A Shadow of Things to Come

OLD TESTAMENT PROPHECIES are often fulfilled in new and definitive ways in the Gospels. Thus Isaiah’s prophecy of a young girl’s conception would be decisively fulfilled in the conception of Christ by the ever-virgin Mary.

St Paul recognizes another kind of connection between the Old and the New Testaments. In Colossians 2:17 he notes that Old Testament observances “… are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” When we stress the connection between actual persons, events, places, and institutions of the Old Testament, and the corresponding reality in the New Testament which they foreshadowed, this is called typology. Thus, for example, the Mosaic Passover (Pascha) celebrating the passage of the Hebrews from slavery to freedom is a “type” of the New Passover (Pascha) in which Christ leads humanity from death to eternal life.

Typology is most developed in the Epistle to the Hebrews concerning the temple and the sacrificial role of its priests. When the temple was destroyed and the last High Priest died in AD 70 the Jews were devastated. Here the Christ-believing Jews were reassured that we have the ultimate High Priest in the Lord Jesus of whom earlier High Priests were but a type (see Hebrews 7:23-8:1). “For the Law appoints as high priests men who have weaknesses, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever” (v. 28).

The Temple and its Sacrifices

The arrangements of the Jewish tabernacle and its permanent version, the temple, are set forth in the Torah (Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers) according to a “pattern” shown to Moses on Mount Sinai. The tabernacle- temple is thus a “type,” a reality in itself pointing to something beyond. In Hebrews 8:5 it is described as “the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle.”

In the Book of Revelation, St John describes his vision of eternity in similar terms: “And after that I looked, and, behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened” (Revelation 15:5). He describes angels in white robes with their chests girded with golden bands (like deacons) and white-robed elders making prostrations. There is singing and incense and the Lamb who stands before the throne of God, having redeemed mankind by His blood.

The earthly temple and its rites were a shadow patterned after the eternal liturgy of heaven where an eternal High Priest would offer Himself to the Father to renew His creation. The sacrifices of the earthly High Priest were types of the sacrifice of Christ the Lamb, who stands before the throne of God bearing the blood of His own self-offering for the salvation of the world.

In the Epistle to the Hebrews the work of Christ is described in terms of the Jewish high priest and the temple. The High Priest, we are told, went into the innermost part of the temple, called the Holy of Holies, only once a year (on Yom Kippur) with the blood of the sacrificed sin offering. But now, Christ the eternal High Priest has entered “the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Holy of Holies once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11-12). “Now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 9:24) He always lives to make intercession for those who come to God through Him (see Hebrews 7:25).

The Temple and Our Churches

The temple, its priesthood and its sacrifices, then, were but types of the eternal sacrifice of Christ which would achieve eternal redemption once for all. Our Eastern Christian temples and our sacrifice of praise, the Divine Liturgy, do more than point us to the heavenly liturgy; through them we are connected to the eternal and ongoing dimension of Christ’s sacrifice which is at the center and summit of all true worship in both the Old and New Testaments.

The very design of our churches is meant to show that the mystery of salvation, which was foreshadowed in the Old Testament temple has been fulfilled in Christ. Many elements are similar. We have the holy place (the solea) and the holy of holies (the altar), the incense, the cherubim (ripidia) and the candelabrum. Other elements indicate that what were types have been fulfilled. In place of the jar of manna (see Hebrews 9:1-5) we have the Eucharist. In place of the Tablets of the Law or the Torah we have the Gospel. In place of Aaron’s rod we have the holy cross. And in place of the impenetrable veil we have the iconostasis which makes both visible and accessible the mystery of our salvation in Christ.

What Happens in the Liturgy

Our Divine Liturgy is a kind of living icon, using the imagery of the temple’s sacrificial rite to show that the Eucharist is our participation in Christ’s unique sacrifice. The Liturgy is neither a separate sacrifice nor a mere remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice, but an actual entry into that sacrifice, possible because it is offered in “God’s time” rather than ours.

As the sacrificial animals were killed outside the holy place and Christ was killed outside the Holy City, the oblations are prepared outside the holy place, in the prothesis (in smaller churches the prothesis is to the side of the holy place).

As the animals were brought by the Levites to the priests to be offered, the holy gifts are brought by the deacons and priests to the bishop who takes them into the holy place.

As the High Priest took the annual sin offering behind the veil into the Holy of Holies, Christ is described as taking His own blood into the heavenly sanctuary behind the veil. When the oblations are placed on the holy table, the doors and curtain are closed and the prayer of offering is recited “behind the veil.” This imagery is lost when the doors and curtain are never closed.

As Christ, having made His offering, remains before the presence of the Father interceding “for those who come to God through Him” (Hebrews 7:25), so the celebrant, after the holy gifts have been offered and sanctified, stands before the holy table making intercession for the entire Church, the living and the dead.

As the sacrificial offerings in the temple would then be shared among the priests and those who offered them, the Eucharist is distributed first to the clergy and then to the members of the congregation.

And so we too have a High Priest, whose sacrifice takes away the sin of the world. And through the Divine Liturgy we can connect with that unique and eternal sacrifice again and again. “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holy of Holies by the blood of Jesus… let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:19, 22).

Christ’s sacrifice of His whole being is accepted by the Father. For our offering to be joined to His it must also be the complete offering of “ourselves, one another and our whole life” to Him. May the remaining days of the Fast remind us that we are not created to be satisfied by the temporary pleasures of acquisition and consumption but by the everlasting joys of the heavenly liturgy.