Meditations in Colossians 2: 18: The Reality is Christ
Col 2:17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
Here we are again, simple words but profound truths that need thinking about. And again. Here we find that to see the full meaning of a verse we have to see what the link words refer to. Although it is not such an obvious link word such as “therefore” or “thus”, the first word of this verse does in fact take us backwards to the previous verse. The word ‘These’ refers to “a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.” (v.16) Collectively they may be called observing rituals of the Law, particular events that drew the Jew to a place of freshly considering God and of worshipping him. Before we look at what he says about these we would do well to consider them more fully.
“A Religious Festival” would be something like Passover or the Feast of Tabernacles or the Feast of Weeks, to name just three of the seven feasts. Now the Passover reminded them of how the destroying angel passed over Egypt and every Jew who relied upon a lamb being slain was ‘passed over’ and not destroyed. In the Feast of Weeks they celebrated the Harvest, God’s wonderful provision for them in every way. In the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths, the Jews erected tents or booths made of palm leaves as a reminder of their fellowshipping with the Lord in their travels to the Promised Land.
The monthly “New Moon celebration” was a statutory reminder of fellowship with the Holy God (see Num 28:14) where they offered burnt offerings and fellowship offerings (Num 10:10) – “And God will be reminded of his covenant with you” (v.10b Living Bible).
The “Sabbath” was a prescribed day of rest and remembrance, the latter being even more important than the former.
Now Paul says these are “a shadow of the things that were to come.” The JBP version puts it, “All these things have at most only a symbolical value,” but as true as that is, it misses the point: a shadow is cast by something else and the something else in this case is Christ. The writer to the Hebrews also uses this sort of picture: “there are already men who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven,” (Heb 8:4,5) and “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming–not the realities themselves.” (Heb 10:1) What each of these say is that the heavenly or spiritual reality casts a shadow seen on the earth in the form of some observance. Very simply , the observance points towards the reality but when, as Paul says, the reality is Christ, he wasn’t made known until he came to the earth and fulfilled his ministry of revealing the Father and dying as an atonement for sin.
Paul says it very simply: “the reality, however, is found in Christ.” So how is that so? Consider each of the things we noted above, the things that ‘These’ refers to.
We said the Passover reminded them of how the destroying angel passed over Egypt and every Jew who relied upon a lamb being slain was ‘passed over’ and not destroyed. John the Baptist described Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (Jn 1:29) In the book of Revelation in the heavenly vision, it is “a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain” (Rev 5:6) and when the host sing about him they declare, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Rev 5:9)
We said a New Moon Festival was a statutory reminder of fellowship with the Holy God where they offered burnt offerings and fellowship offerings as expressions of their love and fellowship. Similarly we said, the Sabbath was a prescribed day of rest and remembrance, the latter being even more important than the former. Now Christ has come he has brought us into fellowship with the Father and by the presence of his Holy Spirit within us, we have continual communion with Him (even though we may not be aware of it.)
As one commentator has put it, ‘How can the observance of the Passover be considered a means unto spiritual perfection when “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” (1 Cor 5:7). What justification could there be for imposing upon converts from the Gentile world the observation of the Jewish Sabbath, when the Bringer of eternal rest is urging every one to come to him.” Yes, Jesus is the fulfillment or reality forming the shadow of all these things and now he has come, why still bother with the shadow. Imagine you had a beautiful statue in your garden which threw a shadow on the garden wall when the sun was out. And supposing you had visitors who came and pointed out the amazing shaped shadow and said nothing of the statue. You would think that rather strange. Why do we think it any the less strange when some parts of the Church focus more on symbolic worship and ritual but nothing on the Christ life, the Spirit empowered and Spirit led life, all brought about and made possible by the wonderful work of Christ on the Cross? He is the reality and all the rest is mere shadow!