From darkness and chaos, God created a magnificent world in six days. And then he rested.

The Bible Project published a video about the Sabbath that resonated with me deeply–especially in the way it portrays Jesus’ ministry and message as the ultimate fulfillment of the Sabbath rest.

Why did it make such an impression? I think part of the reason is that it contrasts with the emphasis I heard when I first came to know God. When I first studied the Bible with Christians back in 1987, the central message of our fellowship (at least as it came across to me) was Total Commitment, and specifically, Total Commitment to Making Disciples of All Nations. We had studies about who God is, and about the Word of God, and the Love of God, and other topics, but the flagship study was Discipleship: Will you be a “sold out” disciple of Jesus, and devote your life to making more disciples of Jesus?

In striking contrast, Jesus started his ministry with good news of freedom and favor, which all added up to rest–a Sabbath Rest. After his desert fast…

He came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. As was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it is written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor."

The passage in Isaiah 61 is rooted in the year of Jubilee, a “Sabbath Year” described in Leviticus 25. Jubilee was the culmination of a multiplicity of sevens, beginning with the seven-day Creation Week.

Jesus continued to make the Sabbath rest a major part of his mission to bring God’s kingdom to earth. He identified himself as Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8). He did not hesitate to heal people on the Sabbath (John 5).

The Hebrew word for ‘release’ in Isaiah 61 and Leviticus 25 represents freedom from debt, slavery, poverty, and oppression. As he went around releasing people from sin, sickness and even death, Jesus’s ministry could be described as one big Jubilee tour!

There Still Remains a Sabbath Rest for the People of God

The Eighth Day

The Bible Project observes, “In the Bible, when something happens in a pattern of seven, it usually involves God rescuing his people out of darkness and death and into a period of abundance or rest in his presence.”

Unlike the other six days of creation, the seventh day was never “closed”. It was never said, “There was evening, and there was morning, the seventh day”.

The number seven is spelled with the same letters as the Hebrew word “complete” or “full,” and it’s an image of complete goodness.

Is Keeping the Sabbath Still Relevant to Christians Today?

With the Sabbath commandment, God invites his people to join him in this rest. “Shabbat” means “rest from work”: The other Hebrew word used for rest is “nuakh”, which means “dwell” or “settle”.

Stop working and dwell together with our LORD in the glory of the work that has been accomplished!

Podcast: The Seventh Day

The pattern of seven continues in the Jewish calendar: Seven festival assemblies, where God’s people take time to celebrate their connection with Him:

  1. Spring - Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover), first day assembly (Matstah)

  2. Spring - Feast of Unleavened Bread, last day assembly (Matstah)

  3. Summer - Feast of Weeks (Shavuot, “week” or “seven”, aka Pentecost lit. “50 days”) - Giving of Torah (7 weeks from 2nd day of Passover); concluding festival of grain harvest (barley harvest first, wheat harvest last) - conclusion of the season of Passover

  4. Fall - Feast of Trumpets (Yom Teru’ah, lit. “day of shouting or blasting”, aka Rosh Hashanah lit. “Head of the Year”, aka the Jewish New Year) - 1st day of 7th month, a day of complete rest, Lev. 23:23, Num. 29:1

  5. Fall - Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) - 7th month

  6. Fall - Sukkoth (Feast of Tabernacles), first day assembly - 7th month

  7. Fall - Sukkoth (Feast of Tabernacles), last (eighth) day assembly - 7th month - concluding festival of fruit harvest

There is also a Sabbath Year, featuring…

  • Forgiveness of debt
  • sabbath-rest for the land: Exodus 23:10; Lev. 25:20, 26:33; Numbers 25:1; Dt 15:1
  • Mentioned often, but practiced seldom!

And, a Sabbath of Sabbath years - the Jubilee. In addition to forgiveness of debt…

  • Release of Hebrew slaves and prisoners, Lev. 25:8

There were warnings for failing to keep the sabbaths, and of course that is what happened.

But Jesus came as Lord of the Sabbath, Mark 2:23. His purpose was to bring the ultimate Sabbath rest!

  • Luke 4 - He spoke on the Sabbath
  • Quoted Isaiah 61, “the year of the Lord’s favor” - release of the prisoner.
  • He said “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (not well received, similar to previous Sabbath guidance!)

Matt 11:28 - you will find rest for your souls

Jesus died as the Passover lamb. His resurrection was on the “eighth” day - Or, the first day of a new creation.

The inauguration of the church by the Holy Spirit happened at the end of the seven-week harvest cycle.

Hebrews - “There still remains a Sabbath-rest for the people of God”

Questions for thought

  • How does a message of rest sound?
  • Why do you think Israel so often violated the sabbaths?
  • How do you respond when someone encourages or “gives you permission” to rest?