Simplicity Series #47
Sabbath Series—Part 7

The Sabbath of the Soul

“For we who have believed do enter that rest … Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall after the same example of disobedience.” Hebrews 4:3, 11

A Question of Time

We have looked at the Sabbaths of Israel in some detail, beginning with the weekly Sabbath all the way through to the Millennial Sabbath. The great question that faces every Church Age believer is this: What does the teaching about the Sabbaths have to do with me?

There are many today who are quite confused on this issue. It is not an insignificant matter. Every failure in “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15) has serious effects in both time and eternity. As a result of faulty interpretation today, many believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are seeking a return to Jewish practices. This “Hebrew Roots Movement” encourages believers to return to not only Sabbath observance, but to all Jewish observances, including strict adherence to the law of Moses.

This teaching fails to distinguish between the Old and the New covenants, and between the Old Testament shadows versus the New Testament (covenant) realities. This is the result of failing to understand “the times and seasons” (1 Thess. 5:1), or the doctrine of dispensations. A more complete discussion on these issues will follow in future Simplicity Series posts. For now, we are only concerned with the application of the Sabbaths.

The Sabbath and the Church

[Therefore] let no one judge you in food or drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths.”
Colossians 2:16

The word “Sabbath” occurs just once in the Epistles, and that is in the above quotation. Though often translated in the singular, Paul uses the plural, and with definite purpose. He is referring to all the Sabbath observances, which would include the seven feasts of Israel.

The reason for this warning was that, early in Church history, there was an attempt by Jewish believers to push the equivalence of the “Hebrew roots” idea (see Acts 15:1–5). This attempt was strongly refuted by Paul, particularly in Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews (I am convinced, on strong evidence, that Paul authored Hebrews). We will look at these arguments in more detail in future posts.

The important thing to note for now is why Paul used the plural “Sabbaths.” Consider the following quotes:

“Moreover I also gave them [Israel] My Sabbaths, to be a sign between them and Me, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them. Yet the house of Israel rebelled against Me … hallow My Sabbaths, and they will be a sign between Me and you, that you may know that I am the Lord your God.”
Ezekiel 20:12–13, 20

Here, Ezekiel speaks of “Sabbaths” in the plural, referring to the whole spectrum of Sabbath observances. He also tells us that these were given to “the house of Israel” as a “sign.” Why is this important? It is because each covenant has its own “sign.” The sign of God’s covenant with Noah was the rainbow (Gen. 9:12). The sign of the Abrahamic covenant was circumcision (Gen. 17:10–11). The sign of the Mosaic covenant was the observance of the Sabbaths.

“Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep,  for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you.’”
Exodus 31:13

Because Paul had a clear understanding of the covenants, and knew how they relate to the various ages of history (the doctrine of dispensations), he warned the believers in the Colossian church not to fall for the false doctrine that returning to Jewish observances would make them “more spiritual” or “more complete.”

“For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.”
Colossians 2:9–10

For this reason, the “sign” given to the Church was the resurrection of Jesus Christ after His death and burial (John 2:18–19), which we celebrate in the Lord’s Table. It is a reminder that we live by faith in the finished work of Christ (John 19:30). By partaking of the elements, we are proclaiming to the world, and to the unseen realm, that nothing can be added to the work of Christ our Savior (see 1 Cor. 11:23–26; Col. 1:12–13).

The Sabbath of the Church

“There remains therefore a rest [Sabbath] for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.”
Hebrews 4:9–10

The reason for the insertion of the word “Sabbath” in the verse above is because the Greek word is sabbatismos and would be better translated “Sabbath-rest.” This “Sabbath” is for the Church Age believer. It is not “a shadow of good things to come,” but is, rather, “the very image [reality] of the things” (Heb. 10:1). In other words, it is not just a ritual it is a spiritual reality.

Why then does the author first assure us that “We who have believed do enter that rest” (Heb. 4:3a), and at the same time urge us to “be diligent to enter that rest”? It is because this rest comes in two parts, and both are called “salvation.” The first part is positional and concerns our eternal salvation. We enter this “rest” at the moment of faith in Jesus Christ, identified in

verse 3. The second part of this rest is practical, or experiential salvation, and is entered into by diligent effort (v. 11). In this “salvation,” we are saved from doubt, fear, and failure, and we will reap rich blessings in time and rewards in eternity. We are “saved” from shame at the Judgment Seat of Christ (1Cor. 3:11–15; 1 John 2:28). We refer to this as the faith-rest life. Though it demands sacrifice and suffering, yet it is rich in reaping the fruits of persistent faith (Gal. 6:7–9).

If we consider the experience of Israel the concept becomes much clearer. By means of their faith in the promise of the blood of the lamb at the first Passover (Exod. 12), the nation of Israel was led out of slavery and into liberty. They had been “saved” from the death angel and became the people of God. But soon after that liberation, they faced another challenge of faith. The question at Kadesh-Barnea was: Would they go into the promised land (Numbers 13–14)? We learn through the text, they failed to enter in because of unbelief. Their experience is the template that the author of Hebrews is using (Heb. 3:12, 16–19; 4:2, 11b). Had they entered, they would have faced battles against the giants (Num. 13:31–33), but faith would have led to victory and rich blessings (Deut. 6:10–11). The Israelites, except for Joshua and Caleb, were a redeemed people, who lived and died without realizing the plan of God for themselves (1 Cor. 10:1–12). This is the danger the Hebrews author is warning about.

Time to Cease and Desist

“For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his own works as God did from His.”
Hebrews 4:10

What are the “works” that we cease from when we live the faith-rest life? The answer takes us all the way back to Colossians 2:16, where we started. There will always be those who, though believers, never grow into mature and fruitful believers (Heb. 5:12–14). Sensing the spiritual vacuum of their own souls, they will always try to compensate for the absence of spiritual reality in their lives by adopting “spiritual” rituals. These attempts to mimic the dynamic of spiritual maturity are called “dead works” in the book of Hebrews (Heb. 6:1; 9:14). Because they do not emanate from the filling power of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18), they have no life in them. They gradually lead to greater and greater bondage, and alienation from Christ (Gal. 5:1–6, Eph. 4:18).

Only when we learn to live and walk by faith (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17; 2 Cor. 5:7; Gal. 3:11) can our souls rest in the provision and power of God for living the spiritual life. It is the failure to enter into this faith-rest life that leads to God’s displeasure and our frustration (Heb. 10:38; 11:6), leading many to accept the substitute of ritual for reality (Gal. 3:1–3; 5:1–4; Heb. 13:9). There is simply no substitute for the faith-rest life! Thus, the invitation of Jesus to enter into rest is two-fold (Matt. 11:28–30).

It is my prayer that each of you who read this will look up all references, and consider their relevance, and let them strengthen your faith, and transform your life. Don’t wait until death to “Rest in Peace”— rather, let it be your daily experience.

Yours in the battle (1 Sam. 17:47),

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