Queries and Explications

Is the Weekly Sabbath Still Binding?


QUESTION: "Is the weekly Sabbath still binding on us because of Hebrews 4:9? The 'rest' in this verse is 'Sabbatismos' in Greek which means 'weekly Sabbath' (Saturday). Is this true?"

REPLY: In his Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, W. E. Vine, speaking of "sabbatismos" says, "(H)ere the sabbath-keeping is the perpetual sabbath rest to be enjoyed uninterruptedly by believers in their fellowship with the Father and the Son, in contrast to the weekly Sabbath under the law" (970). Note, "sabbatismos," Vine says, is "in contrast to the weekly Sabbath under the law." Thayer, commenting on Hebrews 4:9, concurs (565).

Too, as a casual search will show, the usual word for the weekly (Saturday) sabbath is sabbata, or sabbaton, not sabbatismos. Further, Hebrews 4:9 refers to "a rest," not "the Sabbath."

The "rest" of Hebrews 4:1-11 is a promise to be enjoyed, not a command to be kept, or observed. In this, it is parallel to Holy Spirit baptism. The baptism of the Spirit was never a command to be obeyed. Rather, it was a promise which certain ones were to receive (Acts 1:4-8). So, likewise, Hebrews 4:1-11 deals with a promise to be received by certain ones. It is not cited as a command to be obeyed. But, what was the weekly sabbath under the law? Was it a promise or a precept? It was a precept, a command; indeed, one of the ten commandments (Ex. 20:8; 35:1, 2). (To be sure, commands must be obeyed in order to inherit the promised rest, but "that rest" itself was not a command to be obeyed. It was, rather, a promise to be enjoyed by those who were obedient.)

The entire context should be noted. Israel did not enter into their promised "rest" because of unbelief (Ex. 33:14; Heb. 3:7-19; Cf. Num. 14:20-35). Afterward, David spoke of a rest which those of his day should not neglect, nor fail of. "For," the Hebrew writer argues, "if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that" (Heb. 4:8--NASB). In other words, there is a rest that awaits the faithful, obedient child of God. It is a "rest" which is separate and apart from the weekly sabbath under the law and from the rest in Canaan under Joshua (Josh. 1:15; 22:4).

It is a rest to which we must labor to enter (Heb. 4:11). Under the law, did they "labor" to "enter into" the keeping of the Sabbath day? The thought is absurd. "There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God" (Heb. 4:9).

Since, as we have seen, the "rest" of Hebrews 4:1-11 is not the weekly sabbath under the law, what is it?

First, Jesus said, "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest...ye shall find rest unto your souls" (Matt. 11:28, 29). Second, God will repay "rest" (a noun, not a verb) to those who are troubled (Cf. weary and heavy laden, and Rom. 2:6-10), "when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels" (2 T hess. 1:6-10). Third, the "rest" of our text is equal to the praise, honor, and glory that shall given to those whose faith stands fast under severe testing (1 Pet. 1:6, 7; Cf. glory, honor, and peace, Rom. 2:10; 2 Tim. 4:8; Jas. 1:12; Rev. 2:10). All of these things are part of the inheritance that is incorruptible, undefiled, and that cannot fade away (1 Pet. 1:3-5). It is assured by the resurrection of Jesus Christ and "kept by the power of God through faith" (1 Pet. 1:3, 5). Fourth, "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them" (Rev. 14:13).

Milligan sums it up this way: "9. There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God--This is the Apostles conclusion logically deduced from all the premises. Over and above the sabbatical rest and the rest of Canaan, there still remains a rest...for every child of God. It is God's rest; a rest which he has provided, and such as that which he himself enjoys; a rest from all the toils and ills of this sinful and wearisome life. Of this the Christian has even a foretaste in the Kingdom and patience of God's dear Son....But it is of the heavenly rest, the eternal sabbatism, of which our author here speaks particularly: for in the eleventh verse of this chapter he exhorts even his Christian brethren to labor now so as to finally enter the promised rest" (134, 135).

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