What does the Sabbath have to do with salvation?
Erwin R. Gane
The Bible has much to say about Jesus' second coming. In fact, study of Bible prophecy leads to the conclusion that Jesus is coming again very soon. (For example, see Matt. 24.) The Bible also tells us how to prepare for this great event. Jesus instructed: "Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. . . . Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of man is coming at an unexpected hour" (Matt. 24:42, 44).1 At every stage of history salvation is by God's grace, not by man's works (Eph. 2:8-10). Does this mean that we should just relax and do nothing, expecting God to do everything for us? Or is there something we can do to demonstrate our faith in Christ, the power of His presence in our lives, and our willingness to be spiritually ready to meet Him?
This article discusses three main questions. (1) What is God's last-day seal that is placed upon those whom He plans to take to heaven at His second advent? (2) What does Sabbath observance have to do with God's last-day seal? Is there some special relationship spelled out in Scripture between Sabbath keeping and reception of God's seal? (3) How do we identify the true Christian Sabbath day?
WHAT IS GOD'S LAST-DAY SEAL?
All genuinely believing Christians receive the gift of the Holy Spirit as the seal of God upon them. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul explained that "it is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us, by putting his seal on us and giving us his Spirit in our hearts as a first installment" (2 Cor. 1:21, 22). To the Ephesian Christians, Paul wrote: "In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory" (Eph. 1:13, 14). When we accepted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, He fulfilled for us the promise He had given to His first disciples; He came to dwell in our hearts by the presence of the Holy Spirit. (See John 14B16.) This gift is the "pledge of our inheritance" (NRSV) or "deposit guaranteeing our inheritance" (NIV).2 The presence of the Spirit in the heart is what makes a person a Christian. "Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him" (Rom. 8:9; compare Eph. 3:16-17). Unless the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts we cannot be said to be Christians at all. We receive this first seal of the Holy Spirit when we first believe.
The last-day seal of God is given to those Christian believers who will not die but will be alive when Jesus comes. We can list the significant points in regard to the last-day seal of God as follows:
1. God gives this seal shortly before the close of probation. The close of probation, occurring a short time before the second coming of Jesus, is the point at which God declares that every human being has had an opportunity to make a decision for Christ. This is the point beyond which no one will be able to reverse his or her decision. How do we know that such an event will occur?
According to Revelation 7:1-3, the angels who are holding back the winds of strife in our world will let them go only when all true believers are sealed. The letting go of the winds of strife is the point beyond which no one else will be sealed. Unless people are sealed by then, they will be lost. Therefore, when the winds of strife and calamity are let loose by heaven's restraints being removed from our world, probation will close. Then it is that heaven's proclamation is made: "Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy" (Rev. 22:11).
This is the point at which Jesus ceases interceding for our confessed sins in the heavenly sanctuary. Revelation 8:3, 4 symbolically depicts Jesus functioning as our High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary. He mediates for us. He mingles the merits of His intercession with our prayers, and our confessed sins are forgiven. But verse 5 depicts the end of this intercession. "Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth; and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake." Then the judgment described in Daniel 7:9-14 will be complete. By then the heavenly court will have decided the future of every human being either for life or death (Dan.12:1). Christ's faithful people will have received the end-time seal of God before this close of probation, and when universal trouble and calamity take over in our world, Christ's people will be filled with the Spirit and able to stand true to Him whatever the circumstances.
2. God's work of placing the end-time seal on believers (Rev. 7:1-8) is recorded after the story of the second coming of Jesus (Rev. 6:12-17). But the seal of God is not given after the second coming of Jesus. The reason for the arrangement of the material here in Revelation is simply that Revelation 6:17 asks an important question: "Who is able to stand?" The answer to that question is that those who have been sealed before the Advent will be able to stand without fear when Jesus comes. Revelation 7:1-8 answers the question of Revelation 6:17.
3. Revelation 6:9-11 describes how the people who died believing in Jesus are judged in the pre-advent, investigative judgment. White robes are given every one of them (Rev. 6:11). That is a symbolic way of saying that the faithful dead are judged worthy of eternal life. The next phrase speaks about the living. Despite the published English translations, the Greek reads very simply and is translated literally: ". . . and it was said to them [the dead saints] that they should rest yet a little time, until their fellow servants and their brethren who are about to be killed as they were, might be made complete [full, perfect]" (Rev. 6:11). The word "number" does not occur in the Greek text, nor is it, in most instances, germane to the verb that is used.3 The passage is referring to the sealing of God's faithful living believers just before the close of probation. (Compare Rev. 6:11 with 7:1-8.) The heavenly judgment of the dead has taken place, and now the living believers are purified and made spiritually complete so that God can place His eternal seal upon them. Then the winds of strife are let loose. There will be a time of unprecedented trouble (Dan. 12:1; Matt. 24:21). But God's faithful sealed people will be sheltered. They will be spiritually ready to meet Jesus when He comes. They will not cry out for the rocks and the mountains to fall on them as others are doing (Rev. 6:15, 16). They will be able to stand confidently because they know the Lord is protecting them, and they will look up and welcome Jesus with great expressions of love and joy.
4. Revelation 7:4-8 refers to 144,000 sealed "out of every tribe of the people of Israel" (verse 4). The number 144,000 is not a literal number. It is symbolic of the total number of those sealed around the world. How do we know? The book of Revelation is a highly symbolic book. It abounds in symbols. To know what these symbols mean we have to compare Scripture with Scripture. For example, in Revelation 7:1 the "four angels" obviously represent all the angelic hosts who are "ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" (Heb. 1:14, KJV). The use of the phrase "the four corners of the earth" (Rev. 7:1) does not mean to suggest that the world is square or flat as some medieval writers thought. In Scripture "four corners" are simply a symbol of universality. The phrase means "the whole earth."4 "The four winds" are clearly a reference to the destruction and strife that will result when the angels cease holding earthly and demonic forces in check. In verse 2 the "east" (KJV) or "the rising of the sun" (NRSV) is a symbol of heaven from whence the sealing angel comes. The kings from the east (Rev. 16:12) are Christ and His angels who will come to destroy the wicked of earth (Rev. 17:14; 19:11-21).5 The east represents heaven from whence they come. The seal in the foreheads of God's people (Rev. 7:4) is obviously not a literal mark that can be seen by examining people's foreheads. As we shall see, it symbolizes the spiritual preparedness of the people to whom it is given.
The point is that the passage we are examining (Rev. 7:1-8) is full of symbolism. Just so, the number 144,000 is a symbol of the holy character of the individuals who receive the seal of God. This number is made up of multiples of 12. It is 12 times 12,000. The number 12 in Scripture is sometimes used as a symbol of completeness and perfection. For example, the number 12 occurs often in the description of the Holy City, the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:12-17). The point is that it will be a perfect city inhabited by perfect people. The 12 tribes of Israel mentioned in Revelation 7:4-8 do not exist today. Jews today do not know from what tribe they are descended. The tribes of Israel spoken of by John are a symbol of the true Israel of God, the faithful believers who make up the Christian Church around the world. (See Gal. 3:28; Rom. 9:6-8; 2:28, 29.) In the book of Revelation, Jews sometimes symbolize faithful Christians (Rev. 2:9). What a remarkable coincidence it would be if exactly 12,000 were saved from each of 12 literal tribes of Israel. Christ does not save in such an arbitrary way. He says, "Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37, KJV). "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me" (John 12:32, KJV). Jesus instructed His disciples to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19). The sealing message of Revelation 7 is not only for Jews!
5. What is the last-day seal of God? The ancient Israelite High Priest wore a turban, on the front of which was a golden plate containing the inscription, "Holy to the Lord." (See Exod. 28:36-38; Lev. 8:9.) This is the Old Testament background to the imagery used in Revelation 7 and 14. God's last-day people are to wear the crown of spiritual victory (Rev. 3:11; 6:2). They wear the crown in two senses: (1) they have the gift of eternal life now (1 John 5:12-13); (2) they have victory over sin through the power of the indwelling Christ (1 John 5:4; Rom. 6:14; Titus 2:11-14).
The seal of God is "his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads" (Rev. 14:1). Those who overcome sin through the power of divine grace have Christ's name and the Father's name written upon them (Rev. 2:17; 3:12; 22:4). The Old Testament also predicted that God's people would be called by a new name (Isa. 62:2; 65:15). In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for "name" (shem) is sometimes used to mean character (Isa. 57:15; Jer. 14:7, 21; Ps. 18:49). Many names in the Old Testament were intended to indicate the characters of those who had them. "Jacob" means "supplanter." "Israel" means "he prevails with God" (Gen. 32:28).
The seal of God in the forehead (Rev. 7:1-3), which is God's name in the forehead (Rev. 14:1), symbolizes the fact that His last-day people have received the gift of His character. Their minds have been made holy. They have received Christ's righteousness by the gift of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9, 10). They are allowing Christ to live out His life through them (Gal. 2:20). And they are enjoying habitual victory over sin because they are depending upon the Lord and appropriating His power. They are enjoying the experience of true holiness spoken of in 2 Corinthians 7:1 and 1 Peter 1:15, 16. These sealed believers are the "wife" (KJV) or "bride" (NRSV) of Christ, to whom He has granted the white robes of His righteousness (Rev. 19:7, 8). They are spiritually "without fault" (KJV) or "blameless" (NRSV) before God (Rev. 14:5).6 And they will be the righteous living on the earth when Jesus comes. This is what John meant when he wrote: "These were redeemed from among men" (Rev. 14:4, KJV). The saved of all ages are redeemed from a world of sin. Only the 144,000 are redeemed from among men, in the sense that they are taken to heaven without seeing death. They are redeemed as living believers from among living humanity.
Are you planning to be one of Christ's sealed believers in these last days? He longs to dwell within each of our hearts, and He wants to seal us finally and irrevocably so that we will be His for eternity. The decision to follow Jesus in everything must be ours. The work of sealing our decision is Christ's. After God's people receive this blessing they will still be tempted, and they will undoubtedly suffer persecution of one form or another. But they will be kept by divine power; they will be the righteous living on the earth when Jesus comes.
THE SABBATH AND THE SEAL OF GOD
The Bible teaches that those who receive the gift of Christ's character will observe His Sabbath as a sign or seal of their spiritual experience. Thus the people who receive the last-day seal of God will be Sabbath-keepers.
Romans 4:11 proves that the words "sign" (semeion) and "seal" (sphragida) are sometimes used synonymously in Scripture. Abraham "received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised." (Italics supplied.) In Old Testament times literal circumcision was a sign or seal of the man's and the nation's covenant relationship with God. Circumcision in the flesh was a sign or seal of heart circumcision (Deut. 10:16; 30:6), the spiritual experience that God wanted all people to enjoy as a result of trust in Him, submission to His will, and constant fellowship with Him. When Jesus died on the cross, circumcision as a religious symbol was done away. Paul wrote: "Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but obeying the commandments of God is everything" (1 Cor. 7:19). "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love" (Gal. 5:6). Faith working through love is the means by which Christians are to obey God's commandments (1 John 5:1-5). So "he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the law, will he not judge yo who though having the letter of the law and circumcision are a transgressor of the law? (Rom. 2:27, NASB). Christians are true Jews who have experienced circumcision of the heart (verse 29), whether ethnically they are Jews or Gentiles,
Another sign or seal of believers' covenant relationships with God in both Old and New Testaments is observance of the seventh-day Sabbath. "'You shall keep my sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, given in order that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you'" (Exod. 31:13). "Moreover I gave them my sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, so that they might know that I the Lord sanctify them" (Ezek. 20:12). "And hallow my sabbaths that they may be a sign between me and you, so that you may know that I the Lord am your God" (Ezek. 20:20).
There is nothing in the New Testament indicating that the Sabbath sign or seal has been done away as has circumcision. In Old Testament times, the Sabbath was a sign of sanctification (holiness), the sign or seal of a covenant relationship with God. The Sabbath is still a sign of sanctification today and a sign of a Christian's covenant relationship with God. At every stage of history since creation, the Lord has asked mankind to keep holy His Sabbath day as a sign of His creatorship and of His gift of holiness for those who are seeking salvation. The Sabbath day originated at the end of creation week (Gen. 2:1-3). It was enshrined in the hearts and experiences of the patriarchs. God said, "Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws" (Gen. 26:5). Undoubtedly those laws included the Sabbath law that was instituted by God at the end of creation week.
The Sabbath day was observed before Sinai (Exod. 16). Manna was given six days a week, but not on the Sabbath day. When the people disobeyed by looking for manna on Sabbath, the Lord rebuked them: "'How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and instructions? See! The Lord has given you the sabbath, therefore on the sixth day he gives you food for two days; each of you stay where you are; do not leave your place on the seventh day.' So the people rested on the seventh day" (Exod. 16:28-30). At Sinai, in giving the Ten Commandments, the Lord stated that the reason for keeping holy the seventh day is that "in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it" (Exod. 20:8-11). Thus the Sabbath commandment cites God's institution of the Sabbath at the end of creation week as the rationale for its existence and the reason why we should honor it.
The same "new covenant" is spoken of in the New Testament as in the Old. Under this covenant, into which Christians are to enter with God, His law is to be written on their hearts. Hebrews 8:10-12 quotes Jeremiah 31:33, 34: "This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach one another or say to each other, 'Know the Lord,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more" (Heb. 8:10-12). The law written on the hearts of both Old and New Testament believers is the Ten Commandment law proclaimed by God from Mt. Sinai in the time of Moses. This is the law that Paul extols as established in our hearts by faith (Rom 3:31; 7:7, 12, 14; 8:3, 4). James agrees heartily, teaching that breaking one of the Ten Commandmnts makes a person guilty of breaking the whole ten (James 2:10-12). The result of breaking one or all is the same, eternal rejection and ruin. The fourth of the Ten Commandments is the Sabbath commandment. Hence, the Sabbath commandment, along with the other nine, is to be written on our hearts in the new covenant experience.
There is nothing in the New Testament to indicate that the Ten Commandments, including the Sabbath commandment, have been abolished as a standard of righteousness. Nor is there any indication that nine of the Ten Commandments are still valid, while the fourth has been done away.
The means of keeping God's Ten Commandment law is faith (1 John 5:1-4). But the law remains as the standard of righteousness. "Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law" (Rom. 3:31). The Sabbath commandment (Exod. 20:8-11) contains the three facts about God, the Author, that were included in seals placed by ancient kings upon their documents. (See 1 Kings 21:8; Esther 3:10-12; 8:8, 10; Dan. 4:1-3; Ezra 1:1-4.) (1) His name is "Lord" (Yahweh). (2) His authority is that He is the Creator ("the Lord made"). (3) The extent of His dominion is the universe ("heaven and earth").
Those who will be sealed at the end of time are those who have received the gift of the character of Christ by the Holy Spirit. They are faithful Sabbath keepers who recognize God's day as the sign or seal of their covenant relationship with Him, their Creator and Redeemer.
THE TRUE CHRISTIAN SABBATH
John tells us that when he was on the island of Patmos he received a vision from God "on the Lord's day" (Rev. 1:10). Many Bible commentators have assumed that the day was Sunday. They argue that, since the term "Lord's day" meant Sunday in later Christian writings, therefore it meant Sunday for John. The question is, was John having a vision on the seventh-day Sabbath or Sunday?
Since he was one of Jesus' closest disciples, John was thoroughly familiar with Jesus' statement recorded in Mark 2:28: "Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath" (KJV). Obviously Jesus was speaking of the seventh-day Sabbath, the only day for worship and rest that the Jews, to whom He was speaking, knew anything about. It is quite reasonable that, in writing Revelation, John would refer to the Sabbath as the Lord's day, because he had heard Jesus Christ claim it to be His own day.
The Greek phrase translated "on the Lord's day" in Revelation 1:10 is en te kuriake hemera. The word kuriake is a Greek adjective meaning "belonging to the Lord," "the Lord's."7 In the later history of the early Christian Church, this word came to stand alone in Christian literature without the following word "day." Then from the second half of the second century on kuriake was the accepted word for Sunday, the day of Christ's resurrection.
A few important considerations must be kept in mind when discussing the phrase "Lord's day":
1. The first early Church father to use the term "Lord's day" to mean Sunday was Clement of Alexandria, writing about A..D. 190.8 About A. D. 180 or 185 Bishop Irenaeus of Gaul spoke of Easter Sunday as the Lord's Day.9 Also the apocryphal Gospel of Peter, written about the middle of the second century, speaks of Easter Sunday as the Lord's day.10
2. The earlier so-called references to Sunday as the Lord's day in the writings of the Christian Church Fathers result from paraphrasing the Greek. They are not unequivocal references to Sunday. The Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, written somewhere between the late first century and the late second century, contains the statement, "On the Lord's of the Lord [or, "According to the Lord's of the Lord"] assemble, break bread, and hold Eucharist." The word "day" does not occur in the Greek text, even though most translators have inserted it. The text could mean, "According to the Lord's commandment. . . ."11
Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, who was martyred in Rome about A.D. 115, wrote a letter to the Magnesians in which he said: ". . . no longer sabbatizing, but living according to the Lord's."12 Manuscript evidence favors the reading: ". . . no longer sabbatizing, but living according to the Lord's life." The word zoen (life) has been omitted by the editors of the Greek text.13
3. It is incorrect methodology to read back into the New Testament the late second century use of the word kuriake (Lord's day) to mean Sunday. The late second-century writers do not use the exact same phrase that John used in Revelation 1:10. They omit the word "day" (hemera). Moreover, since there is no evidence elsewhere in the New Testament of Sunday sacredness, we can assume that John's use of the phrase "Lord's day" is a reference to Jesus' statement as recorded in Mark 2:28. Words change meaning over time. By the end of the second century for some Christian writers "Lord's day" meant Sunday. But we have no evidence at all that it meant Sunday for John the Revelator or for anyone else living in the first century.
The Lord has a day (Revelation 1:10). That day is the Sabbath day (Mark 2:28). The Sabbath day is the seventh day (Gen. 2:1-3; Exod. 20:8-11). The seventh day Sabbath "according to the commandment," observed by Jesus' disciples after His death, was the day after the "preparation" day on which Jesus was crucified (Luke 23:54-56). We know that the preparation day was Friday because Jesus "rose again the third day" (1 Cor. 15:4, KJV; compare Luke 24:7), and he rose on "the first day of the week," Sunday (Luke 24:1). The word "preparation" used in Luke 23:54 is a translation of the word that in modern Greek means the sixth day, or Friday. Arndt and Gingrich's Greek lexicon says that the word for "preparation" means "Friday, on which day everything had to be prepared for the Sabbath, when no work was permitted. . . ."14
The next day after crucifixion Friday, Jesus' followers "rested the sabbath day according to the commandment" (Luke 23:56, KJV). Following that Jesus rose early on the first day of the week (Luke 24:1-3). Mark records: "Now after he rose early on the first day of the week. . . ." (Mark 16:9).
So the Sabbath day is the day after Friday and the day before Sunday. It was in Jesus' day and has been ever since. No calendar changes have ever changed the weekly cycle. Since Jesus' day, there has been one change in the calendar, from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. The change was first made in Spain, Portugal, and Italy in 1582 in response to an edict of Pope Gregory XIII. Thus, our present-day calendar is known as the Gregorian calendar. In 1582, ten days were dropped out of the month of October. Thursday, the fourth of October, was followed immediately by Friday, the fifteenth. Although a number of days were removed from the month, the weekly cycle was left unchanged. Thursday was followed by Friday and Friday by Saturday, as had always been and has been ever since.
The seventh-day Sabbath in the twentieth century is the same day of the week as the seventh-day Sabbath in Jesus' day. Luke wrote his Gospel years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. If the Sabbath had been changed, why didn't Luke add a statement to that effect after he had written that the followers of Jesus rested on the Sabbath, the day after the sixth day on which Jesus was crucified? There is nothing anywhere in the New Testament to say that either Jesus or His apostles changed the Sabbath to the first day of the week or to any other day.
Since those who receive God's last-day seal are those who keep His Sabbath day holy, they will be following the instruction of Scripture that we observe the seventh-day (Saturday) as the day of rest and worship.
DID THE APOSTLES OBSERVE THE SABBATH AFTER JESUS' ASCENSION TO HEAVEN?
There is not the slightest hint in the New Testament that the Sabbath was changed or abolished. The book of Acts records that the apostles kept the Sabbath very regularly.
The book of Acts records 84 Sabbath meetings held by Paul over a period of 10 years, from A.D. 45-55. On his first missionary journey, Paul with his companions arrived at Antioch in Pisidia. "And on the sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down" (Acts 13:14). At the invitation of the synagogue officials, Paul preached a sermon (verse 15 ff.). "The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord" spoken by Paul (verse 44).
On a subsequent missionary journey, "after Paul and Silas had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three sabbath days argued with them from the scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead" (Acts 17:1-3).
Later Paul visited Corinth (Acts 18:1). "Every sabbath he would argue in the synagogue and would try to convince Jews and Greeks" (verse 4). "He stayed there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them" (verse 11). The obvious implication is that for 18 months Paul visited the synagogue every Sabbath day.
Sunday keepers often assert that Paul and his associate evangelists visited the synagogues on the Sabbath day because this was the most convenient way to meet with Jews for the purpose of leading them to Christ. But in Philippi, Paul and his associates observed the Sabbath in an open-air meeting. "On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there" (Acts 16:13). As a result Lydia and her household, people from Thyatira, became baptized Christians. The apostles found a convenient place on the bank of the river for a Sabbath worship service and won to Christ those who paused to listen.
Why would Luke in writing the book of Acts record all these Sabbath meetings of the apostles and not say one word about any change of the Sabbath. If there were any inspired counsel to worship on another day or not to observe any day, why didn't Luke say so?
The Epistle to the Hebrews leaves no doubt that the Hebrews' Sabbath day is the correct day of worship for Christians. Referring to the Israelites who, on the way from Egypt to Canaan, rebelled against God and against Moses , the Christian author of Hebrews wrote: "And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, if not to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief" (Heb. 3:18). But "while the promise of entering his rest is still open" (Heb. 4:1), none of us should fail to enter into it. Only true believers will enter God's rest (verse 3). This is why the ancient Israelites failed to enter God's rest. Quoting Psalm 95:11 the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews reminds us of God's words: "Therefore I swore in my anger that they should not enter my rest" (RSV). Entering God's rest is identified as Sabbath observance: "For in one place it speaks about the seventh day as follows, 'And God rested on the seventh day from all his works'" (Heb. 44). But God's rest is still available to us: "There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience" (Heb. 4:9-11, NIV). As God rested from His work of creation on the seventh day (verse 4), so we are invited to enter the spiritual rest of which the Sabbath rest is the sign and seal. Thus God's spiritual rest involves Sabbath observance.
The apostles, like Jesus, observed the seventh-day Sabbath as a holy day of worship and rest from secular labor. The Christian Church is "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone" (Eph. 2:20). That being so, Christian practice in regard to Sabbath observance should follow the example of Jesus and the apostles.
IS IT NECESSARY FOR EVERY BELIEVING CHRISTIAN TO KEEP THE SABBATH DAY HOLY?
While He was here on earth, Jesus consistently observed the seventh-day Sabbath. "When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom" (Luke 4:16). Throughout His ministry, not only did Jesus observe the Sabbath, He also tried to persuade the Jewish religious leaders that it is thoroughly consistent with God's law to relieve suffering and to supply spiritual and physical needs on the Sabbath day. When they complained because He healed the sick and permitted his disciples to pluck and eat grain on the Sabbath, Jesus defended His actions as consistent with good Sabbath keeping (Mark 2:23-28; Matt. 12:1-14). Jesus in no way condoned breaking the fourth commandment (Exod. 20:8-11) by engaging in secular work on the Sabbath day. After all, it was Jesus who had inspired Isaiah to describe Sabbath observance as "a delight," as "desisting from your own ways, from seeking your own pleasure, and speaking your own word" (Isa. 58:13, NASB). But Jesus pointed out that relieving human and animal suffering and supplying immediate spiritual and physical needs are activities that God regards as appropriate for the Sabbath day. Jesus simply stated th basic principle: "'The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27, 28, NIV). The legalistic, even fanatical regulations for Sabbath observance commanded by the ancient Pharisees were a denial of Jesus' principle that "the Sabbath was made for man." Jesus did not contravene the Sabbath command; He rejected the Pharisaic interpretation of it.
God's promises to the believer who observes the Sabbath as Jesus instructed are truly wonderful: "Then you will take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; and I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken" (Isa. 58:14, NASB).
When Jesus was predicting both the fall of Jerusalem and His own second advent, He used the former as a type or example of the latter. He urged that those of His followers who would be living just prior to those events, should pray that they would not be obliged to flee from their enemies in the winter or on a Sabbath day. "Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath" (Matt. 24:20, NIV). The reason is obvious; fleeing from the enemy in the wintertime would be a cold and uncomfortable procedure. Fleeing from the enemy on the Sabbath day would make it impossible to rest and worship in peace as God wants His people to do. Matthew 24:20 is speaking as much about circumstances immediately before Jesus' second advent as it is of conditions just before the destruction of Jerusalem.
Matthew 24:15-20 records Jesus' statement: "So when you see the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place, as was spoken of by the prophet Daniel . . . then those in Judea must flee to the mountains. . . . Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a sabbath." The "desolating sacrilege" is a reference to the work of the "little horn" power of Daniel 8:9-13. In its initial fulfillment, this power was the Roman Empire which crucified Christ, destroyed the Jerusalem temple (A.D. 70), and persecuted God's people. But the little horn power in its later manifestation as the opponent of God's truth and people is to function until the second coming of Jesus. "He shall be broken, and not by human hands" (Dan. 8:25; cf. 2:34, 45). Therefore, Jesus' instruction to flee from the destructive work of the little horn power ("the desolating sacrilege," Matt 24:15) applies not only to those living just prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, but also to those living at the end of time just prior t the time when Jesus will come to destroy the little horn power.
Hence, Matthew 24:20 is Jesus' command for end-time Christians to keep holy the seventh-day Sabbath. Not only were His followers to observe the Sabbath 40 years after His death at the time when Jerusalem was under attack from the Romans, but they are also to observe the Sabbath immediately before His second coming. Jesus spoke of the events surrounding the fall of Jerusalem as illustrative of the events just prior to and surrounding His second advent. So the instruction to observe the Sabbath applies as much to us as it did to His first disciples.
THE FIRST ANGEL'S MESSAGE INCLUDES THE SABBATH COMMAND
Revelation 14:1-5 describes the believers who were sealed before Jesus second coming standing with Christ in the heavenly Jerusalem after His coming. They were the blameless righteous believers living on the earth when Jesus appeared in the clouds of heaven. The second part of the chapter, Revelation 14:6-13 describes the messages to which these last-day sealed believers responded. "Then I saw another angel flying in midheaven, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on earth C to every nation and tribe and language and people. He said in a loud voice, 'Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water'" (Rev. 14:6, 7). This angel or messenger symbolizes God's people who take the "eternal" (NRSV) or "everlasting" (KJV) gospel to the world just prior to the close of probation and the second coming of Jesus. The everlasting gospel is the good news of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ C salvation that results in obedience to all the commandments of God (Rom. 3:31; 7:7, 12, 14; 8:3, 4). It is a message of faith in Christ that results in the power to overcome sin and to reflect the loving character of Jesus Christ (1 John 5:1-5; Rev. 3:21).
This first angel's message that is to go to "every nation and tribe and language and people" includes the invitation to "worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water" (Rev. 14:6, 7; italics supplied). The language of the text is an obvious allusion to the fourth commandment. We are to keep the seventh day holy "for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it" (Exod. 20:11). Revelation 14:7 is a call to honor our Creator by worshiping Him on His holy day. Of course, this act of Sabbath worship is simply a weekly high point of a life lived in a constant state of submission to the loving care and guidance of our Creator.
The end-time sealed believers who will eventually stand with Christ on "Mount Zion" (Rev. 14:1) are Sabbath keepers who have accepted the three angels' messages of Revelation 14:6-13. Because Christ is first in their lives, they delight to honor Him always, and especially on His holy day.
Christian believers always wish to follow Jesus' instruction. He instructed that we observe the seventh-day Sabbath right up until His second coming. And He said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15). How could anyone who claims to love Jesus refuse to keep His commandments. John writes: "For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3). We do not keep His commandments to be saved. We keep them because we are enjoying present salvation in Christ. We are saved by faith (Eph. 2:8-10), but saving faith is "faith working through love" (Gal. 5:6). True faith results in the law of God being established in our lives (Rom. 3:31). When we have true faith in Christ, we will not argue about whether it is convenient to keep holy His Sabbath day. We will do it because Jesus asks us to. Our Sabbath keeping will be the result and the evidence of our faith in Him. We will observe the Sabbath day as a memorial of creation ad a sign of Christ's work of sanctification in our hearts. Sabbath keeping will be not only a sign of Christ's work for us, but also an observance that strengthens our relationship with Him. It will be a vital part of our Christian walk and a tremendous blessing to us as we prepare for the seal of God and an eternity with our Lord.
It was not convenient for Jesus to be born in a manger in Bethlehem; He did it because He loves us so much. It was not convenient for Him to live for 30 years in a degraded place like ancient Nazareth; He did it out of love for us. It was not convenient for Him to submit to the insults of the trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin, Herod, and Pilate; He did it because He wanted us to be saved. It was not convenient for Him to endure the infinite agony of the cross; He submitted to it so that He could bear the punishment for our sins.
Why should we talk of convenience when Jesus has done so much for us? He craves to save us from all sin, to fill us with His Holy Spirit and place His end-time seal upon us. Why not give Him that privilege? He loves you with an infinite love and will not stop pleading until you surrender all to Him and agree to follow Him all the way. That includes keeping His seventh-day Sabbath holy. Will you open your heart to Jesus just now and allow Him to transform your life?
1. Unless otherwise indicated, in this article the Bible quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version.
2. The Greek word translated "pledge" or "deposit" is arrabon, which means "first instalment, deposit, down payment, pledge, that pays a part of the purchase price in advance, and so secures a legal claim to the article in question, or makes a contract valid . . . a payment which obligates the contracting party to make further payments."CWilliam F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), s.v. arrabon.
3. The Greek verb plerothosin is the 3rd person, plural, aorist, subjunctive, passive of pleroo. This verb means "make full," "fill," "complete," "bring to completion," "fulfill," "bring to an end," The KJV, RSV, and NRSV translate this verb by "perfect" in Revelation 3:2. Revelation 6:11 is not saying that the righteous dead will sleep on until a certain number of martyrs is made up. It is saying that the dead are to rest until their living brethren are made complete or perfect in Christ. The text is parallel to Revelation 7:1-8. The living brethren who are made complete or perfect are the ones who are sealed with the end-time seal of God before the close of probation.
4. The Greek word gonia meaning "corner" is used in the Septuagint (LXX) as a symbol of completeness, entirety, or universality. For example, "Achaz . . . made to himself altars in every corner in Jerusalem" (2 Chron. 28:24, LXX). "Suddenly a great wind came on from the desert, and caught the four corners of the house, and the house fell upon thy children, and they are dead" (Job 1:19, LXX). Every corner of Jerusalem means throughout Jerusalem. The four corners of the house refer to the entire house. Just so, in Revelation 7:1, "the four corners of the earth" is a figure of speech meaning the entire earth, the universal world.
5. The Greek translated "east" (KJV) is anatoles heliou, meanng "rising of the sun, east, orient." (Arndt and Gingrich, s.v. anatole.)
6. The Greek word amomos means "without fault," "unblemished," "blameless," "faultless" (Arndt and Gingrich). This same word is used in other passages in the New Testament to refer to the spiritual purity that is God's ideal for His people. (See Eph. 1:4; 5:27; Col. 1:22; Jude 24.)
7. Arndt and Gingrich, s.v. kuriakos.
8. Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, or Miscellanies, v. 14; Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1962), II, 469 (hereinafter referred to as ANF). See Kenneth A. Strand, "The 'Lord's Day' in the Second Century," in The Sabbath in Scripture and History, ed. Kenneth A. Strand (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1982), p. 346.
9. "Fragments from the Lost Writings of Irenaeus," 7; ANF 1:569, 570. See Strand (ed.), The Sabbath in Scripture and History, p. 346, 347.
10. Gospel of Peter, 9, 12; ANF 10:8. See Strand (ed.), The Sabbath in Scripture and History, p. 347.
11. Didache, 14:1. The Greek reads kata kuriaken de kuriou sunachthentes. . . .C Karl Bihlmeyer (ed.), Die Apostolischen Vater (Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1956), p. 8. See Strand (ed.) The Sabbath in Scripture and History, p. 348.
12. Ignatius, Au de Magnesier, 9:1, ". . . meketi sabbatizontes, alla kata kuriaken zontes." C Bihlmeyer, Die Apostolischen Vater, p. 91.
13. Kenneth A. Strand (ed.), The Sabbath in Scripture and History, pp. 348, 349.
14. Arndt and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, s.v. paraskeue.