Colossians 2:17

17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

Read Colossians 2:17 Using Other Translations

Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.
These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality.

What does Colossians 2:17 mean?

John Gill's Exposition of the Bible
Colossians 2:17

Which are a shadow of things to come
By Christ, and under the Gospel dispensation; that is, they were types, figures, and representations of spiritual and evangelical things: the different "meats and drinks", clean and unclean, allowed or forbidden by the law, were emblems of the two people, the Jews and Gentiles, the one clean, the other unclean; but since these are become one in Christ, the distinction of meats is ceased, these shadows are gone; and also of the different food of regenerate and unregenerate souls, the latter feeding on impure food, the ashes and husks of sensual lusts, or their own works, the former on the milk and meat in the Gospel, the wholesome words of Christ; and likewise the clean meat was a shadow of Christ himself, whose flesh is meat indeed, and whose blood is drink indeed. The "holy days", or "feasts" of the Jews, the feasts of tabernacles, of the passover and Pentecost, were types of Christ; the feast of tabernacles, though it was in remembrance of the Israelites dwelling in tents and booths when they came out of Egypt, yet was also a representation of the people of God dwelling in the earthly houses of their tabernacles here on earth; and particularly of Christ's dwelling, or tabernacling in human nature, and who likewise was born at the time of this feast; (See Gill on 1:14). The passover, as it was a commemoration of the deliverance of the Israelites out of Egypt, and of God's passing over their houses when he smote the firstborn of the Egyptians, so it was a type of Christ our passover sacrificed for us, and was kept by Moses in the faith of him, ( Hebrews 11:28 ) ; there is a very great resemblance, in many particulars, between Christ and the paschal lamb; (See Gill on 1 Corinthians 5:7). The feast of Pentecost, or the feast of harvest and firstfruits, was a shadow of the firstfruits of the Spirit, which Christ having received, gave to his disciples on that day; and of the harvest of souls to be gathered under the Gospel dispensation, of which the conversion of the three thousand on the day of Pentecost was an earnest and pledge. The "new moon" was typical of the church, which is fair as the moon, and receives all her light from Christ the sun of righteousness; and of the renewed state of the church under the Gospel dispensation, when the old things of the law are passed away, and all things relating to church order, ordinances, and discipline, are become new. The "sabbaths" were also shadows of future things; the grand sabbatical year, or the fiftieth year sabbath, or jubilee, in which liberty was proclaimed throughout the land, a general release of debts, and restoration of inheritances, prefigured the liberty we have by Christ from sin, Satan, and the law, the payment of all our debts by Christ, and the right we have through him to the heavenly and incorruptible inheritance. The seventh year sabbath, in which there was no tilling of the land, no ploughing, sowing, nor reaping, was an emblem of salvation through Christ by free grace, and not by the works of men; and the seventh day sabbath was a type of that spiritual rest we have in Christ now, and of that eternal rest we shall have with him in heaven hereafter: now these were but shadows, not real things; or did not contain the truth and substance of the things themselves, of which they were shadows; and though they were representations of divine and spiritual things, yet dark ones, they had not so much as the very image of the things; they were but shadows, and like them fleeting and passing away, and now are gone:

but the body [is] of Christ:
or, as the Syriac version reads it, "the body is Christ"; that is, the body, or sum and substance of these shadows, is Christ; he gave rise unto them, he existed before them, as the body is before the shadow; not only as God, as the Son of God, but as Mediator, whom these shadows regarded as such, and as such he cast them; and he is the end of them, the fulfilling end of them; they have all their accomplishment in him: and he is the body of spiritual and heavenly things; the substantial things and doctrines of the Gospel are all of Christ, they all come by him; all the truths, blessings, and promises of grace; are from him and by him, and he himself the sum of them all. The allusion seems to be to a way of speaking among the Jews, who were wont to call the root, foundation, substance, and essence of a thing, (apwg) , "the body of it" F14: so they say F15,

``the constitutions concerning the sanctification of the offerings and the tithes, are, both the one and the other, (hrwt ypwg) , "the bodies", or substantial parts of the law:''

and again F16, that

``the constitutions or rules about the sabbath, the festivals and prevarications, they are as mountains that hang by an hair; for the Scripture is small, and the constitutions are many; the judgments and the services, the purifications and uncleannesses, and the incests, they have, upon which they can support themselves, and these, and these, are (hrwt ypwg) , "the bodies of the law":''

they say F17 of a small section, or paragraph, that all the bodies of the law depend upon it: once more F18,

``the sabbaths, and the good days (the feasts or holy days) are (Npwg) , "the bodies" of the sign;''

which the phylacteries or frontlets were for; but our apostle says, that Christ is the body and substance of all these shadows, in opposition to these sayings and notions of the Jews: some connect this last clause with the former part of the following verse, rendering it as the Arabic version thus, "because of the communion of the body of Christ, let no man condemn you"; and the Ethiopic version thus, "and let no man account you fools, because of the body of Christ", but there is nothing in the text to support these versions.


FOOTNOTES:

F14 Vid. Misn. Abot, c. 3. sect. 18. & Bartenora in ib. & Halicot Olam, par. 2. c. 1. p. 48.
F15 T. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 32. 1.
F16 Misn. Chagiga, c. 1. sect. 8. T. Bab. Chagiga, fol. 11. 2.
F17 T. Bab. Beracot, fol. 63. 1.
F18 T. Bab. Menachot, fol. 36. 2. Vid. T. Bab. Ceritot, fol. 5. 1.
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