There's no wonder that so much of the Old Testament is written in poetic form. The whole Old Covenant economy is like unto one giant poem. Seemingly every character, every event, every command, every object is a symbol or a type of something that was to come. The book of Hebrews, in the New Testament, tells us that all of these things were shadows whose fulfillment was in Christ. And so the bloody Old Covenant animal sacrifices were shadows of the one perfect sacrifice that would be offered in Christ. The Old Covenant tabernacle and temple complexes, where God was present with His people, were shadows of Christ who is Emmanuel, "God with us". The prophets were shadows of Christ who would perfectly reveal God. The kings were shadows of Christ who would completely rule God's Kingdom.
Many of these shadows also find their fulfillment in the church, which is itself the body of Christ on earth. The tabernacle, for instance, speaks of Christ coming to be present with His people ("He tabernacled among us", John 1:14), but it also speaks of the continued presence of Christ with His people in the form of His church: "you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5). Old Covenant shadows point to Christ who manifests Himself in His people.
One of those old shadows that eventually finds its light in the New Covenant church is the city of Jerusalem. It is that congregation of people who dwell in the very presence of God. It is very easy to see how that picture can find its fulfillment in the New Testament church. "Where two or three are gathered in my Name, there I am among them" (Matthew 18:20). Churches come together like little cities with the Lord present at the center - like little heavenly Jerusalems.
The reality behind this shadow is alluded to several times in the Old Testament prophets. This morning, I came across one of those allusions in Isaiah 52:1, "Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion; put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city; for there shall no more come into you the uncircumcised and the unclean."
That statement comes right at the beginning of the most clear Old Testament passage we have on the suffering and sacrificial death of the Messiah (Isaiah 52:13-53:12). That means that the message of hope that is given to Jerusalem in verse 1 of chapter 52 has to do with that first advent of Jesus Christ and His suffering for sin. But in this passage, the light is beginning to overpower the shadow, because verse 1 said that "there shall no more come into you the uncircumcised and the unclean."
We know that Jerusalem, the physical city, has been literally filled with the uncircumcised and the unclean pretty much since that day. So when we look at a verse like Isaiah 52:1, how do we interpret it? What Jerusalem is it talking about? There is a school of thought that says that everything like that which we know has not ever occurred must be referring to some point in the future when it will actually occur. This would lead some to affirm that Isaiah 52:1 concerns some time in the future when God will save all the Jews, reinstate Old Covenant ceremonial law, and purify the physical city of Jerusalem. But is that really what this text is talking about?
No, this passage, as I stated earlier, has to do with the first coming of Christ and His sacrificial death. That sacrifice would purify Jerusalem, not in a physical way in the physical city, but in a spiritual way in the spiritual city: the church. Isaiah 52:1 has to do with the purity of the city of God: the New Jerusalem - the church - the bride prepared for her Bridegroom (Revelation 21:2). That's why in verse 11 of the same chapter, God can tell His people to "go out from there; touch no unclean thing; go out from the midst of her; purify yourselves, you who bear the vessels of the LORD." The pure spiritual Jerusalem shall go out from the corrupted physical Jerusalem.
We have to be on the lookout for these kinds of shadows, because we are told that they all have their true form now in Christ and His church (Hebrews 10). It would be foolish to think that the shadow must come again in order for the prophecy to be fulfilled. The light is more wondrous than the shadow and it disperses it. In Christ and in His church, all of the Old Covenant promises are ours.