Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. 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 (Col 2:14-17 KJV).
Introduction: Colossians 2:14-17 is a passage, which may seem relatively straightforward and yet it is a challenge to understand Paul’s intended meaning. In our post-modern and scientific era, roughly two thousand years after Paul wrote the book of Colossians, we find ourselves separated from him in terms of culture, language, situation and time. Let us humbly ask the Holy Spirit to speak to our hearts, to guide us and help us “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), so that we may truly understand the message of Paul's intention to convey the message to us. Many have misunderstood his meaning, and my greatest hope is that through the re-study of this text, you will see the whole picture clearly. I pray that you will have the patience and interest to read the whole article.
Throughout church history, many false doctrines have been propagated and carried down until today. Many people do not have the foundation of biblical truth for what they believe, but just simply, blindly follow their leaders.
In Colossians 2:14-17, we find seven important points, which are all related closely in this passage. These points relate to the sacrificial system, which is a shadow of Christ, who is the sacrificial Lamb and is carrying out His High Priesthood in the heavenly sanctuary. The seven key phrases in this passage where we can derive these seven points from are: (1) the handwriting of ordinances; (2) in meat, or in drink; (3) an holy day, new moon, sabbath days; (4) which; (5) a shadow; (6) things to come; (7) the body is of Christ.
All these points are related to and point towards the sacrificial service system and Christ’s High Priesthood ministry in heaven. In other words, the sacrifices and ritual services by the priests on every "holy day, new moon, sabbath" in the earthly sanctuary are a shadow of the ministry of Christ who serves as the High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary, based on His sacrifice on the cross.
Let us study the Bible and analyze each point below. Remember, the best way to understand the biblical truth is Scripture compares to Scripture, here a little and there a little, then we may see the whole picture clearly.
I. The handwriting of ordinances -- First of all, we should know that when Christ died on the cross, the Bible says, "Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split" (Matthew 27:51). This shows that Christ's death fulfilled all the sacrifices of lambs or oxen, that had been offered as sin offerings for atonement from Adam sinned. Therefore, the sacrificial system in the earthly sanctuary was no longer necessary, thereby abolishing the ceremonial laws. Thus, the "handwriting of ordinances" which Paul refers to here do not relate to the Ten Commandments which were written by the finger of God (Exodus 31:18) and which cannot be changed (see Exodus 20:1-17), but as the Bible's original wording says, the "handwriting in the decrees" (see also Deuteronomy 31:24). This relates to Col. 2:16, "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or 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). Please read it in the context, and see the meaning in relation to the sacrificial system found in Numbers 28-29. God spoke to Moses, who wrote down these instructions for the priests on how to offer offerings every morning and evening, sabbath, new moon, and feast. These are the "handwriting of ordinances" which is also referred to as the Mosaic Law.
Paul indicated that Christ's crucifixion fulfilled the sacrifice for atonement, so that the Mosaic Law concerning the priesthood, sanctuary service, and circumcision were abolished and nailed to the cross. This text is parallel to Ephesians 2:15, which says, "Having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace."
II. In meat or in drink -– This is not simply talking about "what we eat or drink" as many claim. Actually, Paul is talking about the meat offering and drink offering offered with the sacrificial lamb for atonement according to the ceremonial law (Num 28:7-8).
Compare this text which is parallel with Ezekiel 45:17, which says, "And it shall be the prince's part to give burnt offerings, and meat offerings, and drink offerings, in the feasts, and in the new moons, and in the sabbaths, in all solemnities of the house of Israel: he shall prepare the sin offering, and the meat offering, and the burnt offering, and the peace offerings, to make reconciliation for the house of Israel."
You can see this more clearly in Hebrews 9:10, saying, "which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation." Thus, the original meaning of Paul in the "handwriting of ordinances" relate to the "meat [offering], or drink [offering], which are a shadow of things to come" and to "the body is of Christ."
III. Feast, new moon, or Sabbath--The third important point is the days of offer the sacrifices are on every "morning and evening, sabbath, new moon, and feast" the priests need to offer the offering according to the ceremonial law. In the text, "a festival or a new moon or sabbaths" (NKJV). The term here is pointing to the sacrifices and its ritual of the days, rather than pointing to the days themselves as many claimed.
The "sabbaths" in the text whether it is weekly Sabbath or annual ceremonial Sabbath. There are two different views:
The first view: Adventists always claim that it is the annual ceremonial Sabbath. Such as in the "27 Fundamental doctrines," they said,
This apostle's faithful observance of the weekly Sabbath stood in sharp contrast to his attitude towards the annual ceremonial Sabbaths. . . . Since "the context [of this passage] deals with ritual matters, the Sabbaths here referred to are the ceremonial sabbaths of the Jewish annual festivals 'which are a shadow,' or type, of which the fulfillments were to come in Christ. (Seventh-day Adventist Believe . . . A Biblical Exposition of 27 Fundamental Doctrines, p. 254).
Elder Mark Finley in his book "Study Together," he said,
The Bible mentions two kinds of Sabbaths. The seventh-day Sabbath and the yearly Sabbaths . . . The yearly Sabbath relates specifically to the history of Israel. Col. 2:16,17 specifically states, "Let no one judge you regarding Sabbath days which are a shadow of things to come. Heb. 10:1 connects the law of shadows with animal sacrifice. Ezek. 45:17 use the exact same expressions in the exact same order as Col. 2:16, 17, connects it all with the ceremonial systems of feasts, and sacrifices . . . . These annual Sabbaths were intimately connected to events foreshadowing Christ's death and His Second Coming. They were designed by God to be shadows or pointers to the coming Messiah. Lev 23:37 uses the language of Col 2:16,17 to describe these ceremonial Sabbaths. (Studying Together, A Ready-reference Bible Handbook, pp. 30, 31)
The second view: All denominations who worship on Sunday, they claim that it is the seventh-day Sabbath. Such as in the Internet, a denomination criticizes Seventh-day Adventist Church. They say:
Colossians 2:16 is a very important verse in that it shows clearly that the Seventh-day Sabbath is only a shadow of Christ. This verse should be studied in its context and also compared to its Old Testament parallel, Ezekiel 45:17. When the terms "festival (or equivalent), new moons and Sabbaths are used together in the Old Testament the word Sabbath always refers to the Seventh-day Sabbath. In addition, these terms are usually used in either ascending or descending sequence: festivals (yearly), new moons (monthly), Sabbaths (weekly) or Sabbaths (weekly), new moons (monthly), festivals (yearly).
These two well established patterns make it certain that the seventh-day Sabbath is in view in Colossians 2:16 and this fact undermines the whole SDA emphasis on the seventh-day Sabbath. Note how they have twisted both Colossians 2:16 as well as the Old Testament parallel text, Ezekiel 45:17. They have tried to make the term "Sabbaths" refer to the special yearly feasts and in so doing have made Paul redundant. They have also mixed up the wording so the apparent ascending or descending sequence is broken, thus twisting this verse in two ways to fit their doctrine and corrupt the truth of God's word.
In these two different views, they debate and criticize, but cannot convince each other until today. Both claim that they are right. How can we know who is right and wrong? Let us study the Bible, for the Bible is our faith and foundation of all doctrines. Remember, Scripture compares to Scripture is the best way to understand the original text.
The term "feasts, new moons, and sabbaths" was used seven times in the Old Testaments, such as:
1. Behold, I build an house to the name of the LORD my God, to dedicate it to him, and to burn before him sweet incense, and for the continual shewbread, and for the burnt offerings morning and evening, on the sabbaths, and on the new moons, and on the solemn feasts of the LORD our God. This is an ordinance forever to Israel. (2 Chr 2:4)
2. Then Solomon offered burnt offerings unto the LORD on the altar of the LORD, which he had built before the porch, Even after a certain rate every day, offering according to the commandment of Moses, on the sabbaths, and on the new moons, and on the solemn feasts, three times in the year, even in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles. (2 Chr 8:12-13)
3. And Hezekiah appointed the courses of the priests and the Levites after their courses, every man according to his service, the priests and Levites for burnt offerings and for peace offerings, to minister, and to give thanks, and to praise in the gates of the tents of the LORD. He appointed also the king's portion of his substance for the burnt offerings, to wit, for the morning and evening burnt offerings, and the burnt offerings for the sabbaths, and for the new moons, and for the set feasts, as it is written in the law of the LORD. (2 Chr 31:2-3)
4. For by the last words of David the Levites were numbered from twenty years old and above: . . . And to stand every morning to thank and praise the LORD, and likewise at even: And to offer all burnt sacrifices unto the LORD in the sabbaths, in the new moons, and on the set feasts, by number, according to the order commanded unto them, continually before the LORD. (1 Chr 23:27-32)
5. Also we made ordinances for us, to charge ourselves yearly with the third part of a shekel for the service of the house of our God; For the shewbread, and for the continual meat offering, and for the continual burnt offering, of the sabbaths, of the new moons, for the set feasts, and for the holy things, and for the sin offerings to make an atonement for Israel, and for all the work of the house of our God. (Neh 10:32-33)
6. And it shall be the prince's part to give burnt offerings, and meat offerings, and drink offerings, in the feasts, and in the new moons, and in the sabbaths, in all solemnities of the house of Israel: he shall prepare the sin offering, and the meat offering, and the burnt offering, and the peace offerings, to make reconciliation for the house of Israel. (Ezek 45:17)
7. Therefore will I return, and take away my corn in the time thereof, and my wine in the season thereof, and will recover my wool and my flax given to cover her nakedness. And now will I discover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers, and none shall deliver her out of mine hand. I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her new moons, and her sabbaths, and all her solemn feasts. (Hos 2:9-11)
This term in the New Testament Paul used only once:
Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. 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. (Col 2:14-17 KJV)
Therefore, according to the Number 28 and 29, the sacrificial services are on "daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly" base on the sacrificial system of the ceremonial laws. Therefore, from its sequence, it is clear that the Sabbaths in the text is the seventh-day Sabbath. If someone claims that it is the "annul ceremonial Sabbaths," then it is needless repetition with the "yearly festival (holyday)" in the same term.
Obviously, all Sabbaths in these texts are in plural form, yet it is a weekly Sabbath. You may see how the Bible uses the "Sabbaths)" in plural form as in six texts which record Christ's resurrection as "the first day of the week," and other texts such as Luke 4:16; Matthew 28:1; and Acts 20:7. All are in plural form that indicate to the weekly sabbath.
Actually, in the grammar of Hebrew and Greek as in English, if it points to all Sabbaths, it is necessary to use plural form; if it points to every Sabbath, then in singular form, but the meaning is the same, both pointing to the sacrificial service and its ritual for atonement on the days.
IV. Which -- This is a relative pronoun, and it is followed by a relative pronoun clause, indicating that the whole ritual service "in meat or in drink or in respect of an holyday, or new moon, or sabbath days" is performed by the priests in the earthly sanctuary.
V. Shadow -- "Shadow" (in Greek, Askia) is used by the author of Hebrews to describe the earthly sanctuary and its priesthood service as the copy and shadow of Christ as the High Priest in heaven (Hebrews 8:4-5). Paul used this Askia imagery vividly when comparing the earthly sanctuary service during all "festivals, new moons, and Sabbaths" as the shadow of things to come (Colossians 2:16-17). Paul used the term "things to come" to indicate Christ's intercession as the High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary according to His sacrifice on the cross. As he indicates in Hebrews 9:11, Abut Christ being come as high priest of good things to come." As Stephen Haskell said, "Showing type had met the antitype; the shadow had met the substance which cast the shadow" (Stephen N. Haskell, The Cross and its Shadow [Nashville: Southern Pub. Assn., 1970], 98). The heavenly sanctuary truth is of vital importance, particularly concerning Christ's Priesthood and His daily intercession in heaven for us. It is because of Christ's role in our salvation that our salvation is sure, for His grace is sufficient for all believers as well as all unbelievers in the world.
Ellen G. White says, "In the typical system, which was a shadow of the sacrifice and priesthood of Christ, the cleansing of the sanctuary was the last service performed by the high priest in the yearly round of ministration" (The Great Controversy, 352).
She also says, "Our Saviour, in His life and death, fulfilled all the prophecies pointing to Himself, and was the substance of all the types and shadows signified. He kept the moral law, and exalted it by answering its claims as man's representative. Those of Israel who turned to the Lord, and accepted Christ as the reality shadowed forth by the typical sacrifices, discerned the end of that which was to be abolished" (Selected Messages Vol. 1, 231)
"But when his spiritual vision was touched by the finger of God, he (Paul) learned that Christ was the originator of the entire Jewish system of sacrifices; that He came into the world for the express purpose of vindicating His Father's law; and that in His death the typical law had met its antitype" (The Story of Redemption, 273).
VI. Things to come -- What does "things to come" mean in verse 17? This text is very important, and cannot be read independent of verse 16.
The crucial word is "shadow" which relates "things to come" and "body of Christ." What is the real meaning of "shadow" here? If we explain this based on preconceptions, then we may be easily misled by common belief or the tradition. Many Christians misunderstand that the "shadow" points to the days. Therefore, they believe that the "feast, new moon, or sabbath" all are the shadow of Christ, and conclude that in the New Testament era, by grace we saved, so it is not necessary for Christians to keep them. However, according to the Bible, the term "shadow" never points to the days themselves, but rather to the sacrifices and the ritual services of those days. The word "shadow" points to the meat and drink offerings which are the minor offerings, offered with the sacrificial lamb, which was the major offering for the atonement.
Concerning the word "Shadow," if we want to see the whole and clear picture, we need to do a further study. Thus, let us research the Bible first, and then Ellen G. White's writings:
1. The Bible says, "For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law; who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle" (Hebrews 8:4-5).
2. The Bible says, "For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. . . . Therefore, when He came into the world, He said, "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you have prepared for Me" (Hebrews 10:1, 5).
3. The Bible says, "But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, but of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption" (Hebrews 9:11-12).
4. The Bible says, "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 [good] things to come; but the body is of Christ" (Colossians 12: 16-17, KJV, emphasis supplied).
Here are the Ellen G. White's writing concerning the shadow which relates to the sacrificial ritual:
1. “Paul's hearers were made to understand that the Messiah for whose advent they had been longing, had already come; that His death was the antitype of all the sacrificial offerings, and that His ministry in the sanctuary in heaven was the great object that cast its shadow backward and made clear the ministry of the Jewish priesthood” (The Desire of Ages, 52. Note: This paragraph is also quoted in the Adult Sabbath School, 3rd Quarter, 2003, p. 44).
2. “In the typical system, which was a shadow of the sacrifice and priesthood of Christ, the cleansing of the sanctuary was the last service performed by the high priest in the yearly round of ministration (The Great Controversy, 352).
3. “Such was the service performed "unto the example and shadow of heavenly things." And what was done in type in the ministration of the earthly sanctuary is done in reality in the ministration of the heavenly sanctuary. After His ascension, our Saviour began His work as our high priest. Says Paul: "Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us." Hebrews 9:24” (The Great Controversy, 420).
4. “The temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in His temple the ark of His testament." Revelation 11:19. The ark of God's testament is in the holy of holies, the second apartment of the sanctuary. In the ministration of the earthly tabernacle, which served "unto the example and shadow of heavenly things," this apartment was opened only upon the great Day of Atonement for the cleansing of the sanctuary” (The Great Controversy, 433).
5. “On the Day of Atonement the high priest, having taken an offering for the congregation, went into the most holy place with the blood and sprinkled it upon the mercy seat, above the tables of the law. Thus the claims of the law, which demanded the life of the sinner, were satisfied. Then in his character of mediator the priest took the sins upon himself, and, leaving the sanctuary, he bore with him the burden of Israel's guilt. At the door of the tabernacle he laid his hands upon the head of the scapegoat and confessed over him "all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat." And as the goat bearing these sins was sent away, they were, with him, regarded as forever separated from the people. Such was the service performed "unto the example and shadow of heavenly things." Hebrews 8:5” (Patriarchs and Prophets, 355).
6. “In every bleeding sacrifice was typified 'the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.' Christ Himself was the originator of the Jewish system of worship, in which, by types and symbols, were shadowed forth spiritual and heavenly things” (Signs of the Times, Jan. 2, 1893). (Ellen G. White Comments, The SDA Bible Commentary, Vol. 7, pp. 933. Adult Sabbath School, 3rd Quarter, 2003, p. 52).
Therefore, from the Bible and Ellen G. White's writing, we can see that the "shadow" only refers to the ritual services of the priests in the earthly sanctuary, which are a shadow of Christ, our High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary. The Bible and Ellen White's writing never use "shadow" in reference points to the ceremonial sabbaths, or yearly feasts. For the days never and cannot be a symbol to the body of Christ, only the lamb or oxen and its ritual can be a symbol to His body and His Priesthood.
In other words, all these ritual services for atonement – the sacrifice of the lamb and the service of the priest on every yearly feast, monthly new moon, weekly Sabbath or daily are a "shadow" of Christ who is the Lamb of God and the High Priest, who makes intersession for us in the heavenly sanctuary (See Colossians 2:14-17; Hebrews 7:23-25; 8:4-5; 9:11-12, 23-26; 10:1-5).
In our Sabbath School quarterly lesson, the author says, "Furthermore, Jesus is both Sacrifice and Priest and thus far surpasses Aaron, who was a priest alone. He never could be a sacrifice." And again, he says, "Further distinctions are that Aaron served on earth, whereas Jesus serves in heaven. Although the sanctuaries, namely the earthly and the heavenly, are linked to each other, Jesus serves at the heavenly temple" (Adult Sabbath School, 3rd Quarter, 2003, p. 40).
VII. The Body of Christ -- The body here is pointing to Christ's body that was nailed to the cross as a sin offering or the propitiation for atonement. As Christ's testimony, saying, "Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: In burning offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God . . . By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Hebrews 10:1, 4-7, 10, KJV).
In the summary, the author says, "Hebrews informs us about Jesus' priesthood and defines it. This superior ministry follows the order of Melchizedek and yet is not unrelated to the Levitical priesthood. Whatever the links to each priesthood, Christ's ministry exceeds them both, infinitely so" (Ibid, 44).
Again, he says, "Read the sections in Exodus and Leviticus that detail the building, the structure, and the services performed there, remembering that this whole system symbolized Christ's death and heavenly ministry in our behalf" (Ibid, 47).
Conclusion: The ritual services on every feast, new moon and Sabbath day have been fulfilled and abolished by Christ who is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. After entering the heavenly sanctuary, Christ began His High Priesthood ministry, and makes intersession for the world. Therefore, Christians do not have to offer the offerings according to the ceremonial law on every "feast, new moon, or Sabbath."
Sabbath was established by God at the foundation of the world before Adam
committed sin; and has nothing to do with the system of sacrifices introduced
after Adam fell.
God wrote it as the fourth Commandment, which is unabolished and unchangeable;
all believers always are to keep the seventh-day Sabbath holy, even in the new
heaven and new earth (Isaiah 66:23). Christ Himself, Paul and the other
apostles kept the Sabbath are our example; even in the New Testament era, we
Christians under grace are still necessary to keep it holy. We have no doubt
that the seventh-day Sabbath itself is not a shadow of Christ; but rather it is
the lambs, the services of its ritual on every
"feast, new moon,
things to come, but the reality of the sacrifice is the body of Christ who died
on the cross and serve as the High Priest in heaven. (The end)