“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, 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).
The full text of the fourth commandment is the longest and most detailed of any of the Ten Commandments. It not only commands us to rest, but it also commands us to work. It extends an application not only to the Israelites but also to the “stranger that is within thy gates.” Even animals are to be given the blessing of a weekly cycle of work and rest. The Sabbath has its beginning in the creation of the world (Genesis 2:2–3), its fulfillment in the redemption purchased by the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4:9–10), and its ultimate enjoyment in eternity (Revelation 14:13).
Controversy has always existed about the Sabbath. Even the Lord Jesus was criticized by the Pharisees for His Sabbath observance. The various questions and controversies about the Sabbath have not been resolved in 6,000 years, and they will not be resolved here. Over the course of the coming month, we will seek to humbly and sincerely appreciate the gift that God has given to man with the Sabbath. Jesus said of the Sabbath, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27). The Apostle Paul urges us not to engage in disputes over the observance of the Sabbath (Colossians 2:16). As New Testament believers, we too can gratefully apply the fourth commandment to our daily lives.
We will also seek to appreciate the examples of some faithful men of God throughout history who sincerely loved the Sabbath and sought to remember this important commandment and apply it in daily life.
In the remainder of this introductory article, we will survey the grand scope of the Sabbath Rest from the dawn of time to the very end of time.
The Sabbath in Creation
There was a time when time was not. Before the sun, the moon, and the stars, time as we know it did not exist. But “in the beginning” when “God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), the Lord set up the day/night cycle and regulated time by the movement of heavenly bodies. However, no heavenly body exists to regulate the week. The year is regulated by the earth’s orbit around the sun. The month is regulated by the moon’s orbit around the earth. The day is regulated by the earth’s rotation on its axis. But the week is regulated only by the pattern set by God Himself.“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. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made” (Genesis 2:2–3). The Hebrew word שַׁבָּת shabbat (sabbath) is related to the verb “to rest,” used in the preceding verse. At its essence, the Sabbath finds its root in the example the Creator has given us.
The Sabbath in Redemption
Just as the Sabbath has its beginning in the Creation, it has its fulfillment in redemption. Jesus Christ Himself is our ultimate Rest. The author of the Book of Hebrews appeals to us to cease from our own labors to please God and find the rest in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. After making the case that Moses and Joshua and the priestly system of sacrifice could not bring the ultimate redemption that God’s people required, Hebrews 4:9–10 says, “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.” To enter into Jesus Christ is to experience the Sabbath Rest that God has provided for His people.
The Sabbath in Eternity
The ultimate enjoyment of our Sabbath Rest will come only in eternity when we will see our Savior face to face. The Book of Revelation speaks of the blessed state of the dying Christian in these beautiful words of comfort: “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them” (Revelation 14:13). A day is coming when we will enter the eternal rest that is laid up for the people of God. Many things we do not know about the eternal state, but we do know that “There shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 22:3–5). Until we enter that endless Sabbath Rest, God has given us a weekly reminder from His creation and His redemption.
In the coming weeks, we will look at other Scriptures in the prophets, the Gospels, and the epistles to see how we can practically keep the fourth commandment in our daily lives. In our next article, we will look at the remarkable life of an Olympic athlete who astonished the world 100 years ago by his resolute determination to “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”
This article is from our Matters of Life & Death teaching series.