In my first post I argued that the key question to be answered is this: How is the Sabbath fulfilled in Christ? This is the main issue- because the whole of the law is fulfilled in Him. I intend to address that question in this post before I turn to some practical and pastoral reflections in my final piece.

There is one issue I should address first though. I mentioned to a fellow pastor and friend that I had been preaching on the Sabbath from Isaiah 56. “Is everybody a Sabbatarian now?” he asked- mistakenly assuming that this was my position. This led to a good natured discussion where he argued that the fact that the Sabbath appears at creation makes it a timeless principle as opposed to one simply for the period when God’s people were under the Mosaic law. He said that this was the clinching argument for him.

Truth be told, this is the Sabbatarian argument with which I have the most sympathy. We read this in Genesis 2:2-3:

“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing: so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”

That becomes a pattern for human behaviour in the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:10-11. That’s clear then isn’t it?

Maybe it is- as I say, I have sympathy with the argument. But I am not finally convinced by it for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, it is worth stating that unlike with marriage (Gen 2:24) the Sabbath principle is not drawn out explicitly until the Mosaic law. There is no command in Genesis that humans should not work on the Sabbath. Besides which, if the lack of work on the seventh day is a timeless creation principle then do we really have the right to change the Sabbath to the first day?

Secondly, though, (and more importantly) it is not the way in which Hebrews understands the text and, as I argued in my last post, the New Testament is our inspired guide to understanding the application of the Old Testament to life today. One of the interesting things about the Genesis account is that the seventh day doesn’t end (as all the other days in the creation account do with the reference to evening and morning). Therefore the writer to the Hebrews argues that God is now at rest given that His work of creation is completed (Hebrews 4:4 quoting Genesis 2). For the writer to the Hebrews the Sabbath rest of Genesis 2 refers not to an individual day that must be honoured so much as God’s permanent state of rest having finished His creation. It is a rest into which we are invited. F.F.Bruce puts it succinctly in his commentary on Hebrews:

“The rest which God promises to His people is a share in that rest which He himself enjoys.”

This rest is illustrated by the Promised Land in the Old Testament suggesting that it points forward to the New Creation- when we will be with God in His perfect rest and we will rest from our works. So- how does Hebrews apply the Sabbath of creation? Not by encouraging people to observe a day each week but by encouraging all of us to strive toward entering the rest that God has had since completing his work of creation.

The fact of the matter is that at no point is the New Testament church told to keep the Sabbath. It is true that we have one reference to the Lord’s Day in Revelation 1 and that the church met on the first day of the week but Sabbath language is never applied to that day.

Indeed the opposite seems to be the case. For me the clinching argument against Sabbatarianism comes in Colossians 2:16-17

“Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.”

That is pretty explicit. Sabbath observance is part of the Old Testament shadows that point forward to Jesus. It is not binding on New Testament believers. Rather it always pointed forward to Jesus because true rest is found not primarily through ceasing our physical work for a day but by trusting in Him.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). Jesus’ finished work means that we can and must rest from our own efforts at salvation. Jesus’ finished work means that we will be able to enjoy God’s rest- the rest which he started when He had completed the creation. I enjoy rest as I trust in Jesus.

I will say more on this in my last post but the principle of Colossians 2 is why I am writing these pieces. It is not the case that I want everybody to start working on Sunday (though I believe it may alleviate some false guilt to understand the Sabbath from the perspective I have outlined). Rather, my main aim is that we would value what the Sabbath points to- namely the necessity and joy of finding rest in Jesus. More on this (and one or two other things) to come in the last post.