In his commentary on Leviticus, Ephraim Radner points out (cf. pp 290-314) that God’s movements through history leave a wake in time like a ship through water. These wake lines point toward the world as it was intended to be, and of course, toward the wake-Maker. The chart of the trail of Christ’s actions is portended in Genesis 1:14, listed in Leviticus 23, redrawn in the book of Revelation, and fulfilled in ink across the pages of Scripture from start to finish.
Certainly, one would prefer a full-color picture to a monochromatic profile, but if the faithful enactment of scriptural instruction once portrayed Christ, they cannot cease to do so. He was, and remains, the body that produced the shadows. We note in passing that the word translated “substance” is soma, most commonly translated from Greek into English as “body.”
Too often we read this verse as if Paul meant, “let no on pass judgment on you if you ignore Scripture’s instruction regarding food and drink, festivals, a new moon, or a Sabbath.” The very idea is preposterous, but we do it nevertheless.
So what is Paul saying here? It is probably easiest to understand him as saying, “Don’t miss the forest for the trees!”
We ought to note that at the time Paul wrote there was no one—let me say that again, no one—suggesting Sabbath had been done away with, that pigs could be eaten, or that assembling together could be forsaken.
What was happening is that there was a wide variety of ways in which those commandments for life were put into practice. There were at least four competing calendars at the time, so just the topic of when a festival should be observed would have been a hotly contested debate between former Sadducees and former Pharisees, not to mention between Gentiles converted by Peter versus former disciples of John the Baptizer.
So the next time you read Colossians 2:16-17 remember that the question of judgement is about how not about if, you follow God’s instructions.