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Should we celebrate the sabbath on Saturday or Sunday?

June 2018 | by Victor Atallah

Recently hearing a disturbing sermon from an elderly brother, I was constrained to respond to the things he was saying. This is how this article came to be written.

He was a dear brother, a good-hearted man, who seems to have been shaken not by old Adventist arguments but by a new group, who are part of a modern Judaising movement. Their main argument is that, for the Saturday observance of the sabbath to be changed to Sunday, a new commandment is required.

Fourth Commandment

The day of ‘rest’ was established at the completion of the first creation, based upon the Lord’s cessation from his creative work (Genesis 2:1-3). The seventh day marked the Lord’s celebration of the completion of the first creation, having created the first Adam.

When we read that God ‘rested’, we should not think that he got tired. Rather, it means that God (Elohim/the triune God) enjoyed the creation he had accomplished in his wise, sovereign and eternal counsel.

The word ‘sabbath’ in Hebrew means ‘rest’. It came on the completion of the creation week, crowned by creation of a special creature, Adam — man, made in God’s image. Everything was created in preparation for Adam; before him, but for him.

But the first Adam rebelled against God and the entire human race became characterised by: enmity to the Creator; sin and guilt that impacted Adam’s God-given uniqueness, his knowledge of what is true and good and his creativity; slavery to sin and the ways of the evil one; spiritual and physical death; being immersed in sins and trespasses; and separation from the Lord.

So, the sabbath sanctified the end of the week of the first creation. It was later formalised as the Fourth Commandment, and part of the moral law in the Ten Commandments. It spoke of a failed Adam and a failed creation, and the need for the redeeming Mediator. Thus, it was part of that ‘tutor’ to lead us to Christ (Galatians 3:19-21).

Lord of the sabbath

It is important to note that, in the New Testament, we are taught that the pre-incarnate, Second Person of the holy Trinity was there in the beginning and created all things (John 1:1-5). This pre-incarnate Christ was the one in whose image and likeness the first Adam was formed. It was that image that was corrupted in Adam by his fall and rebellion against the Creator.

The Lord Jesus called himself Lord of the sabbath. He also stated that he came not to annul the law, but fulfil it. This indicates that the law needed fulfilment. Yes, something was lacking, and that related to the Fourth Commandment as much as the other nine. But Jesus fulfilled them all.

The moral law remains Christ’s servant; it points us to our need of him. The law’s lack of fulfilment speaks of its need for Christ’s perfection, in contrast to the sinfulness of the descendants of the first Adam.

Through Christ’s incarnation he became fully human, just like us. But his human nature was unlike ours, unrelated to Adam’s fallen soul. The sinless first Adam received his sinless human soul by the breathing of it from the Lord into his body. Similarly, the Second or Last Adam, Jesus Christ, received his sinless human soul from the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary.

This New Adam had to endure the same temptations as the first Adam (and far more severely, for he was lonely, tired and hungry, unlike the first). Throughout his life on earth, he remained perfectly sinless. He conquered the devil, sin, the world and death itself.

He was qualified to replace the first Adam. He completed his substitutionary, redemptive work on earth at end of the first sabbath. He became the ‘firstborn from the dead’ and the legal founder of the New Adamic race.

New creation

The celebration of the New Adam’s success and victory is now a logical inevitability. And it does not take place at the end of the week, but at its beginning.

This is the difference between an ‘old’ sabbath celebration, which continues to celebrate the completion of the first Adam who failed the test and fell to the temptation of the evil one, and the ‘new’ sabbath celebration of the New Adam who crushed the head of the evil one.

The New Adam and all he represented — sinlessness, perfection and triumph as the fulfilment of the hope of Israel and Old Testament Scriptures — was rejected by those among whom he lived and ministered. He was unjustly condemned to the cursed death on the tree.

But a remnant received him and became the stump of the vine into which the rest of new humanity is grafted. ‘Abram’, in Hebrew, means ‘father of one nation’. His name was changed to ‘Abraham’, ‘father of many nations’ through a divine covenant (Genesis 12:1-3; 17:1-8). As the promised one Seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:15ff.), the New Adam fulfilled this promise of blessing for all families of the earth. This was the ultimate objective of Abram’s call and the establishing of the Old Testament Jewish nation.

The unbelieving majority of Jewish people continue to claim that Jesus was not the Promised One. They long and wait for a different Messiah and continue to celebrate the old fallen creation. But Christ, the Lord of the sabbath, fulfilled all that the law pointed to. His ‘rest’ points us to the celebration of the heaven and earth of the New Adam. He is the firstborn from the dead, and founder and foundation of the new creation. He fulfilled God’s plan for an Adamic race, made in his own image and likeness.

No new commandment needed

So, the believing new covenant community must abandon the ‘old’ sabbath and adopt the ‘new’ sabbath. This, among other vital things, distinguishes the new Israel, the new creation (Galatians 6:11-18), from the old that rejected Christ.

The Passover was fulfilled in Christ and replaced by the Lord’s Supper; and the bloody circumcision (made by human hands) was fulfilled by the blood of the eternal covenant in Christ, the Lamb of God, and replaced by the symbolic washing of water baptism.

In the same way, the old sabbath was fulfilled by the Lord, who having completed the process of the new creation, ‘sat down’ — that is rested — ‘at the right hand of the Majesty on high’ (Hebrews 1:3; 8:1). This happened on the ‘first day of the week’ — our day of rest and gladness.

The church was promised the blessed indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who guides her into the whole truth. The church did not need a new commandment to tell her to replace the old sabbath with the new. It was guided by the Holy Spirit to do so.

It was guided to meet on the first day of the week, and no longer the last day, for two reasons. First, the church had to be distinguished from those who continued to falsely claim to be the people of God; second, the church was to celebrate the new creation established by the New Adam. The result is that the Lord is given the first fruit of the week, and not the last.

Keeping the old sabbath was abolished by the victorious New Adam, the firstborn from the dead. Insisting on the need for a new commandment to replace the seventh day of the Fourth Commandment misses the whole point of the soteriological and eschatological work of Christ as Lord of the sabbath, the One who perfectly fulfilled the law of God.

Victorious Saviour

The promised Holy Spirit uses the law to tell us we are hopeless sinners, whose only hope is in Christ. He opens our minds to understand; heals our hearts to desire; and liberates our wills to embrace Christ and grow in his image as the New Adamic race.

Jesus completed his work on earth in his resurrection on the ‘first day of the week’; and, having opened the gates of righteousness, he is in heaven as our Mediator, ‘seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high’. Yes, on his seat in heaven is the victorious Saviour, who secures for us a present and eternal rest (Hebrews 4:14-16). Hallelujah!

Pastor Victor Atallah

MERF