The True Meaning of the Sabbath

The Sabbath has answered the basic questions of thoughtful people through the years. Questions such as: Where have we come from? Why are we here? Where do we go in the future? And above all, what kind of a Person is our God, and what does He want of His children? The Sabbath all through the years has answered those four questions. Where have we come from? We were made in the image of God at Creation. Why are we here? How do we attain to the greatest good in life? Our whole purpose in the present is restoration of the damage done by sin, through faith in God. The Sabbath encourages us to rest from our futile striving to heal ourselves. Instead, all good things will come to those who trust God. And where do we go in the future? The Sabbath has always pointed forward to the second coming and the earth made new. And what about our God? Every Sabbath we are reminded that God is just like Christ our Creator, for Christ is God.

Is there any information Satan would like to hide more than this? No surprise then, that Satan seeks to confuse the meaning of the Sabbath day. Notice Moffatt’s rendering of that Exodus 20:12 text: “I gave them my Sabbath to mark the tie between me and them, to teach them that it is I the Eternal, who sets them apart.” Most of the world has broken that tie. The last message of God to the world is the restoration of that tie. It’s a message of love and trust.

Keeping the Sabbath is not legalism: It is not God saying “If you don’t keep this day, I will kill you.” Rather, whenever we preach Christ as our Creator, our Saviour, and the One who is coming again, whenever we preach that God is like His Son, we are preaching the message of the seventh day. According to the sixty-sixth book, the world will be divided into two sides at the very end. Revelation 13 speaks of Satan’s final campaign, and that the whole world will be worshiping him, except the few described in Revelation 14:12: “This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus” (GNB). In that day, the intelligent, wholehearted observance of the seventh-day Sabbath will represent this very faithfulness and loyalty to Jesus. There will be a group who still worship Jesus as their Creator and their God.

Notice that the Sabbath is really not about us. It is about God. I like to think that is why we put it in our name: Seventh-day Adventists. We didn’t put it in there to say something good about us, but to say that we have taken a position about God. I believe a real Seventh-day Adventist is a Christian who accepts and believes all that the Sabbath has to say about our God. I wish it always meant that.

Someday God will recreate our world and give it to His trusting saints. We know that the world as we know it has to be purified by fire: “The elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10, KJV). A burned up earth would be no place to live, so after that there will be a re-creation: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Rev 21:1, RSV). And Isaiah adds: “Behold I will create new heavens and a new earth” (Isa 65:17, NIV).

How do you think God will create our world the next time? He, of course, could do it in an instant, as He could have during creation week. But patient Teacher that He is, is it possible that He might do it in days one, two, three, four, five, and six again? Just to say something to saints that have questions about that simple Genesis account. I can see Him doing it like that and smiling the whole week. But there will be one difference between the creation and the re-creation. There will be no need to create another Adam and Eve. He will just open the pearly gates and welcome His children home.

Isaiah describes how in the new earth we will be delighted to meet and worship our God. Isaiah 66:23: “Month by month at the new moon, week by week on the Sabbath, all mankind shall come to bow down before me, says the Lord” (NEB). If on the first Sabbath in the new earth, God should say, “Children, would you like to join with me in celebrating? I’d like to keep this first Sabbath as the most special one we have ever had.” Would you say, “Oh, no! There we go—back under the law again. Why do you need to put an arbitrary test of our obedience upon us? Haven’t we proved that we can be trusted? How could you talk about the Sabbath still?”

Would you say that to God? Think of all there would be to remember. Can you imagine the first twenty-four hour Sabbath in the new earth? What a celebration! And if at the end of that first happy Sabbath, God would say “I have enjoyed this so much, I would like to do this again every week from here on,” would you say, “Well, one is surely enough. Do we have to do it again and again?” No, Isaiah says it will be our delight to meet and celebrate with God.

Summing up. Is Sabbath-keeping arbitrary legalism? It can be. And it was on that sad Friday 1900 years ago. But as God designed it, it is supposed to be a monument to freedom. It is supposed to remind us of the evidence; that infinitely costly evidence, that God is not the kind of person His enemies have made Him out to be. He is not arbitrary, exacting, vengeful, unforgiving and severe. He gave us the Sabbath to remind us of that everlasting truth. He designed it to be a day of freedom, peace, love and trust. But most of all, it is a day to remember and be with our God.

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