“Your Word Is Truth”
What the Fourth Commandment Means to Christians
THE fourth of the Ten Commandments given to the sons of Israel through Moses reads this way: “Remembering the sabbath day to hold it sacred, you are to render service and you must do all your work six days. But the seventh day is a sabbath to Jehovah your God. You must not do any work.”—Ex. 20:8-11.
Some among those Jews went to fanatical extremes in their observance of this day. The Sadducees forbade intercourse on the night of the sabbath. Josephus reports that the Essene sect considered going to the stool a violation of the sabbath. And the Pharisees were incensed because Jesus Christ performed healing works on the sabbath day.—Mark 3:1-6.
Additional instructions to those ancient Israelites served to clarify this sabbath requirement. “You must not light a fire in any of your dwelling places on the sabbath day.” (Ex. 35:3) Earlier it had been said: “Let nobody go out from his locality on the seventh day.” (Ex. 16:29) Thus definite restrictions as to cooking and travel on the sabbath were placed on the sons of Israel. So, if anyone today claims to be keeping that sabbath literally, he must be complying with all of its requirements.
And it is a fact that many of Christendom’s churches claim to be bound by the Fourth Commandment. However, it is notable that they are not abiding by all of its terms. More than that, most of them are observing it on the wrong day, the first day of the week, even though the Mosaic Law required that the seventh day be the rest day. So what are we to think?
Under inspiration the apostle Paul declares that followers of Jesus Christ “are not under law but under undeserved kindness,” that they “were made dead to the Law through the body of the Christ.” (Rom. 6:14; 7:4) Though they were thus freed from the requirements of the Mosaic Law, it should be kept in mind that certain of the fine rulings contained in the Ten Commandments, such as those forbidding adultery and idolatry, are also stated in the Bible as applying to Christians. (1 Cor. 5:11-13; Acts 15:28, 29) However, no such mention is made of the weekly sabbath observance.
Nowhere in the writings of Jesus’ inspired disciples do we find any requirement for Christians to keep a weekly sabbath. This is not to say that having one day of rest in seven is not a good thing. And there certainly is nothing wrong with using such a day for worship and service of God. But Christians are under no requirement to observe literally that Jewish sabbath day.
More than that, the apostle Paul, referring to the literal observances of the Mosaic Law, declares that God “blotted out the handwritten document against us, which consisted of decrees and which was in opposition to us; and He has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the torture stake [of Christ].” Then he goes on to tell Christians: “Let no man judge you . . . in respect of a festival or of an observance of the new moon or of a sabbath; for those things are a shadow of the things to come, but the reality belongs to the Christ.”—Col. 2:13, 14, 16, 17.
Thus, if a person insists on holding to the observance of the literal sabbath, he fails to accept the sacrifice of Christ Jesus on the torture stake and thus rejects the forgiveness of sins that it makes possible. It is just as if he insisted on offering animal sacrifices after Jesus had offered himself, the one sacrifice for sins forever.
But does this mean that the Fourth Commandment is without meaning for Christians? Not at all. For them it points to a far greater sabbath—the reality and not merely the shadow. At Genesis 2:2 we learn that since the close of the sixth creative day or period, since our first human parents were created, God has been resting from his creative works as regards our earth. The sons of Israel failed to enter into God’s rest because of their lack of faith and obedience. (Ps. 95:7-11) But to Christians the apostle Paul says: “So there remains a sabbath resting for the people of God. For the man that has entered into God’s rest has also himself rested from his own works, just as God did from his own. Let us therefore do our utmost to enter into that rest, for fear anyone should fall in the same pattern of disobedience [of the Jews].”—Heb. 3:19; 4:9-11.
Just as God’s rest has been continuous, so is that of true Christians. Rest from what? From their “own works,” their former works at trying to justify themselves. No longer do they believe that they can earn God’s approval and gain everlasting life simply by their own efforts at compliance with certain rules and observances. They no longer assume that because of their course of conduct God just cannot deny them his blessing. That was the error of the faithless Jews who, by ‘seeking to establish their own righteousness, did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.’—Rom. 10:3.
Rather, true Christians recognize that it is by the sacrifice of Christ Jesus that their sin is removable. And they rest in the knowledge that faith in Christ and obedience to his teaching are what bring Jehovah’s approval and life. Rather than being satisfied, as some are, to claim, “I am honest, I do not steal or lie or do immoral things, so surely that is enough!” true followers of Christ seek to apply all of Jesus’ teachings in their lives.
There are many, even among professed Christians, who believe that they have an inborn right to life and other blessings. It is difficult for them to admit that they were born sinners, without the right to life, and therefore wholly dependent upon God’s provision for granting them life. They tend to refuse counsel and reproof, even when offered in love. They are very reluctant to admit that they make mistakes. Their big concern is self-justification. They have not rested or desisted from their own selfish works, and so are not keeping God’s sabbath. Happy are those who do rest from their “own works” and enter into God’s sabbath of rest, because a splendid future awaits them.
For almost six thousand years now God has been observing his rest day. The thousand-year period just ahead is described in the Bible as the millennium of Christ’s rule. (Rev. 20:4) It will also be like a grand Sabbath, far superior to any sabbath observed by the Jews, for during that time peace and prosperity will be permanently established.—Rev. 21:2-4.
Thus the weekly sabbath of the Fourth Commandment is pictorial of the grand Sabbath of which Christ Jesus declared himself the Lord. (Matt. 12:8) Those who recognize themselves as sinners, dependent on the merit of Christ Jesus’ sacrifice in order to gain peace and a good standing with God, can even now rest or desist from their own selfish labors to justify themselves. Each one who respects God’s seven-thousand-year-long sabbath now, and who continues to do so, will be privileged to enjoy the blessings of the thousand-year Sabbath of Christ’s reign over all the earth.