Christian Sabbath Keeping

“He that is entered into His rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from His.” —Hebrews 4:10

THE WORD SABBATH means ‘rest’, and in the inspired words of our text the Apostle Paul explains that the rest, or Sabbath, of a Christian is similar to the rest which God entered at the conclusion of the six days of Creative work. The Creator did not cease from his creative activities because of weariness, for the Prophet Isaiah writes, “Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary?” (Isa. 40:28) As the Christian’s rest is like that of the Creator’s, it, too, could not mean a ceasing from activity because of weariness.

Included among the commandments which God gave to Israel at Mount Sinai was the one which obligated them to observe every seventh day as a Sabbath, or rest day, with the explanation that they were to rest on the seventh day because God rested on the seventh day. The Jews, to this day, continue to observe the seventh day of the week as their Sabbath. The professing Christian world also observes, in a perfunctory manner, one day in seven as a time of rest and recreation, basing the custom on the command given to Israel, but considering the first day of the week more appropriate for the purpose in that it also commemorates the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Some Christians, claiming that the Sabbath was unscripturally changed from the seventh to the first day of the week, are very zealous in keeping the seventh day, claiming that any other course is very displeasing to God, and may cost the disobedient ones the loss of salvation. The apostle’s explanation in our text that Christian Sabbath-keeping is an entering into rest similar to that into which God entered at the close of the sixth Creative day, would seem to indicate the possibility that it involves more than merely to refrain from physical toil on either the first or the seventh day of the week.

We agree that God never authorized anyone to change the Sabbath of the Decalogue from the seventh day of the week to the first, but the propriety of observing either one, or both, of these days seems unnecessary when we accept the New Testament explanation that the Law given to Israel was intended to be merely a ‘shadow’ of God’s will as it applies to the followers of Christ. On this point, Paul says, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath Days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.”—Col. 2:16,17

It may be argued that the apostle’s reference to Sabbath Days means the various holy days observed by the Jews, which also were sometimes called Sabbath Days. That this is not the thought, however, seems clear from the fact that he makes special mention of these other holy days. In keeping with his usual systematic manner of expression, Paul first speaks of these yearly holy days, then the monthly festivals—the new moons—and finally the weekly rest days. All of these, he claims, were but ‘shadows’ of ‘things to come’, and that Christians should not be judged by whether or not they observe them today.

But did not the Lord, in Exodus 31:16, speak of the seventh-day Sabbath as a “perpetual covenant”? This is true, but it should be noted that the Lord uses identical language with respect to the harvest offering (Lev. 23:14), the Pentecostal sacrifice (Lev. 23:21), the Day of Atonement (Lev. 23:31,32), and the Feast of Tabernacles. (Lev. 23:41) The same Hebrew word olam, which is translated “perpetual” in the seventh-day reference, is the word translated “forever” in these other passages.

The Hebrew word olam may mean ‘everlasting’ where the text so indicates, but it is apparent that in the passages we have cited it carries the thought merely of ‘that which lasts to a completion’. The same word is used in Exodus 29:9, where we read that the priestly office was given to Aaron and his descendants “for a perpetual statute.” That this does not properly mean ‘forever’ is evident, for Aaron’s family lost the priesthood nearly two thousand years ago.—Heb. 7:11-14


The Law and its ordinances were shadows, or illustrations of bigger and better things to come. This is clearly shown in the New Testament. The High Priests of Israel were supplanted by Christ, the true High Priest. The Holiest of the Tabernacle pointed forward to the heavenly places in which Christians now dwell with Christ, and heaven itself, where their hope of future glory is centered.—Heb. 6:19,20; 9:24; Eph. 2:5,6

When the apostle speaks of the “holy places made with hands” as being “figures of the true” (Heb. 9:24), it is well to remember that he includes in the typical Holiest of all, the “tables of the covenant.” (Heb. 9:4) In the last verse of Hebrews 8, Paul speaks of this entire typical arrangement as that which “decayeth and waxeth old,” hence is “ready to vanish away.”

We should not think of any of God’s plans or works as failing. The Law not only served as a ‘shadow of good things to come’, but also it was a “schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. “ (Gal. 3:24) This purpose of the Law was admirably served. Those who learn well this lesson of the Law now realize that they cannot hope to attain justification by their efforts to keep the Law, but that, through faith in Christ and his atoning blood alone, they may enjoy the privileges of those who come to God through him.

Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the Law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17) There is a vast difference between the Law being destroyed, and the thought of its passing away as a result of fulfillment. The law of circumcision was not destroyed when the true circumcision of the heart, of which it was but a shadow, took its place.—Rom. 2:28,29; Phil. 3:3; Col. 2:11-15

Obviously, therefore; to consider the Law given through Moses as binding upon the Christian, is to doubt if Christ has accomplished that for which he came; namely, to fulfill the Law. True, Christians should study that Law, and in it they find jewels of inspired wisdom; but we should study it as a shadow of better things to come—things that are now realities to us—under the leadership of the Greater than Moses, Jesus Christ.


We are not to understand that Christians are under no law at all. We are under a much higher law than that which was binding upon the Israelites. Just as we have a better High Priest, and a better sacrifice than the Jews, so we have a better law—a law which contains a better Sabbath. The Prophet Isaiah foretold that Christ was to “magnify the Law, and make it honorable.” (Isa. 42:21) The Christian, then, should observe the Law as it was magnified by Christ.

The Jewish Law said, “Thou shalt not kill.” But Jesus magnified it by indicating that hatred of a brother is equivalent to murder. (Matt. 5:21-28) How heart-searching this is! How it should make us realize the importance of keeping our hearts cleansed from all malice, envy, hatred, and strife.

God’s Law to the Israelites said, “Thou shalt not steal.” But Christ taught us that we should not merely refrain from robbing our neighbors, but be ever ready to share our blessings with them. Indeed, Christ exhorted that we should be willing to lay down our lives for our brethren.—John 13:34; I John 3:16

The Law said to Israel: “Honor thy father and thy mother.” Jesus said, “Whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Matt. 12:50) In keeping with this, Jesus also explained that those who love their father and mother more than they love him, are not worthy of him. (Matt. 10:37) Jesus made it plain that those who are fully consecrated to do God’s will and to follow in his footsteps, will consider allegiance to their Heavenly Father and to their spiritual brethren as superseding their love toward earthly parents. Earthly parents should be cherished and loved by Christian children, but once they reach adulthood and find the wishes of their parents are contrary to the will of God, the Christian has no alternative but to disregard the parents’ wishes.


Noting that Jesus did magnify the Law, we should look for the manner in which the Scriptures point out a larger application of the Sabbath Day commandment. In Isaiah 58:13,14, we are given a comprehensive outline of what the Sabbath signifies. Typically, it was a holy day, a day in which the people of God were not to seek their own ways, find their own pleasure, nor speak their own words. Instead they were to honor God by doing his good pleasure, and speaking his words. This is true Sabbath-keeping; but the Christian is to keep the Sabbath in this way not one day in seven, but all seven days in the week.

Every day the Christian is to “speak as the oracle of God.” (I Pet. 4:11) Every day the Christian must follow the example of Christ who spoke only those things which the Heavenly Father taught him. (John 8:28) Every day the Christian should practice “holy conversation and godliness.” (II Pet. 3:11) Every day the Christian should rest from speaking his own words. Even those words which are necessary in connection with the routine affairs of life should be spoken to the glory of God, not merely on one day of the week, but all the time.—Col. 3:16,17

Christians are called to be co-laborers with God and with Christ. (II Cor. 6:1; I Cor. 3:9) Our partnership in the work of Christ is not, however, merely a one-day-a-week engagement. It is a fulltime contract. With New Creatures in Christ all the old things of the flesh have passed away, being supplanted by the things of God. Yes, every day of the week is a holy day for Christians, and the sentiments of their hearts should ever be:

“Take my will and make it thine;
      It shall be no longer mine;
Take my heart, it is thine own;
      Thus in me thyself enthrone.”

Christians are never to seek their own pleasure, but instead are humbly to submit themselves to God every day, that he might work in them “to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:13) Every day the Christian should be so wholeheartedly devoted to the doing of God’s will that he will be “worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power.”—II Thess. 1:11

It is in order that we may cooperate with Christ in performing the good pleasure of God, that he has “made known unto us the mystery of his will.” (Eph. 1:9) God’s will is revealed to us through the truth of his plan, and thereby we learn of his purpose to “gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him.” (Eph. 1:10) We are invited to cooperate in the accomplishment of this divine purpose, and our ‘all’ should be devoted to the doing of God’s will, all the time, and not only on one particular day of the week.

This was true of Jesus, our great Exemplar, of whom it was prophetically written that he delighted to do the Father’s will. (Ps. 40:8) Because Jesus was so wholeheartedly devoted to the doing of his Father’s will, it is also written of him that the pleasure of the Lord would “prosper in his hand.” (Isa. 53:10) This ‘pleasure of the Lord’ is shown by the prophet to be the regeneration of the human race, with which, when accomplished, and as a result of the “travail” of Jesus’ soul, he shall “be satisfied.”—Isa. 53:11


This brings us back to our text, which declares that Christians who believe ‘enter into’ God’s rest, ceasing from their own works, as God did from his. During the six Creative days—which were long periods, or epochs, of time—the Creator, together with his only begotten Son, the Logos, carried forward the work of Creation. Finally, and as the crowning feature of the sixth Creative day, God said to his Son, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”—Gen. 1:26

God blessed this perfect pair whom he created to head his earthly dominion, and he said to them: “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish [Hebrew, ‘fill’] the earth, and subdue it.” (Gen. 1:28) From this it is obvious that God’s pleasure in the creation of the earth, and man in his own image to have dominion over it, was that this planet should be filled with a perfect and happy human family representing him as rulers of this earthly domain.

But sin and death came, and man was driven out of his garden home to die. His dominion over the earth was forfeited, and life itself was lost. We cannot suppose that anything could interfere with the good pleasure of God’s will, and the Scriptures warrant us in this conclusion by revealing the divine plan for the recovery of man through Christ. This divine plan called for an atoning work through Jesus, hence he is spoken of as “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”—Rev. 13:8

The Creator had, and still has, the utmost confidence in his beloved Son, and so fully entrusted to him the work of recovering man from his fallen state that he ‘rested’ from his own work. God did not cease from any activity which might be necessary in connection with the orderly procedure and governing of the universe, and this is not what the Scriptures mean when they say that he ‘rested’ on the seventh day.

It is the Creative work in respect to this earth, and man’s position on it, that the Scriptures refer to when they speak of God’s rest on the seventh day. As each of the six Creative days were long periods of time, so also is the seventh day on which God rested, and, indeed, is still resting; for the seventh day is not yet ended. By the close of the seventh day, the good pleasure of God concerning humanity will have prospered to completion in the hands of Christ. This means that then man will have been restored—through the process of regeneration—to all that was lost as a result of sin.—Matt. 19:28

The beginning and ending of each of the Creative days of Genesis are described as the ‘evening and the morning’. The evening was the beginning of each epoch, and the morning was the close. Likewise, the seventh epoch has its ‘evening and morning’, The evening of this day began amidst darkness and gloom. Man, the crowning feature of God’s work in the morning of the sixth day, had sinned, and divine favor was consequently withdrawn from him. Death came as a result, and throughout all the centuries of this ‘long night of sin’ of the seventh day, humankind has been walking through the valley of the shadow of death.

Leeser’s Translation of Psalm 30:5—in which he makes the sixth verse tell us about this—says: “His anger is momentary, [but] life is in his favor: in the evening [cometh] weeping to stay for a night, but in the morning there is joyful song.” While weeping and death have continued for more than six thousand years, yet in God’s sight they are merely ‘momentary’. ‘Momentarily’ God withdrew his favor from those whom he had created in his image, ceasing to deal with them directly; but at the same time, he set in motion his plan embodying redemption through Christ, by which atonement between himself and his creatures would ultimately be reestablished, in the morning, or close of the seventh day. This will be the last of the seven thousand-year days of the Lord, or the end of the Millennial Age.—II Pet. 3:8; Rev. 5:10; 20:6

Having in the evening of the seventh day turned over to Christ the task of reconciling a lost world, God rested in full confidence. His beloved Son, who had served him so faithfully throughout all the previous six days of Creation, could now be trusted with the full responsibility of repairing the damage to that Creative work which had been caused by the sin of disobedience.

The apostle tells us in our text that God rested from his own work. The Creative work was his. It is true that his only begotten Son collaborated with him in the work of Creation, but it was merely as a logos, ‘a mouthpiece’, or ‘representative’. The responsibility of all that was done was the Father’s. But with the creation and subsequent fall of man, God delegated his Son to be the executor of the plan of redemption in his own name.

From the fall of man to the First Advent of Jesus, many promises were made by God which were to be fulfilled through his Son, but not until the First Advent of Christ did the actual outworking of the plan begin. At this point, Jesus enters prominently into the arrangement, declaring, after his resurrection, that all power in heaven and in earth had been given to him. (Matt. 28:18) God has continued to be interested in the human race, however. Indeed, by his Spirit he has inspired the writers of the Bible to reveal his great plan of love which centers in Jesus, in order that we may know that he cares for the children of men, even though his justice demanded the death sentence because of sin.

The actual outworking of his plan God has entrusted to Jesus, thereby ceasing from his own works. This is the great lesson to us of God’s seventh-day rest. The Jewish Christians, to whom our text was first addressed, had endeavored to restore themselves to God’s favor by their own efforts in keeping the Law. The apostle wanted them to know that the only sure means of returning to the favor of God, and thus obtaining justification to life, was not through the deeds of the Law, but by belief in Christ. (Rom. 3:20) As God had entrusted the work of salvation to Christ, Christians are admonished to do the same, to cease from their own works, as God did from his.

If the keeping of the Law justified to life, then there would be no need for a Redeemer.

How wonderfully, then, is the Law of the Sabbath magnified in the Christian’s life. While the Jew, under the Law, gave one-seventh of his time to the Lord, the Christian gives seven-sevenths—all his time and all his powers. To the Israelites the Lord said, “Ye shall keep my Sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary” (Lev. 19:30) God’s sanctuary to Israel, like the Sabbath, was also a shadow of better things to come. To them the sanctuary was a place made by human hands, but the Christian finds his sanctuary wherever he may be; for now God seeketh those to worship him who worship him in spirit and in truth. (John 4:21-24) Every place is holy to the Christian. Similarly, every day is a holy day—a Sabbath of rest of heart and mind in the completed work of Christ.


Just as God’s rest does not imply idleness on his part, so the Christian’s rest does not mean that he ceases from all work. We do cease from our own work, but in so doing, become coworkers with Christ. God gave typical Israel an opportunity to save themselves by their own works. The Law, which they undertook to keep, was written on tables of stone. These tablets, like the Law written upon them, were also shadows of better things to come. II Corinthians 3:3 reveals what constitutes the reality of that which the tables of stone foreshadowed. From this text we learn that each member of the church of Christ is being prepared as an epistle of Christ to appear later with him in glory, as the typical tables of stone were with Moses when he appeared in glory to establish the Old Law Covenant.

In II Corinthians 3:3-11, the apostle argues that because God is now writing the Law of the New Covenant in the hearts of the followers of Jesus, the Law which was the basis of the Old Covenant has ‘passed away’. He shows that the church has a hope of future glory with Christ, as able ministers of the New Covenant, and that this was foreshadowed by the tables of the Law accompanying Moses in the inauguration of the Old Covenant.

What a wondrous magnifying of the whole Law is apparent by the manner in which Christians are invited to be co-laborers with Christ. It does not mean, however, that it is a sin to refrain from secular work one day in seven, whether it be the first or the seventh day of the week. It does mean that even our necessary secular work is to be carried on to the glory of God.

The fact that Jesus and the apostles, all of whom were Jews, used golden opportunities of witnessing the Gospel message in synagogues on the Sabbath Day, does not mean that they thereby mandated the keeping of the seventh day as obligatory to Christians. Prior to the death of Jesus, it was necessary for the disciples, as Jews, to keep the Sabbath Day. Jesus, the perfect Law-keeper, also observed the Sabbath. However, in his answers to critics concerning the good work of healing the sick on the Sabbath, he said that hitherto the Father had worked on the Sabbath and now he was working, hinting at the larger meaning of the Sabbath which was soon to be revealed for the guidance of his followers.

And so it is that Christians today have the privilege of co-laboring with Jesus on the Sabbath Day, the larger Sabbath Day during which the Heavenly Father is entrusting to his Son the outworking of his plan. We work under the leadership of Christ, not one day a week, but seven. If, on the first day, or on the seventh day of the week, we, like Jesus and the disciples, find enlarged opportunities for bearing witness to the truth, we should gladly use them. Indeed, it is fitting that Christians conform their lives in this respect as nearly as possible to the customs of the people among whom they dwell. For this reason we should welcome the opportunity on each first day of the week to set aside the ordinary duties of life, that we may give ourselves wholly and directly to the worship and service of our God.

If living in a community of seventh-day keepers, we should be just as happy to do this on the seventh day of the week, not because the Scriptures enjoin it upon us, but because to do so is to exercise the Spirit of a sound mind.

The Apostle Paul said that he had not shunned to declare “all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), yet in none of Paul’s writings does he say anything about keeping the seventh day. He did say that Christians should not be judged upon the basis of keeping days and years. He also says that he mourned because some observed “days.”—Gal. 4:10,11

None of the other New Testament writers say anything about keeping the seventh day—nor about the keeping of the first day either, for that matter. All of the New Testament writers emphasize that salvation is dependent upon faith in the shed blood of Christ. And why should it not be so!

Let us, then, rejoice in the privilege of keeping the larger Sabbath through our rest of faith in Christ.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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