A common teaching among Christians today is that "Jesus is our Sabbath rest." From this premise it is concluded that a literal keeping of the seventh day Sabbath is not necessary. This study is written to help you understand the truth about a believer's rest so that you may walk in it and be blessed by it.
Let me begin by clearly stating that true Sabbath observance is not a work that is done in the flesh in order to be justified or saved. It is a work done through the leading of the Holy Spirit because a person has already been justified or saved. Sabbath keeping, as well as obedience to all of Almighty Yahweh's New Covenant commandments, is a fruit of our salvation or justification. Obedience to the commandments are good works that we have been created to walk in (Eph.2:10). Sabbath keepers firmly believe all Ten Commandments are written on our hearts as part of the New Covenant spoken of by Jeremiah (31:33).
Having said that, let's begin by addressing Hebrews chapter 4 and the "true rest of the soul." The original account from which Hebrews 4:1-11 is taken is found in Numbers 14:22-24, 28-30, and Deuteronomy 1:30-40. In both passages it was the "land" (of Canaan) that was being withheld because of unbelief. The children of Israel were on their wilderness journey to the "promised land," which was a type of the "rest" to come. Joshua brought them into that land or the typical "rest" (Josh 1:13-15; 21:44; 22:4), yet the Almighty again spoke through David concerning this greater rest. In Psalm 95:11, David uses the phrase "my rest" instead of "the land" as in the original promise. Why? Because "the land" was only a type of the future rest to come when true believers enter into the true promised land, the "heavenly country" that the patriarchs of old saw from afar (Heb 11:13-16).
We are currently on our wilderness journey as well. We are heading for the heavenly country promised us. Just as the Israelites continued keeping the Sabbath rest throughout their wilderness journey, so, too, must we continue to keep the Sabbath rest. In fact, the Israelites continued to keep the Sabbath even after entering the typical promised land of Canaan. We, too, will continue in the Sabbath rest as prophesied by Isaiah (66:22,23) even after the new heaven and new earth come.
If the common Christian view of Heb 4:10 is correct, that the Sabbath is abolished because we have entered the true rest, then, to be consistent, it must also be true that all work is abolished since we have ceased from our own works. In other words, if the physical rest is done away with, then the physical labor should also be done away with. However, since believers continue to do physical labors like farming, construction work, etc., they should also continue to rest from such labor as it is written. Additionally, the Sabbath rest is commanded for the sake of animals as well. Is it now permissible for farmers to work their animals seven days a week? Do animals somehow enter into the true rest as well?
Hebrews 4:11 talks about laboring to enter into that rest. It is not something we automatically receive upon accepting Yeshua as our Savior except by faith. That rest will become a reality upon our resurrection unto eternal life. That is why we see the saints of Revelation 14:12,13 laboring right up until death. It is only after death that the ultimate rest can literally begin. Note, also, that those saints "keep the commandments of God" (KJV), among which is the Sabbath.
We certainly can find rest for our souls in Messiah (Matthew 11:28,29), but he does not give our bodies rest, nor does he give animals rest. That kind of rest is only available through the Sabbath rest. Jeremiah 6:16 reads, "Thus saith Yahweh, 'Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.' But they said, 'We will not walk therein.' " The "old paths" and the "good way" that provides a "rest for the soul" includes the keeping of Yahweh's Sabbaths. Notice the similar wording found in Isaiah 58:12,13. The rest we have in Yeshua is only a foretaste of the rest to come at his second coming when we will be dwelling in the presence of the Father and the Son in the glorious "heavenly country".
Deuteronomy 5:15 reads, "And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that Yahweh thy Elohim brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore Yahweh thy Elohim commanded thee to keep the Sabbath day." It is then said that this verse shows, "the very type and shadow of our deliverance from sin and bondage into the glorious rest of Christ our Sabbath by faith." This is true. However, notice the keeping of the Sabbath rest followed the Israelite redemption from slavery and bondage. How much more should we keep the Sabbath with joy overflowing after our greater redemption from sin and death? Why? Because every time we keep the Sabbath holy; we remember and proclaim who it is that provided this great deliverance for us (Deut 5:15); we remember and proclaim who it is that sanctifies us (Ex 31:13); we remember and proclaim who it is that created us and all things (Ex 20:11); and we delight in both the Sabbath and Yahweh Himself, and honor Yahweh by doing His will and good pleasure (Is 58:13,14). The Sabbath is truly holy, sanctified, blessed, delightful, and honorable.
Most people who reject the Sabbath and Law saying they are fulfilled in Messiah and therefore abolished will readily admit that they are not free to steal, dishonor parents, commit adultery, covet, etc. They will endeavor to keep from transgressing the other nine commandments, yet they refuse to keep the fourth commandment. Most Sabbath opponents will not: commit beastiality; get tattooed; have relations with close relatives; use unjust weights and measures; charge what they consider usury; etc. So when they say they are "free from the law", or "not under the law", etc., they are really trying to justify their supposed freedom from Sabbath-keeping in a most inconsistent manner. The reality is, we must obey our Heavenly Father's commandments if they are among the laws written on our hearts as part of the New Covenant (Heb 8:8-10).
When the Word says, "we are not under the law", it means we are not under the oppressive condemnation of death that results from sin, or transgression of the law. It does not mean we don't have to obey any laws. The purpose of the law is to point out sin; "By the law is the knowledge of sin", and "I had not known sin but by the law" (Rom 3:20; 7:7). Therefore, the only thing that abolishing the law does is to remove that which tells us we are sinning. So if the commandment to not commit adultery is abolished, we will have no conviction of that sin, for sin is lawlessness (1 Jn 3:4). If we abolish "Thou shalt not commit adultery", then adultery can be freely practiced without conviction of sin. Now we begin treading on very dangerous ground. The same is true of saying the Sabbath is abolished. Sabbath opponents assuage their conscience with the thought of freedom from the Sabbath, yet the Sabbath remains and they are oblivious to it. Paul could have easily used the fourth commandment instead of the tenth commandment in his example of Romans 7:7.
Isaiah said, "Yahweh is well pleased for His righteousness' sake; He will magnify the law and make it honourable" (Is 42:21). This speaks of a future time in Israel's history, a time which came to fulfillment in Messiah's words in Mt 5:17-48. "Thou shalt not commit adultery" has been magnified to include even the act of looking upon a woman with lust in the heart. Does this magnified "spirit of the law" cause the letter of the law to be abolished? No. Even though we are living under the new "ministration of the spirit", we must continue to obey the letter by not committing the actual act of adultery. The Old Covenant law said, "Thou shalt not kill (murder)." The New Covenant law (which is the Old Covenant law magnified and written in our hearts) says to not even be angry with your brother without a cause. Under this new ministration of the spirit, the letter of the law is still applicable, yet intensified or magnified to include the spiritual intent. The same is true of the Sabbath. The letter says to not do any work on the seventh day. The spiritual intent of the new magnified law written in our hearts says, ". . .call the Sabbath a delight . . . honor (Yahweh) by not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words" (Is 58:13).
In II Cor 3:1-18, Paul writes of "the ministration of the spirit" and "the ministration of death". Paul is speaking of the two covenants; the Old Covenant (the ministration of death and condemnation - verses 7 & 9) and the New Covenant (the ministration of the spirit and righteousness - verses 8 & 9). Do not be misled in believing Paul is speaking specifically of the Ten Commandments when he says, "the ministration of death, written and engraven on stone." He is speaking of the Old Covenant as a whole, including the way in which it was administered. The Old Covenant was administered by putting to death those who transgressed its law. The law merely pointed out the transgression. At that point, a second aspect of the Old Covenant would take over; the condemnation or punishment phase of its administration. Now, under the New Covenant, the Ten Commandments are written on the fleshly tables of our hearts, rather than on stone. They still function to point out our transgressions. Now, however, the new ministration of the spirit takes over in which there is no condemnation. That aspect of administration is done away, being replaced by grace, mercy, forgiveness, etc. We are no longer ministers of the letter of the law which kills, but of its spirit which gives life. How does that work? Let's use the sixth commandment as an example once again. The letter say, "Thou shalt not kill (murder)." What does the spirit of the law say? Perhaps you might say, "Don't even be angry with your brother without a cause." Perhaps you might answer another way. It really doesn't matter. Whatever the spirit of the law is concerning the sixth commandment, it does not change the fact that we may not murder. The letter still remains, but we are not to live our lives in fear of the letter of that law. If we walk in the Spirit and in love, we will automatically fulfill that law and need not be concerned with the letter of it. The same holds true for all Ten Commandments; the letter of each one remains so that it can carry out its function to point out our sin and get us back on the path of righteousness by driving us to the Savior for forgiveness. As long as we love Yahweh with all our heart, we will fulfill the first four commandments; and as long as we love our neighbor as ourselves, we will fulfill the last six commandments. If we transgress any of these commandments, we are not walking in true love.
When Paul speaks of "the works of the law written on our hearts", he is not referring to specific laws or commandments, but rather to eternal principals inherent in the law such as justice, mercy, love, etc., all of which are inherent in the Sabbath commandment.
This brings us to the question of whether or not the Sabbath is moral or ceremonial. First, who is to say what commandments are moral and which are ceremonial? If I decide the commandment to baptize new converts is ceremonial, does that give me grounds to abolish baptism? Just as baptism goes so much deeper than a mere outward physical ceremony, so, too, the Sabbath goes so much deeper than a mere day of rest. Love is the highest type of morality. Yeshua said the two greatest commandments were to love Yahweh with all your heart . . . and to love your neighbor as yourself. "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Mt 22:36-40). Obedience to whatever Yahweh commands is an expression of love; "For this is the love of Elohim, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not grievous" (1 Jn 5:3). So if love of Yahweh and our neighbors is the framework upon which all the law and prophets hang, then love is the underlying reason for every prophecy, every law, every commandment, etc. Every bit of instruction ever issued by Yahweh has love as its motivational beginning, including the Sabbath. Obedience to the Sabbath is not only an expression of love towards our Heavenly Father, but His giving of the Sabbath to man is an expression of love and mercy towards man. In His mercy and love towards us, He knew man would need a day of rest. He also knew animals would need rest and so He provided it. When we follow His example of resting on the seventh day, we demonstrate our love and mercy towards those under our control; our sons and daughters, our servants, and our animals (Ex 23:12). (See also Ex 20:11).
Mercy is one of the weightier matters of the law (Mt 23:23). Mercy is also one of the greatest expressions of love and morality. Since mercy and love are intrinsically tied into the Sabbath, Yahweh included it among the other nine commandments which are rightly called 'Yahweh's moral law'.
Many Sabbath opponents misunderstand Paul's writing to the Romans (14:5). "One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." First, the word "alike" is in italics because it is not in the Greek. There is nothing wrong with esteeming every day, after all, Yahweh made them all. If we choose to worship Him seven days a week, so be it and halleluyah! However, that does not change the fact that as we worship Him every day we must also rest from labor on one day, the Sabbath. It is a mistake to read the Sabbath into this verse. Nowhere is the Sabbath mentioned. Nor can we read any of Yahweh's annual sabbaths or feast days into this verse. There were many other "days" that the Jews highly esteemed besides the Sabbath and feasts. For example, most Jews at that time fasted twice a week (Luke 18:12 and Talmudic writings). The Jews also kept fast days throughout the year as mentioned in Zech 8:19. Then there was the Feast of Purim (Esther 9:28), and the Feast of Dedication or Hanukkah (John 10:22).
The Jewish converts would have probably continued esteeming these days whereas the Gentile converts would probably not, especially since they were not commanded by Yahweh to be kept. However, all men knew the Sabbath was commanded and so there was no question about its observance as seen in such verses as Acts 18:4 and Acts 13:42-44; 14:1.
Although there is undoubtedly much more to be said, the Sabbath is one of our Heavenly Father's greatest blessings to mankind, to those who would embrace it out of love for and obedience to Him. My prayer is that you will not forget His Sabbath despite His commandment to "remember" it in Exodus 20:8. Harden not your heart in unbelief and accept the blessing of the Sabbath rest for it is truly a delight. Let us enjoy the rest we have in our Savior Yeshua as well as the rest we have been given every seventh day.