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

  • For the forgiveness of sins. The people identified with the animal by laying their hands on the sacrifice’s head, or by eating the sacrifice. Lev 4:27-31:

”If anyone of the common people sins unintentionally in doing any one of the things that by the LORD’s commandments ought not to be done, and realizes his guilt,  (28)  or the sin which he has committed is made known to him, he shall bring for his offering a goat, a female without blemish, for his sin which he has committed.  (29)  And he shall lay his hand on the head of the sin offering and kill the sin offering in the place of burnt offering.  (30)  And the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and pour out all the rest of its blood at the base of the altar.  (31)  And all its fat he shall remove, as the fat is removed from the peace offerings, and the priest shall burn it on the altar for a pleasing aroma to the LORD. And the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven.

The Passover lamb and the associated requirements are a particularly clear shadow or type representing Jesus.  Consider the following shadows from the Old Testament in relation to Passover and the realities they represent:

Exodus 12:5:

Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats,

cf 1Pe 1:18-19:

knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold,  (19)  but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

Exodus 12:7:

“Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it.

cf 1 John 1:7:

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

Exodus 12:8:

They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it.

cf 1 Corinthians 5:7-8:

Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.  (8)  Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Jesus was slain at approximately the same time as the Passover lamb.  We read in  John 18:28 how at the trial of Jesus, the Jewish rulers didn’t want to be defiled by entering the Roman governor’s headquarters.  If they were defiled they couldn’t eat the Passover lamb:

Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover.

Jesus himself gives us explanations of the significance of the shadow of the Passover feast.  He explains how his body was given for us and how his blood was the new covenant. Luke 22:19-20:

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  (20)  And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

This passage gives further insight to the shadows of the sacrifices in the Old Testament.  We are taken back to the Old Covenant – a shadow of the New Covenant, and similarities in the covenant God made with the Israelites in the wilderness.  Exodus 24:6-8:

And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar.  (7)  Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.”  (8)  And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”


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