I remember as a teenager the pastor of the church we attended spoke one Sunday about resting on Sunday. The point of his message was to set aside one day a week to rest and focus on God. He cited the example from the Old Testament about keeping the Sabbath. After the service several people came up to me asking me if I still planned to work on Sundays commenting that I shouldn’t because the Bible said to keep the Sabbath holy. I worked a part time job at a local restaurant and worked when I was scheduled, which included Sunday evenings. Although the pastor meant well, he missed the point of Sabbath rest, it is not one day a week set aside to rest from our labors; the Sabbath Rest is Jesus.
In the Old Testament, the Law gave instruction about the Sabbath Rest. The Israelites set aside one day to cease from their labors when everyone around them strived seven days a week. Israel prospered above others because this rest was about trusting in God as their source and not trusting in human labor.
Everything demonstrated in the Old Testament was a type and shadow of what we would have as New Testament believers. They were copies and illustrations of what would be provided in Christ. A shadow is a vague outline resembling what is to come. For instance, my shadow has the shape of me. If I were to come around the corner my shadow would arrive ahead of me. You could see it and understand that a person was coming. You could make out my shape and know certain things about my height, weight and even length of hair. But you wouldn’t be able to fully interrupt what I look like by my shadow; that is not until you see me face to face. The same is true with the Old Testament, the Law was a foreshadowing of what Christ would be and do. It gave guidelines and regulations but these served merely to point us to the savior, the reality has always been found in Him. At that time when they looked they could see certain things about who the savior would be but they did not have a clear picture, just the shadow of what was coming.
As New Testament believers we can look back and fully understand these things and see Jesus woven throughout the entire scriptures. We have the real thing. We have the expressed image of God, everything the Law and prophets spoke about ( Hebrews 1:1-3 ). Since we have the fulfillment of these things, there is no need to live under the shadow of what was coming. The same is true for the Sabbath day, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” ( Colossians 2:16-17 ). We must look at the Old Testament through the filter of Jesus otherwise we will get bogged down in confusion and never progress into full revelation of who God is and what he has provided in Christ. Instead we will continue living under the very things we have been freed from.
The Sabbath was a symbol of Jesus and now it is a New Testament reality. We can trust in the finished work of Christ and rest continually in this. We don’t have to set aside one day a week to cease striving; our entire lives as believers dwell in this place. When Jesus hung on the cross he said, “it is finished” ( John 19:30 ). He had fulfilled everything in the Law and provided the righteousness of the law to us as a free gift. We do not need to add one thing to it, Jesus provided the way, and by trusting in this provision we rest from trying to do it on our own. This is the true Sabbath rest that God desires for His people. This rest is so much more than most people’s interpretation of the Old Testament scriptures about the Sabbath day. The Sabbath is fulfilled in Jesus and knowing this amazing truth will equip you for a lifestyle of trusting in God and finding constant rest in Christ.