INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW TO COMMANDED OBSERVANCES AND HOLY CONVOCATIONS
The Law of Worship
Throughout human history, anyone who has desired to worship God has had to do so within the boundaries of very strict rules and conditions that were set forth by God himself. Any deviation from God's instructions concerning how to worship him was considered a contamination of his worship system and was not accepted as valid worship.
The worship system designed for national Israel was composed of three basic methods of worship:
1. Worship that was required to be performed on behalf of the nation as a whole by the priesthood at the place where God placed his name and presence.
This aspect of worship concerned the making of specific sacrifices and offerings on a daily, weekly, monthly, and annual basis.
2. Worship that was required to be performed by the Israelites with the assistance of the priesthood at the place where God placed his name and presence.
This aspect of worship included mandatory assemblies, offerings, and sacrifices, such as the assembling on the Passover and annual festivals to perform sacrifices and give offerings.
3. Worship that was of a personal nature, which did not require a person to be at the place where God placed his name and presence or to have the participation of the priesthood.
This aspect of worship concerned the national and civil laws that God gave to Israel.
This system of worship governed personal behavior toward God, fellow humans, and God's creation. Specifically, it governed such things as the following:
The School Master
"Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster" (Gal.3:24-25 KJV).
Paul wrote that the sacrificial system performed by the priesthood was the instrument used to bring us to an understanding of the necessity, purpose, and meaning of Christ's sacrifice.
The elect of God have learned the lesson taught by the sacrificial system concerning Jesus Christ, and they have faith that the sacrifice of Christ has been applied to their sins so that they no longer have a need for the sacrificial system to teach them about justification. After baptism, they stand totally justified before God the Father as righteous individuals under the atoning blood of Christ.
A Shadow of Things to Come
"For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law: Which serve as an example and shadow of heavenly things" (Heb.8:4-5 Para.). See also Heb.9:7-10.
At the time the letter to the Hebrews was written, there was still a priesthood officiating in the temple at Jerusalem. However, they and the sacrifices that they offered were only a shadow of what existed in heaven, because Jesus Christ who sacrificed his life for the sins of humanity was sitting at the right hand of God the Father as the high priest.
The writer to the Hebrews stated that, after the advent of Jesus Christ, an earthly priesthood to perform animal sacrifices for personal sin would no longer be necessary for the elect of God, because the sacrifices for personal sin were a shadow of a future eventthe sacrifice of Christ.
Hebrews 10:1-9 KJV
"For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make those that come to offer perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshipers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins" (vs.1-4).
These scriptures prove that there was a need for a perfect sacrifice. The perfect sacrifice of Christ made it possible for an individual to be totally justified by God the Father:
"Wherefore when he comes into the world, he says, Sacrifice and offering you would not, but a body have you prepared me: In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you have had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do your will, O God. Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin you would not, neither have pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; Then said he, Lo, I come to do your will, O God. He takes away the first, that he may establish the second" (vs.5-9).
There is no doubt that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ provided total justification, canceled the first agreement with national Israel, and established a new agreement.
IS THE NEW COVENANT TOTALLY NEW?
Many believe that, because Jesus Christ fulfilled the requirements of the sacrificial system for the forgiveness of sin and justification before God, the totality of the worship system that God established with ancient Israel has been replaced by a completely new and different system that requires no obedience to anything stipulated under the terms and conditions of the agreement with ancient Israel.
Most theologians today contend that there are no references in the New Testament which show that the early church kept or observed the Sabbath, New Moons, or any of the annual observances of God after the death of Christ. They also argue that there are no examples of these observances by the early Church, so there is no need for Christians to observe them today. But is this true, or is there ample proof that the early church kept these days?
The only way to know the truth of God is to prove it from the pages of your own Bible. The apostle Paul was inspired by God to record some vital principles in searching for truth:
"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteous- ness" (2.Tim.3:16 KJV).
All scripture has been given to us by God to help us understand his way and live according to his will.
All who are called to salvation should be willing to be corrected by the word of God and willing to change their attitude and behavior to come into conformity to God's will as it is revealed to them through God's Word.
Another vital principle in searching for truth is found in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 where we are instructed to: "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." The Word of God will prove what the truth is in the matter of the commanded observances and holy convocations, if one is willing to be honest with the word of God as it is presented in the Bible. Therefore, this study presents some of what can be found in the scriptures about the truth of God concerning his commanded observances and holy convocations.
Past, Present, and Future
There is no doubt that God commanded ancient Israel to keep his special days of worship. We know for certain that God said those who refused to keep them would be punished (Deut.30:15-19), and we also know that the Israelites were indeed punished many times, because they did not properly observe these special days of worship (Deut.28).
Of those who attempt to keep the Sabbath, New Moons, and annual observances, only a few understand their true importance. And of these people, there are two different opinions concerning these days: one opinion is that the observance of these days is a requirement for salvation; the other opinion is that there is no harm in observing these days, but their observance is not required for salvation.
These two differing opinions raise some major questions that need to be answered because of their impact upon one's relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ.
This study into the Sabbath, New Moons, and the annual observances of God will answer many vitally important questions about these special days and reveal a new dimension of understanding of God's plan for the salvation of humanity to those who are seriously seeking to worship God.
IN THE BEGINNING
In order to understand the meaning of the commanded observances and holy convocations, it is important to know something about the beginnings of the Sabbaths, New Moons, annual observances, and the sacrifices as they relate to the beginning of God's creation of the earth. Therefore, this study will begin with a review of Genesis 1:14:
"And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons [mo'ed], and for days, and years" (Gen.1:14 KJV). See also Psa.89:34-37; 104:19; Lk.21:25.
The Hebrew word 'mo'ed' is translated into English as 'seasons', which can have the meaning of an 'appointed sign', 'appointed time', 'appointed season', 'place of assembly', or 'a set feast.'
Throughout the Hebrew scriptures, we see that the word 'mo'ed' is associated with the observances that God gave to Israel, and it sometimes appears with the Hebrew word 'hag', which denotes a celebration.
The word 'mo'ed', as used in Genesis 1:14, refers to the holy observances and convocations that God commands to be observed during the year.
The Genesis record reveals the following:
At creation, God gave a method to calculate when to observe his special days. Eventually, he found Cain guilty of violating his law; therefore, it must be logically concluded that Adam and his family had an understanding of at least some of God's special observances, a sacrificial system of worship, and the ten commandments.
The scriptures record that Able was righteous (Matt.23:35; Heb.11:4) because he kept the law of God, and keeping the law of God defines righteousness (Psa.19:7-9; 119:30). We also know that Noah was one of the eight preachers of righteousness (Gen.6:9; 2.Pet.2:5); therefore, it is evident that, before the great flood, the observance and practice of God's law was being taught.
After The Flood
After the great flood, the laws of God were still in effect. God made promises to Abraham because he obeyed and worshiped God according to his commandments, statutes, and laws:
"And in your seed shall all nations of the earth be blessed; Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws" (Gen.26:4-5 KJV).
What are the statutes of God? There is a partial answer to this question in Leviticus 23. Because one of the statutes mentioned in Leviticus 23 concerns the keeping of the annual observances of God, we must conclude that Abraham had knowledge of at least some of these special days.
THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL
Although it is not specifically recorded in the Bible, it is very likely that, before the descendants of Abraham began to live in Egypt, they worshiped God in the same way he didCoffering sacrifices and keeping the other laws of God.
While in Egypt, the Israelites lost most of their knowledge about how to worship God through the offering of sacrifices and the observing of his special days of worship.
As God prepared to free the Israelites from slavery, he revealed the month and the day from which all of his commanded observances were to be calculated. This is important because he gave this information before the Israelites received instructions about the Passover, the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Ten Commandments, or the Sabbath. See Ex.12:1-25; and chapters 19 & 20.
THE INSTRUCTIONS TO NATIONAL ISRAEL
Exodus 29:38-46 shows that, during Moses' first 40 days on Mount Sinai, God gave instructions for the daily sacrificial worship service and placed special significance on the Sabbath, the New Moons, and the annual festivals by requiring additional sacrifices on these special days (Num.chps.28 & 29). By doing this, God revealed that these days are very special to him, and that they are not like any other days of the year. Moreover, it is evident that Israel was required to worship God through the sacrificial system and the observance of these special days during the year.
An Identifying Sign
The Israelites were chosen by God to become an example of righteousness to the world. God gave them his righteous laws to govern their national and individual behavior and he gave them a worship system that was different from all other nations. By their obedience to God's law and their performance of his formal worship system, the Israelites would be set apart from the world and identified as his people.
"And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Speak you also to the children of Israel, saying, Truly my sabbaths you shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that you may know that I am the Lord that does sanctify you" (Ex.31:12-13 KJV).
These Sabbaths are not Israel's Sabbaths, nor are they the Jew's Sabbaths; they are God's Sabbaths. God clearly said, "My sabbaths you shall keep:" These Sabbaths belong to God! They are his! And he requires their observance for a specific purpose. The Hebrew word 'owth' in Exodus 31:13, is translated into the English as 'sign' and it can mean 'a mark', 'a sign', or 'an ensign which is voluntarily accepted', 'a flag', 'a beacon', 'a monument', 'evidence', or 'a token.' The keeping of these Sabbaths by the Israelites was one of the signs that they were the people of the Creator God.
"The Eternal spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, Concerning the feasts of the Eternal, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts" (Lev.23:1-2 Para.).
Again, we see that these are not the feasts of Moses, Israel, or the Jews. These are the festivals of God, which he has proclaimed to be sacred assemblies.
A holy convocation is a commanded sacred assembly, which is to be kept at a time commanded by God. God is the Creator of time and only he can make time holy! Humans neither have the authority nor the power to make a thing holy or to pronounce that something that God has made holy is no longer holy.
"Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the Sabbath of cessation, a holy convocation; you shall do no work therein; It is the Sabbath of the Eternal in all your dwellings. These are the feasts of the Eternal, even holy convocations, which you shall proclaim in their seasons" (Lev.23:3-4 Para.).
Leviticus 23:37 tells us that all of the holy convocations and festivals noted in chapter 23 belong to God and are holy times. The observance of these festivals by the Israelites identified them as belonging to God and being set apart for his divine purpose. See also Num.chps.28 & 29; Deut.chp.16.
"Three times a year all your men must appear before the Lord your God at the place he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles. No man shall appear before the Lord empty-handed: Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the Lord your God has blessed you" (Deut.16:16-17 NIV).
It is clear from the instructions the Creator God gave about his weekly and annual festivals that they were to play a major part in Israel's relationship with him.
A Prophetic Warning
Centuries before the advent of Christ, God issued a prophetic warning to Israel concerning his worship system. He warned them of the time when he would cause the Sabbath, New Moons, and the annual festivals to cease being observed by them, because they worshiped him improperly on these days. For the House of Israel, this cessation began shortly after Hosea's ministry, in about 734 B.C., when they were conquered by foreign powers and scattered throughout the world. For the House of Judah, this formal worship system ended with the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D.:
"And now will I discover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers, and none shall deliver her out of my hand. I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her new moons, and her sabbaths, and all her solemn feasts. And I will destroy her vines and her fig trees, whereof she has said, These are my rewards that my lovers have given me: and I will make them a forest, and the beasts of the field shall eat them" (Hos.2:10-12 KJV).
Although the priesthood performed the offerings and sacrifices with exact precision and the people assembled before God as required, their worship of him was not acceptable because their heart, attitude, and behavior were not righteous. In God's eyes, they were considered sinners and their worship of him was only a pretense of righteousness:
"To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to me? says the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. When you come to appear before me, who has required this at your hand, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination to me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies,. . . it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates: they are a trouble to me; I am weary to bear them. And when you spread forth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you: yes, when you make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow" (Isa.1:11-17 KJV). See also Jer.7:22-24.
"And he has violently taken away his tabernacle, as if it were of a garden: he has destroyed his places of the assembly: the Lord has caused the solemn feasts and sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion, and has despised in the indignation of his anger the king and the priest. The Lord has cast off his altar, he has abhorred his sanctuary, he has given up into the hand of the enemy the walls of her palaces; they have made a noise in the house of the Lord, as in the day of a solemn feast" (Lam.2:6-7 KJV).
Because of their sinful spiritual condition and perversion of his righteous law, God considered their offerings, sacrifices, and assemblies as something foreign to him and he refused to accept their worship of him as valid.
After the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D., there was no longer a place for the priesthood to offer sacrifices and carry out their other duties, and no place for the worshipers of God to assemble for the holy convocations. Therefore many people believe that all things pertaining to the Sabbath, the New Moons, and annual observances are suspended until a new temple can be built. But is this true?
During his ministry, Jesus said that he did not come to destroy the law (Matt.5:17-18) but he came to fulfill it. Jesus kept the Sabbath (Lk.4:16) and the annual festivals (Jn.2:13-33; 4:45; 5:1; 6:4; 7:2,14,37; ch.13) and he says, "I am the light of the world: he that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life" (Jn.8:12 KJV).
To follow Christ means more than just believing that he exists and that what he said is true; it also means doing the things he said to do (Matt.15:7-8; Lk.6:43-46).
THE PEOPLE OF THE NEW COVENANT AND THEIR EARLY HISTORY
Can it be shown from the Bible that, after Christ's death and resurrection, those who were called Christians were observing God's Special Days?
Does history record the apostles and others of the early Church at Jerusalem keeping the annual observances? In his book From Sabbath To Sunday, Dr. Bacchiocchi writes the following concerning the observance of the festivals by the early church:
"Luke reports that among the many Jewish converts, there were a great many of the priests [who] were obedient to the faith' (Acts 6:7). F. A. Regan well notes that: 'Luke gives no hint that their conversion in any way conflicted with the adherence to the Old Law.' In fact, it is possible, as suggested by B. Bagatti, that: 'they naturally continued to exercise their ministry.' Their ministry may well have been needed, in view of the fact that, as Luke relates, there were 'many thousands among the Jews of those who believed' (Acts 21:20). It seems plausible to identify these converted priests with the 'Elders' who assisted James and the apostles in the administration of the Church (Acts 15:4,22-23; 16:4; 20:17-18)" (p.142).
F. F. Bruce advances the hypothesis that 'there may have been seventy of them, constituting a sort of Nazarene Sanhedrin, with James as their president.' This information provided by Luke reveals that the Jerusalem Church not only was composed mostly of Jewish converts but possibly was even administered by ex-priests according to the familiar Jewish model of the Sanhedrin. Their basic attitude toward Jewish religious observances is best expressed by Luke's terse statement: 'they are all zealous for the law' (Acts 21:20)."
In "La Chiesa dei Giudeo-Cristiani", Lino Randellini writes that the Jerusalem Church was composed for an indeterminate time period of circumcised Hebrews who appeared as: "a sect within Judaism. They frequented the temple, celebrated the feasts, observed the Sabbath and fastings, submitted themselves to legal prescription and had their children circumcised" (p.27).
"This excessive attachment of the Jerusalem Church to Jewish religious customs may perhaps perplex the Christian who regards the Mother Church of Christendom as the ideal model of his religious life. One must not forget, however, that Christianity sprang up out of the roots and trunk of Judaism. The early Jewish converts viewed the acceptance of Christ, not as the destruction of their religious framework, but rather, as the fulfillment of their Messianic expectations, which enhanced their religious life with a new dimension.
"The foregoing analysis of the New Testament sources regarding the Jerusalem Church has firmly established that the primitive Christian community there was composed primarily of and administered by converted Jews who retained a deep attachment to Jewish religious customs, such as Sabbath-keeping. It is therefore impossible to assume that a new day of worship was introduced by the Jerusalem Church prior to the destruction of the city in A.D. 70. We might add that in view of the enormous influence exerted on the Church by the Jewish Christian leadership and membership, it would have been practically impossible for any Church anywhere to introduce Sunday observance prior to A.D. 70" (Ibid. Bacchiocchi).
W. D. Davies, a well-recognized specialist on early Christianity, concisely summarizes the religious situation of the time:
"Everywhere, especially in the east of the Roman Empire, there would be Jewish Christians whose outward way of life would not be markedly different from that of the Jews. They took for granted that the gospel was continuous with Judaism; for them the new covenant [the agreement with the elect of God], which Jesus had set up at the Last Supper with his disciples and had sealed by his death, did not mean that the covenant made between God and Israel was no longer in force. They still observed the feasts of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles; they also continued to be circumcised, to keep the weekly Sabbath and the Mosaic regulations concerning food. According to some scholars, they must have been so strong that right up to the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, they were the dominant element in the Christian movement."
From the above historical review it is obvious that the early Church was observing the Sabbath, the New Moons, and the annual observances.
A Plan For Humanity
God has a plan and a purpose for humanity and he has revealed it through his inspired Wordthe Holy Bible. Although the Bible is the most widely distributed book in the world and has been translated into more languages than any other book, most people do not know or recognize God's plan and purpose.
One of the reasons that so few understand God's Plan for humanity is their unwillingness to obey God and keep his law. However, it is through the keeping of the law, the weekly Sabbath, New Moons, and the annual observances that God reveals much of his plan and purpose for humanity.
The Keeping of the Law
The law of God is the love of God codified for all of his creationCphysical and spiritual. The keeping of this law brings one into harmony with God the Father and Jesus Christ (Rom.5:5; 1.Jn.4:5-7; 5:1-3).
The Psalmist shows that the way to have and develop wisdom and a good understanding of the Father and Jesus Christ and their plan for humanity is to respect and love the law of God enough to obey, study, and meditate upon it:
"The fear of the Eternal is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have they that do his commandments. . ." (Psa.111:10 KJV).
"You through your commandments have made me wiser than my enemies: for they [God's Commandments] are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers . . .I understand more than the ancients, because I have kept your precepts" (Psa.119:98-100 KJV).
"Blessed is the man that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law does he meditate day and night" (Psa.1:1-2 KJV).
The Early Church and Knowledge
Those of the early New Testament Church had the knowledge and understanding of God's plan and purpose for humanity:
"Wherein he has abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; Having made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he [God the Father] has purposed in himself" (Eph.1:8-9 KJV).
"Which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it is now revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the spirit; . . .And to make all [those who are called] see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world has been hid in God, who created all things through Jesus Christ; To the intent that now . . . might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus Our Lord" (Eph.3:5-11 KJV).
Paul's Instructions To Timothy
"And that from a child you have known the holy scriptures, which are able to make you wise to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and profitable for doctrine [teaching and knowledge], for reproof, [conviction of mind], for correction, for instruction in righteousness [right living before God]: That the man of God may be [become] perfect [spiritually mature in knowledge and conduct], thoroughly furnished to all good works" (2.Tim.3:15-17).
Preach the Word
"I charge you therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ. . .Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season . . ." (2.Tim.4:1-2 KJV).
It is obvious that Paul was instructing Timothy to be diligent in teaching the truth of God. But, what did he refer to when he spoke of the seasons? Was he just making reference to teaching what was not popular at that time or to the continuance of teaching throughout the year? Actually, Paul was referring to the annual observances of God that fall within the Spring, Summer, and Fall harvest seasons of the year. He was also referring to the spiritual understanding that is attached to these festivals.
THE SABBATH, NEW MOONS, ANNUAL OBSERVANCES, AND THE EARLY CHURCH
When the subject of the Sabbath, New Moons, and the annual observances is discussed, many people who believe it is unnecessary to observe these days will quote Colossians 2:16 as proof of this belief. But, does this scripture indicate that these observances are no longer to be kept, or does it actually substantiate the necessity to observe them?
In order to understand Colossians 2:16, the context in which it was written must be considered. When the meaning of this verse is truly understood, it is clear that the Colossians who were Gentile Christians were actually keeping the weekly Sabbath, the New Moons, and the annual observances.
"To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Col.1:2 KJV).
Paul's letter to the Colossians is not one of correction, it is one of praise and encouragement. The elect at Colosse were faithful in what they had been taught and were living their lives in compliance with the law of God.
"I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is. So then, just as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world, rather than on Christ" (Col.2:4-8 NIV).
Here, we see Paul warning the Colossians to be aware of those who may attempt to destroy their faith with clever lies and arguments. Paul also praises the Colossians for their obedience to the teachings of Christ and their stability in the faith.
In verses 11-13, Paul says that they have been set free from their sinful self and their evil desires by a spiritual operation that causes a change of heart through baptism, not by the physical operation of circumcision. Through baptism, the old evil nature of a person dies and is buried with Christ. Because the Colossians trusted in the Father who raised Christ from the dead, they also came up out of death with him into a new life.
This is the key to understanding the rest of the chapter. Paul says that, at one time, the Colossians were spiritually dead because of their sins, and their sinful desires were not cut away. But, after the sacrifice of Christ, God gave them a share in the very life of Christ and forgave their sins.
With the knowledge that the primary topic of Colossians 2:14-16 is personal sin and how it is forgiven, what Paul said in relationship to the Sabbath, New Moons, annual observances, and other laws of God becomes clear.
COLOSSIANS 2:14 KJV & LBP
"Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross" (KJV).
"And blotted out the charges proved against you, the list of his commandments which you had not obeyed. He took this list of sins and destroyed it by nailing it to Christ's cross" (LBP).
This verse shows that God has blotted out the charges proved against them and canceled the unfavorable record of their debt (i.e., their transgressions of his law) or the list of his commandments that had been violated. He took this record or list and destroyed it by nailing it to the cross where personal sin and its penalty was erased through the sacrifice of Christ.
This scripture is clearly explained by the Scottish Bible scholar, William Barclay, in his book, The Letters to the Philippians and Colossians:
"So the ordinances that were blotted out here were the charge-list of your sins and nothing more. This charge-list was based on the ordinances of the law. Almost all great teachers have thought in pictures, and here Paul uses a series of vivid pictures to show what God in Christ has done for men. The intention is to show that Christ has done all that can be done and all that need be done, and that there is no need to bring in any other intermediaries for the full salvation of men. There are three main pictures here (Barclay).
From Death To Life
"Men were dead in their sins. They had no more power than dead men, either to overcome sin or to atone for it. Jesus Christ by his work has liberated men both from the power and from the consequences of sin. He has given them a life so new that it can only be said that he has raised them from the dead. Further, it was the old belief that only the Jews were dear to God, but this saving power of Christ has come even to the uncircumcised Gentile. The work of Christ is a work of power, because it put life into dead men; it is a work of grace, because it reached out to those who had no reason to expect the benefits of God (Barclay).
The List Of Our Sins
"But the picture becomes even more vivid. As the Authorized Version has it, Jesus Christ blotted out the handwriting of ordinances which was against us. As we have translated it, he wiped out the charge-list which set out all our self-admitted debts, a charge-list based on the ordinances of the law. There are two Greek words here on which the whole picture depends (Barclay).
The Word 'Cheirographon'
"The word for handwriting or charge-list is CHEIROGRAPHON. It literally means an autograph; but its technical meaninga meaning which everyone would understandwas a note that was hand signed by a debtor acknowledging his indebtedness. It was almost exactly what we call an I.O.U. Men's sins had piled up a vast list of debts to God and it could be said that men definitely acknowledged that debt. More than once the Old Testament shows the children of Israel hearing and accepting the laws of God and calling down curses on themselves should they fail to keep them. Men were in debt to God because of their sins and they knew it. There was a self-confessed indictment against them, a charge-list which, as it were, they themselves had signed and admitted as accurate (Barclay).
The Word 'Exaleiphein'
"The word for wiping out is the Greek verb EXALEIPHEIN. To understand that word is to understand the amazing mercy of God. The substance on which ancient documents were written was either papyrus, a kind of paper made of the pith of the bulrush, or vellum, a substance made of the skins of animals. Both were fairly expensive and certainly could not be wasted. Ancient ink had no acid in it; it lay on the surface of the paper and did not, as modern ink usually does, bite into it. Sometimes a scribe, to save paper, used papyrus or vellum that had already been written upon. When he did that, he took a sponge and wiped the writing out. Because it was only on the surface of the paper, the ink could be wiped out as if it had never been. God, in his amazing mercy, banished the record of our sins so completely that it was as if it had never been; not a trace remained (Barclay).
"Paul goes on. God took that indictment, the list of sins, and nailed it to the cross of Christ. It used to be said that in the ancient world when a law or an ordinance was canceled, it was fastened to a board and a nail was driven clean through it. But it is doubtful if that was the case and if that is the picture here. Rather it is this: on the cross of Christ, the indictment that was against us was itself crucified. It was executed and put clean out of the way, so that it might never be seen again. Paul seems to have searched human activity to find a series of pictures which would show how completely God in his mercy destroyed the condemnation that was against us.
"Here indeed is grace. And that new era of grace is further underlined in another rather obscure phrase. The charge-list had been based on the ordinances of the law. Before Christ came, men were under law, and they broke it because no man can perfectly keep it". End of quote from William Barclay's "Letters to the Philippians and Colossians" (Barclay).
Because the Father has forgiven us and canceled the debt that was against us (forgiving our sins), he has taken away Satan's power to accuse us of sin. He openly displays to the whole world Christ's triumph at the cross where he sacrificed himself for our sins.
The reality is that Christ came to die in order to erase our sins and their penalty. Therefore, our sins are the only things that were nailed to the cross with Jesus Christ.
LET NO MAN JUDGE YOU
"Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holyday or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days. . ." (Col.2:16 KJV).
The word 'judge' is the English translation of the Greek word 'kreeno', which can also be rendered 'condemn', 'punish', 'damn', or 'call into question'. None of these meanings infer doing away with anything.
Because verse 16 is difficult to understand when taken out of context, some people try to use it to prove that no one needs to keep the Sabbath, the New Moons, or the annual observances.
The Williams and Beck translations of verse 16 make Paul's meaning more clear than the King James version:
"Stop letting anyone pass judgment on you in matters of eating and drinking or in the matter of annual or monthly feasts or Sabbaths" (Williams).
"Nobody should say you are wrong in what you eat or drink or do on a festival or the first of the month or on a Sabbath" (Beck).
There is no correction here from Paul. He simply advises them not to give any credibility to what people say about the way they conduct themselves during their observance of God's special days. He also tells them that they should continue doing what they had been doing on the Sabbaths, New Moons, and festival days. In other words, he advises them to continue to observe these days the way they had been instructed from the beginning.
Grammatical, Linguistic, And Theological Proof
In his book From Sabbath to Sunday, Dr. Bacchiocchi gives the grammatical, linguistic, and theological evidence that proves the weekly Sabbaths and the annual observances are noted in Colossians 2:16:
"The sacred times are referred to as a Festival or a New Moon or a Sabbath, Colossians 2:16. The unanimous consensus of commentators is that these three words represent a logical and progressive sequence (annual, monthly and weekly) as well as an exhaustive enumeration of the sacred times. This view is validated by the occurrence of these terms, in similar or reverse sequence, five times in the Septuagint and several times in other literature. There is, however, an exceptional occurrence in Isaiah 1:13-14, where the "new moon" is found at the beginning of the enumeration rather than in the middle, but an exception does not invalidate a common usage.
"It is a fact that both the Sabbath and the Day of Atonement in Hebrew are designated by the compound expression "sabbath shabbathon," meaning "a sabbath of solemn rest" (Ex.31:15; 35:2; Lev.23:3,32; 16:31). But this phrase is rendered in the Septuagint by the compound Greek word which is different from the simple Greek expression found in Colossians 2:16. It is therefore linguistically impossible to interpret the latter as a reference to the Day of Atonement or to any other ceremonial sabbaths, since these are never designated as sabbath days.
"The cited commentary rests in its interpretation, however, not on the grammatical and linguistic use of the word 'sabbath days' but rather on a theological interpretation of the Sabbath as related to 'shadow' in Colossians 2:17. It is argued that the weekly Sabbath is a memorial of an event at the beginning of earth's history . . . hence the 'sabbath days' Paul declares to be shadows pointing to Christ cannot refer to the weekly Sabbath . . .but must indicate the ceremonial rest days that reach their realization in Christ and his Kingdom.
"To determine the meaning of a word exclusively by theological assumptions, rather than by linguistic or contextual evidences, is against the canons of Biblical hermeneutics. Moreover even the theological interpretation which the Adventist commentary gives to the Sabbath is hard to justify, since we have seen that the Sabbath can legitimately be regarded as the 'shadow' or fitting symbol of the present and future blessing of salvation. Furthermore we have noticed that the term 'shadow' is used not in a pejorative sense, as a label for worthless observances which have ceased their function, but to qualify their role in relationship to the 'body of Christ.' Another significant indication pointing against annual ceremonial sabbaths is the fact that these are already included in the word 'festival' and if 'sabbath' meant the same thing, there would be a needless repetition. These indications compellingly show that the word 'sabbath' as used in Colossians 2:16 cannot refer to any of the annual ceremonial sabbaths" (pp.358-360).
Because the weekly Sabbaths, the New Moons, and the annual observances are all mentioned in Colossians 2:16, if any one of these days is canceled by what is written in verse 16, they all must be canceled. However, there is ample proof that none of them has been canceled.
A Shadow of Things to Come
"Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ" (Col.2:16-17 KJV).
The sacrifices that were made for the forgiveness of sin foreshadowed the coming of Jesus Christ who would become the perfect sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin. Because the sacrifices were shadows (i.e., symbolic and prophetic) of a future event, the annual festivals, New Moons, and Sabbaths on which these sacrifices were made must also have a symbolic and prophetic meaning.
As with the sacrifices for sin, these observances symbolically and prophetically point to people, places, events, and times in God's plan for the salvation of humanity.
The New American Bible Translation of Colossians 2:17 more clearly reveals what Paul said concerning the annual festivals, New Moons, and the Sabbaths being shadows of things to come:
"Things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ."
The Sabbaths, New Moons, and annual observances do indeed picture future events that will happen on earth. For example, the Sabbath is symbolic of eternal rest (Heb.4:9). Although God's special observances are shadows of things to come, the reality of these things are expressed in Christ.
The Body is of Christ
"Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ" (Col.2:16-17 KJV).
There are two possible meanings for the second part of Colossians 2:17:
1. In order to inherit what is to come, one must go through Christ, because it is actually through his sacrifice that our sins are forgiven. In the William's version of the Bible, this verse is translated: "The reality belongs to Christ." It is through Jesus Christ that one can inherit the future, not these special observances .
However, the fact remains that Paul and the apostles all observed these days. From Colossians chapters 1 and 2, it can be proved beyond a doubt that Paul and the non-Jewish Christians at Colosse were observing these days.
2. In the original Greek, the word 'is' is not included in the phrase "but the body is of Christ" as it is in the King James Translation of Colossians 2:17. The meaning of this phrase is contained in its Greek idiomatic meaning"but let the body of Christ [judge you]."
The Colossians were not to pay any attention to those outside of the body of Christ in reference to their observance of God's commanded observances, because those outsiders had no part in the body of Christ; therefore, they were not worthy to judge or condemn the Colossians.
A Brief Review
Let us briefly review what we have learned from Colossians 2:14-17:
From the facts presented, Colossians 2:16 does not show that the Sabbaths, New Moons, or annual observances have been done away with; rather, it supports their observance by the elect of God.
Besides the false assumption that Colossians 2:16-17 shows that the Sabbaths, the New Moons, and the annual observances have been done away with, there is a belief that Galatians 4:10 is also evidence that the early church was instructed not to observe these special days and to abandon any ties to the agreement that God had with national Israel before the advent of Jesus Christ:
"But now, after that you have known God, or after you are known of God, how turn you again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereby you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain" (Gal.4:9-11 KJV).
Is Paul speaking of the Sabbaths, the New Moons, and the annual observances, or is he speaking of a pagan worship system?
What Paul says in Galatians 4:9-11 should be viewed in the context of the first 8 verses of chapter 4, in order to understand that he is actually speaking of the Galatians' former religious belief system.
In verses 1-6, Paul speaks of the Galatians' redemption from sin and their conversion and elevation to sonship in the Family of God. Verses 7-8 hold the key to understanding verses 9-10:
"Therefore you are no more a slave, but a son; and if a son, also an heir of God through Christ. But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served as slaves to the ones which by nature are not gods" (vs.7-8 Para.).
Verse 7 shows us that they came out of slavery and became sons of God the Father. The question is what were they slaves to before becoming sons of God? Verse 8 clearly shows that, before becoming sons of God, the Galatians were in slavery to false gods.
It is important to understand that, besides the Gentiles, there were also Jews who were involved in Gnosticism, mysticism, and the occult, and that some of these Jews worshiped evil spirits, the heavenly bodies, and other things that God forbids to be worshiped. To the Corinthians Paul says, "The things the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to devils, and not to God. . ." (1.Cor.10:20).
Then, as today, there were many religious practices that were in opposition to God's system of worship. Paul admonished the Galatians to stop their involvement in these practices, because some of the Galatians were returning to their former pagan religious practices after they had been freed from them through the sacrifice of Christ. Paul uses such strong language in verse 10, because continued participation in these practices by the Galatians would lead to their eternal death:
"But now, after that you have known God, or rather you are known of God, how turn you again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereby you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain" (Gal.4:9-11 KJV).
There is absolutely nothing in this admonition to the Galatians about the observance of the Sabbaths, New Moons, or the annual observances of God.
PAUL TAUGHT GOD'S LAW
"Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ" (1.Cor.11:1 NIV).
There is no question that the apostle Paul respected many of the laws that were in the original agreement between God and national Israel, because these laws still had value for the elect of God during his lifetime. For example, he worshiped on the Sabbath with Jews and Greeks (Acts 18:4,9; 17:1-2; 10,17), he spent the days of Unleavened Bread at Philippi (Acts 20:1-6), he wanted to be in Jerusalem to observe the Feast of Pentecost (Acts 20:16), he made a Nazarite vow at Cenchrea (Acts 18:18), he purified himself at the temple to prove that he lived in obedience to God's law (Acts 21:24), and he had Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:3).
It is clear that Paul taught the law of God, including the keeping of the Sabbaths, New Moons, and the annual observances to all those to whom he ministered. However, it is also clear that Paul did not teach that these practices were a means to obtain salvation. He denounced anyone who did preach this. Paul understood that salvation comes not by works, but by the forgiveness of our sins through the blood of Jesus Christ, which was shed for our sins.
To be Observed Forever
"Behold, I am building a house to the name of the Lord my God, to dedicate to him, to burn incenses of sweet spices before him, and for the continual setting out of the consecrated bread, and for burnt offerings morning and evening, on the Sabbaths, and on the new moons, and at the set feasts of the Lord our God. This shall be upon Israel forever" (2.Chron.2:4 Para.). See also Deut.6:1-2; 2.Chron.8:12-13; 31:3-7; Ezk.3:4-5; Neh.10:33.
All of the things that Solomon mentions as being a part of God's worship system must be performed forever. A review of the worship system that will be instituted after the return of Jesus Christ will clearly show that the sacrifices, Sabbaths, New Moons, and annual observances, which Solomon spoke of, will again be a necessary part of worship and fellowship with God.
There are many scriptures that foretell that God's commanded observances will be observed after the return of Christ as conquering King. Below are two texts which show beyond doubt that observance of these days will be required after the government of God is established on earth.
"For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, says the Lord, so shall your seed and your name remain. And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, says the Lord" (Isa.66:22-23 Para.).
"And it shall come to pass, that everyone that is left of all nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of shelters. And it shall be, that whoever of all the families of the earth who will not come to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, even upon them shall be no rain. And if the family of Egypt does not come, they will have no rain; there shall be the plague, wherewith the Lord will smite the heathen that come not up to keep the feast of shelters. This shall be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all nations that come not up to keep the feast of shelters" (Zech.14:16-19 Para.).
Historians who research the early Christian Church find that the apostles and the early Church practiced the observance of the Sabbaths, New Moons, and the annual festival days and observances until this church disappeared from recorded history. But why did they observe these days, especially when they were persecuted for doing so? Their observance of these days makes no logical sense, unless these practices were required under their agreement with God.
Is there something of which the apostles and the early Church were not aware that would eliminate the need for children of God to keep these observances today? What new truth have theologians of today found that would allow one to cast aside the teachings of Christ and the apostles in regard to these observances? There are no satisfactory answers to these two questions. An honest search of the Bible will reveal that God's commanded observances have not been canceled or suspended.
Because the observance of these days was required prior to and during the life of Christ, were observed by the early church, and will be required when the God Family rules the earth, they must not have been canceled or suspended. Therefore, it should be obvious that, in this age of the church, the children of God should also be observing these special days.
The Wise Shall Understand
The Prophet Daniel wrote of a future time when all types of knowledge would be increased, including the knowledge of God:
"And he said, Go your way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed until the time of the end . . . but the wise shall understand" (Dan.12:9-10 KJV).
This prophecy is now being fulfilled; the wise (the elect of God) are now being given understanding, and a part of this understanding is knowing the meaning of God's commanded observances as they pertain to his awesome plan for the salvation of humanity.
In the following pages, we will review each of God's commanded observances and explain their meaningspast, present, and futureas each relates to the plan of God for the elect and humanity as a whole.
By B. L. Cocherell, file b5w1