Colossians 2:17
These are a shadow of the things to come, but the body that casts it belongs to Christ.
Christian LibertyA. Maclaren, D. D.Colossians 2:16-17
Condemnation of Ritualistic Observances and Ascetic SeveritiesT. Croskery. Colossians 2:16, 17
Religion, Freedom, and JoyJohn Smith.Colossians 2:16-17
The Ceremonial and the Real in ReligionG. Barlow.Colossians 2:16-17
The Shadow and the SubstanceJ. Spence, D. D.Colossians 2:16-17
Christian IndependenceU.R. Thomas Colossians 2:16-19
Two Dangers to be AvoidedE.S. Prout Colossians 2:16-19
Legalism ExposedR.M. Edgar Colossians 2:16-23
Three ErrorsR. Finlayson Colossians 2:16-23
The apostle draws a practical inference from the view he had just given of the work of Christ. "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a feast day, or of a new moon, or of a sabbath day: which things are a shadow of the things to come; but the body is Christ's."

I. THE PROHIBITION. It is twofold, respecting first the distinction of meats and drinks, and then the observance of times.

1. The distinction of meats and drinks.

(1) This distinction was made in the Mosaic Law as to things clean and unclean. There was no prohibition as to drinks, except in regard to Nazarites and priests during their ministration (Leviticus 10:9; Numbers 6:3). It is probable that the Colossian errorists, like the Essenes, forbade wine and animal food altogether; for they imposed a rigorous asceticism upon their disciples.

(2) The distinction is abolished by the gospel.

(a) Our Lord hinted at the approaching abolition (Mark 7:14, 19).

(b) There was a formal annulment of the distinction in Peter's vision (Acts 10:11, etc.), where the distinction between those within and those without the covenant was being done away.

(c) The abolition is implied in Hebrews 9:10, where the rule as "to meats and drinks" is said to have been "imposed until the time of reformation."

(d) It is also implied in the action of the Council of Jerusalem, and in the language of Peter respecting "the yoke which neither we nor our fathers were able to bear" (Acts 15:10).

(3) The attitude of Christians towards this distinction. "Let no man.., judge you in respect of" them.

(a) Christians are not justified now in making such a distinction or in imposing it upon others. Thus the Roman Catholics are condemned for their distinction of meats: "Commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving" (1 Timothy 4:3). It is not "that which teeth into the mouth that defileth the man" (Matthew 15:2, 11).

(b) Christians in apostolic times had a liberty in these matters which they were to exercise for edification.


) It was allowable for a believer neither "to eat flesh" nor to drink wine "so long as the world standeth" (1 Corinthians 8:13).


) It was allowable in the transition state of the Church, while, it consisted of two diverse elements - Jews and Gentiles - for liberty to be exercised in these matters, with a due regard to the rights of conscience (Romans 14:2).

(c) But we in our different circumstances must resist any attempt to impose upon us a distinction of meats. "Let no man.., judge you in meat, or in drink." It is not in man's power to make that a sin which God has not forbidden. "It is a very small thing that I should be judged of you or of man's judgment" (1 Corinthians 4:3). "Why dost thou judge thy brother?" (Romans 14:3, 10). Besides, we must remember the spiritual nature of Christianity: "The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost" (Romans 14:17). We must "stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made his people free" (Galatians 5:1).

2. The observance of times and seasons. "Or in respect of a feast day, or of a new moon, or of a sabbath day." The apostle said to the Galatians, "Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years" (Galatians 4:10).

(1) There was a provisional and temporary discretion allowed likewise in the matter of days. "One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind" (Romans 14:5, 6). The apostle leaves the matter of days an open question.

(2) Yet no man was to be taken to task for refusing to observe them. The times were entirely Jewish.

(a) The "feast day" referred to the annual festivals, like Pentecost and Passover.

(b) The "new moon" referred to the monthly festival.

(c) The "sabbath day" referred to the Jewish sabbath, which was always observed on the Saturday. "But does the apostle not seem to strike at the obligation of maintaining the observance of one day in seven for the worship of God, and sunder the connection that exists between the Jewish sabbath and the Christian Sunday?" We answer that:


) The observance of the Lord's day never came into question in apostolic times. It was universally observed from the beginning both by Jews and Gentiles. It cannot, therefore, be affected by anything said as to "days" in Romans 14:1-6 or in this passage.


) The devotion of a seventh part of our time to God rests on considerations as old as creation, for the sabbath was made for man even before sin entered the world.


) The sabbath of the Jews was typical, and therefore was abolished in Christ, and therefore, as well as for other reasons, the Lord's day, which took its place from the beginning of the gospel dispensation, was changed from the last to the first day of the week. The sabbath day was so long and so deeply associated with the stated feasts, the sabbatical year, and the jubilee year of Judaism, that it partook of their typical character, and thus passed away with the other institutions of Judaism. But this was not the original aspect of the sabbath, which had nothing in it typical of redemption, for it began while there was no sin and no need of salvation. Thus, just as baptism is the Lord's circumcision according to ver. 11, the Lord's day is the sabbath of Christian times.

II. THE REASON FOR THE PROHIBITION "Which things are a shadow of the things to come; but the body is Christ's." They were useful as shadows before the Substance came, but after it they were useless.

1. The shadow. The word implies:

(1) The dimness, the unsubstantiality of these Jewish ordinances or institutions. The light they projected forward into Christian times was obscure.

(2) Their temporary nature. The shadow disappears when the substance is come.

2. The substance. "The body is Christ's;" that is, belongs to Christ. The reality is verified in Christ and the benefits of the new dispensation. The blessings they prefigured are to be realized by union with Christ. - T. C.

Let no man therefore Judge you.

1. Those which, in addition to circumcision, were principally in question were —(1) Meat and drink, which refers to unclean things, things offered to idols, and perhaps the Nazarite vow. As there were few Jewish regulations as to drink, probably other ascetic practices were in question.(2) Sacred seasons — annual festivals, the monthly feast of the new moon, and the weekly Sabbath.

2. The relation of the Gentile converts to these was really the question whether Christianity was to be more than a Jewish sect, and the main force which, under God, settled the contest was the vehemence and logic of Paul.

3. He lays down the ground on which the whole matter was to be settled. They are a "shadow," etc. "Coming events cast their shadows before." The great work of Christ whose "goings forth have been from everlasting," may be thought of as having set out from the Throne as soon as time was, like the beams of some far-off star that have not yet reached a dark world. The light from the Throne is behind Him as He advances across the centuries, and the shadow is thrown far in front.


1. Sacrifice, altar, priest, temple, spoke of Christ.(1) The distinctions of meats were meant to familiarize men with the conceptions of purity and impurity, and so, by stimulating conscience to work the need of a Purifier.(2) The yearly feasts set forth various aspects of Christ's work, and the Sabbath showed in outward form the rest into which He leads His people who cease from their own works and wear His yoke. And all are like outriders who precede a prince on his progress, and as they gallop through sleeping villages rouse them with the cry, "the king is coming."

2. And when the king has come where are the heralds? When the reality, who wants the shadows? And if that which threw the shadow forward has arrived, how shall the shadow be visible too?


1. The practical conclusion is not, "let no man observe these any more," but "let no man judge you" about them. He does not quarrel with the rites, but with men insisting on them.

2. His own practice is the best commentary on his meaning. When they said to him, "You must circumcise Titus," he said, "Then I will not." When nobody tried to compel him he circumcised Timothy to avoid scandals.

3. In times of transition, wise supporters of the new will not be in a hurry to break with the old. The brown sheaths remain on the twigs alter the tender green leaf has burst from within them, but there is no need to pull them off, for they will drop presently.

4. The bearing of Paul's principles on the religious observance of Sunday.(1) The obligation of the Jewish Sabbath has passed away, but the institution of a weekly day of rest is put in Scripture independently and prior to the Mosaic institution. That is the natural conclusion from the narrative in Genesis, the fact that Sabbath was made for man, i.e., for the race, and the traces of a pre-Mosaic Sabbath, e.g., in Assyria. It is a physical and moral necessity, and that is a mistaken benevolence which on the plea of culture or amusement for the many, compels the labour of the few.(2) The gradual growing up of the practice of observing "the Lord's day" is in accordance with the whole spirit of the New Covenant, which has next to nothing to say about externals, but leaves the new life to shape itself. The necessity of a day of rest is not less now than at the first. I distrust the spirituality which professes that all life is a Sabbath, and therefore holds itself absolved from special seasons of worship; but it is better to think of the day as a great gift for the highest purposes, than to keep it as a mere commandment.

(A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Ceremonial in religion —

I. CAN FORM NO JUST BASIS FOR INDIVIDUAL CONDEMNATION. "Let no man judge you." The essence of religion does not consist in the outward form, but the inward spirit.

II. IS TYPICAL OF THE REAL. Rites have their place in the culture of the race, and in their proper sphere are important. They sketch the outlines of truths, and are valuable only as they conduct to the realities they predict and typify.

III. IS ABOLISHED AND RENDERED NUGATORY BY THE REAL. It is a dangerous infatuation to snatch at the shadow when we may embrace the substance. Lessons:

1. Learn to exercise forbearance in externals.

2. Christ alone can satisfy the deepest craving of the soul.

(G. Barlow.)

"Therefore" marks the connection. The handwriting is destroyed, Christians are free; why then go back to the elements of bondage.


1. Eating and drinking have reference to the dietetic injunctions of Mosaism. These had a strong hold of the Jewish mind (Acts 10:9-16). The distinctions of days point collectively to the periodical feasts and sacred seasons. And the idea was that all this was essential to salvation, and so obligatory on Gentile Christians.

2. Against this notion Paul asserts the great principle of Christian liberty. Such things ought never to be a criterion of piety. Yet how strong is the tendency to-day to forbid certain kinds of food at certain seasons, and to insist on saints' days. The doctrine here is that one kind of food is as lawful, and one day as sacred, as another. All these distinctions have passed away, and are no longer binding. That we are at liberty to observe certain days, such as those on which we commemorate the great redemptive facts, e.g., Christmas, Easter, etc., there can be no doubt, but they are not obligatory (Romans 14:6).

3. The great practical question is that which relates to the Sabbath. The seventh day was long kept along with the first; but this was condemned as Judaizing by the Council of Laodicea ( A.D. 364). The apostle declares that a Christian's true piety is not to be judged by his regard of the Jewish Sabbath any more than to the other festivals. That was a shadow of the Lord's day. That a seventh portion of our time should be specially given to God is based on considerations as old as creation; but the foundation and character of the Lord's day are altogether changed from those of the Jewish Sabbath. Its true principle is allegiance to a living Saviour whose resurrection on that day it commemorates, as laying the foundation of a new spiritual creation. The Saviour's appearances on that day subsequent to His resurrection, and the usage of the apostles, hallow the first day of the week, and make it with a Divine fitness and beauty the Christian's day of rest.

II. THE ARGUMENT. The coming Saviour as the Sun of Righteousness, in the establishment of the Jewish economy, flung a shadow of His approaching advent and dispensation down on the descendants of Abraham, that they might walk in it, and conserve the worship and truth of God. As a shadow it was —

1. Predicted and foretold that something grander was coming.

2. It was prefigurative. A shadow is s likeness, however faint, and the truths embodied in Christ were dimly typified in Judaism.

3. But as a shadow is evanescent, it was made to vanish away when that which was perfect had come. Then it answered its purpose and disappeared. The reality was reached in the Son of God.

(J. Spence, D. D.)

Religion is not like the prophet's roll, sweet as honey when it was in his mouth, but as bitter as gall in his belly. Religion is no sullen stoicism, no sour Pharisaism: it does not consist in a few melancholy passions, in some dejected looks or depressions of mind; but it consists in freedom, love, peace, life, and power; the more it comes to be digested: into our lives, the more sweet and lovely we shall find it to be. Those spots and wrinkles which corrupt minds think they see in the face of religion are, indeed, nowhere else but in their own deformed and misshapen apprehensions. It is no wonder, when a defiled fancy comes to be the glass, if you have an unlovely reflection.

(John Smith.)

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