There Remains Therefore a Sabbath Rest for the People of God

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MP3 Audio (2.69 MB)


There Remains Therefore a Sabbath Rest for the People of God

MP3 Audio (2.69 MB)

Why does God command the Sabbath day to be kept holy? What is it we are supposed to remember on the Sabbath day? Why is the Sabbath valid for Christians today? What is the connection between the weekly and yearly Sabbath? Let’s examine these questions, and others, about the continuing validity and value of God’s holy Sabbath day.

Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy

God’s command to observe the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week, has great spiritual meaning. There are many lessons to be learned from the Bible and from celebrating it each week. It makes no sense that God would ever consider abrogating this precious gift that He “made for man” (Mark 2:27).

The Ten Commandments are listed twice in the Bible and it’s significant that the wording of the Fourth Commandment is somewhat different in the two places. We learn from Exodus 20:8-11 that the Sabbath points back to God’s creation of the universe, and we learn from Deuteronomy 5:12-15 that the Sabbath also points back to the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt.

Let us first examine what the Bible itself says about the symbolic meaning of creation. In Exodus 20:8-11 we read: “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.”

The seventh day Sabbath, the Sabbath that God Himself kept (Genesis 2:1-3) and of which Jesus Christ is the Lord (Luke 6:5), points back to the creation. Just as God rested from His labors on the seventh day, so mankind should rest from his on the same day. 

We see that the weekly Sabbath rest also has a parallel in the Sabbath rest for the land. According to God’s laws for His nation, every seven years the land was to rest and be free from labor as the Bible says in Leviticus 25:1-7: “And the Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: “When you come into the land which I give you, then the land shall keep a sabbath to the Lord. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather its fruit; but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath to the Lord. You shall neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard. What grows of its own accord of your harvest you shall not reap, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine, for it is a year of rest for the land. And the sabbath produce of the land shall be food for you: for you, your male and female servants, your hired man, and the stranger who dwells with you, for your livestock and the beasts that are in your land—all its produce shall be for food.”’”

Just as we are to rest from our labors at the end of each week on the seventh day, so the Israelites were to let their land rest every seven years, trusting God to feed them as He fed the Israelites each Sabbath with extra manna (Exodus 16:22-24). This concept of rest, therefore, applies not merely weekly, but also every seventh year, with the same concern shown for servants and strangers that is shown within the weekly Sabbath command.

The Sabbath is also about freedom

Likewise, there was a further component of this land Sabbath command. Just as the land was to be worked six years and then freed in the seventh year, so this was true also of indentured servants, as it says in Exodus 21:2: “If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years; and in the seventh he shall go out free and pay nothing.” The land Sabbath of seven years did not only deal with rest, but also with freedom. As the Bible says in Leviticus 25:17-19: “Therefore you shall not oppress one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the Lord your God. So, you shall observe My statutes and keep My judgments, and perform them; and you will dwell in the land in safety. Then the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill, and dwell there in safety.”

The Sabbath rest not only points back to God’s rest after creation, but also to the rest that comes from freedom from slavery. Just as God freed Israel from slavery, Israelites were not to force anyone else to work on their behalf on the Sabbath day. The freedom was not theirs to enjoy alone, but also something that they were to provide to others just as God had shown it to them. Liberty, therefore, is intrinsic in the Sabbath rest itself, whether it is liberty from literal slavery or liberty from the slavery that results from sin from which we are freed at conversion and baptism (Romans 6:18). Therefore, the Sabbath remains as a sign of our freedom as well as a sign pointing back to the rest of God after creation.

There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God

But what does the Sabbath point toward? How do we know that the Sabbath is a sign of what is to come and not only of what has passed? We know because the Bible does not only speak of the Sabbath as a memorial, but also as a shadow of something in the future. Let us now examine what the Sabbath points toward.

In Colossians 2:16-17 we read an often misunderstood passage: “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 substance is of Christ.” We know from Paul’s own testimony in Acts that he kept the Sabbath regularly, even in heathen lands with Gentiles (Acts 13:14, 42-44; 16:13; 17:2; 18:4), and also that he was fully obedient to the law of God and content to be killed if he broke the law (Acts 25:10-11). Therefore, we know that he is not speaking against the Sabbath, new moons and holy days by calling them a shadow, since he faithfully kept those things himself.

What does he mean, then, by calling them a shadow? He means they foreshadow (symbolize prophetically) great things in the future.

The scriptural passage from Hebrews 3:7 to 4:11 is deeply meaningful and inspiring although a little complex. The author (probably Paul) repeatedly quotes part of Psalm 95, widely considered a psalm about the Sabbath. The reason the word “today” is repeatedly emphasized is that it is a reference to the weekly Sabbath. That is the day when we primarily “hear His voice” through sermons, etc. (Psalm 95:7; Hebrews 3:7, 13, 15; 4:7).

The author is intertwining three significant “rests.” He is using the weekly Sabbath rest and the rest which the Israelites enjoyed after they crossed into the Promised Land of Canaan (after wandering in the wilderness for 40 years) to illustrate and emphasize the magnificent future rest for God’s people. That future rest will begin with their resurrection into the Kingdom of God at Christ’s return.

The author did not write this for the purpose of proving that God’s people should continue to honor and observe the weekly Sabbath. The author knew that the people he was writing to at that time already understood that all of God’s Ten Commandments were still in effect. The fact that the author uses the weekly Sabbath (as something still in effect) as a powerful illustration of the Millennium (which will be the seventh millennium since the creation of Adam and Eve) is further proof that the Christians at that time were still obeying God’s command to observe the Sabbath.

In Hebrews 4:9, the Greek word translated “rest” is different from the other Greek words translated “rest.” In this verse, it is sabbatismos—a “sabbath-rest.” While the author is undoubtedly referring to our future rest in God’s Kingdom, a rest that remains in the future, he would not be calling it a “sabbath-rest” if the weekly Sabbath no longer had any significant meaning.

The author of Hebrews in chapters 3 and 4 is showing that the entrance of the children of Israel into the Holy Land was a shadow of the rest that is to come, namely the establishment of the rule of God over the earth after Christ’s return. Only those who are called as a holy nation, a royal priesthood and who obey His covenant and His laws (Exodus 19:5-6; 1 Peter 2:9-10) will be kings and priests over the earth in that 1,000 year period (Revelation 5:10). This will occur after God frees the entire world from slavery to sin, from the oppression of evil men and the spirit of darkness that motivate misdeeds.

We see that this Sabbath rest of 1,000 years symbolizes freedom from labor and toil, which resulted from man’s disobedience to God in the Garden of Eden and the pernicious effects of sin as a result of the world being “under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5:19). It also points to the creation of the new heavens and new earth after that rest is done and judgment has come to all who have ever lived (Revelation 20:11-21:5).

Looking forward to what is to come

Remember that even as each Sabbath day is a reminder of God’s creation of the heavens and the earth and of our deliverance from slavery into freedom through the workings of God’s Holy Spirit, the Sabbath also points forward to the 1,000-year reign of Christ. The Sabbath Millennium will end the misrule and corruption that has filled these last 6,000 years of human civilization during which mankind has sought to rule himself without God and without success. There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God as the Bible has commanded consistently throughout. Therefore, as we celebrate each weekly Sabbath, let us reflect on and rejoice over the wonderful lessons the Sabbath teaches us, and let us hope and pray for God’s Kingdom to speedily come.

To learn more about God’s commanded Sabbath, please read our free booklet Sunset to Sunset: God’s Sabbath Rest.