Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.
In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.
(Hebrews 8:1-7, 13 ESV)
“Every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind – is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakeable remains.
“Milton was right… The choice of every lost soul can be expressed in the words, ‘Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.’ There is always something they insist on keeping even at the price of misery. There is always something they prefer to joy – that is, to reality.”
n C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, 1946, 1971. Harper Collins ed., p. 73-74,
It was actually Plato who first discussed the idea that we here on Earth live in the Shadowlands; that every ‘reality’ we see and experience here is but a mere copy of the real. He rejected much of Art because, as he saw it, the artist is copying the copy, and so the artist’s best attempt at representing the truth of a thing is merely a poor imitation of an imitation of some great solidity in Heaven.
The writer to the Hebrews is saying something that would send most of us in the Reformed Churches screaming into the night. For though we speak of the ministry of Grace, for all the time I have been alive, we have on the one hand been Paulists and on the other hand Pharisees. For the past fifty years (and God knows how long before) we have crossed every “T” and dotted every “I” of theology, telling our people the Great Contradiction: you will be saved by Christ alone (if only you live according to the Law to the best of your ability). No wonder our churches are empty!
What he is saying is that Christ makes the first [covenant] obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. I will probably be brought before the Evangelical Police for what I’m about to say, but don’t shoot me, I’m just reporting accurately what the Word of God says: the Law – the written code – is a mere shadow of some great reality. And all the writers from Moses to Malachi were poor artists copying the copy that was portrayed in the Temple through the Sacrifices. And so the Law, like an old Xerox, is a copy that is, from where we stand in time and space, fading away and is now already nearly wiped from the yellowing, decaying page.
But in the age of the digital, we have language to understand something the ancients had trouble with. Paul, speaking of Jesus, says in Colossians 1:15, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” Jesus is no mere copy. He is the exact representation of God the Father. Jesus is digital. In him, nothing was lost in making the image. And no matter how long you keep it, no matter how long you leave it in the Sun, it will never fade.
If earthly priests, who are copies, offer gifts that are copies on an altar that is a copy, then the reality of the gifts and the sacrifices is Jesus kneeling in obedient, humble love before his Father, and the gifts he holds out in confident joy in his once wounded hands are you and me and all who trust him. That is the deeper meaning of “Here I am with the children that the LORD has given me.” (Isaiah 8:18)