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Understanding the Sabbath (Part 4): Sabbath for Man

Understanding the Sabbath (Part 4)

Sabbath For Man

The Sabbath tradition continued, remaining prevalent even until the days of Jesus. Early in Jesus’s ministry, he was challenged by the Pharisees for plucking heads of grain on a Sabbath. Jesus responded to their claims by reminding the Pharisees of King David from the Old Testament. David entered the house of God and ate the bread that was not lawful for anyone but the priests to eat, along with those who were with him. Jesus concluded this interaction with the Pharisees by proclaiming that, “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).

In the creation account of Genesis, God refrained from working on the seventh day. God calls man to emulate this pattern. However, as Jesus and David taught us through Scripture, just because we are called to refrain from working on the Sabbath, does not prevent us from doing activity on the Sabbath. Jesus and David were both providing food for the men that followed them, allowing the men to be comfortable through the Lord’s provision and not suffer from the formality of the law.

Early Christians, as well as the New Testament authors began picking up on this idea that the Sabbath rest means more than just a routine ritual. The Jewish audience would have been aware of how the Old Testament interprets the significance of Sabbath in regard to Israel. “Through Exodus 31:12-17, it is affirmed that keeping Sabbath, that is, breaking with the world of frantic self-securing, is a way to know God and his commitment to his world. The rest of God is an invitation to form a new kind of human community” (Brueggemann, Interpretation – Genesis, p. 36). The Sabbath rest that is now open to us has more significance than just entrance into the land of Canaan (Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 95).

An eternal rest is one of the more common early interpretations of the significance of Genesis 2, but it differs from another popular interpretation from the early Church. F. F. Bruce acknowledged the defense of this view on the Sabbath rest, but was not satisfied with affirming this view. An alternate view mentioned by Bruce as common to the early church interprets Genesis 2:2 as a “type of the seventh age of righteousness which is to follow six ages of sin’s domination” (Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 74-75.)

According to Alan Ross, “salvation, to the writer of Hebrews, is the new beginning of the theocratic rest begun in the creation” (Ross, Creation & Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis, p. 114). Wiersbe interprets the first Christians interpretation of the first day as “the Lord’s day” which should not be confused as a “Christian Sabbath” since these signify two separate ideas in the plan of salvation. Brueggemann considers this rest, “the freedom and well-being of a new kind of history.” The Sabbath is also, “a disciplined reminder of how creation is intended” (Brueggemann, Interpretation – Genesis, p. 36.)

In Colossians, Paul writes about the preeminence of Christ and explains that by him “all things were created…through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16). A ritual ever so tied to the customs and laws of Jewish tradition, does not fit with the New Covenant. In remembrance of the resurrection, the church began worshiping on the first day of the week (MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary, p. 12).

The Sabbath rest in Genesis 2 is about the rest of God. Since man is made in the image of God, the rest of God is also a promise rest for humankind. Hebrews 4 provides a culmination of God’s rest from Genesis, along with Israel’s rest to teach about a spiritual rest that believers have through salvation in Jesus Christ. With faith in Christ, man becomes a new creation and given rest. Matthew 11:28-30 states, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

The Sabbath is an outward expression of exemplifying a “sociological expression of a new humanity willed by God” (Brueggemann, Interpretation – Genesis, p. 35-36). Brueggemann identifies the Sabbath as a day of equality in society as all will rest equally. This type of rest has not yet been fully experienced, but keeping the Sabbath rest has provided an example to enjoy in anticipation of when God’s Sabbath will be fully established.

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