The Christian’s Sabbath
“THERE are six days on which work ought to be done; on them, therefore, come and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” Thus spoke a presiding officer of a Jewish synagogue to a crowd that had just witnessed the Son of man perform a miracle of healing. (Luke 13:14, NW) That mental attitude was doubtless due to the teachings of the Talmud, such as “the sins of everyone who strictly observes the Sabbath, though he be an IDOL WORSHIPPER, are forgiven”. Although with varying degrees of strictness, this same sabbath (Saturday, actually beginning Friday evening) is observed by Jews today.
It was A.D. 321 that the pagan (unbaptized) emperor Constantine caused the first day of the week, then dedicated to the worship of the sun and hence called Sunday, to be set aside for “Christian” worship. Throughout the Dark and Middle Ages Sunday observance was strictly enforced by the Catholic Church. Leaders of the Reformation held to this Sunday observance.
Early in the history of the American colonies Puritans were so strict that they even forbade one to smile or kiss his own child on Sunday. Clergymen stretched chains across the streets to keep their parishioners from using their horse and carriage on Sunday. “Blue laws,” among other things, made church attendance on Sunday compulsory; those failing to attend were fined. When the automobile first became popular so many people spent Sunday driving in their cars that the clergymen shouted from their pulpits that their automobiles were taking the people to hell.
Today, among professed Christians Sunday is observed rather irregularly, the meager attendance at many “churches”, as compared with the large crowds at sport events and the movies, testifying to the extent to which the day is taken seriously. A striking exception are the Seventh-Day Adventists, who observe the seventh day of the week, Saturday, and for whom such observance is one of the paramount features of religion.
WHEN SABBATH OBSERVANCE WAS COMMANDED
Are Christians required to observe one day in seven? Do they have a sabbath or rest day? and, if so, what is it and how is it to be observed?
As we consider God’s dealings with His creatures we find that his commandments for them are not the same at all times. To our first parents in Eden God gave the mandate to be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth, etc., and also commanded them as to what trees they could eat the fruit of. But he said nothing to them about a rest day. Noah was commanded by God regarding the building of an ark, the sanctity of life and blood, etc., but not a word did he receive regarding a sabbath. Coming down to Abraham, we find that God gave him certain instructions regarding the offering of sacrifices, circumcision, etc., but he was neither commanded to build an ark nor told to observe a sabbath day.
During the time that the children of Israel were slaves in Egypt they certainly could not have kept a sabbath day. In fact, it was only after the Israelites had come out of Egypt and were in the wilderness that a rest day, one out of seven, the seventh, was enjoined upon any of God’s creatures, and that in connection with gathering their food supply, the manna which fell from heaven. God distinctly told them that they were to gather twice the usual amount on the sixth day, as no manna would fall from heaven on the seventh day. In spite of this, however, on the seventh day “there went out some of the people to gather, and they found none”. For this Jehovah, through Moses, severely rebuked them. Their difficulty in complying with this law is further circumstantial evidence that they were not accustomed to sabbath observance.—Ex. 16:25-30, AS.
On the plains of Moab, where God’s law was restated to the Israelites, they were plainly told: “Jehovah our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. Jehovah made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day.” Nor was this sabbath for other peoples, it was to be a sign between them and Jehovah.—Deut. 5:2, 3; Ex. 31:17.
Nor was the sabbath for the Israelites limited only to the seventh day of the week. The seventh month was made outstanding, both by the day of atonement, the tenth day, and by the feast of tabernacles, which began on the fifteenth day. The seventh year was a sabbath year; no crops were to be planted or harvested, God assuring them that enough would grow on the sixth to last them until they had harvested the crops of the eighth year. After seven such sabbath years came the jubilee year, on which freedom was proclaimed throughout all the land, when all debts were canceled and when, with few exceptions, all that had been lost during the past forty-nine years was restored. All these sabbaths were part of one system. If one sabbath is still to be observed, then also should the others. And, for that matter, keep all the law, its sacrifices, etc., “for,” as James says, “whoever observes all the Law but makes a false step in one point, he has become an offender against them all.”—Jas. 2:10, NW; Lev. 16:29-31; 23:34; 25:2-28; 26:2.
CHRISTIANS NOT UNDER THE LAW
The apostle Paul, however, assures us that Christians are freed from all obligation to the law arrangement: “He kindly forgave us all our trespasses and 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. Therefore let no man judge you in eating and drinking or in respect of a feast day 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, NW) Note too that Paul here does not distinguish between the so-called “ceremonial” law and the Ten Commandments; no more than did Jesus in his sermon on the mount.—See Matthew 5:23-43.
To Christians who had been deceived into accepting the bondage of the Mosaic law Paul wrote: “How is it that you are turning back again to the weak and inadequate elementary things and want to be slaves to them over again? You are scrupulously observing days and months and seasons and years.” (Gal. 4:9, 10, NW) Yes, why should they when Christ’s sacrifice “abolished the hatred, the Law of commandments consisting in decrees”?—Eph. 2:13-15, NW.
Because some in the early church insisted that Gentile converts must be circumcised and keep the law, the apostles and the older men gathered at Jerusalem sent out the following instructions; and note that keeping a sabbath is not included: “For the holy spirit and we ourselves have favored adding no further burden to you, except these necessary things, to keep yourselves free from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things killed without draining their blood and from fornication.”—Acts 15:1-29, NW.
But did not Jesus, when on earth, observe the sabbath? Yes, he did. Why? Because he was “made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law”. (Gal. 4:4, 5) But remember that he observed not only the sabbath day but also the passover and all the other features of the Mosaic law. “Do not think I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I came, not to destroy, but to fulfill,” he stated, adding that not even the smallest part of the Law would pass away until all had been fulfilled. With the fulfillment of the pictorial features of the Law arrangement by Christ Jesus it passed away, and to take its place he instituted a new covenant.—Matt. 5:17, 18, NW; John 1:29, 36; 1 Cor. 5:7; 2 Cor. 3:5-11, NW.
While we thus see that Christians are not obligated to observe a weekly rest day, nevertheless they do have a rest, a sabbath: “So then, there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God; for whoever enters God’s rest also ceases from his labors as God did from his.” (Heb. 4:9, 10, RS) God rested from his works, not that he was tired, for he wearies not, but in the sense that he “desisted” from further creative activity as regards this earth. He viewed his creation with exhilarating satisfaction and was “refreshed” thereby.—Gen. 2:1-4, AT; Ex. 31:17.
Does that mean that God is still resting in that sense? Yes, it does. Note Psalm 95:7-11 where God states that he swore that the rebellious Israelites in the wilderness would not enter into his rest, and that was about 2,500 years after creation. And since Paul counsels Christians to enter into God’s rest, it must have continued until his day, 4,000 years after creation. Other scriptures indicate that God’s day will continue until the end of the thousand-year reign of Christ, thus giving it a total length of 7,000 years.—Heb. 4:11; 1 Cor. 15:25-28; Rev. 20:5, 6.
Then the days mentioned in Genesis chapter 1 were not 24 hours long? No; remember that the sun did not shine upon the earth until the fourth day and it is the sun that gives us the 24-hour day. Besides, from such sciences as geology it appears that both plant and animal life have been on this earth far more than 6,000 years. Note too that the entire period of creation is referred to as “the day that Jehovah God made earth and heaven”. (Gen. 2:4, AS) A day in the Bible is not always 24 hours long; 7,000 years for each of the creative days as well as the rest day is consistent with the Scriptures.—2 Pet. 3:8.
Getting back to God’s rest day. How, then, does the Christian enter that rest? Paul states that the Jews failed to enter it because of disobedience and lack of faith. So “we who have exercised faith do enter into the rest . . . Let us therefore do our utmost to enter into that rest, for fear anyone should fall in the same example of disobedience”. (Heb. 4:3-11, NW) Yes, by exercising faith in God and by following in the footsteps of Christ we will have rest from all selfish works, a rest not just one day a week but every day.
Since the sabbath was a part of the law and the “Law has a shadow of the good things to come”, of what was the sabbath a shadow? Of the grand rest day for all mankind, the 1,000-year reign of Christ, the seventh 1,000 years of God’s rest day. For six thousand years mankind has been toiling and suffering under “the god of this world”, Satan the Devil. In that antitypical sabbath Christ will free men from the bondage of Satan and his demons, from sin, sickness and death, even as he freed a “daughter of Abraham” from the bondage of physical infirmity on a typical sabbath 1,900 years ago.—Heb. 10:1, NW; 2 Cor. 4:4; Rev. 20:1-3; 21:1-4; Luke 13:16.