And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. – Colossians 2:13-19
I have always thought this statement about a “festival or a new moon or a Sabbath” being a shadow of things to come, but the substance belonging to Christ to be fascinating. How are these things a shadow of Christ?
First off, these are references to Jewish celebrations. Somehow, they had been perverted in the Colossian community along with some pagan practices and were having an impact on the church. They had apparently lost their original meaning, but Paul brings them into gospel perspective.
What exactly were they? The Sabbath refers to the weekly day of rest established by God as an analogy to his rest on the seventh day, after creation. The New Moon refers to the first day of every month. There were sacrifices mandated for this day every month. The festivals refer to the seven festivals God required Israel to observe every year.
Paul is telling us that these things are merely shadows cast behind the light of the true object which is Christ. He is seen in every one of these observances. Since he has come, their observance is no longer required. Their purpose has been fulfilled.
The Sabbath is a weekly day of rest in which God has commanded that we cease from our labors. Christ is our Sabbath in whom we rest from our efforts and find our salvation to be by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. No more labors to try to please God.
Passover. Passover is the celebration of Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian slavery which required the sacrifice of a lamb with the blood placed on the door so the death angel would pass over that house. Jesus fulfilled the meaning of this feast by becoming our Passover lamb shedding his blood, so we are delivered from the second death.
Feast of Unleavened Bread. The feast of unleavened bread runs for seven days immediately following Passover. During these days, one is to eat no bread with yeast. This is to remember the haste with which they prepared to leave Egypt. Yeast is associated with sin (1 Corinthians 5:6–8; Galatians 5:9), and as Israel was to remove yeast from their bread following Passover, so sin is removed from our lives through the death and resurrection of Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Feast of Firstfruits. At the beginning of harvest, the Israelites were to bring a sheaf of grain as an offering to the Lord. There was a response he was to recite before the Lord that rehearsed their deliverance and God’s provision for Israel. The resurrected Jesus is our first fruits from the grave promising a greater harvest when all the faithful will join him in the resurrection to come.
Feast of Weeks or Pentecost. This feast is celebrated 50 days after the Firstfruits and was a celebration of thanksgiving for the harvest that was brought in. It celebrates the fulfillment of Firstfruits. For us, Jesus promised the indwelling Holy Spirit following his resurrection, the “other comforter.” It is the provision of his presence and power to enable us to fulfill his commission until he comes again.
Feast of Trumpets. This is celebrated on the first day of the seventh month which was the beginning of the calendar year. It is referred to as a “blast of trumpets.” It was calling the people together for the coming Day of Atonement. We are still waiting for the final fulfillment of this feast when the last trumpet will sound, and we will be raised in Christ in the resurrection.
Day of Atonement. This was the day of annual sacrifice when the High Priest would enter the holy of holies and make atonement for the sins of the people the previous year. Jesus is our High Priest who has entered the holy of holies in heaven with his own blood once for all, so we now have a High Priest who ever lives to make intercession for us.
Feast of Booths. Five days after the Day of Atonement began a week long celebration that was characterized by rejoicing. The Israelites were to take palm branches and branches from leafy trees and willows from along the brook and construct huts or booths to live in for a week. There were daily offerings of worship. This was a time of remembrance of the Lord’s deliverance when they wandered in the desert and lived in “booths.” The big idea was that God dwelt among the people. This will find its ultimate fulfillment in the New Heaven and New Earth with the New Jerusalem where God will dwell among his people, on the earth, forever.
The new moon was the beginning of a new month. Israel operated on a lunar calendar. There were prescribed sacrifices and offerings to be presented every new moon. With the offering of the body of Christ on the cross, these sacrifices and offerings are needed no more; they are fulfilled in Christ’s once for all sacrifice.
We must be careful not to get caught up in religious observances that are meaningless because we have the substance and not the shadow. Paul was fighting syncretism in Colossae and by implication in us. Do you find yourself being under a sense of religious obligation to religious observances that negate the finished work of Christ? The Christian church is filled with legalism that we should throw off. Some of it is obvious, but some of it may be so institutionalized that we don’t recognize it as false. I wish I could be more precise in identifying these false observances, but I think this is time for your reflection in your life with the Lord. Are you missing out on what Jesus has provided by being stuck with the shadow rather than the substance?