“which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.”
We should not let the law judge us (verse 14) because Christ fulfilled the law (Romans 6:14). The five systems of legalism of verse 16 are the “shadow” in this verse.
“which are a shadow of things to come”
“Shadow” is used of the image or outline cast by an object (here), of ceremonies under the Law; of the Tabernacle and its appurtenances and offerings, Hebrews 8:5; of these, as appointed under the Law, Hebrews 10:1. A “shadow” is the shape or shade cast by an object which blocks rays of light. Here it refers to an entity that corresponds to an archetype or foreshadowing, reality, corresponding reality.
The “shadow” of the Old Testament, that is, the Old Testament ceremonies about Christ are simply ways of depicting Christ before he came historically. The animal sacrifices were an illustration of his sacrificial death. They were not the reality of his death. Shadow, however, always reveals that there is reality somewhere.
“Things to come”–the coming of Christ and his work.
“but the substance is of Christ”
The ceremonies of the law served their purpose well. After they fulfilled their purpose, God instituted something better–the reality of Christ. All the ceremony of the Old Testament, the legalistic system, the Aaronic priesthood, the tabernacle with its furnishings, and ritual all pointed forward to Christ. They were pictures and parables of Christ. Jesus took the place of all that ceremony.
The “substance” is equivalent to reality. Reality is found in Christ (Hebrews 8:5,10:1-4). It is impossible to have a shadow without light. A shadow points toward something real–”substance.” The Old Testament types merely foreshadowed the coming reality. Christ was the fulfillment of the types (Matthew 5:17; Romans 8:3-4).
A “shadow” is only an image cast by a real object which represents its form. The Old Testament types were not real. Jesus Christ is the reality. Since the reality has come, there is no longer a need to follow the shadow of the Old Testament types. Christ is the intrinsic value, not the types. It was the substance that caused the light that caused the shadow to come. To continue in ceremonial observance (shadows) implies that Christ has not come.
The law cannot save a sinner nor sanctify a saint.
It isn’t easy to get the message of grace through to religious people. They feel they must contribute to their salvation. To come to grips with the fact that only Jesus can satisfy an absolutely holy God is a humbling experience. Before we can accept what God does for us, we have to stop doing the doing (Romans 4:5). It is imperative to turn from good works, the law, morality, religion, the Ten Commandments to become a Christian. God provides all that we need for salvation in the death of Christ (Galatians 3:13). When we believe that promise, we become a true Christian.
The law cannot sanctify a saint. Formerly, in the Old Testament, God wrote the law on tables of stone. In the New Testament he writes the law on our hearts. When we become a Christian, God puts a new heart in us to live before him.
Ritual without reality is a deadly error. It introduces meaninglessness into our lives. People who partake of the Lord’s supper without understanding its meaning go through motions, but not the reality of the Christian life.
Some people feel there is good luck in going through rituals. Maybe God will bless them if they move in the shadows of religion. But Christianity presents Jesus Christ as reality. Would you rather have shadow or substance? Would you rather tell a shadow that you love it or a person? It is no fun to kiss a shadow! Ritual without Christ is like kissing a shadow.