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Christ and the Sabbath

Christ and the Sabbath

The digital world has caused our lives to accelerate. We have faster computers with faster internet connections. We can download a book from Amazon, have food delivered with DoorDash, or book a flight on Expedia—all on our smartphones!

Yet who today feels less rushed, less stressed, and less harried than when phones were used to make phone calls and nothing else? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “about 1 in 3 adults in the United States reported not getting enough rest or sleep every day.” So much for smartphones creating more time for relaxation. 

No wonder, then, that more and more evangelicals have been talking about the need for rest—particularly, the rest that God promises His people in the fourth commandment. That, indeed, is the theme of a recent online article by Presbyterian pastor Nicholas Batzig: “The Christological Sign of the Sabbath.

The Sabbath in the Bible

Pastor Batzig begins by talking about the need for people to take a sabbatical or a Sabbath rest to help them “become more productive in their employments while also caring for their spiritual, physical, and emotional well-being.” He then makes a deeper, more theological point: “While sabbaticals may address a common, therapeutic need for rest, God has given us the Sabbath day to serve as a sign of the greater spiritual need we have for the rest that he provides in Christ alone.”

Few would disagree: Besides recharging our bodies and minds, the Sabbath points to our spiritual rest in Christ.

Batzig then dives into the biblical history of the Sabbath day, referring to it as one of “God’s creation ordinances.” Jumping ahead to the giving of the Ten Commandments at Sinai, he mentions not only Exodus 20:8–11 but also Deuteronomy 5:12–15. (He did, however, miss Exodus 16, where the Sabbath is seen to be in effect before Sinai, which shouldn’t be surprising because it was set apart, that is, “sanctified,” during the first week of creation.)

Next, Batzig beautifully captures so much of what the Sabbath means and points to: “After creating a world in which His image bearers could dwell, the Lord set apart the seventh day as the Sabbath day. It served numerous purposes at creation. It was to be a day of worship and rest. It was also a reminder that mankind is finite and dependent. Since we are dependent creatures, God saw fit to give Adam this creation ordinance to remind him of his need for rest from his physical labor. Adam was to set apart the Sabbath day to worship the God who ‘gives to all mankind life and breath and everything’ (Acts 17:25).”

He then goes into the covenantal significance of the Sabbath, showing that it points not only to our rest in this life but to “the hope of entering eternal rest.” That is, the Sabbath also points to our redemption, found only in Jesus, through His death and resurrection. He writes, again cogently: “Creation and redemption form the background for the significance of the Sabbath day as a covenantal sign. It reminds image bearers of their obligation to worship and serve the Lord, and to trust God for the redemption that He freely provides in Christ alone. Where Adam failed in the covenant of works, Christ succeeded.”

So far, we can agree with everything Pastor Batzig has written. 

The Eschatological Sabbath?

However sharply focused at first, Pastor Batzig’s article starts to blur as it winds down. Suddenly, he describes the seventh-day Sabbath as “the old covenant Sabbath day,” a foreshadowing of what he calls “the eschatological Sabbath rest for His people,” probably meaning eternal redemption or the like, even though he doesn’t specifically define this “eschatological Sabbath.”

More problematic is his phrase “the old covenant Sabbath day”—implying what? That there’s a new covenant Sabbath day? Though he doesn’t come right out and say it, the implication, especially because he pastors a Sunday-keeping church, is that the seventh-day Sabbath was replaced by this “eschatological Sabbath.”

What’s fascinating is that, unlike most Sunday-keeping authors writing about Sabbath rest, Batzig doesn’t talk about Sunday as the replacement for “the old covenant Sabbath day,” which is what, at this point in the article, we would expect him to do. Despite being a Sunday-keeper, He doesn’t get into the usual talking points about how Jesus or the apostles changed the day to Sunday in honor of the resurrection. Instead, he ends the article by referring to Hebrews 3:7–4:12, which talks about the Israelites who, falling in the wilderness “because of unbelief” (3:19), could not “enter [God’s] rest” (vv. 11, 18; 4:3, 5, 11).

Why this rather muddled ending? We can’t know. But every confrontation Jesus had with the religious leaders over the Sabbath day (see Matthew 12:1–12; Mark 3:1–6; Luke 6:1–11; 13:10–17; 14:1–6; John 5:1–16; 7:22, 23; 9:1–16) was how to keep it holy. In none of these encounters did the question ever arise about the seventh day being abolished or replaced by the first day—which is kind of strange if Jesus, who constantly pointed forward to His death and resurrection, had planned that Sunday be the new covenant symbol of those events.

Whatever his reasons for not mentioning Sunday as the new covenant replacement, as other evangelicals have erroneously argued, Pastor Batzig does make good points about the seventh-day Sabbath and what it represents. To learn more about this sacred day and why we should keep it, read our online article “Fact Tract: The Sabbath.

This article contributed by Clifford Goldstein
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