There are certain ‘Christian’ sects active today who teach that Saturday should be observed as a holy day. A small number of sects are prepared to risk financial loss to keep Saturday “holy”. In this, they demonstrate that they have “a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:2). Other sects believe that a follower of Christ should observe Sunday as the Sabbath day, a view which illustrates an ignorance of the scriptural meaning of the word Sabbath.
WHAT IS THE SABBATH?
The word sabbath means ‘rest’ and in the Hebrew language of the Old Testament, came to mean (in a derivative form) ‘seven’, for in six days God created the heavens and the earth and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed by contemplating, with pleasure, the beauties of his creation (see Genesis 1:31 and 2:1-2). The seventh day of the week is Saturday and so today, all orthodox Jews keep Saturday as a day of rest, ostensibly to contemplate God’s power and his love towards his creation. Under the Law of Moses, Israel was commanded to keep the seventh day as “the Sabbath of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 5:13-14). The people were ordered to rest from their normal labour on that day to devote the time to doing the will of God as the Law prescribed. Despite its importance under the Mosaic Law, seventh day observance has no claim on Christians. Instead, they are called upon to strive to do God’s will and keep him in their thoughts on every day of the week. The literal and formal observance of the seventh day was part of the covenant God made with Israel, through Moses, which was fulfilled in the sacrificial work of Christ and then taken out of the way (see Colossians 2:12-14).
THE NEW COVENANT
In Hebrews chapter 8, the writer teaches us that the covenant God had made with Israel was only temporary and had served its purpose when Christ, the true High Priest, had ascended to heaven to the right hand of God. Then, God instituted A NEW COVENANT, sealed, not by the blood of animal sacrifices as under the Law of Moses, (which were but representative things of Christ), but by the blood of Christ himself. Of this state of affairs the writer says in chapter 8:13:
“In that he (God) saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first, (i.e. Mosaic) old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away” (see verses 7-13 for the context of these words)
TRUE SABBATH KEEPING
We have seen that true Sabbath keeping requires not merely rest from selfish labour, but the dedication of the Christian’s WHOLE life to doing God’s pleasure, finding delight in his ways and honouring him in word and deed (see Isaiah 58). In Christ, all the shadows (representative things) in the law of Moses became fulfilled (Hebrews 8:1-5). He presented himself as the “Lamb of God”, offered for the sins of the world. In place of LITERAL circumcision, (which is a cutting off of the FLESH) he set before men a circumcision
“that is of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter, whose praise is not of men but of God” (Romans 2:28-29)
Instead of a Sabbath rest on one day of each week, he provides a true rest from the works of the flesh by enjoining divine principles as a daily way of life and, moreover, providing by his sacrificial work, an effective COVER FOR SIN.
When, through the weakness of the flesh, we fail to keep all these divine principles, Jesus invites us to
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”.
He condemned the empty, meaningless formalism of the Jewish leaders who insisted on the seventh day rest without any appreciation of its SPIRITUAL significance. In Christ alone, is to be found the TRUE Sabbath rest. The lessons of the Sabbath have a place in the life of a true Christian, but not as a seventh day observance. Neither the seventh day nor the first day (Sunday) has been enjoined by Christ for that purpose, but EVERY day as Paul taught:
“We are delivered from the law (of Moses) that… we should serve in newness of spirit and not in the oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:6)
The letter of the law was all that concerned the Jews - they were not at all interested to discover the meaning behind the various rituals and commandments, which meaning the Scripture calls “the spirit of the law”. Here was the kernel of wisdom in the law which pointed in every direction to the coming Saviour. Speaking of these rituals and commandments, the Apostle Paul says,
“which are a SHADOW (representative) of things to come, but the BODY (fulfilment) is Christ” (Colossians 2:7)
The Sabbath day was one these shadows which pointed forward to the rest we find in Christ, our Saviour.
A SABBATH OF REST FOR THE EARTH
It also has further meaning concerning the future of the earth, which lack of space does not allow us to develop here. Briefly, it concerns God’s plan that the whole earth shall, one day, experience a REST from sin for 1000 years. It is this rest which is the reward promised by God to true Christians who keep the true Sabbath now.