The Sabbath Rest

Seventh-day Adventists have traditionally looked at the Sabbath from the standpoint of law that reflects back on creation. This is derived from the commandment itself, “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” (Ex 20:11 NKJV). So we see in it a command to rest on the seventh day of the week because God did (Gen 2:1-3).1

Seeing the Sabbath as a memorial of creation is vital today as evolution is eroding so much faith in the reliability of Scripture. For instance, not only does evolution do away with God, but its theory of long ages destroys the credibility of the creation story, the basis of our relationship with God and our accountability to Him, which gives us reason for doing right. Evolution as the history of our origin also destroys our theology concerning the origin of sin and wipes away any purpose for our lives including a hopeful future in paradise.

Another way to look at this commandment is suggested in Deut. 5:15 NKJV, “And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” So, seeing the Sabbath by faith as a promise, we praise God for delivering us from the bondage of sin. As Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin” (John 8:34 NKJV) and “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36 NKJV).

It is vitally important that we see the exodus account (Deut 5) as a deliverance from an impossible situation. Not only that, but God delivered a nasty, insignificant bunch of people out of Egypt simply because He promised Abraham some 400 years previously that He would do so. We likewise have the same promise which will culminate in our mortal bodies putting on immortality.

The problem is that the ancient Israelites failed to keep God’s covenant by faith.  “. . . but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law” (Rom 9:31-32 NKJV). They only saw it as a command to be kept in order to fulfill the requirements of the old covenant. Likewise many of us today do the same thing and in so doing so we tend to overlook the theological significance of the command and the promises implied in it.

Today different groups of Adventists throughout the world will keep the Sabbath in different ways, depending on their view of the commandment. And I believe that God honors the different ways of keeping the Sabbath if it is done in faith. However, when we “keep” Sabbath strictly as a legal command by focusing on all the do’s and don’ts, we may actually unknowingly be breaking the Sabbath, irrespective of how strictly we “keep” it, because we are not focused on the Lord of the Sabbath and what He has promised concerning it. In short we would not be keeping it in faith. Furthermore, a focus on what to do or not to do may completely destroy the Sabbath as a joy and a blessing as it did for many of the Jews in the time of Christ.

But perhaps even more important is that the Sabbath is also symbolic of the promised eternal rest. Hebrews seems to hint at this.

“For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: ‘So I swore in My wrath,`They shall not enter My rest,’ although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: ‘And God rested on the seventh day from all His works’” (Heb 4:3-4 NKJV). . . “again He designates a certain day, saying in David, ‘Today,’ after such a long time, as it has been said: ‘Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts.’ For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His” (Heb 4:7-10 NKJV).

That the writer refers to creation and the Sabbath and yet said that Joshua spoke of another day is suggestive of something beyond the literal Sabbath day itself. Most theologians believe the writer of Hebrews is here speaking of the spiritual rest in Christ. Yet this earthly rest is also a foretaste of the heavenly rest to come. This can be seen metaphorically when we consider that it has been about 6000 years (six millenniums) since the creation of the earth so that we are about to enter the seventh millennium. Therefore in a sense just like the sacrifice of the lamb in the earthly sanctuary was symbolic of what was to come so the Sabbath is a symbol of the millennial rest we will have following the Second Advent.

If the seventh day Sabbath indeed points to a heavenly rest, we need to ask what our relationship should be to the seventh-day Sabbath. Historically we have been worked up over just how we should keep the Sabbath, which is important when considering it as a command of God. “Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant” (Ex 31:16 NKJV).

But we need to also realize that God designed the Sabbath for more than one purpose. It is intended to give us much-needed rest from six days of labor. Even our minds are to rest from worldly thoughts and focus on the Lord of the Sabbath. He asks us to remember that He created everything on the earth not in billions of years but in six short days and because He created us (Ex 20; Gen 2:1-3), we belong to Him. He also owns us because He has redeemed us as he redeemed Israel and brought them out of the slavery of Egypt (Deut 5). So we are doubly His. We may, therefore, by faith rest in the assurance of being adopted sons and daughters of the King of the universe.

We can also through Sabbath observance, by faith, look forward to the millennial rest and a place in heaven. And, “just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness’ (Gal 3:6 NKJV) and “waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb 11:10 NKJV), we can look forward to our heavenly home. Abraham lived a nomadic life, and he knew what it was to be a stranger in a foreign land. He longed for that permanent place in heaven that God had promised. We sometimes get too comfortable in this sinful world, but the Sabbath should remind us that we are only strangers here and on our way to the promised heavenly home (John 14:2-3).

So how should we keep the Sabbath in this sinful world as we look forward to our promised inheritance which starts with the millennium?



The Sabbath Rest — 10 Comments

  1. Tyler I alway enjoy reading your posts, and is intrigue with writers views on sabbath-keeping. A lot is said about don't be legalistic about it, but not much about how not to. Since sabbath-keeping is an expressed law of God, how can we help not being legalistic, for the legal requirement of the law must be meet - aint it?
    I suggest a few pointers:- The Sabbath must be relational.
    1. It was a loving Creator who made us and everything else, give it to us, and wants to be our Father, Lord, Jehovah Jireh etc. Who would want tp forget the most loving dad of all the world. Exodus 20:8-11 is all father children relationship.
    2. Man did the conceivable and sin, but a loving God did not leave us to perish but save us with a mighty outstretched arm Deut 5:15, strong enough to do it for all the world, and wide enough that none will feel left out. This was accomplished on the cross in true symbolism. Are you willing to forget a big brother who gave his heart that his younger brother could live. The Sabbath is about living with the heart of Jesus.
    3. To crown it all, it is a mark of those who belong to to God Eze. 20:20. I am a Brathwaite, I carry my name whereever I go, it is who I am, and not willing to change that. The Sabbath is a mark or sign of my entitlement as a son of God, and in Him it cannot be changed.

  2. Samuel, I’m glad that I am contributing something of value even though I am sure at times I may go overboard or to be altogether wrong about something. Sometimes it is hard to present a truly balanced article because of the environment it which it must be given and usually it is in an effort to balance a previous imbalance.

    My article wasn’t designed to answer all questions but rather to raise questions about Sabbath observance. If the article seems overly anti-legalistic it is because of a reaction I have to many of the comments that people have made. As a Seventh-day Adventist I believe in law keeping but I also believe that if it is done in the wrong way the effort is useless. As an illustration I have quoted below a portion of what Jesus said in Mat 25 and Mat 7.

    “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, `Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.' Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, `Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' And the King will answer and say to them, `Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me'” (Mat 25:34-45 NKJV).

    “Not everyone who says to Me, `Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, `Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, `I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'” (Mat 7:21-23 NKJV)

    Here we have the two groups involved in the issues of the faith vs. law debate. They both were “doing the will of God.” The first group didn’t even know they were while the second were sure that they were. The reason why this was so was because of where their focus was. The second group had their focus on self and was involved in what has been called a “check list” mentality while the first group had their focus on Jesus who was working in them to produce the good works (Phil 1:6; Phil 2:13; Col 1:27). Even Jesus, God in the flesh, worked in the same way, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works” (John 14:10 NKJV). So you see the question isn’t whether we keep the law or not but rather how we go about keeping it.

    To me the Sabbath is a time when our focus should be on the “Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28) who can work in us proper Sabbath keeping. And during those hours we should be thinking about the promises He gives us through it and how we can pass that blessing on to others. It is not a time when we should be biting our nails in worry over whether we are in violation of the Sabbath command. This is where I wanted to lead people.

    "Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen" (Heb 13:20-21 NKJV).

    • Tyler, I agree with you 200%. I am very conservative, but not legalistic. I am practical. If we should stop worrying about how to keep the sabbath, and constantlt think of Christ each moment of His day, we will keep the Sabbath as we should, even if all of us keep it in a different way. God will guide us with our different personalities and abilities.

  3. I agree that historically we have been legalistic about keeping the sabbath, and that is destructive, on the other hand, I am concerned that in trying to avoid legalism we will go too far in the other direction. What I mean is that the the definition of keeping the sabbath by faith cannot be based on personal opinion, but rather on the word of God. I am afraid at times the anti-legalism argument has been used to justify activities in the sabbath that clearly do not lead to a closer spiritual walk. In this regard I think, I think Isaiah 58:13,14 is enlightening,

    "If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure[c] on my holy day,and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable;if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;then you shall take delight in the LORD,and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."

    I believe the key to making the sabbath a delight is to focus not on our pleasure, but in His. In other words, in surrendering our tastes and preferences by faith to embrace his, and in so doing paradoxically experience (when compared to the secular view) joy and peace.

  4. Good comments and very empowering spiritually . I came accross a question from friend who asked me this question,exactly where in the bible are we commanded as SDAs to worhsip/ go to church on Saturday? Does Rest or Observarance of Sabbath mean going to church or worhipping?

    • Seth,

      Although the command to worship collectively on the sabbath day is not explicitly stated in the Bible, there is a verse in the book of Hebrews that tells us it is God's will that we worship collectively, especially in these last days. Hebrews 10:24,25 "24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. The Bible is clear in that although we can worship alone, it is when meet with others when we can actually put our faith to work, by sharing our spiritual experience with other, helping one another grow in Christ. Jesus said "In this they will know that you are my disciples, in that you love one another" The concept on unity and team work among believers can be found throughout the Bible. The benefit of social interaction has been a topic that even the scientific world has been talking about in recent years. In summary, we can worship alone during 6 days, but the Sabbath is the day in which we have the opportunity to enjoy the fellowship and mutual growth that comes from collective worship.

  5. Seth, your question involves two things. First is the fourth commandment itself and how to interpret what is meant by the seventh day. The second is how people of the first century related to that commandment.

    First of all let’s recognize the fact that Jews keep Saturday (Sabbath) as their day of worship and as far as anyone can tell they haven’t changed that practice from the beginning of recorded history. We also need to keep in mind that while the day, month, and year are based on astronomical observations the seven day week is not. Therefore the seventh day Sabbath is based on religious observance because, “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” (Gen 2:2-3 NKJV). When Scripture says that God sanctified the day it means that He set it aside to be separate from the other six days.

    When we get to the first century AD we find the Jews stopping their weekly business and going to the Synagogue on the Sabbath. There seems to be little controversy over the fact that very early Christians believed that Jesus rose on Sunday, the first day of the week. If we look at the testimony in the Gospels we will find that Jesus was placed in the tomb with preliminary body preparation before the Sabbath on the preparation day (Mat 27:59-62; Lk 23:51-54; Jn 19:41-42). Jesus then rested in the tomb over the Sabbath (7th day) just as He rested from His works after creation and rose on the first day of the week (Lk 23:56-lk 24:1; Mat 27:62-Mat 28:1; Jn 20:1). This also forms a sort prophesy of the earth. For six thousand years it slowly dies then it rests during the millennium and after it is resurrected as the new earth.

    We need here to connect the dots in the narrative. Jesus died on the preparation day (6th day), rested on the Sabbath (7th day) and rose on Sunday (1st day). During His life as man He also observed the Sabbath (Lk 4:16). As did the disciples and apostles after him (Acts 17:2; Act 13:14,42,44; Act 18:4). Paul even observed the Sabbath when there was no Synagogue (Acts 16:3). Furthermore, we are admonished to gather together for worship (Heb 10:24-25).

  6. In Heb 4:8, I liked the KJV. “For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day?” Is asking a question and answering it at the same time. That is to say, If Jesus had given Christians the 1st Day for rest, would he not afterward have spoken of Sunday (another day) for worship?

    Also, I use Isaiah 58:13 as a guideline. The following list is NOT to be done as Sabbath activities:
    1) Turn away thy foot from the Sabbath,
    2) Doing thy pleasure on my holy day,
    3) Doing thine own ways,
    4) Finding thine own pleasure,
    5) Speaking thine own words.

    These activities are not permitted on the Sabbath; It is sensible for humans to asses themselves, especially during the Sabbath hours to see if their activities are slowly and subtlety “turning them away from the Sabbath”, and if so, make a godly correction.

    The effort of self-assessment and watching over your brother’s activities some deemed as “legalistic”, but we must bear one another’s burden and fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).

    Sabbath activities should be centered on love for God (seeking him) and love for mankind (benevolent activities) while staying away from mainly pleasing “self” which is a major distraction.

    • Carlfrost, I can agree with you to a point. I believe we should be balanced Christians. For instance, even though I do not consider myself to be a legalist I still refrain from a group of activities that I think are common everyday things. I furthermore try to make it a better day than the rest of the days of the week by doing things like having some of my favorite food on the Sabbath as a special treat.

      I also believe that we should endeavor to pass the same blessing on to others so that to them the Sabbath becomes the best day for them as well.

      When Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath I think He was telling us that the Sabbath was not to be a prison cell shackling us to a fearful set of do's and don'ts. At the same time He wasn't telling us to go wild on the Sabbath. There is proper restraint that sets the Sabbath off from the other days of the week but not in fearful bondage.

      "For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, 'Abba, Father.'" (Rom 8:15 NKJV).

      You can use texts such as Phil 2:12 but when the Sabbath becomes a day of fear rather than love then I believe it violates the law of God in other ways such as:

      "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love." (1 John 4:18 NKJV).

    • I appreciate your thoughts, Carl. However, I think it is important for us to realize that the validity and importance of the seventh-day Sabbath are taught throughout the Bible, and that taking texts out of context -- and misapplying them to support particular points of doctrine -- can only weaken the cause. To my mind, this practice makes us seem desperate to find support for our beliefs, when it's really not difficult at all!
      What am I saying here? In Hebrews 4, the context is about a certain passage in the Psalms, written by David. Paul (I believe he wrote Hebrews) wasn't talking about Jesus at all, nor was he making more than a passing reference to the Sabbath. He was saying that the earthly Promised Land (and it was Joshua, not Jesus per se, who brought the people into it -- same name) was not the ultimate rest for the people of God. That's why David (not Jesus) had spoken of another day (another time, which he called "today"), urging people to enter into God's spiritual rest. I believe Paul's point was that the Jews of his day needed to enter into that rest, through the Holy Spirit, and not content themselves with thinking that, being in Palestine, they had it made. The events of A.D. 70 prove the importance and urgency of Paul's words. Sorry, but his point had nothing to do with the Sabbath, except that the Sabbath (if observed in Spirit and truth) illustrates that spiritual rest.
      I can see a point for us today, not to content ourselves with being connected to the Adventist church, but to seek a rich and deep experience in the things of God, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
      God bless!


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