Christ – Our Sabbath
Written by Brian Anderson, Milpitas Bible Fellowship
Used with permission
Over the past two thousand years there has been much disagreement and controversy over the subject of the Sabbath. During the 17th century, the Puritans sought to enforce the Sabbath by having the civil magistrate fine offenders. The Seventh Day Adventists have historically taught that Sunday worship is the mark of the beast, and all that bear that mark will be cast into the lake of fire. Today, many churches will not fellowship with or partner in the spread of the gospel together with those churches that don’t hold their particular view of the Sabbath, although 99% of their doctrine is identical.
Why is there such controversy over the issue of the Sabbath? The answer lies in the fact that there are three major views which Christians have historically held concerning it.
- The Seventh Day View holds that God instituted the Sabbath on the seventh day in the Garden of Eden as a perpetual creation ordinance that is still binding on believers today. Thus Christians are obligated to hold Saturday as a day of rest.
- The Christian Sabbath View holds that Christ and His apostles changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, and that we obey this command by resting and worshipping on Sunday.
- The New Covenant View holds the position that the Sabbath was abolished when the New Covenant was ratified by the death of Christ along with all the other ceremonial laws of the Mosaic institution.
In this article, I would like to examine what the Scriptures teach about the Sabbath before the Mosaic Law, under the Mosaic Law, and finally, under the New Covenant. There has been much heat on this subject. May the Lord give us light from His Word.
The Sabbath Before The Mosaic Law
Genesis 2:1-3 “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. And by the seventh day God completed 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.”
Genesis 2 is the only place the subject of the Sabbath is mentioned before the institution of the Mosaic Law. Technically speaking, it is not really even mentioned there, because the word Sabbath does not appear in the text. However, the concept of resting on the seventh day is found there. What does this passage actually teach about the Sabbath day? It teaches very clearly that God made all things in six days, and that He rested on the seventh day. Why did God rest? Was He exhausted from all His efforts to make the universe? Of course not. God rested in the enjoyment of what He had created. He rested because His work was finished. He stopped working because He was done working. It’s that simple. We dare not read any kind of fatigue or weariness of God into this text. God simply rested because He totally accomplished what He set out to do.
Those Christians who hold to the Seventh Day View and the Christian Sabbath View believe that Genesis 2 reveals the Sabbath to be a creation ordinance. That is to say, they believe God bound Adam and Eve to keep the Sabbath in Genesis 2, and thus the Sabbath is perpetually binding on all mankind in the same way that all of God’s moral laws are binding on all men. However, an honest examination of the text reveals that nothing is stated about God commanding man to keep the Sabbath. In other passages of the early chapters of Genesis we do find God giving clear commands.
For example in Genesis 1:28 God says, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Additionally in Genesis 2:16-17 Scripture records, “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.'” However, Genesis 2:1-3 records no command of God. Rather, it gives us historical narrative. It details the fact that God rested on the seventh day. Why then, do so many Christians believe that Genesis 2 is a creation ordinance requiring perpetual obedience to the Sabbath? The answer is found in Genesis 2:3. There it says that God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it. Proponents of the Sabbath as a creation ordinance pack all sorts of things into the words “blessed” and “sanctified.” They believe that by these words, we must understand that God set apart the seventh day from creation as a day in which all men must cease from work to emulate their Creator. However, the startling truth is that we have absolutely no evidence that anyone ever kept the Sabbath until Israel did so in Exodus 16 – about 2,400 years later! All we know for certain is that God reserved a day for Himself from the time of the creation. Much later at Sinai He would give His day to the Jews as part of the Mosaic Law.
The Sabbath Under The Mosaic Law
Exodus 16:22-26 “Now it came about on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for each one. When all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, then he said to them, “This is what the LORD meant: Tomorrow is a Sabbath observance, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. Bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over put aside to be kept until morning.” So they put it aside until morning, as Moses had ordered, and it did not become foul, nor was there any worm in it. And Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a Sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will be none.”
Here we have the first occurrence of the word “Sabbath” in the Bible. Notice that the children of Israel did not understand why twice as much manna had fallen on the sixth day. Moses had to explain to them that the Lord had spoken to him (the word “meant” in verse 23 literally means “spoke”) and told him it was because they were not to gather the manna on the seventh day. This suggests that the Sabbath was a brand new revelation to the Israelites. They were not in the habit of obeying the Sabbath command before this time. This conclusion finds further support in Nehemiah 9:13-14 where the Scripture states, “Then Thou didst come down on Mount Sinai, And didst speak with them from heaven; Thou didst give to them just ordinances and true laws, good statutes and commandments. So Thou didst make known to them Thy holy Sabbath, And didst lay down for them commandments, statutes, and law, through Thy servant Moses.” Here we are told that when God came down on Mount Sinai He made known to them His holy Sabbath! If God made known his holy Sabbath at Sinai, then it was not known before then, and thus can not have been a creation ordinance.
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 a Sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
In this passage we have the Sabbath commandment contained in the Ten Commandments, inscribed on stone tablets. Many believe this is proof positive that the Sabbath must be part of God’s unchanging moral law for all people of all time. Therefore, they say, it is just as wrong to break the Sabbath as it is to commit theft, adultery, or murder. But before we draw a hasty conclusion, let’s pause to consider whether all of the commands in the Decalogue must be of a moral nature. If all of the Ten Commandments must be moral, does that mean that all the commands not listed in the Decalogue must not be moral? That, however, is clearly not the case, for the commands to love God and our neighbor are not listed in the Ten Commandments (Lev.19:18; Deut.6:5), yet Jesus said that these commandments were so important that all the law and the prophets hang on them.
In addition, notice from the passage that the Sabbath commandment was very simple and straightforward. A man was not to work on the seventh day. The text says nothing about the duty to worship on this day. In fact, you will search your Bible in vain to find a command to attend public worship on the Sabbath. This point will become important when we evaluate the various Sabbath views at the end of our study.
Exodus 31:12-17 “And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “But as for you, speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘You shall surely observe My Sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you. Therefore you are to observe the Sabbath, 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. For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a Sabbath of complete rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall surely be put to death. So the sons of Israel shall observe the Sabbath, to celebrate the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant.’ “It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed.”
This text clearly states that the Sabbath was a “sign” between God and Israel. Notice the expression in verse 12, “But as for you, speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘You shall surely observe My Sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations.'” God said that the Sabbaths were a sign between Him and the sons of Israel, not between Him and the whole world. Furthermore, the Sabbaths were given as a sign. These truths are confirmed again in verses 16 and 17, “So the sons of Israel shall observe the Sabbath… it is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever.” Again, in Ezekiel 20:12-13 God states emphatically, “And also I gave them My Sabbaths to be a sign between Me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD who sanctifies them. But the house of Israel rebelled against Me in the wilderness. They did not walk in My statutes, and they rejected My ordinances, by which, if a man observes them, he will live; and My Sabbaths they greatly profaned. Then I resolved to pour out My wrath on them in the wilderness, to annihilate them.” In this text, it is only after Israel had profaned God’s Sabbaths that He poured out His wrath upon them. The reason is simple. By profaning the Sabbath, Israel was in effect repudiating the Mosaic covenant, because the Sabbath was the sign of that covenant. In fact, the Sabbath is so closely identified with the Mosaic covenant that it can stand for it. For example, Exodus 31:16 states, “So the sons of Israel shall observe the Sabbath, to celebrate the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant.” It should come as no surprise that the Mosaic covenant had a sign, for nearly all of God’s covenants had signs. The rainbow was the sign of the Noahic covenant (Gen.9:9-17); circumcision was the sign of the Abrahamic covenant (Gen.17); and the Lord’s Supper is the sign of the New Covenant (1Cor.11:25).
To ignore or break a covenant sign is tantamount to breaking the whole covenant. That’s why a man was to be cut off from his people in death if he refused circumcision (Gen.17:14). That is why God met Moses and sought to put him to death (Exodus 4:24-26). Although Moses was on his way to deliver Israel in fulfillment of the covenant God had made with Abraham, Moses’ own son was not wearing the covenant sign of circumcision. God would have gone ahead and killed Moses if Zipporah had not taken a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin herself. It seems that Zipporah had objected to circumcising her son, and Moses had gone along with her so as to keep peace in the family. But when God came and sought to put Moses to death for his blatant disobedience to His Word, Zipporah knew exactly what to do to save her husband’s life. That is why Exodus 31:14 says that if anyone breaks the Sabbath, he is to be put to death. That must also be the reason God dealt so severely with believers in Corinth who were profaning the Lord’s Supper (the sign of the New Covenant). Those who partook the Supper in a loveless and unworthy manner were afflicted with sickness, while some even died. If someone were to work on the Sabbath, it would be like one of us spitting into the communion cup and grinding the bread beneath our feat. In effect, we would be denying the very essence of our covenant relationship with God. If I took off my wedding ring, threw it on the ground, and stomped out the door, my wife would have no doubt as to the message I was communicating – “You and I are through! Our marriage is over!” Similarly, when an Israelite went out and worked on the Sabbath he was disavowing his covenant relationship with Jehovah God.
Actually, the Sabbath commandment was the most important of all the Ten Commandments. Because it was the sign of the covenant, it had to be part of the covenant document of which it was the sign. Exodus 34:28 tells us that the Ten Commandments were the very words of the covenant. “So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; but he did not eat bread or drink water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.” This also explains why the Sabbath commandment takes up such a central and prominent portion in the Decalogue. Of the 144 Hebrew words detailing the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:2-17, 55 are devoted to the Sabbath commandment. That amounts to a whopping 38%! Positionally, the commandment is placed smack dab in the middle of all the rest. But when we understand its purpose, we realize it had to be placed in the middle of the rest and be given most of the attention – it was the covenant sign.
Numbers 15:32-36 “Now while the sons of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering wood on the Sabbath day. And those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron, and to all the congregation; and they put him in custody because it had not been declared what should be done to him. Then the LORD said to Moses, “The man shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” So all the congregation brought him outside the camp, and stoned him to death with stones, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.”
In this passage we have further proof that the Sabbath commandment was new revelation to the children of Israel. This is the first time that Sabbath breaking was dealt with after God made it the sign of the covenant. But notice that the children of Israel did not know what to do when someone broke the Sabbath – “it had not been declared what should be done to him.” If all mankind had been given the Sabbath as a perpetual moral command from God since creation, surely they would have known exactly what to do when someone broke that command. Are we to believe that God gave the command to keep the Sabbath at creation, but neglected to give the penalty for breaking the command until over 2,400 years later?
Deuteronomy 5:2-3; 12-15 “The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. The LORD did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, with all those of us alive here today… ‘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 a Sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you, so that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.”
Moses clearly states here that God did not make this covenant with their forefathers. Thus, the covenant sign of the Sabbath could not have been observed before this time.
Furthermore, verses 12-15 tell us why the Sabbath was given to Israel – “and you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” The reason God commanded Israel to keep the Sabbath is because God had redeemed them from slavery in Egypt. Interestingly, in Exodus 20:8-11, the reason God gives as to why Israel should keep the Sabbath is that He is their Creator – “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy… for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” In these two passages Israel is given a double reason to keep the Sabbath. God is both their Creator and their Redeemer. However, since God gives redemption as a reason to keep the Sabbath, no one before the exodus of Egypt could have kept the Sabbath! This is yet another Biblical proof that the Sabbath was not a creation ordinance, but a ceremonial ordinance (sign) given to Israel to acknowledge God as both their Creator and Redeemer.
Having discovered what the Old Testament Scriptures say about the Sabbath command under the Mosaic Covenant, it is interesting to observe what they do not say. The Scriptures never tell us that God gave the Sabbath to the gentile nations. When the Sabbath is spoken of in Scripture, it is always in reference to Israel. In fact, God judged Sodom and Gomorrah for homosexuality and selfishness (Genesis 19:5; Ezek.16:49), Assyria for pride and arrogance (Isaiah 10), but we never read that He judged the gentile nations for Sabbath-breaking. Nor does God ever send His prophets to rebuke the gentile nations for Sabbath-breaking, though He did reprove Israel for it. If that is true, then the Sabbath could not have been a moral law given to all people for all time. Having examined the teaching of the Old Testament on the Sabbath, let’s summarize our findings before moving to the New Testament.
We have no Biblical record of anyone keeping the Sabbath for the first 1,600 years of Biblical history.
We have many passages of Scripture which give us reason to believe that men began to keep the Sabbath only after the exodus from Egypt:
- Moses had to explain to them why twice as much manna fell on the sixth day,
- The children of Israel did not know what punishment to effect upon a Sabbath-breaker,
- The Sabbath was to be obeyed in gratitude to God for redeeming them from slavery in Egypt,
- Nehemiah 9:13-14 expressly states that God made known the Sabbath at Sinai.
- The Scriptures state the Sabbath was the sign of the Mosaic covenant.
- The Scriptures state that the Sabbath was given to the sons of Israel.
- The Scriptures never enjoin the Sabbath as a binding law upon the gentile nations.
The Sabbath Under The New Covenant
The Example of Christ
Advocates of the view that the Sabbath is one of God’s moral laws perpetually binding upon all mankind, find reinforcements for their position in the fact that Jesus habitually worshipped in the synagogue on the Sabbath day. “And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read” (Luke 4:16). It is true that this text teaches that Jesus regularly attended the synagogue on the Sabbath day. However, we must remember certain facts. Jesus lived before the New Covenant was inaugurated through His blood, and thus was “made under the Law” (Gal.4:4). Jesus was circumcised, offered animal sacrifices, and observed all the Jewish festivals. Does that mean that we should too? No, just because Jesus may have kept the Sabbath, that does not necessarily mean that we should do so also. In order to find God’s will for a Christian under the New Covenant, we must go to the clear teachings of Christ’s apostles in the epistles – not the example of Christ in the gospels.
Romans 14:1-6 “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One man has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. Let not him who eats regard with contempt him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.”
The apostle Paul’s emphasis in this section of his epistle to the Romans is that believers must not judge one another in disputable matters. In verse 5 he states that “one man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike.” The “day” Paul is referring to would most likely be Jewish holy days under the Mosaic Law, including festivals, new moons, and Sabbath days. In this passage Paul is clearly teaching that to judge another believer for keeping or not keeping a certain day is wrong. Thus, it is wrong for someone to judge another person because he keeps the Sabbath. Similarly, it is wrong for someone who keeps the Sabbath to judge a person who does not.
Galatians 4:8-11 “However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.”
In verse 10 Paul refers to “days and months and seasons and years.” Most Bible commentators believe that the “days” refer to the Sabbath days; the “months” refer to the new moons; the “seasons” refer to the Jewish feasts, such as Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, and Pentecost; and “years” refers to sabbatical years and the year of jubilee. Judaizers had been teaching the Galatian believers that circumcision, as well as obedience to all the Jewish holy days was necessary to be saved. In contrast, Paul states that they are “weak and worthless elemental things” and that they will only “enslave you all over again.” Rather than encourage New Covenant believers to keep certain holy days, Paul speaks disparagingly of the keeping of holy days.
Colossians 2:16-17 “Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day — things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.”
Paul begins verse 16 with the word “therefore,” which tells us that he is drawing a conclusion based on something he has said previously. If we look back to verse 14 we will see what he is drawing his conclusion from – “having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” What are these “decrees which were against us and hostile to us”? If we examine a parallel book to Colossians, the book of Ephesians, we read that Christ “abolished in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace” (Eph.2:15). The decrees, which were against us and hostile to us, are explained as the Law of Commandments that were contained in ordinances. In other words, Paul is describing the Mosaic Law. This Law, according to Paul, was taken out of the way because it was nailed to the cross. Believers are not under the Mosaic Law. Therefore, since believers are not bound to observe Old Covenant law, they are not to let anyone judge them in regard to things like food, drink, observance of festivals, new moons, or Sabbath days. Although Israel was bound to strictly observe various food laws, and holy days, the Christian has been released from them, because those decrees were nailed to the cross, having been abolished in the cross of Christ. Paul states very clearly that these Old Testament observances of food, drink, and holy days were only shadows. They all pointed to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Imagine that a young husband has to leave his new wife very soon after they are married to serve in the United States Army. Day after day, the young woman looks longingly at her husband’s picture, clutching it to her bosom, trying to recapture the fond memories of her sweetheart. One day as she is staring wistfully into his portrait, the doorbell rings. When she opens the door, there stands her husband in full military uniform. Upon seeing her husband, the young wife shuts the door in his face, and goes back to gazing fondly into her husband’s portrait.
Of course the scene is preposterous, but that is exactly what we do when we cleave to our outward observance of the Sabbath without realizing that it was only a shadow or picture of Jesus Christ who is the true substance. Now that Christ has come, it is vain to continue clutching the picture!
Hebrews 4:10-11 “There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.”
In Hebrews 3:7 – 4:11 the author compares the Hebrew believers he is writing to, to Israel in the Old Testament. He shows how both the land of Canaan (3:7 – 4:3) and the seventh day Sabbath (4:4) were types of a rest that the people of God enjoy today. How does a believer today enter this rest? “For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard. For we who have believed enter that rest” (Heb.4:2-3). The author of Hebrews is clear that we enter this rest today through faith. What kind of rest is it? Verse 10 tells us, “For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.” The Sabbath rest that still remains for the people of God (4:9) is a rest that comes through believing God’s Word (4:3) and resting from our own works (4:10). We enter this rest when we cease to work for our salvation but instead rest in the finished work of Jesus Christ. It is interesting to note what the New Testament does not say about the Sabbath. The New Testament never lists the Sabbath as a command believers living under the New Covenant must keep. The New Testament gives plenty of moral imperatives we are bound to obey, but Sabbath-keeping is never listed as one of them. Furthermore, Sabbath-breaking is never listed as sin in the New Testament. In Romans 1:29-32 twenty-two sins are listed. However, Sabbath-breaking is conspicuous by its absence. This fact is even more arresting given the fact that the immediate context describes the worship the gentiles should have offered to God (Rom.1:18-23). Surely, if the Sabbath was still binding upon all men, Paul would have written of it in this place. In Galatians 5:19-21 seventeen sins are listed, however Sabbath-breaking is not one of them. Why this notable absence? The reason is because Sabbath-keeping is not carried over from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. It was a shadow pointing men to the true substance, which is Christ – a ceremonial law directing men to their true rest, the Lord Jesus.
Having noted the Biblical teaching on the Sabbath before the Mosaic Law, under the Mosaic Law, and under the New Covenant, let’s examine the three major views of the Sabbath held by Christians today.
1. The Seventh Day View
The Seventh Day View is the view held by the Seventh Day Adventists, and the Seventh Day Baptists among others. This is the only consistent view, if the Sabbath was truly part of God’s unchanging moral law for all people of all time. This view teaches that Saturday is the Sabbath, and that just as God introduced the Sabbath as a binding moral statute at creation, so it is still binding on all men today. It is to be observed by total rest (except for deeds of compassion and necessity). Further, this view teaches that it was included in the Ten Commandments, because the Ten Commandments are God’s moral law for all people of all time.
The difficulty with this view is that it fails to take note of the fact that the Ten Commandments were the covenant document of the Old Covenant (Ex.34:28), and that the Old Covenant has become obsolete with the introduction of the New Covenant (Heb.8:13). Hebrews 7 argues that there has been a change in the priesthood. Christ is not of the priesthood of Aaron, but rather of the order of Melchizedek. “For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also” (Heb.7:12). Now that the priesthood has been changed, a change in law has also taken place. We can’t assume that something that was law under the Old Covenant is still law under the New Covenant. We must search the New Covenant document (the New Testament) to discover the binding imperatives upon believers. When we do so, we see that all the Biblical data teaches that the Sabbath was part of the Mosaic Law which has been fulfilled in Christ, and thus is no longer binding upon believers.
2. The Christian Sabbath View
The Christian Sabbath View believes that the Sabbath is part of God’s unchanging moral law for all people of all time. However, although they believe it is God’s unchanging moral law, they believed it has been changed! They have changed the day the Sabbath is to be observed, the reason for observing it, and the manner in which it is to be observed. Proponents of this view believe that the Sabbath was changed from the seventh day to the first day of the week. Furthermore, they believe the Sabbath is to be observed on Sunday, not because God is our Creator or Redeemer, but because Jesus Christ rose from the dead on that day. Finally, advocates of the Christian Sabbath View believe that the Sabbath is to be observed not only by resting from labor, but by public and private worship observed throughout the day.
The problems with this view are numerous. First, there is no New Testament command to change the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. In fact, there is no New Testament command to worship on any particular day! In addition, there is no New Testament command to observe Sunday as a day of rest because Christ rose from the dead on that day. Finally, all of the Biblical teaching on the Sabbath in the Old Testament leads us to the conclusion that it was to be observed by complete cessation of labor, not to acts of public and private worship. It must be admitted that even though advocates of the Christian Sabbath View believe that the Sabbath is God’s unchanging moral law, their understanding of the Sabbath involves several major changes. Either the Sabbath is part of God’s unchanging moral law for all people of all time or it isn’t. If it is, then we have no right to change the day from Saturday to Sunday, the reason for observing it from creation and redemption to the resurrection of Christ, and the manner of observing it from total rest to rest and public and private worship.
3. The New Covenant View
The New Covenant View believes that the Old Covenant with its laws and ceremonies passed away when the New Covenant was established in Christ’s sacrificial death at Calvary. Further, it holds that only those laws which Christ or His apostles state in the New Testament are binding upon believers today. Nine of the Ten Commandments can be found in one form or another in the New Testament. However, the Sabbath command is not part of New Covenant revelation. Therefore, advocates of the New Covenant View believe that the Sabbath was a ceremonial law pointing to Christ. When Christ appeared in human history and ratified the New Covenant in His blood, the ceremony ceased to have its significance and became obsolete. I believe the New Covenant View best expresses the Biblical teaching on the Old and New Covenants and the Sabbath. It best allows Scripture to speak for itself without forcing it into an already conceived system of theology. It also seems to do justice to all of the New Testament revelation concerning the Sabbath.
How can we apply the Biblical teaching on the Sabbath today? We need to constantly remind ourselves that Christ is our Sabbath rest. Thus, we rest in Him! The Sabbath was one of the most clear and powerful types of the gospel of grace in the Old Testament. Week after week, year after year, it continually taught men that they must cease from their own labor. The Sabbath silently preached the text, “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness” (Rom.4:5). It said over and over, “Don’t work – rest!” It reiterated the wonderful truth that salvation is “by grace through faith” (Eph.2:8). Jesus pointed to Himself as our Sabbath rest when He said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls” (Mt.11:28-29). God rested from His work at creation. Christ rested from His work of redemption when He sat down at God’s right hand in heaven. Now we must enter His rest by faith. This is what the apostle Paul meant when he said that the true circumcision (true believers) are those who worship in the Spirit of God, glory in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh (Phil.3:3). A Christian banks his soul completely on Christ and His work, and refuses to trust in his own doings in the least degree. The hymn writers expressed this great truth best.
“Lay your deadly doing down Down at Jesus’ feet Stand in Him, in Him alone Gloriously Complete.”
“Nothing in my hand I bring Simply to Thy cross I cling Naked come to Thee for dress Helpless look to Thee for grace Foul I to the fountain fly Wash me Savior or I die!”
“Not the labors of my hands Can fulfill Thy law’s demands Could my zeal no respite know And my tears forever flow All for sins could not atone Thou must save and Thou alone!”
May God enable you to enter the rest of Christ by faith for His name’s sake.