The greatest meaning of the word sabbath is that of rest. In creation God worked six days and then rested from His labor on the seventh. This was God’s rest in the original creation. In the greatest sense the sabbath day was always symbolic of a larger understanding. God ceased from all His labor in relation to the first creation, and He rested on the seventh day. But this did not mean that God would begin again His labors on the next day. No. As for the original creation God was done, and He looked at His work and said it was very good. Then He rested from all His work – this had the intention of being eternal.
Man was created in a state of innocence and placed in the garden paradise God had made for him. God surrounded him with nothing but goodness and blessing, and also He would come down in the cool of the evening to visit him. Man had no labor to do. He was given one commandment to obey – a responsibility for certain, obedience from the creature being required by the Creator, but no real labor. The intention was for man to enjoy the goodness and blessing of God eternally. Man in innocence and man in paradise constituted rest or sabbath in God’s first creation – God wasn’t working and neither was man. All was to be sabbath; all was to be paradise and rest. And if the intention was for such a state of things to go on eternally, then sabbath was more than the thought of a single day, both for God and for man.
But soon this rest was ruined by man. His disobedience in the first creation brought in sin and misery. He was no longer innocent but a fallen sinner. He was judged and chased out of the place of rest, the paradise of God. Sabbath was over for man – he was judged, and in his misery he would now labor. In truth, rest was over for God as well (John 5:17). Understanding these truths from scripture, we see that the seventh day, the sabbath day could only be a memorial to what had already passed away in the original creation. As a twenty-four hour period of time it became a temporal blessing for man so that he might find momentary rest from his labors – labors to which he was brought to by the judgment of God concerning his disobedience and rebellion.
Although this day of rest served as a momentary reprieve from human labor, still the greater truth is that sabbath and rest, as they were intended to be in God’s first creation, were ruined by man. It is not possible for man to find rest in creation as it is and as he is. It is not possible for man to rest in sin and misery. And it is not possible for God to rest when man is in this state. The cherubim with the sword was placed to keep man out. Innocence was lost; paradise was lost. Man can never return to either, yet this remained for God to comprehensively prove to man.
The sabbath day under the covenant of law was again symbolic. The law was given to man in Adam (to the nation of Israel representing all mankind, for in fact, it was never given to the Gentiles) when man was a fallen sinner. In the law were commandments by which God tested man’s responsibility as a creature – now in a different state, as a fallen sinner, could the creature obey the Creator? No doubt that under the law the sabbath day represented a hope of man finding rest in God’s original creation. This is seen in many different ways when we consider both the character of man’s fallen state and the character of the religion of Judaism (the law) as given by God – both having intimate ties to God’s first creation now ruined. Adam, the first man, was ruined himself, and had ruined creation and his rest in it by bringing in sin and misery. Now under the law, could man in the flesh find rest, as he was a child of Adam, by doing the works of the law and its fleshly ordinances? Judaism, as the law given by God, certainly is tailored to man in the flesh. But the Jews, in their state, could not obey. The law only brings condemnation and death to man in the flesh, and all under it automatically receive its curse. Under the law man could not gain rest in creation. This God has proven.
Whether memorial or hope, man could never realize sabbath in the first creation. It was the rest of God in creation, but that is now ruined. Subsequently Israel was put under the law to live by the law and to be blessed in creation, as man in the flesh and part of the world. As part of the first creation Israel was given the sabbath as a sign of their covenant with God, much like circumcision was a sign for them. But Israel could not keep the law and creation remained ruined. The sabbath simply remained a day, a shortened period of time, symbolic in its true intention, in which man received a temporal blessing and rest from his works. It kept its much diminished application.
God’s judgment of Adam excluded mankind from rest (sabbath) in the original creation. Man under the law (Judaism) failed in his responsibilities. The law had no power to provide man with rest – only a shadow of it on the seventh day. The Jews failed under the law and a remnant of Judah became captives in Babylon. God tested Israel one more time years after that by sending their Messiah to them. They failed this final testing by crucifying Jesus, the Son of God. At this time God condemns the world and everything associated with it (John 12:31). Man in the flesh, man in Adam, man as associated with the first creation, and certainly this includes Israel – all condemned to death. God had thoroughly tested man in the flesh and proved him depraved. As for our topic, man in Adam being condemned by God would find no rest in this world or creation.
Now God comes in with the cross and the redemptive work of Jesus, the Son of Man. This changes everything. For Christians, for true believers, their redemption takes them out of Adam and places them in a new state in the second Adam, the heavenly Man. The first man was earthly and of the first creation; the second Man is heavenly and of the new creation of God – actually, by resurrection Jesus becomes head of the new creation of God. That is the essence of New Testament passages like Romans 8:29 – “…conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” He is firstborn of the new creation by virtue of His resurrection from the dead (Col. 1:18, Rev. 1:5). Those who are in Christ are the new creation of God and are brethren with Him (II Cor. 5:17-18). Our redemption has removed us from any association with the original creation.
After Jesus was crucified He passed the seventh day in the grave. The sabbath of the first creation was buried in the grave with Him. Any hopes of blessing for man in creation rest were now gone. He had claimed Lordship over it in the title of His person (Matt. 12:8), but God had now condemned the first creation. The true believer is the new creation; all associated with the old is judged; Christ is risen into the new to be Head of it, an entirely new state and condition of man. By redemption we are brought into this in spirit; hereafter we will have the redemption of our bodies (Rom. 8:23-25) – we will be like Him, conformed into His image (Rom. 8:29). Then we will enter into our true rest in glory (Heb. 4:9-11).
Therefore the resurrection of Christ marks out for the believer the new day and new creation blessing. The seventh day was the sabbath, as God’s rest after the creation. This is not the Christian’s portion. The Lord rose on the first day of the week, and so this is distinctively marked out for the believer. The birth-place of the Christian’s blessings is the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. What the law could not do, the cross of Christ did (Rom. 8:3). We have our portion now in the power of resurrection, the beginning of the new creation.
“There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest…”
“Since a promise remains of entering His rest…”
God has a rest which is the believer’s portion. Israel’s promised rest from God is to eventually be restored in their land. It will be a different Joshua who will give them rest (Heb. 4:8). But the constant comparisons of the book of Hebrews are the contrasts that exist between what is earthly and Jewish and what is heavenly and Christian. If there remains a rest that God has that we, that is Christians, must enter into, where would this rest be found? Would it be somewhere on this earth? The answer is no, not on this earth, not in this old creation, not part of this world.
Now it is clear from scripture that the Promised Land is Israel’s inheritance. It is also clear from this passage in Hebrews (3:7 – 4:11) that this piece of land, and the nation of Israel’s entrance into it for their eternal blessing, is the rest or sabbath that God intends for the Jews to eventually have – for Joshua did not give them rest when Israel entered the land under his service (Heb. 4:8). The Jews have an earthly calling, which by the way is irrevocable (Rom. 11:29). This land is a physical piece of ground, and their blessings from God as eternally living in it will be natural and physical. God will make a new covenant with them and He will write His law in their minds and hearts (Heb. 8:6-13). Where Israel failed under the law previously, they will be enabled by God to keep it. In consequence they will be restored in their land under the reign of their returned Messiah, and they will prosper more so than all the Gentile nations on the face of the earth (Deut. 28:1-14). This is Israel’s promised rest from God. And hopefully you can see that this rest is connected to this world, this earth, and this present creation.
Here is an important point, but happens to be a side item from what our main subject is. It is significant that in all these things man has previously failed whenever he was given responsibility by God. The history of man’s performance under this principle has only resulted in unvarying disappointment. By testing man in different ways God has proven man in Adam to be utterly depraved. Under the law and their own responsibility the Jews failed to find rest in the world. It requires God to make things good in the end, to remedy every failure of man’s responsibility, for He is ever faithful to His promises. This will be accomplished by the physical presence of Jesus Christ, the glorified and perfect Man.
But in this same epistle we are told that the Christian has a different calling from that of Israel – we have a heavenly calling (Heb. 3:1). Also we read:
I Cor. 15:47-48
“The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly.”
God’s rest for the Christian is in the heavens and entrance into God’s glory. We are given many promises as overcomers. These promises serve as our proper Christian hopes (Rev. 2; 3). The very first one mentioned at the end of the message to Ephesus is that the believer will be given to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God (Rev. 2:7). Where do we think the Paradise of God is? It will not be found on the earth – that was man’s paradise, and that has long passed. The Paradise of God is in the heavens, and in the glory of God. This is where the believer’s rest will be. It remains for us to enter in.
As for the Christian’s sabbath day it is the first day of the week. John called it the Lord’s day (Rev. 1:10). It was the day Jesus was raised from the dead and appeared to His disciples. It was the day that Jesus entered into the fruits of His labor. He appeared to them again the following week on the first day. The disciples would meet on the first day of the week to break bread. The first Adam had ruined the seventh day and paradise; the Jews had failed when it was the sign of their covenant of law. Our testimony is that both failed in maintaining/gaining the rest of creation. We do not seek rest in the creation and world that has rejected Jesus, nor in the covenant of law of which He bore its curse. The grave of Christ has closed that whole scene and condition of existence, and has begun a new one, a new creation, of which the Christian has his part. The Lord’s day is the first day, not the seventh, and rests on His redemptive work – this declares failure of the previous sabbath, of both creation rest and law. But we must always remember that the Lord’s day is also symbolic. It represents for the believer what is heavenly, eternal, and in glory – God’s rest which we will enter in. “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.” This is the characteristic day of the Christian, the birthday of all his hopes and distinctive blessings, and so should be the special joy of his heart. The first day of the week is the resurrection day of grace and new creation.