The Seventh-day Sabbath
The Sabbath and Creation
The essence of Christianity is people being brought into right relationship with God. In fact, God created humans, as male and female, in order to enjoy a loving relationship with Him. God created people (Genesis 1:27) and then created the Sabbath (Genesis 2:1-4) as that period of time in which God could have our undivided attention. The Sabbath is God’s gift of time for the benefit of mankind.
God created the heavens and the earth. Though the creation of the heavens and earth was complete on the sixth day of creation, there was one thing yet to be created, the Sabbath.
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their vast array. 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 in it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done (Genesis 2:1-3).
The story of God’s creation of the Sabbath (Genesis 2:2-3) tells us three things that God did with the seventh-day Sabbath. Though the word “Sabbath” does not appear in the creation story in Genesis, it is clear that the Sabbath was established. The word "sabbath" means "rest".
God rested on the seventh day.
God blessed the seventh day.
God sanctified or made holy the seventh day.
God did more than merely rest on that first Sabbath. “God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it” (Genesis 2:3). This was God’s final act in His creation week. He took the last day (seventh day) of the creation week and set it apart as a special day by blessing it. The Sabbath is a part of the creation order, and it has its origins there. In the beginning, God created the heavens, the earth, man, and the seventh day Sabbath.
Creation and the Law
God so desired that His people know Him that He revealed to them part of His character, known as the Law, or Ten Commandments. These ten words of law were God’s desire for the Children of Israel and for all mankind.
The fourth of these Commandments points back to creation as the origin of the Sabbath. God commands people to keep the Sabbath because He, Himself kept the Sabbath at creation. God blessed the Sabbath and made it holy by setting the example for all mankind to rest on that day.
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: 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.” (Exodus 20:8-11).
God’s prescription regarding the Sabbath is rather specific. God said that we should rest and remember – not one day a week – but a specific day of the week, the seventh day. God specifically said that the “seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God” (Exodus 20:10). The seventh-day Sabbath belongs to God. People can do what they wish on the first day of the week (Sunday), but it is the seventh-day Sabbath which is the Lord’s day according to Exodus 20:10.
We see from Exodus 20:11 that the foundation of the fourth commandment is God’s act of creation, “in the beginning.” The Sabbath is not based merely on God’s relationship to the Jews, but it is based on His relationship to all of creation. There are five things to emphasize in the Fourth Commandment.
God tells us that the seventh day is the Sabbath.
God commands us to remember the Sabbath day.
God commands us to keep the Sabbath holy.
God commands us to rest on the Sabbath.
“Sabbath to the Lord” is a day dedicated to Him.
Why are we to keep the Sabbath holy? The Fourth Commandment goes on to tell us why.
“For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:11)
We are to keep the Sabbath holy and rest, because God kept the Sabbath holy and rested on that day. The Sabbath is holy because God “made it holy” at creation. We are to rest on the Sabbath because God set the example for Sabbath rest at creation.
Jesus and the Sabbath
The Ten Commandments are an expression of God’s very nature and will, which is unchangeable. Jesus Christ did not come to change even the smallest portion of the moral law (Matthew 5:17-18). Some say that Christ changed the Sabbath from the seventh day of the week to the first day of the week. That would require a change in the law. The moral law says that “the seventh day is the Sabbath” and not the first day of the week. In no place does the Bible tell us of this change in the law from the seventh to the first day of the week.
The Sabbath was the commandment most corrupted by the Pharisees. So, it is not surprising that it was over Sabbath-keeping that Jesus would have most of his conflict with the Pharisees. The Sabbath issue between Christ and the Pharisees is never over which day to worship, or over whether the Sabbath was still part of God’s desire for man. The issue for Christ was the way in which the Sabbath was being kept and the Pharisees’ attitude toward the Sabbath.
The most powerful statement regarding Christ’s commitment to the Sabbath is found in Mark 2:27 and 28. “And he was saying to them, The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.'” The climax of Jesus’ statement comes when He says that he is Lord of the Sabbath day. This means that Jesus has the authority over all the circumstances regarding the Sabbath. Christians should be taught that Jesus Christ can arrange circumstances in order to provide for people the opportunity to keep the seventh-day Sabbath holy. God wants our undivided attention on the seventh-day Sabbath, and He will use the resources of His kingdom to make this possible.
The story of creation in Genesis gives the origin of the Sabbath, but it does not give the reason for God’s creation of the Sabbath. However, a clue to the purpose of the Sabbath is given in the fact that the Sabbath was created right after man’s creation. Perhaps the Sabbath was created by God with man in mind.
The fact that the Sabbath was made for man is stated clearly by Jesus Christ, the Creator of the Sabbath. “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Here Jesus is addressing the Pharisees who are condemning Him for breaking the Pharisaic rules regarding the Sabbath. There are four things which can be learned from this message from the mouth of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
First, the Sabbath was made. This is a clear reference back to Genesis 2 showing that the Sabbath was a part of the perfect creation order. The Sabbath existed from the very beginning as the final part of God’s creation. This reference would also serve as a reminder to the Pharisees that the Sabbath was created by God and not by them.
Second, the Sabbath was made for man. Right after the creation of man, God made the Sabbath. (See Genesis 1 and 2.) Jesus, the Creator of the Sabbath, says that the Sabbath was created with all mankind in mind. The Sabbath does not have its origins in the Law. Its origins go back to creation. The Sabbath was not a Jewish Sabbath alone, because “the Sabbath was made for man” and not for just the Jews. When the Sabbath was created in the beginning there were no Jews. This is the clear message of Jesus in this New Testament text.
Third, “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” At the time of Jesus, the Pharisees had lost the meaning of the Sabbath. God had created the Sabbath for man’s benefit, but the Pharisees had reversed the meaning. For the Pharisees, the Sabbath was more important than man, and they believed that God had created man to keep the Sabbath.
Fourth, “the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath,” means that Jesus Christ was and is the one who is in authority over the Sabbath. There would be no need for Him to declare his Lordship if He planned to abolish it in the near future with His death. But because He is Lord of the Sabbath, He can and will bring all of His resources to bear to empower us and to work our circumstances so that we can keep His day holy.
The Sabbath was created for our benefit. Jesus’ life, death, and ministry did not change the original meaning and purpose of the Sabbath. But Jesus did attack the Pharisees for the way they had changed the original meaning and purpose of God’s holy day.
Jesus Christ Kept the Sabbath
In every area of life, we look to Christ as our supreme example. We believe in baptism because of the example of Christ and the apostles and the command of God. And so it is with the Sabbath. We have the example of Christ and the apostles and the Ten Commandments of God written on the tables of stone and on our hearts. And yet, the majority of Christianity has chosen the tradition of man.
“He (Jesus) 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” (Luke 4:16).
The word of God tells that Jesus was a Sabbath-keeper. It was the Son of God who blessed and sanctified the Sabbath at creation by resting. This rest was the first example that Adam and Eve had in the Garden. When the Son of God became flesh, He once again set the example for Sabbath-keeping.
Luke, Paul, and the Sabbath
Luke’s gospel was written to a gentile (Theophilus) no earlier than 60 AD, which is many years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Luke 23:56, we read that the women “…prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.”
Some would say that the women simply had not yet been told by Jesus that the Sabbath was abolished. But remember, Luke is writing this several decades after the death and resurrection of Christ. He in no way qualifies the fourth commandment being kept by the women as something that was “done away with” or something that is “Jewish” or “passed away.” Luke simply describes their Sabbath-keeping as something “in obedience to the commandment.” Apparently Luke, the writer of the gospel, felt that the Sabbath was still one of the commandments of God at the time he wrote it.
The Book of Acts, also written by Luke, is a history of the early church right after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is no mention of a change in the Sabbath from the seventh day to the first day of the week. In fact, throughout the Book of Acts the seventh day of the week is given the title of “Sabbath.” If the first day of the week was changed to the “Lord’s Day,” why is the title “Lord’s Day” not mentioned in this earliest history of the church?
When the Apostle Paul was in Corinth he went to the synagogue every Sabbath. This was in spite of the fact that he was trying to reach both Jews and Greeks. “Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4). We have set before us the clear example of Christ and the example of Paul.
Salvation is by Grace Through Faith
Seventh-day Baptists believe that the Sabbath is important to God and to people. However, we also believe that we are not saved by observing the Sabbath. In fact, we are not saved by keeping any of the Ten Commandments. The Apostle Paul says, “no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law” (Romans 3:20).
Seventh-day Baptists believe that we are saved because “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son” (John 3:16). Jesus Christ came to earth to die and shed His blood so that people could be saved. Only those who surrender their lives to Jesus Christ will be saved.
Love is the Reason to Observe the Sabbath
Though we are not saved by observing the Sabbath, we keep the Sabbath because we love the Lord. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Love is the reason we keep the Sabbath holy and obey all of the Ten Commandments. We also keep the Sabbath holy because we believe Jesus when He tells us that “the Sabbath was made for man.” We believe that the Sabbath was given for man’s benefit. The Sabbath truly is a gift of time for our benefit.
Our Freedom in Christ
“It is for freedom that Christ set us free” (Galatians 5:1). The Sabbath is designed as a day of freedom. Jesus is in the business of setting people free from anything that is a barrier to intimate fellowship with Him. If God commanded us to keep the Sabbath day holy by resting, He would have to be in charge of all the circumstances that could keep us from obeying His command. That is why God has set his Son in charge of the Sabbath as “Lord of the Sabbath.” Now we can be set free from all the labor and work of the Sabbath and be able to give God our undivided attention on His day.
It is on the Sabbath that we are set free from work and have the God-given liberty of spending twenty-four hours in rest and service. Could this be possible on any other day? Perhaps, but God has not committed Himself and all the resources of the Kingdom to setting us free from work on any day but the seventh-day Sabbath. It is only by faith that we can accept these resources which set us free from Sabbath work. This faith can only be built upon a relationship with Christ, who is Lord even of the Sabbath day. God provides His grace to set us free to give Him our undivided attention for twenty-four hours a week. Of course, God wants our attention every day of the week. But because God wants our undivided attention on the seventh- day Sabbath, He sets us free from the work of the world. God does all this for us because He loves us and He knows that we need it. And we keep His Sabbath holy by spending time with Him because we love Him; for ultimately, this Sabbath rest represents our rest in Christ.
- The above article was copied and adapted from the Seventh Day Baptist website, article entitled "Sabbath".
Used with permission. Seventh Day Baptist and Seventh Day Baptist General Conference of USA and Canada. All rights reserved.