It’s no secret the Bible contains passages that are hard to follow or that you have to read twice to understand. So when people pull these passages out of the Bible and ask about them, it can be hard to know how to respond. Per a reader request, let’s cover two sections from Colossians 2 that deal with God’s law and His festivals.
Does Colossians 2:16-17 mean the Feast of Tabernacles is done away? My friend refers to those verses a lot when we discuss why I observe the Feast of Tabernacles. How do I explain and understand these verses?
These verses describe God’s festivals and Sabbaths as a “shadow of things to come.” To grasp what is written here, we must first understand what Paul is dealing with in this section of the letter. Paul seeks to refocus the Colossians on Christ, reminding them to “walk in Him” (verse 6). He implores them to stand strong in the faith and warns them not to fall for philosophies and traditions contrary to God’s way (verse 7-8). What specific heresies confronted the brethren at Colossae? One phrase we can zero in on is “false humility” (Colossians 2:18). But what exactly does that mean?
Notice verses 20-22. Paul asks why some Colossians were subjecting themselves to worldly regulations and commandments, including “‘Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,’ which all concern things which perish with the using.” They were religiously refraining from what would otherwise be typical activities.
It is likely a nascent form of Gnosticism was cropping up at Colossae. The term “Gnostic” comes from the Greek word meaning “to know.” Gnosticism’s devotees claimed to have “higher knowledge” attained by mystic, introspective means. One tenet of Gnosticism is dualism. Dualism considers all of existence to be divided and separated into two realms: spirit, which is completely and inherently good, and physical matter, which is wholly and incorrigibly evil.
Due to this belief, Gnostics and proto-Gnostic thinkers sought to cut off their enjoyment and comfort in everyday things. To become “more spiritual,” they would eat bland diets and drink only minimal amounts of water, objecting to the satisfaction full meals and hydration would provide. The extreme self-denial of physical pleasures and comforts is known as asceticism.
Paul condemns asceticism as heresy in Colossians 2:23, stating such doctrines have “an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” God declares His faithful should be dead to the regulations and principles of the world, including ascetic lifestyles and Gnostic thinking (verse 20).
Let’s finally return to the verses in question: “Let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths” (verse 16). Notice eating, drinking and keeping particular days are not condemned here, but rather the judgment passed upon those actions. Evidently, dualistic false teachers were disparaging the faithful Colossians for properly keeping God’s Holy Days with joyful feasting and fellowship (Deuteronomy 14:23-26).
Paul then writes that these days are a “shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.” (verse 17). While there are historical practices associated with each festival, these days are not dusty, littered with cobwebs and trapped deep in the annals of history. Instead, God’s Holy Days look forward. We should be familiar with the rich meaning and fulfillment assigned to each part of God’s plan, especially having just recently celebrated the harvest festivals.
We should also know Christ’s role in all the Holy Days. Jesus Christ will intervene in human affairs on a personal and global level by establishing His Kingdom and offering salvation to all. To neglect or scrutinize these days as a “shadow” is to ignore the hopeful and visionary intent of keeping them. To claim our focus should be on Christ instead is silly because Christ is at the center of all the biblical Holy Days (for one example, see 1 Corinthians 5:6-7). They cannot be explained away as “Jewish” when they are Christian to the core.
What can you and I take away from all of this? Don’t get cheated out of the Holy Days (Colossians 2:8). Never let others judge you for keeping God’s Feasts in the way He designed. They are His (Leviticus 23:2). Don’t let others deride you for taking time off from school or for celebrating and enjoying yourself while others are working.
Instead, fully rejoice and worship God during His Feasts (Deuteronomy 16:14-15). Hold tight to Jesus Christ, the Head, and “set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2-4). “When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.”
What was nailed to the cross was the death penalty resulting from each of our sins.
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