Shadow and substance


“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 substance, however, is found in Christ.”– Col. 2:16,17.

There’s a difference between the real thing and the shadow it casts. Obviously.

And why would you concern yourself with the shadow at all?

The trouble was that these new believers in Colosse saw the Law and the institutions of the Old Testament as the real solid thing, and their new faith in Christ as an extension from it. A shadow.

Paul flips the whole idea about. You’re missing the vital point, he says: Christ is the one solid thing and these other things are mere shadows.

It’s as if a child has come into a garden on a lovely summer morning, and played in the long shadow of a sundial on a pedestal. As the sun has risen, the shadow has lessened steadily, but its edges have sharpened. The child stays playing in the shadow, but is drawn inexorably closer to the pedestal.

Do you see Paul’s point? Christ is risen! Once the Son is seen in the full glory of the Midday, then the shadows have gone completely!

It was something Paul had to learn himself, on the Damascus road. He grew up in the shadows, loving the defined edges of Jewish legalism, to the point of hating anyone who thought differently. “Who are you Lord? I am Christ whom you are persecuting.” He had played in the shadows for so long! Now he realised that the very purpose of the shadow was to draw him to Christ.

Circumcision, food laws, the Sabbath day… There is, then, in Jewish rules and regulations something that was shadowy and something substantial; that which was transient and that which was permanent; that which was temporal and typical, and that which was eternal. The shadow and the substance.

So what’s the transient bit that passes away? What’s the permanent bit that stays forever?

Here’s a passage from the nineteenth century preacher F.W.Robertson who nails it:

“The spirit of Judaism is separation – that of Christianity is permeation. To separate the evil from the good was the aim and work of Judaism: – to sever one nation from all other nations; certain meats from other meat; certain days from other days. Sanctify means to set apart. The very essence of the idea of Hebrew holiness lay in sanctification in the sense of separation. On the contrary, Christianity is permeation – it permeates all evil with good – it aims at overcoming evil by good – it desires to transfuse the spirit of the day of rest into all other days, and to spread the holiness of one nation over all the world. To saturate life with God, and the world with Heaven, that is the genius of Christianity.”

Maybe the picture at the top here isn’t perfect, but it is at least helpful. You haven’t been called into a legalistic system of rule-observance, so “do not let anyone judge you by…” any of that stuff!

But neither have you been dropped into a no-rules void where you are giddy with making it up as you go along. “The reality, however, is found in Christ.” 

Lord, we have come to the real thing, to the solid truth of Christ. Help us to live out our lives from that perspective alone, and “to saturate life with God, and the world with Heaven.”


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One Response to Shadow and substance

  1. Val Baker says:

    Parabola from negative to positive?

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