What About the Sabbath? Part 5

Thus far we have looked at the Old Testament, the Apocrypha, the Gospels, and the practice of the disciples in relation to the Sabbath. Today I will look at two more New Testament texts.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

Colossians 2:13-17 (ESV)

What does Paul mean by “let no one pass judgement on you”? Does it mean we can completely disregard these observances? Or does it mean we should not become consumed in their observance, as the Pharisees had?

This one text is not clear enough to warrant complete disregard of the Fourth Commandment. The early church drew no such conclusion, either. The teaching of candidates for baptism historically included the 10 Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostles Creed. They did not redact the Fourth Commandment in their teaching.

Hebrews 4:1-11 is the last teaching on the Sabbath in the New Testament.

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.”

Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.

Hebrews 4:1-11 (ESV)

This passage clearly has both symbolic and eschatological applications. It also serves to reinforce the importance of rest in God. Coupled with the above passage in Colossians, we are reminded that the Sabbath is a shadow of things to come. This does not, however, mean that it is unimportant now. On the contrary, all of our worship — including the Eucharist — is a shadow of things to come.

A shadow tells us some things about an object, and without the shadow, we may have no knowledge of it at all. Remember Plato’s cave allegory? The inhabitants knew the outside world only through the shadows of objects that appeared upon the cave wall. When released, they recognized objects they had previously seen only as shadows.

Our observance of the Sabbath will always be imperfect in this life. We will only experience God’s perfect, promised rest when all work is done, especially the work of fighting against sin and the effects thereof. But that does not mean we cannot rest at all until that great and glorious day, any more than we are excused from worship until we can do it perfectly.


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