Through the various traditions of Sabbath observance which have developed from the time of Christ, we have missed the true significance of the Sabbath rest.
The concept of Sabbath has been lost in the ideas governed by the churches, in an area which has a large portion of the bible dedicated to it. The Old Testament has Sabbath observances and festivals as it's central theme. The worship on special days was central to the faith of the Israelites. The Jews at the time of Christ had developed their religious system around these days, and the observance of a seventh day of rest was central to their society.
When beginning this topic in conversation, the first thing people ponder is which day of the week it is (I am not interested in this debate either – whatever you do, do it unto the Lord I say). As I broach this subject I implore you to clear your mind of all you have learnt, as what I am about to teach will set you free from such debates. There is an entire area of teaching which is hidden because when we say Sabbath we automatically think about a day of the week and church attendance.
That is not what Sabbath is about.
I grew up in a church where we observed the seventh day (Saturday) Sabbath, as prescribed in the Ten Commandments. Although it is commonly thought today by many churches that the Sabbath changed to the Sunday, this is a church tradition and I challenge you to find such a change in the bible. I know, I looked. My first dilemma when I believed in Jesus therefore, having had this background of knowledge from my youth, was what do I do with this Sabbath thing? Well I prayed and prayed and eight years later here I am to tell you what I believe God taught me about the matter through the Holy Spirit.
Let's start at the beginning.
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.”
This is the beginning of Sabbath, and it is in the understanding of the rest that God entered into, and the order of things into which Adam and Eve were created into where we start to see what Sabbath really means.
The following is an analysis from a Hebrew magazine (http://ancient-hebrew.org/emagazine/043.html) of the original Hebrew translated as rested in verse 3 above;
The base word is שבת (shavat – the root of the noun shabbat/sabbath) meaning “to cease.” The prefix י identifies the verb tense as imperfect – will cease – and the subject of the verb as third person, masculine, singular – he will cease. The prefix ו means “and,” but also reverses the tense of the verb – and he ceased.”
This indicates that once the creative work was over, God entered a perpetual rest. There was no more work to be done. This is consistent with what Paul talks about in Hebrews 4:3b “ And yet his work has been finished since the creation of the world”. Hebrews 3 and 4 speak about entering the Lords rest, and I will return there later.
So if God entered this rest, then why did Jesus say “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working” (John 5:17b)?
I asked God this, and what I see now is that when God finished creating, he rested from the creative work. Adam and Eve were created into a state of perpetual rest. There was nothing to be done. There was no sin, no disease or death. This is key to understanding as when Adam and Eve sinned and brought about the punishment of death upon us, God began a redemptive work. It is this redemptive work which culminated in the death of Jesus on the Cross which redeems us and offers an inheritance of which most of us are being robbed, back to the state of perpetual rest.
Many reading this will be going back again in there minds to which day do we rest. A careful reading of Hebrews 3:7 through to 4:11 puts the focus on entering God's rest every day.
It is not a physical rest, but a spiritual one.
When I studied Jesus's teaching in Matthew 5 I saw how the ten commandments were still a vital part of learning God's way today. The way He took the law and expanded them to a spiritual meaning far beyond the letter of the law was an example to me of how the Old Testament should be read. So I diligently went about studying the Ten Commandments and got a lot out of them all, but when I got to keeping the Sabbath day my brain would seize up. How is that a spiritual concept? Some teach it as a principle of devoting a day a week to the Lord, and it no longer matters which one, but that seemed a bit flippant to me (while still a good principle in balancing a stressful life).
The word 'Sabbath' appears 154 times in the bible. How can something spoken about that much not be important?
I was taught growing up that the keeping of the Sabbath would be a sign that a person is a part of the true church. Now my studies have confirmed for me that the whole concept of Sabbath was a sign. It was a sign of the coming Messiah.
The Israelites had to work in order to redeem themselves. They had to have a strict sacrificial system in order to consecrate themselves. On six days they rested, and they also had a Sabbath year every seventh year, and what was known as the year of Jubilee every seven times seven years (49years). All of this pointed to the coming of Christ, when the redemptive work was completed and we could again enter the rest of God.
Jesus said himself in Luke 4:16-21;
“He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it he found the place where it is written:
'The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has set me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.'
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, 'Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.'”
Jesus fulfilled this prophecy, and proclaimed the year of the Lord's favor. This was the Sabbath year when debts were cancelled, slaves were set free and land was returned to it's owner.
I always thought that Jesus did healings on the Sabbath to get up the nose of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, but now I realise this was shallow thinking. Everything Jesus did pointed to who he was and what he came for. When he healed on the Sabbath, he was showing the almighty power of God which was going to be available to all of us who entered this state of rest. This is the place which Adam and Eve existed before sin entered. A state of no disease, sin or death.
“There remains then a Sabbath rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.” (Heb 4:9-11)
When the focus is taken away from having a day of rest, and placed on entering a perpetual rest where we can be free from worry, free from the sinful nature, free from disease and even free from debt then it opens up our minds to a very different concept of the commandment to keep the Sabbath.
We break the Sabbath when we worry about things that we should leave in God's hands.
We break the Sabbath when we try to earn our salvation through works.
We break the Sabbath when we don't trust God.
All of a sudden now, I can study Sabbath in the Old Testament and it gives a spiritual meaning just like Jesus did in Matthew 5 with other commandments.
The law is not changed, indeed it is fulfilled.