How the Old Testament Witness and Christ’s Example Help Us to Honor Him
In last week’s ARP distinctives post on the Sabbath I noted that the next two installments would be taken up with considering the two most common objections to the continuing application of the fourth commandment in the church today: 1) Christ being our rest and/or that the “sabbath” is an old covenant idea, 2) Sabbath-keeping do’s and don’ts is just legalism. We’ll tackle that first one today as we work through why our forefathers in the faith in the Centennial History thought that Lord’s Day observance was such a key factor in the spiritual welfare of our denomination.
While there are many articles we could link to that would do the work for us I think it helpful if we walked through the biblical case for the change of day for the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday ourselves. Any positive argument in favor of Sabbatarianism posted on the internet almost always has a response somewhere in the comments that makes the impassioned plea that the Sabbath is on Saturday, and since we are Christians, any talk of observing the Sabbath is Jewish in some way or another.
We need to have our own answer.
So, what do the Scriptures teach on this matter? If you did a simple word search in the English Bible the only times Sabbath comes up in the gospels is when the Pharisees are condemning Jesus and the disciples for some legalistic breaking of their rules, whether it be healing or eating. Christ responds as He always does with reasoning brought forward from the word of God which shows the Scribes to be a menace to a right understanding of the law. They neither teach nor reflect what Moses had relayed to their fathers at Sinai (who himself of course had received that law from the lawgiver, the Lord Himself). Works of necessity (food) and mercy (treatment of injury) were always lawful on the Sabbath, hence why Jesus says what He does in Matthew 15 concerning the false wisdom of the Pharisees in regard to man’s commandments. What does this have to do with the change of days? We’re getting to that. What we’ve shown so far is that Jesus had no intention of breaking the fourth commandment, nor did He show His disciples to do it either. The disciples eating grain left in accordance with Leviticus 23:22 and Christ doing good on the Sabbath rather than loosening the restrictions rather reinforce their importance for the new covenant age. The very witness of Jesus shows us that He had no intention of changing the tenor of the Sabbath. This is vital to understand in our doctrine of the Lord’s Day, especially when we get to the next step of the movement of the fourth command from the last day to the first day.
But before we get too far ahead of ourselves let’s take a moment to see some premonitions within the old testament that witnessed to the change of day to come. Let’s look at three particular passages:
For seven days you shall present an offering by fire to the Lord. On the eighth day you shall have a holy convocation and present an offering by fire to the Lord; it is an assembly. You shall do no laborious work. – Lev. 23:36
He read from the book of the law of God daily, from the first day to the last day. And they celebrated the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly according to the ordinance. – Neh. 8:18
On the eighth day he sent the people away and they blessed the king. Then they went to their tents joyful and glad of heart for all the goodness that the Lord had shown to David His servant and to Israel His people. – 1 Kings 8:66
As with most things in the Bible we could gather some more citations together for sure, however, these three will do to help us understand the point being made. Throughout the old testament there was an ever-present hope concerning the eight day. Remember for the Jews the first day of the week was Sunday, so the eighth day would be Sunday as well. In the above texts from Leviticus, Nehemiah, and 1 Kings that particular day was a day of feasting and rejoicing in response to the work of God which were then to be celebrated in an assembling together of the people for worship. This type of thing would have been well-known to not only Jesus, but to His disciples as well. The Leviticus passage is especially important for it foreshadowed the tabernacling of Christ among men as He did in His virgin birth. The eighth day was always seen as a culmination of the Lord’s blessings to His people.
Having shortly looked at the old testament let’s move to the new.
When we think of the eighth day in the new testament we immediately are brought to think of the circumcision of Christ. There is nothing accidental in the plan of God and His command to strike the covenantal sign on that day out of all of them should not be seen as a circumstance either. Now, obviously that doesn’t mean all babies were born on Saturday and then nicked on Sunday, what we are speaking about is the principle the number eight is pointing to. Our new testament examples of Sabbath observance are witnessed to us by Jesus Himself. Read John 20:1 in the English and then look at the Greek below. You need not be able to read Greek to see what I am on about in this comparison, however, I’ve bolded and underlined the word in question:
Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.
τη δε μια των σαββατων μαρια η μαγδαληνη ερχεται πρωι σκοτιας ετι ουσης εις το μνημειον και βλεπει τον λιθον ηρμενον εκ του μνημειου
What we see in this verse is that First Day of the Week reads as Sabbaton or Sabbath. J.C. Ryle makes note of this and remarks, “This I need hardly say, means, our Sunday, the Lord’s Day…”. This pattern is one that is continued through the rest of the gospel of John, see John 20:19 and John 20:26, where Jesus continues to meet with the disciples on the eighth day, or as is established in His resurrection, the new covenant day of rest, or Sabbath, as we see repeated in the apostle’s words in Hebrews 4:9, “There remains therefore a rest for the people of God.” Or as the Greek says, “αρα απολειπεται σαββατισμος τω λαω του θεου.”.
We’ve barely scratched the service for sure. However, both the old testament preview and the new testament examples of Christ are more than enough to show us that not only does the Lord in His grace still provide for His people a day of rest as He did for Adam in the Garden (Gen. 2:1-4a), and for His covenant people underage (Ex. 20:8), He continues to provide one for His Church in her maturity (Rev. 1:10) by His great love shown in His desire that as God’s people we might receive the foretaste of the eternal rest we will have in eternity at His second coming.
Enough has been said today.
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church