When I was a young lad of about 12 I can clearly remember my Headmaster, who was also our Greek teacher, telling us a strange tale from ancient times, told by Plato in his Republic, at the start of Book VII. It concerned the fate of some characters who were chained up behind a pillar in a cave, so that they were unable to turn their heads to see anything but that which was before them. The cave entrance was behind them, and some yards in front of them was a wall on which were thrown all the shadows of those who passed that way, produced by a fire blazing at a distance above and behind them. When people passed between the fire and the cave, their shadows were thrown onto the wall of the cave, and were witnessed by the prisoners. Plato then asked his audience what would happen if suddenly these prisoners were disabused of their error. Will they not be perplexed? Will they not think that the reality is still contained in the shadow, rather than the solid person who forms the shadow? Might they even try speaking to the shadows, rather than to the people? Will it not take them some time to re-adjust to that which is real, rather than their shadowy existence?
The Bible has a few very instructive mentions of shadows. Take for example, Heb.8:5. The Priests “served unto the example and shadow of heavenly things.” The Tabernacle in the wilderness was solid enough, and the priestly services were recorded in amazing detail by Moses, who had been given the whole pattern on the Mount. But even so, the whole exercise was but a shadow. The reality was in the unseen, and heavenly world.
When David was preparing for the Temple to be built, he told his son Solomon that he should construct it in exact accordance with the pattern given to him by the Lord. And when Ezekiel, in captivity, received a vision of a yet future Temple, again he was given very specific instructions. In each case the visible building was to serve as a shadow of some heavenly reality. Even in Revelation 11, John is given a measuring reed, and told to measure the Temple of God and the Altar, and when the New Jerusalem was shown him, the exact measurements were given, even though he was now seeing the heavenly ‘model’. But this model was not itself the reality, but similar to what Moses saw on the Mount, a representation.
I have noticed with interest that various Biblical journals have recently carried articles about the intentions of the Israelis to build a Temple in Jerusalem. . Many Christians have shown great enthusiasm about these stories. What should our attitude be? Before attempting to answer that question, another Biblical reference to shadow is found in Col.2:16-17. “Let no man judge you in meat or in drink, or in taking part in a feast day, or a new moon, or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the body (i.e. the reality) is of the Christ.” Once again, we see that aspects of the Old Testament law are called shadows. And this time it is not just the ceremonial law of offerings, but parts of the moral law as well. The Sabbath Day was part of the Ten Commandments. “Christ didn’t enter the holy places made with hands, which are figures of the true, but into heaven itself.” Heb.9:24 “For the law is a shadow of good things to come, and not the image itself of those things.” Heb.10:1 And concerning the ceremonial law which was fulfilled by our Lord on the cross,“He takes away the first in order that He may establish the second.” Heb.10:9 The ‘first’ was the Old Covenant, and the ‘second’ the New Covenant. Whilst the Tabernacle or Temple was standing, the people of God were required to attend to the laws of the offerings. They were required by divine legislation to observe the “shadow” of better things to come.
But it is patently obvious that when the Reality (Jesus) came, they didn’t recognise Him. Why was that? Because they had distorted the shape of the shadow. The shadow no longer gave true information about the Reality which cast it. The shape was distorted. Man had added to God’s law, and twisted the meaning of laws which were not quite to his liking, so it is little wonder that they failed to recognise our Lord. In fact He was a serious embarrassment to them.
So let us return to the question. What should OUR attitude be to the news that the Jews are preparing to build another Temple in Jerusalem? The answer must surely rest on whether we are looking at shadows, or the realities behind the shadows. And even if we ARE looking at shadows, are they of the correct shape? First of all, Jesus told the woman at the well that the days were at hand when all true worship would be ‘in spirit and in truth’, and it wouldn’t be centred in Jerusalem or in the mountain where she lived. In other words, because the ceremonial law was about to be fulfilled in our Lord’ssacrifice, there would be no further need of a Temple, or even a geographical location. All would henceforth be spiritual.
Peter (in 1 Pet.2) and Paul (in Eph.2) both showed that believers are ‘living stones’ in a spiritual Temple structure. As such, to look for any earthly Temple would be to go back in time, whereas, to use the words of a well-known hymn, “our God is marching on.” As the days advance, so God is giving more light. His return will herald the entrance of even greater floods of light, and we must prepare ourselves for that. If we don’t, then we may get caught out, like the Jews who didn’t recognise the Reality, because they had distorted the shadow.
Many believers find it wholesome to think of the Body of Christ as a spiritual Temple consisting of living stones. They find no problem with that. How is it then that they find such interest in the activities of Jews who are still ardently opposed to Christ? When the Deliverer returns to Zion and turns away ungodliness from Jacob, those same Jews will find no further interest in building a Temple. They will then understand the spiritual truth behind their ancient scriptures. And as Isaiah forecast, “They shall call YOU, ‘The city of the Lord, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel.'” 60:14. In other words, even the city of Jerusalem will be understood as a shadow, a symbol, or a figure of the true. Its reality lies in being a PEOPLE, not a PLACE. In the coming days those other words of Isaiah will also come true. “Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord and there learn of His ways, for the word of the Lord will go forth from Jerusalem, and His laws from Mount Zion.” 2:2-3
Where will these people be going? To literal Jerusalem in the land of Israel? No, they will be looking for God’s people in resurrection, the resurrected living stones, who will become God’s teachers in the coming days of His Kingdom. This is why Jesus told the Pharisees that it was useless for them to spend time in close scrutiny, and careful searching, for the Kingdom of God to arise. “The Kingdom is within you”, He said. God is not concerned so much with geographical locations, and purpose-built structures, as with CHANGED HUMAN BEINGS. Everything external is of passing value. That which is seen is temporal, but that which is unseen is eternal. Our desires should be towards the establishment of God’s own character in our lives, so that we may have a share of His Kingdom when He comes. This involves taking our eyes away from the shadows, and learning the truths of the realities behind them.
Take the Sabbath Day as an example. Our readers will know from our previous Telegraphs that we observe the 7th day as our Sabbath, as it was in Biblical times. But our observance is by no means like that of the over-zealous Jews of Jesus’ day. Saturday is the Lord’s Day, and He is the Lord of the Sabbath. But what does the Sabbath-shadow signify? It speaks of the thousand-year reign of Christ, God’s Rest. Our present concern is not just to keep the Sabbath Day per se, but to honour it before God FOR WHAT IT SIGNIFIES, one of those “better things to come.” To reject the Sabbath Day may in fact cause believers to close their own eyes to the truths concerning the Millennial Reign of Christ, and how it will be administered.
If this be true, then there is also good reason to spend time thinking and praying about the meaning of the important feast days of the Hebrew year, Passover, Pentecost, Trumpets, Atonement, and Tabernacles. It isn’t a matter of “keeping” them, as the Jews used to, but in waiting on the Lord for wisdom and understanding about their future significance. The same goes for the New Moon, and the laws about clean and unclean foods – there is much teaching in all these, but they don’t find very much part in the average believer’s study time these days. In fact the Church, which is the “shadow” of Christ at the moment rather than His Body (which it will be in resurrection) is sadly distorted in shape, so that the world cannot recognise the true Lord who is its Head. But those who have been changed into His image will find a place in God’s Kingdom, and then in resurrection the people of the world will actually WANT to seek them out to learn about God, a far different state of affairs to that which prevails now.
Brethren, we hold no preconceived ideas about our own attainments. We have not written these things because we believe that we have ARRIVED at the conditions we speak about. In teaching the truths of the SHADOW and the REALITY, it has been necessary to speak as we have. But our own personal prayer and heart-direction is for the Lord to complete His work in all His children to His own glory. In practice we find many things that require God’s hand of discipline upon us, and our own sense of weakness is constantly before us. We pray for you who read these lines, and we ask that you will pray for us. Together in the bond of true spiritual love we may uphold each other before the throne of grace until God has completed His work in us all. And the desire for this completion is not for our own personal pleasure or position, but rather that we may become instruments in God’s hands towards the restitution of others in days to come, even as the firstborn son’s privilege of double blessing was not for personal enjoyment, but for assisting his brethren in their time of need.