Having previously examined Hebrews 3 and 4 in the examination of the need to continue in obedience to God in order to reach the “rest” of God , I would like to examine today some reasons why the seventh day Sabbath remains in force for Christians because of what it points toward.
Remember The Sabbath Day To Keep It Holy
Hebrews 4:9 states that the Sabbath remains in force for Christians (i.e. it remains, rather than is done away with). Why is this so? We know from the account of the 10 Commandments in both Exodus and Deuteronomy that the Sabbath points back to God’s Creation and to deliverance from Egypt. Let us therefore examine what the Sabbath points back to.
Let us first examine what the Bible itself says about the symbolic meaning of Creation. Let us first go to Exodus 20:8-11: “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.”
We see here that the seventh day Sabbath, the Sabbath that God Himself kept (see Genesis 2:1-3), and that Jesus Christ is the Lord of (see Luke 6:5), points back to the Creation. Just as God rested from His labors on the seventh day, so mankind rests from his on the day set aside for rest by God. We see also that this weekly Sabbath rest is also symbolic of the land Sabbath, where every seven years the land is to rest, 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 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 within you, for your livestock and the beasts that are in your land–all its produce shall be for food.”
We see therefore that the Sabbath is not only weekly, but also yearly in its focus. Just as we rest from our labors at the end of each week, on the seventh day, so we also rest our land every seven years, trusting God to feed us as he fed the Israelites each Sabbath with extra manna, letting our land rest on the Sabbath year according to His law. This concept of rest, therefore, is not merely weekly in nature, but also yearly in nature, with the same concern shown for servants and strangers that is shown within the weekly Sabbath command.
Likewise, there was a further wrinkle of this land Sabbath. Just as the land was to work six years and then be free in the seventh year, so this is 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 year he shall go out free and pay nothing.” Therefore the land Sabbath of seven years did not only deal with rest, but also with freedom. We see this concept developed even further in Leviticus 25:8-17, which shows that the year after the 49-year cycle was done (the first year of the next 49-year cycle), was to be a Jubilee year where land was to be restored to its inhabitants, debts were to be forgiven, slaves were to be freed, and where the land was to rest again. 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 then, 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.”
Deuteronomy 4:12-15, in giving the Sabbath command a second time, provides freedom from slavery as a reason for keeping the Sabbath day: “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 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 ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor the stranger who is in your gates, that your male servant your female servant may rest as well as you. 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.”
We see here, therefore, that the Sabbath rest not only points back to God’s rest after Creation, but also to the rest that comes from freedom from slavery, and that just as God freed Israel from slavery that Israel was 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, and the rest is symbolic of that God-given liberty, 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). Either way, the Sabbath remains as a sign of our freedom, and as a sign pointing back to the rest of God after Creation.
There Remains Therefore A Sabbath Rest For The People of God
What does the Sabbath point towards, though? How do we know that the Sabbath is a sign of what is to come and not only of what has past? We know because the Bible does not only speak of the Sabbath as a memorial (though, as we have seen that is true both in terms of Creation and freedom), but also as a shadow. Let us now examine what the Bible points toward.
In Colossians 2:16-17 we have 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 area 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, to give but a few examples), and also that he was fully obedient to the law of God and content to be killed if he had broken 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 these things himself.
What does he mean, then, by calling them a shadow? No more than the author of Hebrews meant in Hebrews 3 and 4 by 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 during His Millennial rule. 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 in that 1,000 year period over the earth after God frees the world as a whole from slavery to sin and from the oppression of evil men and the spirits of darkness that motivate their deeds.
Let us therefore learn from the example of the faithless and rebellious Israelites, whose bones were scattered in the wilderness because of their unbelief, and enter into that rest ourselves. For we see that this Sabbath rest of 1,000 years not only symbolizes freedom from labor and toil (as results from the fall of man), and the pernicious effects of sin in the universe as a result of the world being under the sway of the evil one, but also points to the creation of the new heavens and new earth after that rest is done and judgment has come once and for all to all who have ever lived and breathed (Revelation 20:11-21:5).
Let us remember, therefore, that even as each Sabbath and each Sabbath year is a reminder of the Creation of the heavens and the earth by God and of our deliverance from slavery into freedom through the workings of God’s Holy Spirit, that the Sabbath also points forward to the 1,000 year reign, the Sabbath Millennium, which 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, without success. There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God as the Bible has commanded consistently throughout from beginning to end, as we hope and pray for that kingdom to speedily come.