Observing the Sabbath

Dearly esteemed Brother Reggie!

I am a christian of gentile origin but I am deeply into the jewish way of thinking and I would dare to call myself a hebrew christian. Salvation and the gift of righteousness through faith is a precious gift which I embrace with vigour and zeal. Still I have a deep reverence for celebrating the sabbath on saturdays…not in a legalistic way but in the way of freedom and love for God. This day was indeed sanctified at the creation of the world and the law was given much later. How would you think I can honour this day without falling into that which Paul warned the galatians about. Could you plese bestow some of your wisdom and give me some instructions how to celebrate without going wrong here.

Truly yours in Messiah Yehoshua

It seems to me, that as long as you make the distinction that you so passionately express here, there’s little risk that your love of the Sabbath would ever spill over into some of the errors that are beginning again to plague the church.

Contrary to some suspiciously labored qualifications by some teachers, Paul makes this a matter of liberty and personal conscience, not to be judged by another. So you are free to use your Shabbat blessing as you choose, as a sweet offering to the Lord, and as refreshment to your soul, your family, and as many as are inclined to observe with you. It is unto the Lord that you regard the day; and He is honored by what’s in your heart. After all, the day was not made for its own sake, but for you. However, mark well that IF we were still under the law as a binding administration, this would not be so. It would then be a very particular matter indeed, and no part of all the appurtenances of Sabbath observance could be left undone without spoiling the whole.

Also, If I am correct to understand that the literal interpretation of scripture receive first priority, I see that the regathered Jews will be observing a somewhat modified Sabbath in the Land during the millennium, and that the nations will be obliged to honor the feast of tabernacles. This is clearly not required now, but will be then. At that time, the mystery of the gospel is no longer hidden from the entirety of the nation (Isa 8:14-17; 25:7; Ezek 39:22; Zech 12:10), since at that time, all will know Him, and so never again have occasion to evangelize a Jewish neighbor (Jer 31:34 et al.). I mention this because a return to certain elements of the law will then be safe from confusion among the Jews, because the unique test and demonstration designed for this current dispensation will have accomplished its purpose. For this reason, certain elements of the law are clearly not imposed, not even enjoined, upon the Gentile believers of this age only. The millennium will have its own distinctive requirements, stewardship, tests.

Such provisional ‘loosing’ of certain requirements of the law as evident in many scriptures can only be accounted for by a special divine intention unique to this time. Here’s where interpretations differ; but it seems undeniable that some kind of divine statement is being made to Israel, such as how the Spirit is received by faith alone, and this by non-observant Gentiles. Unthinkable! Exactly! The supreme stumbling block, and it was so intended.

As I’ve suggested elsewhere, the unique stewardship, or the test for the church of this time, is different for the sake of the testimony suited to this time, particularly as it pertains to the ‘mystery’ of the gospel. Though once and for all revealed, the gospel remains a mystery for the Jew where Christ is not acknowledged as ‘the LORD our righteousness’, as the only ground of an eternal justification. What then is included in such a divine statement that would justify what the writer of Hebrews calls “a change in the law?” What a radical challenge to Israel that Gentiles should be released from the law. What’s God’s point? The relationship of the covenants and the issue of continuity and discontinuity between the testaments is one of the most nuanced and difficult subjects in all of theology, particularly if you happen to be committed to a literal and therefore millennial view of prophecy.

Although there is a very clear ‘loosing’, or relaxation of the outward ordinances (called ‘carnal ordinances’ in Heb 7:16; 9:10, in manifest distinction to the law in the heart). Still, Paul is just as clear that there is freedom of conscience in this matter, so long as it doesn’t result in judgment of another brother’s liberty. Would to God we could recover the generous spirit of this apostolic balance. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.” But that doesn’t mean liberty from stewardship, and certainly not from obedience, whether in the OT, now, or in the millennium to come. But rather the liberty to be ‘led of the Spirit’ and so fulfill the law of Christ. Therefore, if a brother or sister is so ‘led’ to observe Sabbath, whether the weekly, the eternal, or both in the true spirit of the ordinance, and not the mere form of the letter, then what believer would not rejoice?

I do not believe that the Sabbath can be regarded as ‘mandatory’ simply because it predates the law. The covenant of circumcision also predates the law (“not because it is of Moses, but of the Fathers”).

It is typically argued by Seventh Day Adventists that the Sabbath is exceptional to circumcision and other aspects of the outward ordinances of the law on the ground that it is a ‘creation ordinance’. By making a case for the pre-Sinaitic existence of the other ten commandments, it is held that the Sabbath should be regarded as just as binding for all time. The reasoning goes: If Sabbath observance pre-existed the law as an ‘everlasting’ ordinance, we might reasonably infer that it should be no less ‘required’ than any other of the ‘big ten’. As an ‘everlasting’ ordinance, the Sabbath transcends the more temporal imposition of circumcision and other features of the Sinaitic institutions. (Note, however, that circumcision was also called an ‘everlasting’ covenant; Gen 17:13).

The argument runs: If all other aspects of the moral law remain in force in the NT, shouldn’t the Sabbath also retain its eternal status as also defining and declaring something about the moral character of God? Never are any of the other commandments considered optional or a matter of liberty or personal conscience. Why, then, shouldn’t the Sabbath be just as mandatory? However, according to certain, albeit disputed, NT passages, Sabbath observance, unlike all other inward moral commandments, is no longer “required” in the sense of a punishable moral obligation, else Paul could not speak of the Sabbath in the liberal way he does. The other moral commandments of God are certainly NOT treated as optional, NOT a matter of liberty. So what has changed? And why should this be so? Particularly since regenerate Israel is shown in some clearly post-day of the Lord (millennial) passages as celebrating certain feasts and features of the law’s ancient institutions in the Land during the millennium? Of course, this is only a problem for us so-called ‘literalists’.

I think that part of the answer is that in this dispensation the stress is placed on the Spirit, and the coming in of the eternal realm of the new creation (the so-called ‘age to come’). So in order to enforce the divine testimony that the outward forms have now realized their prefiguring goal and fulfillment in Christ, the outward is removed (‘loosed’) only to demonstrate that the inward and eternal has come as everlasting fulfillment. The eternal life of the resurrection is demonstrated, not by outward diet or ritual, or observance of a particular feast or day, but by the signs of the Spirit, as beyond mere natural human ‘do-ability’. Thus, the true goal of the law is fulfilled by Christ in the believer in things that are incapable of fulfillment apart from the power of His life, proof of incarnation. This kind of commandment fulfillment is beyond human reach, and less capable of confusing the chasm that exists between nature and grace. To underscore this new centrality of the now revealed secret, some of the outward forms are temporarily (or permanently, depending on your view of the millennium) suspended in order to stress the issue of the Spirit through Christ. This puts the Jew on the spot as nothing else, but only if the Christian is not provoking him to jealousy by demonstrating the evidence of the Spirit’s power, otherwise, it is the supreme stumbling block, and serves rather to support him in his unbelief. It would almost seem as if God doesn’t play ‘fair’, putting the burden of proof on the church, and making Israel’s destiny to be bound up with what is manifest only “through the church.”

Sorry if I strayed from the topic a bit; but your question provoked some of my own reflections and questions, as there are still outstanding issues in this whole area about which I remain tentative. But this is my general view as it now stands.

Yours in the Beloved, Reggie

Response from a reader on Oct 27, 2007:

I really appreciated your article on the Sabbath. It is beautifully put and strikes chords that are stirring in my own heart. I am curious about a sentence in the next to last paragraph. Did you really mean “not” provoking? If you did would you elaborate?

I meant ‘not’ provoking. Because when we ‘fail’ to demonstrate the compelling evidence of the Spirit’s power, the Jew is all the more reinforced in his view that believers are ‘illegitimately’ liberated from the Law by those nefarious Jewish apostates, Jesus and Paul. We believe on the other hand that we are legitimately liberated from the law, not because the Word of God has changed, but because through Christ, we are the walking fulfillment of the law as new creations, showing the law’s goal through love shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Spirit, and in order that the issue not be blurred but pressed home, there is the actual ‘loosing’ of New Covenant believers from some of the old forms.

When the Jew sees the power of the Spirit in undeniable manifestation, this gives serious pause to the boldness of their rejection. When they see the signs of the Spirit performed in Jesus’ name, it sends shock waves through all of their categories. That said, however, I believe that the truest and fullest witness to the Jew takes even more than the manifestation of the miraculous; and it should! I say this because I’ve heard many of the ultra orthodox dismiss Jesus’ miracles on the basis of Deut 13:1-10. Jesus was a self-deceived false prophet with the power of sorcery, actually raised up by God to test the hearts of the righteous remnant concerning their devotion to the law. If you read that passage, you’ll see that this is also likely the text in mind that justified the stoning of Stephen. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, ‘this generation’, the generation that killed the prophets, has by no means passed away. All that is lacking is political power to manifest again this kind of house cleaning. This is where the miracle of Christian love for the enemy (albeit beloved enemy) shines through the most brightly, as in Jesus’ words from the cross, in Stephen’s impassioned plea, and Paul’s will to absorb their curse in himself. That’s the love that has redeemed you and me; may it shine in us towards Israel, as it shines towards our detractors who are actually servants to our calling to test and mature this kind of love in us, the inimitable love of the Father.

Appreciatively, in His precious service, Reggie

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