The question must now be asked and answered: why do the Christians in the new dispensation celebrate the first day, rather than the last day of the week? In order to answer this (question, we must call attention to the different phases of the weekly sabbath in the history of the development of God’s covenant. The work which God performs for His people in preparing for them the eternal rest, though it is perfect in His counsel from all eternity, is nevertheless realized for us in time, and follows a certain line of historical development, and in the course of history presents certain distinct phases.
The Seventh Day Adventist, besides committing the error of considering the fourth commandment part of an outward code which must be kept, rather than looking at it from the viewpoint of the law of perfect liberty, also commits the fundamental error that he does not recognize the historical progress of God’s work, and therefore insists that even in the new dispensation we must still celebrate the sabbath of creation.
It is to be feared that many people of God understand very little of this fundamental error of the Adventist, and although by force of tradition they keep the first day of the week, might easily be swept off their feet if they should be called to defend their position.
It is, then, not superfluous to call attention to this historical development of the sabbath of the Lord our God in its different historical phases.
These different phases, or stages, of development we designate by the terms creation sabbath, shadow sabbath, resurrection sabbath, and the final, or perfected sabbath in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
All the more proper it is to call attention to these stages of development, because the Word of God points us to them in. For clearly, the author of that epistle speaks of the creation sabbath in the latter part of , and in the fourth verse of that chapter, where he writes: “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.” Yet the author continues to say that although, this creation rest would appear to be the rest of God, He also spake of another day for His people in the land of Canaan, when He said: “If they shall enter into my rest.” This, therefore, was another rest, another sabbath, a different stage in the development of the sabbath. But even this is not the final stage: for “Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, Today, after so long a time; as it is said, Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. For if Jesus (Joshua) had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.” The rest in the land of Canaan, therefore, was not the final rest. For even after Joshua had led them into the rest, the Lord still spoke of another day, of a rest that was still to come. That other day is the day of the new dispensation, now the work of God is finished in Christ Jesus. That day of rest is therefore now realized, but it is not yet perfected in its final manifestation. It is not yet revealed in all its glory. And therefore, there still remaineth a sabbath for the people of God. .
From this passage two things appear at once evident. First of all, it is plain fromthat the idea of the sabbath is that of God’s people entering into His rest, into His everlasting covenant. And secondly, it is also evident from this chapter that the weekly sabbath passed through certain definite historical phases: the sabbath of creation, the sabbath in the land of Canaan, the sabbath in the new dispensation, and the final sabbath in eternal glory.
First of all, then, Scripture speaks of the sabbath of creation. God had finished the creation of the heavens and of the earth, and on the seventh day He rested. This certainly does not imply that the almighty and ever living and active God was idle for a day.
For as we showed in the preceding chapter, this is quite inconceivable, being in conflict with the divine nature. And the Lord emphatically denies this, when He says to the criticizing Jews: “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.”. But it does signify that He ceased from creating, and that He entered into the enjoyment of His finished work. This work of six days and rest on the seventh day, we must understand, is a revelation of God in time. Within God, and before His eternal counsel, creation work and rest are identical, and eternally God enters into the enjoyment of His completed work. Now, God also sanctified and blessed that seventh day, so that it became a sabbath for man. For man to enter into God’s rest. He was created after God’s image, that is, with a creaturely likeness of God, adapted to live in God’s covenant fellowship, in true knowledge of God, righteousness and holiness, that he might know God, love Him with all his heart and mind and soul and strength, be wholly consecrated to Him, and serve Him as king under God in connection with the entire earthly creation. Man was God’s friend servant. In the first paradise it was his calling to labor in order to enter into God’s rest, keeping the garden, opposing the devil, and maintaining the covenant of God. Thus man would celebrate the sabbath, and eat of the tree of life which was in the midst of the garden.
However, the first man did not enter into the rest of God. He violated the covenant of God, denied his sovereign friend, and became a friend of Satan, the enemy of God. He fell. And the whole human race fell with him into that which is the very antithesis of the sabbath of the Lord, the labor and toil, the darkness and corruption, the guilt and unrest of sin, the wages of which is death. God had spoken of His rest to man, and the first man had despised the rest. And God had sworn that he should not enter into His rest because of his sin, disobedience, and rebellion. He was exiled, and banished from God’s presence. The tabernacle of God had appeared in paradise long enough to be shown as an image of the glorious, everlasting rest; but in the first man Adam it could not be maintained and glorified. It was with man no longer.
But God had provided some better thing for us.. Although His works were finished from the foundation of the world, , and although He rested on the seventh day from all His works, ; and although He had created man to enter into that rest with Him and in His fellowship, so that when man failed to enter into that rest of creation the sabbath seemed past and lost forever; yet He spoke of another day, of a better and higher rest that was to come. His counsel was not finished with the work of creation, neither at all frustrated by the fall of man,
For the better thing He had provided for His people in Christ Jesus is the eternal rest and perfect manifestation of His covenant life, the heavenly tabernacle of God with men. Of that eternal tabernacle the first paradise was but an image. When the image disappeared, God began a new work, the work of grace and salvation. He began to realize the higher manifestation of His covenant, and to lead His people into the rest of that other day of which He spoke, and always speaks, in the gospel. It is the work of grace, by which He causes them to cease from the labor and toil and slavery of sin, delivers them from the bondage of corruption and darkness and death, and leads them into the perfect liberty of the children of God and to that highest covenant fellowship in which they may know Him even as they are known, and see Him face to face.
Of that rest the land of Canaan was a type, even as Egypt is typical of the unrest and bondage of sin. When God delivered Israel with a mighty hand out of Egypt, led them through the Red Sea and through the wilderness, fed them with manna, and quenched their thirst with water from the rock, made them pass over Jordan, and gave them the land of Canaan for a possession, He led them into rest. Hence, the very heart of that land was to be sought in the tabernacle and temple, where God dwelt with and among His people. Hence, too, Canaan was preeminently a sabbath land; and in it the people must celebrate the weekly sabbath, the sabbaths of many special festivals, the sabbatical year, the year of jubilee. Hence, too, the weekly sabbath was a memorial in Israel, to make them remember the great deliverance which God wrought for them when He liberated them from the yoke of bondage: “And remember that thou wast servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and a stretched out arm: therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.”. The Old Testament Joshua, therefore, as a type of Jesus, led the people of God into the rest which God had prepared for them.
Yet, even so the work of God was not finished. God had provided still some better thing for us. Canaan was a phase of the sabbath of the Lord, a stage in its historical development, a type of the better and eternal rest, but not the rest itself. In this final sense Joshua had not given the people of God rest. This is evident from the fact that even after Joshua had led them into the land of Canaan, God still spake of another day, still put the sabbath in the future and in the light of the promise.. And if Canaan had been the rest, He would not have spoken of another day. The fact is that the whole of that typical rest,with oil and wine and corn, with temple and altar and sacrifice, with prophet and priest and king, with its continual threat of God’s impending curse, which became more and more a reality as history advanced, and was fulfilled when Jerusalem was finally destroyed and the nation was cast off,—that all these things loudly proclaimed that Canaan could not be the rest of God and that the earthly Jerusalem was no abiding city. Fact is, too, that under the influence of all these clear testimonies, and in the light of the ever repeated promise by the prophets, the true people of God in Israel longed to be delivered from the yoke of the law, and lived in the hope of the salvation of the Lord. It was only in that hope that they could still keep the sabbath, even in captivity in a strange country. . The blood of bulls and goats, as became gradually more and more evident, could never make perfect and lead to the rest of the Lord.
Hence, God spoke of another day. He still worked to realize the rest for His people. And He realized it in Jesus Christ. He accomplished it when He sent His only begotten Son into the flesh, and in the Son united Himself in personal unity with man. In Him, God and man in unity of divine Person, the tabernacle of God is centrally with man in such a way that it can be destroyed nevermore. God dwells in Him with His people forever. He realized it, moreover, when Christ labored at the Head of all His people to enter into the rest of God in the way of His justice and righteousness. For He labored and toiled, He strove and fought the battle alone against all the powers of darkness, sin, and the devil. He suffered and shed His lifeblood in the toil of His soul. He died and entered into the agony of hell as the faithful friend servant of God, the better and last Adam, that had come to do the Father’s will. In the midst of His toil He became exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death. In the depth of His suffering He became utterly amazed. Yet, He was always perfectly obedient. And at the end of it all He could go in the peaceful consciousness that all was finished. Through Him God accomplished the work, realized the rest, when He raised Him from the dead, and gave Him heavenly glory. The sabbath of the Lord is accomplished on the first day of the week, the day of the resurrection. On the other, the glorious, the heavenly side of the open grave stands the Immanuel, and proclaims: “It is finished. Rest from your toil and labor, from sin and death. Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Into that rest of the resurrection of Jesus Christ we now enter by faith. It is the rest from all our own works, from sin and unrighteousness and death. Positively, it is the rest of entering into the perfect righteousness of God and His blessed covenant fellowship.
This is the idea of the weekly sabbath for the church in the new dispensation.
Yet, even now the sabbath is not fully manifested. Spiritually and in principle, indeed, the tabernacle of God is with men. We cease from works and have peace with God. But we are still living in the strange country. And though we do not battle in order to obtain the victory,—for this we have, in Christ Jesus our Lord,—although we do not work in order to merit the rest of God, yet we must still labor and fight, because we possess the rest only in principle. And in the world we shall have tribulation. Hence, while principally we have entered into the rest, the sabbath still is presented to us in the light of the promise, and there still remaineth a rest for the people of God. That rest will be revealed when all God’s counsel is accomplished, when the last enemy shall have been overcome, when Christ shall come again, make our mortal bodies like unto His most glorious body, make all things new, and establish the glorious, heavenly, and eternal tabernacle of God with men. Then the work of God shall have been finished, and we shall enter with Him into the eternal rest of perfect fellowship, the sabbath of perfect activity, to the praise and glory of Him that loved us from all eternity.