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

Christ, the True Sabbath Rest

(Hebrews 4:1-13, Part 3)

We are continuing our study in Hebrews chapter four where the Apostle Paul has identified belief in the gospel with entering into God’s rest, which is the Sabbath.  In other words, the Sabbath here in Hebrews four is linked with the gospel.  We will spend three or four more studies on this one issue because this is the truth that God has called this church to bring to the world.  We need to come to grips with it.

First we will review what we have thus far covered on this subject and then go on to see the significance of God’s Sabbath to man.  There are four important areas I’m covering.  The first one is the significance of the Sabbath to God.  Then we’ll look at the significance of the Sabbath to man, which is what we’re covering today.  Then the significance of the Sabbath-Sunday controversy and, finally, the significance of the Sabbath to the law.  We’ll deal with each of these separately so that we can come to grips with the whole.  Let us review the significance of the Sabbath to God.

  1. We saw that the Sabbath belongs to God.  If anyone says you are keeping the Jewish Sabbath all you have to do is to ask them to give you one text. Please don’t allow them to use the Living Bible because there is a statement in it that says that the Sabbath belongs to the Jews.  The Living Bible is a paraphrase.  If you go to the translations — KJV, ARV, NIV, etc. — they do not give you any statement saying that the Sabbath belongs to the Jews.  It always says it belongs to God.

  2. We saw that God’s Sabbath is His seventh day.  This is extremely important.  God worked how many days?  Six days.  Then He rested on the Seventh day.  This Seventh day is not our Sabbath day.  It is God’s Sabbath day.  On which day did God create man?  The sixth day.  So the first day that Adam began in this world — and please remember that the word “Adam” means mankind — was God’s Sabbath day.  So we begin with the Sabbath and to Adam the six days of working were simply enjoying what he had received from God.  So we do not begin with working.  God begins with working and then resting.  We begin resting in God and then enjoying what God has provided. This is extremely important in terms of the gospel.

  3. The Sabbath is the focal point of the Bible by which all other days are calculated.  The words, “The first day of the week,” do not exist in the Greek Bible.  It’s our English Bibles that say that.  Sunday is referred to as “the first of the Sabbath.” That means the first day after the Sabbath.  Therefore Monday will be Second Day after the Sabbath.  Tuesday will be Third Day after the Sabbath, etc.  When we come to Friday its called the Preparation Day, preparation for the Sabbath. All the days of the week were identified on the basis of one day — the Sabbath.  The Sabbath was the focal point of the week.

  4. God’s Sabbath points to His finished work, which is perfect and complete.  In other words, God did not rest on the Sabbath day because He was tired or because He wanted a break but because His work was finished. That is what we have covered so far.

  5. Who spoke the word which created this world?  Who said, “Let there be light”?  Was it Christ?  Was it the Father?  Or was it the Holy Spirit? Or was it all three?  Christ spoke.  The New Testament is absolutely clear on that.  We can’t read all the texts but let us look at some of them. John 1:3.  Now John introduces Christ as the Word.  He is the Word of God. He is the written Word and He is the spoken Word.  John here introduces Christ as the Word who was with God and who was God.  Look at verse three: “All things were made by Him and without Him was not anything made that was made.” So Christ is the source of our creation.  Here are other texts that say the same thing: Eph. 3:9; Col. 1:16; Rev. 3:14.

In Rev. 3:14, the KJV says:

These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God.

There are some people, including some of our pioneers like Waggoner, Prescott, and James White, who misunderstood that text.  That’s why we were known as semi-Arians who believed that Christ had a beginning.  Sister [Ellen G.] White corrected them.  We have that statement in The Desire of Ages, “In Him was life, original, unborrowed and underived.” It was to correct this idea.  The Greek does not say, “He is the beginning of creation,” but “He is the source of creation.” This is not a problem among non-Adventist scholars.  They agree because it is clear in the original language.

Christ is the Creator.  If He is the Creator, if He is the One that did the work then the Sabbath belongs to Christ.  That’s why in Mark 2:28, He said:

The Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath.

Why does He identify Himself as the Lord of the Sabbath?  Because He is the source of creation.  Christ not only created this world and gave it to us but He also redeemed us.  So He is both the Creator and the Redeemer:  Rom. 3:24; 1 Cor. 1:30; Gal. 3:13; Col. 1:14; Titus 2:14; Heb. 9:12; 1 Peter 1:18; Rev. 5:9.  Therefore Christ is the Lord of the Sabbath (rest): Mark 2:28; Luke 6:5; Rev. 1:10.

So when John said, “I was in vision on the Lord’s Day,” he refers to the day that belongs to Christ.  Because the Jews rejected Christ they still needed to enter into God’s Sabbath rest.  Were the Jews keeping the Sabbath?  Yes.  Was it the right day?  Yes.  Had they accepted the Lord of the Sabbath?  No.  So what was important, the day or the owner of the day? Which is the one that saves?  Christ.  The Lord of the day is what makes the day important.  Without the Lord of the day the day becomes meaningless. Never separate the Sabbath from Christ our Saviour.  We will come to the significance of God’s Sabbath and, when we come to it, I will deal with its importance.

Let us now go to the second phase of our study, which is the significance of God’s Sabbath to man.  God worked for six days.  He created this world. Did He create it for Himself?  No.  Did He need an extension?  Did God make heaven so small that he needed an extension when He created the world?  He created the world for man, not for Himself.  Remember what God says in Genesis 1:26-28:

Let us create man and let us give him dominion over everything We created.

So God gave man dominion.

How much did Adam help God in creating this world?  What did God get from Adam?  Nothing.  God did not create Adam the first day and say to him, “I’m going to create a world for you and since it is for you I need your help.”

Abraham received a promise that God would give him a son.  And through the son all nations would be blessed.  Ten years after the promise Sarah came to Abraham and said, “You know God made a promise but He needs some help.”

And Abraham said, “I think you’re right because it is ten years now and we don’t have a child and we are getting rather old.” Did God accept Abraham’s help?  No.  Please read Gal. 4:4.  I’m sure of one thing, when Abraham goes to heaven and he looks at the history of the Middle East and looks at the Middle East crises, because it was all his fault, he will shed tears.  “What have I done!”

When Adam came to God the first Sabbath, he came with an empty hand. He had nothing to bring.  He could not do anything because the Sabbath was the very next day of life after creation.  Therefore man made no contribution to creation but was only the recipient.

What did God do with the Sabbath?  He did not only rest on the Sabbath but He sanctified it: Gen.2:3.  What does the word “sanctify” mean?  Set aside for a holy use.  That’s the meaning of sanctify.  He set it aside for whom?  For man or for Himself?  For man.

Now there are some scholars today who say the word “Sabbath” does not appear until the Exodus.  “The truth” appears in Genesis two.  The word may not appear.  How do I know that “the truth” applies to the Sabbath?  What reason does God give for keeping the fourth commandment? Creation.  Their argument is very poor to say that the Sabbath doesn’t appear until the Exodus.  God sanctified the Sabbath for a holy use for whom? For man.  Why?  Please don’t say that man may have rest.  We must never project our problem onto God.

Many people come to the Sabbath on Friday night and say, “Boy, am I glad that Sabbath is here.  Life was so hectic this week and I can now relax.” Have you heard that?  Well, that is wonderful, it is true.  When God gave the Sabbath, man was perfect.  He did not know what it meant to get tired.  Am I correct?

So the Sabbath had its spiritual meaning.  It was a covenant between God (The Provider) and man (the recipient).  This covenant was made before the fall and, therefore, had a permanent significance and a spiritual significance. What do I mean by “permanent significance”?  If Adam had not sinned would we still be keeping the Sabbath today?  Yes.  We would be keeping the Sabbath because it wasn’t a temporary setting aside of a day.  It was a permanent arrangement.  Remember, the Sabbath was something spiritual and something permanent.  Only after the fall did the Sabbath have a spiritual significance.

That’s why, in Deut. 5:15, Moses told the Jews that God had delivered them from Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and it is because of this He gave them the Sabbath.  Notice that Moses applied the Sabbath to the gospel.  Let me read the text of Deut. 5:15:

And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt [a slave, in bondage], and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the Sabbath day.

The Sabbath is vitally connected with the gospel through our deliverance from sin.

After the fall, God gave the Sabbath a spiritual significance.  Why?  The fall destroyed the Sabbath’s significance, since sin is turning from God-dependence to self-dependence.  Isa. 59:2 says that your sin separates you from God.  Gen. 3:19 is a good text.  What did God say to Adam after he fell?

From now onward you will eat your bread by the sweat of your brow.

Before that, God worked for Adam.  When you read about the Garden of Eden, it says it was God who planted the garden for Adam.  Now God says,

From now onward you will eat your bread by the sweat of your brow.

That means, “You will have no rest.” So the fall destroyed the significance of the Sabbath.

The creature/Creator relationship was always to be a relationship of total dependence.  God never created man to live independent of Him.  That’s why Jesus said,

Without Me you can do nothing.

Now we must apply this also in terms of salvation.

I am the vine, you are the branches.  Abide in Me and I in you.

That was always.  So when Adam sinned he departed from God-dependence. In order to restore the Sabbath rest to man, Jesus came to work again.  He said “I must work the works of my Father.” What was the work that God gave Him to do?  To save us.

Now comes the big question.  At what point did Jesus redeem us?  When Christ was born, the birth includes the conception and everything, He began His salvation.  I have given you Matt. 1:21: Mary and Joseph were instructed but when Jesus was born, “He shall be called ‘Jesus’ because He shall save His people from their sins.” The word “Jesus” means Saviour.

When did Christ actually redeem the human race?  At what point of His earthly history?  Is it at the cross or is it at the resurrection?  All Christians agree that it was at the cross.  Why is Good Friday called “Good”? Look at John 17:4 where Christ says,

I have finished the work you have given Me to do.

Also, in John 19:31, on the cross when He said,

It is finished.

So our salvation involves two distinct works of Christ.  Everything Jesus did up to including the cross involved the earthly ministry of Christ.

The sanctuary was made up of two squares: the western square representing Christ’s heavenly ministry and the eastern square representing His earthly ministry.  Both are required for our salvation.  His earthly ministry began with His birth and ended at the cross.  At the cross, Jesus became the Saviour of all men.  There are many texts in the New Testament to that effect and there is no problem there.  The resurrection began the second ministry which is the heavenly ministry and it will not end until the New Earth when He puts all enemies under His feet.  Between the cross and the resurrection is the Sabbath.  He finished His first work [earthly ministry] and rested.  He will finish this second work [heavenly ministry] and He will rest.  So the Sabbath in the context of redemption points to two things, a finished redemption and a finished restoration.

So when we keep the Sabbath we do two things.  We look backward to our security in Christ, the finished redemption, and we look forward to the restoration.  So the Sabbath is a day of rejoicing because it points backwards to the cross which finished our redemption and it points forward to the blessed hope which we are given that God will restore this earth.  That’s why in Isa. 66:23 it says,

From one Sabbath to another all flesh shall come to worship Him.

So please remember that the Sabbath point to a finished work.

How much did man contribute towards our redemption in Christ?  Nothing! This redemption involves two phases: the doing of Christ, which met the positive demands of the law, and the death of Christ, which points to the justice of the law.  So in this doing and dying Jesus met all the demands of the law in terms of our salvation.

So the sanctuary also had two phases: the daily, which is the continual intercession, and the yearly is when He will eradicate sin and bring in everlasting righteousness.  So you have two phases in redemption and two phases in the Sanctuary ministry but the Sabbath comes after He had finished the second phase.  The work is finished and He rests.

So we here, beginning with the Day of Atonement, must keep the Sabbath because we are looking forward to His coming and the restoration.  So the Sabbath has to be restored in the last days because of a crucial fact.  His second ministry is coming to an end.  We are pointing forward and pointing backward.  I will give more on that in our next study in the Sunday/Sabbath issue.

In Matt. 11:28, Jesus said,

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

Because of what Christ did, can men now enter into God’s rest?  Remember, the fall destroyed the significance of the Sabbath.  What restored it?  The redemptive work of Christ.  So those who believe in the gospel do enter into His rest.  What is His rest?  It is peace, it is assurance, being justified by faith we have peace with God.  No longer do we need to run away from God. We have peace! Therefore, the gospel has returned to us the Sabbath rest.

Turn to Heb. 4:9 where Paul is saying that the Jews still need to enter into God’s rest.  They still need to keep the Sabbath.  Now look at verse 10:

For he that is entered into His rest he also has ceased from his own works as God did from His.

When you believe the gospel, you cease from your works just like God ceased from His works.  The redemption that Christ did here was perfect but was it finished?  Please look at Rom. 5:11:

We rejoice because we have already received the atonement.

The word “atonement” is synonymous with “reconciled.” We have been reconciled by the death of His Son.  How much contribution did we make to this redemptive work in Christ?  None.  Was Christ’s work perfect?  Yes.  Was it finished?  Yes.  Can you add to it?  No.  Can you improve on it?  No.  So when you enter His rest, please don’t try to improve your standing before God by your own works.  Heb. 4 is not dealing with works in terms of the fruits of salvation but in terms of the means of salvation. Can you add to the righteousness you receive in Christ?  No.  Can you improve on it?  No.  What happens if you do?  Read the book of Galatians and especially chapter 3:3:

You began well in the Spirit but now you are trying to become perfect in the flesh.

Look at Gal. 5:4:

Those of you who are trying to become righteous by the law have fallen from grace.

Please do not try to add to the righteousness you receive in Christ. It is perfect and it is finished.  Therefore, he who has entered into God’s rest will cease from works of redeeming himself, just like Christ ceased from His works.  Why did Christ cease from doing His part?  Because it was complete.  Heb.9:28:

So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many and unto them that look for Him [those who look for Him are those who enter into God’s rest] shall He appear the second time without sin.

What does Paul mean by “without sin?” He will not come a second time to give the world a second chance.  He will not come the second time to finish the work that He left undone.  He has already dealt with the sin problem.  When He comes the second time He will come to give the reality of that work which is salvation.  So He will not come the second time to deal with the sin problem.  He has done that by one sacrifice.  He has sanctified forever those who are being sanctified.  Heb.10:14.  This work is finished.

This is what gives me peace and assurance.  So the Sabbath becomes a delight. I delight in the Sabbath because I can face the realities of life with assurance because I know in whom I believe.  Christ is my righteousness!

If you try to add to this, which the devil wants to do, that moment you are fallen from grace and you have no right to keep the Sabbath.  Those who keep the Sabbath are those who have entered into His rest.  His rest points to a perfect and finished work.  So please let us not give the Sabbath a legalistic meaning.  Let us give it a gospel meaning and the world will see that the Sabbath is vitally connected with the gospel.

Can you see why the Sabbath is so vital?  It points to a perfect and finished redemption in Christ; it also points to a perfect and finished restoration. By the way, how much help will you give Christ in restoring this world? None.  He’ll do it all.  What is our part?  To rest in Christ.  The world needs to see a people who are resting in Christ, and God will do the rest.

When you are resting in Christ, He doesn’t only give you peace, He doesn’t only give you assurance, He also gives you victory.  Because, I’ll tell you, you can never conquer sin; sin is a power in you that is greater than you.  If you don’t believe me read Romans 7:

I want to do right, but I find I cannot.

And the question you will ask is, “I am resting in Christ, why is He not giving me victory?” Well, Abraham said the same thing about having a son.  That’s His job, not yours.  Your job is resting in Christ. And He will give you, in His own way, in His own time.  He has reasons sometimes for delaying because you are not fully resting in Him.  So we need to rest in Christ, and the Sabbath is a sign, it’s an outward act for an inward experience.  The outward act has no significance without the inward experience. So if you keep the day for the wrong reason you’re only fooling yourself. And that is why the truth of the Sabbath is more important than the day itself.  The day becomes meaningless without the truth.  It is the truth that makes the Sabbath significant.  And that is why we must restore the truth, then the day becomes significant.

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