Should we keep the Sabbath?
By Don Ruhl
Is failure to keep the Sabbath the mark of the beast?
Revelation 14.1 says,
“Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His Father’s name written on their foreheads.”
The Seventh-Day Adventist Church (hereafter, SDA) believes that the seal of God mentioned in Revelation 14.1 is actually the fourth commandment of the Ten Commandments, which was the command for Israel to keep the Sabbath.
Here is how the SDA argues that Revelation 14.1 is referring to the keeping of the Sabbath. They argue that a seal must have the following three things:
- The name of the lawgiver
- His official position
- The territory
They claim further that “…we find the mark of the Seal of God only in the fourth commandment,” (Facts of the Future), implying that nowhere else in Scripture, or nowhere else in God’s commands—Old or New Testaments—can the three things be found.
Exodus 20.8–11 gives the fourth commandment,
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”
The SDA claims that in this passage we have the three requirements of a seal as follows:
- The name of God: The Lord your God.
- The title: Creator.
- The territory: Heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them.
However, there are at least two major objections: First, Exodus 20, that is, the Ten Commandments themselves do not, nor does any other part of the Bible maintain, that Sabbath-keeping is the seal of God of Revelation 14. Second, Revelation 14 does not even hint that Sabbath-keeping is the seal, but it says simply that it is the name of God.
Should the church meet on the Sabbath?
Those who contend that the church should worship on Saturday say that Jesus worshiped on the Sabbath Day, therefore, we should. Luke 4.16 shows that it is true that Jesus worshiped on the Sabbath,
“So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.”
Matthew 8.2–4 shows something else that Jesus did, which you will not find the modern advocates of Sabbath-keeping advocating,
“And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, ‘Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.’ Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, ‘I am willing; be cleansed.’ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Jesus said to him, ‘See that you tell no one; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.'”
Jesus referred to Leviticus 14, which gives detailed instructions concerning what was to be done when a person was cleansed of leprosy, including the sacrificing of animals. Have you ever heard of a Sabbath-keeper making animal sacrifices?
These people also argue that the apostles worshiped on the Sabbath Day, as seen in the Book of Acts. It is true that the apostles, such as Paul, did something on the Sabbath Day. Sabbatarians quote Acts 17.2 to contend that the apostles worshiped on the Sabbath, “Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures…”
First, Paul did not gather with the church in this passage, but went to the Jews to convert them, according to God’s will (Rom 1.16, et al.). When we find Christians in the New Testament preaching or reasoning with people on some other day shall we contend that is a pattern, and that we should worship on that day? Moreover, Acts 17.2 does not say that Paul worshiped with the church, but he entered a place where many of his fellow Jews would be gathered together, and he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, trying to persuade them to follow Christ.
The SDA and others try to use Jewish time to say that the early church met on Saturday. There are a couple of passages that show the early church meeting on the first day of the week, otherwise known as Sunday. Acts 20.7 says,
“Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.”
First Corinthians 16.1, 2 also reads,
“Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the [literally, “every”] week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.”
Sabbath-keepers say that according to Jewish time, the day starts at 6:00 P.M. and goes to the following 6:00 P.M., so that these passages say that the church actually met on what we would call Saturday evening. The New Testament never affirms that we must reckon time according to the Jewish manner.
Next, we can use Roman time, which we do, and so our days begin at 12:00 A.M. and go till the following midnight. The first three gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) tell us that the Romans crucified Jesus at the third hour (9:00 A.M.) and that darkness was over the land from the sixth hour (12:00 P.M.) until the ninth hour (3:00 P.M.), but in John 19.14 at the sixth hour Pilate still had not had Jesus crucified. The first three gospel accounts use Jewish time, and the Jews divided up the day into two parts, going from 6:00 P.M. to 6:00 A.M., comprising the night, and starting at 6:00 A.M. they started over for the day, calling 6:00 A.M. the first hour. However, when John said the sixth hour he did not contradict the other writers, but he used Roman time, so that was 6:00 A.M.
The Sabbath was given only to Israel
We note that the Sabbath was a special day given only to the nation of Israel. Nehemiah 9.13, 14 shows when Sabbath-keeping was first commanded,
“You came down also on Mount Sinai, and spoke with them from heaven, and gave them just ordinances and true laws, good statutes and commandments. You made known to them Your holy Sabbath, and commanded them precepts, statutes and laws, by the hand of Moses Your servant.”
The point from this passage is that Sabbath-keeping did not start until Israel came to Mt. Sinai. The SDA asserts that Sabbath-keeping began during the creation week. God did use the creation week as a model for how He wanted the Jews to work and rest, but He did not make this known as a commandment until Israel arrived at Mt. Sinai. There is no record that anyone from Adam to Moses kept the Sabbath.
Deuteronomy 4.8–13 shows the uniqueness of the law that God gave to Israel—which would include the Sabbath—that is, that the covenant and the Ten Commandments were given only to Israel.
“And what great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day? Only take heed to yourself, and diligently keep yourself, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. And teach them to your children and your grandchildren, especially concerning the day you stood before the LORD your God in Horeb, when the LORD said to me, “Gather the people to Me, and I will let them hear My words, that they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.” Then you came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire to the midst of heaven, with darkness, cloud, and thick darkness. And the LORD spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of the words, but saw no form; you only heard a voice. So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone.”
Deuteronomy 5.1–5 shows the covenant and the Ten Commandments given to Israel only, and even then not with Israel before Moses at Sinai, but to the generation that traveled with Moses to Sinai and from that generation on, till the Lord replaced the Old Covenant with the New Covenant,
“And Moses called all Israel, and said to them: ‘Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your hearing today, that you may learn them and be careful to observe them. The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The LORD did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, those who are here today, all of us who are alive. The LORD talked with you face to face on the mountain from the midst of the fire. I stood between the LORD and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the LORD; for you were afraid because of the fire, and you did not go up the mountain. He said…'”
Also, Exodus 31.17 reads,
“It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.”
In Ezekiel 20, the Lord wanted the prophet to speak to the elders of Israel, saying first in verse 12,
“Moreover I also gave them My Sabbaths, to be a sign between them and Me, that they might know that I am the LORD who sanctifies them.”
Then he said further in verse 20,
“Hallow My Sabbaths, and they will be a sign between Me and you, that you may know that I am the LORD your God.”
These passages lead us to the conclusion that God gave Israel the Sabbath as a sign between Him and them, and nowhere does Scripture, Old or New Testament, affirm such for the rest of the world.
If people want to worship on Saturday, that is fabulous. Let us worship on Sunday also, and every other day of the week, and the New Testament forbids anyone from judging me for not keeping the Sabbath, as it is written,
“So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths” (Col 2.16).
The Sabbath and the death penalty
Do contemporary Sabbath-keepers really believe in keeping the Sabbath? Exodus 31.14, 15 must also be taken with the command to keep the Sabbath, for how can Exodus 20 and Exodus 31 be separated, since they are both of the law of Moses?
“You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.”
By what logic do we exclude one, but demand the other?
We may worship at any time, but the first day of the week is at least one day on which the Lord wants His people to come together. The SDA gets itself into serious trouble when it maintains that Sunday worship is the mark of the beast, or more specifically that a national Sunday law is the mark of the beast. Do they want to maintain that it is okay to worship God any day of the week or only on Saturday, and to worship Him any additional time is following the beast?
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