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Like all other aspects of the Mosaic Law, the Old Testament sabbath day was but “a shadow of good things to come” (Hebrews 10:1). We often hear Sunday referred to as “the sabbath.” You may think that “sabbath” is just an old-fashioned word for Sunday. But that is completely wrong. Sunday is the first day of the week. Saturday is the seventh day. That was the sabbath day. Sunday is not the sabbath, never was the sabbath, and never can be the sabbath.
I stress this fact because many would bring us under the yoke of legal bondage by constraining us to keep a carnal, legal sabbath in this Gospel Age. Such legal sabbath keeping is strictly forbidden in the New Testament.
The sabbath was but a shadow, a symbol, of something else that was to come. What is it that God teaches us in giving all the laws regarding sabbath observance in the Old Testament? What are all those Old Testament sabbath laws intended to portray? Let me show you from the Scriptures.
As there was no worship of God without the observance of the carnal sabbath in the Old Testament, so there is no worship of God without the observance of the true sabbath, the sabbath rest of faith in Christ, today.
Sabbath Observance Forbidden
Sabbath keeping is not a matter of indifference. It is not one of those areas about which the Scriptures give no specific instructions. In fact, the instructions given in the Word of God about sabbath keeping are very specific and very clear.
Like circumcision, the passover, and all other aspects of legal, ceremonial worship during the Old Testament, the legal sabbath day was established by our God to be a sign, picture, and type of grace and salvation in Christ. This is not a matter of speculation and guesswork. That is exactly what God says about the matter in Exodus 31:13.
Because sabbath keeping was a legal type of our salvation in Christ during the age of carnal ordinances, like the passover and circumcision, once Christ came and fulfilled the type, the carnal ordinance ceased.
In the New Testament, we are strictly and directly forbidden to keep any of those carnal ordinances (Colossians 2:8-23). In fact, we are plainly told that those who attempt to worship God by observing carnal, legal ordinances are yet under the curse of the law. They have not yet learned the gospel.
Circumcision is forbidden as an ordinance of divine worship (Galatians 5:2, 4). Those who have their babies sprinkled to bring them into the church and kingdom of God, to seal them into the covenant of grace, attempting to symbolically retain the carnal ordinance of circumcision, by their act of sprinkling that child, deny the gospel of salvation by grace alone. They deny the necessity of heart circumcision by the Spirit of God, the new birth, which circumcision symbolized. Circumcision did not foreshadow baptism. The Word of God clearly shows us that circumcision foreshadowed the new birth (Romans 2:29).
Like circumcision, passover observance is forbidden since Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us (1 Corinthians 5:7). Those who continue to offer up sacrifices to God, either for atonement, or as acts of penance, or to gain a higher degree of divine favor, or to prevent his anger, by their sacrifices deny that Christ’s death at Calvary was an effectual satisfaction of divine justice for the sins of his people. If something must be added to his blood and his righteousness by men, then his blood and his righteousness are totally useless.
In exactly the same way, those who attempt to sanctify themselves by keeping a carnal sabbath day, deny that Christ is enough to give us perfect acceptance with the thrice holy God.
As Paul puts it in Colossians 2:23, they make an outward show of spirituality and wisdom; but it is all will-worship. Such pretenses of humility are nothing but the satisfying of the flesh. Not only that, the whole matter of sabbath keeping is specifically and strictly forbidden by the Holy Spirit in Colossians 2:16-17.
Since the Lord Jesus Christ has, by his death at Calvary, blotted out the handwriting of the ordinances that was against us, since he nailed God’s broken law to the cross and put away our sins, he alone is our Sabbath. We rest in him.
I repeat, all carnal sabbath keeping, any form of it, is strictly forbidden on the basis of the fact that in Christ all true believers are totally free from the law (Romans 7:4; 10:4).
Christ Our Sabbath
Yet, the New Testament does speak of a sabbath keeping that remains for the people of God. The children of Israel perished in the wilderness because of unbelief. They could not enter into God’s rest in the land of Canaan, that typical picture of God’s salvation, because of unbelief (Hebrews 4:1-11). Though that unbelieving generation perished in unbelief, the purpose of God was not, and could not be, hindered. There is an elect multitude who must and shall enter into his rest (Hebrews 4:6).
That typical rest given by Joshua in the land of Canaan was not the rest purposed and purchased for God’s elect. It was only typical of that blessed rest of faith which is ours in Christ (Hebrews 4:7-8).
The word translated “rest,” which is used over and over and over in Hebrews 3 and 4, means to repose back, to lay down, to be at peace, to cease from work, to be at home. But, if you have a marginal reference in your Bible, you will notice that the word translated “rest” that is used in verse 9 is an entirely different word. The word here translated “rest” means “a keeping of a sabbath.”
Christ is our Sabbath. All who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ keep the sabbath by faith in him. We have ceased from our own works and rest in him alone, trusting his blood and righteousness alone for acceptance with God. Resting in Christ, we “call the sabbath a delight” (Isaiah 58:13).