This past week I happened to stumble upon a site that had a 20-question quiz, which if you took it would tell you what organized religious organization or faith you most closely line up with. Each question asked something related to God, the afterlife, human nature, or a contemporary issue (like abortion), and each question asked you to rate how important this issue was to you. In the end it gave you a list of religions or religious organizations and a percentage of how closely you are aligned with the central beliefs of that religion. I fully expected to fall into a Southern Baptist-related category, but I was very surprised to find out that it aligned me 100% with Seventh Day Adventists. Of course, second on that list was Conservative Protestant (which is really my #1…but still). This was quite surprising to me, mainly since I know very little about Seventh Day Adventists or what they believe. The only thing I can claim to know about them is that they go to church on Saturdays instead of Sundays.
Now, I’ll tell you first and foremost that I am not looking to change over to the Seventh Day Adventist church…not because I think there is something wrong with it (I don’t know enough about it to say), but because I am sure enough in my beliefs and understand what Southern Baptists believe enough to know that this is where I belong. That’s not to say that Southern Baptists have everything right – only that I feel my beliefs line up most closely with theirs.
The reason I tell you about this experience of mine is that I happened to read a short devotional this morning that discussed the Sabbath, and I quickly remembered my quiz results. It caused me to give some thought on what what day should really be considered the Sabbath.
The Sabbath to the Jews – Saturday
Traditional Jewish culture practices a weekly day of rest, and observe that day from sundown on Friday until the appearance of 3 stars in the sky on Saturday night. The rules surrounding the Jewish Sabbath day are outlined in the Talmud, which is the collection of Jewish oral traditions passed down over the centuries. The command to practice the Sabbath, though, appears in the Ten Commandments of the Jewish Bible (the Tanakh), where Moses wrote God’s command to “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.”
The Sabbath to (Most) Christians – Sunday
The word Sabbath is Hebrew, meaning “rest,” and it has no inherent meaning that shows that it is intended to be practiced on one day or another. Jewish tradition followed God’s lead, and practiced the Sabbath on the last day of their week, just as God rested on the 7th day after His creative works at the beginning of time. When Jesus died on the cross and rose again on the 3rd day, the day of His resurrection was the first day of the week – a Sunday. After this, the Apostles kept the first day of the week to be a holy day, and they called it the “Lord’s Day.” Most likely, many early Jewish believers practiced both the Jewish Sabbath on Saturday, then participated in worship activities on Sunday in keeping with the Lord’s Day tradition. Before long, though, most of the Christian church practiced the Sabbath day on Sunday only (as early as 74 A.D.), and that tradition has followed ever since.
The True Sabbath – Today
In Hebrews 4, the writer talks about the Sabbath, and compares it to time when Israel had been rescued out of Egypt by God and were being led to enter the promised land (Canaan). Verses 1-11 says:
Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed. Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ” And yet his works have been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “On the seventh day God rested from all his works.” And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.” Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience, God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.
In the same way that God had prepared a rest for the Israelites in the promised land, God has prepared a rest for us as Christians. The writer of Hebrews says “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.” This is the summary of the entire message – the Christian life is the fulfillment of the Sabbath. God rested on the 7th day because His work was complete. In the same way, we can now rest because God’s work in us is now complete (that is, Jesus’ work of salvation for us).
So what day is the Sabbath for the Christian? Is it Saturday or Sunday? Actually, neither. As my devotional put it:
The Sabbath day for the Christian is “Today.” The promise of “entering into his rest” is open to you every day. Of course, we set aside a day each week to meet together as Christians. For most Christians, this is Sunday. But never lose sight of the fact that, for the Christian, the spiritual significance of the Sabbath rest is to be fulfilled each and every day.