While a shadow may be designated as a reality in itself, it is more precisely an inexact image, indication, or type of a reality more fundamental than itself. We may see a shadow and pay little or no attention to it or we may not consider the nature of the reality that it produces.
A shadow may be present but not recognized. Shadows can provide information and enable us to act more wisely.
For example, when children are playing “hide and go-seek,” a child’s shadow may indicate where he is. Or, if the sun is shining and you are seeking a place to park your car at a shopping center, you may spot a parking space by noting where no car shadow exists.
Just as shadows may sometimes indicate realities, so also many realities about salvation may be said metaphorically to have been foreshadowed during Old Testament times, but not always understood. Some were later revealed by biblical writers. Some examples of New Testament realities which were foreshadowed by Old Testament personalities, events, and entities may be helpful in understanding some facets of salvation.
Moses and Christ
First, to teach that salvation requires belief and obedience, Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:14-15). This statement indicates Jesus’ recognition that he would die on the cross for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3).
That reality was foreshadowed by an experience of the Israelites as they journeyed from Egypt to Canaan. On one occasion, when they murmured and complained, God sent fiery serpents to bite them. The Israelites then realized that they had been wrong by complaining. They wanted relief from the snake bites. God told Moses to erect a bronze serpent and put it on a pole. Those who made the effort to look toward the pole would be healed while those who refused would die from snake bite (Numbers 21:4-9). The cure was not medicinal. It required belief and obedience.
Old Law and the Gospel
Second, salvation from the consequences of sin could not be acquired by the Law of Moses for, although it revealed the oracles of God (Romans 3:2) and a knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20), its ordinances, tabernacle, priesthood, sacrifices, and festivals constituted only an imperfect shadow of a New Covenant (Hebrews 7:19).
“For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect” (Hebrews 10:1).
The new covenant is the means by which sins are removed (Jeremiah 31:34, Hebrews 8:12). The Tabernacle erected under Moses’ leadership was from a pattern (Hebrews 8:5). The Old Testament priesthood was inadequate because, under Moses, priests offered gifts and sacrifices as a “copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Hebrews 8:5). Various requirements under the Law of Moses were but “a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17).
The new covenant has a high priest, who ministers in the “true” tabernacle which the Lord has erected (Hebrews 8:5). Jesus, as high priest, is the reality foreshadowed by Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-20; Psalm 110:4; Zechariah 6:12-13; Hebrews 5:5-10; 6:20; 7:17, 21). As high priest, Jesus “is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).
Egypt and Sin
Third, an analogy of sin and salvation may be described as follows: People in bondage to sin may be compared to bondage of the Israelites in Egypt (Deuteronomy 7:8). As God freed the Israelites from Egyptian bondage (Exodus 5:2; Deuteronomy 5:6) through the work of Moses (Exodus 3:7-10; Micah 6:4), so also people now in bondage to sin (Romans 6:17-20; Galatians 4:3) may be freed by Christ (Galatians 5:1).
As the Israelites were freed from Egyptian bondage by being baptized into Moses at the crossing the Red Sea (1 Corinthians 10:1-4), so also people are freed from sin by being baptized in the name of Christ (Matthew 28:18-20; 1 Peter 3:21).
As freed Israelites continued their journey toward Canaan, the land of promise, so also those whose faith in Christ has redeemed them from past sin continue their pilgrimage toward heaven (1 Peter 2:11).
And, as most who left Egypt did not enter the promised land of Canaan because of their unbelief and disobedience (Hebrews 3:9-11, 18-19; 4:3), so also many Christians who depart from sin will become disobedient and not enter the everlasting kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:22-23, Luke 13:27-28).
As the Israelites were not totally saved until they crossed the Jordan River into the land of Canaan (Joshua 4:22-23), so also people now are not totally saved until this earthly life is over (Matthew 25:21, 23, 31, 34; Hebrews 9:28; 1 Peter 1:5, 9).
Jesus taught that to receive the crown of life, one had to be faithful unto death (Revelation 2:10). As only two Israelites (age 20 or above) from Egypt who crossed the Red Sea actually reached the Promised Land (Numbers 32:11-12), so also only a few will actually reach the heavenly shore (Matthew 7:14, 21).
This is but a sampling of the many types of antitypes that are presented in the Bible. However, they are sufficient to indicate that God intended to disclose His revelation about Himself and salvation in a gradual but purposeful manner.
As shadows of realities in the physical world are not seen until the sun is shining, so also types of antitypes in the spiritual realm were not made known until God chose to reveal them by His word.
As physical benefits are derived from reacting to the physical realities indicated by natural shadows, so also are physical and spiritual benefits derived from noticing and responding to types and antitypes indicated by God.
“Whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4).