The Truth About God’s Holy Sabbath
What is God’s PURPOSE for His weekly Sabbath? Why do so few understand that keeping the Sabbath brings special blessings? Let’s learn HOW and WHY true New Testament Christians are to keep God’s Sabbath day holy.
DOES it really matter on which day of the week we worship God? Is the observance of any day of the week in honor of God equally acceptable? God commands us to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shall you labor, and do all your work: But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God: in it you shall not do any work” (Ex. 20:8-10). But why should we observe God’s holy Sabbath day? What purpose does the seventh-day Sabbath serve in the 21st century? And how do we keep it holy?
Created by Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ is the member of the God Family through whom God created all things (Eph. 3:9; Heb. 1:1-2). Did you know that Christ, the Word (John 1:1-3, 14), also “made” the Sabbath (Mark 2:27-28) and later kept it as a human? After finishing His work of renewing the face of the earth and creating all physical life upon it in six days, the Word “rested” on the seventh day (Gen. 2:2-3; Ex. 20:11). He “sanctified” it, setting it apart for a special purpose.
The word “Sabbath” means rest in Hebrew. God intended the seventh day to be a period of rest and relaxation from our regular work of the previous six days. And so God set the example for mankind by ceasing from all work on the seventh day of what is commonly called creation week. By doing this, He made the Sabbath and set apart every future seventh day as a time of rest for man. But the purpose for keeping God’s Sabbath goes far beyond simply resting from work every seventh day.
Why the Sabbath?
When God does anything, or makes anything, there is a reason—an important purpose. God created man and put him here on earth for a purpose. But mankind has lost the knowledge of that great purpose. God, through the Word, made the Sabbath. But why? What purpose does it serve? Mankind has lost knowledge of that important purpose, too!
Jesus Christ said the Sabbath was “made for man” (Mark 2:27), but He did not then say why, or for what great purpose the Sabbath was made, except to serve and benefit man. God revealed that important purpose to His chosen people about 1,500 years earlier, shortly after delivering them from slavery in Egypt.
After God spoke the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai and His covenant with Israel had been made complete, God made a totally separate and eternally binding covenant with His people (Ex. 31:12-17). Notice the conditions of this special covenant: “And the Lord spoke unto Moses, saying, Speak you also unto the children of Israel, …my sabbaths you shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that you may know that I am the Lord that does sanctify you” (verses 12-13).
Here, is the purpose of the Sabbath. It is a “sign.” A sign is a symbol or token of identity. God commanded His people to keep His Sabbath as a sign to identify who is their God! God gave man His Sabbath for the purpose of keeping mankind in the true knowledge and true worship of the true God. The Sabbath points back to the creation of the present physical world (Ex. 20:11; 31:17), and creation is proof of God’s existence.
Sabbath Identifies God’s People
The Sabbath was also given as a sign to identify who are the people of God. "That you may know that I am the Lord that does sanctify you” (Ex. 31:13). The word “sanctify” means to set apart for a holy use or purpose. On the seventh day of creation week, the Eternal sanctified—that is, He set apart for a holy use—the Sabbath day. The special Sabbath covenant also reveals the Sabbath is a sign that the Eternal sanctifies His people setting them apart for His holy purpose.
In Old Testament times, God’s people were the tribes that composed the nation of Israel. In New Testament times, God’s people are spiritual Israelites (Gal. 3:28-29)—those of His own Church. And they are being prepared by God for a holy use. For these “first fruits” (Jas. 1:18) of God’s Master Plan, the Sabbath foreshadows the completion of God’s spiritual creation in them. It pictures their being BORN into the Kingdom or Family of God to be rulers and teachers of His Word in tomorrow’s world (Rev. 5:10).
The Test Commandment
In Exodus 16 we find that Sabbath keeping was a test of the Israelites’ obedience to God. God told Moses He was going to “prove them, whether they will walk in my law” (verse 4). God’s sign is one we accept voluntarily. But how many do you know who keep the seventh-day Sabbath? It is obvious to the world when one keeps God’s Sabbath. But most people don’t want to be identified as being different from the world.
Many professing Christians are willing at least to acknowledge that the other nine commandments should be kept, but the one commandment they reject and refuse to keep is the Fourth! Therefore it is the crucial test of obedience, for it identifies those who have truly surrendered to God—who obey all of His commandments regardless of persecution or cost! God commands us to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8). God is giving us a TEST—an examination relevant to our living forever in His Kingdom—every week.
God’s Special Creation for Man
The seventh-day Sabbath was a unique creation. It was not until God’s physical creation, including man, was complete that the Creator brought the Sabbath into existence. The plain truth about God’s holy Sabbath day begins in the second chapter of Genesis.
1. On which day of what is commonly called creation week did God rest? Gen. 2:1-3; Ex. 20:11. Did God rest because He was tired from all the work He had done during the previous six days? Isa. 40:28.
COMMENT: God is composed of spirit and therefore never becomes tired. God created or “made” (Mark 2:27) the Sabbath by resting, whereas all else was created and made by working. By resting on the seventh day, God also set an example for mankind to follow.
2. What did God do to the seventh day? Gen. 2:3.
COMMENT: Notice that God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it. By resting on the seventh day of creation week, God put His presence in it, making it holy. He set it apart from the other six days of the week for a holy use. In doing this, He also made every future seventh day of the week holy! God established the Sabbath as the time from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset. Each week when that time arrives, we are in holy time! It is God’s time, not ours. God made it holy, and in the Fourth Commandment He commands us to keep it holy!
3. Which member of the God Family made that first Sabbath? Col. 1:13-16; Mark 2:28. Is the seventh-day Sabbath one of the Creator God’s Holy Days? Isa. 58:13.
COMMENT: Jesus Christ was the Lord God who revealed Himself to ancient Israel throughout the Old Testament. God the Father created all things through Him. Jesus Christ is therefore “Lord of the Sabbath” because He made it. So the seventh-day Sabbath is the real “Lord’s Day”!
4. For who did Jesus say the Sabbath was made? Mark 2:27Who would that include? Ex. 20:8-10, especially verse 10.
COMMENT: “The Sabbath was made for man,” declared Jesus. Every seventh day from creation week was set apart by God as time to be specially observed by mankind, regardless of race or nationality. The Sabbath was made for everyone today! The seventh-day Sabbath was to benefit all who would ever live—if they would keep it as God intended.
5. How did God intend the Sabbath to benefit mankind? Deut. 5:14; Ex. 23:12. Notice the words “rest” and “refreshed.”
COMMENT: The word “Sabbath” means rest in Hebrew, the language in which the Old Testament Scriptures were written. Physical rest and mental relaxation after a busy week are obvious reasons for keeping the seventh-day Sabbath. God knew humans would need periodic rest and change from work. But the purpose for keeping God’s Sabbath goes far beyond simply resting on it and being rested physically.
6. Is the Sabbath also a reminder of God’s creation? Ex. 20:8-11, especially verse 11.
COMMENT: God set aside a special one-seventh of the week to be a reminder of Him as Creator and of His purpose for our existence. The Sabbath is time in which we can have close spiritual contact with God. It allows us time to think more about God, to pray to and worship Him, and to study the Bible to understand more about His awesome purpose for our lives and how to achieve it!
Sabbath Day Miraculously Revealed to Israel
From the time of creation week until the Exodus (about 2,500 years later), we find no specific mention of the Sabbath in the Bible. Obviously, however, “righteous” Abel (Heb. 11:4), Enoch (who “pleased God”—verse 5), Noah (a “just man” and a “preacher of righteousness”—Gen. 6:9; II Pet. 2:5), Abraham (the father of the faithful—Rom. 4:16), Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and others kept God’s Sabbath. These men were righteous in God’s sight, and righteousness is keeping God’s commandments (Ps. 119:172). Let’s especially notice the example of Abraham.
1. Are we told that Abraham kept God’s Law, which would have included His seventh-day Sabbath? Gen. 26:5.
COMMENT: God would not have inspired Moses to write that Abraham kept His commandments, statutes and laws if he had kept the wrong day for the Sabbath or had not kept it at all!
2. Was God confident that Abraham would teach his children to keep His Law? Gen. 18:19.
COMMENT: Isaac kept the seventh-day Sabbath, since Sabbath keeping is a part of God’s Law—His way of life. Jacob (whom God later renamed Israel) also kept the Sabbath, following in his father Isaac’s footsteps. However, by the time of Moses, their descendants, the Israelites, had lost much, if not most, of the knowledge of God’s way.
After the death of Joseph, the nation of Israel became slaves in Egypt, a land in which time was not measured by weeks, but only by months and years. The Israelites were forbidden to worship the true God and forced to work seven days a week. For about a century, they were not permitted to keep the Sabbath. But shortly after delivering them from Egypt, God made it absolutely clear to the Israelites exactly which day is His Sabbath by specially revealing it to them.
3. One month after leaving Egypt, and about two weeks before arriving at Mt. Sinai, where God gave the Ten Commandments, what did God promise to give the Israelites? Ex. 16:4. What did they call this bread? Verse 15. Be sure to read all of this chapter.
4. Was the raining of this bread also to be a test of the Israelites’ willingness to obey God? Verse 4, last part. Notice that God’s Law existed before He spoke the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai. Were they told not to save manna overnight for the next working day? Verse 19. What happened to the manna (bread provided by God) the disobedient ones saved for the following day? Verse 20.
5. Were the Israelites to gather twice the normal amount of manna on Friday morning? Verse 5. Was this double portion to be enough for both Friday and Saturday, the seventh-day Sabbath? Verse 23.
6. Did the manna saved for the Sabbath stink and breed worms, as it did if saved overnight for any of the previous six days? Verse 24. Was that because God withheld manna from falling on the seventh day, and miraculously preserved the portions saved for the Sabbath? Verses 25-26.
7. But did some of the people disbelieve Moses and disobey God by trying to gather manna on the Sabbath? Verses 27-28. Did God again command them not to work on the Sabbath? Verse 29. What did the people finally do on the Sabbath? Verse 30.
COMMENT: The absence of manna on the seventh day identified exactly which day was the Sabbath on which the Israelites were to rest. God revealed His Sabbath day to them! And He preserved the leftover portion of Friday’s manna so it could be eaten on the Sabbath, since there would be none to gather on the seventh day, giving the people rest from working on His Holy Day. Every week God vividly reminded the Israelites of His seventh-day Sabbath. He performed these miracles week after week for forty years! (Ex. 16:35.) This clearly shows how important Sabbath keeping is to God!
A Sign of Identification
God has a special sign that identifies His people. That sign of identification is His holy Sabbath day. Let’s understand how it identifies true Christians today.
1. In addition to commanding the Israelites to keep the Sabbath, revealing by the miracles of manna which day it is, and shortly thereafter including it as one of the Ten Commandments, did the One who later became Jesus Christ make Sabbath keeping an additional and separate covenant or agreement with His people? Ex. 31:12-16, especially verse 16. Was this covenant to be binding forever? Verses 16-17.
2. Was the Sabbath to be a “sign” between God and His people? Verses 12-13, 17. Would He set apart for a holy use—the Sabbath keepers? Verse 13, last part.
COMMENT: A sign identifies. A sign may advertise a business’s name and the nature of the business. A sign may also give other information. What knowledge does the Sabbath advertise? “That you may know that I am the Lord” who “made heaven and earth” (Ex. 31:13, 17). The Sabbath identifies who the true God is. It is a reminder of the Creator of the heavens and earth! God wanted ancient Israel to be sure to remember that He is God, Sustainer and Ruler over all His creation. So He singled out Sabbath observance as the one great sign by which they would always be reminded of who He is.
But this special Sabbath covenant of Exodus 31 reveals that the Sabbath does more than identify the Creator. It is also a sign that identifies the true people of God: “That you may know that I am the Lord that does sanctify you” (verse 13). The Sabbath was to point out who they were—His chosen people. It was the one commandment that would make Israel especially stand out from all other nations.
Most people do not want to be identified as being different from the world. Most simply will not keep the Fourth Commandment unless they truly want to obey all of God’s commandments. It is the crucial test of obedience today, just as it was for ancient Israel (Ex. 16:4), because it identifies those who have surrendered to God—who obey all of His commandments!
And so God doubly commanded Sabbath observance by making it a separate covenant with His people after the covenant commonly called the Old Covenant (which included the Ten Commandments) had been completed, ratified, and put into force and effect. This special Sabbath covenant was to be an everlasting agreement. It was to be the sign that would identify the people of God of all generations, including “spiritual Israel” today— members of God’s Church.
3. Does the Bible reveal that a real Christian, regardless of race or nationality, is one who has become a spiritual Israelite—one of Abraham’s “seed” through Jesus Christ? Gal. 3:28-29; Rom. 4:16; Eph. 2:11-13, 19.
COMMENT: God made the special Sabbath covenant with Abraham’s physical descendants—the nation of Israel. It was to be obeyed throughout their generations. Today, all true Christians (Rom. 8:9)—regardless of race or national origin, have become Abraham’s spiritual descendants, and therefore keep God’s Sabbath! They have been set apart (Ex. 31:13) by God as His people.
However, most religious groups that profess to keep God’s seventh-day Sabbath do not keep all of God’s commandments. Therefore they are not part of the Church of God. Jesus said that His disciples would keep all of His commandments (John 14:15, 21). And God gives His Spirit only to those who obey Him! (Acts 5:32.) God’s special Sabbath covenant reveals another important reason why true Christians keep His Sabbath today. Let’s further understand why God wanted to ‘sanctify’ the Israelites.
4. What were the Israelites to become if they obeyed God? Ex. 19:5-6. Were they to set an example for the Gentile nations? Deut. 4:5-8.
COMMENT: Israel was to be set apart as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. By their example they were to lead the Gentiles to obedience to God so they could also receive the blessings that would result from keeping God’s Law. God called the ancient Israelites out of slavery, so that through them He could reveal Himself to the world—to show that He is the Creator and Ruler of the universe—and to reveal His laws, commandments, promises and blessings to the rest of mankind! The keeping of God’s Sabbaths was to be a sign that the Israelites were selected for this purpose.
5. Did the physical descendants of Abraham through Isaac become a holy nation and kingdom of priests? Ezek. 20:13. (Notice the word “rebelled.”) Did they keep God’s Sabbaths? Same verse.
COMMENT: The nation of Israel was a physical type of God’s spiritual Church today. Had the Israelites obeyed God, they would have become a holy nation, fit and able to teach other nations. But they failed to keep the Sabbath holy. Therefore they failed to remember the true Creator God and failed to become a holy people and a light to the world.
6. Today, what special purpose do those have who are given God’s Spirit— spiritual Israelites—especially set apart from this present evil world? I Pet. 2:5, 9; Rev. 5:10; 20:6. Are they the light that ancient Israel failed to become? Matt. 5:14, 16.
COMMENT: The Old Covenant Israelites failed to respond to their calling because they did not have God’s Spirit to help them recognize or understand this and carry it out. But if we are spiritual Israelites we have the perception through God’s Spirit to recognize our calling.
It is those who keep God’s Sabbath day holy and keep His other commandments who will become God’s “holy nation” and “kingdom of priests”! We will become this holy nation when we are born into the Kingdom of God at Christ’s soon coming. Christ will then have made them “kings and priests” to Himself and His Father (Rev.1:6). As members of the Family of God, we will teach, and serve the world throughout the Millennium and beyond.
True Church Kept God’s Sabbath
Jesus Christ, our perfect example, kept the seventh-day Sabbath properly. So did the Church He founded. The example set by Christ and His apostles is recorded in the Bible for us to follow today.
1. Did Jesus set an example of how we are to live? I Pet. 2:21; I John 2:6.
COMMENT: Jesus taught His disciples how to live His way of life. He also showed how He, as Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28), intended the Sabbath to be kept. And how the Sabbath is to be a great blessing.
2. How do we know Christ kept the Sabbath? Luke 4:16, 31.
COMMENT: Jesus Christ obeyed His own command to meet every Sabbath (Lev. 23:3). This is the day He would naturally have observed, because He is the One who made the Sabbath and ordained that it be kept holy!
3. Did the women who came with Jesus from Galilee observe the Sabbath a few days after He was put to death? Luke 23:55-56. Was the first day of the week (Sunday) still a regular work day? Luke 24:1.
COMMENT: Notice the words according to the commandment” in Luke 23:56. Writing this account perhaps 30 years later, Luke knew the Sabbath commandment was still in effect.
4. Was it also the Apostle Paul’s custom to keep the Sabbath? Acts 17:12. Did Paul keep the Sabbath because he felt like it, or because Jesus Christ dwelt in him through God’s Spirit? Gal. 2:20. Does Christ’s will remain the same forever? Heb. 13:8.
COMMENT: It is plain that the Apostle Paul observed the same day Christ did. And if Christ lives His life in us today through God’s Spirit, we will also be keeping the same day Jesus kept—the seventh-day Sabbath!
5. Was Paul specially taught by Christ ? Gal. 1:11-12, 17-18.
COMMENT: Christ trained Paul for his ministry to the Gentiles, apparently during the three years he was in Petra. Had Christ done away with any of His Father’s laws or changed the Sabbath to some other day, He certainly would have revealed it to Paul. But no changes were made. Paul taught the Church of God exactly what Christ taught him to preach, as the Bible clearly shows!
6. Did Paul, even in a Gentile city, observe the seventh-day Sabbath? Acts 18:1-4, 6, 11.
COMMENT: For over 18 months in Corinth, Paul worked during the first six days of the week as a tentmaker. Then he preached every Sabbath—on Saturday, the seventh day! Notice how the Sabbath was regarded by Gentile converts in the early Church.
7. On one particular occasion Paul preached to both Jews and Gentiles on the Sabbath (Acts 13:14-42). After the Jews left the synagogue, did the Gentiles ask Paul to preach to them again on the next Sabbath? Verse 42. On the next Sabbath, how many came to hear Paul? Verse 44.
COMMENT: Notice that it was the practice of many Gentiles to meet with the Jews on the Sabbath. And because these Gentiles were interested in Paul’s message, they asked him to speak again on the very next Sabbath. Even though this would have been a good opportunity to do so, Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, did not tell them to cease assembling on the Sabbath for worship!
If we could find even one text in the New Testament giving us as strong authority for Sunday observance as these do for Sabbath keeping, we would have Scriptural authority for observing the first day of the week. But it just isn’t there! The phrase “first day of the week” is found eight times in the New Testament. But in not one of these eight texts is there found any authority for changing the seventh-day Sabbath to Sunday. See the Sabbath of the New Testament on page 2 of the America and Britains Future Free Library.
8. Since Paul followed the example of Christ who dwelt in him, what did he command the Gentile Christians at Corinth? I Cor. 11:1. Did he command the Philippians to do likewise? Phil. 3:17.
COMMENT: Paul taught the Gentile Christians to imitate his obedience to God, even as he imitated Christ’s obedience. The Christian Gentiles of the early Church of God always assembled on the Sabbath day, just as Christ did in order to keep the day God commands in His written Word. Today we imitate Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul by keeping the seventh-day Sabbath holy.
9. What did Christ say that indicates His Church would still be keeping the Sabbath ‘even at the time of the end of mans rule on the earth’, just before His Second Coming? Matt. 24:20.
COMMENT: Christ clearly shows here that His Church would continue to keep His Sabbath commandment. The early Church of God fled from Jerusalem before the city was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70. The true church was keeping the Sabbath at that time. But this prophecy is DUAL, and its main fulfillment is yet in the future. It shows that God’s people will then still be keeping His Sabbath!
For over 1,900 years, God’s one and only Church has continued to keep the commandments of God, including the seventh-day Sabbath! (Rev. 12:17; 14:12.)
Weekly Cycle Remains Unchanged
Would God set apart a certain day of the week, make it holy, command that it be kept holy forever, and then let it become “lost” so we would not know when to keep it today? Absolutely not! God has seen to it that the knowledge of when to keep His holy Sabbath day has been preserved.
1. What did God entrust the tribe of Judah to preserve? Rom. 3:1-2.
COMMENT: Paul shows that God used the Jews to preserve the Hebrew or Old Testament Scriptures. God caused the Jews to preserve this revealed knowledge for all including His New Testament Church!
2. What did Jesus say that shows the Old Testament Scriptures had been preserved? Matt. 5:17-18; Luke 16:17; John 5:46-47.
COMMENT: The Jews carefully preserved God’s written Word. Jesus plainly indicated it was intact in His day and stated it would NEVER BE LOST! The Jews also preserved God’s calendar, which includes the weekly cycle and the true Sabbath day, as well as the correct dates for the annual festivals.
3. Can we be absolutely certain that the Jews preserved and observed the right day for the Sabbath up to the time Jesus lived? Luke 4:16.
COMMENT: Notice again that it was Jesus’ “custom” to keep the same Sabbath day the Jews observed. The One who made the Sabbath would not have been keeping the wrong day! Clearly the Jews at that time knew which day of the week was God’s Sabbath. Notice also that Jesus gave His official approval of the Scriptures the Jews used by reading aloud from them in the synagogues on the Sabbath day!
But could time have been “lost” between then and now? After the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the Jews eventually migrated to all parts of the world. Throughout the Middle Ages, the Jews in China had no way of communicating with the Jews in Africa. Nor could the Jews in Europe communicate with other parts of the world.
If the weekly cycle had been changed or mixed up, the Jews in one part of the world would be observing one day for the Sabbath, while the Jews in another part would be observing another day. But everywhere, in every nation on earth, we find that the Jews have always been observing the same day Jesus kept—the seventh day, Saturday!
This practice of the Jews is proof that we have not lost the right day for God’s Sabbath. Even though the Jews in general have lacked understanding of Christ(John 7:19; Rom. 3:3-4), and although they became overly strict in keeping the Sabbath by adding many of their own customs and traditions, the Jews have faithfully retained the knowledge of the correct day for God’s Sabbath.
Foreshadow of the Millennium
God has ordained a period of 7,000 years in which to accomplish His spiritual creation of mankind. The time pattern for God’s little-known plan is revealed in the first two chapters of Genesis. It is the seven-day week. The Bible shows that the weekly Sabbath is a type of the coming millennial “Sabbath”—the seventh day in God’s 7,000-year week for the working out of His plan for mankind. Let’s understand.
1. Is a thousand years as a “day” to God II Pet. 3:8. Is the time Christ and the resurrected ‘saints’ will rule over the earth specifically called a thousand years? Rev. 20:4-6.
COMMENT: In God’s plan for man, a day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years of human civilization is as one day in His planned “week” of seven 1,000-year “days.” God intended the weekly Sabbath day to picture the coming 1,000-year period known as the Millennium. (“Millennium” literally means “thousand years.”) It will be a time of rest and peace for the entire world—a 1,000-year “Sabbath” of rest from Satan’s influence and the resultant discontent, strife and warfare.
It is during this thousand-year Sabbath that the knowledge of God’s great purpose for mankind will spread throughout the world (Isa. 11:9). All mankind then living will be taught God’s ways and given the opportunity to receive God’s Spirit, and the vast majority will eventually be born into the Family of God. The first six days of creation clearly correspond to the 6,000-year period of human civilization that we are now nearing the end of. Since Adam chose to follow Satan’s way of “get” instead of God’s way of “give,” God has allotted mankind 6,000 years in which to learn that disobedience to Him results in nothing but suffering and death!
God has permitted Satan to exercise rule over mankind for 6,000 years. “Six thousand years,” God said in effect to Satan, “you may labor and do all your work”—in this case Satan’s work of deception and influencing man to break God’s laws—”but the seventh thousand-year period is My Sabbath; in it you will not do any work” (compare with Exodus 20:9-10). Thank God we are near the end of the six”days” allotted to Satan. God’s thousand-year “Sabbath” is about to begin!
Sabbath Pictures the Kingdom of God
In Hebrews chapters 3 and 4, We are told to continue keeping the seventh-day Sabbath. A comparison is drawn between ancient Israel’s entrance into the Promised Land and our entrance into the Kingdom of God. We need to understand and be sure we’re heeding God’s warning!
1. What does God teach all those who possess His Spirit who are entering His “rest”? Heb. 3:7-13, 16-19; 4:1-2. Was law breaking, especially Sabbath breaking the reason God did not allow an entire generation of Israelites to enter His “rest”? Ezek. 20:12-13, 15-16.
COMMENT: The word “rest” in the above mentioned verses in Hebrews is translated from the Greek word katapausin, which is defined as “rest” or “place of rest.” As used in Hebrews 3:11 and 18, it denotes the ancient Israelites’ rest from their time in the wilderness by entering the Promised Land.
The “rest” Israel finally entered (Josh. 1:13) is symbolic of the Christian’s spiritual “rest” (Heb. 4:1)— of entering into the Kingdom or Family of God and living forever! The Israelites were headed toward the Promised Land, even as those with God’s Spirit (spiritual Israelites) are about to entering God’s Kingdom.
But because Israel had become rebellious and broke God’s Sabbaths during their 40 years in the wilderness, God did not allow the generation of adults that came out of Egypt to enter the Promised Land.
2. Was it primarily because of their unbelief that the Israelites disobeyed, and therefore were prevented from entering God’s “rest” for them—the land of Canaan? Heb. 3:19; 4:1-2.
COMMENT: Because the Israelites did not believe God, they “hardened their hearts.” They broke God’s Sabbaths even though He had made Sabbath keeping the very test of their obedience (Ex. 16:4). Therefore God said of that generation, “They shall not enter into my rest” (Heb. 3:11).
3. If those who God the Father has called today believe and obey God, may they enter their “rest”—living forever in God’s Kingdom? Heb. 4:3. What does Hebrews 4:4 refer to? Gen. 2:1-3.
COMMENT: Hebrews 4:4 plainly speaks of God’s rest after finishing His work of creation. This verse refers directly to the first weekly Sabbath day as a type of the “rest” chapters 3 and 4 of Hebrews is speaking of as Christians entering the Kingdom of God at Christ’s return!
4. Will those with God’s Spirit be keeping His Sabbath day as a weekly foreshadow of their future “rest” in His Kingdom? Heb. 4:9-10.
COMMENT: The meaning of verse 9 has been obscured by the word “rest” in the King James Version. Everywhere else in Hebrews chapters 3 and 4 the word “rest” is translated from the Greek word katapausin. However, in verse 9 of chapter 4, “rest” is translated from sabbatismos, which literally means “keeping of a Sabbath”!
Most English translations have correctly translated Hebrews 4:9. Even the margin of the King James Version renders it: “There remains therefore a keeping of a Sabbath to the people of God.” The Moffatt translation renders this verse: “There is a Sabbath-Rest, then, reserved still for the People of God. “The Lamsa translation really makes it clear:”It is therefore the duty of the people of (God to keep the Sabbath.)”
So there still remains a sabbatismos—the KEEPING of the Sabbath day— for God’s people today. And Spiritual Israelites will enter the future “rest” (katapausin) of God’s Kingdom even as they now keep the weekly Sabbath, which points to it! But why would the Kingdom of God be pictured as a “rest”? Because being a member in God’s Family will be a rest from law breaking. When made Spirit, we will be free of our present struggles against sin. We will then possess the fullness of the mind and character of God and be able to remain sinless forever! (I John 3:9.)
And when born into God’s Kingdom—when we become members of God’s Family—we will each possess the same kind of spirit body that Christ and the Father now have. We will no longer be limited by our present weak, bodies that tire so easily. We’ll then possess the capacity for tireless, accomplishment (Isa. 40:28, 31). This is what we can look forward to when we enter God’s “rest”—when born into the Family of God!
Results of Polluting God’s Sabbath
The Sabbath is so important to God that He included Sabbath keeping as one of His Ten Commandments—as part of the first four, which explain what our relationship to God should be. Let’s understand just how important Sabbath keeping really is in God’s sight.
1. After delivering His people Israel from slavery in Egypt, did God promise them tremendous blessings if they would keep His commandments Leviticus 26:3-12. Which commandments did God specifically mention? Verses 1-2. How else would God bless Israel for obedience to Him? Read Deuteronomy 28:1-13.
2. But what terrible curses would result if the Israelites would not keep God’s commandments? Read Leviticus 26:14-39. Was national defeat and captivity one of the curses? Verses 31-33, 38-39. What else would God do to the Israelites if they would not obey Him? Read Deuteronomy 28:15-68.
COMMENT: God warned that tragic curses would befall the people if they would not keep His commandments, especially the Fourth, which was the great sign identifying Him as their God and them as His chosen people!
3. Did the house of Israel obey God? II Kings 17:16-17. What did God eventually do to the people because of their disobedience? Verse 18. Were they removed to a foreign land? Verse 23.
COMMENT: In the days of their last king, Hoshea, the northern ten tribes were invaded by Assyria, conquered, removed from their land and made slaves! The reason for that punishment was the same reason God punished Israel in the wilderness—for rebelling against Him, and specifically for breaking His Sabbaths! (Review Ezekiel 20:12-24.) They also committed idolatry, which would not have happened had they kept the Sabbath.
4. But the house of Judah also broke God’s Sabbaths and therefore came under this curse. Over 100 years after the house of Israel went into captivity, what did God do to Judah for not keeping His holy Sabbaths? II Chron. 36:5-7, 16-19, 21. What happened to those who were not killed? Verse 20.
COMMENT: The sacking and destruction of Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, which began in 604 B.C., and the captivity of those who survived, was the fulfillment of God’s warning to Judah (Jer. 17:21-25, 27). God was patient with the houses of Israel and Judah, but after their persistent disobedience, He finally allowed them to be militarily defeated and taken into captivity!
5. Was Nehemiah well aware that the main reason Judah had been punished was for breaking God’s Sabbath, which the Jews were beginning to break again in his day? Neh. 13:15, 17-18.
COMMENT: The punishments that befell ancient Israel and Judah were types of the same punishments prophesied to befall their modern descendants -The AMERICAN AND BRITISH descendants- who will be punished for departing from God’s Laws. The punishments God brought upon His chosen people are DUAL in fulfillment! The Sabbath-rejecting modern-day nations DESCENDED FROM ANCIENT ISRAEL, and this entire Sabbath-rejecting world, will also suffer.
Great Blessings for Obedience
When God made the Sabbath by resting on the seventh day, He intended His holy Sabbath to be a blessing to all mankind. Not only would people be rested physically by keeping God’s commanded rest day, they would also be blessed materially and spiritually.
1. Does God promise to bless the individual who keeps His Sabbath? Isa. 56:1-2. What did Jesus say a true Christian will inherit? Matt. 5:5. What does He, as Lord of the Sabbath, promise those who keep His Sabbath properly? Isa. 58:13-14.
COMMENT: The “heritage of Jacob” is the inheritance God originally promised to Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham. God promises us— if we have become Abraham’s obedient spiritual descendants (Gal. 3:16, 29) — eternal inheritance of the earth (Rom. 4:13), as well as great spiritual blessings! Let’s notice further.
2. Recall the tremendous physical blessings God promised the ancient Israelites if they would keep His Sabbath and other commandments. Are the blessings of Leviticus 26:11-12 also promised to us today? II Cor. 6:16-18. Upon what conditions? Verse 17.
COMMENT: These blessings are clearly conditional, both for the ancient Israelites and for spiritual Israelites—God’s Church today. God’s blessings come as a result of obedience to Him, not rebellion or apathy.
Verse 18 shows us one of the greatest of God’s blessings: becoming those who have received God’s Spirit in the Family of God! Those who obediently keep God’s Sabbath spiritually draw closer to God. They are reminded of and grow in the understanding of God’s great purpose for them. They are cooperating with God in perfecting their eventual birth into His Family.
3. In the very next verse, what is Paul’s instruction to all Christians, which they must follow before they can receive God’s spiritual blessings? II Cor. 7:1.
4. What name does God promise to give those who obey Him, faithfully observing His Sabbath every week? Isa. 56:4-6. Will God make them His Sons with positions of rulership in His own house, His Temple—the headquarters of His world government? Verse 5 and the first part of verse 7; also Revelation 3:12.
COMMENT: God specifically promises that if we do not break His Sabbath, but keep it as He commands, we will inherit an everlasting name— the Family of God! Our incredible potential is to become members in God’s Family! Tremendous spiritual blessings await those who have the sign of obedience to God that distinguishes them—sets them apart—as destined to inherit God’s riches— and accomplishment in the universe-ruling Kingdom of God!
The Faith to Obey
Keeping the Sabbath sometimes requires considerable faith. It is not always easy to obey God in a world that lives opposite to God’s way. But as we have just seen, the blessings are very great for those who have the courage to step out in faith and obey God, regardless of any pressures or seemingly insurmountable obstacles that appear to be preventing them from keeping the seventh-day Sabbath. Let’s review a few facts about the help God promises to give us if we sincerely desire to obey Him in everything.
1. Does God plainly show that we must have faith before He will give us membership in His Kingdom? Heb. 4:1-3, 6. (Notice the words “faith” in verse 2, “believed” in verse 3 and “unbelief” in verse 6.)
COMMENT: “Unbelief” is a lack of faith. We are exercising faith when we obey God by resting on His Sabbath day. Notice further.
2. Must we obey to make it acceptable to God? Rom. 3:31. Also read James 2:14-26. How do we demonstrate faith? Jas. 2:18. What does our faith become if not accompanied by works? Verses 17, 20, 26.
3. What further encouragement are we given about entering God’s eternal “rest”? Heb. 4:10-11. Where may we go for the help,the faith, needed to obey God? Verses 14-16.
COMMENT: This whole chapter is about keeping God’s Sabbath. And it closes by telling us to go to Christ for the help we need in overcoming all obstacles that may be hindering us from obeying God.
4. Are we to please God and receive a gift from God? Eph. 2:8. Is this faith an attribute of God’s Spirit that all true Christians must possess? Gal. 5:22. Whose faith, in reality, is it? Rev. 14:12.
COMMENT: In Revelation 14:12 is a description of the true Church of God. Those in God’s Church have the “faith of Jesus.”It is not just their faith in Him, but His faith placed in them and acting in them!
Enjoy God’s Sabbath Day!
1. Is the keeping of God’s Sabbath commandment a burden ? I John 5:3.
COMMENT: God’s Ten Commandments, including the Fourth, are a blessing to keep, not a burden! Through a complete misunderstanding of the Scriptures, some people have tried to make the Sabbath command appear as a “yoke of bondage.” They talk as if the Sabbath is a great curse to mankind! Let’s completely dispel this myth.
2. Was man made for the Sabbath, or was the Sabbath made for man? Mark 2:27.
COMMENT: The Sabbath, as we have learned, is holy time. Yet, it was made for man—to be a great BLESSING to all . The Sabbath is one of the greatest blessings God has given the human family! The keeping of the Sabbath would keep man in contact with God. Without that contact, he cannot know the tremendous purpose for his existence or understand the laws that govern success in life. He is cut off from the understanding of what he is, where he is going and how to get there.
As a result of God having caused the house of Judah to be taken into captivity for polluting His Sabbaths, many of the Jews who were allowed to return to Jerusalem 70 years later became very strict in observing it. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day had a list of about 65 activities defined as “work” that they prohibited. These uninspired prohibitions made Sabbath observance a “yoke of bondage.” These additions went far beyond the spirit and intent of the Fourth Commandment. Jesus Christ rebuked the self-righteous Pharisees for their traditions and swept those human regulations aside!
3. Did Jesus show it is permissible to obtain food on the Sabbath if hungry? Matt. 12:1-8; Mark 2:27. How did He show it was lawful to do good on the Sabbath? Mark 3:1-5.
4. Did the Lord of the Sabbath acknowledge that it was proper to rescue an animal that had fallen into a ditch on the Sabbath, and by implication handle other genuine emergencies that cannot wait until after the Sabbath to be resolved? Luke 14:5; Matt. 12:9-13. Could one water an animal, and by implication feed it, on God’s day of rest? Luke 13:10-17, especially verse 15.
COMMENT: God wants us to use honest, sound judgment in applying the spirit and intent of what we can or should not do on His Sabbath day. Christ taught balance and wisdom and having the right attitude in observing the Sabbath. The Jews, steeped in physical rituals, could not understand the spiritual application of the Sabbath commandment. They would rescue an animal from a ditch on the Sabbath, but condemned Christ for healing an unfortunate human being on that day! By adding their own traditions and interpretations, they had made the Sabbath a burden to keep.
5. Should we pursue our own interests and pleasures on the Sabbath? Isa. 58:13.
COMMENT: The Sabbath belongs to God. He made this 24-hour period holy time! Employment, shopping, mowing the lawn and home maintenance are to be done on the previous six days of the week. Neither is the Sabbath the appropriate time for indulging in hobbies, sports and other special interests. Such activities take our minds away from God and the entire purpose for His Sabbath.
6. In His instruction to ancient Israel, what principle does God reveal for Christians today in regard to preparing for the Sabbath? Ex. 16:22-23.
COMMENT: The Sabbath is intended to free us from as many physical labors and job-related mental activities as possible. God told the Israelites to prepare ahead by doing any heavy cooking or baking the day before the Sabbath. Christians today should plan to have their work completed before sunset on the evening of the sixth day (Friday). The house should be cleaned, the dishes washed, and any heavy cooking or baking done before sunset so that the entire family can begin the Sabbath in an atmosphere of rest and worship—that it may be a day truly kept Holy to God!
7. Are we to delight in God’s holy Sabbath day? Isa. 58:13. How do we do this? Same verse.
COMMENT: The Sabbath will be a delight to those who honor and worship God. Resting from our work and pleasures on God’s day gives us an opportunity to spend time to pray, study, discuss and meditate on His Word— filling our minds with the thoughts and character of God the Father and Jesus Christ.
The Sabbath is also a time for real family togetherness that may not otherwise be possible—a special time and opportunity to teach our children about God and His ways. It is also time when we can, with some leisure, observe and appreciate the beauty of God’s creation—whether flowers, bees or any other part of His creation conveniently accessible.
Keeping the Sabbath as God instructs will give us the spiritual lift and inspiration we need to help us work the next six days. It will help us realize that our everyday experience of putting God’s Word into practice in our lives is helping to build His character in us! The Sabbath will become a great delight to us as we learn the way of God on His weekly Holy Day. We will be “schooling” ourselves—preparing ourselves for the great work we are to perform in the Millennium and beyond after being born into the ruling Family of God.
If you have received God’s Spirit- His way of thinking and keep His Sabbath as He commands, then you will have God’s sign in the true sense. You will be preparing to enter the Kingdom of God as a teacher and ruler (Rev. 5:10) capable of tremendous service in tomorrow’s world!
Fellowship on the Sabbath
The Sabbath is a day of physical rest and spiritual refreshing. It is also a day to attend church and fellowship with others. It is very important that we understand the truth about true Christian fellowship.
1. Did God command the Israelites to meet together for worship on the weekly Sabbath? Lev. 23:3. Did Jesus obey this, His own command? Luke 4:16.
COMMENT: Jesus Christ, who set the example of how we should live, taught by His own life. A commanded assembly of God’s people is to be held on every Sabbath. It is a day for the united worship of God by His church. It is a time for God’s ministers to preach the principles of God’s living laws from His inspired Word (Eph. 4:11-13).
2. What are New Testament Christians told regarding the assembling of themselves? Heb. 10:24-25. Just how important is fellowship within the body of believers that comprises the Church of God? I John 1:3, 6-7.
COMMENT: Christ’s presence is in His Sabbath day, making it holy. When the Father’s own obedient children, each joined to Christ (John 15:1-5) assemble on His Holy Day, they actually have fellowship with Christ. He is there, in their midst, in spirit! And Christ joins them together through God’s Spirit in fellowship with Him and the Father!
“God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Those who assemble to worship the Father and Christ in any way contrary to the way or the time God’s written Word commands are NOT worshipping them in spirit and in truth. God simply will not accept such worship because it is in vain! (Mark 7:7-9.)
Often, when people learn the truth about the Sabbath, they seek some religious group to assemble with. But it is not enough to meet with just any group because it may accept the Sabbath. This does not necessarily mean it is the Church of God. Jesus said He would build His Church (Matt. 16:18). He built only ONE Church! (Eph. 4:4.)
There is only one body of true believers empowered by God and carrying out God’s great commission to preach the true Gospel of the Kingdom of God to the world as a witness (Matt. 24:14). It is attempting to keep all the commandments of God (Rev. 12:17) with the help of His Spirit. It is, as Jesus said it would be, a “little flock,” persecuted, disliked by the world. We think you already know and understand which church God is in and working through today.
God’s people truly rejoice in His Sabbath and enjoy fellowshipping with each other on His weekly Holy Day. They are learning what a pleasure and great blessing it is to keep God’s Sabbath holy—the day that reminds us of the Creator God and His purpose for mankind!
Properly understood and properly observed, God’s holy Sabbath day is one of God’s greatest blessings given to mankind. It is an identifying SIGN between true Christians and God. “Remember” it—”keep it holy.”
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