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Rest Assured.

Why Christians must rest in Christ and not on Sabbath. Working out God's Edenic purpose of grace through Sabbatical soteriology.

Must Christians observe Sabbath? To no one’s surprise is yet another very heated debate in the greater Christian community, particularly among Protestants and doctrinally dubious off-shoots. Throughout Christian history, Sunday was the newly appointed day of rest known as “the Lord’s Day”. As of the nineteenth century however, the technological boom of the industrial revolution, vis-à-vis a new growing trend of religious tolerance, paved a path for two days off instead of one. For once, I can praise God for our obstinance! But what exactly is the problem, here? What is wrong with shifting a proverbial goalposts of Sabbath rest to Sunday? Or simply observing Sabbath on Saturday. And why do some consider it a problem, blasphemous even, if you don’t observe Sabbath?

Well, for some folk, it is a matter of consistency. Christ fulfilled the Law. He did not abolish the Law. It does not follow, then, that the Ten Commandments, “written with the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18), ought to be ignored or abolished, nor does it follow that we are obligated to just nine of the ten—the fourth rule be damned. As Christians, we follow God, and God established Sabbath at the very beginning on the seventh day of creation (Genesis 2:1-3). Sabbath was to be an everlasting sign and covenant forever (Exodus 31:14, 16), so we, too, ought to observe Sabbath forever. To teach otherwise is to contradict God, so they say. Some even go as far as to teach that worshiping God on Sunday is a moral evil against God’s will, a man-made tradition that ought to stop for Christ to return.

But the New Testament teaches something a little different.

Give it a rest, already!

Each Gospel unequivocally states that Christ died on Friday, rested on Sabbath, and rose from the dead on “the first day of every week”—Sunday—and because of that historical and prophetic fact, all the apostles, disciples, and followers of Christ worshiped God on that day (Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:2). John the apostle even calls Sunday the “Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:10). From that point onward, no Christian, whether Jew and Gentile, was ever required to rest on Sabbath, nor was there ever pressure to observe Sabbath under threat of the death penalty or excommunication (Exodus 31:14). That would be to keep the Mosaic Law, and new converts were not obligated to keep such laws (Acts 15:4-21). But the New Testament does not stop there. The apostle Paul states, very clearly, that the obligation to observe Sabbath is nullified by its fulfillment in Christ:

“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Colossians 2:16-17)

Paul calls the Sabbath a “shadow of the things to come,” and that the “substance belongs to Christ”, so much so that to judge a believer for not observing Sabbath he likens to Judaizing and paganism, as one who is “captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world” (v.8). Paul is clear: There is no power in observing Sabbath. There is no salvation in observing Sabbath. Sabbath is a sign that points to Christ, and Christ fulfilled Sabbath. Just as circumcision is now spiritual “made without hands” (vv.11-14), so too is Sabbath rest. We went from shadow to substance (Hebrews 10:1), from the letter to the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:3-6), from dead to alive. It is no coincidence, then, that neither Acts nor the Epistles explicitly state that refraining from observing Sabbath warranted moral concern. Rather, Sabbath is often addressed in passing as being fulfilled in God through new creation, strongly suggesting the rules and rituals of Sabbath were grouped in with the rest of the ceremonial laws and sacred rites, as the prophet Hosea predicted (Hosea 2:11), and as Jesus inferred (John 7:21-24; Matthew 12:5; Mark 2:28).

The rest is history.

Christ’s fulfillment of the Law, then, is what warranted the shift of Sabbatical principles and customs to the Lord’s Day. Over time, the Church formally shifted customs of Sabbath and synagogue such as resting from labour, teaching services, feasting, communion, singing praises, gathering for worship, and remembering the Lord who freed us from bondage (being slaves of sin, as it were) from Saturday to Sunday because of its historical and prophetic and Scriptural significance. Since the beginning, Christians celebrated Communion and worshipped on Sunday, the first and eighth day (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor.16:1-2; Rev.1:10). Despite that, Sunday was never referred to as Sabbath or as the “new Sabbath” as some call it today. Saturday remained Sabbath (Acts 13:13-15, 42-44; 18:1-4). Many Christians continued to honour Saturday as holy because Christ “rested” on that day, thereby fulfilling the Sabbath. Saturday death, Sunday new life. This practice maintained the spirit of Sabbath without the covenantal requirements and consequences mandated by the Law (i.e., death penalty, excommunication). Afterall, Christians could start a fire on Saturday and Sunday, if desired (cf. Exodus 35:3). Though Sabbath was honoured holy in heart by many, it was not considered necessary for salvation, legislated as a societal law, or considered a moral obligation in the early Church.

The early Church—Barnabas, Ignatius, Justin, Victorinus, Eusebius, Athanasius, Cyril, Chrysostom, Augustine, Gregory, to name a few—hold unanimous consensus: Christians must not observe Sabbath. Salvation is not bound by the Law, and neither are we. Even though God commanded Israel to observe the covenantal sign forever (Exodus 31:16-17), to observe Sabbath in the Church age was to fasten that Mosaic yoke onto one’s neck. If children of the promise no longer require circumcision (Acts 15:4-21; Galatians 5:1–11; 6:11–16; 1 Corinthians 7:17–20; Colossians 2:8–12; Philippians 3:1–3), which was also called an “everlasting covenant” and “sign” by God (Genesis 17:11-14), why would Sabbath be any different? John Chrysostom (c. 347–407AD) draws attention to this detail:

“The rite of circumcision was venerable in the Jews’ account, forasmuch as the law itself gave way thereto, and the Sabbath was less esteemed than circumcision. For that circumcision might be performed, the Sabbath was broken; but that the Sabbath might be kept, circumcision was never broken; and mark, I pray, the dispensation of God. This is found to be even more solemn than the Sabbath, as not being omitted at certain times. When then it is done away, much more is the Sabbath.” (Homilies on Philippians, Homily 10. AD 402)

Chrysostom was quick to point out Christ’s teaching in John 7:21-24. Sabbath is a sacred rite like circumcision. It has nothing to do with faith. Seven years earlier, in AD 395, he wrote a homily that only intensifies his later sentiments:

“For though few are now circumcised, yet, by fasting and observing the sabbath with the Jews, they equally exclude themselves from grace….. You have put on Christ, you have become a member of the Lord and been enrolled in the heavenly city, and you still grovel in the law [of Moses]? How is it possible for you to obtain the kingdom? Listen to Paul’s words, that the observance of the law overthrows the gospel, and learn, if you will, how this comes to pass, and tremble, and shun this pitfall. Why do you keep the Sabbath and fast with the Jews? Is it that you fear the Law and abandonment of its letter? But you would not entertain this fear, did you not disparage faith as weak, and by itself powerless to save. A fear to omit the sabbath plainly shows that you fear the Law as still in force; and if the Law is needful, it is so as a whole, not in part, nor in one commandment only; and if as a whole, the righteousness which is by faith is little by little shut out. If you keep the sabbath, why not also be circumcised? And if circumcised, why not also offer sacrifices? If the Law is to be observed, it must be observed as a whole, or not at all. If omitting one part makes you fear condemnation, this fear attaches equally to all the parts.” (Homilies on Galatians, Chapter 2, Verse 17).

Ignatius of Antioch (c. ?50–108 AD), an immediate disciple of the apostle John, advocated that “if any one preach the Jewish law unto you, listen not to him.” (Letter to the Philadelphians, Chapter 6). He succinctly expresses the same reservation:

“[T]hose who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s Day [Sunday], on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death…. It is absurd to profess Christ Jesus, and to Judaize. For Christianity did not embrace Judaism, but Judaism Christianity, that so every tongue which believes might be gathered together to God.” (Letter to the Magnesians, Chapter 9, 10)

Augustine of Hippo (c. 354–430 AD), forefather of the Reformation some say, also saw no issue with following only nine of the ten commandments because the Mosaic laws abolished were ceremonial sacred rites:

“Well, now, I should like to be told what there is in these ten commandments, except the observance of the Sabbath, which ought not to be kept by a Christian — whether it prohibit the making and worshipping of idols and of any other gods than the one true God, or the taking of God’s name in vain; or prescribe honour to parents; or give warning against fornication, murder, theft, false witness, adultery, or coveting other men’s property? Which of these commandments would any one say that the Christian ought not to keep? Is it possible to contend that it is not the law which was written on those two tables that the apostle describes as the letter that kills, but the law of circumcision and the other sacred rites which are now abolished?” (The Spirit and the Letter, Chapter 23).

Okay, so—how do we reconcile all this?

How is Saturday no longer holy if it was the only holy day created by God?

How is Sabbath a covenantal sign forever if Christians do not observe it? Or do we?

Let’s lay down the Law.

1. What does God mean by “forever”?

First and foremost, to help us better understand why the apostles and Church fathers did not see a problem with God overriding His “everlasting covenants” as vital for eternal life, I think we should know what the text means when it says “forever” in the context of the Sabbath covenant.

In Exodus 31:16, God says, “Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever”. The English word translated as “forever” is olam (עוֹלָם) in Hebrew, which has a very wide spectrum of meaning throughout the Old Testament from “world” and “most distant times” (of antiquity or futurity) to “perpetual”, “everlasting”, and “eternity”[1]. It’s important to know that the Septuagint frequently translates olam into aion (or eon), referring to a long age or limited period of time. In the context of v.16 specifically, this seems to be the most accurate rendering of the text. This same definition for olam is also found in Exodus 21:6, which implies the longevity of voluntarily servitude is for as long as one lives (it is helpful, here, to compare ESV and NIV translations). Likewise, Deuteronomy 23:3-6 implies duration into the indefinite future, clarified in v.6, “…all your days forever”. In all three cases, olam is a temporal or contingent forever that is restricted to the concept of lifetime or so long as you live—that depending on, say, the nation Israel or a single person. We also see olam used to refer to disease, “the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you and to your descendants forever” (2 Kings 5:27). This, of course, does not mean Naaman’s descendants will have skin ailments for eternity, it means “from now on”—repentance will always override curses. Therefore, olam is a permanent and perpetual condition from the moment it was spoken forward, with no clear end in sight. In fact, most instances where olam is used will refer to a vague, unspecified length of time into the near future, which is ultimately measurable, but not perceptible. Sort of like how we use hyperbole today, such as “this will take forever” or “feels like forever ago”. In this context, then, olam more so means “from now on” or “continuously” or “perpetually” and should not be confused with eternity. In Genesis 17:13, when God tells Abraham circumcision will be an “everlasting covenant”, the same word olam is used to translate “everlasting”. Therefore, when God said Sabbath is a covenantal sign “forever” or circumcision is an “everlasting” covenant, He did not mean that it was an eternal covenant, He meant it was a from-now-on covenant until He says otherwise[2].

Now, the English translation “forever” can also mean ‘forever forever’ in the eternal sense, such as in the Davidic covenant (2 Samuel 7:8-16). But similar to how Revelation 22:13, Psalm 90:2, and Psalm 103:17 use two words in conjunction to describe an everlasting eternal forever, the Davidic covenant also uses the words ad (which is properly the same asʿaḏ, meaning “everlasting” or “continuing future”) and olam to insinuate the same. We see this again in Psalm 103:17, when David says, “from everlasting to everlasting, the Lord’s love is with those who fear him”. The Hebrew words used to describe “everlasting to everlasting” are olam ad olam. This is like us today saying ‘forever forever’ to emphasize the purest meaning and intent of what is being said—it is more than just ‘from now on’. This double word play is never used, as far as I know, for Sabbath and circumcision.

Temporal holiness. On top of that, not everything made holy by God is holy forever. There are many instances in the Old and New Testaments where sacred persons, objects, and rituals of worship are holy for a limited time, and then get destroyed, fulfilled, or replaced by God. That is to say, the sacred objects, rituals, and persons are not saved. For example, the Tabernacle was sacred but decommissioned and replaced by the Temple; the bronze serpent was sacred but destroyed by King Hezekiah to stop idolatry yet fulfilled by Christ (2 Kings 18:4-6); the Ark of the Covenant was sacred but decommissioned and presumably plundered by Nebuchadnezzar; sacrifices were sacred but fulfilled by Christ at his crucifixion; circumcision was sacred but was replaced by water baptism; the Temple was also the most sacred space, housing the Holy of Holies and God’s presence, but the glory of God left and now indwells believers, all of whom are being built together into His Temple (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 6:18-20; Ephesians 2:19-22), and because of that a believer can sanctify the unbelieving spouse; a holiness by proximity, that does not warrant salvation (1 Corinthians 7:14-16)—these examples are a tell that sacred objects, rituals, and persons all had a temporal holiness. God can deconsecrate what He pleases. God created the Sabbath ritual, just as He created the ritual of the rising and setting sun, just as He ordained the ritual of circumcision for a time. In the same way, God can decommission Sabbath, so it need not be observed.

2. Saturday is holy in creation, Sunday is holy to man.

There is a misunderstanding that holiness is some sort of property, attribute, or substance intrinsic to the Sabbath day itself because God ordered it so in creation. In Genesis, God said, “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” (Genesis 2:1-3) And in Exodus, regarding the Ten Commandments, God refers to this event: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy…. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11) Sabbath must be observed because God created it so.

You see, by isolating these verses together as a discrete theological truth at its own contextual expense, the day itself is irrevocably holy and, therefore, holier than Sunday. This argument, however, does not stand the test of time, nor does it meet the standard of God’s Word.

“Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you.” (Exodus 31:13-14)

Two things to notice, here, right off the cuff.

One, God does not teach that observing Sabbath makes you holy. God teaches that observing Him, following His way, and obeying His words, makes you holy. God teaches that Sabbath was only a sign, and that He makes you holy.

Two, God commands that we keep his Sabbaths—plural. This is more than just Saturday. What does that mean? It means that the pattern of sevens is more important than the day itself. Every seven years was a Sabbatical year, and every forty-nine years (seven times seven) was a year of Jubilee—all debts were forgiven. Already we see that there is nothing special about Saturday in itself, just as there is nothing special about Sunday in itself.

The day itself is not sanctifying. Keeping all Sabbaths—plural—was holy for Israel because it was a sign to them that it was God who makes them holy, not they themselves who are holy by virtue of blood or works. God used Sabbath to point to Himself. There is good prophetic reason for this, which I will get into in just a minute.

It is also unreasonable to think that just because Saturday is set apart as holy, it is impossible for God to set another day to be holy or holier if He so wishes, say, the day of His resurrection. God did not infuse Saturday, nor Sunday for that matter, with magical sanctifying properties. The day itself is not holy in itself. God sanctifies—not the day.

Furthermore, as a metaphysical side note, if the pattern of sevens is priority over the day itself, consider that numbers do not exist in physical reality. You cannot go out and grab a number seven to show your neighbour. Numbers exist entirely in the mind. Numbers are also integral for identifying patterns. For this reason, if numbers are mind-dependent and do not exist outside the mind, and numbers are basic properties that construct the universe so that the laws of physics cannot be described without them, then a divine mind constructed the universe for our fine-tuned conscious awareness of a patterned cosmos. In other words, the pattern of sevens depends on the mind. In this way also, it brings to mind Christ’s words: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) But I digress.

3. The covenantal sign: Rest is not a work.

Just as circumcision was a “sign” of God’s elect (Genesis 17:11), Sabbath also was a covenantal “sign” and witness that the congregation of Israel was God’s chosen people in a new way—the holy convocation of solemn rest to be sanctified by God:

“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’” (Exodus 31:12-18)

A sign directly points to something beyond itself. A sign is not significant in itself, it tells you about something that is significant or greater than itself. A sign, then, is not the substance, it is a shadow. Likewise, Sabbath was a sign that pointed to Israel’s need to rest in God in order to be sanctified. God does not teach that it is the rest itself or the day itself that makes you holy. For God says we must keep it so “that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you” (v.13). God, not the action of rest, sanctifies. The act of resting on Saturday has no intrinsic merit or worth. To work or labour on Sabbath, then, was to outright reject God’s holiness and kingdom, the likes of which resulted in execution or being cut off from the congregation. Consider it; if rest did make you holy, or save you, then it would be a work, no? ‘I slept on Sabbath, even though I could have worked and earned more money for my family, I took it easy—you owe me this God.’ If we make resting on the Sabbath a necessary moral law to follow, especially for salvation or Christ’s return, then we make the day of rest into a workday! One would earn spiritual wages by resting on a particular day—a complete contrast to the new covenant’s liberation from the works of the law (Romans 4:1-17; Ephesians 2:8-10; Acts 15:4-21) Holiness fully depends on the mercy of God, not on the works of the law, labour, or lack thereof (Exodus 20:8-11)[3].

Sabbath was made holy because it was set apart for God’s good and divine purposes, and its purpose served its end in Christ. Just as we are clothed in Christ’s holiness, so too was Sabbath clothed in His shadow. It was typological of the new covenant to come.

Prophetic in what way, you might be thinking? We’ll get there.

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Overriding works in both covenants

The covenantal sign of Sabbath was to rest from all works. Sabbath is holy “because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation” (Genesis 2:3) Even carrying firewood was seen as a violation (Numbers 15:32-36). It is God who makes us holy—not our work. That is the point. That is why Christ said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” You cannot merit holiness, it is a gift of God’s rest. But to abstain from works did not mean all actions wholesale. There were very few exceptions: verbal actions such as Torah reading, confession, and singing psalms or hymns were not considered works, nor were greater covenants like circumcision or simply good works like serving orphans and widows, helping the poor or hungry, healing the sick and needy (John 7:21-24), or saving the life of an animal:

“Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:11-12, 1-8)

If the Sabbath is a sign that points to God, and God is the standard of goodness, then it follows that doing good things on the Sabbath is permitted because God is good and good things are of God (Matthew 5:16). These permitted Sabbatical actions all point to God as good and, in turn, emphasizes their superiority to the Sabbath covenant. That is to say, the new covenant is superior to the Sabbath covenant.

“But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.” (Hebrews 8:6-7)

But the New is more than just superior, which if it were simply an upgrade would permit us to dismiss the Old entirely, but the New is the fulfillment of the Old, which means God is continuing his divine work from the Old through the New, as Christ said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-19) It begs the question: In what way are Christian’s keeping Sabbath?

A prophetic sign of eternal rest

Christ is the fulfilment of Sabbath, He is Sabbath—we rest in Christ. As Jesus walked through the grain fields on the Sabbath, He said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) The yoke, here, is an idiom for the Law (Acts 15:7-11). Christ rested the yoke squarely on His shoulders. Rest comes by finding fulfillment in Him. Rest is salvation.

Therefore, contrary to what some demand we do, not observing Sabbath shows continuity with the old covenant, not a departure from it. Sabbath was a sign of salvation and our ultimate promised rest in God. As Hebrews teaches:

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end….. For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it…. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” (Hebrews 3:12-14,16-19, 4:1,9-11. Emphasis added).

That is not to say salvation rest is only for the Day to come—eternal life begins now. Our Sabbath in Christ is now. Notice that Hebrews teaches that “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God,” (4:9) and highlights those who already have rest in Christ by belief, for “whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his” (4:10). It is past tense, but present progressive, also, when it advocates, “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience”. There is an ongoingness to eternal rest in Christ our Lord, so long as you believe. Unbelief and, therefore, disobedience disqualifies you from entering that rest (3:19). As Christ says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” (John 3:36; cf. John 5:24, 6:47) This is also in the present progressive tense in Greek—it is now and ongoing. As John corroborates, “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:11-13) How does one know something they do not possess? How has one entered rest in God’s promise if they do not possess His Spirit? How can one acquire the promise without belief? The Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Christ, is the guaranteed eternal seal of redemption who transforms the believer. Salvation is now, but not yet. Our assurance is knowing Him through the indwelling of His Holy Spirit. Sabbath was a sign that pointed to the substance of the Spirit.

“In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14)

Why is all this important? Because salvation is rest from works.

Paul teaches that to be God’s elect, His chosen people, “depends not on human will or exertion,” not of him who wills or runs, “but on God, who has mercy.” (Romans 9:16) God’s mercy is the basis of election and redemption. To be part of the new covenantal sign, then, like the old covenantal sign, is to rest in God and not work for election or sanctification. Salvation is rest from works—but again, not rest from good works. As Christ said when he healed a man on Sabbath, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” (John 5:17-18) Paul again teaches that we are saved by faith, and not by works, but are made anew in Christ for the purpose of good works. Why so? Good works is God working through us.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Since good works, teaching, and evangelism are the necessary exceptions for Sabbath, as it is God working in and through us, like saving ensnared sheep from the pit of destruction, which is another idiom for the Good Shepherd saving lost sheep and protecting His flock as much as it is about Christ working in and through pastors to do His good works (John 10:1-16, 21:17), then Sabbath rest continues through the eternal life of the believer, which will one day be fully magnified come the Day of his return and our salvation[4]. We are creatures of new creation, not of old creation—we are in Christ, not in Adam—how much more should new creation be observed? Christ fulfilled the Old.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

So when Paul says, “[I]f you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Romans 10:9-10) This is not unlawful. Quite the opposite, in fact. It is the continuation and fulfilment of the Sabbath sign. We are free from the works of the law. We are called to evangelize on Sabbath. We are called to good works on Sabbath. We are called to Sabbath rest in Christ, now and forever.

Edenic rest is the Promised land

What is the promised inheritance of salvation if not the new Eden? Christ fulfilling the works of the law, which necessarily includes the Judaic covenant of Sabbath rest and the Abrahamic covenant of circumcision, signals a spiritual return to the Adamic covenant of Eden, albeit renewed, when eternal life was a free gift like eating food from a tree. Christ is God (Romans 9:5). Christ is the new Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45-49). Christ made the world, mankind, and then the Sabbath day. Christ rested on Sabbath in creation. Christ was before Moses and Abraham (John 8:58). Adam, Noah, and Abraham did not rest on Sabbath. No human rested on Sabbath until Moses. Christ’s crucifixion is the Tree of Life from whom we have eternal life, from which we drink the fruit of His blood in Communion. There are far more Edenic parallels and typologies that could be drawn, here, too. Christ is spiritually returning believers to Eden, before the works of the law were required, such as practicing circumcision and observing Sabbath. Salvation is a free gift.

The timing of Christ’s death and resurrection is also saturated with other prophetic allusions. As I already said, attested to throughout the Gospels is that Jesus rose from death on “the first day of the week” (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:19), after the Sabbath day (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1). This highlights the prophetic earmark of that new creation motif layered throughout the Gospels. Christ was buried the day before Sabbath (Mark 15:42), rested on the Sabbath day at the end of the week, and then rose on the first day of ‘new creation’ as the light of the world (John 8:12; John 9:5; Matthew 5:14) This is a direct parallel to when God created light on the first day of creation. Also note, that God also separated the light from the darkness, too, which echoes symbolism of man’s depravity (John 3:19) and God’s judgment who “separates the sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:32-33). It is all prophetic allusions to new creation.

Lastly, the word rest (or sleep) is often associated with a righteous person who dies will have rest in God (Isaiah 57:1-2; Matthew 11:28-30), whereas evil and wickedness is often associated with being “restless” (Genesis 4:12,14; Matthew 12:43; James 3:8). If you map the meaning of rest over Exodus 31 where God says that the Sabbaths “will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come…. for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed,’” (Exodus 31:13, 17) it engenders yet another prophetic double entendre for Christ as the signpost of rest to refresh your soul (Psalm 19:7, 23:3; Philemon 1:20). The purest form of rest can only come through God. Finding “rest” and being “refreshed” in Christ also has profound theological and eschatological symbolism when comparing the Israelite wilderness wandering, where only those who believed entered the Promised Land and given God’s rest, to new creation where God will ultimately give us rest in Paradise (Acts 3:20-21; Psalm 95:7-11; Hebrews 3:7-11, 18-19; 4:1-11).

At the end of the day

Must Christians observe Sabbath? No.

Is Sunday the new Sabbath? No.

Christians were never held morally culpable for violating Sabbath. Ever. As Christians, we are not bound by the sacred rites or ceremonial regulations of Sabbath, but we keep the Spirit of Sabbath—a practice maintained for roughly two thousand years. From the onset of the new covenant, the Church had to deal with people from all walks of life—slaves, peasants, centurions, ambassadors—so there were many Christians, especially slaves and peasants, who did not have a choice but to work every single day. God was now, and still is, sending His chosen people into nations to evangelize and transform them from the inside out. He is not creating a new nation from the outside in like He did with Israel.

All that said and done, I hope it is also clear that I’m not advocating Saturday cannot be set apart for God. Paul does not rule out that option. In Romans 14, he groups this debate into a matter of conscience. Addressing believers passing judgment and quarrelling with one another for holding different opinions, he urges them to maintain unity despite their disagreements:

“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions…. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord…. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves.” (Romans 14:1, 4-6, 22)

There is no moral issue with regarding Saturday as holy. It was, and still is, a day set apart for God in many Christian traditions, even if it is no longer morally or legally binding. I think it is beautiful to honour Christ’s death on Saturday by rest and worship Christ’s resurrection on Sunday by celebrating new creation. Nevertheless, Sabbath is an incomplete thought and empty sign without the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Saviour on the Lord’s Day. The latter gives life to the former.

Let us lay this to bed once and for all.

May we rest in peace.

Matlock Bobechko is the Chief Operating/Creative Officer of Bible Discovery. He is an eclectic Christian thinker and writer, award-winning screenwriter and short filmmaker. He writes a weekly blog on theology, apologetics, and philosophy called Meet Me at the Oak. He is also an Elder at his local church.

[1] Warren Baker, Tim Rake, David Kemp, “The Complete Word Study Old Testament: King James Version” (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 1994). Spiros Zodhiates, Warren Baker, Rev. George Hadjiantoniou, Mark Oshman, Symeon Ioannidis, “The Complete Word Study New Testament with Parallel Greek: King James Version” (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 1992).

[2] For additional clarity, Solomon even uses this definition of olam in reference to the earth, “A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever [olam].” (Ecclesiastes 1:4) as well as our phenomenological or spiritual intuition, “he has put eternity [olam] into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). From the speaker’s vantage point, forever begins either at the moment of creation or is discerned in the immediate moment of experience, however foggy, with no foreseeable end. In fact, the root word for olam is alam (עלם), which literally means, “what is hidden, concealed” in reference to a vanishing point or even “beyond the horizon” (binding back that concept of “world”). But not all concepts of forever fall under this category. There seems to be a lower form of forever which is temporal, and a higher form of forever which is eternal, both of which are contingent upon God who is the essence of eternity, unlike mere creatures who are granted life eternal. Therefore, if we take this from-now-on definition of forever, and apply it to the past as well as the future, it more accurately describes God’s nature from our limited vantage point, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Revelation 22:13), “from everlasting to everlasting” (Psalm 90:2; 103:17), and even, “I AM THAT I AM” (Exodus 3:14). Given that we progressively experience life in a forward arrow, from one moment to the next, and do not know the future, it seems intuitive for our basic understanding of the from-now-on forever to inform how we understand eternity. By using the present moment as an anchor, the breadth of forever not only persists into futurity but expands into the indefinite distant past of antiquity.

[3] In fact, this was the irony of Korah’s rebellion (Numbers 16). Many in the congregation, namely Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, thought they were holy in themselves, by virtue of being an Israelite, “For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them”(v.3), but Moses showed that these seekers of lawlessness truly despised the Lord through their unique destruction. It is God who sanctifies.

[4] So, even if you, say, don’t think that forever means “from now on”, and you believe that whenever the Bible says “forever” it means “forever forever,” eternal everlastingly so, then it still stands that Sabbath was only a “sign” forever, for the sign points to Christ’s salvation, so the act of keeping it is kept through Christ. Its earthly formality has now changed to a promised heavenly rest.