Doubtless many millions of words have been spoken in the age-old argument over the proper day to keep as a sabbath.

Is it Saturday?

Or is it Sunday?

Or, maybe we have missed the point altogether!

What does the Bible say?

The Christian’s Sabbath

“He that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.” —Hebrews 4:10

IN THE Old Testament, the word sabbath, in most instances, is a translation of a Hebrew word which means ‘intermission’, with the texts in which it appears indicating that the intermission was for the rest from servile and gainful work. Our word rest comes closest to defining the word sabbath. Its meaning in the New Testament is the same.

In the New Testament, the word sabbath appears, in all, sixty times. Many of these uses are in narratives of events which occurred on the sabbath, such as the reading of the Scriptures in synagogues, or visiting synagogues. We are also informed of the accusations against Jesus for healing the sick on the sabbath. In reply to these charges, Jesus explained, “My Father worketh hitherto [on the sabbath], and I work.” He also explained that “the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.”—Mark 2:27; John 5:17

Jesus gave no direct commands concerning the sabbath. Neither did any of the apostles. The only use of the word in all the epistles of the New Testament is found in Colossians 2:16, which reads, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath.” In the King James Version, the word days is added to sabbath in this text, but it is in italics, indicating that it is an arbitrary addition, not, appearing in the Greek text. There is no reference to the sabbath in the Book of Revelation.

Beginning with Cornelius, Gentiles began accepting Christ and coming into the Early Church. Their background of religious thought and experience was vastly different from that of their Jewish brethren, and this presented a problem to those first believers in Christianity. To what extent should the Gentile believers be expected to conform to Jewish customs and viewpoints?

An apostolic conference was called at Jerusalem to consider this problem. The conclusions reached are set forth in a message, or letter, which was sent to the churches. This letter reads, omitting the two opening paragraphs, “It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; that ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.”—Acts 15:25-29

It is noteworthy, we think, that in these necessary things from which the Gentile believers were to abstain, no mention is made of refraining from work on the seventh day. Undoubtedly the reason is that the apostles understood the Jewish Law was not binding upon the followers of Jesus, except those moral fundamentals pertaining to adultery, etc., and in his Sermon on the Mount Jesus had given these a higher or magnified meaning.

Most students of the Bible are quite willing to agree the ordinances of the Law are not binding upon Christians. But some feel that the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments, were not, to use a scriptural expression, “nailed to the cross.” Paul does not agree with this. In II Corinthians 3:11 he speaks of that which was “done away,” and going back to verse seven we find that the Law to which he is referring is that of the commandments which had been “written and engraven in stones.” All of the many and various ordinances of the Law were not engraven in stones—only the Ten Commandments. This leaves no doubt whatever that the Decalogue was done away insofar as Christians are concerned.

Moses summed up the intent and spirit of the ten commandments to mean that we should love the Lord with all our hearts, and our neighbors as ourselves. (Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18) The “new commandment” which Jesus gave to his disciples goes beyond this, for it calls for the sacrifice of life on behalf of our neighbors, our brethren. We are invited to lay down our lives for them.—John 15:13; I John 3:16

Obviously to have such a love for God as would lead one to follow in the sacrificial footsteps of Jesus would, of necessity, result in purity of life and conduct. One who is laying down his life in the service of God and of his fellows does not need to be told not to steal; not to covet; not to commit adultery; and not to murder.

The sabbath commandment called for abstention from servile and gainful employment on the seventh day. The true Christian is one who has consecrated all that he has and is to the Lord and to his service. All that he may gain by working he acquires for the Lord, so that all his work is holy. Those who have such a viewpoint of, and purpose in life, need not to be told to consider one day a week holy to the Lord, for they have already consecrated every day to him.

Early Church Customs

It is clear from the record that the apostles, when opportunity afforded, visited the Jewish synagogues on the sabbath. This was not because they themselves were strict observers of the Jewish sabbath, but because they knew they would find devout Jews in the synagogues on these days to which they could witness the Gospel of Christ

They were just as alert for opportunities to serve on the first day of the week, when the Early Christians formed the habit of meeting on that day for the breaking of bread in commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus, as they were on any other day. One example of this is Paul’s experience at Troas where, when he had preached until midnight, a young man fell asleep and tumbled out of the window and was killed. After restoring the young man to life, Paul preached the remainder of the night.—Acts 20:7-12

This does not mean that the apostles had adopted the first day of the week to be observed as the Christian sabbath. It simply means they were ready and glad to serve their brethren and to bear witness to the Gospel wherever and whenever opportunity offered, regardless of what day of the week it might be.

A Rest Day Beneficial

In connection with the sabbath, Moses reminded Israel of their slave days in Egypt when, apparently, no day of rest was provided. It is a well recognized fact that human beings need this day of rest from their ordinary occupations, and certainly Christians should rejoice in the opportunities it affords them for worship and service of the Lord. Now, of course, in this modern age of labor-saving machinery, millions enjoy two days a week from their gainful employment. The predictions are that this will not long hence be increased to three.

The commandment relating to the sabbath simply stated that there were to be six days of labor, and the seventh was to be a day of rest. No indication is given as to when the six days would or should begin to count. Evidently the spirit of the commandment is that one day in seven was to be a day of rest. Some may insist that man has kept such accurate time that the exact same seventh day of the week which we now call Saturday is the seventh day on which God rested when he had finished the creative work, and therefore no other day could properly be called the sabbath.

But several difficulties are encountered in connection with this thought. The first one is that God’s rest day was not one of twenty-four hours. (See the article in this issue of The Dawn entitled, “The Days of Creation.”) No definite starting day can therefore be arrived at in this manner.

Scriptural days are measured from sundown to sundown, and here we are confronted with another difficulty, which means that the days of necessity vary according to where one may be located on the earth. For example, this variation is so great that when the International Date Line is crossed, there is a whole day’s difference, so our “seventh” day might be the “sixth,” or the “first,” on the other side of the earth!

Besides, for those who may live north of the Arctic Circle, or south of the Antarctic Circle, there is really only one “day” in the whole year-six months of sunshine, and six months of darkness. In these areas of the earth twenty-four hour time divisions are wholly arbitrary, being governed by humanly made mechanical time-measuring devices.

All of this, of course, is relatively unimportant to our subject, except to emphasize the difficulties of endeavoring to establish a particular day out of seven as one which the Lord has made holy, or sacred, above the others. We have already quoted Paul’s instructions that Christians are not to be Judged upon the basis of whether or not they observe certain days above others, or keep the Jewish sabbath; and when we take all the facts into consideration we can see how truly wise Paul was in giving Christians such advice.—Col. 2:16

God’s Rest

Our text indicates that Christian believers enjoy a sabbath, or rest, which is similar to the rest which God began when the work of the six creative days was finished. Did God cease all activity in order to rest, in the sense that we think of resting? Was God weary, or tired? The Prophet Isaiah wrote, “Hast thou not known? Hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? There is no searching of his understanding.”—Isa. 40:28

No, God was not tired! God did not need to rest. It is apparent, therefore, that there is a deeper meaning attached to the statement that we, who have believed, “have ceased from our own works, as God did from his.” Examining the general lesson of which our text is a part, some interesting facts appear. The first verse of the chapter reads, “Let us therefore fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.” Certainly the rest here referred to is something far beyond physical rest during one day in seven, whether it be the first or the seventh day.

Verses three and four read, “We which have believed do enter into rest as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he spoke in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works.” Here is a direct reference to the seventh day of God’s rest, with the explanation that the Israelites had failed to enter into his rest—although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.

How revealing are these texts! It was not that God had been resting one twenty-four hour day in seven from the foundation of the world, and that the Israelites had failed to rest with him on those seventh days. No, the works were finished from the foundation of the world, and God had been resting ever since. His rest had been continuous, all the time, and the Israelites had failed to share it with him because of their unbelief.

The apostle then explains that because the typical Israelites had not entered into God’s rest, therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein. (vs. 6) Verse seven quotes a prophecy from Psalm 95:7 referring to a day, or period, when God’s people of this age would be given an opportunity to enter into his rest. Paul explains that if Joshua (Margin) had given rest to God’s people in the Jewish Age, then the Lord through the psalmist would not have spoken of another day.

Now the point we wish to emphasize here is that this apostolic lesson pertaining to Christian sabbath-keeping could not possibly be applied to resting one day in seven from physical labor. Paul is not discussing the importance of one day above another, but is encouraging the Christian to enter into a rest of faith every day.

Verse nine continues the lesson and reads, “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.” The marginal translation of this text, which is true to the meaning of the original Greek text, reads, “There remaineth therefore a keeping of a sabbath to the people of God.” This seems to be a reference to a far more realistic sabbath, or rest, which the faithful people of God will attain in the future; but again the reference is to a continuous rest, not an intermittent one-day-in-seven cessation from physical labor.

Then comes our text. It speaks of those who enter into God’s rest, and explains that those who do, cease from their own works as God ceased from his. Here, also, the reference is to something far more comprehensive and important than resting one day in seven. A Christian ceases from his own ‘works’, not for the seventh day of each week, merely, but for every day. His rest is as continuous as God’s rest has been; and as verse three indicates, his has been an uninterrupted rest from the foundation of the world.

What, then, are the works from which a Christian ceases? Is it his daily employment by which he makes a living? No! We believe the Scriptures reveal clearly that they are the works of righteousness by which one might attempt to secure the favor and blessing of the Lord. Paul refers to them as the “works [and deeds] of the Law” by which “there shall no flesh be justified.”—Rom. 3:20; Gal. 2:16; 3:11

How do we cease from these works? It is by placing our faith and trust in the finished work of Christ. Christ, through his shed blood, has provided justification and salvation for us which we could not attain by our own imperfect efforts, or works. Our rest of faith, therefore, is in him. It is a blessed rest we enjoy, because that which we struggled unsuccessfully to attain has been provided by another.

“As God Did From His”

From this standpoint, Paul’s comparison of the Creator’s rest with ours is most interesting and enlightening. During all those long days of creation, Jehovah and his beloved Son together carried forward the work of preparing the earth to be man’s eternal home. John wrote concerning Jesus in his pre-human existence that “without him was not anything made that was made.” (John 1:3) This was as the Logos, and this title means representative, or mouthpiece. Jehovah directed the work, so we hear him saying to his Son, “Let us make man in our image.”—Gen. 1:26

But, with the creation of man, the work of those six days was completed. Man had been created in the image of God, with the ability to know right from wrong. He was told it was wrong to disobey the Creator’s law, and disobedience would lead to death. He had been created a free moral agent. Divine power would not, therefore, be used to restrain him from sin; so man partook of the forbidden fruit and was sentenced to death.

There began the long night of sin and death. The Creator still loved his human creation, but justice demanded the death penalty continue to be carried out. However, in his wisdom, God had formulated a plan for human recovery from sin and death, a plan which permitted man to experience evil, and to profit there from, thus adding to his original perfection that which could be acquired only by experience.

God’s plan called for a Redeemer, one who would take the sinner’s place in death, and, being raised from the dead, serve as the reconciler of the world to God. The one chosen for this was none other than his own beloved Son, the Logos. Now God’s Son, who had worked under his supervision in creating all things, was assigned the responsibility of restoring fallen man, and thus completing the Creator’s ultimate design concerning the earth.—Isa. 45:18

So God rested from his creative work; rested, that is, in the sense of entrusting its completion to another, even to his own beloved Son. Since the Creator’s confidence in his Son was complete, his rest has been complete. He knew from the beginning that his Son would willingly, gladly, and faithfully carry out every detail of his plan for the redemption and recovery of fallen man from sin and death.

Paul wrote, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself.” (II Cor. 5:19) The Creator is the Author of the plan of reconciliation; but, as Paul explains, it is accomplished through Christ, and God rests the matter with him. Now we can see how it is that our rest is like God’s rest. We have ceased from our own works as God did from his, because, like God, we look to Jesus to accomplish what we could not do for ourselves.

God could not set aside the death penalty and restore sinful man to life because the sentence of death was just, and divine justice could not be set aside. But Jesus became a ransom, a corresponding price, and thus made possible the release of man from the penalty. We, as members of the fallen race, are imperfect, and cannot approach God in our own merit. But upon the basis of the ransom provided by Jesus, he becomes our Advocate before the Father, so we can be at peace with him, and enjoy a hope of life through Christ.

The Creator’s confidence in Christ has always been complete. The extent of our rest in Christ depends upon the degree of faith we exercise in this loving provision which our Heavenly Father has made for us. Our Heavenly Father is active on our behalf even while resting. Jesus said that no one could come to him unless drawn by the Father. And Jesus promised that those who are thus drawn, he would in no wise cast out, but would raise up at the last day.—John 6:44,37

Yes, God draws the sinner, not directly to himself, but to Jesus. Nor can the sinner go directly to God. He also must recognize the need of redemption through Jesus. What is true in the case of one individual member of the fallen race is true of all. Having brought upon himself the divine penalty of death by transgressing the divine law, if man were ever to live again something must be accomplished for him that the Creator could not personally do. He must be redeemed, and God gave his Son the opportunity to be the Redeemer.

The divine permission of evil in human experience might properly be considered as the completion, in the sense of a refining, of the human creation. It is a refining work involving the operation of man’s free moral agency. Isaiah wrote that God created the earth “not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited.” (Isa. 45:18) God knew that inexperienced man would transgress his law. He knew he could not overlook this transgression. But he also knew his beloved Son would gladly take the sinner’s place in death, and thus provide for his recovery.

Thus the Creator could look down to the close of his day of rest, and know the earth would be inhabited by restored man, who would not only be perfect mentally, morally, and physically, but possessed also of that strength of righteous character that could be acquired only by experience. So God rested from his work pertaining to man that this ultimate attainment might be reached through the ministry of Jesus.

The seventh creative day, God’s rest day, like the others, began in obscurity. Actually, from the standpoint of light and darkness, it has been more like night than day. However, this long period during which evil has been permitted for the further development of man, is to end in a glorious morning of joy. The psalmist prophesied, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”—Ps. 30:5

The work of the final thousand years of this seventh day is described by the Apostle Paul as the time of Christ’s reign. Not only did Jesus provide redemption for the human race, but during his mediatorial reign will actually restore redeemed humanity to life and to harmony with God. Paul says that Christ must reign until all enemies are put under his feet, and the “last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”—I Cor. 15:25,26

Then Paul adds, “When all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.” (vs. 28) It was because God put all things under Christ—all things, that is, pertaining to the redemption and restoration of fallen man—that he rested. But with the recovery of man complete, with all the families of the earth restored to perfection and able to obey the Creator’s perfect law, Christ’s work will have been completed, and the Creator will resume his direct relationship with his human creation. The work of the last creative day will then be finished, and it can, perhaps will, be recorded, “The evening and the morning were the seventh day.”

Meanwhile, what a glorious incentive we have for fully resting in Jesus to accomplish the divine purpose both in ourselves as individuals, and on behalf of the whole world. If our rest of faith is complete our peace and joy in him will be deep and full and rich. If we have fully believed, then we can fully rest.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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