16Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
~ Col 2:16-17 (NIV used for this article for clarity)
The above, usually quoted with a slight sneer in the speaker’s voice, is very often taken out of context, made to stand on its own and presented as “proof” that “those old rituals were done away!”
Is that true? Is that what it says? Or, is there something much deeper and more meaningful being expressed here?
You know, I have recently written a couple of articles about reality. Is this existence real? Perhaps it depends upon what you mean by “real”. Certainly, the latest fast made me realize just how cold and wet a glass of water feels against the palm of the hand. You can touch it. You can feel it. As it goes down a throat that has been dry, it soothes and it refreshes. Real enough?
And, yet, it is physical. It won’t last. You’ll get thirsty again. Your entire existence, as a matter of fact, is temporary. The Bible compares your physical life to a vapor.
Does that mean you don’t exist, though? Of course not. No matter how temporary your life may be, 70 years or 70 seconds, it is real while it lasts, is it not?
Shadows are temporary. Does that mean they do not exist, then? You can see them. When you sit in a large enough shadow, it affects your vision. Is that real enough? Is dark real? If we say that darkness doesn’t exist, then neither does light. Or maybe cold, which is the absence of heat, doesn’t exist either. Tell that to someone who has been frostbitten before!
In order for shadows to exist, something must be blocking the light. Shadows do not exist by themselves. Their existence is dependent upon something else. Does that mean they are not real, since their existence depends upon something else?
In that case then, you and I don’t exist either. We depend upon food, air and water for our existence. The entire physical universe is dependent upon God and His power to be held together. If dependency determines the state of reality, then nothing but God exists. And, maybe that’s just the point. God is permanent. God is real.
Paul isn’t talking about them being “shadows” as in being done away with or no longer existing. He is talking about them being dependent upon something else. The “shadows” are intimately connected with something far greater. The greater thing, the “reality”, is “found in Christ”. Christ is the substance. Christ is that greater something because He is permanent. He, as a divine being, is real. Nothing else on Heaven or on earth can come close to this reality!
And, it is His shadow that is cast in the holy days, in the Sabbaths, in the food laws, etc. These things were recorded in the Law for our benefit. No one is to judge you for keeping them. Why would someone judge you for that? Because men and the traditions of men say you are odd, you are strange and you are different. You don’t keep their traditions, after all.
8See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.
20Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: … 22These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings [instead of God’s!]. 23Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility [but, in reality they are puffed up, thinking they have the right to change God’s Law] and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.
This is very similar to what Jesus said about the Pharisees of His day.
9They worship me in vain;
their teachings are but rules taught by men.
~ Mt 15:9
HWA kept the holy days for years without understanding what their purpose was. God often works that way. He tells us what to do, and then He waits until we do it. We build faith that way. We begin to understand that He is God and we are not. He gets to make the rules.
Eventually, HWA through his obedience was shown that all of the holy days picture God’s plan of salvation for all mankind. Each of the holy days is rich in symbolism, and it was through the keeping of them that he began to understand more and more each year. Indeed, the converted mind does begin to learn more with each act of obedience. As the saying goes, the actions become habits, and the habits become our character. By focusing on what God wants us to do, by keeping His Laws and His ways, by coming into His presence where He pours out His Spirit and gives us His messages, we draw ever closer to Him.
Indeed, that is the real value of keeping all these things. We develop His value system. We symbolically come into His presence. We voluntarily choose to be with Him and like Him.
What Christian would not want that?