Leviticus 23:3 “Six days shall work be done: but on the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation; you shall do no manner of work: it is a sabbath unto Jehovah in all your dwellings”.
Midrashically understood, Israel’s feasts and festivals represent the course of time upon the earth; the earth’s days from creation to the end. Each and all of these festal events on the Jewish calendar are typical; that is, they are types that point to a fulfilment in future events, and taken together, are an unfolding of the great redemptive work of God in fallen man. According to this understanding, the ancient division of the course of time into a week of seven days is a prophetic type of the course of the earth’s time in which each day represents one thousand years. Thus, the week of man’s time upon the earth is made up of two thousand years without the Law, two thousand years with the Law, two thousand years of Messiah and one thousand years as the earth’s Sabbath rest.
From the very beginning of man’s time, there was the promise of a new creation, of a more perfect dispensation than that of the Law and a greater deliverance than that from Egypt. The sabbath is a central spoke in that wheel of prophetic and typical celebrations established by God that, in them, we might come to know not only His intention and purposes in providing for man’s reconciliation and redemption but how, and in what manner, these things are to be accomplished.
The sabbath was established by God as a day when you shall do no manner of work and marks both the commencement of the celebratory convocations, or assemblies, in God’s revelation to Moses in Leviticus 23 and also the end or fulfilment of the redemptive process itself. The sabbath, or rest, was appointed by God in the first instance as a memorial of God’s finished work in creation; “And God blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it; because that in it he rested from all his work which God had created and made” (Genesis 2:3). But, in addition to its perpetual testimony to God as Creator, God established it as a weekly memorial of the redemption of Israel (a type of God’s people) from bondage to Egypt (a type of the world, or sin).
“Observe the sabbath day, to keep it holy, as Jehovah your God commanded you. Six days shall you labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath unto Jehovah your God: in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your man-servant, nor your maid-servant, nor your ox, nor your ass, nor any of your cattle, nor any stranger that is within your gates; that your man-servant and your maid-servant may rest as well as you. And you shall remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and Jehovah your God brought you out thence by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm: therefore Jehovah your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day”(Deuteronomy 5:12-15).
So there was a duality in the memorial aspect of the sabbath; remembering God both as Creator and as Deliverer. But the sabbath is also a prophecy and a pledge; it speaks prophetically of a future sabbath rest for God’s people and is also a pledge by God that such a sabbath is attainable to fallen man.
Israel did not enter into God’s rest when they were brought out of Egypt, for their redemption was itself only typical, pointing to the great spiritual deliverance from bondage to sin and Satan, of which the Pharaoh was a type, and which, alone, can bring true rest to God’s weary people and, at the same time, fit man to enjoy the sabbatism of God. All of these things were understood by holy men of God as recorded in the prophets and psalms, even if the priests and the people were not able to see them.
When these prophetic promises were at last fulfilled in the Messiah, the true Joshua, through Whom we enter into the true rest and in Whom the Father also has rested from His works, it was fitting that the celebration of these events be associated not with the typical, but with the fulfillment thereof. For that reason, the sabbath rest for those who have embraced faith in Christ Jesus is celebrated on the first day of the week, rather than the last day of the week, as heretofore and as Christian Zionists and the Jews themselves continue to practice.
There are good reasons for the choice of the first day to celebrate the sabbath of God.
Firstly, the Lord Jesus was the fulfilment of the Passover lamb and was sacrificed on the sabbath eve; that is, Friday. The sun went down and come up again on that Friday, signifying, in the Hebrew understanding of days, two days, but neither of those days was a complete day. The only complete day the Messiah spent in the grave was the sabbath. Thus, it was the one complete day of His rest in death and signifies that His work was accomplished. As He said on the cross; “It is finished” (John 19:30).
With His resurrection, the seventh-day sabbath of the old creation expired and its sanctity and privileges were transmitted to the new weekly sabbath – the first day, which became our day of rest in the power of a new creation. “Wherefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation: the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Such is our condition, a new creation, as viewed in Christ our representative and forerunner and this power was effected in the resurrection; the resurrection made possible the new creation. It follows naturally enough that the day of the resurrection, the day following the old covenant sabbath, be regarded as the new day of celebration and memorial of the new creation, the new covenant people of God.
Moreover, the eighth day, which is the day following the sabbath, has a special honour attaching to it; it was the day appointed for circumcision, itself a type of separation from the flesh unto God.
“for in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and in him you are made full, who is the head of all principality and power: in whom you were also circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, in the putting off of the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ; (Colossians 2:9-11).
On the eighth day, the new born were to be consecrated to God. On the eighth day, the priests entered on their service in the tabernacle, having been perfected in their consecration. So, too, was the Pentecostal Day an eighth day, when the Holy Spirit was sent down to witness to the resurrection glory of the Christ. Pentecost followed the seventh day sabbaths that concluded the seven weeks numbered from the day of offering the first fruits.
The eighth day, too, was the holy convocation of the Feast of Tabernacles.
“Seven days ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto Jehovah: on the eighth day shall be a holy convocation unto you; and ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto Jehovah: it is a solemn assembly; ye shall do no servile work” (Leviticus 23:36).
John referred to this day as “the great day” of the Feast of Tabernacles.
Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink (John 7:37).
This eighth day, then, was honoured in the type, because it was to be honoured by the great fact of the resurrection and the ushering in of a new covenant, of which the fulfilment of the Passover lamb type was the Mediator. In relation to the past, resurrection day was the eighth day; in relation to the future, it was a first day. While it is not possible to cite any specific New Testament scriptural warrant for changing the celebratory day of rest from the seventh day to the first, there is no doubt that there is abundant evidence of the sanctification of this day through habitual apostolic action.
From the beginning, the first day was honoured as the Lord’s Day; the gathering of the apostles on the day of Christ’s resurrection was on the first day; the following week on the first day they were gathered once again and this time with Thomas; on the day of Pentecost, being the first day after the traditional sabbath, they were gathered together once again when the Holy Spirit, the promised paraclete, brought the promised gifts. We find this pattern throughout the New Testament record of the gatherings of the saints and this first day became known as the Lord’s Day. It was so described by the apostle John when He received the revelation of Christ Jesus. I was “in the spirit on the Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:10).
The first day, consecrated by the resurrection of the Christ, became the perpetual badge of His Church from the beginning. Just as the Jews still retain the celebration of the seventh day because they will not believe there is any greater deliverance than that from Egypt; just as Muslims religiously observe the sixth day of the week to memorialise the flight from Mecca of Mohammed whom they esteem a greater prophet than Christ Jesus; so all of those who profess faith in Christ are known publicly to belong to His Church by observing the first day of the week, upon which He rose from the dead, and by this mark of celebration are separated from all other professions.
In summary then, the old sabbath is for the old man; the new is for the new man, “…the one being created according to God in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:24).