An overview of the Sabbath

The concept of the sabbath is an important one, and not one we probably typically think of very often. I’m not talking about what you can or cannot do on the sabbath, or what exactly are your weekly practices. I’m talking about the big picture of the sabbath, from the beginning of time. Why is the important? The sabbath is where creation is going, it is our trajectory. The world isn’t an endless cycle, it’s a story. And the sabbath is one way to tell this story. The sabbath is the end goal of creation.

Here is a (very) brief overview of the sabbath story, from Genesis to Revelation.

Sabbath Overview

Sabbath Overview - CreationCreation. When God created the world, the Bible says He worked for 6 days, then after He saw that His work was done and that it was good, He rested from it. He made the 7th day holy, which means He set it apart. That’s all we get from the first chapters of Genesis, no rules, just a statement of what God has done. God creates the Sabbath and is the first one to celebrate the Sabbath.

Sabbath Overview - IsraelIsrael. Fast forward to the nation of Israel, having recently been set free from their slavery in Egypt, in their desert wanderings. At this time, God gives Israel His law, part of that is the 10 Commandments. One of the 10 commandments that God gave was for His people to keep the seventh day holy (Ex 20.8-11). God says don’t work, you have six other days for that, everybody should stop and rest. That’s what “sabbath” means: rest. And because we reflect who God is in who we are, we, as His people, are to imitate him in resting from our work, just as He rested from His.

Later on, right before Israel enters the land that God promised them, this sabbath imagery crops up again. The promised land was called a “place of rest” and was provided by God (Josh 1.13). This makes it clear that the concept of sabbath isn’t just a time set aside, but a place as well. Time and space. The writer of Hebrews, much later in the New Testament, helps us understand this. It says though Joshua led the Israelites to the promised land, Joshua still couldn’t lead them into God’s rest. They entered the land, but for God’s people, the promise of rest still stands (Heb 4.1, 8-13).

Sabbath Overview - JesusJesus’ Day. By the time we get to Jesus’ day in the New Testament, many writings on top of Scripture came about regarding the sabbath. There were precise rules about what was OK and what wasn’t on the sabbath: 39 specific rules in fact. And everyone knew them. Keeping the sabbath became more than rules to follow, it was part of their identity, what set them apart, especially because the Romans were ruling over them.

That’s why when Jesus and/or his disciples did something on the Sabbath (like prepare food or heal people) it was a big deal (see Luke 6 as one example). They weren’t merely breaking the rules, they were transgressing their own cultural norms, even their own cultural identity itself. It would be like if an American came up to another American and started burning the flag in front of your face. It would be scandalous, and part of your Americanness would be offended in one way or another.

Sabbath Overview - New CreationNew Creation. Sabbath is the end goal of creation. It is complete restoration. In Revelation, the last book of the Bible, we are given pictures of what this restoration looks like. It’s the earth, remade, restored, changed in such a dramatic way, it can be called something completely new (Rev 21). This is a time and a place of rest that goes on and on—it’s cosmic! Sabbath is more than just a rule to follow one day a week. Every tear wiped away, death is no more, God dwelling with His people in a radical and new way, the list goes on and on. This is what God has been preparing for us, and has been patient to prepare as we are very slow to follow. The wonderful news is that this new creation Jesus is in the process of creating right now, He says, “I am making all things new.

Our little sabbaths that the people of God are called to celebrate now, these aren’t an end in themselves, they point to the Sabbath. The Rest. The Restoration when everything that’s broken will be made new. They reflect this cosmic restoration. How should that change how we celebrate our sabbaths? I think we would probably be more generous and throw more parties if we truly understood what this means. This isn’t first a set of rules to follow (though there are rules involved), it’s a cosmic celebration and a protest of the current world order. We can confidently say with honesty “this world is not as it should be” and with hope “this world is being made new” at the same time. So let’s enjoy more of our sabbaths together, as God’s people who reflect His glory.

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