The Shadows and Their Substance

16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat [food], or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: 17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body [substantive reality] is of Christ. Colossians 2:16-17 (KJV)

As Bible students we should know that the religious practices of the “time past” (cf. Gal 1:13) dispensation of Israel under “the Law,” including those practiced during the Acts period, do not apply to us grace believers of today’s age of the “dispensation of the grace of God” (cf. Eph. 3:2). However, when their meaning is revealed, some practices may be seen to be a foretelling or shadow of a spiritual reality or truth for today.

Such truths were not revealed to anyone until the Apostle Paul progressively received their substantive meaning. They usually reflect some aspect of the work of Jesus Christ at the Cross and after in the lives of believers today through the power of His Cross and resurrection to the heaven located “far above.”

Basically, as a rule, we today we ought not to follow any instruction of Jesus of Nazareth as given during His earthly ministry toward the Nation of Israel (Matt. 15:24). We do not follow His Twelve Apostles, as they were specifically addressing “the lost sheep of the house of Israel (cf. 10:5-6, Act 2:22).

Today, only Paul is our Apostle, teacher, and “pattern.”

“Howbeit for this cause I [Paul] obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering [patience], for a PATTERN to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting. 1 Timothy 1:16 (KJV)

We today receive and adhere to the truths of Paul’s “revelation” of “the mystery [Grk. musterion, secret] of Christ” (cf. Eph. 3:4, Col. 4:3, Rom. 16:25). We study Paul’s epistles accordingly since Paul is the Apostle to the Gentiles (cf. Rom. 11:13).

What about the rest of the Bible. We study the whole KJV Bible (cf. 2Tim. 3:16) because the words of the whole Bible often either directly or metaphorically reveal the nature and character of God in our relationship with Christ as our Savior and Lord in accord with His eternal purpose for “the heaven and the earth.” Whatever we might read elsewhere in the Bible that conflicts with Paul’s words to us we do not receive it. We read, enjoy, and appreciate the whole Scripture however, we do not receive the instructions given to Israel neither before or during that Acts period.

We therefore note how that the temporary miraculous Pentecostal gifts in operation during the Acts period passed away with Acts 28:28 and “the fall of Israel,” when Paul turned to the Gentiles. Note that Paul said those gifts were temporary;

“Charity [love] never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.” 1Corinthians 13:8 (KJV)

Regarding our subject of the “shadows,” we know a physical visible item can cast its shadow, having the same form of the physical item but lacking the substance of that physical item. “For the [Mosaic] law having a shadow of good things to come, and NOT the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices ...make the comers thereunto perfect.” Hebrews 10:1

And so it was with Israel’s many visible rites, rituals, and laws to be executed, though they were ordained of God for a purpose in time. The religious activities or performance practices in the OT on up to the end of the Acts period… did largely typify spiritual realities that were yet to be revealed. The substance of these practices was not explained until they were later revealed to Paul. Paul unveils these truths for us today in his epistles of Romans to Philemon.

These revealed spiritual truths are largely found in purpose and work of the Cross-work of Christ. They have spiritual and heavenly applications for all who would believe Paul’s post-Acts message concerning God’s “Mystery of Christ,” the secret plan for the Gentile “body of Christ.”

  • The “faithful” members of the invisible Gentile “body of Christ” today have the eternal destiny of co-reigning with Christ “IN THE HEAVENLY PLACES” forever (Eph. 1:3, Col 3:4, 2Tim. 2:12).
  • By contrast Israel’s believing remnant will ultimately co-reign with Christ in the Millennial Kingdom ON EARTH as the “priests of God.” (Rev. 5:10. 20:6)

Paul’s Warning: Paul warns the believers of being led astray by the “tradition” of man’s religion, philosophies, and the love of the world.

Beware lest any man spoil you [lead you grace-age believers astray] through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of [religious] men, after the rudiments [elements] of the world [Grk. kosmos, ‘the current fallen arrangement’], and NOT after [or ‘not in accord with’] Christ.” Col. 2:8

So, it isn't that Paul has not given us some instructions concerning such temporary things as Israel’s rituals, rites, and ordinancesHe warns us of them. He warns us because Paul knew mankind is religious by nature and we do not want to let go of the hollow, external, religious ‘shadows’ performed in vain. Man’s religion and religious laws are as a false ‘Performance-Based Acceptance System,’ based upon man’s merit, not Christ.

When the Apostle Paul wrote of ritual “shadows” he touched upon problems that have plagued Christendom down through the centuries to this very day. It is clear in the Bible that these visible religious rituals, rites, and ordinances are mere shadows’ symbolizing real spiritual truths. They were performed, without knowing it, in anticipation their fulfillment in substance, in their reality. These shadows and types were all substantively fulfilled in the Person and work of Christ by His Crosswork and resurrection.

Among many others, the two external empty, ritual ‘shadows’ of ‘Water-Baptism’ and ‘the Lord’s Supper’ continue to mislead today’s Christian’s believers.

  1. Water-Baptism. This water ritual has probably caused more strife and division in Christendom than any other. The water-baptism ritual is a mere shadow, with its roots in OT prophecy concerning Israel’s promised holy priesthood in the promised Kingdom to come on earth. It was exclusively Jewish, and originally part and parcel of “the Law” given to Israel. It now has pass off the scene just like any other Biblical shadow.

Water-baptism was never intended to be adopted by Gentiles as some kind of initiatory water-rite into the invisible spiritual church that Paul calls “the church” which is “the body of Christ” (cf. Eph. 1:22b-23a). Naturally then this also means water-baptism cannot be practiced as a witness to the world of the believer's identity with Christ in death, burial, and resurrection as so many believe it is.

John the Baptist’s ‘water-baptism was for Israel unto ‘repentance’ representing the cleansing needed to prepare Israel for its Priestly function, which now will not occur until their Millennial reign with Christ when they have received their Messiah.

(See this 4-Part study at for a fuller explanation)

  1. The so-called ‘Lord's Supper.’ It is incredible how this shadow has trapped and made a spoil of so many who even claim to love ‘right division’ of Scripture. These folks should recognize how that Paul in Acts 28:28 fully turned from Israel in its unbelief to the Gentiles. Christ through Paul then offered a new post-Acts grace-gospel and program based purely upon the finished work of Christ offered to us “by grace through faith alone,” This is largely as seen largely in Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, Paul’s post-Acts Prison epistles. Acts 28:28 represented the climax of “the fall” of the national Israel and spiritual life of ancient Israel.

Yet, many Christians today still needlessly take their ‘Lord's Supper’ as a show-piece ritual “shadow” given to Israel, in anticipation of the Lord’s promised return to earth, which will be the fulfillment of Israel’s kingdom hope on earth. They point to 1Cor. 11:24 where Paul was still going to the neophyte “Jews first,” to whom Jesus gave such instruction in the upper room. Most Christians either simply don’t know of or they deny the heavenly hope of the members of the spiritual “body of Christ” in the resurrection.

It was only after the Acts period that Paul received the capstone of all revelation as contained in his post-Acts Prison Epistles whereby all of religion’s rituals, rites, and laws were eliminated. Many warnings concerning these external ritual practices are found in these epistles of Paul as “the Apostle to the Gentiles” (Rom. 11:13). Paul presents a substantive new paradigm, or standard for Christians living… totally apart from Israel’s Law & performance program. Paul warned;

Beware lest any man spoil you [lead you grace-age believers astray] through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of [religious] men, after the rudiments [elements] of the world [Grk. kosmos, ‘the current fallen arrangement’], and NOT after [or ‘not in accord with the truth of’] Christ.” Col. 2:8

Just before the end of the Acts period Paul had already written; “… ye are not under the law, but under grace.” Romans 6:14b (KJV). Paul explains how Jesus by His cross was thereby;

“… Blotting out the Handwriting of Ordinances [decree] that was against us, which was contrary to us, and Took It Out Of The Way, Nailing It To His Cross; 15 And having spoiled [overthrown the] principalities and powers [the Satanic “rulers of this world Eph. 6:14],

“he [Jesus Christ] made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. 16 Let no man therefore judge you in [external performance laws concerning] meat [foods], or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: 17 Which are a SHADOW OF THINGS TO COME; but the body [the genuine substance] is of Christ.” Colossians 2:14-17