Some time back now, I wrote an article on the Sabbath from my less-than-new covenant viewpoints of the time. I unfortunately removed that article not long ago, and no longer have it to reference to. However, I’m turning a new page in my journey tonight; this is how I came to believe that the Sabbath means something much, much greater than I ever imagined before.
It all began when somebody read somebody else’s book and told somebody else about what they had read. As it happened, the last somebody in that chain of events happened to be my fiance. In passing one afternoon she happened to mention what she had heard–essentially that since we can find rest in Jesus, Sabbath as a day is irrelevant now. At least, that is the gist of it as well as I can remember now. I utterly rejected it.
You should understand that I hadn’t begun to study new covenant at that point–hadn’t even begun to think that there could be something amiss in my view of things. It was a predictably defensive, Adventist response that I gave to this new idea about my precious Sabbath. Even after beginning to understand the new covenant more, and even after really starting to get a revelation of grace, I was still in a fog about the Sabbath. But one night it just hit me like a hundred-pound hammer.
Sabbath started after creation, in Genesis 2:3; God looked at everything he had created, saw that it was fantabulous, and sat down to take a commemorative breather (as if God ever needed a breather), and he declared the day holy. But actually, we don’t see this day called ‘Sabbath’, (or shabbath in the original Hebrew) until Exodus 16:23-29. And what was going on here you ask? The Israelites were complaining again; they didn’t have anything to eat. So God sent them quail, and manna from Heaven. For five days they gathered only what they could eat in a day–if they kept it over, maggots got into it. But on the sixth day Moses commanded them to gather twice as much manna, enough to last two days. When the people asked what this meant, he gave them a command from the Lord: “Tomorrow will be a day of complete rest, a holy Sabbath day set apart for the Lord.” (Exodus 16:23) They ate what they wanted on the sixth day and saved the rest over for the Sabbath, and what they saved on the sixth day didn’t spoil. On the seventh day, no manna came.
The Israelites were in a perfect position to learn that God’s goodness is new every morning, as new as the manna. But some went out on the Sabbath to collect more anyway, and God said,
“How long will these people refuse to obey my commands and instructions? They must realize that the Sabbath is the Lord’s gift to you. That is why he gives you a two-day supply on the sixth day, so there will be enough for two days.” (Exodus 16:28-29)
God said it himself, the Sabbath was a gift to the Israelites. Why? So that they could rest from their work. So that they could chill out, munch on some day-old manna and just rest in the goodness of God.
After this, the next mention of the Sabbath is in Exodus 20:8-11 when God includes it in the ten commandments. Further instruction is found later along, and not only does God give a weekly Sabbath, but others as well; for instance, every seventh year they were to live off the produce they had stored up, leaving their fields unplanted, so that the land itself could have a Sabbath rest for a year. Sabbath in the old covenant is pretty in-depth, but I’m not going to cover it too thoroughly.
One point, however, is important. The next mention of the Sabbath in Exodus after the giving of the ten commandments comes in Exodus 31. Moses was still on the mountain, and God was settling the terms of the old covenant with him. God had just finished giving him all the instruction to build the earthly tabernacle–the place where the old covenant priesthood would minister. Then God seals the deal with final instruction about the Sabbath. Let’s take a look at that:
12 The Lord then gave these instructions to Moses: 13 “Tell the people of Israel: ‘Be careful to keep my Sabbath day, for the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant between me and you from generation to generation. It is given so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy. 14 You must keep the Sabbath day, for it is a holy day for you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; anyone who works on that day will be cut off from the community. 15 You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day must be a Sabbath day of complete rest, a holy day dedicated to the Lord. Anyone who works on the Sabbath must be put to death. 16 The people of Israel must keep the Sabbath day by observing it from generation to generation. This is a covenant obligation for all time. 17 It is a permanent sign of my covenant with the people of Israel. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day he stopped working and was refreshed.’”
18 When the Lord finished speaking with Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, written by the finger of God.
– Exodus 31:12-18
The Sabbath was not just another commandment; it was central to the old covenant. And it was a serious deal; anyone working on the Sabbath got the death penalty, and in Numbers 15:32-36 we find the first account of someone being stoned for breaking the Sabbath–by gathering sticks. But let’s not leave off Exodus just yet.
In verses 13, 16 and 17 of the above passage, God explains to Moses that the Sabbath is the sign of the old covenant, and that it is an obligation for all time. And at the end of 17 he throws in another reminder about what the Sabbath is all about – rest and refreshment. Then in verse 18 he wrapped it up and handed the terms of the covenant–the stone tablets with the ten commandments written on them–over to Moses.
It is important to remember (though not as relevant to this post) that the ten commandments were the terms of the old covenant, therefore when the old covenant was done away with, the ten commandments were too, as part of this package deal that God just handed over to Moses at the end of Exodus 31.
Let’s jump for a moment over to Colossians 2:11-17. We’re going to get back to Exodus in a little while, but first let’s take a look at some new-covenant teaching, courtesy of Paul:
11 When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. 12 For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.
13 You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. 14 He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. 15 In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.
16 So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. 17 For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality.
– Colossians 2:11-17
First, Paul recaps what happened when the Colossians accepted Christ and began living under the new covenant; they came to Christ, he cut away their sinful nature in a spiritual act of circumcision (the symbol of this is baptism rather than physical circumcision, as Paul goes on the explain in verse 12 and 13). Then in verse 14 he explains that Christ canceled the record of the charges against us (more on this in future posts) and nailed it to the cross. But the part that is most important for the moment is verses 16 and 17. Paul goes on to say that “these rules (the holy days, new moon ceremonies and Sabbaths) are only shadows of the reality yet to come.” And what is that reality? Jesus Christ. It is interesting to note that this passage is the last time the Sabbath is mentioned in the Bible–by pointing toward Jesus as the real Sabbath.
Everything in the old covenant was a shadow of a better counterpart in the new covenant (Hebrews 9 and 10:1-18). The earthly tabernacle that God instructed Moses to build back in Exodus was just a shadow of the heavenly sanctuary. The offerings the priests ministered with were only shadows of Christ’s once-for-all offering. And the feasts, holidays and Sabbath days were a shadow of Jesus himself.
Let’s just spend a moment to recap. The Sabbath was given by God so that the Israelites would have assurance of rest from their work–rest assured. It was a symbol of rest from the very beginning when God rested from his work of creation (Genesis 2:3) and God reminded the Israelites that he gave them the Sabbath day so that they could rest in his provision and goodness (Exodus 16:28-29). The Sabbath was the sign of the old covenant, and obligatory for anyone under the covenant as long as the covenant was in effect; anyone breaking the covenant died.
But if Christ is the true Sabbath, the Sabbath which the old covenant Sabbath was just a shadow of, how does it fit? This is what hit home for me only just recently:
The Sabbath was God’s assurance to the Israelites that they would always have rest from their labor. And now that Jesus Christ has made his once-for-all sacrifice for sin, he is the very embodiment of eternal rest from our labor of earning God’s favor through the work of keeping the law. Christ made it possible for us to rest from our work of earning salvation by offering salvation as a free gift–forever! Now we can rest in God’s goodness and providence forever, trusting to him to take care of our every need, the same way he gave the Israelites manna, new every morning! What an incredible picture of Grace! Jesus himself invites us into his rest:
28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
– Matthew 11:28-30
Jesus was essentially saying, “Come to me all you who are tired out and trying to live up to the perfect requirements of the law, and I’ll give you a new burden–resting your souls in my teaching, humility and gentle heart. It’s an easy burden! All you have to do is accept it; I’ll do the rest!”
And if we don’t accept this rest? The penalty for disregarding the Sabbath was severe–death! How much more the penalty for disregarding Christ, the Lord of the Sabbath, the provider of our ultimate rest from the labor of the old system of law!
Finally, to close:
God’s promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it. 2 For this good news—that God has prepared this rest—has been announced to us just as it was to them. But it did them no good because they didn’t share the faith of those who listened to God. 3 For only we who believe can enter his rest. As for the others, God said,
“In my anger I took an oath:
‘They will never enter my place of rest,’”
even though this rest has been ready since he made the world. 4 We know it is ready because of the place in the Scriptures where it mentions the seventh day: “On the seventh day God rested from all his work.” 5 But in the other passage God said, “They will never enter my place of rest.”
6 So God’s rest is there for people to enter, but those who first heard this good news failed to enter because they disobeyed God. 7 So God set another time for entering his rest, and that time is today. God announced this through David much later in the words already quoted:
“Today when you hear his voice,
don’t harden your hearts.”
– Hebrews 4:1-7
God’s rest is still available in Jesus for you and me–today! And by resting after his work of creation, God assures us that he has the capacity to rest. There is a place of rest in Him, a place planned for us since the beginning of the world. That place of Sabbath rest is found in Jesus. So in the words of King David, “today when you hear his voice,” beckoning you into his eternal rest, “don’t harden your hearts.”
P.S.: Yes, the view that the mark of the beast is Sunday worship and that the remnant church is marked by Saturday worship is blown right out of the water if Jesus is the new-covenant Sabbath.
That’s fine by me 😉