The Sabbath and the Savior in the Old Testament
The Sabbath and the Savior in the New Testament
The Sabbath and the Savior in the New Testament - Continued
The Sabbath and the Savior in the New Testament - Continued
The human heart longs for constant reassurance of divine forgiveness, acceptance, and salvation. We each want to know, "Has God really forgiven and saved me?" In Scripture, the reassurance of divine forgiveness and salvation is communicated not only verbally but also through types and symbols. The sacrificial system, baptism, the Lord's Supper, footwashing, and the Sabbath are all institutions established by God to help believers conceptualize and experience the assurance of salvation.
The Sabbath occupies a unique place among the various God-given institutions. It is unique in its origin, nature, survival, and function. It is unique in its origin because it is the first institution established by God to invite His people to enter into the joy of His rest and fellowship (Gen 2:2-3; Heb 4:3-10). It is unique in its nature because it is not a material object or a place accessible only to few, but a day (time) available to all. Being time, the Sabbath invites the believers to experience divine fellowship-not through "holy objects," but in time shared together.
The Sabbath is unique in its survival because it has survived the Fall, the Flood, the Egyptian slavery, the Babylonian exile, the Roman anti-Sabbath legislation (promulgated by Emperor Hadrian in A. D. 135), the French and Russian temporary introduction of the ten-day week, and the recent attempts to negate its validity for today by numerous Catholic and Protestant doctoral dissertations, the Pope's Pastoral Letter Dies Domini, and anti-Sabbath publications produced by former Sabbatarians. It is unique in its function because it has helped Jews and Christians to conceptualize, internalize, and experience the reality of God's creative and redemptive accomplishments.
Importance of This Study. This study derives its importance from the fact that many Christians believe the Sabbath is an Old Covenant institution that pointed to the Savior to come. Christ fulfilled the typological function of the Sabbath through His redemptive mission. The way Christ fulfilled the Sabbath, however, is understood differently by different Christians. For some, Christ fulfilled the Sabbath commandment by terminating its observance altogether and by replacing it with an existential experience of salvation-rest available to believers every day. This is essentially the Lutheran position which recently has been adopted by the Worldwide Church of God, Dale Ratzlaff in his book Sabbath in Crisis, and several independent "Adventist" congregations.
For other Christians, Christ fulfilled and terminated only the ceremonial aspect of the Sabbath commandment-namely, the specific observance of the seventh day which foreshadowed the salvation rest offered by Christ. However, they believe that the moral aspect of the Sabbath commandment, consisting in the principle of observing one day in seven, was not abrogated by Christ but was transferred to the observance of the first day of the week, Sunday. This is essentially the Catholic and Calvinistic position which has been adopted by churches in the Reformed tradition.
The common denominator of both positions is the belief that Christ fulfilled the ceremonial-typological function of the Sabbath, thus releasing His followers from the obligation to observe the seventh-day Sabbath. During the course of our study, we have found that this prevailing view constitutes a major attack against the validity and value of Sabbathkeeping for Christians today and, consequently, deserves careful analysis.
Objective of This Chapter. This chapter explores how the Sabbath relates to the Savior to come in the Old Testament and to the Savior who has come in the New Testament. The first part examines the sabbatical typologies of Messianic redemption in the Old Testament and Jewish literature. Here we focus on some significant Sabbath themes that nourished the hope of redemption in the heart of God's people in Old Testament times. The second part considers the redemptive meaning and function of the Sabbath in the New Testament. Our focus in this section is on the meaning of the Sabbath for Christians today in the light of the Sabbath teaching and ministry of Jesus.
The question at hand is the relationship between the Messianic redemption foreshadowed by the Sabbath and Christ's redemptive ministry. Simply stated, the question we wish to address in this chapter is this: Did Christ fulfill the sabbatical typologies of Messianic redemption by terminating the function of the Sabbath, as in the case of the Temple's services (Heb 8:13; 9:23-28), or by actualizing and enriching its meaning and observance through His redemptive ministry?
Surprisingly, Sabbatarian literature largely ignores this important aspect of the redemptive meaning and function of the Sabbath in the Old and New Testaments. Its focus is primarily on the creational origin of the Sabbath and its continuity during the course of redemptive history. Yet an appreciation for the theological development of the Sabbath, from a memorial of perfect creation to a celebration of complete redemption and of final restoration, can provide believers with a richer meaning and experience of Sabbath observance.
THE SABBATH AND THE SAVIOR IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
The story of creation is in a sense a redemption story: redemption from disorder into order, from chaos into cosmos. Within the creation event, the Sabbath reveals the purpose of God's first redemptive act. It tells us that God created this world not merely for the enjoyment of making something new and beautiful out of formless matter (Gen 1:2) but for the special pleasure of sharing Himself with His creatures.
This truth is reflected especially in the blessing and sanctification of the Sabbath. Since it is the manifestation of God's holy presence that makes a day or a place holy, the sanctification of the Sabbath reveals God's commitment to bless His creatures with abundant life through His holy presence. God "sanctified" or "made holy" the seventh day (Gen 2:3) by setting the day apart for the manifestation of His Holy presence among His creatures. To put it differently, by blessing and sanctifying the seventh day, God revealed His intent to offer mankind not only beautiful things, but also the sweet experience of His fellowship.
A Promise of Emmanuel. When the prospect of a joyous life in the presence of God was shattered by sin, the Sabbath became the symbol of divine commitment to restore broken relationships. From being the symbol of God's initial cosmological accomplishments (that is, bringing into existence a perfect cosmos out of chaos), the Sabbath became the symbol of God's future soteriological activities (that is, the redemption of His people from bondage into His freedom). From serving as a symbol of God's initial entrance into human time to bless and sanctify human beings with His divine presence, the Sabbath became a symbol of God's future entrance into human flesh to become "Emmanuel-God with us." The first as well as the second coming of Christ represents the fulfillment of God's purpose for this world expressed initially through the blessings and sanctification of the Sabbath.
In his book Toward an American Theology, Herbert W. Richardson rightly emphasizes the connection between the sanctification of the creation Sabbath and the incarnation of Christ. He writes: "God created the world so that the Sabbath guest, Jesus Christ, might come and dwell therein. That is, the world was created for the sake of 'Emmanuel, God with us.' The incarnation is, therefore, not a rescue operation, decided upon only after sin had entered into the world. Rather, the coming of Christ fulfills the purpose of God in creating the world."1
To trace how the Sabbath has fulfilled this redemptive function in the Old and New Testaments is not an easy task for three major reasons. First, the Sabbath has provided the basis for constant new reflections. Various strands of sabbatical concepts such as the themes of Sabbath "rest," "peace," and "delight;" the cosmic wee; the liberation experience of the Sabbath years; and the sabbatical structure of time have all been used to express the future (eschatological) expectations of divine deliverance. Second, the liberation message of the Sabbath has been applied, as we shall see, both to immediate national concerns for political restoration and to future expectations of Messianic redemption. This dual application to the same theme readily creates confusion in the mind of an unwarned reader.
Third, the biblical and extrabiblical sources provide us with fragmented information rather than systematic explanation of the various levels of meanings attributed to the Sabbath. Also, certain allusions to sabbatical themes in the Old Testament become clearer in the light of their New Testament interpretation, especially in Hebrews 3 and 4.
Adam's First Day. In Old Testament times, the Sabbath served not only to provide personal rest and liberation from the hardship of work and social injustices, but also to nourish the hope for a future Messianic peace, prosperity, and redemption.2 The latter function was apparently inspired by the role of the Sabbath in God's original creation.
Genesis provides no information on the actual observance of the Sabbath by Adam and Eve before their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Yet the picture of perfection and satisfaction (note the sevenfold repetition of the phrase "it was good"-Gen 1:4,10,17,18,21,24,31 it portrays, especially through the divine blessing and sanctification of the seventh day (Gen 2:3), could easily offer to believers the basis for a vision of the Messianic age.
The parallels and equivalences between the Sabbath of Genesis, Adam's First Day after his creation, and the Last Days of the Messianic age, though not always explicitly made, are implicitly present in biblical and extrabiblical sources. To illustrate how the creation Sabbath became the symbol of Messianic redemption and restoration, we briefly examine a few significant themes.
Sabbath Peace and Harmony. The peace and harmony that existed between Adam and the animals at the creation Sabbath will be restored in the Messianic age when "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them" (Is 11:6). At that time, according to the same prophet, "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea" (Is 11:9).3 This vision of the earth full of peace and of the knowledge of God in the Last Days may well have been inspired by the view of the First Days, of which the Sabbath is the epitome.
The link between the First Sabbath and the Last Days or world to come, is suggested by those rabbinical Sabbath regulations which prohibited killing insects or carrying weapons on the Sabbath because the day represents a foretaste of the world to come. For example, Rabbi Simeon B. Eleazar taught that "Vermin must not be killed on the Sabbath: this is the view of Beth Shammai [a leading rabbinical school]. . . . If one kills vermin on the Sabbath, it is as though he killed a camel."4
The Mishnah, an ancient collection of Jewish laws, similarly states that on the Sabbath, "A man may not go out with a sword or a bow or a shield or a club or a spear . . . for it is written, 'And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.'"5 These rabbinical injunctions are derived from the notion of the absence of death during the primordial Sabbath which served as a paradigm of the world to come. The abstention from any form of killing on the Sabbath represents a foretaste of that world.
Sabbath Prosperity. The material prosperity and abundance which characterized the creation Sabbath inspired the prophetic vision of extraordinary material abundance during the Messianic age. Amos declares: "'Behold, the days are coming,' says the Lord, 'when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine and the hills shall flow with it'" (9:13). Similar descriptions are found in Isaiah (4:2; 7:22; 30:23-25), Joel (4:19), Zephaniah (3:13), Jeremiah (30:19; 31:24), and Ezekiel (34:13-14; 47:12).
Later Jewish and Christian works abound with descriptions of the material prosperity of the world to come, often equated with the cosmic Sabbath.6 For example, The Epistle of Barnabas (c. A. D. 135), included among the writings of the "Apostolic Fathers," interprets the millennium as the cosmic Sabbath which will follow the six thousand years typified by the six days of creation and which will be characterized by the peaceful, prosperous, and luminous reign of Christ upon this earth ("He changes the sun and moon and stars, then he will rest well on the seventh day"-15:5).7
The typological meaning of the Sabbath, as a symbol of the future age of rest and prosperity, presumably explains why the rabbinical school of Shammai prohibited contributions for the poor on the Sabbath in the synagogue or even the giving of a dowry to an orphan to be married.8 In rabbinical thinking, acts of charity on the Sabbath would negate its prefiguration of the material prosperity of the Messianic age.
Sabbath Delight. The delight and joy of the Edenic Sabbath also inspired the prophetic vision of the Messianic age. Theodore Friedman notes that "two of the three passages in which Isaiah refers to the Sabbath are linked by the prophet with the end of days (Is 56:1-7; 58:13-14; 66:20-24) . . . . It is no mere coincidence that Isaiah employs the words 'delight' (oneg) and 'honor' (kavod) in his description of both the Sabbath and the end of days (58:13-'And thou shalt call the Sabbath a delight . . . and honor it'; 66:11-'And you shall delight in the glow of its honor'). The implication is clear. The delight and joy that will mark the end of days is made available here and now by the Sabbath."9
The concept of "Sabbath delight" appears to derive from the vision of the Edenic Sabbath-a day of joy, light, harmony, and peace which serves as a paradigm of the Messianic age.
Sabbath Lights. Sabbath delight is expressed in the Jewish tradition especially by kindling lights on that day. This act, a prerogative of the Jewish woman, is interpreted as symbolic of the extraordinary light that God caused to shine out for 36 hours in consideration of the Sabbath (that is, from Friday morning to Saturday night). This conclusion is drawn from a curious rabbinic interpretation of the title of Psalm 92: "A Psalm, a song for the Sabbath day." "R. Levi said in the name of R. Zimra: 'For the Sabbath day,' that is, for the day which darkness did not attend. You find that it is written of other days 'And there was evening and there was morning, one day' but the words 'There was evening' are not written of the Sabbath . . . The Sabbath light continued throughout thirty-six hours."10
The Midrash, an ancient Jewish commentary of the Old Testament, interprets the text "God blessed the seventh day" (Gen 2:3) as meaning He blessed it with the blessing of light.11 Adam was the first to benefit from such a blessing because God let His light shine upon him though he deserved to be deprived of it by reason of his disobedience.12
The redemptive role of the primordial Sabbath in the Jewish tradition is impressive.13 Being viewed as the symbol of primordial redemption from chaos to a perfect cosmos, the Sabbath could effectively typify the future Messianic restoration. The tradition of kindling lights on the Sabbath was symbolically linked both to the supernatural light that shone upon Adam during the first Sabbath as an assurance of salvation and of the extraordinary light of the Messianic age.
The prophets envision the appearance of refulgent light during the latter days: "Moreover the light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be sevenfold, as the light of the seven days" (Is 30:26). The comparison with "the light of the seven days" is presumably an allusion to the seven days of creation, which, according to an ancient Midrash, were bathed by extraordinary light more brilliant than the sun.14
Zechariah's remark that "there shall be continuous day . . . not day and not night, for at evening time there shall be light" (Zech 14:7) probably refers to the seventh day of creation which in Genesis has no mention of "evening and morning." Such a detail was interpreted as signifying that the Sabbath was especially blessed by supernatural, continuous light.
One should note that while Dale Ratzlaff appeals to the absence of the phrase "evening and morning" for the seventh day to argue that God sanctified not a literal seventh day but a continuous condition of open fellowship with God irrespective of the Sabbath15 the Jewish tradition consistently interprets such a detail as indicative of the extraordinary light that bathed the seventh day. The prophetic vision of the extraordinary light of the Messianic age most likely derives from the notion of the supernatural light experienced by Adam on the first Sabbath-light which, according to Jewish tradition, disappeared at the close of the creation Sabbath because of his disobedience, but which is expected to reappear in the Messianic age.16
Sabbath Rest. The theme of Sabbath rest (menuhah) which to "the biblical mind," as Abraham Joshua Heschel explains, "is the same as happiness and stillness, as peace and harmony,"17 has served as an effective typology of the Messianic age, often known as "the end of days" or "the world-to-come."
In the Old Testament, the notion of "rest" is utilized to express both national and Messianic aspirations. As a national aspiration, the Sabbath rest served to typify a peaceful life in a land of rest (Deut 12:9; 25:19; Is 14:3) where the king would give to the people "rest from all enemies" (2 Sam 7:1) and where God would find His "resting place" among His people and especially in His sanctuary at Zion (2 Chron 6:41; 1 Chron 23:25; Ps 132:8, 13, 14; Is 66:1).18
These references to political "rest" (menuhah) do not mention specifically the Sabbath rest. However, it is reasonable to assume, as noted by Ernst Jenni,19 that it was the weekly Sabbath rest experience that served as a model to typify the larger aspiration for national rest. The two themes are often connected in rabbinic literature. For example, in a rabbinic comment on Psalm 92, we read: "A Psalm, a song for the Sabbath day-for the day when God's people abide in peace as is said: 'And my people shall abide in a peaceable habitation, and in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting-places' (Is 32:18)."20 This comment clearly links together Isaiah's vision of messianic peace, security, and quiet resting places with the notion and experience of the Sabbath rest.
The connection between Sabbath rest and national rest is also clearly established in Hebrews 4:4, 6, 8 where the author speaks of the creation-Sabbath rest as the symbol of the promised entrance into the land of Canaan. Because of disobedience, the wilderness generation "failed to enter" (v. 6) into the land of rest typified by the Sabbath. Even later, when the Israelites under Joshua did enter the land of rest (v. 8), the blessings of the Sabbath rest were not fulfilled because God offered His Sabbath rest again long afterwards through David, saying, "Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts" (Heb 4:7).21
The fact that the blessings of the Sabbath rest were never realized as a political condition of rest and peace challenged God's people to look for their future fulfillment at and through the coming of the Messiah. In Jewish literature we find numerous examples where the Sabbath rest and the septenary structure of time are used to signify the rest, peace, and redemption of the messianic age.
For example, the Babylonian Talmud says "Our Rabbis taught: at the conclusion of the Sabbath the son of David will come. R. Joseph demurred: But so many Sabbaths have passed, yet has he not come!"22 The age of the Messiah is often described as a time of sabbatical rest. At the end of the Mishnah Tamid we read: "A Psalm, a song for the Sabbath day-a song for the time to come, for the day that is all Sabbath rest in the eternal life."23
These few examples suffice to show that the rest experience of the Sabbath nourished the hope and strengthened the faith of the future Messianic peace and rest. The time of redemption came to be viewed, as stated in the Mishnah, as "all Sabbath and rest in the life everlasting."24
Sabbath Liberation. The freedom, release, and liberation which the weekly and annual Sabbaths were designed to grant to every member of the Hebrew society also have served as effective symbols of the expected Messianic redemption.
In the Deuteronomic version of the Fourth Commandment, the Sabbath is explicitly linked to the Exodus liberation by means of the "remembrance clause": "You shall remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out thence with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore, the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath" (Deut 5:15).
The connection between the Sabbath and the Exodus deliverance may explain why the Sabbath became ideologically connected with the Passover, the annual celebration of the deliverance from Egypt.25 In a sense, the Sabbath came to be viewed as a "little Passover" in the same way as many Christians have come to view their weekly Sunday as a "little Easter."
The Sabbath was a real liberator of the Hebrew society by providing a release from the hardship of life and social inequalities, not only every seventh day but also every seventh year, on the sabbatical year (Lev 25:8), and every "seven sabbaths of years," on the jubilee year (Lev 25:8). At these annual institutions, the Sabbath truly became the liberator of the oppressed in Hebrew society. The land was to lie fallow to provide free produce for the dispossessed and animals. The slaves were emancipated and the debts owed by fellow citizens were remitted. Though seldom observed, these annual Sabbaths served to announce the future liberation and redemption to be brought about by the Messiah. One reason for the Messianic function of the Sabbath years is found in three significant features they contained.
First, the annual Sabbaths promised release from personal debts and slavery. Such a release provided an effective imagery to typify the expected Messianic deliverance (Is 61:1-3, 7; 40:2).26 In his dissertation on the jubilary theology of the Gospel of Luke, Robert Sloan shows how the New Testament concept of forgiveness ("aphesis") is derived largely from the release from financial indebtedness and social injustices of the annual Sabbaths.27 These are referred to as "the release," "the Lord's release," and "the year of release" (Deut 15:1,2,9; 31:10; Lev 25:10).
In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), the Hebrew term for "release" (deror), is translated as aphesis-"release," which is the New Testament word for "forgiveness." Thus, the Lord's Prayer's phrase "forgive us our debts" (Matt 6:12) derives from the release from financial indebtedness of the annual Sabbaths. The sabbatical release from financial indebtedness and social injustices came to be viewed as the prefiguration of the future Messianic release from the moral indebtedness of sin.
Isaiah 61:1-3 employs the imagery of the sabbatical release to describe the mission of the Messiah who would bring jubilary amnesty and release from captivity. Christ, as we shall see, utilized this very passage to announce and explain the nature of His redemptive mission.
A second Messianic feature of the Sabbath years is the trumpet blast by means of a ram's horn (yobel-from which derives the term "jubilee") which ushered in the Sabbath years.28 The imagery of the Jubilee's trumpet blast is used in the Old Testament to describe the Messianic ingathering of the exiles (Is 27:13; cf. Zech 9:9-14) and in the New Testament to announce the return of Christ (1 Cor 15:52; 1 Thess 4:16; Matt 24:31).
A third Messianic feature of the Sabbath years is the date of the tenth day of the seventh month (Atonement Day) on which the ram's horn was blown to inaugurate the year of jubilee (Lev 25:9). It was the cleansing and new moral beginning offered by God to the people on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:13-19) which inaugurated the sabbatical release of the Jubilee year.
The connection between the Day of Atonement and the Jubilee year was noticed by rabbis who said: "The Lord would forgive Israel's debt on the seventh month, which is Tishri, at the blast of the shofar, and just as the Holy One blessed be He has had mercy on Israel in this age at the blast of the shofar, also in the future I will have mercy on you through the shofar and bring your redeemed ones near."29
Sabbatical Structure of Time. The unique Messianic features of the Sabbath years apparently inspired the use of the sabbatical structure of time used to measure the waiting time to the Messianic redemption. Some scholars call this phenomenon "sabbatical Messianism"30 or "chronomessianism."31
The classical place of sabbatical Messianism is found in Daniel 9 where two sabbatical periods are given. The first refers to the 70 years of Jeremiah's prophecy (Jer 29:10) regarding the length of the exile before the national restoration of the Jews (Dan 9:3-19) and consists of 10 sabbatical years (10 x 7). The second period is of "seventy weeks (shabuim)"-technically "seventy sabbatical cycles"-which would lead to Messianic redemption (Dan 9:24-27). This sabbatical Messianism is found in later Jewish literature such as The Book of Jubilees (1:29) and a fragmentary text discovered in 1956 in Qumran Cave II (known as 11Q Melchizedek).32 Other examples are present in rabbinic tradition. For example, the Talmud says: "Elijah said to Rab Judah . . . 'The world shall exist not less than eighty-five jubilees, and in the last jubilee the son of David will come.'"33
Conclusion. This brief survey of Old Testament Sabbath themes shows that in Old Testament times the weekly and annual Sabbaths served not only to provide physical rest and liberation from social injustices but also to epitomize and nourish the hope of future Messianic redemption.
Rabbi Heschel captures vividly the Old Testament messianic function of the Sabbath in this way: "Zion is in ruins, Jerusalem lies in the dust. All week there is only hope of redemption. But when the Sabbath is entering the world, man is touched by a moment of actual redemption; as if for a moment the spirit of the Messiah moved over the face of the earth."34 The sabbatical typologies of messianic redemption we have found in the Old Testament help us to appreciate the relationship between the Sabbath and the Savior in the New Testament.
Chapter 3, Part 2b
Chapter 4, Part 2a
Notes to Chapter 4, Part 1
Written by: Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University