Sabbath Series, Part 3 – Which Day is the Christian Sabbath?

13 08 2008

Westminster Shorter Catechism

Question 59 – Which day of the seven hath God appointed to be the weekly sabbath?

Answer – From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly sabbath; and the first day of the week ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian sabbath.

In this lesson we will be discussing the change in Sabbath observance from the seventh day to the first day of the week and examining the biblical evidence for this change.

There are some who deny that this change is legitimate; arguing that the Sabbath should remain on the seventh day and that there is no basis for changing it to the first.

1. The seventh day was the original Sabbath.

Genesis 2:1-3 Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.

Exodus 20:8-11 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

It is certainly true that God originally established the seventh day as His holy Sabbath. This is clear from the pattern of His creative work as seen in Genesis 2:1-3, as well as in the words of the 4th commandment. The pattern that was set was one of six days of labor and one day of rest, to be observed by all men while the world lasts.

We have seen that the weekly Sabbath was not part of the ceremonial law of Israel, but is a creation ordinance, built into the very fabric of the world that God made. Later, the Sabbath was written by the finger of God on tablets of stone as part of the unchanging moral law, along with such other unchangeable commands as “You shall not kill,” “You shall not steal,” and “You shall have no other gods before Me.”

The inclusion of the Sabbath commandment in the decalogue (Ten Commandments) is a strong argument for its permanency. Yet, as we will see, there was to be a change: not in the general pattern of setting apart one day in seven for rest and worship, but in the specific pattern of which day was to be set aside under Christ.

2. The Old Testament anticipates a change to the first day.

Those who favor retaining the seventh day as the Sabbath under Christ argue that there is no indication in the Scriptures of a change to the first day of the week. Yet a careful reading of the Old Testament shows that the anticipation of this change was built into the appointed ceremonies of Israel all along. One place that this anticipation is seen is in the ninth chapter of Leviticus.

Read Leviticus 9:1-24

As the first High Priest in Israel, Aaron was a type of Christ in His High Priestly work. It is therefore highly significant that the consecration of Aaron to his priestly office was performed, not on the seventh day, but on the eighth (that is, the first day of the week). On that day, not only was Aaron consecrated, but he presented the people’s offering. Then, on that same holy day, he turned and blessed the people, pronouncing peace upon them. Fire from the Lord came down that day and consumed the burnt offering and the people were declared clean.

All of this points to the finished work of Christ, who would be exalted as the Great High Priest, securing true peace for His people. He would be received up as an acceptable sacrifice to God in the place of His elect, and would send His Spirit to cleanse them from their sins.

A careful reading of the Old Testament reveals that many other significant typological events took place on the eighth day…

Circumcision was performed on the eighth day.

The offering of newborn animals as burnt offering occurred on the eighth day (Lev. 22:27, Ex. 22:30)

The dedication of Solomon’s Temple, according to 2 Chron. 7:9, took place during a sacred assembly on the eighth day. (The Temple of the Lord, the dwelling place of God in the Old Covenant system, was dedicated on Sunday)

Ezekiel’s Temple, a picture of the Church, was consecrated on the eighth day. “And when these days are expired, it shall be, that upon the eighth day, and so forward, the priests shall make your burnt offerings upon the altar, and your peace offerings; and I will accept you, saith the Lord God.” (Ezek. 43:27)

The Feast of Tabernacles, according to Leviticus 23:39, is marked off by two Sundays in a row, both called Sabbaths. “You shall keep a feast unto the Lord seven days: on the first day shall be a sabbath, and on the eighth day shall be a sabbath.”

The sacrifices of the Feast of Tabernacles described in Numbers 29:12-40, provide a clear picture of this anticipation under the Old Covenant. On the first day there are 13 bulls presented, along with several other sacrifices. Each day all the other sacrifices stay the same, but each day the number of bulls decreases by one. On the seventh day, seven bulls (the number of completion/fulfillment) are sacrificed. And then we read, “On the eighth day you shall have a solemn assembly; you shall do no servile work therein; But you shall offer a burnt offering, a sacrifice made by fire, of a sweet savor unto the Lord: One bull…(Num. 29:35-36). A single bull becomes a sufficient sacrifice on Sunday… Hmmmmmmmm….

The Feast of Firstfruits is also on Sunday. The sheaf is waved before the Lord and is accepted on behalf of the people (Lev. 23:11). Christ is the firstfruits of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20,23; Rom. 11:16) and is accepted on our behalf. Fifty days later (counted from the sabbath preceding the Feast of Firstfruits) another important feast occurs. This is the Feast of Weeks, later known as Pentecost. “And you shall proclaim on the selfsame day, that it may be a holy convocation unto you; you shall do no servile work therein; it shall be a statute forever in all your dwellings throughout your generations.” (Lev. 23:21)

Jesus is raised from the dead on the first day, the eighth day.

He appears to His disciples a second time on that day. (John 20:26)

He sends His Holy Spirit on the first day.

The practice of the Church, as we shall see, almost immediately is to meet on that day.

3. Christ established the New Covenant Sabbath.

Psalm 118:14-24 The LORD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation. The voice of rejoicing and salvation Is in the tents of the righteous; The right hand of the LORD does valiantly. The right hand of the LORD is exalted; The right hand of the LORD does valiantly. I shall not die, but live, And declare the works of the LORD. The LORD has chastened me severely, But He has not given me over to death. Open to me the gates of righteousness; I will go through them, And I will praise the LORD. This is the gate of the LORD, Through which the righteous shall enter. I will praise You, For You have answered me, And have become my salvation. The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the LORD has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.

Acts 4:10-11 …let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’

The words of Psalm 118 are a prophecy of the work of Christ as the Deliverer and Savior of His people. As such, they anticipate a certain day, which would be known as “the day of salvation.” In Acts 4:10-11, Peter refers to that day as having been fulfilled by Jesus Christ, who rose for our salvation on the first day of the week. The “day that the Lord has made” is nothing less than the resurrection day of our Lord Jesus.

It is this day, which God has made for us in Christ, that is to be set apart as a day of rejoicing and gladness by those who are the recipients of the benefits of His redemptive work. This is the day to be remembered and celebrated as the fulfillment of deliverance from bondage and rest from our labors under the law. Sunday is the Lord’s Day, consecrated by the authority of Jesus Himself, who is Lord of the Sabbath.

Just as the seventh day Sabbath of the Old Covenant was rooted in God’s work of creation, so the first day Sabbath of the New Covenant is rooted in Christ’s work of re-creation. The first day of the week, identified by the resurrection of Christ, marked the creation of the new heavens and new earth spoken of in Isaiah 65:17. This is why Psalm 118:24 refers to the day “which the Lord has made.” Francis Nigel Lee states, “God instituted both the Edenic sabbath and the New Testament sabbath for man at the time of creation and re-creation respectively, by His own specific example.”

4. The apostles and the early church recognized the change.

Mark 16:2 Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen.

John 20:19-26 Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!”

Acts 20:7 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.

1 Cor. 16:1-2 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.

Given the Old Testament anticipation, and the redemptive significance of the first day of the week, it is not surprising to find in the New Testament Scriptures that the apostles and the early church immediately began to gather together for worship, fellowship, and works of mercy on the first day of the week.

In John 20:19-26 we find that the disciples met together on the first two Sundays after the resurrection.

We are told in Acts 20:7 that the disciples regularly “gathered together” on the first day of the week. This was not a casual or incidental meeting, but a formal assembly with a specific purpose. The reason stated in the text for their assembling is “to break bread,” which refers to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper which Christ commanded them to observe in remembrance of Him.

Then, in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, the apostle gives instructions for the collection of money for the saints in need. Here again, Paul assumes that there would be a regular gathering of the church on the first day of the week. Lenski, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians 16:2, notes “The first day of the week is Sunday, and kata is distributive so that we may translate: ‘Sunday by Sunday let each of you lay something aside…’ It is a fair inference that Sunday was the day which was set aside for the public worship of the Corinthian congregation, and that this custom was also followed in Galatia and in the other churches that had been founded by Paul.”

5. The first day is the Lord’s Day to the end of the world.

Revelation 1:10 “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet”

We have seen that the disciples of Jesus began to gather together on the first day of the week immediately after the resurrection. As the church grew and became established, the identity of the first day of the week as the Christian Sabbath became more and more defined. By the time that John, the last living apostle, wrote the book of Revelation, this understanding was so firm that he even used a formal term that he knew would be immediately understood by his readers: the Lord’s Day. This was none other than the day that was particularly sanctified by the Lord, namely, the first day of the week, or the resurrection day.

In John’s vision, Jesus identifies Himself as the “Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.” The vision presents an awesome picture of Christ as the Lord of His Church. In verse 18, Christ says, “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore.”

The resurrection of Christ is the foundation of our faith. The entire Old Testament looks forward to it. The New Testament proclaims its fulfillment. And the Lord’s Day is given to the Church as the lasting commemoration of it until He returns.





Sabbath Series, Part 2 – The Requirements of the Fourth Commandment

12 08 2008

Westminster Shorter Catechism

Question 58 – What is required in the fourth commandment?

Answer – The fourth commandment requireth the keeping holy to God such set times as he hath appointed in his word; expressly one whole day in seven, to be a holy sabbath to himself.

In Part 1 of this series we observed…

1. That the weekly Sabbath is a creation ordinance, built into the very fabric of the world that God has made.

2. That the weekly Sabbath is not part of the ceremonial laws given to Israel, although it has typical elements associated with its observance.

3. That the weekly Sabbath was given to Adam before the fall, indicating that the pattern of six days of labor followed by one day of rest and worship was part of God’s intended plan for mankind prior to the entrance of sin into the world.

4. That the weekly Sabbath is part of the moral law, written by the very finger of God in tablets of stone, signifying its permanence among the moral laws of God for all time.

5. That the weekly Sabbath is designed for the benefit of mankind and the earth, since the earth requires periodic refreshment and mankind requires both physical and spiritual refreshment.

6. That the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath, therefore indicating that it is to be received as God’s gift, rather than a heavy burden. Legalism with regard to the Sabbath is therefore sinful.

7. That Jesus Christ is Lord of the Sabbath, therefore indicating that we are bound to submit to His will regarding the use of that day according to the Scriptures. Antinomianism with regard to the Sabbath is therefore sinful.

8. That God’s will regarding the Sabbath is succinctly expressed in Isaiah 58:13-14 which says, “If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, From doing your pleasure on My holy day, And call the Sabbath a delight, The holy day of the LORD honorable, And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, Nor finding your own pleasure, Nor speaking your own words, 14 Then you shall delight yourself in the LORD; And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

We turn our attention now to the requirements of the fourth commandment. Following the beautiful pattern of the Catechism, we begin to look at the application of the commandments beginning with their positive requirements. What exactly does the 4th commandment require of God’s people? An examination of the wording of the command itself together with some related Scripture passages will help us to see our positive duty with regard to the Sabbath.

1. Remember the Sabbath Day.

The first requirement of the 4th commandment is that we “remember” the Sabbath day. In the two statements of the fourth commandment, found in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, two different Hebrew words are used to express the obligation of this commandment.

Exodus 20:8 “Remember [zakar] the sabbath day…”

Deut. 5:12 “Observe [shamar] the sabbath day…”

The word used in Exodus 20:8 carries the meaning of calling to mind or being conscious of a commitment, promise or duty. The use of this word indicates that the Sabbath duty was already in place long before this commandment was given to Moses. God commands us to remember the Sabbath because our hearts and minds are so quickly consumed with our own activities and pursuits that we are inclined to forget that we are creatures, dependent upon and answerable to our Creator.

The requirement to “observe the Sabbath” (Deut. 5:12) also highlights for us the need of conscious preparation for the Sabbath Day. If your best friend’s birthday were approaching, no doubt you would make certain preparations before it arrived (buying a gift or card, planning a party, arranging your schedule to be free that day, etc.)

Exodus 16:23 shows us that God expects His people to prepare for the approach of the Sabbath as well. Many Christians find themselves in awkward positions on the Lord’s Day because they fail to make simple preparations to guard the special nature of the day. Such simple things as advance meal preparation, gassing up the family car, getting homework done, and getting to bed at a reasonable hour on Saturday can help to keep our feet from breaking the Sabbath. They are the simple expressions of remembering, or being mindful of, the Sabbath day.

Even more important is the preparation of the heart to engage in the sincere worship of God throughout the day. Time spent in prayer and reading of the Scriptures (perhaps the passage to be preached on) is an important part of preparing the heart to engage in God-honoring worship on His holy day.

2. Sanctify the Sabbath Day.

The 4th commandment requires first, that we remember the Sabbath Day, and second, that we sanctify it. To sanctify something is to keep it holy, setting it apart from the ordinary.

Isaiah 58:13 If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, From doing your pleasure on My holy day, And call the Sabbath a delight, The holy day of the LORD honorable, And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, Nor finding your own pleasure, Nor speaking your own words,

Exodus 31:13-17 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.’ “

The Sabbath is to be sanctified, set apart, kept from defilement. It is essential to remember the purposeful nature of sanctification. The Sabbath is not just a day to rest and sleep after working hard all week long. A day to get caught up on sleep is hardly a “holy” day. The Sabbath is a day of rest from our usual labor in order that the people of God may devote themselves to holy exercises. It involves “not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words” (Isaiah 58:13), but instead, finding your delight in the Lord in a more concentrated and particular way than the ordinary days of the week allow.

Many Christians express difficulty in keeping themselves occupied with “holy activities” on the Lord’s Day. I would suggest that part of the problem is that when faced with an entire day to spend in the pursuit of God’s close presence, we often feel awkward and unsure of what to do. I am convinced that this is largely the result of the practical distance that exists between us and God throughout the balance of the week.

It is not unlike the awkwardness that would result if we were thrust into a room with a stranger for 24 hours and told to occupy ourselves by interacting with him. No doubt there would be long, uncomfortable pauses in our conversation. We would hardly know where to begin, and our hearts would soon long for the familiar. A similar principle applies to the matter of our sabbath conversations, even among the fellowship of the saints.

Isaiah 58:13 says that we are to cease from “speaking our own words” on God’s holy day. We are to engage in self-consciously godly discourse. Yet our conversations seem to quickly decline into mundane communications about worldly matters: what we did during the previous week or what we plan to do in the week to come.

Is this not a reflection of our hearts? If Lord’s Day conversations about the activities of the previous week seem to be devoid of godly content, does it not indicate that our weekly activities have been devoid of godliness?

As Reformed Christians, we understand that there is no validity to the common division between sacred and secular activities. All of our activities are to be consciously pursued to the glory of God. If it is only with great difficulty that we can discuss our daily activities in light of God’s working in us, then we have reason to inquire whether we have been too worldly minded, having pursued our work and recreation as if God had nothing to do with our lives.

The delight of the Lord is found in the wholehearted pursuit of those godly activities that our usual vocational schedule prevents us from doing throughout the week. On the Lord’s Day we are free to engage in such activities as

a. public worship

b. fellowship and godly discourse with the people of God

c. extended family worship and instruction

d. private study, prayer and meditation

e. works of mercy in the name of Christ

In the pursuit of the sanctified activities, we find our souls refreshed and strengthened. What a blessing that God has set apart an entire day each week for us to draw near to Him and receive His renewing grace!

3. Six Days You Shall Labor.

Genesis 1:28 Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us. For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread.

Most people tend to think of the 4th commandment as exclusively addressing the Sabbath, yet it also speaks authoritatively to the other six days of the week. John Murray wrote, “The day of rest has no meaning apart from the background of labor. God’s day of rest is the sequel to six days of creative activity and has no relevance in any other context.”

In New Covenant terms, perhaps it would be more fitting to say that God’s day of rest is the preface to six days of creative activity in the name of Christ’s kingdom. The 4th commandment teaches us that God has ordained work for His own glory and appointed man to exercise dominion over the creation in His name.

Work, properly understood, is a high calling. Unfortunately, sin has distorted man’s view of work, leading typically to two extremes. One extreme sees work as part of the curse, which leads to many dangerous errors including laziness, hedonism, and even slavery (forcing others to work for you). The second extreme sees work as a means of salvation, which leads men to become “workaholics,” who burn themselves out in the pursuit of personal fulfillment, wealth and status, but completely ignore God, His plan, and His laws.

The proper biblical view sees work as God’s design for the advancement of His glory in the earth through the creatures He has made. In this light, work is a divine privilege and every human endeavor is done “as to the Lord.” The curse has added to the difficulty of work, but Christ has promised grace to triumph over the results of sin. Thus the disciple of Christ values work as a holy duty which extends the kingdom of God from the household to the ends of the earth.

4. Guard the Sabbath Day

John 2:13-17 Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the moneychangers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” Then His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.”

An attentive reading of the 4th commandment reveals that it is directed specifically toward the heads of households. This is clear from the words, “you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates” (Exodus 20:10).

The clear implication is that the heads of households, (and thus all who entrusted with authority), were responsible to guard those under their care from breaking the Sabbath.

A vivid application of this principle is seen in Nehemiah 13:15-22. The example of Nehemiah shows us that the principle of Sabbath-keeping is broader than the individual. Not only should people refrain from ordinary work on the Lord’s Day, but they should not engage in activities that encourage and cause others to break the Sabbath. Christians should not ordinarily engage in public commerce on the Lord’s Day, and they should testify against such open profaning of the Sabbath.

5. Rejoice in the Significance of the Sabbath.

Deuteronomy 5:12-15 Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.

As previously noted, the second recounting of the ten commandments in Deuteronomy 5 includes a different reason for Sabbath keeping than that found in Exodus 20. The emphasis in Deuteronomy is on the deliverance from bondage into rest in Israel’s history. In this light, the Sabbath kept them looking back to God’s redemption from sin and forward to their inheritance.

This same focus applies to the Christian Sabbath, which points us back to Christ’s deliverance of His people and forward to the eternal rest that will be realized by all who believe in His name.

Hebrews 4:9-10 There remains therefore a 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.

There are three common interpretations of this passage…

a. Heb. 4:9-10 is a proof text against the continuing validity of the Sabbath. This view argues that when a person believes in Christ, he then ceases from his evil works, and his whole life as a Christian is one long sabbath rest. An examination of the context, however, shows that the sabbath rest spoken of throughout Hebrews 3-4 is the unending rest in the consummated new heavens and new earth. It is therefore eschatalogical in nature, looking forward to the fulfillment of what the perpetual weekly sabbath anticipates.

R.J. Rushdoony writes, “… in the Old Testament, the Sabbath celebrated and commemorated the passover, Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. Since Christ, the Sabbath is dated from the day of resurrection. In both cases, it is future-oriented, looking forward to the great restoration of all things.”

b. Heb. 4:9-10 refers to the believer’s future everlasting sabbath in heaven. This view maintains that the verse does not teach an explicit sabbatarianism, but an implicit.

Fausset, Jamison, and Brown’s commentary on the passage states, “This verse indirectly establishes the obligation of the Sabbath still; for the type continues until the antitype supercedes it: so legal sacrifices continued till the great antitypical Sacrifice superceded it. As then the antitypical heavenly Sabbath rest will not be till Christ comes, our Gospel Joshua, to usher us into it, the typical earthly Sabbath must continue till then.”

c. Heb. 4:9-10 is a statement regarding the weekly sabbath and not the future eternal sabbath. This view holds that the author of Hebrews discusses the eternal future rest in chapters 3-4, but in 4:9 he argues for a remaining weekly sabbath.

In support of this view is the fact that the word used to describe God’s rest throughout chapters 3-4 is a different word than the one used in verse 9. In 3:11, 18, and 4:1,3,5,10 and 11, the Greek word katapausis is used. But in 4:9 sabbatismos is used. Although it is true that both words can be translated as rest, why use a different word only once, a word usually translated as sabbath?

Francis Nigel Lee writes, “Katapausis in the LXX is used in respect of the (uninterrupted and therefore unrepeatable) rest of God in Gen. 2:2-3 and Ps. 95:11, but sabbatismos is used in Ex. 16:30 and 2 Chr. 36:21 to indicate the (intermittent and therefore repeatable) keeping of a sabbath at regular intervals. Conclusion: the sabbatismos of Heb. 4:9, which the (saved) people of God must keep, is the intermittent and repeatable Sabbath at regular (weekly) intervals.”

A. W. Pink writes, “‘There remaineth therefore a sabbath-keeping for the people of God.’ The reference is not to something future, but to what is present. The Greek verb (in its passive form) is never rendered by any other English equivalent than “remaineth.” It occurs again in Heb. 10:26. The word “remain” signifies ‘to be left after others have withdrawn, to continue unchanged.’ Here then is a plain, positive, unequivocal declaration by the Spirit of God: ‘There remaineth therefore a sabbath-keeping.’ Nothing could be simpler, nothing less ambiguous. The striking thing is that this statement occurs in the very epistle whose theme is the superiority of Christianity over Judaism; written to those addressed as ‘holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling.’ Therefore, it cannot be gainsaid that Heb. 4:9 refers directly to the Christian Sabbath. Hence we solemnly and emphatically declare that any man who says there is no Christian Sabbath takes direct issue with the N.T. scriptures.”

Both the second and third views acknowledge the purpose of the weekly Sabbath, which is to focus the believer’s attention on the past, present, and future. The worshipper must look at God’s rest from His creative labors, celebrate their accomplished redemption and the express the joy of their salvation, and look to the future eternal sabbath rest that awaits those who are in Christ at the consummation of history.

The Lord’s Day, in other words, is specially designed to keep our hearts fixed upon Christ, the author and finisher of our faith.





Sabbath Series, Part 1 – The Nature of the Fourth Commandment

12 08 2008

Westminster Shorter Catechism

Question 57 – Which is the fourth commandment?

Answer – The fourth commandment is, “Remember the sabbath-day to keep it holy. Six days shall you labor, and do all your work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord your God: in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your man-servant, nor your maid-servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath-day, and hallowed it.”

 

God, through Moses, gave the Ten Commandments to His people. The fourth commandment requires the sanctification of the Sabbath Day. Of all the commandments, this is perhaps the most controversial, for there are many who accept the validity of the other nine, but insist that the 4th commandment ceased to be binding upon Christians after the resurrection of Jesus. 

 

We will seek to demonstrate that the Lord’s command to set apart one day in seven for worship and works of mercy and necessity continues to be an essential part of the life of the Christian, the neglect of which will inevitably bring serious consequences. On the other hand, we will see that the keeping of the 4th commandment brings wonderful blessing to those who learn to “call the Sabbath a delight” (Isaiah 58:13).

 

The importance of this matter is seen in God’s pronouncement of judgment upon Judah and Jerusalem for the disregard of the fourth commandment:

Jeremiah 17:19-27 Thus the LORD said to me: “Go and stand in the gate of the children of the people, by which the kings of Judah come in and by which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem; and say to them, ‘Hear the word of the LORD, you kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who enter by these gates.  ‘Thus says the LORD: “Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the Sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; nor carry a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath day, nor do any work, but hallow the Sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers. But they did not obey nor incline their ear, but made their neck stiff, that they might not hear nor receive instruction.  And it shall be, if you heed Me carefully,” says the LORD, “to bring no burden through the gates of this city on the Sabbath day, but hallow the Sabbath day, to do no work in it, then shall enter the gates of this city kings and princes sitting on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their princes, accompanied by the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and this city shall remain forever. And they shall come from the cities of Judah and from the places around Jerusalem, from the land of Benjamin and from the lowland, from the mountains and from the South, bringing burnt offerings and sacrifices, grain offerings and incense, bringing sacrifices of praise to the house of the LORD. But if you will not heed Me to hallow the Sabbath day, such as not carrying a burden when entering the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.”

1. The 4th commandment is unique in the decalogue

 

The first thing that most people reading through the 10 commandments recognize about the 4th commandment is that it is considerably longer than the other nine. This is but one of several distinguishing characteristics of the Sabbath law. It is also the only commandment that includes a historical account of its institution, which ties it into the pattern of Creation. 

 

It is the only commandment delivered both positively and negatively (“You shall” and “You shall not”). And, it is enforced with more arguments to strengthen it than any other commandment. Yet far from the uniqueness of the 4th commandment arguing for its eventual exclusion from the decalogue, it is as though God anticipated that men would try to sweep this commandment away, and so He gave it extra anchors. 

 

2. The Sabbath is a Creation Ordinance.

 

     Genesis 1:14-19 Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so.  Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also.  God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth,  and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.  So the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

Genesis 2:1-3 Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. 2 And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made. 

In the first chapter of Genesis, we read that God placed the sun, moon, and stars in the heavens “for signs and seasons, for days and years.” In other words, God set up the universe to run according to a time clock of His devising. The Sabbath is built-in to the very fabric of this divine time-clock. 

 

The pattern of six days of labor and one day of rest and worship is a creation ordinance – that is, an ethical norm based upon God’s work in creation. A creation ordinance, according to Walter Kaiser, is designed to “depict ‘the constitution of things’ as they were intended to be from the Creator’s hand.  They cover and regulate the whole gamut of life: bearing children, superintending the earth as a responsible steward before and under God, responsibly ruling the creatures of all creation, finding fulfillment and satisfaction in work, labor and resting on the Sabbath, and enjoying marriage as a gift from above.” Creation ordinances are binding upon all mankind throughout every generation, since God built them into the very structure of His creation. 

 

Even if the Christian Sabbath were rejected by every person on the face of the earth, the world would continue to run on the basis of a repeating pattern of 7-day weeks. The Inventor of time has imposed this pattern upon His world. In His infinite wisdom, God has provided for the periodic refreshment (both physical and spiritual) of His creatures and even of His creation itself (the land also needs a sabbath rest in order to remain productive). 

Leviticus 26:33-35  I will scatter you among the nations and draw out a sword after you; your land shall be desolate and your cities waste.  Then the land shall enjoy its sabbaths as long as it lies desolate and you are in your enemies’ land; then the land shall rest and enjoy its sabbaths.  As long as it lies desolate it shall rest — for the time it did not rest on your sabbaths when you dwelt in it.

Jonathan Edwards wrote, “What could be the meaning of God’s resting the seventh day, and hallowing and blessing it, which he did, before the giving of the fourth commandment, unless he hallowed it and blessed it with respect to mankind?  For he did not bless and sanctify it with respect to himself, or that he within himself might observe it: as that is most absurd.  And it is unreasonable to suppose that he hallowed it only with respect to the Jews, a particular nation, which rose up above two thousand years later.”

 

Further, the Sabbath serves as a regular reminder amidst the drone of daily life and labor that we are not independent beings, but the products of a Divine Creator and responsible to Him for the use of each day.

 

3. The Sabbath is part of the moral law, not the ceremonial.

Exodus 16:23-30 And he said unto them, This is that which the LORD hath said, To morrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the LORD: bake that which ye will bake to day, and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning.  And they laid it up till the morning, as Moses bade: and it did not stink, neither was there any worm therein.  And Moses said, 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.  And it came to pass, that there went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none.  And the LORD said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws?  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.

Those who argue against the continuing obligation of the Sabbath base their case on the assertion that the Sabbath was ceremonial, and therefore was fulfilled by Christ and is no longer part of the life of the New Testament believer.  

 

A few important observations answer this misconception. 

 

First is the fact that the Sabbath law was given to Adam, long before Israel or Moses, as the representative head of the whole human race, and prior to the entrance of sin into the world. If Adam had not fallen, the sabbath ordinance would still have regulated the activities of himself and his posterity.

 

Note this carefully:  “The seventh day in which God rested was man’s first full day of existence, the first full day of unfallen communion and fellowship with God.  Thus, not only was Adam to pattern himself after the divine example, but Adam’s rest was spent in celebration of God the Creator.  The sabbath rest was not just the cessation of labor but a time of worship, fellowship and the celebration of God.  God fully intended that unfallen man in his task of godly dominion would ‘need to suspend his weekly labours in order to refresh himself with the exercises of concentrated worship.'”

 

If this was the case for unfallen man, how much more does it remain the case for us?

 

Second, the Sabbath was instituted before Adam and Eve fell into sin, whereas the ceremonial law came as a response to sin, in order to point Israel toward their only hope of salvation through God’s promise to send Christ. The ceremonial law had a specific design and purpose: namely, to teach the people of God certain truths concerning the Messiah who was to come and to set them apart from the pagan nations around them. But the weekly sabbath was instituted before sin, and therefore the need of a savior, ever entered the world.  It simply cannot be considered as part of the ceremonial law. 

 

The sacrifices were part of the ceremonial law, but they weren’t commanded until after Adam fell into sin.  It would have been meaningless for God to command Adam to offer a blood sacrifice before he had sinned. The idea that the weekly sabbath was part of the ceremonial law comes from confusion over the fact that the ceremonial law did include various sabbath laws which were based upon the perpetual moral Sabbath, but which had only temporary application until the coming of Christ.

 

Third, the moral law of God is found in the Ten Commandments, written upon stone by the very finger of God Himself. 

Exodus 31:12-18 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.

This was to demonstrate their unity and their lasting authority. The idea that God would have included one specific ceremonial law in the middle of the ten commandments, inscribed with his own finger, but which He fully intended to remove later, while leaving the other nine intact, is absurd. 

 

Fourth, if the Sabbath were part of the ceremonial law, it would be sinful and immoral for Christians to observe the Lord’s Day, just as it would be sinful and immoral to continue to offer sacrifices or observe the other types and shadows after their fulfillment in Christ. There are few anti-sabbatarians who are willing to take their contention that the sabbath was part of the ceremonial law to this logical conclusion.

 

4. The Sabbath is both a type and a memorial.

Deuteronomy 5:12-15  Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work,  but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you.  And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.

 

Hebrews 4:1-11  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 whom 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 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.  Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.

While it is incorrect to say that the weekly sabbath was part of the ceremonial law, it is nevertheless true that even the moral Sabbath law was designed to serve as both a type and a memorial. As a type, the Sabbath anticipated the rest that would come through God’s covenant promise to the fathers – first realized in the settling of Israel in the land of Canaan, but ultimately in the rest from sin accomplished in Christ. As a memorial, the Sabbath pointed back to the deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt. 

 

The author of Hebrews tells us that the Sabbath continues to serve as a type for us.  Though Christ has given us rest from sin, the consummation of that eternal rest is still future, when we enter into His eternal glory in heaven.  “There remains, therefore, a rest for the people of God.” Likewise, the Sabbath continues to point us back to the accomplishment of our deliverance from bondage through Christ’s finished work.

 

5. The Sabbath is designed for our benefit.

Isaiah 58:13-14 If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, From doing your pleasure on My holy day, And call the Sabbath a delight, The holy day of the LORD honorable, And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, Nor finding your own pleasure, Nor speaking your own words,  Then you shall delight yourself in the LORD; And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Mark 2:23-28 Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain.  And the Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”  But He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him:  “how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat, except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?”  And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.  “Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”

It is unfortunate that so much of the discussion around the keeping of the Sabbath day seems to presuppose that its observance is a cumbersome chore laid upon the shoulders of men. Yet John tells us that the commands of God are not burdensome (1 John 5:3). The Lord’s Day is not an imposition, but a gift from God to His people. The desire of God expressed through Isaiah was that His people would learn to “call the Sabbath a delight.” It is only man’s sin that has caused him to see this blessing as a curse. 

 

One way that this happens is when men add their own restrictions to God’s law, seeking to bind the consciences of others to their own list of permissible activities.  This is generally referred to as “legalism.” The legalistic Pharisees had perfected this perversion, and it is to them and their spiritual seed that Jesus says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” In other words, this day of rest and worship was not designed to be a heavy weight upon men’s shoulders, but to free them from their daily labors to serve God with delight. 

 

But there is another class of professors, commonly called “anti-nomian,” who would use the gift of God to indulge their own desires. For those who would be tempted to turn liberty into license, concluding that they were free to do whatever they wanted on God’s holy day, Jesus added, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Those who determine to forsake self-seeking, and by God’s grace turn their hearts toward Him, will find wondrous delight in the practice of consecrating the Sabbath.