THE SABBATH UNDER CROSSFIRE
by Samuele Bacchiocchi PhD
Continued from previous page:
The Sabbath and the New Covenant
This is indeed what we intend to do now by examining the
text in the light of its immediate and larger contexts. The
interpretation given by the WCG to the Sabbath in Hebrews can be
summarized in a simple syllogism.
Christ made the Old Covenant obsolete.
The Sabbath was part of the Old Covenant.
Therefore, the literal observance of the Sabbath is obsolete. 38
The WCG interprets the "Sabbathkeeping--sabbatismos--that
remains for the people of God" (Heb 4:9) as a daily experience of
spiritual salvation rest, not the keeping of the seventh-day
Sabbath. "The spiritual rest of salvation into which God's people
are entering is a sabbatismos-'a Sabbathkeeping.' . . . In
summary, the verses in question do not exhort us to keep the Old
Covenant Sabbath, but they do admonish us to enter the spiritual
'rest' of God by having faith in Christ." 39 The evaluation of
the WCG interpretation of the Sabbath in Hebrews 4:9 is given in
the context of the analysis of Ratzlaff's interpretation, since
the two are similar.
Ratzlaff' s Interpretation of Hebrews 4:9.
Like the WCG, Ratzlaff attaches great importance to the
teachings of the book of Hebrews regarding the covenants and the
Sabbath. His reason is clearly stated: "The contextual teaching
of this book deals with the very point of our study: how
Christians were to relate to the Old Covenant Law. Therefore, we
should accept the following statements as having the highest
teaching authority." 40
Ratzlaff's argument is essentially identical to that of the
WCG. He argues that the Sabbath was part of the Old Covenant Law
which became obsolete and was done away with the coming of
Christ. He states his view clearly in commenting on Hebrews 9:1:
"Now even the first covenant had regulations of divine worship
(Greek word is service) (Heb 9:1). It is unquestionably clear
that the Sabbath was one of those regulations of divine worship
or service (Lev 23).... Let me clarify by reviewing what is said
here... First, our author calls the Sinaitic Covenant the 'first
covenant' (called old in other places). Then he says that it had
regulations for divine worship. He goes on to list the things
included in this 'first covenant,' including 'the tables of the
covenant'--a clear reference to the Ten Commandments. These are
the facts of Scripture in their contextual setting. Thus the
'tables of the covenant,' which include the Sabbath commandment,
and the `Laws for divine worship,' which include the Sabbath, are
old and ready to disappear." 41
Discontinuity in Hebrews.
Ratzlaff is right in pointing out the discontinuity taught
by Hebrews between the Old and New Covenant as far as the
Levitical services are concerned. These were brought to an end by
Christ's coming. But he is wrong in applying such a discontinuity
to the moral principles of the Ten Commandments, especially the
Sabbath. There is no question that the author of Hebrews
emphasizes the discontinuity brought about by the coming of
Christ when he says that "if perfection had been attainable
through the Levitical priesthood" (Heb 7:11), there would have
been no need for Christ to come. But because the priests, the
sanctuary, and its services were "symbolic" (Heb 9:9; 8:5), they
could not in themselves "perfect the conscience of the
worshipper" (Heb 9:9). Consequently, it was necessary for Christ
to come "once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by
the sacrifice of himself" (Heb 9:26). The effect of Christ's
coming, as Ratzlaff notes, is described as "setting aside" (Heb
7:18), making "obsolete" (Heb 8:13), "abolishing" (Heb 10:9) all
the Levitical services associated with the sanctuary.
The problem is that Ratzlaff interprets these affirmations
as indicating the abrogation of all the Old Testament laws,
including the Sabbath. Such an interpretation ignores that the
statements in question are found in chapters 7 to 10 which deal
with the Levitical, sacrificial regulations. In these chapters,
the author uses the terms "Law" (Heb 10:1) and "covenant" (Heb
8:7, 8,13) specifically with reference to the Levitical
priesthood and services. It is in this context--that is, as they
relate to the Levitical ministry--that they are declared
"abolished" (Heb 10:9). But this declaration can hardly be taken
as a blanket statement for the abrogation of the Law, in general.
Walter Kaiser emphasizes this point: "The writer to the Hebrews
clearly shows that what he saw as being abrogated from the first
covenant were the ceremonies and rituals - the very items that
had a built-in warning from God to Moses from the first day they
were revealed to him. Had not God warned Moses that what he gave
him in Exodus 25-40 and Leviticus 1-27 was according to the
'pattern' he had shown him on the mountain (e.g., Ex 25:40)? This
meant that the real remained somewhere else (presumably in
heaven) while Moses instituted a 'model,' 'shadow,' or
'imitation' of what is real until reality came! The net result
cannot be that for the writer of Hebrews, the whole Old Covenant
or the whole Torah had been superseded." 42
Ratzlaff ignores the fact that the reference to "the tables
of the covenant" in Hebrews 9:4 is found in the context of the
description of the contents of the ark of the covenant, which
included "the tables of the covenant." The latter are mentioned
as part of the furniture of the earthly sanctuary whose
typological function terminated with Christ's death on the Cross.
However, the fact that the services of the earthly sanctuary
terminated at the Cross does not mean, as Ratzlaff claims, that
the Ten Commandments also came to an end simply because they were
located inside the ark.
Continuity of the Ten Commandments in the New Covenant.
Hebrews teaches us that the earthly sanctuary was superseded
by the heavenly sanctuary where Christ "appears in the presence
of God on our behalf" (Heb 9:24). When John saw in vision the
heavenly Temple, he saw within the Temple "the ark of the
covenant" which contains the Ten Commandments (Rev 11:19). Why
was John shown the ark of the covenant within the heavenly
temple? The answer is simple. The ark of the covenant represents
the throne of God that rests on justice (the Ten Commandments)
and mercy (the mercy seat).
If Ratzlaff's argument is correct that the Ten Commandments
terminated at the Cross because they were part of the furnishings
of the sanctuary, then why was John shown the ark of the covenant
which contains the Ten Commandments in the heavenly Temple? Does
not the vision of the ark of the covenant in the heavenly
sanctuary where Christ ministers on our behalf provide a
compelling proof that the principles of the Ten Commandments are
still the foundation of God's government?
It is unfortunate that in his concern to argue for the
discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants, Ratzlaff ignores
the clear continuity between the two. The continuity is expressed
in a variety of ways. There is continuity in the revelation which
the same God "spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets" and
now "in these last days has spoken to us by a Son" (Heb 1:1-2).
There is continuity in the faithfulness and accomplishments of
Moses and Christ (Heb 3:2-6). There is continuity in the
redemptive ministry offered typologically in the earthly
sanctuary by priests and realistically in the heavenly sanctuary
by Christ Himself (Heb 7-10). There is continuity in faith and
hope as New Testament believers share in the faith and promises
of the Old Testament worthies (Heb 11-12). More specifically,
there is continuity in the "Sabbathkeeping--sabbatismos" which
"remains (apoleipetai) for the people of God" (Heb 4:9). The verb
"remains--apoleipetai" literally means "has been left behind."
Literally translated, verse 9 reads: "So then a Sabbath-keeping
has been left behind for the people of God." The permanence of
the Sabbath is also implied in the exhortation to "strive to
enter that rest" (Heb 4:11). The fact that one must make efforts
"to enter that rest" implies that the "rest" experience of the
Sabbath also has a future realization and, consequently, cannot
have terminated with the coming of Christ.
It is noteworthy that while the author declares the
Levitical priesthood and services as "abolished" (Heb 10:9),
"obsolete," and "ready to vanish away" (Heb 8:13), he explicitly
teaches that a "Sabbathkeeping has been left behind for the
people of God" (Heb 4:9).
Ratzlaff's Objections to Literal Sabbathkeeping.
Ratzlaff rejects the interpretation of "sabbatismos" as
literal Sabbathkeeping because it does not fit his "New Covenant"
theology. He goes as far as saying that sabbatismos is a special
term coined by the author of Hebrews to emphasize the uniqueness
of the salvation rest of the New Covenant. "The writer of Hebrews
characterizes this rest as a 'Sabbath rest' by using a word which
is unique to Scripture. I believe he did this to give it special
meaning just as we do when we put quotation marks around a word
as I have done with the term 'God's rest.' As pointed out above,
the author is showing how much better the new covenant is over
the old. I believe the truth he is trying to convey is that the
`'abbath' (sabbatismos, Gr) of the New Covenant is better than
the Sabbath (sabbaton, Gr) of the Old Covenant." 43
The truth of the matter is that the author of Hebrews did
not have to invent a new word or use it with a unique meaning
because the term sabbatismos already existed and was used both by
pagans and Christians as a technical term for Sabbathkeeping.
Examples can be found in the writings of Plutarch, Justin,
Epiphanius, the Apostolic Constitutions, and the Martyrdom of
Peter and Paul. 44 The one who is inventing a new meaning for
sabbatismos is not the author of Hebrews but Dale Ratzlaff
himself, in order to support his unbiblical "New Covenant"
Professor Andrew Lincoln, one of the contributors to the
scholarly symposium "From Sabbath to the Lord's Day," a major
source used by Ratzlaff, acknowledges that in each of the above
instances "the term denotes the observance or celebration of the
Sabbath. This usage corresponds to the Septuagint usage of the
cognate verb sabbatizo (cf. Ex 16:23; Lev 23:32; 26:34f.; 2 Chron
36:21) which also has reference to Sabbath observance. Thus the
writer to the Hebrews is saying that since the time of Joshua an
observance of Sabbath rest has been outstanding." 45
Lincoln is not a Sabbatarian but a Sundaykeeping scholar who
deals in a responsible way with the linguistic usage of
sabbatismos. Unfortunately, he chooses to interpret spiritually
the ceasing from one's works on the Sabbath (Heb 4:10) as
referring to the spiritual cessation from sin rather than to the
physical cessation from work. 46 This interpretation, as we see
below, is discredited by the comparison the author of Hebrews
makes between the divine and human cessation from "works."
Ratzlaff's Five Reasons Against Literal Sabbathkeeping.
Ratzlaff submits five reasons to support his contention that
sabbatismos "cannot be the seventh-day Sabbath of the fourth
The first and second reasons are essentially the same.
Ratzlaff argues that since Hebrews states that the Israelites at
the time of Joshua and, later, the time of David "did not enter
the rest of God," though they were observing the Sabbath, then,
the sabbatismos has nothing to do with literal Sabbathkeeping. 48
This conclusion ignores the three levels of meaning that the
author of Hebrews attaches to the Sabbath rest as representing
(1) the physical rest of the seventh day, (2) the national rest
in the land of Canaan, and (3) the spiritual (messianic) rest in
God. The argument of Hebrews is that though the Israelites did
enter into the land of rest under Joshua (Heb 4:8), because of
unbelief they did not experience the spiritual dimension of
Sabbathkeeping as an invitation to enter God's rest (Heb 4:2,6).
This was true even after the occupation of the land because, at
the time of David, God renewed the invitation to enter into His
rest (Heb 4:7). The fact that the spiritual dimension of the
Sabbath rest was not experienced by the Israelites as a people
indicates to the author that "a sabbatismos-sabbathkeeping has
been left behind for the people of God" (Heb 4:9). It is evident
that a proper understanding of the passage indicates that the
sabbatismos-sabbathkeeping that remains is a literal observance
of the day which entails a spiritual experience. The physical act
of rest represents a faith response to God.
The third reason given by Ratzlaff is his assumption that
"the concept of 'believing' is never associated with keeping the
seventh-day Sabbath in the old covenant." 49 This assumption is
negated by the fact that Sabbath is given as the sign "that you
may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you" (Ex 31:13). Is it
possible for anyone to experience God's sanctifying presence and
power on the Sabbath without a "belief" or "faith response" to
God? Furthermore, does not the prophet Isaiah summon the people
to honor the Sabbath by "taking delight in the Lord" (Is 58:14)?
Can one delight in the Lord on the Sabbath without believing in
The fourth reason advanced by Ratzlaff relates to the verb
"has rested" in Hebrews 4:10 which is past tense (aorist tense in
Greek). To him the past tense indicates "that the believer who
rests from his works did so at one point in time in the past." 50
In other words the past tense "has rested" suggests not a weekly
cessation from work on the Sabbath but a rest of grace already
accomplished or experienced in the past.
This interpretation ignores two important points. First, the
verb "has rested-katepausen" is past simply because it depends
upon the previous verb "eiselthon-he that entered," which is also
past. The Greek construction (aorist participle) makes it clear
that some have already entered into God's rest. It is evident
that he who "entered" into God's rest in the past has also
"rested from his works" in the past.
Second, the text makes a simple comparison between the
divine and the human cessation from "works." In the RSV the text
reads: "For whoever enters God's rest also ceases from his labors
as God did from his" (Heb 4:10). The point of the analogy is
simply that as God ceased from His work on the seventh day in
order to rest, so believers who cease from their work on the
Sabbath enter into God's rest. If the verb "has rested" referred
to the "rest of grace," as Ratzlaff claims, then by virtue of the
analogy God also has experienced "the rest of grace," an obvious
absurdity. All of this shows that the analogy contains a simple
statement of the nature of Sabbathkeeping which essentially
involves cessation from work in order to enter God's rest by
allowing Him to work in us more fully and freely.
The reason both verbs "entered-eiselthon" and "rested-
katepausen" are past tense (aorist) may be because the author
wishes to emphasize that the Sabbathkeeping that has been left
behind for the people of God has both a past and present
dimension. In the past, it has been experienced by those who have
entered into God's rest by resting from their work (Heb 4:10). In
the present, we must "strive to enter that rest" (Heb 4:11) by
being obedient. Both the RSV and the NIV render the two verbs in
the present ("enters-ceases") because the context underlines the
present and timeless quality of the Sabbath rest (Heb 4:1,3,6)
Is the Sabbath Rest a Daily Rest of Grace?
The fifth reason given by Ratzlaff for negating the literal
meaning of "sabbatismos-Sabbathkeeping" in Hebrews 4:9 is his
contention that, since "the promise of entering God's rest is
good 'today,'" the author of Hebrews is not thinking of the
seventh day Sabbath rest but of the "'rest' of grace" experienced
by believers everyday. 51 "The writer of Hebrews stresses the
word 'today' on several occasions. In the New Covenant, one can
enter into God's rest 'today.'" He does not have to wait until
the end of the week. ... The New Covenant believer is to rejoice
into God's rest continually." 52
It amazes me how Ratzlaff can misconstrue the use of "today"
to defend his abrogation view of the Sabbath. The function of the
adverb "today-semeron" is not to teach a continuous Sabbath rest
of grace that replaces literal Sabbathkeeping; it is to show that
Sabbathkeeping as an experience of rest in God was not
experienced by the Israelites as a people because of their
unbelief (Heb 4:6). To prove this fact, the author of Hebrews
quotes Psalm 95:7 where God invites the people to respond to Him,
saying: "Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your
hearts" (Heb. 4:7, cf. Ps. 95:7).
The "today" simply serves to show that the spiritual
dimension of the Sabbath as rest in God still remains because God
renewed the invitation at the time of David. To argue that
"today" means that "New Covenant" Christians observe the Sabbath
every day by living in God's rest is to ignore also the
historical context - namely, that the "today" was spoken by God
at the time of David. If Ratzlaff's interpretation of "today"
were correct, then already, at the time of David, God had
replaced the literal observance of the Sabbath with a spiritual
experience of rest in Him. Such an absurd conclusion can be
reached only by reading into the text gratuitous assumptions.
Three Levels of Interpretation of the Sabbath Rest in the Old
To understand better the preceding discussion about the
Sabbath rest in Hebrews 3 and 4, it is important to note three
levels of meaning attached to the Sabbath rest in the Old
Testament and in Jewish literature. In the Old Testament, we find
that the Sabbath rest refers first of all to the physical
cessation from work on the seventh day (Ex 20:10; 23:12; 31:14;
34:21). Second, the Sabbath rest served to epitomize the national
aspiration for a peaceful life in a land at 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; cf. l Kings 8:5), 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).
The fact that the Sabbath rest as a political aspiration for
national peace and prosperity remained largely unfulfilled
apparently inspired the third interpretation of the Sabbath rest
- namely, the symbol of the Messianic age, often known as the
"end of days" or the "world to come." Theodore Friedman notes,
for example, that "two of the three passages in which Isaiah
refers to the Sabbath are linked by the prophet with the end of
days (Is 56:4-7; 58:13, 14; 66:22-24) .... It is no mere
coincidence that Isaiah employs the words 'delight' (oneg) and
'honor' (kavod) in his descriptions of both the Sabbath and the
end of days (Is 58:13--'And you shall call the Sabbath a delight
... and honor it'; Is 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." 53
Later rabbinic and apocalyptic literature provide more
explicit examples of the Messianic/eschatological interpretation
of the Sabbath. For example, the Babylonian Talmud says: "Our
Rabbis taught that at the conclusion of the septennate the son of
David will come. R. Joseph demurred: But so many Sabbaths have
passed, yet has he not come!" 54 In the apocalyptic work known
as "The Book of Adam and Eve" (about first century A.D.), the
archangel Michael admonishes Seth, saying: "Man of God, mourn not
for thy dead more than six days, for on the seventh day is a sign
of the resurrection and the rest of the age to come." 55
How did the Sabbath come to be regarded as the symbol of the
world to come? Apparently the harsh experiences of the desert
wandering, first, and of the exile, later, inspired the people to
view the Edenic Sabbath as the paradigm of the future Messianic
age. In fact, the Messianic age is characterized by material
abundance (Am 9:13-14; Joel 4:19; Is 30:23-25; Jer 31:12), social
justice (Is 61:1-9), harmony between persons and animals (Hos
2:20; Is 65:25; 11:6), extraordinary longevity (Is 65:20; Zech
8:4), refulgent light (Is 30:26; Zech 14:6,7), and the absence of
death and sorrow (Is 25:8).
This brief survey indicates that both in the Old Testament
and in later Jewish literature, the weekly experience of the
Sabbath rest served not only to express the national aspirations
for a peaceful life in the land of Canaan (which remained largely
unfulfilled), but also to nourish the hope of the future
Messianic age which came to be viewed as "wholly sabbath and
Three Levels of Interpretation of the Sabbath Rest in Hebrews.
The existence in Old Testament times of three levels of
interpretation of the Sabbath rest as a personal, national, and
Messianic reality provides the basis for understanding these
three meanings in Hebrews 3 and 4. By welding two texts together-
-namely, Psalm 95:11 and Genesis 2:2-the writer presents three
different levels of meaning of the Sabbath rest. At the first
level, the Sabbath rest points to God's creation rest, when "his
works were finished from the foundation of the world" (Heb 4:3).
This meaning is established by quoting Genesis 2:2.
At the second level, the Sabbath rest symbolizes the promise
of entry into the land of Canaan, which the wilderness generation
"failed to enter" (Heb 4:6; cf. 3:16-19), but which was realized
later when the Israelites under Joshua did enter the land of rest
At the third and most important level, the Sabbath rest
prefigures the rest of redemption which has dawned and is made
available to God's people through Christ.
How does the author establish this last meaning?
By drawing a remarkable conclusion from Psalm 95:7,11 which
he quotes several times (Heb 4:3,5,7). In Psalm 95, God invites
the Israelites to enter into His rest which was denied to the
rebellious wilderness generation (Heb 4:7-11). The fact that God
should renew "again" the promise of His rest long after the
actual entrance into the earthly Canaan--namely, at the time of
David by saying "today" (Heb 4:7)--is interpreted by the author
of Hebrews to mean two things: first, that God's Sabbath rest was
not exhausted when the Israelites under Joshua found a resting
place in the land, but that it still "remains for the people of
God" (4:9); and second, that such rest has dawned with the coming
of Christ (Heb 4:3,7).
The phrase "Today, when you hear his voice" (Heb 4:7) has a
clear reference to Christ. The readers had heard God's voice in
the "last days" (Heb 1:2) as it spoke through Christ and had
received the promise of the Sabbath rest. In the light of the
Christ event, then, ceasing from one's labor on the Sabbath (Heb
4:10) signifies both a present experience of redemption (Heb 4:3)
and a hope of future fellowship with God (Heb 4:11). For the
author of Hebrews, as Gerhard von Rad correctly points out, "the
whole purpose of creation and the whole purpose of redemption are
reunited" in the fulfillment of God's original Sabbath rests 57
The Nature of the Sabbath Rest in Hebrews.
What is the nature of the "Sabbath rest" that is still
outstanding for God's people (Heb 4:9)? Is the writer thinking of
a literal or spiritual type of Sabbathkeeping? The answer is
both. The author presupposes the literal observance of the
Sabbath to which he gives a deeper meaning--namely, a faith
response to God. Support for a literal understanding of
Sabbathkeeping is provided by the historical usage of the term
"sabbatismos-sabbathkeeping" in verse 9 and by the description of
Sabbathkeeping as cessation from work given in verse 10: "For
whoever enters God's rest also ceases from his labors as God did
We noted earlier that sabbatismos is used in both pagan and
Christian literature to denote the literal observance of the
Sabbath. Consequently, by the use of this term, the writer of
Hebrews is simply saying that "a Sabbathkeeping has been left
behind for the people of God." The probative value of this text
is enhanced by the fact that the writer is not arguing for the
permanence of Sabbathkeeping; he takes it for granted.
The literal nature of Sabbathkeeping is indicated also by
the following verse which speaks of the cessation from work as
representing entering into God's rest. "For whoever enters God's
rest also ceases from his labors as God did from his" (Heb 4:10).
The majority of commentators interpret the cessation from work of
Hebrews 4:10 in a figurative sense as "abstention from servile
work," meaning sinful activities. Thus, Christian Sabbathkeeping
means not the interruption of daily work on the seventh day, but
the abstention from sinful acts at all times. In other words,
"New Covenant" believers experience the Sabbath rest not as a
physical cessation from work on the seventh day but as a
spiritual salvation rest every day. As Ratzlaff puts it, "The New
Covenant believer is to rejoice in God's rest continually." 58
To support this view, appeal is made to the reference in
Hebrews to "dead works" (Heb 6:1; 9:14). Such a concept, however,
cannot be read back into Hebrews 4:10 where a comparison is made
between the divine and the human cessation from "works." It is
absurd to think that God ceased from "sinful deeds." The point of
the analogy is simply that as God ceased on the seventh day from
His creation work, so believers are to cease on the same day from
their labors. This is a simple statement of the nature of
Sabbathkeeping which essentially involves cessation from works.
The Meaning of Sabbathkeeping in Hebrews.
The concern of the author of Hebrews, however, is not merely
to encourage his readers to interrupt their secular activities on
the Sabbath, but rather to help them understand the deeper
significance of the act of resting for God on the Sabbath. The
recipients of the book are designated as "Hebrews" presumably
because of their tendency to adopt Jewish liturgical customs as a
means to gain access to God. This is indicated by the appeal in
chapters 7 to 10 to discourage any participation in the Temple's
sacrificial services. Thus, these Hebrew-minded Christians did
not need to be reminded of the physical-cessation aspect of
Sabbathkeeping. This aspect yields only a negative idea of rest,
one which only would have served to encourage existing Judaizing
tendencies. What they needed, instead, was to understand the
meaning of the act of resting on the Sabbath, especially in the
light of the coming of Christ.
This deeper meaning can be seen in the antithesis the author
makes between those who failed to enter into God's rest because
of "unbelief-apeitheias" (Heb 4:6,11), that is, faithlessness
which results in disobedience, and those who enter it by "faith
--pistei" (Heb 4:2,3), that is, faithfulness that results in
Chapter 4 covers more fully the meaning of Sabbathkeeping as
a faith response to God in conjunction with the relationship
between the Savior and the Sabbath. There we see that Hebrews'
deeper meaning of Sabbathkeeping reflects to a large extent the
redemptive understanding of the day we find in the Gospels.
Christ's offer of His "rest" (Matt 11:28) represents the core of
the "Sabbath rest" available "today" to God's people (Heb 4:7,
The act of resting on the Sabbath for the author of Hebrews
is not merely a routine ritual (cf."sacrifice"--Matt 12:7) but
rather a faith response to God. Such a response entails not the
hardening of one's heart (Heb 4:7) but being receptive to "hear
his voice" (Heb 4:7). It means experiencing God's salvation rest,
not by works but by faith - not by doing but by being saved
through faith (Heb 4:2,3,11). On the Sabbath, as John Calvin
aptly expresses it, believers are "to cease from their work to
allow God to work in them." 59
This expanded interpretation of Sabbathkeeping in the light
of the Christ event was apparently designed to wean Christians
away from a too materialistic understanding of its observance. To
achieve this objective, the author, on the one hand, reassures
his readers of the permanence of the blessings contemplated by
Sabbathkeeping and, on the other hand, explains that such a
blessing can be received only by experiencing the Sabbath as a
faith response to God.
It is evident that for the author of Hebrews the
Sabbathkeeping that remains for "New Covenant" Christians is not
only a physical experience of cessation from work on the seventh
day but also a faith response, a yes "today" response to God.
Karl Barth puts it eloquently. The act of resting on Sabbath is
an act of resignation to our human efforts to achieve salvation
in order "to allow the omnipotent grace of God to have the first
and last word at every point." 60
The preceding study of the Sabbath in its relationship to
the New Covenant has shown that there is an organic unity between
the Old and New Covenants--a unity which is reflected in the
continuity of the Sabbath. Both covenants are part of the
everlasting covenant (Heb 13:20), that is, of God's commitment to
save penitent sinners. In both covenants, God invites His people
to accept the gracious provision of salvation by living in
accordance with the moral principles He has revealed. Christ came
not to nullify or modify God's moral Law but to clarify and
reveal its deeper meaning. Christ spent much of His ministry
clarifying how the love principle is embodied in the Ten
Commandments, in general, and in the Sabbath, in particular.
Of all the commandments, the Sabbath offers us the most concrete
opportunity to show our love to God because it invites us to
consecrate our time to Him. Time is the essence of our life. The
way we use our time is indicative of our priorities. A major
reason why the Sabbath has been attacked by many throughout human
history is that sinful human nature is self-centered rather than
God-centered. Most people want to spend their Sabbath time
seeking for personal pleasure or profit rather than for the
presence and peace of God.
New Covenant believers who on the Sabbath stop their work to
allow God to work in them more fully and freely tangibly show
that God really counts in their lives. They make themselves
receptive and responsive to the presence, peace, and rest of God.
At a time when so-called "New Covenant" theology is deceiving
many Christians into believing in the "simpler" and "better"
principle of love, the Sabbath challenges us to offer to God not
just lip-service, but the service of our total being by
consecrating our time and life to Him.
NOTES TO OLD AND NEW COVENANTS
1. Lewis Sperry Chafer, Dispensationalism (Dallas, 1936), p.107.
2. A study paper on "The Sabbath" released by the Worldwide
Church of God on 1995, lists Dale Ratzlaff's book, Sabbath in
Crisis, as one of the major sources used. The other two sources
are the special issue of Verdict (vol. 4), entitled
"Sabbatarianism Reconsidered," published by Robert Brinsmead on
June 4, 1981, and the symposium From Sabbath to the Lord's Day,
and published by Zondervan in 1982.
3. Clay Peck, "New Covenant" Christians (Berthoud, Colorado,
4. Joseph Tkach, Jr., "The New Covenant and the Sabbath," Pastor
General Report (December 21, 1994), pp.8,11.
5. Joseph Tkach, Jr., Pastor General's Report (January 5, 1995),
6. "Covenant in the Bible," a Bible study prepared by the
Worldwide Church of God and posted in their Web page (www.wcg.org
- September 15, 1998), p.3.
7. Ibid., p.4.
8. Joseph Tkach, Jr., (note 4), p.2.
9. Ibid., p.11.
10. Ibid., p.6.
11. Ibid., p.7.
12. "The Sabbath in Acts and the Epistles," a Bible study
prepared by the Worldwide Church of God and posted on their web
page (www.wcg.org, September 1998), p.3.
13. Ibid., pp.3-4.
14. Pierre Grelot and Jean Giblet, "Covenant," Dictionary of
Biblical Theology, ed., by Xavier Leon-Dufour (New York, 1970),
15. George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand
Rapids, Michigan, 1974), p.507.
16. Ibid., p.507.
17. Greg L. Bahnsen, "The Theonomic Reformed Approach to the Law
and Gospel," in The Law, the Gospel, and the Modern Christian
(Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1993), p.97.
18. Dale Ratzlaff, Sabbath in Crisis: Transfer/lModification?
Reformation/Continuation? Fulfilment/Transformation? (Applegate,
California, 1990), p.73.
19. Ibid., p.78, emphasis supplied.
20. Ibid., p.78.
21. Ibid., p.180.
22. Ibid., p.181.
23. Ibid., p.182.
24. Ibid., pp.182,183,185.
25. Ibid., p.185.
26. Ibid., p.74.
27. Ibid., p.73.
28. Ibid., p.185.
29. Ibid., p.207.
30. George Eldon Ladd (note 15), p.128.
31. Walter C. Kaiser, "The Law as God's Gracious Guidance for the
Promotion of Holiness," in The Law, the Gospel, and the Modern
Christian (Grand Rapids, 1993), p.198.
32. Dale Ratzlaff (note 18), p.228.
33. Ibid., p.228.
34. Ibid., p.229.
35. Ibid., p.229.
36. John H. Gerstner, "Law in the NT," International Standard
Bible Encyclopedia, revised edition, (Grand Rapids, 1960), vol 3,
37. "Does Hebews 4:9 Command Us to Keep the Sabbath?" A Bible
study prepared by the Worldwide Church of God and posted on their
Web page (www.wcg.org - September, 1998), p.1.
38. "The New Covenant and the Sabbath," a Bible study prepared by
the Worldwide Church of God and posted on their Web page
(www.wcg.org - September, 1998), pp.9-10.
39. "Does Hebrews 4:9 Command Us to Keep the Sabbath?" (note 37),
40. Dale Ratzlaff (note 18), p.197.
41. Ibid., p.198.
42. Walter C. Kaiser (note 31), p.186.
43. Dale Ratzlaff (note 18), p.246.
44. Plutarch, De Superstitione 3 (Moralia 1660); Justin Martyr,
Dialogue with Trypho 23, 3; Epiphanius, Adversus Haereses 30, 2,
2; Apostolic Constitutions 2,36.
45. Andrew T. Lincoln, "Sabbath, Rest, and Eschatology in the New
Testament," in From Sabbath to the Lord's Day, ed. Donald A.
Carson (Grand Rapids, 1982), p.213.
47. Dale Ratzlaff (note 18), p.243.
48. Ibid., pp.243-244.
49. Ibid., p.244.
52. Ibid., p.247.
53. Theodore Friedman, "The Sabbath: Anticipation of Redemption,"
Judaism 16 (1967), p.445. Friedman notes that "at the end of the
Mishnah Tamid (Rosh Hashanah 31 a) 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.' The Sabbath, the Gemara
asserts, is one-sixtieth of the world to come" (ibid., p.443).
54. Sanhedrin 97a.
55. The Books of Adam and Eve 51:1,2 in R. H. Charles, ed., The
Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament (Oxford, 1913),
vol 2, p.153. Cf. Apocalypsis of Mosis 43:3. A similar view is
found in Genesis Rabbah 17:5: "There are three antitypes: the
antitype of death is sleep, the antitype of prophecy is dream,
the antitype of the age to come is the Sabbath." Cf. Genesis
56. Mishnah Tamid 7:4. The viewing of the Sabbath as the symbol
and anticipation of the Messianic age gave to the celebration of
the weekly Sabbath a note of gladness and hope for the future.
Cf. Genesis Rabbat 17; 44; Baba Berakot 57f. Theodore Friedman
shows how certain Sabbath regulations established by the school
of Shammai were designed to offer a foretaste of the Messianic
age (note 53, pp.447-452).
57. Gerhard von Rad, "There Remains Still a Rest for the People
of God," in The Problem of the Hexateuch and Other Essays (New
York, 1965), p.94-102.
58. Dale Ratzlaff (note 18), p.247.
59. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Grand
Rapids, Michigan, 1965), vol. 2, p.337. Karl Barth keenly
observes that by resting on the Sabbath after the similitude of
God (Heb 4:10), the believer "participates consciously in the
salvation provided by him [God]" (Church Dogmatic [Edinburgh,
1961], vol.3, part 2, p.50).
60. Karl Barth (note 59), p.51.
To be continued
Once more I submit that a small child can understand Hebrews 4.
The "rest" of God is clearly associated with the "seventh day" -
as those words are specifically used, along with God resting from
His works, a clear reference to Genesis 2 and the seventh day
that God sanctified and rested upon, which to Paul the author of
Hebrews, is still in function and using the "present" tense -
there REMAINS (presently) a sabbath-keeing to the people of God,
and he who enters that Sabbath rest has ceased from His labor,
his literal secular work just as God did from His.
We are to labor, put some effort into, entering that rest of God,
lest we also fall after the same example of the Israelite
unbelief, who many times in their history departed from literal
Sabbath keeping to follow the ways and customs of the pagan
nations around them.
A child can see the SEVENTH day was made holy and sanctified from
the beginning of creation week in Genesis 1 and 2. As a child of
6 and 7 years old reading my Bible in a Church of England school
(first half hour of the day was spent reading the Bible) it was
as clear as day to me that the seventh day was set aside,
sanctified and made holy, in Genesis 2. Then as I was taught to
remorize and recite the Ten Commandments of Exodus 20 (full
version), it was as clear as day to me that the FOURTH
commandment talked about this seventh day Sabbath as being made
holy and as meaning we are to remember to keep it holy; that we
are to refrain from our secular work, even our servants and
cattle are to rest from physical labor.
It was clear to me as a young boy that NOT ONE word of the Ten
commandments had EVER been "done away with" - it never ever
entered my head (and it was not taught to me either) that ANY of
the Ten Commandments were not to be observed or were changed in
any way. As a child I can remember thinking that if all nations
and peoples on earth observed the Ten Commandments, what a
WONDERFUL and SAFE and PEACEFUL world we would live in.
It is most shocking and disgussing to me now, to hear/see the
arguments of some who would try and abolish the Ten commandments,
the law that Paul said was HOLY, JUST and GOOD!! The plain truth
is that such people come up with crazy theology to "throw out the
Ten Commandments" BECAUSE they will not submit themselves to
observing the FOURTH commandment, which is as plain as the nose
on their face, telling people to remember to keep holy the
SEVENTH day of the week ... not the 6th day, not the 1st day, not
just any day, BUT THE 7TH DAY!!
Such is the rebellious carnal heart, such is the darkness of the
mind, such is the working of the spirits of darkness that come
with cleaver/twisted sounding theology and appear as angels of
You need to read the Bible as a child would read it. You need to
come to God and Christ as a child, for Jesus said such would be
in the Kingdom, unless you are as such you will not inherit the
Kingdom. And if you see these things, the simple truths of God as
expounded on this Website, then PRAISE THE LORD! For it is as our
Savior said, "I thank you Father, that you have hid these things
from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them unto babes."