Purposes Of The Sabbath: Part Five

Reposted from Edge Induced Cohesion  Written by Nathan Albright

Before I begin this last part of my somewhat lengthy examination of the Sabbath in the Bible, I would like to give some words of gratitude and appreciation for our translators. Only yesterday I and they found out that our regularly scheduled speaker would be unable to return from Bangkok in time to give his message, and so they had to translate this message with very little notice. We have spent four Sabbaths discussing the meaning and purposes of the Sabbath day, the plan of God as revealed through His holy days, and the relationship of Jesus Christ and the Sabbath. We will now conclude this series with a discussion on how Christians should respect the Sabbath based on what the Bible says, especially those verses which are spoken specifically to Christians.

Today I would like to discuss the relationship between genuine Christians and the Sabbath. Given that Jesus Christ stated that He is the Lord of the Sabbath, why is it that most people who call themselves Christians show no regard or respect for His Sabbath day? There are a few scriptures that are used by those who call themselves Christians to attempt to justify their opposition to the Sabbath. As we will shortly see, these verses, instead of speaking against the Sabbath, actually end up supporting Sabbathkeeping practices when they are properly understood. Let us therefore examine the case against the Sabbath for Christians and demonstrate how the verses misused by many end up supporting the Sabbath after all.

The Resurrection Of Jesus Christ

It is commonly thought that Jesus Christ arose from the dead around dawn on the first day of the week after His crucifixion. The Bible does not say this, though. Let us examine several passages to point out the timeline of Jesus Christ’s resurrection, and then point out why it was that He did not ascend briefly into heaven until after the first day. We will see that rather than transferring the Sabbath from the seventh day of the week to the first day of the week that it instead affirms the Sabbath, specifically the Festival of the Firstfruits that took place on the same first day of the week that Jesus arose from the dead.

Let us first look at Matthew 28:1-8. Matthew 28:1-8 reads: “Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold I have told you.” So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word.”

If we were unaware of the way that the Bible considers days as beginning at sunset, we might think that the expression “the day began to dawn” was referring to sunrise, early in the morning. However, as Matthew was clearly speaking to a Jewish audience, they understood that as the Sabbath ended and the first day of the week was about to begin, it was Saturday evening when the angel of God told them that Jesus Christ had already resurrected. This is particularly important when we examine why it was that Jesus waited all night before going to God, as there was a specific schedule as part of the Holy Days of God that had to be followed.

Let us now turn to John 20:1-10. John 20:1-10 reads: “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. So they ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed. For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must arise again from the dead. Then the disciples went away again to their own homes.”

Here we see that after Mary Magdelene had originally gone to the disciples and told them that He was risen, they did not believe her (which you may read in Luke 24:1-12 if you wish), but thought her to be making up stories. She changed her story and said that “they” had stolen Jesus Christ’s body, and with the more believable story (to the disciples), John and Peter went while it was still dark on Saturday night to see the tomb, finding that the graveclothes that Jesus Christ had worn had been folded, and the handkerchief over the head had been folded separately. They then believed that Jesus Christ was no longer in the tomb, but they did not yet believe that He had been resurrected. This understanding would come shortly.

Let us now continue the story in John 20:11-18 to understand the relationship between Jesus’ resurrection and the Sabbath from a proper Christian perspective. John 20:11-18 reads: “But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him, Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’ “ Mary Magdelene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her.”

These passages are often used to argue that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead on the first day of the week makes the first day instead of the seventh day the Lord’s Day. This is an incorrect understanding. Instead, we see that Jesus Christ was resurrected before the beginning of the first day of the week, at sunset, and that during the night, while it was still dark, there were numerous trips to the empty tomb before Jesus Christ said to Mary that He had to ascend to God. But why did He have to ascend on the first day of the week?

Does this make a change to the Sabbath day? Not at all. Instead, it fulfills the symbolism of another part of God’s Sabbath, the often neglected and forgotten Feast of the Firstfruits. Let us briefly read about this feast in Leviticus 23:9-11. Leviticus 23:9-11 reads: “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I give to you, and reap its harvest, then you shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest. He shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted on your behalf; on the first day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.” Who is our priest in the New Covenant? Jesus Christ. Who is the firstfruits from the dead, the only human being yet to be clothed with immortality, as the visible sign that when the harvest of the believers takes place that the rest of us will receive the promise of eternal life? Jesus Christ. Far from changing the Sabbath to Sunday, these passages affirm the importance even of obscure holy days, which were fulfilled exactly by Jesus Christ in the proper manner told in the law of God. A proper knowledge of the Sabbath demonstrates that instead of abolishing the seventh day Sabbath that the brief ascension of Jesus Christ on the first day of the week was itself in obedience to God’s laws about the Sabbath and holy days. This ought to make God’s Sabbaths even more important to us, not less.

The Lord’s Day

Recognizing that the arguments for showing that the Sabbath has been transferred to Sunday from the resurrection of Jesus Christ are weak, many people attempt to use a brief scripture, Revelation 1:10, to argue that early Christians considered Sunday to be “the Lord’s Day.” Let us therefore briefly examine this brief scripture and what it really means. Revelation 1:10 reads: “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet.” This is a small verse to make up a story about the supposed place of Sunday within. That such a small verse taken way out context is used to justify Sunday observance demonstrates how morally and intellectually bankrupt the case for Sundaykeeping is.

So let us therefore ask ourselves, what was John really talking about by making a reference to “the Lord’s Day” here. Is “the Lord’s Day” a day of the week, or something else entirely? We know from the contents of Revelation that the apostle John saw into the future in richly symbolic and deeply complicated ways, with imagery very similar to books like Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah. What is the Lord’s Day referred to in these prophetic books that also show God’s promised judgment? As it happens, we have some references in the Bible to this period, and so let us look at a few of them to see what “the Lord’s Day” is really referring to. First, let us look at Acts 2:16-21, which is a quotation of one of these prophetic passages, Joel 2:28-32. Acts 2:16-21 reads: “But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy. I will show wonders in heaven above and signs on the earth beneath: blood and fire and vapor of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ “

Here we see that in language strikingly similar to the Sabbath commandment, which commanded not the Sabbath rest for all people, sons and daughters, manservants and maidservants, God promises to give His Holy Spirit freely and widely in the last days, the Day of the Lord. This Day of the Lord is not a day of the week, but is rather a prophetic time that describes God’s judgment of mankind, which began with the resurrection of Jesus Christ and continues until His return, and even beyond to the final judgment of all mankind more than one thousand years after that. Again, far from speaking against the Sabbath, it reaffirms the prophetic importance of the Sabbath and the festivals of God in portraying the return of Jesus Christ and His rule over mankind preceding the final judgment.

Is there any further connection between “the Lord’s Day” and the Sabbath? Indeed there is. Let us now turn to Isaiah 61:1-2. Jesus Christ quoted part of this passage, the part relating to His first coming, in Luke 4:18-19, which we read last Sabbath examining Jesus Christ’s own obedience of the Sabbath. Isaiah 61:1-2 talks about both the first and second comings of Jesus Christ in ways that connect the Sabbath and the Day of the Lord in profound ways. It reads: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.”

Here again we see that the Day of the Lord (called the day of vengeance of our God here) is deeply connected with the Sabbath. We see the promise of freedom, the acceptable year of the Lord, a reference to the Jubilee year where slaves were freed. We also see here a connection between the return of Jesus Christ and the judgment of Christ with the restoration of life and joy in the Millennial reign of Jesus Christ, pictured by the Feast of Tabernacles. Indeed, wherever we find the Day of the Lord, the Lord’s Day, or whatever else it is called in scripture, it refers to the prophetic fulfillment of the ultimate meaning of the Sabbath for rest and peace and freedom and joy, the ways in which we should celebrate our Sabbaths here and now while we await the great and glorious Day of the Lord.

A Saturday Night Bible Study

Another passage that is often used to speak against Sabbath observance is Acts 20:6-12, which talks about what we would call a Saturday night Bible study. Acts 20:6-12 reads: “But we sailed away from Philippi after the Days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days joined them at Troas where we stayed seven days. Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where they were gathered together. And in a window sat a certain young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep. He was overcome by sleep; and as Paul continued speaking, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. But Paul went down, fell on him, and embracing him said, “Do not trouble yourselves, for his life is in him.” Now when he had come up, had broken bread and eaten, and talked a long while, even until daybreak, he departed. And they brought the young man in alive, and they were not a little comforted.”

When we look at the context of this passage we see that even more than twenty years after the resurrection of Jesus Christ that believers were still keeping the Sabbath and Holy Days. We know this for two reasons. For one, they delayed their journey until after the Days of Unleavened Bread, showing they were still keeping it, even a Gentile like Luke. Let us also note a few things about this Bible study by Paul. For one, it was after the Sabbath was over that the disciples broke bread. And, as we all should remember, the Sabbath ended at sunset, which means that they had a dinner in the evening, after sunset, and then Paul gave a very long talk before leaving Troas on Sunday morning. It was dangerous to travel at night, especially with robbers on the roads and troublesome winds near shore that risked shipwreck on the sea, and so as is common today most people happened to rest at night and travel during the day. But not Paul; no, he preached all night, the only thing interrupting his message being the need to raise a poor sleepy young man from death through God’s spirit after he fell down three stories. However long I may speak in my messages, I hope you all appreciate that I do not speak for twelve hours straight all through the night.

Collection On The First Day

Some people argue that weekly collections on Sunday is acceptable by referring to a specific reference in 1 Corinthians 16:1-4. Rather than promoting Sunday observance or weekly collections of offerings, this passage refers to a specific ongoing work project for congregations to benefit the poor Christians in Palestine, and it demonstrates the importance of proper Sabbath observance, if one knows the Bible well, that is. 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 reads as follows: “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: on the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. And when I come, whomever you approve by your letters I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem. But if it is fitting that I go also, they will go with me.”

Some people misuse this scripture to claim a support for Sunday observance and weekly offerings. This is not what is being discussed at all. After all, Paul specifically wishes for no collections to take place while he was there. Instead of being a usual collection for “The Lord’s Supper” as some people claim, this act of generosity was a massive project over the Church of God in several provinces of the Roman Empire in what is now Turkey and Greece to provide care for the destitute brethren of the Church of God in Judea. The collection was not a church meeting, but rather it was a work project on the first day of the week, because it was not acceptable to work on the Sabbath.

If people knew the Bible and its Sabbath regulations better, they would easily understand why the process of storing and collecting food and other supplies for the brethren of Judea was not a proper task for the Sabbath. We find out precisely why in Nehemiah 13:15-18. Nehemiah 13:15-18 reads as follows: “In those days I saw people in Judah treading wine presses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and loading donkeys with wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. And I warned them about the day on which they were selling provisions. Men of Tyre dwelt there also, who brought in fish and all kinds of goods, and sold them on the Sabbath to the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem. Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said to them, “What is this evil thing that you do, by which you profane the Sabbath day? Did not your fathers do thus, and did not our God bring all this disaster on us and on this city? Yet you bring added wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath.”

Here we see a relevant passage that helps us understand why the work of buying and collecting food and other provisions and storing them up was not a proper task for the Sabbath, but rather needed to be done on the first day of the week. Nehemiah, a godly and obedient governor of the province of Judea during the times of the Persian Empire, properly understood the Sabbath law and how it applied to buying and moving and storing and selling food and other provisions on the Sabbath, and he understood it was a sin to treat the Sabbath like a market day where you performed your normal commercial activities. Paul, also a godly and obedient man, understood this as well, and so he told the brethren of Corinth to do their work of preparing and storing goods to bring to the brethren of Judea on the first day of the week. Far from minimizing or speaking against Sabbath observance, it shows instead the high degree of respect and regard that Paul and the early Church of God had for the Sabbath day, examples we are to follow today.

The Shadow And The Substance

Like the other passages we have examined today, this next passage is often twisted and used to speak against the Sabbath when instead it supports the observance of several parts of the Sabbath for Christians and forbids anyone who considers themselves to be a Christian from speaking out against the Sabbath or against the enjoyment and eating and drinking that are to be an aspect of joyful and moderate Christian life. Let us now turn to Colossians 2:15-17. Here Paul condemns hostility to God’s Sabbath and asceticism that were part of a rising false system of beliefs that still exist in “Christianity” to this day. Colossians 2:15-17 reads: “Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the body of Christ.”

What does this passage mean? Some people falsely assume this to mean that no one can command anyone to keep God’s Sabbaths, new moons, or Holy Days, which are written in order from annual to monthly to weekly Sabbaths. But this is not what the passage is about at all. Paul’s opens this passage by telling us that Jesus triumphed over powers and principalities, evil spirits, different ranks and orders of demons. The Sabbaths are all about freedom, and so Paul condemns anyone who seeks to prove their righteousness by obeying man-made commandments and traditions while rejecting the commandments of God, including the Sabbaths. As Paul says in Colossians 2:20-23: “Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourself to regulations—“Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” We are obey the commandments of God and not the traditions of men that allow us to look righteous by living like the ascetic monks that are all around us. And, obviously, the Sabbath is a commandment of God and not a tradition of man.

There Remains Therefore A Sabbath Day

So, does the Bible ever specifically command the observance of the Sabbath for Christians today? Absolutely. The author of Hebrews, at the end of a long discussion about the fact that the rest of Israel in the promised land was not the ultimate rest promised by God, makes a specific connection between the “spiritual” rest of the Kingdom of God and the physical rest of the Sabbath, and states that Christians are still commanded to keep the Sabbath in anticipation of the ultimate rest in Hebrews 4:1-10. Hebrews 4:1-10 reads: “Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: “So I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest,’ “ although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works;” and again in this place: “They shall not enter My rest.” Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whim it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience, again He designates a certain day, saying in David, “Today” after such a long time, as it has been said: “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.”

This is not a very complicated passage to understand. The author of Hebrews comments that the original Israelites, who received the ten commandments written by the finger of God, did not obey those commandments, and for rejecting God’s laws and ways, their bones were scattered in the wilderness and they neither entered the physical rest of entering into the promised land nor the spiritual rest of entering into salvation. The author of Hebrews then clearly draws the connection that those who walk in God’s ways and enter into God’s rest in salvation will obey God in faith rather than be disobedient as the ancient Israelites were, and then explicitly says that God’s people are still to keep the Sabbath and cease from their works weekly as God did on the seventh day of Creation. This is not very hard to understand at all, unless you are resistant to the message of the scriptures. Unfortunately, many people are stubborn and stiff-necked as the ancient Israelites were, not willing to enter into His weekly Sabbath rest, and so they will not enter into His millennial rest at the return of Jesus Christ either.

The Sabbath Covenant

Let us close today, as it has been a long message, with an examination of one more passage that deals with the Sabbath that has implications for Christians in the future. In Exodus 31:12-18 we read, at the end of the laws given by God to ancient Israel at Mount Sinai, a special Sabbath covenant whose implications are often not well understood by Christians today. Exodus 31:12-18 reads: “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak also to the children of Israel, saying, ‘Surely 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 who sanctifies you. You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.’ “ And when He had made an end of speaking with him on Mount Sinai, He gave Moses two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.”

At first glance, many people might read this passage, which is clearly a civil covenant between ancient Israel and God, and might assume that it has no relevance whatsoever to Christians today. And they would be very wrong to assume that. What is particularly important about this covenant is that it demonstrates clearly how serious Sabbath obedience is as an aspect of God’s rule over His people. Let us also think about aspects of prophecy as they relate to Christians. As Christians we assume, reading scriptures like 1 Peter 2:9-10, that we will be kings and priests in the kingdom of God, ruling over the earth under Jesus Christ when He returns, enforcing and teaching His laws to humanity. But let us understand something very clearly: we will not be teaching and enforcing God’s laws to others if we are not obedient to these laws ourselves. And Exodus 31 makes it plain that this includes the Sabbath, which was important enough to God to be a separate covenant. If something is that important to God, it ought to be that important to us as Christians also.

Conclusion

Let us therefore conclude. I have spoken a long time about the Sabbath over my past five sermon messages. It has not been my point to describe in detail exactly what we are and are not allowed to do on the Sabbath, as if we can obey the Sabbath by following a checklist of do’s and don’ts. This was, after all, how the Pharisees kept the Sabbath, and Jesus Christ condemned them for neglecting the freedom that the Sabbath is supposed to provide from our burdens. Our attitude toward the Sabbath should be one of joy, rather than fear and worry. Therefore, seeking to help you all to better enjoy the Sabbaths of God, I have sought to explain a variety of aspects of the Sabbath, and I hope I have done that successfully. First, we started with a description of the Sabbaths of God: the weekly Sabbath, the new moon, the annual holy days, the Sabbath year, and the Jubilee year. Next, I examined some of the purposes of the Sabbaths, including pointing to God’s authority over creation, the fact that the Sabbath points to freedom from sin and debt and oppression and the relationship of reconciliation and the Sabbath. After that I looked briefly at the annual holy days and how they reveal the plan of God for humanity. After this I examined the relationship of Jesus Christ and the Sabbath in pointing out the proper meaning of the Sabbath for freedom for believers. Finally, today, we saw that the example and preaching of the Apostles affirmed the importance and worth of the Sabbaths, rather than speaking against them as is commonly and mistakenly thought. Therefore, having said all of this, let us remember to consider the Sabbath to be as holy and treasured as God does, so that we may enter His spiritual rest and receive the gift of eternal life given to those who love and obey God, a rest we picture every week when we obey God’s commandment to keep His Sabbaths holy.

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