Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things through whom also he created the world. Hebrews 1:1-2 (ESV)
This word of exhortation called the book of Hebrews was addressed to Christians who were being persecuted for their belief in Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies, shadows, and types. They were being encouraged by others to hold on to those shadows along with the faith experience they had with Christ and the new community he had created. So the Holy Spirit inspired a human author to address the temptation to fall away from the full revelation in Christ. In the body of the letter there are several warnings regarding this temptation and its consequences. It was and is no small matter for mankind to tamper with the flow of God's revelation.
Today, we are still tempted to mix the shadows of the previous age with the substance of the full revelation of Christ and his new creation. When we treat the Bible as a book of instruction without recognizing its narrative form, we get the resulting confusion that too many Christians experience. We end up confusing the identity of the true people of God; confusing the nature and purpose of inheritance; and misjudging the purpose and time of the temple. We continue to define prosperity in terms of money, comfort, convenience and influence.
A result of misusing Scripture is a life filled with complexity and void of the joy that Jesus seemed to expect his followers to have. Success cannot be defined with the shadows of the partial revelation found in the Old Testament. At that time, God was using majestic buildings to depict the supremacy of the place where God met man. Thus David's kingdom was prosperous and Solomon's temple was glorious. But the full revelation of God came in Jesus, and in him we see the substance of what those depictions were about. Jesus defined life in terms of full access to the Father. Success was defined by loving God and man, believing in Jesus, and fully yielding one's life for the glory of God, with the expectation that it would mean death. Jesus did not teach that material wealth was to be connected to obedience or hard work. He taught that there are higher values to be considered than making and having more wealth.
While we measure success by how much we spend on ourselves, he measured it by how much we give of what we have. While we boast of great buildings as places where men and women meet God, he builds men to go into the entire world to tell them that God has come to them. While we try to sell our religion by downplaying the demands of following Christ, he appealed only to those whose hearts cried out for a life of dangerous risk by laying everything down to follow him. He wasn't trying to impress the culture with the crowds he could draw and hold. He was empowering men and women who would permeate their cultures with the life of a radical new era. It is a life characterized by a disdain for temporal standards and hope for transformation.
We will all "slip back" if we do not embrace Jesus as the full and final revelation of God's word to his people. We cannot stave off persecution by adding other shadows to the substance who is Christ. No other actor on the stage of history's drama shares the spotlight with the One who is the climax of the story. We could do nothing more sinister than trying to add to the One who is the fullness of God. We can do nothing greater than to be satisfied in him and fulfilling his mission.