In the Old Testament, God’s people were commanded to observe the Sabbath Day (Exodus 20:8-11). The Sabbath was Saturday, the seventh or final day of the week. The Old Testament Sabbath actually began at sundown on Friday and ended at sundown on Saturday.
The word “Sabbath” means “rest.” It was observed on Saturday, because on “the seventh day” God rested from His creative work (Genesis 2:2-3). Therefore, on the Sabbath, God’s people, like God Himself, were to rest from their labors. Obviously, the Old Testament Sabbath was designed to replenish both the bodies and souls of the people of God—Israel.
THE LORD’S DAY
In the New Testament, God’s people gathered on Sunday—“the first day of the week” (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2). Sunday was called “the Lord’s Day,” which means “a day belonging to the Lord.” The reason “the Lord’s Day” was observed on Sunday rather than on the Sabbath Day was because Christ arose from the dead on “the first day of the week” (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1).
Whereas the Sabbath commemorated God’s rest from His creative work, the Lord’s Day commemorates God’s rest from His redemptive work. Like the Sabbath, “the Lord’s Day” was also designed to replenish both the bodies and souls of the people of God—the new Israel; that is, the church.
The only mention of “the Lord’s Day” in all of Scripture is in Revelation 1:10. In spite of the fact that the Apostle John fails to specify in this one instance the specific day to which he refers, it is commonly believed to be Sunday, which in modern usage has become synonymous with “the Lord’s Day.”
There is, I believe, ample scriptural evidence to support today’s common interpretation of “the Lord’s Day” as Sunday. To begin with, nowhere in the Bible is the Sabbath ever referred to as “the Lord’s Day.” Also, as we have already noted, it was on Sunday, “the first day of the week,” that Christ arose from the dead and that the early Christians gathered together to worship their resurrected Lord. Finally, it cannot be chalked up to mere coincidence that the risen Christ deliberately chose to appear to His assembled disciples on succeeding Sundays (John 20:19, 26).
THE SABBATH DAY
It is true, as Seventh-Day Adventists like to argue, that there is no place in the New Testament where Christians are commanded to change the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. It is equally true, however, that the New Testament is void of any command for Christians to observe the Sabbath. While the other Ten Commandments are all repeated in the New Testament, the fourth commandment—the one regarding the observance of the Sabbath—is conspicuously absent.
Far from commanding Christians to observe the Jewish Sabbath, the Apostle Paul teaches that whether we esteem “one day above another” or “every day alike” is a mere matter of individual conscience (Romans 14:5). Therefore, Paul forbids us from judging one another over our observance of “Sabbath Days” (Colossians 2:16). All who insist upon measuring the spirituality of others by their observance of the Jewish Sabbath are condemned by the great Apostle for being spiritually immature, imprisoned by the “beggarly elements” of the world, and living in the “shadow of things to come” rather than in the substance of that which has come; namely, Jesus Christ Himself (Galatians 4:9-10; Colossians 2:17).
Paul taught the Corinthians that the Old Testament was physical “examples” or illustrations of truths taught in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 10:1-11). The Old Testament Sabbath must therefore be seen in this light to be properly understood. As Exodus 31:12-13 teaches, the Sabbath was actually a sign. It was a sign between God and Israel that God had made Israel holy.
Israel was completely incapable of sanctifying themselves or of making themselves acceptable to God. Only God could make Israel holy. Thus, Israel had to stop trying to make themselves holy and start trusting God to do it for them.
Along with their observance of the Sabbath Day, Israel’s observance of the Sabbath Year also provides us with an Old Testament picture of this same glorious New Testament truth; namely, sanctification by faith. Not only were the Israelites forbidden from working on the Sabbath Day, but they were also forbidden from working in their fields during the Sabbath Year. During the Sabbath Year they were to trust God to provide for all of their needs (Leviticus 25:1-7, 20-22).
Both the Sabbath Day and the Sabbath Year serve as Old Testament pictures of the glorious New Testament truth that man cannot work to earn his salvation, but must trust God to provide it for him through the finished work of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).
The Sabbath was not only a sign, but it was also sacred (Exodus 31:14-17). Consequently, all who observed it lived, while all who desecrated it were put to death. At first glance, such a severe penalty for simply failing to observe the Sabbath appears totally unwarranted. Undoubtedly, a law like this would be struck down by today’s courts for constituting cruel and unusual punishment. Yet, once we understand the core New Testament truth that the Old Testament Sabbath was meant to symbolize, it becomes crystal clear why desecraters of the Sabbath had to be sentenced to death.
According to the New Testament, anyone who tries to work their way to God and earn their own salvation will be condemned to death. On the other hand, all who rest in the salvation that God has wrought for us in Christ by abstaining from their own work will live forever.
Have you ever thought about the fact that God did not create man on the first day so that man could work and help Him, but God waited to create man on the sixth day after He had already done all of the work Himself (Genesis 1:26-31)? Thus, man had no work to do, because God had already done it all for him. All man could do was enter into God’s rest—rest with God on the Sabbath or “seventh day”—because God had already taken care of everything for man (Hebrews 4:1-5).
In Christ, God has already done everything that needs to be done for our salvation. There is absolutely nothing left for us to do. As Christ Himself cried out from the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). All that we can do is enter into God’s rest by trusting in the sufficiency of Christ’s finished work for our salvation. When we do, we are observing the true Sabbath, no longer its shadow, and, as a result, we will live forever. If we refuse to rest from our “labor” and come to Christ for “rest” (Matthew 11:28-30), however, we will be guilty of desecrating the true Sabbath. As a result, we will be sentenced to eternal death.
Now that Jesus has come we no longer need to live in the shadows, but in the substance. We no longer need to picture God’s rest by commemorating the Sabbath, but we need to possess God’s rest by our confidence in Christ. God’s rest is no longer to be epitomized by observing the Sabbath Day, but to be experienced everyday by our faith in Christ. Everyday is the Sabbath Day for Christians who are resting in Christ.
The Book of Hebrews warns us about the possibility of missing the Sabbath-rest of God (Hebrews 4:6-11). According to Hebrews, the Israelites missed God’s rest in their day because of disbelief and disobedience (Hebrews 3:7-19). Instead of believing that the Promised Land was theirs as God had promised, they refused to go in and take possession as God had commanded. As a result of their failure to trust in the sufficiency of God’s promise and of their belief that possession of the land was dependent upon their ability to conquer it, that whole generation of unbelievers died in the wilderness without ever knowing the rest of God.
Today, there still remains “a promise…of entering into [God’s] rest.” Therefore, we need to be careful lest we be found with “an evil heart of unbelief” and miss out on the Sabbath-rest of God as unbelieving Israel once did. Instead of disbelieving God’s promise of the sufficiency of Christ’s finished work for our salvation, we need to come to Christ by faith to “find [eternal] rest [for] our souls.” Failing to do so, because of our erroneous belief that salvation must be earned by our good works and deeds, will result in the ultimate desecration of the Sabbath and in us missing out eternally on the Sabbath-rest of God.
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