Of Copies and Shadows
Christ did not come the day after Adam’s sin; it was several thousand years afterwards. God thought that the coming of His Son required a time of preparation—not His Son’s preparation, of course, but man’s. Man had to be shown that he needed a Savior—which required proving how desperately wicked he is. First, there was the flood cleansing the earth as “every intention of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). Then came the creation of a people through the loins of Abraham to whom God gave His law to be a shining light to the nations. On the one hand, the law acted as our guardian showing us the way to live, but on the other, imprisoned us under sin as we could not fulfill its commands (Galatians 3:21-24). All of this was to prepare us for the Coming One who would redeem us from our sin through his death and resurrection.
So before his coming, God indeed instituted His law by the hand of Moses. There were the Ten Commandments (what we call the “moral law”) which teach us God’s holy nature. But there were also those laws which since the coming of Christ have passed away: the sacrifices, the tabernacle, the priesthood, regulations regarding diet and circumcision, and so many others. These our Lord ordained only for a time until the One should come whose very advent they anticipated. In other words, these very things prefigured our Lord’s coming by serving as copies and shadows and thus prophesying not so much by words but by figures and actions his priestly office.
So let us take these one by one: The Mosaic laws regarding sacrifices for the forgiveness and cleansing of sin prefigured our Lord’s substitutionary death for us on the cross. The tabernacle (and later temple) served as a copy of the heavenly temple. (Medieval cathedrals were designed to turn the believer’s gaze upward.) The Mosaic priests foreshadowed our Lord’s priesthood as the one who acted as both priest and sacrifice, the one who even now intercedes for us as the Right Hand of the Father. Circumcision of the body anticipated the circumcision which would be a matter of the heart (Romans 2:29). Even the plethora of dietary and other laws served to render the people peculiar before the world—a peculiarity which would later be the righteous deeds of those not following the letter of the law but born of the Spirit.
But the shadows have passed; now we’ve come to the reality those copies anticipated and prepared us for. And the realities are so much better!