"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" (Exodus 20:8-11).
The Sabbath, the seventh day of the week, was set apart by God as a time of rest and spiritual rejuvenation. It is a special opportunity to draw closer to our Creator, time He designated for us to enhance our relationship with Him—to learn how to better love, worship and relate to Him.
As days in the Bible are reckoned from sunset to sunset (Leviticus 23:32), the Sabbath begins at sunset Friday evening and ends at sunset Saturday evening. Of course, most people will immediately ask: Why is setting apart any day of the week so important that God would include it as one of His Ten Commandments? Especially, why set aside the seventh day? How will our relationship with God benefit any more by observing this particular day rather than any other day we might choose? After all, Friday night and Saturday bustle with all sorts of sports, business and other secular activities. Why should we be different? Isn’t this only a symbolic commandment, one never meant to be taken literally? And didn’t Jesus Christ ignore this commandment, leaving us free from the burden of keeping it?
These questions represent some of the most widely assumed and long-held beliefs about the Fourth Commandment. But God’s command is simple and easy to understand. So why is it so frequently ignored, attacked and explained away by so many? Could it be that the challenges to the Sabbath command are views generated by the devil, the unseen ruler of this present evil world? After all, this great deceiver wants us to accept his views because he hates God’s law. He does all he can to influence us to ignore, avoid or reason our way around it. Few grasp the extent of society’s indoctrination by Satan. As the real “god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4), he has deceived most of humankind (Revelation 12:9). The whole world falls prey to his influence (1 John 5:19). His objective has always been to destroy the relationship between the true God and humanity. He wants nothing more than to thwart people from developing a loving, personal relationship with their Creator—that being the purpose of the Fourth Commandment. He wants to prevent us from reaching our incredible destiny in God’s family!
Jesus and His apostles kept the Sabbath
What does Christ’s personal example teach us about Sabbath observance? “So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read” (Luke 4:16). Jesus used God’s Sabbaths for their intended purpose—to help people develop a personal relationship with their Creator.
After Christ’s death and resurrection, His apostles followed His example in their observance of the Sabbath day. “Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures” (Acts 17:2). “And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4).
Today, however, most people who profess to follow Christ do not follow the example set by Him and His apostles. Most fail to realize that the wholesale rejection of the Sabbath as the Christian day of worship did not start until almost 300 years after Christ’s ministry on earth.
The substitution of Sunday for the Sabbath took hold largely through a political decision made by the Roman Emperor Constantine, who legalized Christianity to secure political advantage over a defeated contender for the office of emperor. Constantine was quick to grasp the political advantage of accepting and supporting Christians, but that acceptance came with a price—state control over all religious matters.
In A.D. 321 Constantine declared Sunday, long the day consecrated in honor of the pagan sun god, to be the official day of rest in the Roman Empire, making it the day of choice for church assemblies. But nowhere in the Bible does either God the Father or Jesus Christ ever grant permission to change the time of the Sabbath from the seventh day to Sunday, the first day of the week. The first-century apostles did not change it. Indeed, no human being, institution or state has ever had the right to tamper with what God has set apart as holy.
The Sabbath and a godly relationship
The Sabbath, the day set aside to remind us regularly that our Creator is the only true God, is vital to our relationship with Him. It shapes the way we perceive and worship Him. Therefore, He commands us to remember the Sabbath by formally worshipping Him on that day.
Otherwise, we forfeit that special understanding of Him as the Creator of the entire universe. After six days of setting in order this beautiful earth and everything in it, our Creator ceased from molding the physical part of His creation and rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:1-3). In observing the Sabbath we cease from our normal labor and activities to regularly remind ourselves of this essential understanding.
The Sabbath is also a special day to concentrate on developing our spiritual relationship with God. Although it is a day of rest from our normal routines and a time for rejuvenation, it is not a day to do nothing, as some assume. On the contrary, the Sabbath is a special day on which we dramatically change the focus of our activity. God intended that it be a delightful period during which we busily draw closer to Him.
God said, through the pen of Isaiah: “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 [the abundance of blessings] of Jacob your father. The mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 58:13-14).
Indeed, to “delight yourself in the Lord” is one of the key reasons we should cease, for the 24 hours of the Sabbath, from the labor and normal activities that consume our time the other six days of the week.
Relationships take time. Every successful association demands time. No close relationship can succeed without it—no courtship, no marriage, no friendship. Our relationship with God is no exception.
God wants us to take special time to worship Him, our Creator. That is what the Sabbath—the seventh day of the week—provides.
The Hebrew word for Sabbath, shabbath, means “to cease, to pause or take an intermission.” On the Sabbath we are to take the day off from our regular activities and devote our time and attention to our Creator. Why? Because in six days God set in order “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” (Exodus 20:11). The Sabbath, in a different way from any other commandment, keeps us in touch with how real God is as our Creator.
A world without knowledge of the true God
Look at the world around us. The theory of evolution, based on the idea that the world and everything in it developed from nothing, dominates the thinking of the most highly educated. Most scholars scoff at the idea that the creation requires a thoughtful, purposeful, almighty Creator. Even some scholars who profess Christianity accept the evolutionary viewpoint. Observance of the seventh-day Sabbath, however, keeps those who faithfully obey the Ten Commandments in constant remembrance that their faith is founded on the existence of an all-powerful Creator who is not limited by natural processes.
We read, “By faith [by believing what the Bible tells us] we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3). That faith is nothing less than an unshakable confidence that the Bible was inspired by the Spirit of God and accurately reveals how the world, including humankind, came into existence.
God reveals few details about how He created the universe—only that He did create it. Observing the Sabbath brings that fact to the forefront of our minds every week. God does not want us to lose this understanding. He knows that everyone who neglects this knowledge loses sight of who and what He is. That is how crucial this knowledge is.
That is also why the weekly observance of the Sabbath is so important to our relationship with our Maker. It keeps us in constant remembrance that we worship the Creator of the universe.
A continuing creation
The Sabbath is not simply a reminder of a past creation. God finished the physical part of His creation in six days. However, the spiritual part is still under way. The Sabbath is the primary day for concentrated development of our inner person in Christ. As the apostle Paul tells us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
The new spiritual creation is internal—in the heart and character of each person. It begins when “you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and [are] renewed in the spirit of your mind, and . . . put on the new man which [is] created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). This “new man . . . is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him” (Colossians 3:10).
Spiritual character cannot come solely by our own will. The “old man” will inevitably succumb to the weaknesses and pulls of human nature. Paul sums up this struggle: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice” (Romans 7:18-19).
God Himself develops holy and righteous spiritual character within us. He reshapes our thinking and gives us the will and the power to resist our nature. Paul confirms this, telling us that “it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13, NRSV).
The day of renewal
Do you grasp how important this is? If we are in Christ, our Heavenly Father is creating in us His own character, His divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). The weekly time He has set perpetually apart to remind us that He is the Creator is the same weekly period during which He, more than at other times, instructs us as He molds us into His new creation.
God’s Word calls us “newborn babes” and says that we should “desire the pure milk of the word, that [we] may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2). The Sabbath is the time God has set aside for us to grow closer to Him through study of His Word, personal prayer and group instruction. He has sanctified it—set it apart—as holy time (Genesis 2:1-3). We should use it to delight ourselves in Him by diligently seeking His help in our spiritual development and growth (Isaiah 58:14).
The Sabbath is the day on which Christ’s disciples should fellowship with and grow closer to each other. As Hebrews 10:24-25 states: “Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”
The Sabbath is the only day on which God commands a weekly assembly. “There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to the Lord” (Leviticus 23:3, NIV).
The internal evidence of the New Testament shows that Christ’s apostles and the rest of the first-century Church continued to assemble on the seventh day, the Sabbath. They observed the day, however, with a renewed emphasis on the “new” person God is in the process of creating. The relationship of the seventh day to their lives grew in its importance to them. The book of Hebrews confirms that decades after Christ’s death and resurrection, His followers were to continue to keep the Sabbath, affirming that “there remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9, NIV).
Yes, Jesus and His apostles consistently obeyed God’s command to keep the Sabbath holy. They kept the seventh day as the Sabbath, just as their fellow Jews of that time did. God’s commandment to us remains“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8).
We desperately need to take time to grow close to our Creator. He tells us how much special time we need to set aside for our relationship with Him and when to take it. We have to decide whether we trust His judgment and are willing to obey His Sabbath commandment.
(For a thorough explanation of the Sabbath, please read or request the free Bible study aid booklet Sunset to Sunset: God's Sabbath Rest.)