Cycles Within Cycles: Part Four

[Note:  This is the fourth part of a series of post on the cycles of time within the biblical temporal world.  Parts one, two, and three have already been posted.]

Having already addressed several issues related to biblical time, I would like to address one issue that seems to cause frequent speculation and has served as a fallacious justification of a great deal of disobedience of God’s clear commandments related to how we are to recognize and observe according to the cycles that God has created in the heavens and on the earth.  What are the Sabbath, new moons, and holy days shadows of?  What do they point back to and what do they point forward to?  How is it that even though they are (mere) shadows that they remain for us to observe as believers?  How are we to make sense of the apparent contradictions that exist in different passages concerning how the Sabbath is to be remembered by believers?  Although these are serious questions, let us at least seek to give an overall answer to this question today, as all of these questions are interconnected [1].

The first passage people think of when it comes to viewing the Sabbath (as well as the new moons and holy days) as shadows is in Colossians 2:16-17:  “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.”  We know, for example, that this passage is not viewing these days as unimportant to keep because of the context, specifically the way that the passage ends in Colossians 2:20-23:  “Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations— “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men?  These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.”  How do we know that Colossians 2 does not speak against the observance of the Sabbath, new moons, and holy days?  The following reasons will suffice:  these days were not self-imposed religion but rather given by God, they are not things which perish with the using but are rather signs placed in the skies in order to mark the time from Creation, and they do not involve false humility or neglect of the body, but rather involve honoring God.  Clearly, there are traditions about these days that people may have that are particularly ascetic and unbiblical, but these are separate from the ways that we should honor these days.

Nevertheless, Colossians 2:16-17 is good at bringing our attention to the question of how these markers of time are shadows, and what substance is of Christ.  In order to answer this larger question, let us look at a few biblical passages that point to the relationship of the Sabbath and other cycles of time with either the past or the future.  Hebrews 4:8-11 tells us, for example:  “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.  Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.”  Much of Hebrews 3 and 4 consists of a lengthy exegesis of Psalm 95 and a rather cerebral but also fascinating attempt to demonstrate that Joshua’s efforts to bring the children of Israel into the promised land did not fulfill the meaning of the Sabbath by indicating that even centuries after this there was another rest that still remained for believers, a sabbath that the author of Hebrews is at pains to remind believers still remains for believers who should be diligent to enter into that rest just as God entered into that rest in creation.  In Hebrews 4 we see that the Sabbath remains because it points both forward and backwards, and both of these point towards God.

How is this so?  We may begin to see this from the very commandments given in the Law in the first place.  Exodus 20:8-11 reads:  “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.”  This is a familiar passage, and it should be fairly obvious to point out that this passage points back to the Creation, where the sun and moon and stars were set as markers of the daily, weekly (?), monthly, and annual cycles of time that are celebrated and observed in scripture, and where God rested on the Sabbath day and sanctified it not for Jews but for all people.  Since the Sabbath was sanctified as part of creation, the fact that its weekly observance is a shadow of creation means that it was made for all under heaven, something this passage confirms by pointing out that it should be remembered not only by elites but by commoners, not only by Israelites but by the strangers in our gates, and not only by people but also by animals, and Leviticus 25 reminds us that the Sabbath is for the land as well as for people and animals.

Deuteronomy 5:12-15 gives a slightly different perspective on the Sabbath that is worth reflecting on:  “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 your stranger who is within your gates, that your male servant and 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.”  Here we see a different focus from the Sabbath, but one that is itself a shadow as well, in that here the Sabbath points to the deliverance of Israel through the events of the Exodus.  And here the shadow of the Sabbath relates it to the moon (since the Exodus occurred at the full moon) and also to the annual holy days (since it occurred during the time of the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread).

And how are these days connected to Christ?  Any number of passages could be used to discuss this, but the most obvious is 1 Corinthians 5:7:  “Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.”  We also know from the synoptic Gospels that Jesus Christ is Lord of the Sabbath (see Matthew 12:1-8, Mark 2:23-28, and Luke 6:1-5).  The Sabbath, new moons, and holy days all connect together and point both to the past and to the future, to the creation, to God’s saving actions through history, to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, to our walk as believers, to the giving of the law and the Holy Spirit, and also to the return of Jesus Christ, the banishment of Satan and sin from creation and the reconciliation of mankind and God, to the millennial reign of Jesus Christ over all the earth, and then finally to the new heavens and new earth where there will be no more sin and death, no more sorrow or crying.  For this fulfillment we and all of creation eagerly await.  In the meantime, we reenact the past and point toward the future that we await, the Sabbath and other measures of time serving as reminders of the past and anticipations of what is to come.  Why should they be any less important or worthwhile to us on that count?

[1] I have at various times looked at these passages in a more detailed fashion.  See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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