If we accept the witness of
Scripture there can be no question that the
weekly Sabbath finds its basis in and derives its sanction from the
example of God himself. He created the heavens and the earth in six
days and "on the seventh God ended his work which he had made; and he
rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God
blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it" (Gen. 2:2,3). The fourth
commandment in the decalogue sets forth the obligation resting upon man
and it makes express appeal to this sanction. "For in six days the Lord
made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the
seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed
it" (Exod. 20:11).
Many regard this sabbath institution as a shadow of things to come and,
therefore, as an ordinance to be observed, has passed away because that
of which it was a shadow has been realized in the full light of the new
and better covenant. At this point suffice it to ask the question: has
the pattern of God's work and rest in creation ceased to be relevant?
Is this pattern a _shadow_ in the sense of those who espouse this
position? The realm of our existence is that established by creation
and maintained by God's providence. The new covenant has in no respect
abrogated creation nor has it diminished its relevance. Creation both
as action and product is as significant for us as it was for Israel
under the old covenant. The refrain of Scripture in both Testaments is
that the God of creation is the God of redemption in all stages of
covenantal disclosure and realization. This consideration is invested
with greater significance when we bear in mind that the ultimate
standard for us is likeness to God (cf. Matt. 5:48; 1 John 3:2,3). And
it is this likeness, in the sphere of our behaviour, that undergirds
the demand for sabbath observance (Exod. 20:11; 31:17).
The Redemptive Pattern
It is noteworthy that the sabbath commandment as given in Deuteronomy
(Deut. 5:12-15) does not appeal to God's rest in creation as the reason
for keeping the sabbath day. In this instance mention is made of
something else. "And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of
Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence through a
mighty hand and an outstreched arm: therefore the Lord thy God
commanded thee to keep the sabbath day" (Deut. 5:15). This cannot be
understood as in any way annulling the sanction of Exodus 20:11; 31:17.
Deuteronomy comprises what was the reiteration of the covenant made at
Sinai. When the sabbath commandment is introduced Israel is reminded of
the earlier promulgation: "Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the
Lord thy God hath commanded thee" (Deut. 5:12). And we should observe
that all the commandments have their redemptive sanction. The preface
to all is: "I am the Lord thy God which have brought thee out of the
land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage" (Exod. 20:2; cf. Deut.
5:6). So what we find in Deut. 5;15 in connection with the Sabbath is
but the application of the preface to the specific duty enunciated in
the fourth command. It is supplement to Exodus 20:11, not suspension.
We have now added reason for observing the Sabbath. This is full of
meaning and we must linger to analyse and appreciate.
The deliverance from Egypt was redemption. "Thou in thy mercy hast led
forth the people which thou hast redeemed" (Exod. 15:13). It is more
than any other event the redemption of the old Testament. It is the
analogue of the greater redemption accomplished by Christ. The sabbath
commandment derives its sanction not only from God's rest in creation
but also from redemption out of Egypt's bondage. This fact that the
Sabbath in Israel had a redemptive reference and sanction bears
directly upon the question of its relevance in the New Testament. The
redemption from Egypt cannot be properly viewed except as the
anticipation of the greater redemption wrought in the fullness of time.
Hence, if redemption from Egypt accorded sanction to the sabbath
institution and provided reason for its observance the same must apply
to the greater redemption and apply in a way commensurate with the
greater fullness and dimensions of the redemption secured by the death
and resurrection of Christ. In other words, it is the fullness and
richness of the new covenant that accord to the sabbath ordinance
increased relevance, sanction, and blessing.
This redemptive reference explains and confirms three features of the
1. The Retrospective Reference
Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week (cf. Matt. 28:1;
Mark 16:2,9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1). For our present interest the
important feature of the New Testament witness is that the first day of
the week continued to have _distinctive religious significance_ (cf.
Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2). The only explanation of this fact is that the
first day was the day of Jesus' resurrection and for that reason John
calls it "the Lord's day" (Rev. 1:10). The first day took on a memorial
significance appropriate to the place the resurrection of Christ
occupies in the accomplishment of redemption and in Jesus' _finished_
work (cf. John 17:4) as also appropriate to the seal imparted by the
repeated appearance to his disciples on that day (cf. Matt. 28:9; Luke
24:15-31, 26; John 20:19,26). When Christ rose from the dead he was
loosed from the pangs of death (cf. Acts 2:24), he entered upon life
indestructible (cf. Rom. 5:10; 6:9,10), became a "life-giving Spirit"
(1 Cor. 15:45), and brought "life and immortality to light" (2 Tim.
1:10). In a word, he entered upon the rest of his redeeming work. All
of this and much more resides in the emphasis which falls upon the
resurrection as a pivotal event in the accomplishment of redemption.
The other pivot is the death upon the cross. The sanctity belonging to
the first day of the week as the Lord's day is the constant reminder of
all that Jesus' resurrection involves. It is the memorial of the
resurrection as the Lord's supper is the memorial of Jesus' death upon
the tree. Inescapable, therefore, is the conclusion that the
resurrection in its redemptive character yields its sanction to the
sacredness of the first day of the week just as deliverance from
Egypt's bondage accorded its sanction to the sabbath institution of the
old covenant. This is the rationale for regarding the Lord's day as the
Christian Sabbath. It follows the line of thought which the Old
Testament itself prescribes for us when it appeals to redemption as the
reason for sabbath observance. The principle enunciated in Deuteronomy
5:15 receives its verification and application in the new covenant in
the memorial of finalized redemption, the Lord's day.
2. The Manward Reference
Under this caption we have in mind our Lord's saying: "The sabbath was
made for man, and not man for the sabbath: therefore the Son of man is
Lord also of the sabbath" (Mark 2:27,28).
The title our Lord uses to designate himself is one that belongs to him
in his messianic identity, commission, and office. The lordship he
claims is, therefore, redemptively conditioned; it is his lordship as
Mediator and Saviour. As such, in accord with his own testimony, he is
given all authority in heaven and earth (cf. John 3:36; Matt. 28:18).
So every institution is brought within the scope of his lordship. Since
he exercises this lordship in the interests of God's redemptive
purpose, it is particularly true that institutions given for the good
of man are brought within the scope of his lordship and made to serve
the interests of the supreme good which redemption designs and
guarantees. It is this governing thought that is applied in the text to
the institution of the Sabbath. The accent falls upon the beneficent
design of the Sabbath - it was made for man. "Therefore the Son of man
is Lord" of it.
When Jesus speaks of the Sabbath, he is specifying the institution
defined by the fourth commandment, and he asserts his lordship over it
in precisely this character. There is not the slightest intimation of
abrogation. For it is the Sabbath in that identity over which he claims
to be Lord. Too frequently this text is adduced in support of an
alleged relaxation of the requirements set forth in the commandment as
if Jesus on this ground were, in the exercise of his authority,
defending his disciples for behaviour that went counter to Old
Testament requirements. This totally misconstrues the situation in
which the words were spoken. Jesus is defending his disciples against
the charge of desecration brought by the Pharisees (cf. Mark 2:24). But
in doing so he shows by appeal to the Old Testament itself (cf. Matt.
12:4,5; Mark 2:25,26) that the behaviour of his disciples was in accord
with what the Old Testament sanctioned. It was not deviation from Old
Testament requirements that our Lord was condoning but deviation from
pharisaical distortion. He was condemning the tyranny by which the
sabbath institution had been made an instrument of oppression. And he
did this by appeal to the true intent of the Sabbath as verified by
Scripture itself. Of special interest is the relation of the redemptive
sanction of the fourth commandment to the claim of Jesus on this
occasion. The lordship over the sabbath is, as observed, redemptively
conditioned and thus only within a redemptive design can his lordship
of the sabbath be understood. This is to say that the sabbath ordinance
in its beneficent character comes to full expression within the realm
of our Lord's mediatorial lordship. The sabbath is not alien to
redemption at the zenith of its realization and blessing. As made for
man it continues to serve its great purpose in that administration that
achieves the acme of covenant grace. This Jesus' word seals to us -
"the Son of man is Lord also fo the sabbath".
3. The Prospective Reference
"There remains therefore a sabbath keeping for the people of God" (Heb.
The context of this passage is all-important for its interpretation and
for appreciation of its implications. At verse 4 there is quotation of
Genesis 2:2: "And God rested on the seventh day from all his works."
This, of course, refers to God's _own_ rest. At verse 5 there is
allusion to the rest of Canaan and quotation of Psalm 95:11 (cf. also
vs. 3 and 3:11) in reference to the failure of too many to enter into
it (cf. Psalm 95:10). The remarkable feature of verse 5 as of Psalm
95:11 is that this rest of Canaan is called God's rest ("my rest"). Why
this characterization? It is not sufficient to say that it was the rest
God provided. The proximity of reference to God's own rest in verse 4
requires more than the thoughts of mere provision by God. We cannot say
less than that God calls it his rest because the rest of Canaan was
patterned after God's rest - it partook of the character of God's rest.
The same kind of identification appears in verse 10 with reference to
the rest that remains for the people of God. "For he that has entered
into his rest, he also has ceased from his own works, as God did from
his." So the rest of Canaan and the rest that remains for the people of
God are called God's rest because both partake of the character of
God's own rest in resting from his creative work on the seventh day.
Here is something highly germane to the present topic.
It is clear that the rest of Canaan and the rest that remains for the
people of God are redemptive in character. Since they are patterned
after God's rest in creation, this means that the redemptive takes on
the character of that rest of God upon which the sabbath institution
for man originally rested and from which it derived its sanction. We
cannot but discover in this again the close relation between the
creative and the redemptive in the sabbath ordinance and the coherence
of Exodus 20:11 and Deuteronomy 5:15. We are reminded again that
likeness to God governs man's obligation and is brought to its
realization in the provisions of redemption. In the consummation of
redemption the sabbath rest of God's people achieves conformity to the
fullest extent. "For he who has entered into his rest, he also has
ceased from his own works, as God did from his" (cf. Rev. 14:13). The
sabbath institution in all its aspects and applications has this
prospective reference; the whole movement of redemption will find its
finale in the sabbath rest that remains. The weekly Sabbath is the
promise, token, and foretaste of the consummated rest; it is also the
earnest. The biblical philosophy of the Sabbath is such that to deny
its perpetuity is to deprive the movement of redemption of one of its
most precious strands.
Redemption has a past, a present, and a future. In the Sabbath as "the
Lord's day" all three are focused. In retrospect it is the memorial of
our Lord's resurrection. In the present with resurrection joy it
fulfils its beneficent design by the lordship of the Son of man. As
prospect it is the promise of the inheritance of the saints. With
varying degrees of understanding and application it is this perspective
that dictated the observance of the Lord's day in catholic, protestant
and reformed tradition. Shall we forfeit in institution so embedded in
redemptive revelation and recognized as such in the history of the
church of Christ? In the faith and for the honour of the Sabbath's Lord
may we answer with a decisive, no! In devotion to him may we
increasingly know the joy and blessing of the recurring day of rest and
* From: The Pattern of the Lord's
Day, John Murray, n.d.