Bible Study Opportunities
What God Has Said About His Sabbath
By Jon W. Quinn
While in Michigan, I once had an opportunity to study the Sabbath with a knowledgeable and respected local pastor of the Seventh Day Adventist church. The study was quite involved and lasted for several weeks. He believed that it was God's will for His people to keep the seventh day of the week (Saturday) as a holy day today. He made a point that Constantine, in 321 A.D. changed the Sabbath from the seventh day of the week to the first day of the week and that most churches have since then worshiped on the wrong day. I knew a little about history. I knew that Constantine, in courting the favor of the church, decreed that Sunday would be a day of rest. But he did this because the church was already using the first day of the week as "the Lord's Day". His decree did not change what the church had been practicing from the days of the New Testament. It merely made it easier for Christians to worship on the first day of the week. Is it God's will that Christians continue to keep the Sabbath? If so, should it continue to be kept on the seventh day of the week or has it been changed to the first day? Or was it only a temporary institution which foreshadowed spiritual realities and now has fulfilled its purpose and is no longer to be kept? THE PURPOSE OF THE SABBATH "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days shall you labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God...for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy" (EXODUS 20:8-11). The keeping of the Sabbath was a command given under the old covenant. It was given to the nation of Israel to serve a two-fold purpose. First, to cause Israel to ponder the Divine cause of the universe (EXODUS 31:12-13;15-17). Second, to cause Israel to remember how God had delivered them from bondage in Egypt (DEUTERONOMY 5:13-15). It was for these two purposes that Moses came down from Mount Sinai with this fourth of the ten commandments. THE SABBATH WAS GIVEN ONLY TO ISRAEL "So I took them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness...And I also gave them My Sabbaths to be a sign between Me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them" (EZEKIEL 20:10-12). Those who believe in keeping the seventh day Sabbath today insist that it was God's command to all people of all time. However, the Sabbath was given by God through Moses in the wilderness at Mount Sinai. It was given specifically to Israel "to be a sign" between them and Him. How could the Sabbath serve as a sign between God and Israel if God had also given it to everyone else? It would be like cattlemen all branding their cattle with the same sign. To be a sign, the Sabbath had to be distinctively for Israel. In fact, the word "Sabbath" does not occur until the time of Moses. There is no indication that faithful men and women of God ever kept it before that time. Did Enoch? Noah? Abraham? Jacob? No! It was to Moses that God made the Sabbath known (NEHEMIAH 9:13,14). When Moses wrote the book of Genesis, He explained to the people why God had blessed and sanctified the Sabbath; because back at the beginning it was on the seventh day that He had rested (ceased) from creating (GENESIS 2:1-3). The Sabbath was given only to the sons of Israel (EXODUS 31:17). THE COVENANT OF THE SABBATH HAS BEEN FULFILLED "Therefore, let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day - things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ" (COLOSSIANS 2:16,17). The point is that these things belonged to an era which has passed away. They served their purpose as parts of the Old Law, but it was all only a shadow. We now have come to Christ so the shadow is left behind. We now have a new covenant. It is not like the one made in the wilderness with Israel (HEBREWS 8:8,9). Jesus has taken away the first covenant that He might establish the second (HEBREWS 10:9). The Old Law was only a tutor to lead us to Christ, but now that Christ has come we are no longer under the tutor (GALATIANS 3:23-25). DID CHRISTIANS KEEP THE SABBATH IN THE NEW TESTAMENT? "And on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking unto them, intending to depart the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight." (ACTS 20:7). The New Testament shows that Christians assembled on many occasions, but it was upon the first day of the week (Sunday) that they partook of the Lord's supper and gave of their means into a common collection (I CORINTHIANS 16:1,2). But what did they do on the seventh day (Saturday)? First, Jesus kept the Sabbath because He had not yet fulfilled the Old Law as given through Moses. Only in His death would the Law be fulfilled and replaced by the new covenant. The preachers and teachers in the book of Acts many times went to the synagogues on the Sabbath. But they did so to teach those present that the Messiah had come and had brought into effect a new covenant. These Sabbath assemblies were of unbelieving Jews in need of hearing the gospel; they were not assemblies of the church. The church would be found assembling together on the following day. DOES A SABBATH REMAIN FOR US TODAY? "There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God" (HEBREWS 4:9). Our Sabbath rest is spiritual. It consists of peace and security, hope and joy. It is perfected in heaven, where there will be no sickness or sorrow, pain or death. Thank God for our Sabbath! "Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest." (HEBREWS 4:11).
Reprinted From the Bradley Banner Bradley Church of Christ Bradley, Illinois July 15, 1990