Colossians 2:15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
Christ’s death and resurrection had a three-fold effect on Satan and his demons. First, they were disarmed. Satan can no longer threaten believers with condemnation for breaking the law of God, because Jesus fulfilled the law on our behalf (Matthew 5:17), and paid the penalty for all our sins.
Second, Jesus’ death and resurrection made a public spectacle of Satan and his demons. In Paul’s day, a victorious general was often honored with a parade. His captive enemies marched behind his chariot, now defeated and publicly disgraced. Paul envisioned a parade in heaven, with Jesus as the conquering general, and Satan and his demons a mere spectacle.
Third, Jesus triumphed over Satan and his demons. At first it appeared that Satan triumphed over Jesus. He was stripped, beaten, spat on, crucified and buried. But three days later there was a great reversal, and Jesus emerged victorious over sin, death and the devil. Satan tried to use the cross to overcome Jesus, but Jesus used the cross to overcome Satan.
Colossians 2:16 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.
The New Testament clearly states that the Old Testament law is obsolete (Hebrews 8:13), including the command to observe the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-9). Observing the Sabbath was one of the Ten Commandments, written in stone by the finger of God (Exodus 31:8). But nowhere does the New Testament ever say, obey the Ten Commandments. This is more than a little surprising.
Paul never taught that Christians were allowed to be morally lax. Many of the Old Testament commands are repeated in the New Testament, and must be obeyed. But they are never to serve as the foundation of our relationship with God, which is Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11). We relate to God on the basis of Jesus Christ, not on the basis of our imperfect obedience.
Another surprising difference between the Old and New Testaments is the observance of religious holidays. The early church met together on the first day of the week (1 Corinthians 16:2), but the church did not celebrate Christmas or Easter until many years after the apostles died. Jesus’ death and resurrection should be the cause of rejoicing every day, not just on special days.
Colossians 2:17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
Paul used the idea of a shadow to describe the way the Old Testament relates to Jesus Christ. As the shadow of a tree provides an image of the tree, so the Old Testament provides images of Christ. The New Testament identifies several examples, of which we will consider five.
First, a plague of snakes was afflicting the nation of Israel, and many were dying as a result. So God instructed Moses to make a snake and put it on a pole, so that anyone who looked at it would live (Numbers 21:8). Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life (John 3:14-15), said Jesus. The snake on a pole was a shadow of Christ on the cross, bearing the sins of the world. Jesus is the cure for the snakebite of sin.
Second, over a span of forty years, God gave his people bread from heaven as they wandered in the desert (Exodus 16:4, Joshua 5:12). I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever (John 6:51), said Jesus. The bread from heaven was a shadow of Christ, the bread of life.
Third, the Patriarch Jacob dreamed of a stairway from earth to heaven, with angels going up and down on it (Genesis 28:12). [Y]ou will see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man (John 1:51), said Jesus. Jacob’s stairway to heaven was a shadow of Christ, the only way to God (John 14:6).
Fourth, Jonah spent three days and nights in the belly of a huge fish before he was vomited out on shore (Jonah 1-4). [A]s Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:40), said Jesus. Jonah was a shadow of Christ in his death and resurrection.
Fifth, the final plague on the Egyptians was the death of their firstborn sons (Exodus 12). To save their own sons, God told his people to kill a spotless lamb, and apply the blood to the door frames of their homes. When the death angel came, he saw the blood and passed over them. Likewise, Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed (1 Corinthians 5:7), wrote Paul. The Passover lamb was a shadow of Christ, the Lamb of God.
Colossians 2:23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their . . . harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.
False teachers in Colossae thought that Paul was too easy, and that serious Christians should treat their bodies harshly, as a way of self-control. But Paul was certain this had no value in restraining sensual indulgence. Others have come to the same conclusion.
For example, a fourth century believer tried to escape his lust by living in the desert. How often, when I was living in the desert . . . parched by a burning sun, how often did I fancy myself among the pleasures of Rome! . . . although in my fear of hell I had consigned myself to this prison, where I had no companions but scorpions and wild beasts, I often found myself [thinking] of girls. My face was pale and my frame chilled with fasting; yet my mind was burning with desire, and the fires of lust kept bubbling up before me when my flesh was as good as dead (Saint Jerome, slightly revised).
Others have tried to conquer themselves by fasting forty days, like Jesus Christ (Matthew 4:1-2). But Jesus’ work was unique, and he never required this of his disciples. Christianity is a demanding religion, but it does not require harsh treatment of the body, since that has no value for restraining sensual indulgence.
The best way to grow in holiness is by simply saying yes to Christ and no to sin. Then we should use other means found in the New Testament such as prayer, fellowship and service. Following Christ is difficult enough. We are not allowed to make it harder with our own misguided ideas.
Reflection and Review
How did Jesus defeat Satan?
Should Christians celebrate Christmas?
How should believers grow in holiness?