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 event—the 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?

TRUTH

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 Mo-ed

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).

The Statutes

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.

God's Sabbaths

"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.

God's Festivals

"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.

Access Denied

"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 Word—the 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

The Colossians

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 meaning—a  meaning which everyone would understand—was 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).

The Indictment

"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.

THE GALATIANS

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.

Future Observance

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.

Isaiah

"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.).

Zechariah

"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.).

SUMMARY

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 meanings—past, present, and future—as each relates to the plan of God for the elect and humanity as a whole.

By B. L. Cocherell, file b5w1