Tag Archives: cosmic conflict

How the Cosmic Conflict Changes Everything (Twelve 8)

How should we see the world differently because of the cosmic conflict? What would it be like to live without that knowledge? The cosmic conflict powerfully answers the three great questions of philosophy; 1) where did I come from, 2) where am I going, and 3) why am I here? 1) According to the cosmic conflict, where did I come from? I come, first of all, from the mind of God, who foresaw me back in eternity and shaped me in His image. He has created me free, with the commission to copy His creative work in the formation of little people like myself. My life has meaning and purpose when I live it in relationship with God and in a creative fashion that honors Him.

2) According to the cosmic conflict, where am I going? To join God in resolving the crisis in the universe by non-violent means. God will bring an end to sin and sinners and will restore the universe to a condition of freedom, joy and peace, grounded in love and trust. Along the way it will appear that all is lost, but the lost battles will not undo the final outcome. God and His ways will win in the end and we can know we are on the winner side no matter how bad things may be now. Knowledge of the outcome gives us confidence to keep trying and avoid discouragement.

3) According to the cosmic conflict, why am I here? I am made in the image of God to reflect His character to others. To bear witness to the unique facet of God’s character that He has gifted me with. My purpose each day is to “fight” for the kind of world and universe that God is leading to, to bring a piece of that glorious eternity into everyday experience today. The little battles we fight every day are part of a much larger war. This gives meaning and purpose to all that we do.

Knowledge of the cosmic conflict provides meaning and purpose to all that we do, connects us to a purpose far bigger than ourselves, and enables us to cope with the past, no matter what we have done or what has been done to us, and relaxed about the future, knowing it is safely in God’s hands.

What is the significance of the heavenly “war of words” on our picture of what God is like? God’s side in the cosmic conflict places priority on love and self-sacrifice, respects the freedom of God’s creatures, and does not coerce but rather is patient, seeking to provide persuasive evidence. On the other hand, Satan seeks to win by persecution (force) and deception (telling lies). The casting out of Satan in Rev. 12:9-10 is more intellectual than physical. The hosts of heaven no longer take his lies seriously, his arguments have lost credibility at the cross.

Our picture of God to a large degree determines how we live and behave. If we think of God as severe and judgmental, we become more like that. If we think of God as gracious and self-sacrificing, we become more like that. We become like the God we worship.

Revelation 12 and Christian History (Twelve 1)

Revelation twelve covers the entire sweep of Christian history with glimpses of the universal war that lies behind the conflicts of earth. This history is presented in four stages, beginning in Old Testament times: 1) The period before the birth of Christ; with a glimpse of Old Testament Israel, represented by a woman, (Rev. 12:1-2) and the original expulsion of Satan from heaven (Rev. 12:3-4). 2) The birth, ascension and enthronement of Christ with a fresh picture of the war in heaven as seen in the light of the cross (Rev. 12:5, 7-11). 3) The history of the Christian church between the two advents of Jesus, with a particular focus on the persecution of New Testament Israel (the faithful church) during the Middle Ages (Rev. 12:6, 13-16). 4) A view of the experience of the church in the final conflict (Rev. 12:17).

The study of chapter twelve of Revelation has caused me to consider the following themes:

1. What Happens When New Characters Appear in Revelation.
2. The Nature of the Cosmic Conflict.
3. The Development of the Year-Day Principle.
4. The Biblical Concept of the Remnant.
5. Textual Issues in Rev. 12:17.
6. The Testimony of Jesus.

The most important contribution of Revelation 12 to the Bible is the clarity of its description of the cosmic conflict. If we didn’t have Revelation 12, we would be unable to piece together a much larger picture of eternity past and the implications of what happened then for our lives today. Revelation 12, in a sense, is the essential context that gives everything else in the Bible meaning. Once you have read Revelation 12 many other texts shine with greater clarity. Awareness of the cosmic conflict impacts the way we look at the world and the way we find meaning and purpose in it. It also sharpens our understanding of the character of God. I hope to elaborate on some of these things in blogs to come.

The Unspoken Backdrop to Revelation Four and Five (Enthronement 8)

A striking aspect of Revelation four and five is the total absence of Satan or his influence in the heavenly courts, in spite of the fact that the heavenly crisis of chapter five must have something to do with the cosmic conflict. As a character in the story of Revelation’s vision, Satan makes his first appearance in the context of the fifth trumpet. He is the leader of the demonic hosts in the fifth trumpet (the evidence for calling them “demonic” will appear when we get to chapter nine), the one called Apollyon and Abaddon (Rev. 9:11). But he plays no such direct role in chapters four and five.

But the role of Satan in Rev. 4-5 is clarified in Revelation twelve. The main character of the drama in Revelation twelve is the dragon. The dragon lies in wait for the birth of the male child in order to destroy him (Rev. 12:5). The dragon then makes war in heaven with Michael (another image of Jesus Christ) and loses (Rev 12:7-8). The dragon is then defined as Satan, the ancient serpent and the devil (Rev. 12:9). Then in Revelation 12:10 the dragon is described as the “accuser of the brethren.” He accuses them “day and night.”

Revelation 12:10 summarizes the scene of chapter five in terms of Christ’s coming to power. A loud voice in heaven proclaims “the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ.” But His coming to power is paired with the casting down of Satan, the one who accuses the brothers “day and night.” This is strikingly reminiscent of Revelation 4:8, where the four living creature sing the triple holy song “day and night.” This parallel is not an accident. The constant praise of the four living creatures is not a mindless ritual, as might seem at first to be the case. They do this in order to drown out the constant accusations of Satan, which are no longer heard or seen in the chapter. Chapter twelve actually sets the context for chapters four and five.

Satan is absent from the scene of chapters 4-5 because he has already been cast down on account of the cross. The casting down is not a military or physical matter. Satan is cast down as the accuser of the brothers and sisters. He is no longer welcome in heaven because his accusations are no longer believed there. The cross clarifies both the character of God and the reality of the human race. From that time on the heavenly intelligences fully trust in God and see how Satan is seeking to tear down the human race. So by the time the Lamb arrives in the heavenly court to be enthroned there (fifty days after the cross) the heavenly court is freed of the presence and influence of Satan. The crisis his accusations have caused is now resolved by the Lamb that was slain. Jesus Christ is enthroned because the accuser has been cast down. That is why Satan is totally absent from the vision of Revelation four and five.

Questions and Answers (10:4)

Lou: Here is a somewhat unrelated question. “The Larger View,” this person writes, “seems very intricate, very subtle and needing of a lot of study. Does this imply that a simpler view is still necessary for the masses of people who do not have the time or the knowledge to understand the Larger View?” And here’s a related question, “What is the truth about God? I hear it must be simple, and yet it seems almost too complicated to encompass. Please help me understand.”
How would you respond to these?
Graham: Ah, those are very fair questions. I think that the number one characteristic of the Larger View is its simplicity. Nevertheless, it might require a good deal of study to figure out. But when you apply the very best scholarship available to you, and you do a thorough job on the sixty-six books, you come up with this view about our God. All He asks of us is trust; not trust in a stranger, or trust in mere claims, but on the basis of demonstration. I don’t think anything could be simpler than that.
But I see validity to the question. Paul on Mars Hill delivered a magnificent address (Acts 17:22-31). He quoted the philosophers. He quoted the poets. He used long words. In fact, he used the longest word in the Greek New Testament. To the Athenians he said, “Oh, you are deisidaimonesteros (very religious)” (Acts 17:22). He even won a few of them that way (Acts 17:34). But in 1 Corinthians he says, “I’ll never preach like that again, magnificent as it was. This one thing I’ll do from here on: I will preach the message about Christ and Him crucified” (based on 1 Cor 2:1-2). So Paul, with all his scholarship, eventually focused in on the all-important thing. But when he preached Christ and Him crucified, he was preaching the Larger View about the One who died for angels as well as men. So the focus on the cross led him to the Larger View. I believe the thief on the cross knew enough to be saved, but I wouldn’t want to settle for that. So I’m going to keep on investigating, but if my discourses become more complicated, I’m moving in the wrong direction. So I like the implication here. It ought to be clear. It ought to be simple. But there are no shortcuts to that kind of clarity and simplicity.

Lou: Here’s a question that really touched my heart. This person wrote, “How are we, who have been raised as Seventh-day Adventist Christians, and have been taught to fear God and His judgments, to change to a love relationship? I am afraid of God! How do I dispel this fear?”
Graham: The One who would love to hear that question the most would be God Himself. If you came face to face with God and said, “God, I hesitate to tell You this, but I’m scared,” I wonder what He would do. Would He say, “I appreciate that?” Or would He say, “I think maybe I’d better not talk to you any longer, you’re so scared. I’ll send for My Son.”
In practical terms, the solution is to become convinced from Scripture that the One who came down to earth is fully God. We’re not afraid of Jesus. Yet the One who was with us is no less than God! And that’s what the Sabbath reminds us of, that same gentle Jesus is the Almighty Creator. When we know Him, perhaps, we could truly accept the “testimony of Jesus.” The ultimate testimony of Jesus is, “Do you want to know what My Father is like? If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father” (John 14:9). We find it hard to believe that. It takes a little time. For one thing, it seems incredible on the face of it. And second, the enemy is opposed to our knowing this, so he will throw up every roadblock he can to keep us from believing this incredible truth.

Lou: In the next chapter we’re going to talk about “God’s Emergency Measures.” Those are the actions of God in the Bible that have raised a lot of questions.
Graham: Yes, because these measures can be misunderstood as supporting Satan’s charges. But when I think about God’s use of emergency measures, I think it speaks very well of Him. He took a number of risks when He chose to run things the way that He has done. We’ll get into all that in the next chapter.

Questions and Answers (10:3)

Lou: When we talk about the seventh day, we’re talking about thousands of years, and the question has been asked, “How do you know what day is the seventh day? Could we be mistaken?”
Graham: One thing is for sure, nothing has meant more to a devout Jew than the seventh-day Sabbath. Jews can certainly look back to when the manna fell, double on Friday and none on Saturday. When that happened, everyone knew that was the seventh day—by God’s direction. And no devout Jew has lost track of the weekly Sabbath since that time. I would say that’s not debatable. We definitely know.
Lou: Jesus didn’t seem confused about it when He was here, either, and even the idea of Sunday as a day of resurrection would confirm the consistency of the weekly cycle.
Now the Sabbath command says, “Thou shalt not do any work, thou nor thy manservant. . .” and so forth (Exod 20:10). Is the Sabbath a day to just sit in a rocking chair in total idleness? What is the meaning of the phrase “Thou shalt not do any work?”
Graham: I’m curious that God would say, “In it thou shalt not do any work,” yet not tell us what work is. I take that as a compliment. God says, “The day is yours. I have suggested its many meanings. Just to sit there under duress and do nothing all day is not keeping the Sabbath. It’s supposed to be a delight.” And so God leaves it up to us to decide what work is. But many devout people through the years have consulted their theologians to determine what work is. In fact, I have a very large volume which describes Sabbath work. This book, called the Mishnah, says, “There are forty kinds of work save one.”
There are thirty-nine kinds of work, in other words, and each of the thirty-nine is broken down into many sub-categories. How far may you walk on the Sabbath? May you carry a pencil on the Sabbath? How many letters can you write on the Sabbath? I don’t mean epistles, I mean letters of the alphabet, all spelled out. The beauty of that system is, you always know whether you’re keeping the Sabbath or not. On the other hand, those rules also leave you fearful that you may have broken the Sabbath. That is why Jesus said, “You have placed burdens on people that are too heavy to bear.” The God of the Sabbath intended it for us to remember Him. But just how to do that is left up to us, and I like that.

Lou: A “Dear Abby” column once responded to a girl who wrote in saying she was going to marry a Seventh-day Adventist, and she wondered what that might mean. Abby suggested that she ought to talk to the man’s pastor and find out. But then another person wrote in and said, “I know about Seventh-day Adventists. If you marry a Seventh-day Adventist, there a whole lot of things you won’t be able to do.” Among these, the person suggested that the girl and her husband would never have any kind of marital relationship on the Sabbath. Some think Isaiah 58 says you shouldn’t do anything that’s your own pleasure on the Sabbath. Is God wanting us to be unhappy on the Sabbath?
Graham: When I heard about that column, I did a little research on the meaning of Isaiah 58:13. It really reads, “If you restrain your foot on the Sabbath from doing your business on My holy day, if you call the Sabbath delightful and Yahweh’s holy day honorable, if you honor it by refraining from business, from pursuing gain and from excessive talk then you will delight in Yahweh, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth” (The Anchor Bible).
Many other versions agree that the word “pleasure” is better translated “business.” You are invited on the Sabbath to enjoy yourself all you like, but don’t do your own business on that day. You don’t pursue your own interests on that day. It even says, “Value My holy day and honor it by not traveling, working or talking idly on that day.” Or as The Jerusalem Bible puts it, “Abstaining from travel, from doing business and from gossip.” But the main point there is, “Call the Sabbath a delight.” We’re supposed to enjoy the day, rather than pursue our own business or our own worldly gain on that day.
Lou: How can you command someone to “call the Sabbath a delight?”
Graham: Now we know from experience you can’t do that. When your girls were growing up, did you ever say to one of them, “Now look, don’t make any more faces. I want you to eat your spinach?”
“Yes, Daddy.”
“Yes, but I want you to enjoy it.”
“Yes, Daddy.”
“I want you to tell me how delicious it is.”
“Daddy, I’d be fibbing if I did, and I’d be breaking one of the commandments.”
There’s no way you can order somebody to enjoy something. But consider the things that God desires the most: Love? You can’t command it. Trust? You can’t command it. The enjoyment of the Sabbath? You can’t command it. It’s an invitation. We either do it or we don’t, and if we really observe the day, we do it in the highest sense of freedom and it is truly a delight.

Questions and Answers (10:2)

Lou: Here’s another question: “In Colossians 2 doesn’t Paul say that the Sabbath has been nailed to the cross? And in light of that, doesn’t Paul say that no one should judge you regarding religious festivals or even a Sabbath day?” What about that Colossians 2?
Graham: That question is important enough for a whole chapter, but I’ll try to deal with the basics in a paragraph or two. I think first we need to note just what it was that was nailed to the cross. The King James Version says it was “the handwriting of ordinances” (Col 2:14). Many take that to be the Law. But the first key word is literally “hand writing” (Greek: cheirographon), a word compound combining “hand” and “writing.” The second is “requirements” (Greek: dogmasin). The phrase “handwritten document of requirements” is a technical term for a legal obligation. The “document” contains the sentence that stood against us because of rebellion and sin. That is what was nailed to the cross.
When people read this text to suggest that the Sabbath was nailed to the cross, that reading creates a serious difficulty. You see, whatever the “handwritten document of requirements” is, the text says it was “contrary” (Greek: hupenantion) or “hostile to us” (Col 2:14, KJV). In other words, Jesus took it out of the way because it was bad for us. But nowhere in the Bible is the Sabbath pictured as against us, or bad for us. Rather, it was given to help us. Did Jesus say, “The Sabbath was made for you, but in a short while I’m going to nail it to the cross because it’s been against you?” No, the Sabbath was made for our sake (Mark 2:27, Greek: dia ton anthrôpon). So some interpreters have been nailing the wrong thing to the cross! Rather, when Jesus died He took care of the sin problem. He took care of the sentence against us, or whatever word you want to use there. And I think when Paul says “Don’t let anyone judge you with respect to the Sabbath, either” (Col 2:16), he was saying, “You’re right. Don’t you go around condemning people who disagree with you on the Sabbath.”
Sometimes we say that Paul is talking about ceremonial Sabbaths in Colossians 2. In that case he would be saying, “Don’t criticize people when they disagree on the ceremonial laws. But when they disagree with you on the seventh day, you can go condemn them all you want to.” Paul did not want us to condemn anybody for anything. That’s not our business. His message was the same in Romans 14: “One man esteems one day as better than another, while another man esteems all days alike. Let every one be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom 14:5, RSV). . . . Why do you pass judgment on your brother?” (Rom 14:10, RSV). I include the seventh-day Sabbath in that. We are in no position ever to criticize or condemn anyone who disagrees over this matter of the Sabbath. “No,” Paul says, “Each of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom 14:12, RSV).
So going back to Colossians, something that was against us was nailed to the cross. And once we understand how God has handled this problem of distrust in the universe, we won’t go around condemning other people. But in my own heart I’m very much persuaded that the Sabbath is for me. I wouldn’t want to waste it. I hope I can make it look good to other people so they won’t waste it either. We should present it as a gift, not as an obligation.

Lou: Graham, some of our friends of other faiths see Sabbath-keeping as legalistic. When you’re concerned about sundowns and what is appropriate to do on the Sabbath, aren’t you back into a kind of bondage, where you’re so careful about these things? Isn’t that legalism?
Graham: That word “legalism” needs to be defined, and in Chapter Twelve we’ll have more to say about it. But to me, the essence of legalism is preoccupation with one’s legal standing with God. Many of the same people who think Sabbath keepers are legalistic are themselves utterly concerned with their legal standing before God. They thank God that His Son came and paid the penalty so that they could be in good legal standing. It seems to me that if you have a legal model, you’re a legalist, whether or not you observe the Sabbath. But in the larger view, you’re saying, “God, I don’t want to miss out on a thing You have given me.” The Sabbath is a gift that points us to so many of God’s acts of blessing. We keep the Sabbath as a blessing, not as a burden.
Lou: It makes so much difference whether a person is keeping the Sabbath as a requirement or keeping it as a celebration of the glorious things that the Sabbath stands for.
Graham: Yes, it’s supposed to be all about freedom. If in the middle of church a person does not feel free, maybe he should walk out, take a breath of fresh air and decide whether he wants to come back in or not. Nobody should be sitting in church because he has to. Everybody should be in church because they feel good about it.
Lou: You might lose your audience if they did that. What if some children hear about that comment and decide not to go to church anymore?
Graham: Well, that’s a different story. It makes me think of the next chapter, “God’s Emergency Measures.” You can’t expect little children to understand these things. For example, they won’t brush their teeth because it’s good to brush their teeth. They brush their teeth because Mommy says so. They don’t want to upset Mommy. She might take “emergency measures.” Our little children might not gladly follow us to church. But while you want to preserve their freedom, when it becomes time to go to church you say, “Billy, we’re leaving, and you’re coming, too.” So there are children who sit in the pews under some duress. But you hope they’ll sit there long enough to hear the pastor tell them that God values nothing higher than their freedom, and you hope that one day they’ll choose to continue on their own.

Questions and Answers (10:1)

In the original lecture series done in 1984 at the Loma Linda University Church, Graham Maxwell spoke for about a half hour each Friday night followed by written questions and answers from Lou Venden and also from the audience. The next several posts contain questions and answers from the tenth presentation, “The Reminder of the Evidence.”

Lou: You’ve laid a great deal of emphasis upon the fact that you don’t see the Sabbath as arbitrary, something imposed as a kind of test. And you’ve certainly provided a great deal of meaning to the Sabbath. But I’ve heard people raise this question: All of that may be true, but if so, why couldn’t one keep the Sabbath on another day? Does it really matter? Everyone agrees that nine of the commandments are important because if you really love God and your fellow human beings, that’s the way you’re going to act. But why the seventh day in particular?”
Graham: The word arbitrary suggests that there is no reason, that God ordered it just because He wanted to, just to show His authority. I would say if it really were arbitrary, it could be any day. But it’s the seventh day because it’s so loaded with reasons. Did you ever try on Marjorie (Lou’s wife), “It doesn’t matter when we celebrate our anniversary this year, why don’t we have it some other day?” I don’t think she’d go for it.
On top of that the Bible adds meaning after meaning and reason after reason for the seventh day, which makes it less and less arbitrary. It seems to me that no other of God’s commands is associated with so many meanings. It is the least arbitrary of them all. What bothers me most about considering it as arbitrary is the thought that if it is arbitrary, the only reason why we keep it is to prove that we are God’s good people. We are the only ones who obey. Whereas I understand the purpose of the Sabbath is to say something about Him. But those who keep the Sabbath as meeting an arbitrary requirement are simply saying to the world, “Look, there aren’t many in the world who are good, but we keep the seventh day. The seventh day is not to say something about us. It is to say something about God. So that is an important difference.
Lou: So the meaning inherent in the seventh day makes that the Sabbath day?
Graham: Yes, because He chose to create the world the way He did. Now He did make a decision to do it slowly, but I think to do it slowly is not arbitrary. The universe was watching. The charges had to be met. And God in His own good time and in that very dramatic way unfolded His plans for our world. And every day was saying more of the truth about Him, and the falsity of Satan’s charges. That was a dramatic week!

Lou: I can hear one of our friends asking, “In the light of all this, do I have to keep the Sabbath to be saved? If I don’t keep the Sabbath, am I going to be lost?
Graham: Ah, that reflects on our discussion earlier of what sin is (Chapter Two). If you think of sin as just breaking the rules, then one might follow that line of thought: If I break that rule, I’ll be lost. It all depends whether there is a distrust and a rebelliousness involved in a failure to keep the Sabbath. I think, rather, the Sabbath was made to be a great benefit to us. If I don’t observe it, I lose. If I don’t take my medicine, I lose. God offers it to us. There are some who have never heard of it. I don’t think the thief on the cross ever kept one. But in the legal model, if you violate that rule like any other, then you’re out, because sin is a breaking of the rules. But in my view, sin is internal distrust, rebelliousness and unwillingness to listen. If the gift God has given us inspires a hostility within you, a rebelliousness within you, an unwillingness to listen, that would be a serious thing.
Lou: Because that’s where the problem began.
Graham: Exactly.

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.

The Sabbath in All Sixty-Six

As you read through the sixty-six books, the meaning of the Sabbath is repeated and enlarged. For example, at Sinai, in the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath is connected with creation (Exod 20:11). Then when you read on, John and Paul make it plain that the One who created us, was none other than Jesus Christ. John wrote: “Through Him, all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3, NIV). Combine that with Paul’s comment in Colossians 1:16:

“For by him all things were created; things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities, all things were created by him and for him” (NIV).

Think of the significance of that. The One who came to save us is the One who made us in the beginning. And who would know better how to heal the damage done by sin? The gentle Jesus who walked so softly among men and then died the way He did on Calvary, is not some weak person. He is the supreme all-powerful Creator of the whole vast universe. That’s the One who died on Calvary. Nor did God send some subordinate person; not even the leader of His angels. The Creator Himself, the One who is equal with God, came, for He actually is God (John 1:1).

Every time we observe the seventh-day Sabbath we are publicly acknowledging to God, to our friends, and to ourselves, that we have faith in Jesus as our Saviour, our Creator, and our God. So when you raise the question about what kind of person our God is, the reply comes every Sabbath. God the Father is just as gracious as the Son is. If Christ is Creator God, and we want to know what our God is like, all we have to do is look at Christ. In pointing to Jesus and creation, every Sabbath reminds us also of what the Father is like.

There are other ways in which the Sabbath helps strengthen our faith. God Himself speaks in Exodus 31:13: “Keep the Sabbath, my day of rest, because it is a sign between you and me for all time to come, to show that I, the Lord, have made you my own people” (GNB). And in Ezekiel 20:20 He says: “Make the Sabbath a holy day, so that it will be a sign of the covenant we made, and will remind you that I am the Lord your God” (GNB). In Ezekiel 20:12 He also says: “I made the keeping of the Sabbath a sign of the agreement between us, to remind them that I, the Lord, make them holy” (GNB).

Note that the Sabbath is a reminder of a very important truth about the Lord our God and His relationship with His people. His people are an unholy, sinful bunch! Yet God is saying to them, “I have not abandoned you. I am still working to save and heal you. I still regard you as my people.” Salvation is not merely forgiveness, but also the healing of the damage done, making us holy people. Some of us, therefore, keep the seventh day Sabbath to show that only the Creator can heal the damage done. Only the One who made us in the beginning could restore us to what we used to be. He has the creative power, and it requires creative power. Surely it’s no less a miracle to take damaged merchandise and restore it than to create it perfectly in the beginning! That is why when David prayed in Psalm 51:10, he said: “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (KJV). The very same creative power is necessary now to make us trustworthy, holy children of God. Now, we cannot do this by ourselves. Some try by self-discipline and restraint. But it is only by faith and trust in our Creator that all the damage can be perfectly restored.

There are other aspects of the Sabbath mentioned in the Bible. When Moses repeated the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy, he gave a different reason for keeping the Sabbath than the one he gave in Exodus.

“Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God brought you out with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, for that reason the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day” (Deut 5:15, NEB).

Now that’s no contradiction or lapse of memory on the part of the elderly leader. The Sabbath is about God. He created us free in the beginning. But when we lost our freedom, He used His creative power to set us free again. Note that the Sabbath is always connected with freedom.

There is another aspect of the Sabbath mentioned in Hebrews 4. The Sabbath there is described as a type and a foretaste of the rest to come. The apostle says that when Israel entered Canaan, they physically entered the Promised Land, but they certainly didn’t enter God’s rest; because they didn’t trust Him. “There remains, therefore, a Sabbath-like rest to the people of God” (based on Heb 4:9). That is, if we have been led to really trust God, we begin to enter into that Sabbath-like rest now. But certainly in the earth made new, we will know completely what that Sabbath-like rest is all about. “So there must still be a promised Sabbath of Rest for God’s people” (Heb 4:9). That was Goodspeed’s translation. But look at the one in The Jerusalem Bible: “There must still be, therefore, a place of rest reserved for God’s people, the seventh-day rest.”

The Sabbath and the Cross

God waited thousands of years to definitively answer the question whether sin truly leads naturally to death. Finally, in the fullness of time, God sacrificed Himself in the Son, to demonstrate the truthfulness of His word. He did not ask us to prove the truthfulness of His word. He could have, by leaving us to die. Instead, He Himself came and died that awful death. And Jesus knew why He was dying. He saw it all in the larger context of the great controversy. He knew about Satan’s charges. So as He died, He said “It is finished” (John 19:30, KJV). Just as God, at the end of creation week, said “I’ve finished the work of creation” (Gen 2:2-3).

When Jesus died on the cross, then, He was saying, “We finished it all.” The most important answer to the most devastating accusation had been given at infinite cost. But what exactly was finished? Look at John 17:4: “I have finished the work which You have given Me to do” (NKJV). His work was to reveal the character of God to angels and to men (John 1:18; 12:31-32; 14:6-9; 15:10). On Friday evening, when Jesus died at the end of crucifixion week, all the major questions in the great controversy had been answered and all of Satan’s charges against God had been met. And how significant it is that the next day was the seventh-day Sabbath. Jesus could have gone to heaven on Friday to hear the universe tell Him that it was more than enough; everything was clear. Instead He waited over the Sabbath hours.

Can you imagine what the universe was doing during those Sabbath hours? Surely the whole universe paused to reflect on the significance of what they had seen. They joined with the Father in celebrating the costly victory that had been won, and in thanking Him for the costly evidence that had been presented. Because of the cross, they knew that the universe was secure for eternity. As I understand it, this is the Sabbath God asks us to remember. We need to pause and be reminded of those truths in which the angels rejoice. This is certainly no mere test of our obedience. Caught up in the great controversy as we are, we need the message of the seventh day. Surely that is what Jesus meant when He said “The Sabbath was made for the good of man” (Mark 2:27, GNB). So were all of God’s laws!