“What that means is, that He is going to bring the world to an end in six thousand years, since with Him one day means a thousand years.” (Epistle of Barnabas)
“Six thousand years must needs be fulfilled that the Sabbath may come.” (Hippolytus)
“For in so many days as this world was made, in so many thousand years shall it be concluded… in six days created things were completed: it is evident that, therefore, they will come to an end after 6000 years.” (Irenaeus)
In the beginning God instituted the week, and throughout history this has remained an undisputed fact. Some, like Napoleon, may have tried to change the pattern. In his case he tried to “decimalise” the week, but found to his dismay that it wreaked havoc on his troops, even his horses, and he had to abandon the scheme. No, apart from such minor hiccups the week has continued inviolate throughout 6,000 years of human history. In these days men pour scorn on the Biblical creation story, but they cannot deny the existence of the week, and it is a major embarrassment to their faulty logic.
Genesis 2:1-3. “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended His work that He had made, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had made. And God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God created and made.”
Let’s have a closer look at this passage. First of all concerning the word “rest”. We must not think for one moment that God’s rest was a result of fatigue. It was rather to sit back and enjoy His achievement. The Hebrew word used here is SHABAT, from which we get our English word Sabbath. It has “cessation” as its basic meaning. There is another Hebrew word for rest, namely NOACH, from which comes the name Noah. The meaning of this word may best be seen from references like Isa.28:12 This is the REST wherewith you may cause the weary to REST.” One is reminded of our Lord’s words in Matt.11:28, “Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” So we have a distinction between these two types of “rest.”Shabat merely tells us to “cease work.” Noach invites us to recover from our heavy labours.
The second point concerns the word “sanctify.” The Hebrew word is QADESH, and it means to “separate, set apart” from something. In this context the setting apart is from the other six days. As such the word is consistently used in the Old Testament for that which God sets apart for Himself, in other words He makes it “holy.” In the New Testament the children of God are frequently referred to as “saints.” This appellation may invite humorous comment today, but basically it simply means that they are “set apart” from the rest of mankind, set apart for, and unto, God.
Now this setting apart of the seventh day is most important to our Millennial theme. The fact that God set it apart doesn’t mean that the first Sabbath ALONE was sanctified. One cannot read that into the text. The clear understanding is that EVERY seventh day was henceforth to be honoured by man, because it was the Lord’s Day. Paul has called the other six days, “man’s day”. (See the margin of 1 Cor.4:3) Just because the Sabbath Day is not mentioned again until Exodus 16, some 2,500 years later, doesn’t mean that the Sabbath was not observed amongst the peoples of the earth. In ancient Babylonian texts on clay tablets, for example, we read about their custom of Sabbath observance.
Exodus 16:23. “This is that which the Lord has said, ‘Tomorrow is the rest of the holy Sabbath unto the Lord.” In the Hebrew it is a most interesting construction. Literally it reads, “A Sabbath, a Sabbath, holy unto the Lord, is tomorrow.” Yes, the Sabbath was a day holy unto the Lord. It was His special day. He had given six days for man to work, to do his own thing, but on the seventh day he was required to turn aside from his own pursuits and pleasures, and fix his eyes on the Lord, consider Him, speak to Him, and worship Him. See how the Lord speaks about His special day in Isa.58:13-14. “If you turn your feet from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasures on MY HOLY DAY, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable, and shall honour Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor indulging in endless conversation, then you shall delight yourself in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.”
Coming on the New Testament, we find Jesus reinforcing the words from Isaiah, when He said that “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Matt.12:8) Our Lord was anxious to show the correct way of observing the Sabbath, rather than the restrictive legislation imposed on people by the Pharisees. He allowed His disciples to pluck corn on the Sabbath, and He made a practice of healing people on the Sabbath, and His whole demeanour was that of treating the Sabbath Day as a “delight.”
There is a tendency today to treat the Sabbath in the same manner as that of circumcision, in other words, to believe it has been “fulfilled”, and therefore no longer applicable to Christians. However, this is wholly without warrant. One may for example turn to Isa.66:23, and read about days that are still future, (about which no one would dare to question). “And it shall come to pass that from one New Moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, all flesh shall come to worship before me, says the Lord.” Shall we say that the Sabbath has been “fulfilled” (whatever that may mean), and then suggest that God will go back on itin the future? Does He ever give the possibility that He will re-institute circumcision? No, Paul’s exposition in his letters precludes that. Circumcision was fulfilled on the eight day, the resurrection day. But our Lord spoke about Sabbaths in the future in his Olivet discourse in Matt.24:20. “Pray that your flight be not in winter, neither on the Sabbath Day.” His words referred to an event that was going to transpire in about 40 years time, when Jerusalem would be surrounded by the Roman armies. If Sabbaths were going to have no further force or significance, He would not have used such words.
Try as you may, and you will find no word in the New Testament to indicate a cessation of the Sabbath Rest. Some refer to Col.2:16-17, and misunderstand what Paul was saying. “Let no man judge you in meat or in drink, or in taking part in holy days, or New Moons or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the body [i.e. the substance which forms the shadow] is of Christ.” If Paul was suggesting abandoning the ancient Hebrew festivals (holy days), or Sabbaths, then his behaviour throughout the Acts period contradicted it. He spoke about wanting to be in Jerusalem for Pentecost, and was always preaching on Sabbath days. Paul’s warning in Colossians was based on the Jewish legalisers, who wished to apply restrictive practices ON TOP OF the recognised observance of special days.
The purpose of the exposition of this chapter is to show that the Sabbath Day was a very special day in God’s sight, and like everything else that He brought to man’s notice, it had to have a significance BEYOND just the request to treat it in a sanctified manner. What was the hidden meaning of the Sabbath? What special meaning is attached to the seventh day? In the next chapter we shall search and find what Scripture tells us about these things.