The Sabbath: Permanent or Temporary?

Sabbath Study, Part 7

When we get to the actual Ten Commandments (in Exodus 20), we will see that God quotes directly from Genesis 2 to provide the basis for the Sabbath rest. Beginning with the next post, we will start to work our way through Scripture from the beginning, focusing first on Genesis 2 and what it means. In the meantime, I want us to examine the nature of all of God’s creation-week ordinances. As far as I can tell, there are three:

1. A RESPONSIBILITY: work (or labor).
2. A RELATIONSHIP: marriage.
3. A RITUAL: weekly rest.

Before sin ever entered the picture, there existed these three divinely ordained aspects of man’s existence. Each gives us a greater understanding of the reason for which man was made. Let’s briefly examine each one and see what we notice about the perpetuity (or brevity) of each.

First, the responsibility. When God placed Adam in the garden, He did so with a specific purpose. “Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). Adam was placed in the garden so that he would take care of it. What this shows us is that part of man’s original design is to work. “When you eat the labor of your hands, you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you” (Ps. 128:2; see also Ec. 5:18, 19). The Bible even says that if we don’t work we shouldn’t eat (2 Thes. 3:10).

Sin did not and could not destroy this God-given purpose for man—although it certainly made it more difficult (Gen. 3:17-19). But even with the presence of sin, we have hope for rewarding work because of Christ. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).

Even in heaven, satisfying labor will exist, free from the trappings of sin. “And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. . . . And they shall reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22:3, 5). Notice how the elimination of the curse of sin does not eliminate the presence of labor. After all, service and reigning will undoubtedly involve work. Without the influence or presence of sin, however, this work will be a peaceful and restful work.

The second Creation ordinance is the marriage relationship. After placing Adam in the garden, God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him” (Gen. 2:18). Adam named this helper Woman, “Because she was taken out of Man” (v. 23). “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (v. 24). We know from the Apostle Paul that this “one flesh” union—that marriage in general—was designed to point to the relationship Christ has with the church (Eph. 5:32).

So we see that marriage presupposes sin: if there were no sin, there would be no need for a Savior. If there was no wayward bride, it would be meaningless to have a faithful groom. If the stain of sin had not sullied the human race, there would be no need for One to wash and cleanse it, as Christ does the church (Eph. 5:25-27). Marriage was designed as a portrait of the future wedding and marriage between Christ (the bridegroom) and the church (those redeemed by God). As such, the institution of marriage (the symbol) will last only until the marriage supper of the Lamb (the reality) (see Lk. 20:35). Once the “real thing” comes in all its fullness, the mirror image will pass away.

Nevertheless, even though it is a temporary institution, God calls all men to hold it in high regard: “Let marriage be held in honor among all” (Heb. 13:4, NASB). This high view of marriage is necessary, for in the relationship between a husband and a wife the glory of God is displayed; marriage is the ultimate gospel illustration. Though its days are numbered, its message is of eternal value.

The third and final creation ordinance is the Sabbath ritual. God created the universe in six days, then rested on the seventh day, blessing and sanctifying it—setting it apart as different from any other day of the week (Gen. 2:1-3). In Exodus 16:26 this day is explicitly referred to as “the Sabbath,” and in Exodus 20 this Sabbath is explicitly shown to be for man to follow in God’s footsteps.

Along with the doctrine of marriage, we learn more about the Sabbath as redemptive history unfolds. It isn’t until later in the Bible that we read of the illustrative link between the Sabbath and eternal Heavenly rest, just as it isn’t until later in the Bible that we read of the illustrative link between marriage and the gospel. Because of the nature of these two illustrations, both marriage and the Sabbath foreshadow sin—marriage by picturing God’s redemptive relationship with His people and the Sabbath by picturing the rest enjoyed in God’s finished work of redemption.

If sin really does find symbolic representation in both marriage and the Sabbath, it follows that both institutions will pass away when—and only when—sin is finally and completely eradicated. So, in the end, I believe the Sabbath is indeed temporary—albeit, in the same way marriage is temporary. But until sin passes away, there will be a need for the gospel to shine through the biblical illustrations God has set up, namely, marriage and the weekly Sabbath.