Study of the Book of Hebrews
By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

Christ, The True Sabbath Rest

(Hebrews 4:1-13, Part 2)

In the last chapter we dealt with Hebrews chapter four.  In verse three we saw that the Apostle Paul links the gospel rest that God gives us through Christ with the Sabbath.  This is not something that we only believe in. It is something that many non-Adventist Sunday keeping Christians teach. For example, I have here with me a commentary on Hebrews by a top Evangelical preacher and Bible scholar, Ray Stedman.  It’s called What More Can God Say: A Bible Commentary for Laymen on the Book of Hebrews.

Let me read for you what he says about the Sabbath.  He is dealing here with Heb. 4:3-5.  “Now what is this rest?  In verse three we learn it is pictured for us by the Sabbath.  You know the story of creation.  On the Sabbath day God ceased from His labour.  He rested on the seventh day intending that to be a picture of what the rest of faith is.”  Absolutely correct. “It has been available to man since the beginning of the world.”

Then he goes and hits at us.  He doesn’t mention our name but he says, “Certain groups have focused upon the shadow instead of the substance and have insisted that we must observe the Sabbath day much as it was given to Israel; that is what pleased God.  But God is never pleased by the perfunctory observance of shadows or figures.  Here is one of the great problems of the Christian faith.  We are constantly mistaking shadows for substance, pictures for reality.”  Now, there is some truth in what he is saying.  That’s why we need to deal with this issue.

“The believer’s rest was figured in the Sabbath and anyone who learns to live out of rest is keeping the Sabbath as God meant it to be kept.”

What he is suggesting is that you can keep Sunday as long as you are resting in Christ.  And this area we will cover.  I am just simply showing you what one Evangelical scholar is bringing out.  His book is being advertised in a Christian book sales catalogue.  This is what it says on the back cover. “A Biblical, historical, and theological investigation proposes that Sunday is a new day of worship that was chosen to commemorate the unique salvation history event of the death and resurrection of Christ, rather than merely being another day for celebration including the Sabbath.”

Today, Evangelical scholars, thanks to Bacchiocchi’s book, are admitting that they can never call Sunday a Christian Sabbath and defend it from scripture. There is no warrant for it.  So they are approaching it now from a different angle.  This catalogue advertises another book as follows, “Seven scholars contribute to Biblical and historical studies to prove that the Lord’s day is the special day for Christian worship.  The Lord’s day commemorates the resurrection.”  We will discuss these things.

In our last study I told an experience I had in Ethiopia with a professor who was teaching a class of seventeen students on Comparative Religions. He was an American from Ohio.  He gave them the assignment to attend four different churches, observe their worships, and write a paper on it.  The students were allowed to choose the four denominations and since we are a very strong church in Ethiopia, thanks to our relationship to the Emperor before he was deposed, they chose as one of their churches to visit our church in Addis Ababa.

The pastor was not willing to speak so they asked me.  I chose the subject of the Sabbath.  The title of the sermon was “The Sabbath and The Gospel.” I did not touch the law at that time.  I preached on the Sabbath in connection with the gospel alone.  One of the accusations that has been levelled at us by many people who are non-Adventists is that the Adventist Church keeps the Sabbath under the Old Covenant.  That’s their main argument.

The Old Covenant simply teaches that you have to keep the law in order to be saved.  We have to defend the Sabbath on the basis of the New Covenant, which is the covenant of grace.  Is there any connection between the Sabbath and the covenant of grace?  That was my approach.  If we don’t do that we are not convincing any other Christians that are real Bible students.

It was agreed beforehand that after the sermon the students could ask the speaker questions.  So I stepped down from the rostrum.  The members left the church and the students were in front.  They brought their Greek Bibles with them and they brought notebooks and they scribbled.  They were writing furiously.  I told them “Now you can bombard me with questions.”

The professor stood up and said, “Well, the bus is waiting for us, we have to leave.”

The students turned on him and said, “Look, you promised us that we can ask questions.”

He said, “Yes, but you know we need to consider Pastor Sequeira. His wife, I’m sure, is waiting for him.”

I said, “I was aware of the question session.  I have made arrangements for my wife to go home with somebody else.  I am willing to stay here until midnight.  So please don’t use me as an excuse.”

Well, he had no choice.  So the first student that stood up was a Baptist, and this is what he said, “This is the first time in my life I have ever stepped into an Adventist church.  This is the first time in my life I have ever heard an Adventist preacher.  What you preached is excellent. I said ‘Amen’ to what you said.”

I said, “Thank you.  What’s your question?”

He said, “Here’s the problem.  What you preached from the pulpit and what we were taught in the classroom about Seventh-day Adventists keeping the Sabbath do not agree.”  He was, of course, referring to his professor. But he was not accusing his professor because he added, “Our professor documented this from Seventh-day Adventist literature.  Therefore my question is, what you preached today, is that Seventh-day Adventist teaching?”

Another student stood up and said, “I would like to answer that question.”

I said, “Really?  I didn’t know you were a Seventh-day Adventist.”

He said, “No, I’m a Lutheran.  I come from a very strong Adventist community.  Most of my schoolmates were Seventh-day Adventists.  Some of them are today ministers.  I have attended some of your evangelistic efforts. I have sat with some of these pastors who are my schoolmates and we have argued until we were blue in the face and all the time the argument was the law.  Therefore, what you preached today is not the teaching of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.”

I said, “Brother, I am not here today to defend the Seventh-day Adventist Church.  I am here to defend the truth as it is in Christ.  Can you answer me one question?  What are you going to do with this truth?”

The professor didn’t like it.  He stood up and said, “Brother Sequeira, we have nothing against what you said.  It was good.  But does it matter which day we keep as long as we are resting in Christ?”  That is the same argument that Stedman puts forth in his book.  That’s a common argument.

I had talked to the professor earlier before the sermon and had welcomed him.  I discovered that he was a missionary in Ethiopia for the last seven years.  So he knew Ethiopia pretty well.

So I had said to him, “Brother, you are familiar with the fact that forty-five percent of this country are Muslim?”

He said, “Yes.”

Here’s my question.  “If a Muslim becomes a Christian does he need to join the Christian church?  Why can’t he keep going to his mosque as long as he believes in Christ?  Or would his attending the mosque be a denial of his faith?”

He said, “I see your point, but this is something that deserves time and we have an appointment and I want the students to come.  We have to leave.”

He used his authority and the students had to leave.  As they were leaving four of them stopped by me and whispered, “Can we come and see you later?”

I said, “By all means.”

Well, I never saw them again, at least for a long time.  Two years later I was invited to a banquet.  There was a well-known theologian who was passing that way.  The ministerial leaders of the different denominations were invited to have fellowship with him.  So I went.  It was kind of a little party.  There were ministers of all different churches and I like to mix with them because the only way to defend the truth is to mix with people.  An African, an Ethiopian, came up to me and said, “Do you know me?”

I said “No.  At least, I don’t recall your face.”

He said, “I was one of those students who heard you preach on the Sabbath and I have never forgotten that sermon.”

In other words, it was pricking him.  This was two years later.  I said, ”Were you one of those four who said you would like to see me later?”

He said “Yes.”

I said, “Why didn’t you come and see me?”

He said, “Because when we went back to the classroom the professor told us that if we went and saw you he would report this to our denomination and, of course, that would mean no job.”

I asked, “Have you ever thought about the topic?”

He said, “Yes, it’s been bugging me.”

I said, “Brother, you remember Paul on the Damascus road when Christ said to him ‘It is hard to kick against the pricks’?  Brother, you will have no peace until you say to Christ ‘Lord, what do you want me to do?’ And the answer will become obvious.”

Well, folks, we need to defend the Sabbath in the light of the gospel. As I prepared the outline for this study, I realized that we would need more than one evening to cover the topic.  So we will be proceeding slowly and thoroughly.  The Sabbath is vitally linked to the gospel.  We need to make this clear.  It is vitally linked to God’s saving activity in Christ. That is why every feast day, there were seven of them, in the Old Testament pointing to the promised Messiah, was designated a day of Sabbath rest.

The Passover, the Day of Atonement, you name it, was called a Sabbath. We call them ceremonial sabbaths.  They were called sabbaths because they pointed to the rest that God had promised in Jesus Christ.  This rest was fulfilled in Christ.  Matt. 11:28-30 is that statement that Jesus made, “Come all you that labor and are heavy laden.”  He was not talking about physical labor here.  He was talking of the Jews who were laboring to go to heaven and had no peace.

When the young man came to Jesus Christ in Matt. 19:16 and said, “What must I do to be saved,” do you know what he was hoping Christ would do to him?  He was hoping Christ would do to him what some of us do to each other.  Pat him on the back and say, “Keep up the good work.”  But Christ did not do that to him.  Christ said, “If you want to go to heaven by being good, the measuring stick for doing good is the law.”

The young man said, “I have kept it since I was in primary Sabbath School.  What is left for me to do?”

Jesus said, “You have not kept it perfectly.  I’ll give you the proof.  The law says thou shalt love thy neighbour as yourself.  Do you love your neighbour as yourself?  Prove it.  Take your wealth.  Give it to the poor and follow me.  I’ll give you my wealth.”

Did he do it?  No.  Then Jesus turned to the disciples and used this as an illustration.  You can only understand an illustration when you understand the Jewish mind.  Jesus said, “It’s very hard for a rich man to go to heaven.  In fact it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, [this was Christ’s humor] than for a rich man to go to heaven.”

I want you to read Matthew nineteen sometime and look at the reaction of the disciples.  You will discover that they were amazed at His statement. Peter said, “Who, then, can be saved?”

Why were they amazed?  According to Judaism, a rich man was always equated with a good man.  In other words, if you are good, if you pay your tithe, God will open the windows of heaven and pour you all the money you want, more than your bank account can handle.  Their gospel was an “Eros” gospel.  If you are good, God will make you rich.  A poor man was a bad man. So when Jesus said it is hard for a rich man to go to heaven it was the same to them as saying it is hard for a good man to go to heaven.  “If a good man can’t go to heaven, who can be saved?  What about us?  We are just poor fishermen.”  Notice the answer of Jesus: “With man, it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” God can save sinners.

People who try to go to heaven by their own works are heavy laden.  They have no peace.  There are many Adventists who are in this category.  They have no peace, no joy, no assurance because they are not sure they’ll make it.  Therefore their Sabbath keeping is a lie.  They are not resting. They are not enjoying Sabbath.  It is a necessary requirement to them, a burden.  They think, “What time is Sabbath over so we can enjoy doing what we want to do, turn the TV on, etc., etc.”

Since it is not a sin in America to travel on the Sabbath, some pack the car and are off for a good trip on the Sabbath.  By the way, if you travel to different countries of the world you will find there is a great difference in what is right and what is wrong to do on the Sabbath.  In our own church we have different rules on how to keep the Sabbath.  Go to Scandinavia and you can swim on the Sabbath.  Go to Italy, to Bacchiocchi’s country, you play football on the Sabbath.  It’s a sin in America but in America you can travel on the Sabbath, which is a sin in Africa.  So if you have a banquet [in another town] at 7:00 p.m. and the Sabbath is over at 6:45 p.m., you will travel; it’s not wrong as long as you don’t enter the party on the Sabbath.  These are some of the things that you need to notice.

The Sabbath is vitally linked with the gospel.  Jesus came to give us rest.  In order to understand it we do not begin with the Sabbath in connection with us.  We begin with the Sabbath in relationship to God.  We begin there. Otherwise we’ll go wrong.  If anyone ever tells you that you are keeping the Jewish Sabbath, ask them for one text that proves that.  The Sabbath does not belong to man.  Yes, it was made for man but it doesn’t belong to him.  It belongs to God alone.  Ex. 20:10: “The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord Thy God.” Who owns it?  The Lord Thy God. Ex. 31:13: “My Sabbath you shall keep.” He didn’t say “This is your Sabbath” but “My Sabbath.”  Isa. 58:13: “My Holy Day” and He qualified “The Holy of the Lord.” The Sabbath belongs to God.

God’s Sabbath is His seventh day, which is our first day.  I’ll tell you who opened my eyes to this.  It was not even an Adventist writer but a fairly liberal theologian by the name of Karl Barth.  He is the one that opened my eyes to this truth that the Sabbath is God’s seventh day but our first day.  By that I don’t mean our Sunday.  God spent six days working, creating, and on the seventh day He rested.  On which of the six days did He create man?  The sixth day.  He created Adam first.  Then he asked Adam to name the animals, giving him that privilege.  Then He created Eve.  Man is not complete without Eve, folks.  In fact if you will read the Living Bible on the creation of Eve, I can’t quite remember how it describes Adam’s comments when he first saw Eve, but it’s something like, “Wow! This is it!”

At what point of time were men — plural, Adam and Eve — created in terms of the sixth day?  At the beginning, middle, or end of the day? At the end.  So what was the first day that mankind in Adam spent on this earth?  The seventh day or Sabbath.  So God’s seventh day was man’s first day.  Now this is a very important thing.  God worked six days and rested the Sabbath day.  Man did not begin by working.  He began by resting and then had six days of work.  To Adam, six days of work was simply enjoying what God had created for him.  In other words, God works and then rests, and we’ll see why He rested.  But man does not begin by working.  He begins by resting and, when man rests on God’s Sabbath, it signifies his accepting what God has done for him.  So in terms of the gospel, we first receive righteousness by faith and then we show this righteousness by works.  Look at Eph. 2:8-9. This is one of the favourite texts of the evangelicals and it is an excellent text:

For by grace are you saved through faith and that not of yourself; it is the gift of God...

By the way, the word “it” in the Greek refers to grace and not to faith.  In other words, the salvation is the gift of God.  Faith is our response to it.  Yes, it is the gift that creates the response so, in a sense, faith is a gift, too, but the word here refers to grace.

...Not of works lest any man should boast.

Salvation is a gift without works.  In this gift I want you to notice something else in verse ten:

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.

So when we receive Christ we receive what God has created us to do also and that is good works.  These good works don’t save us.  They are evidence that we have received Christ and we have received Christ not by works but by resting on God’s day.  It’s a confession of faith! God does the work first and then rests.  We do not begin with working but we begin with resting.  And then we work, and “we work” means simply manifesting what we have already received.

Matt. 5:14: “You are the light of the world.” Now in the original, the “you” is in the plural.  The “light” is in the singular.  Therefore, the light refers to Christ.  In the gospel of John, Christ says, “I am the light of the world.” He is telling the believers, “You are the light of the world.” Which means, “You have received Me by resting in Me and have now become the light of the world.  You are many, but you are only one light.”

When we sing this little song, “This little light of mine,” folks, the light is not little.  The vessel is little but the light is big — Jesus Christ! In Matt. 5:16, Jesus goes on to say,

Let your light so shine that men may see your good works and glorify [not you, nor your denomination but] your Father which is in heaven.

The “works” are God manifested in you.  This is the greatest proof that Jesus ever gave that He was the Messiah.

When Philip asked Him in John fourteen, “Show us the Father,” Jesus said, “Philip, have I been so long with you and you have not seen the Father?  He who has seen me has seen the Father.  If you don’t believe me, believe for the works’ sake because the works that I do it is not I that do them but the Father who dwells in me.  He is the One who is doing the works.”

So what the world needs to see is not how good you and I are or how good the church is, because the U.N. is also good.  Come to the Third World and see what they are doing there.  What the world needs to see is Christ in you the hope of glory.  The only way you can do it is if you rest in Him. You begin by receiving Christ.  And, by the way, when you receive Christ He gives you peace, He gives you assurance, but He also makes you the light of the world.  At least He makes you an instrument.

God’s seventh day is our Saturday.  Please don’t use the calender to prove it.  The calender was not written by God nor by inspired man, so if the world changes the Saturday to Sunday, that’s their business. But never use the calender to prove anything.  Today’s English Bible or the Good News Bible take the days of the Bible and give it the modern words.  It talks about Friday being the day Christ died and Sabbath, it doesn’t use Saturday but uses Sabbath as the commandment of God. So you can use that Bible to prove that Christ died on Friday and that Sabbath is our Saturday.

The Sabbath is the focal point in the Bible by which all other days are calculated.  Matt. 28:1: “In the end of the Sabbath as it began to dawn towards the first day of the week.”  That is your English translation.  The word “week” here does not appear at all in the New Testament. There is no such word there.  What does the text actually say?  “In the end of the Sabbath as it began to dawn toward the first of the Sabbath.”

That’s how the Greek puts it.  That makes no sense in English, so let me explain it to you.  Every day of the week was measured by the Sabbath. So here is the Sabbath, Sunday was called the first of the Sabbath or the first day after the Sabbath.  Monday was called the second day after the Sabbath, Tuesday, the third day, Wednesday the fourth day, and so on; so every day was counted on the basis of this central, focal word, “Sabbath,” and Friday was called “preparation day.”  Preparation for what?  Not a banquet but preparation for the Sabbath.  You see the Sabbath was the focal point.  They did not have words like we have: “Sunday,” “Monday,” etc.  But because the English people would not understand “the first of the Sabbath,” the translation says, “the first day of the week.”

I am giving you this for another reason because there are some Christian laymen, not people who have gone to the seminary, laymen who do not know the Greek, they read this in the Interlinear Greek Bible and read Sunday called the first of the Sabbath and they say, “There you are, the Bible says Sunday is the Sabbath.”  They are twisting the text because they don’t know the language.  I simply tell them, “Please go and see your Pastor who has been taught Greek and ask him if he believes in that and, if he does, he needs to go back to the seminary.”  That is not what the Greek means.  The Greek means the first day after the Sabbath.  Remember the Sabbath was a focal point even in the New Testament.  Everything was measured by that.

Now we will see why God rested on the Sabbath day.  Was He tired?  No.  Did He want a break?  No.  Why did He rest on the Sabbath?  I am quoting from another evangelical scholar, Sessler:  “Why did God rest?  Because what He created was absolutely perfect.  It could not possibly be improved on. His creation was brilliant, beautiful, matchless, and perfect.”

He did not rest because He was tired.  He rested for two reasons:

  1. What He had created was perfect.
  2. What He had created was complete.

And God saw that it was very good.  It was perfect.  Go to Gen. 2:1-3: “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.” So you could not improve upon God’s creation nor could you add to it because it was complete.  It was perfect.  It was finished.  “On the Seventh day God ending His work (that’s how the Hebrew puts it) which He had made and He rested on the seventh day from all His works which He had made.” Please remember He rested on the seventh day because it was finished.  Now I want you to notice how this scholar applied it to the gospel.  He is right:

The cross of Christ so thoroughly, effectively, and completely accomplished what we need for salvation there is nothing we can add to it, no matter how hard we try we cannot possibly make ourselves more acceptable to God. We cannot be more certain of our heavenly destination and eternal life. There is nothing we can add to the process of being saved or being known by God or becoming what Christ wants us to be.  [In other words, the salvation that God prepared in Christ was also perfect.]

Here is an illustration advertising the book, “Sunday is a new day of worship that was chosen to commemorate the unique salvation history event of the death and resurrection of Christ.”  That is the basic teaching of the Christian church.  Sunday is kept to remember the resurrection.  By the way, when the early church faced this problem and was asked to prove it from scripture, they had one text, Mal. 4:2.  Please remember that the Christians were accused of worshipping the sun.  It is true but they were trying to defend themselves.  Here it is: “But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in his wings;” Please notice how the word “Sun” is spelt.  Not S-O-N but S-U-N.  Therefore, they said, “The rising of the sun also points to Christ.  Therefore, Sunday represents the rising of Christ from the grave, the resurrection.  And that is what brings healing.”  Boy, isn’t that twisting the word.

I want you to go back to our sanctuary studies.  The courtyard was made up of two squares, eastern and western squares.  The eastern square represents Christ’s earthly mission and the western square represents Christ’s heavenly mission.

Here is a question: “When did the earthly mission begin, at what point of time?  At the moment Christ was born in this world He began His earthly mission.  When was the earthly mission finished?  The cross or the resurrection?  When was our redemption obtained?  At what point of time?  When Christ died on the cross or when He rose from the dead?  The New Testament is clear.  Stedman says that the event that completed our salvation was the cross.  Keep this in mind.  So the cross is the saving event.  This is when He finished His earthly mission, beginning at the birth and ending up at the cross.  On what day did He die?  Do you know what the Christian church calls it?  They don’t call it Friday.  They call it Good Friday.  Why Good Friday?  Jesus died on the cross and that’s the day our atonement was realized.  Did Christ rise up the same day?  No.  What was the next day? He rested from all His work.  Why?  Because it was finished.  It was complete. You can’t add to it.  You can’t improve on it.  It’s finished!

But He rose from the dead to fulfill His second mission.  The resurrection is the beginning of His second phase, which is His heavenly ministry.  He will not finish this until He puts all enemies under His footstool and eradicates sin and that’s the New Earth.  I read in Isa.66 that when He does that from one Sabbath to next Sabbath all flesh will come and worship Him.

The Sabbath points to a finished work whether it’s creation, redemption, or the new creation, which is the restoration.  It is a finished work.  God is the provider.  Man is the recipient.  To enjoy creation, Adam had to enter into God’s rest.  To enjoy redemption, you have to enter God’s rest.  And when you enter this rest, the ultimate rest is promised to you for God will finish the work that He has begun through Jesus Christ.  So the Sabbath is symbolizing God’s finished work in Jesus Christ.  That’s the meaning of the Sabbath.

We do not have time to cover the fifth point I wanted to discuss, but let me just read it: “Both creation as well as redemption were accomplished by Christ.”  We will start on this topic in our next study.

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