“The Sabbath is a ‘type’. It, like all the other Old Testament feasts and ceremonies,
was a figure of something wonderful to come. And now it has come…”
The goal for this study is to arrive at an understanding of the meaning of the Sabbath. As with so many very familiar words there is a near-overwhelming danger that we will take one look at the word and already have our minds made up about what it means. Most say, “Sunday is the Sabbath” and it’s as simple as that. Some challenge them by saying “Actually, it is Saturday.” But what conclusions would be drawn if both parties had never inherited any tradition of referring to a particular day of the week as being ‘The Sabbath’? Perhaps the subject could be approached from a genuine Bible study perspective instead of a defence of an inherited position. This following short study of the subject is intended to show the New Testament perspective of the meaning and place of ‘The Sabbath’ in every Christian’s life.
The first thing we note at one quick glance into Strong’s Concordance is that there are scores of references to the word ‘Sabbath’ in both Old and New Testaments. We are not going to look at all of these but just enough to see the overall picture of what the Holy Spirit is saying to us on this subject in this New Covenant era in which we now live. I have no axe to grind and no tradition to defend. Please, by all means, check all of the other references in Scripture on this subject after you have read this study and if you find anything that contradicts this study’s conclusions do let me know.
Let’s start the study…
Sabbath means ‘Rest’
The first reference to this word (always a helpful place to start) is found in Exodus 16:23, “And he said unto them, This is that which the LORD hath said, To morrow is the rest of the holy Sabbath unto the LORD.” The Hebrew word for Sabbath is SHABBATH and means ‘rest from labour’ and similar.
When we see that the idea of ‘rest’ is implied in the meaning of SHABBATH, it comes as no surprise to see that the word ‘rest’ in Genesis 2:2 is very nearly the same Hebrew word – SHABATH (one ‘b’ instead of two). We read in this passage: “And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.” Here the meaning is very much along the same lines as before: ‘to cease’, ‘to desist from labour’ etc. Linking these two words together (Sabbath and rest) we see that the theme of ‘desisting from labour’ / ‘ceasing from effort’ / ‘resting’ commenced immediately after creation was finished. God rested from His labours, not because He couldn’t go on (!) but to show us something – that we must rest from ours. We will see the implications of this when we arrive at the heart of this study.
The Sabbath is a ‘Feast’
As with a number of things in Scripture, we see from the above two quotations that something that existed prior to the Old, (or, Mosaic) Covenant is then implanted into that era and formalized into a statute for the people. If you want another example of this you’ll see it in the subject of tithing; first carried out by Abraham before the Mosaic Law came into being but later incorporated into it (by God). So, Sabbath first had a pre-Law application but was later made part of the Old Covenant. What I want you to see here though is the category into which God places ‘The Sabbath’ in the Old Testament.
“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, Concerning the feasts of the LORD, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts. Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the Sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the Sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings.” (Lev. 23: 1-3)
According to the Book of Leviticus the Sabbath is the first of seven ‘feasts’ instituted as a part of the Old Testament. Reading on in Leviticus 23 we can see the other 6 ‘feasts’ listed. Here they all are:
- The Sabbath (every seventh day)
- Passover (the 14th day of the first month)
- Unleavened Bread (the week immediately following Passover)
- Firstfruits (initiating 7 weeks count down to Pentecost)
- Trumpets (the 1st of the seventh)
- Day of Atonement (the 10th of the seventh)
- Tabernacles (15th –22nd of the seventh)
Plus three added later
There are actually at least three more Old Covenant feasts that were added later:
- Purim. Mentioned in the Book of Esther, chapter nine.
- Dedication. Ref: Neh. 12:27 & confirmed in John 10:22.
- The New Moon.*
*This is the third, which is going to be of some slight relevance later. The following are just three of the many Bible references to the New Moon: 1 Chronicles 23:21, 2 Chronicles 2:4 2 Chronicles 8:13. This is very interesting. Several hundred years after Moses and the giving of the Covenant we find that David instituted all kinds of ‘extras’ in addition to, or enhancement of, many of the Old Covenant practices. These added features were all brought in during the time that the building of the temple was being planned. We can’t pause here to consider all of this but all we need to know is that The Lord approved all of David’s plans for the temple and orders of worship. The New Moon was just one of these added ordinances, so let’s just remember that it too was considered a ‘feast’, a ‘holy day’.
We are not going to look at any of the other ‘feast’ days here individually but I do need to draw our attention to seeing some very important principles that relate to Old Testament feasts as a whole. Our first need is to define what the Bible means (that is at least in the A.V. translation which I am using here) by the word ‘feast’. A complete reading of the chapter currently in hand (Lev. 23) should be quite sufficient to make us realise that in this particular context ‘feast’ does not by and large mean a great ‘nosh-up’! In many of the above-mentioned ‘feasts’ the reverse is actually the case. In this chapter we read of bread that is not allowed to contain leaven, and phrases like “ye shall afflict your souls,” and it shall be a “solemn assembly” (Newberry margin says, ‘a day of affliction’). Also, temporary dwellings (booths) were lived in during Tabernacles in place of their usually more comfortable homes. Hence our more usual usage of the term ‘feast’ is not always applicable to much of the essence of these events.
The meaning of the term ‘feast’ in this chapter is actually ‘appointed time/place’, ‘appointed seasons’. So we see that all of these days were intended in some way to mark something ‘special’. The term ‘a holy convocation’ is used. These were all ‘holy days’. I don’t think that there should be any doubt that the Sabbath was considered a ‘feast’, a ‘holy day’, in the context of the Old Testament. It is listed number one in this passage of Scripture. The Sabbath is what the Bible calls a ‘feast’.
So now we need to answer the question: Why did God ordain all of these feasts/holy days? What purpose do they serve?
This question is in many ways part and parcel of the vast topic of the central purpose and meaning of the whole of the Old Covenant. We cannot branch out that broadly in this study so I simply trust and hope that you already understand something of the essential basic differences between Old and New Covenants? For safety’s sake I shall try to summarize the whole essence of Old and New in relation to our theme in the next short paragraph:
The book of Leviticus, which we are looking at now, is full of special ceremonies, special garments, special buildings with particular contents. It shows us a special order of priests with special duties and detailed rules and practices for their ministry. This is the book that brings us this list of feasts and expounds upon the detail of how and when these things are to be done. But to understand the spiritual meaning of all these things we need further light beyond that which we are generally given by any Old Testament book or prophet. Let me say this plainly: All of the ‘outward’ aspects of the religious life of the children of Israel were intended by God to reflect some deep, spiritual truth, which would ultimately be fulfilled and given its real, spiritual meaning by the Lord Jesus Christ. That which was outward, ceremonial and religious in the Old has become inward, real and fulfilled in the New.
These ‘picture lessons’ from the Old Testament are usually referred to as typology. For example, we can see that the priestly garments, made of fine, white linen speak of Christ’s purity and righteousness, which He also imparts to us. We know that the tabernacle (and later the temple) speak of heavenly things (Heb 8:5). Blood, flour, oil, water, herbs and spices all represent something spiritual. Likewise, holy days were also full of symbolic meaning. Do any of us doubt that the Lord Jesus was the real Passover lamb? Or that He became the full and final atonement sacrifice? We understand too that Pentecost speaks of the Holy Spirit coming to gather fruit unto Christ. I do not know of any Believers, who have been any length of time in their Christian walk, who do not understand that these things were symbolic lessons to us, even if we don’t understand all of the fine detail.
Now we are coming to the point. Would it not be more than likely then that the Sabbath also has something spiritual to teach us? Some lesson that relates to the spiritual realities of the work of Christ and to our lives in Him? The answer is, yes; and so we turn to our New Testament and let that be our commentary on the Old.
N.B. This should always be our method as Christians studying the Bible – learn the doctrine and teachings of the New first, and then go back and see how the Old testament typology fits it. Never try to formulate your doctrine from the Old Testament accounts and then try to make the New Testament somehow fit what we think we have understood from that.
The Sabbath expounded
Taking my own last rule for Bible study we look into the New Testament teachings for an explanation of the Sabbath and seek to find out what relevance it holds in our era (i.e. for Christians, living in the New Covenant period).
Remembering that the whole theme of ‘Sabbath’ and ‘Rest’ is inseparably bound together in the Old Testament we must bear this in mind as we approach the following passage of Scripture in the letter to the Hebrew believers. Please note also that it is by no coincidence that it is to the letter to the Hebrews that we need to turn. Hebrews is often thought of as the ‘companion’ book to Leviticus. I have highlighted some key words, which will hopefully help to bring together three points I wish to make from this passage.
“While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation. For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses. But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness? And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works. And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest. Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief: Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. For if Jesus (that’s Joshua of course) had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day. There remaineth therefore a rest * to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.”
[Hebrews 3:15 – 4:11]
1. Sabbath / Rest
Reading the above passage it should become apparent that the writer to these Hebrew people is making some vital point concerning ‘rest’. This word occurs ten times in this short space and it would seem that in the writer’s mind he is not talking of just any kind of rest, he means ‘Sabbath rest’. Although the actual word ‘Sabbath’ is not used here in the A.V. translation the inference should be clear enough when we read twice of ‘the seventh day’ and the phrase ‘ceased from his own works’. Further to this, the place marked * above is translated in the Newberry margin as “There remains therefore a keeping of sabbath (SABBATISMOS) to the people of God.” This passage is without doubt the explanation of The Sabbath (tied in with other points) from the New Testament perspective.
2. Faith / Belief
Casting your eye to some of the other highlighted areas you can see also that the point being made here has to do with faith/belief. Actually it is in the negative. He is talking about lack of faith and unbelief. The first part of the above quotation is actually a quote itself from Psalm 95. The incident that is being referred to is when the spies were sent out into the Promised Land and ten out of twelve of them brought an “evil report” of the land. As happens so often, the people were more easily persuaded by the view of the majority than willing to listen to the minority (the two) who had something different to say. The people, that is, the children of Israel, were lacking in faith – they believed not the report of Joshua and Caleb. An interesting alternative rendering of ‘unbelief’ here is ‘unpersuadable’. It wasn’t just a case that they didn’t believe, it was more a case of they were not going to allow themselves to be persuaded. Hence, there is reference to ‘hardness of heart’. This is a terrible and terrifying lesson to us! Though we may have once received gladly the message of salvation we can still refuse to allow ourselves to be persuaded by the things that the Holy Spirit, has to say to us. Let us beware!
3. Entering in
So we come to our final highlighted word/theme in this passage – ‘enter’. This whole episode (found in Numbers 13 & 14) is about an opportunity given to God’s people of ‘entering into’ the Promised Land. For the reasons already mentioned (they were unwilling to be persuaded by the ‘good report’) they failed to enter and as a result they all died! That is, all males over the age of 20 (presumably this denoted responsibility and accountability) at that time (with the exception of Joshua and Caleb) were to pass away in the wilderness during the next 38 years. None of them were alive for the next opportunity of ‘entering into’ The Land. Now we have our opportunity of entering into a land given us of God. To use some poetic licence here: it is ‘God’s Sabbath Land’. It is not a physical land but no less a Land of Promise. Just like the Children of Israel, our Passover lamb was not sacrificed merely to bring us out of somewhere, God’s whole plan and purpose for us is to bring us in to something too. We are called to ‘enter in’ to His Rest. Listen to the comforting words of Jesus who desires that we should know something of ‘rest’ in our spiritual experience:
“All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” (Mat 11:27-29)
But note again the words of our Hebrew passage. It is not just any rest, but He wants us to enter into His Rest. When did Jesus rest? Why of course, when He had finished all His works: “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” (John 17:4). This was Jesus prayer at the end of His earthly ministry as He approached The Cross. Then we read a little further on in John: “After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.” (John 19:28-30). The Lord Jesus accomplished all of the work given Him to do by His Father and so He rested. Therefore, for us to enter in to His Rest, it is not a case of first accomplishing all the work/works we think we need to do, but a simple, believing acceptance of His work as having been sufficient. We enter into His Rest when we first accept His Work as being sufficient for us. Believe the Good News. Believe The Report.
“Tis finished! The Messiah dies
Cut off for sins, but not His own:
Accomplished is the sacrifice
The great redeeming work is done.
Tis finished! All the debt is paid;
Justice Divine is satisfied;
The grand and full atonement made;
God for a guilty world hath died.”
Are you at rest?
The above verses are from a Wesley hymn. Listen to the first line of the fourth verse of that hymn: “The types and figures are fulfilled …” The Sabbath is a ‘type’. It, like all the other Old Testament feasts and ceremonies, was a figure of something wonderful to come. And now it has come. Once again, Christ is the fulfilment. Accept it, believe it, be persuaded. God’s Sabbath Rest is a gift to your eternal soul: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Eph 2:8 & 9). There is no need to work in order to be saved and remember: “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him” (Col 2:6). There is no need to work to please God afterward. He is satisfied with the work of His Son. “There remaineth therefore a rest (*a keeping of sabbath) to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works.” AMEN, do you see the picture? The Sabbath is God’s lesson to us concerning the spiritual rest He imparts to us through faith in His Work.
It may be superfluous to add this, but for the sake of not being wrongly interpreted I’ll say it: This doctrine is concerning our spiritual rest in respect of Salvation and our ongoing life in Christ. This in no way guarantees a restful ride through this world. For in the world we shall have trouble. At times we may even be “pressed out of measure” (2 Cor 1:8), but in the very deepest part of our beings we can know the “peace of which passes all understanding” – The Sabbath of Rest.
Now for some personal application. Do you know the experience of this rest? I am not interested in these Bible studies solely to arrive at correct doctrine. I want to encourage you in complete faith in Jesus. He didn’t die on the cross just so we could be forgiven our sins (thank you Lord we are forgiven!). He wants us to walk with Him in a place of rest. Emmanuel’s Land is a land of milk and honey. Don’t believe the teaching that says that Canaan is a ‘type’ of heaven, it is something ‘in reserve’ for us. That is a misunderstanding. The Promised Land is for us now. Life in God’s bounty, through the Holy Spirit, is your lot and mine now. The waters of Jordan are where we made our entrance and now the Land is before us. You don’t have to conquer it yourself. It has already been subdued by the Captain of our Salvation – our Joshua (Jesus of course) and given to us as a gift. All we need to do is simply walk in it, explore it, and take in the wonder of it. He doesn’t want us striving every day after our new birth to try and make it up to Him for what He has done for us. He died for you willingly, because He loves you so. He wants you and me to be quite at rest in our relationship with Him. He wants us to receive freely of His abundant grace and provision. Take, eat, feast in His Land. The ‘double portion’ has already been gathered in, it’s the Sabbath now, it’s all paid for, you’d just be letting it go to waste if you didn’t just make your soul fat on the good of the Land. Praise God the spiritual outworking of the Sabbath is indeed a real feast to the soul who delights in Him.
Note: Some would interpret this Hebrew’s passage as being a ‘rest to come’, because of the use of the word ‘remain’ – “There remaineth therefore a rest …” I do not think that it is possible to state emphatically that this word must imply ‘yet to come’. In fact, often we use this word to mean ‘there continues to be’ – ‘it is still there’. However, I would just like to point out that even if this was the case: 1. The above statements I have made concerning our spiritual rest in Christ still remain true and in accordance with the New Testament revelation and, 2. The point still remains that the Sabbath speaks of a spiritual principle as opposed to being forever a literal day of the week as we shall next consider.
Is there still a literal Sabbath day too?
I feel almost disappointed that we should need to address this question after we’ve just seen the glorious truth concerning His Sabbath. But now we have hopefully seen the absolute heart of the matter concerning the meaning of the Sabbath it is perhaps needful that we should address the more outward issue of still observing a literal day of the week as a Sabbath. I am afraid here that I will neither be popular with Traditionalists nor Adventists. The plain fact of the matter is, we have already seen the spiritual meaning of the Sabbath and how that like all other Old Covenant features it has been brought to its fulfilment in Christ. To say that the Sabbath, in any sense of the Old Covenant, is still something that must be observed by those who live in Christ is no different from suggesting that we must all continue to observe Trumpets, Tabernacles, New Moon, Passover and so on! These have ALL been fulfilled in Christ. God gave these special days to a specific people at a specific time, to teach us a lesson and form a framework for The Real spiritual fulfilment in our Lord Jesus. Hence, there is no injunction on the Church to observe any special day at all. In fact it is quite wrong language and thinking to ever suggest that there is such a thing as a ‘Christian’ festival. Neither Christ, nor His apostles ever instituted any special day, nor gave us instructions that we must continue to observe any of the Old Testament feasts. The fact that the apostles continued to attend Passover meals and suchlike is due to their being Israelites – nationally speaking. They were not doing so because they were Christians, they were doing so because they were also (nationally speaking) Jews. Provided that a festival celebrated in any culture is not in conflict with New Testament teaching there is no bar on the Christian participating. Equally, there is no obligation to participate either. Here we come to a situation of individual liberty and conscience. This is what the apostle Paul says on the matter:
“One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it.” (Ro 14:5 & 6)
He did not give, or imply any exceptions to this. There is no special day that Christians are commanded to observe. To say there was would be in conflict with the principle of differentiating between Old and New Covenants. As I have been constantly affirming throughout this study, the Old Testament feasts are ‘types’, or to use a biblical word, they were ‘shadows’ and not able to impart anything spiritual in and of themselves. Listen to Paul again:
“Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, 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)
Do you see the picture here? Imagine a bright sunny day, you are standing in the garden. The sun is low in the sky and so it casts the long shadow of your body across the lawn. There it is – an image of your body spanning some distance over the grass. Now let’s say that there in that grassy underworld is a small, but intelligent life-form. The creatures down there are unable to see as far as the real you standing there, but they are aware of the shadow that is cast across their world. In fact, that shadow pervades their lives for generations. They live in it, they discuss it, they, to some extent, explore the shape of it and reason among themselves the meaning of it. So they begin to draw their conclusions of what life is all about based on the picture, the image, The Shadow in which they live. Eventually the day comes when by some miracle you shrink right down to their size and enter their world as one of them. Those that don’t recognize the real person when they see Him say: “just give us our shadow, we are happy with that, we understand that.” Those that do recognize the real one say “this shadow is nothing, this is the one who cast the shadow, the actual, living body, here in person.” The Old Covenant ordinances were merely a shadow, the right and proper one indeed but the person who cast that shadow is very Christ. He is here! He is come! Hallelujah!
There is no need to observe any special diet or any ‘holy’ day. All such were only ever given as an indicator to point us to Christ. To say that any such thing is a necessity to Christian life is to seriously misunderstand the whole purpose of a New Covenant into which we are brought. As always, not only does it become something we misunderstand for ourselves but also it gives a wrong message about the New Testament teachings to those outside. But above this, if we neglect to understand the spiritual meaning and implication of the Sabbath and all Old Covenant truths we miss out on the ministry to our own souls, which is the intention of God in giving us all these things.
So far as our personal practices are concerned regarding what we eat and what we drink and whether or not we wish to set apart a specific day or time to certain things, we all have liberty. That is between you and the Lord. What we must not do however is make doctrines of things that are contrary to New Testament revelation. So we now come to a few places in the Scripture that people use to say that there is a special day of the week that should be observed. I’ll not linger long over these. I hope that the spiritual importance of the Sabbath is enough to make you realise that any such literal Sabbath observance would be to miss the point. However, it perhaps useful to note these.
The ‘first day of the week’
I shall only quote the two occasions where this phrase occurs post-Pentecost as it is with the instructions and practices of the Church-age with which we are concerned.
“And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.” (Acts 20:7)
This first quotation is in the context of Paul arriving at Troas. All it says is … what it says above! From this it is not clear whether or not it was always the habit of the disciples at Troas to ‘come together’ on the first day of the week. Maybe it was just in this instance they did so? Let’s say for a moment that it was their weekly habit – is it clear that this is a precedence for all churches at all times in all places? So far we don’t have anything solid to build anything from if our intention was to argue for a set day for the churches to gather. But to state that the ‘first day of the week’ had now been made the Church’s Sabbath day is certainly nowhere implied here.
“Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings (collections) when I come.” (1 Corinthians 16:2)
This is the only other time that this phrase appears in the New Testament post-Pentecost. In this particular instance it is not clear whether or not this instruction is meant to be carried out in the context of a church gathering or as individuals at home. The principle of doing something on the first day of the week is doubtless a way of saying, “Make this a priority; give the firstfruits of your increase unto God.” But let’s just say that this did indicate that it was a regular practice of churches to come together on this day particularly. (This still would require some reconciling with the two passages that we looked at earlier – Ro 14:5 & 6, Col 2:16 &17 and with statements about there being ‘daily’ fellowship among the early Church Believers – Acts 2:46, 5:42, Heb3:13). But let us assume that the daily gatherings of Believers gradually gave way and/or the first day of the week was considered somehow the most important day to gather together. Now, we have a lot of assumptions here already, but the possibilities of all this could be argued from Scripture, although with some difficulties as mentioned. But now, what kind of ‘leap of imagination’ would be required in order to say that the first day of the week had become the ‘New Sabbath’!? A very considerable one, without any reference to Scripture at all – except it be to twist or take out of context some idea somewhere! Where, what and how I do not know. I would be happy to hear the argument but so far as I know up to now there isn’t one (?).
The ‘Lord’s Day’
“I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet” (Rev 1:10)
I barely know where to begin with this one. People are so easily conditioned into ways of thinking that they seldom examine a thing for themselves and find out just how shaky the ground is for some of their most precious beliefs. The exact phrase ‘the Lord’s day’ appears just once in the whole of Scripture (in the A.V. at least). It appears in The Book of Revelation, which most of us find quite difficult to understand, at least in its entirety. Yet, with no other reference, with no clear guidance whatsoever so many confidently announce that this means a Sunday! I strongly suspect that this is a case of making Scripture fit our beliefs rather than just believing Scripture. Even if (and where the confirmation could come from I do not know) this expression meant ‘a Sunday’ (the first day of the week) it would still require that massive leap of imagination to continue to build this into a doctrine that says God had the Sabbath transferred to this day.
Now I don’t know for sure but I would like to offer some food for thought on this phrase, supposing I had to come up with a probable meaning. This does not affect my argument above. ‘The Lord’s day’ as an exact phrase does only occur the once, but the strikingly similar phrase ‘the day of the Lord’ is used twenty four times in the Old Testament and five times in the New. I am not about to start a fresh study of this but I am sure we wouldn’t just say, “Oh! that means a Sunday.” Further to this look at these words in the Psalms, “This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalms 118:24). A little meditation here on these words makes me think that the Psalmist was thinking about something much bigger than just whatever day of the week it happened to be. ‘The day of the Lord’, ‘The Lord’s Day’, ‘The Day that the Lord has made’ all sounds to me something much more than a particular twenty-four hour period.
I shall not proceed with any further thoughts in this direction. Maybe my ideas here do not have any bearing? Maybe they do? But either way, there is certainly no indication in either Old or New Testament that God changed the Sabbath to a Sunday. Neither is there any instruction to Christians to observe the Old Testament Sabbath day (the seventh day of the week) still. Quite apart from any technical argument of what ‘The Lord’s Day’ might have meant, I am personally persuaded that every day is the Lord’s Day and everyday is a Sabbath of rest to those who trust in the finished work of Christ.
Further to the above thought about the phrase ‘The Lord’s Day’ there is another interesting possibility of its meaning I have heard… In the days of the Caesars it had become a tradition to ‘honour’ (blasphemously, but we will not go into this at present) Caesar on a special annual day known as ‘Lordy day’ or ‘The Lord’s Day’. It was a day that conscientious Christians could face martyrdom due to their refusal to call any man ‘Lord’ (and offer incense in honour of a man – seen as an act of worship in pagan Rome). Given the awesome significance of this and of my above interpretation I feel it is very likely that one of the two is the real meaning of ‘The Lord’s Day’ used by John at the outset of the revelation given to him.
So what about a day of literal, physical rest?
I mentioned right at the beginning of this study that the theme of a weekly rest started from creation itself. This principle was formalized into ‘The Sabbath’ under the Old Covenant. Whilst I have argued throughout this study that there is no ‘formal’ Sabbath to be observed under the New Covenant that does not negate a simple principle that as human beings we all need physical rest. Of course we do, but there is no need to entangle ourselves with ‘religious’ ideas that are unscriptural about this. A day of physical and mental rest in each week is most certainly needful to spirit, soul and body and I know that this principle has long been proven in many ways. In a society where there is a consensus about which day this should be I think also that this has many benefits. I am not out to destroy any practice of a society keeping one day aside for rest. I am equally not trying to upset any practice of churches meeting on a set day but we must be careful to not go beyond the simple stated facts of Scripture on the matter. To say that there is a ‘must’ day for Christians to do anything would be to misunderstand firstly the basic differences between Old and New Covenants and, even more evidently, to contradict the teaching of Paul, which we have already seen – Ro 14:5 & 6, Col 2:16 &17.
Apparently Constantine did formalise the first day of the week as the ‘Christian’ day for worship. Those who argue in favour of this say that this was simply the recognition of the common practice of the churches in those days. Well, all I can say to that is, God gave Scripture as our rule, not tradition. Many churches did all kinds of things. Even before the New Testament was completed we read within its very pages of departures and apostasies. We must not take what early churches/church Fathers (so called) did in any matter as our guide. God only authorized Scripture as our pattern and I hope that I have shown that there is no ground in the Word of God for anybody to insist on the observance of special days in this New Testament era. For those that will receive it, every day is the Sabbath of Rest to the Children of God. It is a rest of spirit. It is His free gift to you.
An edifying hymn
For our final meditation I offer some more words of another Wesley Hymn:
Lord I believe a rest remains,
To all Thy people known;
A rest where pure enjoyment reigns’
And Thou art loved alone:
A rest where all our soul’s desire
Is fixed on things above;
Where doubt and pain and fear expire;
Cast out by perfect love:
A rest of lasting joy and peace,
Where all is calm within:
‘Tis then from our own works we cease,
From pride, self-will, and sin.
Our life is hid with Christ in God;
The agony is o’er,
We wrestle not with flesh and blood,
We strive with sin no more.
From every evil motion freed,
(The Son hath made us free,)
On all the powers of hell we tread,
In glorious liberty.
Safe in the way of life, above
Death, earth, and hell we rise;
We find, when perfected in love,
Our long-sought paradise.
Within that Eden we retire,
We rest in Jesu’s name:
It guards us, as a wall of fire,
And as a sword of flame.
O that I now the rest might know,
Believe, and enter in!
Now, Saviour, now the power bestow,
And let me cease from sin.
Remove this hardness from my heart,
This unbelief remove;
To me the rest of faith impart,
The Sabbath of Thy love.