I believe the Sabbath can only be properly understood if you study the covenants. I've spent hours and hours over the last couple months studying how it all fit together and what it was intended for. I was very surprised by what I found. These are my thoughts on the matter and some of the things I've come across in my studies.
The seventh day of creation
Genesis 2:1-3 - “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.”
I won't say much on this, but here are a couple thoughts. First, it says that God rested because He finished His work of creation. It doesn't say man rested or that God commanded man to rest. Adam & Eve were created just hours before. What would they have had to “rest” from? Second, in the other 6 days of creation, Moses (the author) used the same wording at the end of each day - “And the evening and the morning were the (first, second, etc.) day.” It's interesting to note that he doesn't include that on the last today. Is it possible that the atmosphere/environment of that day would have been a continual state of being for Adam & Eve had they not sinned? They weren't given “work” until after sin – Gen. 3:17-19. There was nothing standing between them & God so they could have perfect communion with Him.
The first mention of the Sabbath
The first time the Sabbath was specifically referred to is in Exodus 16. Adventists use this passage to show that the Sabbath was given before the rest of the law. The Israelites were griping & complaining about God leading them out in the wilderness. God decides to test them to see if they will obey Him. In Ex. 16:4, God tells Moses that He is going to send manna “that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no.” He gives specific instructions regarding the manna & tells them not to gather any on the Sabbath. He is testing them. Verse 23 says “To morrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the Lord....” Moses then explains what that entails in verses 25 & 26 - “Eat that to day; for to day is a sabbath unto the Lord: to day ye shall not find it in the field. Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none.” Some of the people obeyed & others did not. God reprimanded Moses who passed the message on to the Israelites. Verse 29 & 30 - “See, for that the Lord hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day. So the people rested on the seventh day.”
That is the first account of the Sabbath. It occurred about 2500 years after creation. Moses had to explain to the Israelites what it was and what God required of them. It has been argued that God is only reintroducing the Sabbath here & that His people had been keeping it since creation, but there is no mention of that in the Bible whatsoever. It is based on pure assumption. If we let the Bible speak for itself and not try to make it fit our theology, then this seems to be the first time the “Sabbath” was specifically introduced. And it was introduced in the context of a test – to see if the Israelites would be obedient to what God said. There is no indication of worship here. The only thing required was that they stay inside, rest, & not gather manna on that day.
The Sabbath at Sinai
Neh. 9:13 & 14 - “Thou camest down also upon mount Sinai, and spakest with them from heaven, and gavest them right judgments, and true laws, good statues and commandments: And madest known unto them they holy sabbath, and commandedst them precepts, statues, and laws, by the hand of Moses thy servant.” According to this passage, God gave the Sabbath at Sinai. It doesn't sound like he was reintroducing it.
The 10 Commandments are mentioned it two places – Ex. 20 & Deut. 5. It's interesting to me that we only ever hear the 4th commandment as it's listed in Exodus. The account in Deuteronomy is slightly different. As mentioned in my blog on the 10 Commandments, Deut. 5 starts off by saying God is making this covenant with the children of Israel who were there alive – not with their fathers/ancestors (verses 2 & 3). Verses 12-15 start off basically the same way, but end very different – note the difference. “Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the Lord they God hath commanded thee. Six days thou shalt labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou. And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.”
Do you see the reason God gave them for keeping the Sabbath? It is because he rescued them from slavery in Egypt. It is part of the 4th commandment! I had never heard it before! The version we recited at Laurelbrook was the one in Ex. 20, not Deut. 5. It wouldn't fit our theology very accurately to recite that version since we were never slaves in Egypt. Again, the command here is to not work. It doesn't mention worship – although it obviously evolved into that at some point since the Jews were worshipping on the Sabbath. They were commanded to rest – and let their servants & animals rest as well. Why? Because God had delivered them from slavery. “Therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.”
The Sabbath was for the children of Israel
If you read my blog on the 10 Commandments, you can see more information on the 10 Commandments specifically, which also includes the Sabbath. The 10 Commandments were the words of the covenant (see references in previous blog). The Sabbath was at the very center of the 10 Commandments. It was the sign of the covenant, and it was between God & Israel. Ez. 20:10-12 - “Wherefore, I caused them to go forth out of the land of Egypt, and brought them into the wilderness. And I gave them my statutes, and shewed them my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them. Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them.”
Ex. 31:13, 16, 17 - “Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations: that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you...Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel forever...”
Even in the preface to the 10 Commandments, God says (Ex. 20:2) “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” He was specifically giving the 10 Commandments, INCLUDING the Sabbath, to the Israelites.
Is the Sabbath everlasting?
Reading the previous passages, it does indeed seem that way. However, using that logic, we must also conclude that circumcision (Gen. 17:10-14), the priesthood (Ex. 40:15), the tabernacle or altar (Ex. 28:43 & 27:21), making an annual atonement (Lev. 16:34), etc. will last forever as well. Lev. 23 lists the other feast days & holy convocations & says that “it shall be a statue for ever in all your dwellings throughout your generations.” We have no problem saying those were ceremonial & ended at the cross.
Ex 30:31 - “And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, This shall be an holy anointing oil unto me throughout your generations.”
Do we think that lasted forever? Then why do we use the same logic to prove that the Sabbath is to last forever? Ex. 31:16 - “Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations...”
Should the Sabbath last forever because it is called holy?
Again, by that logic, the other feasts God gave the children of Israel would be eternal since they, too, were called “holy”. Ex. 12:16. Aaron wore “holy” garments (Ex. 28:2 & 4). The bread & meat offerings were “holy” (Ex. 29:33 & 34). The oil was holy (Ex. 30:25). The list goes on & on... Obviously we don't think these other ceremonial things lasted forever because they were called “holy” by God. They served their purpose and now we don't need them anymore.
What makes the Sabbath moral & not ceremonial?
If something is moral, it is intrinsically right. It is never ok to commit adultery or to lie. But Jesus considered it ok to “break” the Sabbath in certain cases – Matt. 12:5, Mark 2:25-26, Luke 6:1-5. Circumcision (which we do not consider moral) was allowed to be performed on the Sabbath, even though that was work. Jesus healed people on the Sabbath (sometimes it seems like He went out of His way to perform healings on that day) & even commanded them to “work” (pick up your bed, go wash in the pool). Jesus & His disciples picked grain on the Sabbath. That was certainly considered work.
The Sabbath is clearly ceremonial. It is even clumped in with all of the rest of the feasts. Lev. 23:2-3 - “Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, Concerning the feasts of the Lord, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts. Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is a sabbath of rest, an holy convocation: ye shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings...” It then goes on to list the rest of the “holy convocations” and feasts. God clearly considered the Sabbath to be included in the list.
The Sabbath is tied to the New Moon
2 Kings 4:23 - “And he said, Wherefore wilt thou go to him to day? it is neither new moon, nor sabbath.”
1 Chron 23:31 - “And to offer all burnt sacrifices unto the Lord in the sabbaths, in the new moons, and on the set feasts, by number, according to the order commanded unto them, continually before the Lord”
2 Chron 2:4 - “Behold, I build an house to the name of the Lord my God, to dedicate it to him, and to burn before him sweet incense, and for the continual shewbread, and for the burnt offerings morning and evening, on the sabbaths, and on the new moons, and on the solemn feasts of the Lord our God. This is an ordinance for ever to Israel.”
Isa 1:13-14 - “Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.”
Isa 66:23 - “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, saith the Lord.”
Ezek 46:1 - “Thus saith the Lord God; The gate of the inner court that looketh toward the east shall be shut the six working days; but on the sabbath it shall be opened, and in the day of the new moon it shall be opened.”
Ezek 46:3 - “Likewise the people of the land shall worship at the door of this gate before the Lord in the sabbaths and in the new moons.”
Amos 8:5 - “Saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit?”
There are many other passages linking the two together, but I thought I'd stop with those. Just do a study on the New Moon & you'll see how similar the rules & regulations were to the Sabbath. I don't know of anyone who still thinks we should celebrate or “keep” the New Moon now. It was clearly ceremonial, as was the Sabbath. But somehow we still separate the Sabbath from the other ceremonial celebrations and feasts.
Does Isaiah 66:23 prove that the Sabbath is eternal?
Isa 66:22-23 - “For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith 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, saith the Lord.”
If this proves that the Sabbath will be in heaven & the new earth, it also proves that the new moon will be there as well. The previous chapter gives an even more detailed description of the “new heavens and the new earth”. Note in Is. 65 & 66 some other things that will be in this place.
- Priests & Levites (66:21)
- New Moon (66:23)
- Sabbath (66:23)
- children who die at 100 years old (65:20)
- bringing forth children (65:23)
- Missionaries going out to Tarshish, to the Libyans, etc. (66:19)
- Dead bodies (66:24)
The Sabbath in the New Testament
The Sabbath is listed 60 times in the New Testament. Most are in the Gospels (which deal with the life of Jesus who was born a Jew – born under the law). All throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites are reminded about the Sabbath, but that is not the case in the New Testament. Yes, Jesus & the disciples went to the synagogues on the Sabbath – they were Jews. Not one time in the New Testament is the 4th Commandment (the Sabbath) repeated, even though God's moral laws were repeated (I can show texts if you are interested, but I don't want to write them all out here) – including, but not limited to, the other 9 commandments as well as other moral laws included in what Adventists consider to be part of the ceremonial law. One could assume that they don't mention keeping the Sabbath because it was ingrained into them and they didn't need to be reminded, but (1) that is assuming without any evidence and (2) why would they need to be reminded multiple times throughout the Old Testament but not at all in the New Testament?
Sabbath breaking is not mentioned among the lists of sins (Mark 7:21, 22; Romans 1:29-32; Gal. 5:19-21; 2 Tim. 3:1-4) in the New Testament. It is not given as one of the “essential” things to the new Christian Church in Acts 15. They had a whole council on it & this is what they decided. Verse 28 & 29 - “For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden then these necessary things; That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication...” These were largely non-Jewish people, so we can't assume they know all about the Sabbath & how to keep it. If the Sabbath were so important to us today, why didn't Jesus or his disciples stress it's importance? Instead, He seemed to diminish its importance by “breaking” it and showing that He is the Rest that the Sabbath pointed to.
The Sabbath was a shadow of something greater
Col 2:16-17 - “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” The Greek word for sabbath is the same one that is used every other time in the New Testament. It is listed 60 times in the New Testament. 59 times Adventists claim it means the weekly Sabbath, but here they say it is talking about the yearly Sabbaths, even though it's the same word & follows the same pattern as the Old Testament when referring to the weekly Sabbaths. This verse clearly says that the Sabbath (along with the other things) was just a shadow. A shadow of what? The word Sabbath means rest. The Sabbath rest was given to the Israelites to remind them that they were once slaves, but also to point to the rest that Jesus would bring.
Matt 11:28-29 - “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”
Hebrews 3 & 4 goes into more depth of the rest that Jesus brought. It talks about the day given to the Israelites for rest (the Sabbath) and compares it to the rest in Jesus.
Heb 4:1-11 (NIV)- “Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, "So I declared on oath in my anger, They shall never enter my rest.'" And yet his work has been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: "And on the seventh day God rested from all his work." And again in the passage above he says, "They shall never enter my rest." It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience. Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts." For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath — rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.”
The rest we have in Jesus isn't a one-day-a-week rest. It's an every day rest referred to as “to day”. Right now we can have that rest. Jesus completed the work on the cross & we can rest from our works. If the rest of the law & the prophets pointed forward to Jesus, then so did the Sabbath. Once Jesus came, we no longer need the shadows – we have the real thing.
Jesus kept the Sabbath - should we follow His example?
I completely agree that Jesus is our perfect example & we need to model our lives after His. But does that mean we should do EVERTHING that He did? Jesus was born under the law (Gal. 4:4-5) so that He could save us from the law. Jesus was also circumcised (Luke 2:21). He told a man that He healed to go show himself to the priests & offer up a sacrifice as Moses had commanded (Luke 5:14). Jesus kept the Passover (Luke 2:41-42, 22:11) and the other festivals (John 7:2-10, 10:22). We do not follow these areas of Jesus' life. Why? Because they were specifically for the Jews – as was the Sabbath!
Paul kept the Sabbath – should we keep it?
1 Cor 9:20-21 - “And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.”
When Paul was ministering to the Jews, he met them where they were. Paul went to the Jewish synagogues on Sabbath to witness to the Jews because that was when they gathered (Acts 13:14, Acts 17:1-2, Acts 18:4). I thought it was interesting to note that the last mention of Sabbath worship is Acts 18:4-6 “And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks. And when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ. And when they opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles.” At that point, Paul left the Jews & went to witness to the Gentiles – and there is no more mention of Sabbath worship. The only reference after that is Col. 2:16 saying to not let anyone judge you concerning the Sabbath.
Two other verses to note
Romans 14:5 & 6 – “One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it...”
Gal. 4:10 & 11 - “Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.” This follows the same pattern as the Old Testiment when it lists the Sabbath (weekly) along with the other holy days given to Moses. See Neh. 10:33, Ezek. 45:17, 1 Chron. 23:30-31, 2 Chron. 8:13, 2 Chron. 31:3, 2 Chron. 2:4, and Num. 28 & 29.
The people in the early church were still struggling & thinking they had to keep the law given to Moses. Acts 15 again deals with this. Verse 5 - “But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.” (See my previous blog on the law & the 10 Commandments) Verse 24 - “Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment.” It then goes on to list the requirements of Christians (see above).
The Sabbath was a huge part of the law (including the 10 Commandments) & the old covenant – so much so that it cannot be separated from it. To do so requires you ignore or excuse away certain verses. If you take the Bible as it reads, it makes so much more sense. The Sabbath was given to the Israelites along with the rest of the law. There is no distinction. It was to be a sign between them & God. It is not a moral law, but a ceremonial law by nature. It was never reinstated in the New Testament. Not only are we not commanded to keep it in the New Testament, but it is called a “shadow” along with the rest of the law given to Moses (Heb. 10:1).
The problem comes when we try to separate the 10 Commandments from the rest of the law, even though there is no Biblical evidence to do so, and when we try to make the Sabbath eternally binding on Christians when there is evidence that it was specifically for the children of Israel and not for us. Do I believe the Sabbath was transferred to Sunday? No. That is not the point at all. Saturday or Sunday are no more holy than any other day of the week. That is the point. The Sabbath served its purpose in being a sign for the Israelites and pointing to Jesus. Now that we have the real rest that it pointed to, we are no longer bound by it. But in order to fully grasp the concept, you have to study the whole law & covenants. This just scrapes the surface. The rest is up to you.