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Was the “Sabbath Shadow” REPLACED by the Coming of Christ?

    

     Some people teach that the seventh day Sabbath no longer needs to be observed, and they offer the following statement as their main line of reasoning:  “The Lord of the Sabbath [Mark 2:28] has come [speaking of Christ’s life on earth about 2,000 years ago], and the reality [Christ] has replaced the [Sabbath] shadow.”   Those who make this statement say that they are basing this idea on Colossians 2:17.

     So, the one and only supposed “proof” of their argument is Col.2:17. 

     Prior to examining this scripture in the KJV and the NKVJ, let’s first consider how it is rendered in the NIV, and we will see that the NIV’s translation does largely support their contention:  Therefore 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.   These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ”  (verses 16-17, NIV).   So, the NIV essentially says that the Sabbath is a “shadow,” and that this shadow was replaced by the reality of Christ.

     Yet, let’s now consider 5 points which demonstrate the error of this teaching.

 

(1)  Most Protestants, including the Protestant translators of the NIV, have long believed that the Sabbath (especially the seventh day Sabbath) has essentially been done away---that there is no real “requirement” by God to observe the day, and that Sabbath-keeping has absolutely nothing to do with salvation.   Because of this long-standing belief, the translators of the NIV simply rendered this verse in such a way as to support their pre-conceived idea on this issue. 

 

(2)  Let’s now consider the true meaning of Col.2: 16-17. 

     First, let’s see how the passage is rendered in the KJV:  Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ”  (KJV).

     Now, the passage says that God’s holy days (Lev.23) and Sabbaths are a shadow of things to come.  But how are they shadows?   Each of the annual holy days pictures (or foreshadows) some aspect of God’s plan of salvation.  Likewise, the weekly Sabbath (the 7th day) foreshadows the coming Millennium---the final 1,000 years of God’s 7,000-year plan.   This 7th 1,000 year period (unlike the 1st 6,000 years) will be a period of rest---a 7th day Sabbath rest---a rest from the sin that characterized the first 6,000 years. 

     Yes, the Millennium will be “a rest from sin.”    Satan will have been put away (Rev.20:2), and those individuals who have then become spirit beings and members of God’s Kingdom will then possess the fullness of God’s character and will thus be free from their present struggle against sin  [see subheading “Two Natures”].

     So, both the weekly and annual holy days are “shadows.”   They foreshadow aspects of God’s plan for mankind.

     Let’s now look at the end of verse 17.   The NKJV renders it“but the substance is of Christ.”   The word “substance” is likewise used in the NASV, whereas the NIV uses the word “reality.”   However, the Greek word translated as “substance” is soma.   Every other scripture in the New Testament where this word occurs, it is translated “body.”   In fact, it is translated in this verse as “body” by the KJV, the KJ21, and Young’s Literal Translation.   So, the KJV says, “but the body is of Christ.”

     Now, consider that the KJV has the word “is” in italics, which means that this word was not in the original text---it was added by the translators, who were trying to make the verse make sense (according to their understanding).   So, the phrase is actually: “but the body of Christ.”

    Now, what does this phrase “body of Christ” refer to?   To understand, go back to verse 16:  “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days.”   Here, Paul is saying that Christians should let no man judge or instruct you as to how you keep the holy days and Sabbaths…but the body of Christ.   “Let no man judge you…but [except] the body of Christ.”   He is saying that only “the body of Christ” should judge or instruct us in the proper observance of these days.   And who is “the body of Christ”?   The Church!  (I Cor.12:27; Eph.4:12).   Paul is saying that only the Church---only God’s true ministers---not outsiders---should judge or instruct Church members in the proper observance of the holy days and Sabbaths.   In Colossae, Paul was struggling against Gnostic teachers who were trying to bring heresies into the Church.   These false teachers were condemning members of the Church for supposedly improper eating and drinking---especially their manner of eating and drinking on the Sabbath and holy days (as well as wrongly condemning Church members for rejoicing on those days).

     So, here we see that the NIV and others totally misunderstand what Paul was saying in Col.2: 16-17.

 

(3)  Now for the third point which demonstrates the error of the notion that “the reality of Christ has replaced the Sabbath.”   In this passage of Col.2: 16-17, Paul---years after Christ’s crucifixion---said that the holy days and Sabbath days “are a shadow”---not “were a shadow,” but “are a shadow.”   Therefore, these days are still to be kept!   They weren’t done away by Christ’s crucifixion!

 

(4)  The fact that something is called a “shadow” does not mean that it is no longer necessary for us to observe.  

 

      Just because something is a shadow, a representation or a symbol, that does not diminish its importance.  Both the Old and the New Testaments are filled with symbols and symbolic actions commanded by God to teach us important spiritual lessons.

      Baptism is a symbol representing a greater spiritual truth, yet we are commanded to be baptized (Acts 2:38).  The bread and wine.…are symbols of the vital spiritual relationship we have with Jesus Christ, yet we are clearly commanded to partake of them (I Corinthians 10:16).

      Laying on of hands (Hebrews 6:2), anointing with oil (James 5:14)….and other physical things are commanded to be observed, not because they are greater than that which they symbolize, but to strengthen and enhance our spiritual understanding as we do them….

      These examples show that symbols and symbolic actions aren’t limited strictly to physical worship in the Old Testament, but are clearly commanded as important elements of New Testament worship.  God simply uses the same teaching methods throughout the Bible.

      These symbols and representations are vital reminders of important spiritual truths, as Paul recognized (I Corinthians 11:23-26).  We observe these things---as well as the Sabbath and Holy Days---because they are shadows of the greater spiritual [things] to which they point.1   

    

 

     Keeping the Sabbath (including resting on the Sabbath) is symbolic of our future rest in God’s Kingdom, as explained above.

 

(5)  If this passage in Colossians 2, in fact, does away with the weekly Sabbath, then it likewise does away with the annual holy days---because it refers to both of them as “shadows.”

     Yet, consider what will happen when Christ returns.  He will subdue the rebellious nations of the earth, the Kingdom of God will be established on earth, and all people of the earth will be keeping God’s annual holy days (Lev.23)---including the Feast of Tabernacles:  “Then the LORD will go forth And fight against those nations….And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives….And the LORD shall be King over all the earth….And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.  And it shall be that whichever of the families of the earth do not come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, on them there will be no rain.  If the family of Egypt will not come up and enter in, they shall have no rain; they shall receive the plague with which the LORD strikes the nations who do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.  This shall be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of ALL the nations that do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles”  (Zech.14: 3-19).

     So, clearly, God’s annual holy days will still be in effect even after Christ’s return.   Colossians 2 does not do away with the annual holy days---and therefore it does not do away with the weekly Sabbath either!

 

     In conclusion, we’ve looked at 5 points which show the error of the NIVs rendering of Col.2: 16-17.   The truth is that when Christ came to earth about 2,000 years ago, His coming in no way replaced our need to keep God’s annual holy days or His weekly Sabbath.   Keeping the Sabbath is one of God’s ten great Commandments!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

References:

1. “Does Colossians 2 show the Sabbath and Holy Days are obsolete?”  Scott Ashley, In Transition, Sept. 22, 1995, p.14