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THE SABBATH: A shadow of good things to come
An insightful interpretation of a controversial concept

Since the beginning of the Church Age, controversy has swirled around the issue of the proper day of the week Christians should gather for corporate worship. Is Saturday or Sunday the correct Sabbath for New Covenant believers? Was this ancient tradition corrupted and even paganized at a certain point in Church history? Is it necessary to make a choice between these two options, or is there a third explanation that is profoundly deep and wonderfully uplifting? For those who desire to serve God acceptably and according to His perfect will, these are questions that need to be answered.

God’s original mandate

Undeniably, one of the Ten Commandments—spoken audibly by the Almighty from fiery Mount Sinai and written with His finger on tablets of stone—concerned the keeping of the Sabbath. So, all who sincerely love God should agree: this is a serious matter, not to be taken lightly. Sabbath-keeping is the third commandment for Catholics, and the fourth for almost all other Christians.[1] Here is God’s initial mandate:

     “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 male servant, nor your female servant, 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.” (Exodus 20:8-11)

This divine decree is repeated in other places in the Old Testament, such as the following passage:

     And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you.’” (Exodus 31:12-13, see Ezekiel 20:12-20)

Notice in this verse, “Sabbaths” is a plural word. Most likely, God was referring to both the seventh day of each week and all other holy days in which abstaining from work was a requirement in order to focus on the worship of God. These “holy days” are also referred to as “Sabbaths” in Scripture and they were intended as a “sign” to the world of the covenant established between Yahweh and Israel.

For those who subscribe to a strict Old Testament, biblical worldview, the weekly Sabbath starts Friday evening and ends with sunset on Saturday. This is after the original pattern of a day as established by God in the first chapter of Genesis, “The evening and the morning were the first day” (Genesis 1:5). God promised specific blessings for those who obey this holy directive, such as those revealed in the following prophecy:

     “If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable, and shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words,
     Then you shall delight yourself in the LORD; and I will cause you to ride on the high hills [KJV—the high places] of the earth, and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Isaiah 58:13-14)

So, God promises that Sabbath-keepers under the Old Covenant will be lifted to a place of intimacy with Him (spiritual “high places” of the earth)—and that their lives will be filled with heavenly influence and divine favor, just like Jacob, who inherited the blessing of God from his grandfather, Abraham. However, in the New Covenant, true born-again believers are not just lifted to the “high places” of the earth, they are seated “in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus”—that’s as high as you can get (Ephesians 2:6)

The move toward Sunday gatherings

In the very beginning, the Church was comprised of primarily Jewish converts who recognized Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah. For a season, many of them probably tried to keep going to the synagogue on the Sabbath (Shabbat) as long as that was allowed. However, to be able to freely worship in a New Covenant way, with New Covenant traditions and teachings, it became necessary for them to also meet on the first day of the week (Sunday) to break bread with other believers and to gather offerings. Here are two scriptures that seem to prove that statement:

     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. (Acts 20:7)

     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 week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. (1 Corinthians 16:1-2)

It wasn’t long, however, before zealous Jews (like Saul, who later became the apostle Paul) started persecuting Messianic Jews severely, even executing some as ‘heretics.’ The tension between the two belief systems, the two interpretations of the Word, and the two modes of worship must have intensified very quickly until there was, seemingly, an irreparable breach—and with it, a sharp contrast between Saturday and Sunday gatherings.

This conflict became even more pronounced when Constantine, who claimed conversion to Christianity, instituted the “Sunday Law” in 321 A.D. declaring that day to be a day of rest, set aside for worship. However, even though Christianity was being heavily promoted through him in the Roman empire, it was also mixed with paganism in many evident ways. This becomes all the more clear when the wording of Constantine’s original law is reviewed:

“On the Venerable Day of the Sun (‘Venerable die Solis’—the sacred day of the Sun) let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed. In the country, however, persons engaged in agriculture may freely and lawfully continue their pursuits; because it often happens that another day is not so suitable for grain-sowing or for vine-planting; lest by neglecting the proper moment for such operations the bounty of heaven should be lost—given the 7th day of March [A.D. 321], Crispus and Constantine being consuls each of them for the second time.”[2]

Concerning this royal edict, Eusebius, a high-ranking Catholic leader and supporter of Constantine, commented:

“All things whatsoever that were prescribed for the Sabbath, we have transferred them to the Lord’s day, as being more authoritative and more highly regarded and first in rank, and more honorable than the Jewish Sabbath.”[3]

Then during the Council of Laodicea in 364 A.D., a final nail was driven into the coffin of Saturday Sabbath worship by Catholic officials when Canon 29 was ratified:

“Christians shall not Judaize and be idle on Saturday, but shall work on that day; but the Lord’s day they shall especially honour, and, as being Christians, shall if possible, do no work on that day. If, however, they are found Judaizing, they shall be shut out from Christ.”[4] [“Shut out” means anathematized, excommunicated.]

Apparently, the general mindset of the Church at that point was that the Sabbath day shifted. The Catholic Encyclopedia explains:

“The church after changing the day of rest from the Jewish Sabbath or seventh-day of the week to the first, made the third commandment refer to Sunday as the day to be kept holy as the Lord’s day.”[5]

Did Church leaders have the authority to shift God’s day of rest? Absolutely not! Did they have authority to pronounce the curse of excommunication (anathema) over those who continued to set aside Saturday as the Sabbath? Absolutely not! As Jeremiah prophesied in Lamentations 3:37, “Who is he who speaks and it comes to pass, when the Lord has not commanded it?”

Some Catholic teachers, as well as the Catholic Catechism, seem to backpedal on the issue now. On a website called “Catholic Answers,” in the article titled, “Did the Early Church Move the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday,” the answer is offered:

“This is a common misunderstanding. Catholics do not worship on the Sabbath, which according to Jewish law is the last day of the week (Saturday), when God rested from all the work he had done in creation (Gen. 2:2-3). Catholics worship on the Lord’s Day, the first day of the week (Sunday, the eighth day); the day when God said ‘Let there be light’ (Gen. 1:3); the day when Christ rose from the dead; the day when the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles (Day of Pentecost). The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: ‘The Church celebrates the day of Christ’s Resurrection on the “eighth day,” Sunday, which is rightly called the Lord’s Day’” (CCC 2191).[6]

The phrase “the Lord’s Day” only appears once in Scripture. In describing when he received his “Revelation” vision, John said, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:10). There is no indication in John’s writing that he is referencing Saturday or Sunday, but many early Christians apparently identified that expression with Sunday, and most likely, that is correct. In the Catholic Catechism, the fourth century theologian, Jerome, asserted, “The Lord’s day, the day of Resurrection, the day of Christians, is our day. It is called the Lord’s day because on it the Lord rose victorious to the Father. If pagans call it the ‘day of the sun,’ we willingly agree, for today the light of the world is raised, today is revealed the sun of justice with healing in his rays” [a reference to Malachi 4:2].[7] Other Bible interpreters have offered that “the Lord’s Day” is another way of referencing “the Day of the Lord,” the time of final judgments falling on the earth as John described in the book of Revelation, but that seems unlikely.

Consider this—If we resist the idea of Sunday worship now because of its original association with the pagan worship of the sun, no other day of the week is acceptable, since all of them are traditionally associated with some false deity.

“Each of the days of our week are named in honor of a god or object deemed worthy of veneration by the Anglo-Saxons. The sun and moon each get their due in Sunday (from the Old English sunnandæg, or literally “sun’s day”) and Monday (“moon’s day”). Then the remaining five days of the week are named after gods: Tuesday was named for the Germanic god of war, Tiu; Wednesday was named for Woden, the supreme creator among the Norse gods; Thursday was named for Thor, the Norse god of thunder; Friday was named for Frigga, the Norse goddess of marital love and the hearth; and Saturday was named for Saturn—who was not a Norse god. Saturn was the Roman god of agriculture.”[8]

If escaping pagan influence is our mindset, we would also need to refrain from gathering the entire first month of the year, because January is named after the two-faced Roman god Janus, who was supposedly gifted by the god Saturn to simultaneously observe the past, the present, and the future. But do issues like this even matter? They really don’t. As children of God, we may be “in the world,” but we are “not of the world” (Philippians 2:15, John 17:16).

Will this intensify in the last days?

The Seventh Day Adventist Church is an organization that passionately promotes the concept of Saturday being the correct Sabbath. (I have many dear friends who belong to that group, who are deeply sincere Christians. Even though I differ with their interpretation in some doctrinal areas, I relate to their passion for the truth and the courage to stand firmly for what they believe.) The SDA church teaches the oppression of Sabbath-keepers will intensify in the last days. “The pioneers of the church have traditionally taught that the seventh-day sabbath will be a test, leading to the sealing of God’s people during the end times, though there is little consensus about how this will play out. The church has clearly taught that there will be an international Sunday law enforced by a coalition of religious and secular authorities, and that all who do not observe it will be persecuted, imprisoned or martyred. This is taken from the church’s interpretation, following Ellen G. White, of Daniel 7:25, Revelation 13:15, Revelation 7, Ezekiel 20:12–20, and Exodus 31:13. Where the subject of persecution appeared in prophecy, it was thought to be about the sabbath.”[9]

Some have conjectured that this prophetic emphasis on the Saturday Sabbath being tied to the Antichrist may be in part because “some early Adventists were jailed for working on Sunday, in violation of various local blue laws that legislated Sunday as a day of rest.”[10]

Adventists also associate receiving the “seal of the living God” (a seal of protection in the last days) with the practice of celebrating the Sabbath on Saturday. Those who compromise on this issue, who accept the shift to Sunday as the “Sabbath,” will either ignorantly or knowledgably cooperate with the Antichrist and set themselves up for receiving the mark of the beast and the resulting wrath of God. However, in this present-day, sin-drenched, lust-filled, self-deceived, pleasure-seeking, doctrinally-confused generation, when the world is careening downhill toward utter chaos and godlessness, it seems highly unlikely that refusing the “mark of the beast,” his “name,” and “the number of his name” will have anything to do, whatsoever, with choosing Saturday instead of Sunday for times of corporate worship (see Revelation 13:16-18). Instead, it will most likely be attached to a refusal to worship the false Messiah and a refusal to cooperate with ungodly dictates that will dominate the world’s legal systems, like pluralism (acceptance of all religions), the abortion holocaust, the LBGTQ agenda, and the global control exerted by organizations like the WEF (World Economic Forum) and the WHO (the World Health Organization), and so on. At that climactic point, I personally feel that what day a person calls the Sabbath will have very little relevance. Also, I cannot imagine Jesus granting a repentant and believing person the experience of being born again, then shunning them and refusing to “seal” them, because they unfortunately express their love and devotion to Him corporately on ‘the wrong day.’

But what did Jesus say?

We know that Jesus functioned under the law (the Torah). He was a Sabbath-keeper. He even announced the beginning of His ministry on the Sabbath by reading from the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth (see Luke 4:16). However, the Teacher adjusted some of the prevailing religious mindsets about the Sabbath as revealed in the following passage:

     Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain.
     And the Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”
     But He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him:
     how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?”
     And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.
     Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:23-28, see also Luke 6:1-5)

Let’s focus on the last two statements:

“The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath”—In other words, the Saturday Sabbath was never intended to be just a rigid religious rule under the Old Covenant, but a principle that would ensure proper times of rest for the Israelite people. Sabbath-keeping was for their benefit, that they might focus more fully on spiritual matters one day out of every week, to keep them strong and healthy, physically, mentally, and emotionally. It wasn’t instituted to bind people, but to liberate them and to help them maintain a rested body, a renewed soul, and a God-focused mind from week to week. If that is the emphasized purpose, whether it happens every Saturday or Sunday is somewhat irrelevant—since either way, it occurs in seven-day intervals.

“Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath”—By this statement, Jesus indicated that because He was the One who instituted the Sabbath, He was also the One who could adjust its associated constraints to meet the present need of those influenced by the concept. On the scale of revealed wisdom, He compared the ‘weight’ of a strict interpretation of the rule with the ‘weight’ of the need for food among His disciples and He decided that satisfying their hunger was more important. That was a practical decision, reasonable, sensible, spiritual.

The religious authorities of the day (scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees) hated the Son of God because He contradicted their fierce application of the Sabbath rules. By that time, they had gone beyond God’s original instructions to make Sabbath-keeping even more detailed and difficult. Of course, God never stipulated at Mount Sinai that Israelites could not pluck heads of grain or fruit off trees to eat on the Sabbath—but Jewish teachers insisted rules such as those be kept. They promoted these “commandments of men” as if they came from God Himself (Matthew 15:9). The irony of the matter was that God incarnate was right in front of them, rejecting their manmade rules, yet they tenaciously clung to tradition instead of falling at His feet to worship.

Magnifying the Law

Jesus was not training His disciples to neglect or ignore the Law (the Torah). Instead, He was adjusting their perspective, balancing their beliefs, and enlarging their understanding. The prophet Isaiah foretold almost eight hundred years in advance that the Messiah would do that very thing, declaring, “He will magnify the Law and make it honorable” (Isaiah 42:21 MKJV). He started fulfilling this prophecy during His “Sermon on the Mount.” Shockingly, the Savior of mankind lifted the meaning of time-tested commandments (some from the original ten on Mount Sinai) to a whole new level. Ponder the following examples and imagine the awe on the faces of those who heard Yeshua that day:

     “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’
     But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.” (Matthew 5:21-22)

     “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY.’
But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28)

     “You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’
     But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” (Matthew 5:38-39)

     “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’
     But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,
     that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:43-45)

Again, Jesus did not do away with the Law—not at all; but He significantly raised the bar. He polished it to perfection. If He had added a statement about the Sabbath to this list of bar-raising declarations, I believe He might have said something to the effect:

     “You have heard it said that you should REMEMBER THE SABBATH DAY TO KEEP IT HOLY, but I say unto you, make every day holy, pray continually, enter My rest and abide there always.”

One of the most beloved passages of Scripture in the New Testament is Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well. She claimed, according to the Samaritans, that it was necessary to worship at a mountain in their region named Gerizim (a sacred location in the history of Israel—see Deuteronomy 11:29, Joshua 8:33), and she contrasted that with how the Jews instead deemed it necessary to worship at the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus must have jarred her religious sensibilities when He insisted:

    “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father.
     You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.
     But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.
     God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:21-24) 

Once again, the Teacher was raising the bar; He was polishing the privilege of worship to perfection. He knew that in the New Covenant era, instead of commanding His disciples to go to the temple, He would transform them supernaturally to become the temple of God (see 1 Peter 2:5). Instead of going through priests to get to God, they would become the priesthood. Instead of a certain physical location being required for worship, a constant, internal connection with the Father would be their common inheritance. Specific locations and specific times would no longer be dominant factors, because God’s new ‘high bar’ for born-again believers was going to be, more than ever, the spiritual capacity to live worshipful lives everywhere, all the time.

Paul’s surprising exhortations

No wonder the apostle Paul was so bold and blunt in announcing a paradigm shift in this area of theology in the following scriptures. To the Galatian church, he wrote a stinging rebuke:

     O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?
     This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?—Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? (Galatians 3:1-3)

 Then he capped it off in the next chapter by saying:

     You observe days and months and seasons and years.
     I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain.
(Galatians 4:10-11)

Being filled with the Spirit and being led by the Spirit every day of every week—walking with God like Enoch—should be the passion and purpose of the sons of God now, not being bound to the absolute necessity of repetitious, religious, ceremonial schedules. To the Romans, Paul also drove this point home:

     Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.
     One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.
     He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.
     For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself.
     For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. (Romans 14:4-8)

And to the Colossians:

     So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17)

If the Saturday Sabbath was such an important rule to keep, the great apostle Paul never would have penned such revolutionary words. Instead, he would have adamantly included the necessity of Saturday worship in his proclamation of the Gospel in the Gentile world. Yet he never promoted that concept—not one time. In fact, quite the opposite, to the shock of those more legalistically bent, he advised that tenaciously clinging to this religious restriction was unnecessary in the New Covenant. Surely, he had revealed wisdom. He knew that promoting that demand would greatly hinder the advance of the kingdom of God in the Gentile world.

The other apostles were equally silent in this subject area. In the first apostolic council, recorded in Acts 15, Saturday worship was noticeably absent from their list of religious rules Gentile converts to Christianity needed to follow. If they felt it wasn’t a vitally important concern at the dawn of the New Covenant age, why should it be such a significant doctrinal matter now? Remember Paul described himself as “a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless”—so he was evidently a passionate Sabbath-keeper prior to his encounter with Jesus (Philippians 3:5-6). But then he shared the strong conviction:

     But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.
     Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ
     and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith. (Philippians 3:7-9)

In yet another epistle, Paul insisted:

     You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. (Galatians 5:4)

The King James Version of this statement says, “Christ is become of no effect unto you.”  These are strong words; this is an intense statement. But Paul was speaking out of his own personal journey. He went from one extreme to the other (in a good way). He was passionately proclaiming that if we attribute a status of righteousness to our own religious works, we miss the mark, rob the cross of its glory, and disregard the power of what Jesus accomplished when He sacrificed His life, then rose from the dead. It is through these wondrous things that righteousness comes to us as a gift (Romans 5:17).

Besides, even the legal systems of this world go by a standard that the most recent law in any given area is the one enforced. Many years ago, a law was passed in the United States that 55mph was the top speed for interstate travel. That didn’t last long. Not long afterward, it was moved back up to 70mph and even higher in some places. After that, the previous law was no longer relevant. Can we apply that truth to this teaching—the most recent laws and commandments in the Bible concerning the Sabbath are the ones presently honored by God and authorized by God as the standard for His people in this world.

A shadow of things to come

In the wise counsel of the Bible verse we just highlighted (Colossians 2:17), the Sabbaths (plural) are described as a “shadow of things to come.” The epistle to the Hebrews also uses this expression to describe the entire religious system stemming from the Torah:

     For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. 

Be assured, the “substance” of a thing is always more important than the “shadow” (the vague or symbolic thing that gives a faint insight into the real, the tangible, the superior outcome or goal yet to come). As an example, if you had a beautiful tree in your backyard that you wanted some friends to see, would you take them outside and point to the shadow of the tree so they could marvel at its beauty—or would you point to the actual tree itself (the substance)? The answer is obvious.

If you took a friend to New York City to see the Empire State Building, would you point to the elongated shadow stretching blocks down the street, or would you advise your friend to tilt his head and look up to the real building itself. Once again, the answer is obvious. The “shadow” is still important, because of this—if there were no “substance,” the “shadow” would not exist, so it still occupies an important place. But the “substance” is of the greatest significance.

One way God ‘foreshadowed’ important New Covenant events and provisions were the seven Feasts of the Lord given during the Old Testament era. These sacred festivals were always dual in nature: a memorial of something God had done in the past and a prophetic statement of something He was going to do in the future. All of them, except Passover and Firstfruits, involved designated “Sabbath days” of rest:

The Feast of Passover (Pesach)—Since the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt, partaking of a lamb in every Jewish household during the annual Passover feast has been a reminder of what God did for that generation, when He miraculously delivered them out of bondage. The night of the Passover, lamb blood was applied to their doorposts protecting them from the destroyer that brought death to every Egyptian household. However, that action of the Israelites was also a prophetic foreshadowing of the Lamb of God to come whose blood would provide protection from death for all His people. First Corinthians 5:7 explains, “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.”

The “shadow” of both the initial event and the annual memorial of eating roasted lamb during the Passover meal pales into insignificance when compared to the “substance”—partaking of the crucified Lamb of God by receiving Him into our hearts as Savior and Lord. Animal blood applied to doorposts (the shadow) is not worthy to be contrasted with the wonder of the blood of the Son of God, washing our souls clean of all sin and depositing within us the gift of everlasting life. (See Exodus 12, Revelation 1:4-5.)

The Feast of Unleavened Bread (Chag HaMatzot)—The Feast of Unleavened Bread is a seven-day feast immediately following Passover. It memorializes the swift exit from Egyptian bondage, executed so fast they did not have time for bread to rise, so they had to eat it unleavened (See Exodus 12-13). The first and last days are referred to in Scripture as Sabbaths (days in which no customary work is to be done). During this yearly celebration, only unleavened bread can be eaten. Leaven, like yeast, is a fungus that causes fermentation in dough. Because it produces a semi-rotten state and because it spreads so quickly, it provides an appropriate scriptural symbol for sin (1 Corinthians 5:6), religious hypocrisy (Luke 12:1), unbelief in the supernatural (Matthew 16:6), and complete moral depravity (Mark 8:15). Prior to this feast, believing Jews diligently clean their kitchen cupboards to make sure there is no residue of leaven anywhere to be found. However, removing leaven from kitchen shelves is just a mere and nearly insignificant “shadow” compared to profound “substance” of living a life free from sin, hypocrisy, unbelief, and moral depravity. The latter is infinitely more important than ingredients used to make and bake bread.

The Feast of Pentecost (the Feast of Weeks / Shavuot)—Fifty days after the Feast of Firstfruits (which happens during Unleavened Bread), the celebration of the Feast of Pentecost took place in the Old Testament era. It was a memorial of the visitation that occurred in the Wilderness of Sin fifty days after the Israelites left Egypt. The God of Abraham manifested Himself supernaturally, consuming Mount Sinai with His holy fire, and audibly declaring the Ten Commandments to the Israelite people. Eventually, it also coincided yearly with the harvest of wheat which was consecrated when the high priest waved two loaves of bread before God in the holy place.

When the Holy Spirit fell in the upper room on the Day of Pentecost, the “shadow” became the “substance” (Acts 2:1-7). Instead of consuming a mountain, the fire of God consumed the believers who were present. As they were born of the Spirit, God wrote His commandments on the stony tables of their hearts. Then, instead of speaking from a burning mountain, God spoke out the burning hearts of His disciples, declaring the Gospel in multiple languages. The harvest of souls in the New Covenant began as thousands came into the kingdom of God. Once again, the “substance” of people experiencing true salvation was far more wonderful and infinitely more valuable than the “shadow” of lifting two loaves of bread to God in the holy place, made from the firstfruits of the wheat harvest.

The Feast of Trumpets (Yom Teruah, also called Rosh Hashanah / The head of the year)—“Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a sabbath-rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work on it; and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD’” (Leviticus 23:24-25). This is the traditional anniversary of the creation of the world and the creation of Adam and Eve. On Yom Teruah, in synagogues worldwide, 100 trumpet blasts are sounded, ending with a very long blast. It is prophetic of the seven trumpet judgments of the book of Revelation and the final “sound of a trumpet” that will be heard globally when Jesus descends and the resurrection of the righteous takes place. He will then reclaim this world and fill it with the rest of God, restoring it to paradise glory. Of course, the sound of 100 earthly trumpet blasts cannot be compared to that one heavenly trumpet that will sound when every person beholds Jesus returning in glory:

Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. (I Corinthians 15:52)

“And to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire . . . (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8)

The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur)—The tenth day of the seventh month is the highest, most holy day of the year for Jewish people. Annually, the blood of a goat was sprinkled on the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant to atone for the sins of the people. In the Bible it is described as a “sabbath of solemn rest,” but the original Hebrew is shabbath shabbathon. (Leviticus 23:32) In other words, it is a sabbath of sabbaths. (This is also a term used for the seventh day of each week / Exodus 31:15). Once again, a goat being sacrificed as a temporary covering for the national sin-debt of the Israelite people, fades into insignificance when compared to the Son of God being sacrificed on a cross to eternally atone for the sins of the entire world.

The Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot)—This seven-day final feast, celebrated every fall, memorializes the Israelites’ journey out of Egypt. It is a worshipful reminder of how they passed through the Wilderness of Sin in temporary dwellings on their way to the Promised Land and how God Himself tabernacled among them in a tent-like structure. His glory rested on the ark of the covenant in the holy of holies, the innermost sanctuary of the tabernacle of Moses. God commanded that both the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles (called Succoth) and the eighth day of the feast (called “Simchat Torah”—meaning the rejoicing of the Law) be Sabbath days of rest (see Leviticus 23:39-43). This feast is prophetic of how God intended ultimately to tabernacle in His people in the New Covenant era. But on the highest level, it foretells New Jerusalem to come when the following prophecy will be fulfilled:

     “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.” (Revelation 21:3)

Furthermore, in the world to come, not only will God tabernacle among us; He will tabernacle within us in absolute perfection, when He changes us fully into His image in the resurrection. I am sure you will agree, seeing God’s face and receiving immortal, eternal, glorified bodies, shining like the sun in the kingdom of our Father, is infinitely more important than honoring God by providing Him a three-chambered tent in the desert to dwell in.

The composite symbol

Altogether, there are seven “special” Sabbath days (called “High Sabbaths”). Seven is the number of perfection, fullness, and completion biblically—because what these “High Sabbaths” represent (what they foreshadow) will bring God’s chosen ones to absolute completion in Christ and the fullness of our eternal destiny.

During over five decades of serving God, at times I have joyfully celebrated these feasts on a New Covenant level, worshipfully blending the shadow and the substance together. For six years in a row (in the 90s) I was honored to preach at the Feast of Tabernacles celebration in Jerusalem, put on by the Christian Embassy, an organization founded by my good friend, Jan Willem van der Hoeven. But I don’t always participate yearly in the feasts, because thinking “I have to do it” would be coming under a religious “yoke” that Paul warned against when he declared:

     Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. (Galatians 5:1)

True, born-again children of God, who are yoked with the Lord Jesus, celebrate these feasts now on a spiritual level, continually. Every minute of every day, we prayerfully:

—partake of the Lamb of God, as His precious blood constantly flows through our souls (Passover).
—seek to live a leaven-free, sin-free life (Unleavened Bread).
—desire God’s laws to be written in our minds and for the fire of His Holy Spirit to enflame our hearts (Pentecost).
—look forward to Jesus’ return, when He will descend with the sound of a trumpet and the resurrection of the righteous will take place (Trumpets).
—thirst for Him to tabernacle within us in a full and complete way: dwelling within our physical bodies, as well as our thoughts, our emotions and our worship—a wondrous privilege that will be fully realized in the kingdom to come (Tabernacles).

Again, may I emphasize—every moment of every hour of every day, we desire these things to be a living reality. And that is what God had in mind all along. These things were His ultimate goals for us. In a sense, at the cross, all the sabbaths and special feasts of the Old Testament era were absorbed into His brutalized body and buried with Him in a substitutionary grave, only to be resurrected with Him the third day to a far greater level of fulfillment than ever before. (According to Colossians 2:14, He symbolically “nailed” these ordinances “to the cross”). No longer are they mere weekly or yearly traditions; instead, they are now constant, living, supernatural, heavenly realities, revealed in God’s people–destiny to be brought to utter perfection in the glorious future.

The supernatural “rest” that surpasses

In the Old Covenant era, Jews had to celebrate the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) every year for that divine provision to be renewed and for sin to be covered. However, Jesus fulfilled that feast at Golgotha, and He will never have to do it again—ever. One time was enough, for “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). Striving is over. Those who covenant with Him can be at rest now—for time and eternity. Yes, we can truly be at rest. That really is the Sabbath of all Sabbaths.

Do you see it? Setting aside one day a week to experience a time of physical rest to focus on God and be renewed is the “shadow.” Entering God’s spiritual rest seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day, is the “substance”—which is exactly what Jesus, the Rest-giver and Prince of peace invites us to experience. He expressed it so beautifully in the beloved, often-quoted invitation:

     “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
     Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

In other words, “I will give you a continual Sabbath—not only for your bodies, but for your souls—both in this life and the life to come.” The epistle to the Hebrews, chapters three and four, confirms this concept beautifully, first warning us:

     Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. (Hebrews 4:1)

Then the writer encourages us to have faith:

     For we who have believed do enter that rest . . . (Hebrews 4:3)

Then he states it emphatically:

     There remains therefore a rest for the people of God.
For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. (Hebrews 4:9-10)

The Classic Amplified Version captures the essence of this concept beautifully:

     So then, there is still awaiting a full and complete Sabbath-rest reserved for the [true] people of God;
     For he who has once entered [God’s] rest also has ceased from [the weariness and pain] of human labors, just as God rested from those labors peculiarly His own.

The International Standard Version also makes it quite clear:

     There remains, therefore, a Sabbath rest for the people of God,
because the one who enters God’s rest has himself rested from his own actions, just as God did from his. 

The reason the Amplified Version and the International Standard Version use the phrase “Sabbath-rest” is hidden in the original Greek. The word simply translated “rest” in many other versions is Sabbatismos. That term is only found one time in the New Testament, here in Hebrews 4:9, and it comes from the root word sabatton which means Sabbath.

So, this is the primary, pivotal, prophetic passage in the New Testament declaring two things. First, it speaks that we as believers can experience a supernatural sabbath-rest in God right here, right now. We can dwell in the “high and holy place”—seated with Christ “in the heavenly places”—where relationship far surpasses religious rules, regulations, and rituals (Isaiah 57:15, Ephesians 1:3; 2:6).

Second, it symbolizes the soul-stirring truth that at the end of our journey, we will experience the awesome rest of being in God’s spectacular presence forever—in a brilliant, celestial realm that exceeds our ability to comprehend (“eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love him”—1 Corinthians 2:9). No wonder the prophet summed it up by saying, “His rest shall be glorious” (Isaiah 11:10 KJV). That is so true, both now and forevermore.

Wrapping up this revelation

So, what is my final commentary on this challenging theological concept? I need to be careful to strain out both the camel and the gnat. (See Matthew 23:24 to understand what I mean.)

Have I proven that it is unimportant and unnecessary for believers to attend church weekly? Absolutely not! Quite the opposite! My encouragement is, “Go to church often. Gather for Bible studies. Gather for prayer meetings. Do it whenever you can. If your church meets on Saturday, that’s wonderful! If your church meets on Sunday, that’s wonderful! If your church has revival seven days a week, that’s even more wonderful!!!” But don’t do any of this religiously; do it passionately! Don’t do it because you have to; do it because you want to.

When I was first saved in the fall of 1970, I joined a Jesus commune in Central Florida. We never concerned ourselves with the question of which day we should keep as the Sabbath. We had communion, Bible studies and prayer meetings seven nights a week. Even though most of us had to get up quite early to work construction jobs, we never ended our nightly gatherings until midnight or later. We weren’t following religious dictates; we were pursuing the Lord, flowing together in the agape love of God.

The exact day matters little. Gathering to renew our covenant with our Creator and with each other is what matters most. Hebrews 10:24-25 says it well:

     Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,
not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. 

So, attending corporate worship gatherings every seventh day (or whenever they may take place) is wise, advisable, and a source of great blessing. Doing so is a wonderful privilege and an important discipline—but never entertain the thought that this observance earns you acceptance in the sight of heaven or that a particular day has supreme significance. We have progressed far beyond that milestone.

What the Lord of the Sabbath revealed nearly two thousand years ago is still so true today.

You were not made for the Sabbath.

The Sabbath was made for you.


[1] The commandment against the making and worshiping of carved images, number two in the concise Protestant list, is left out of the concise Catholic list, yet it is still included in the Catholic Bible itself, absorbed into the lengthier wording of the first commandment.

[2] The First Sunday Law of Constantine I, in “Codex Justianianus,”lib. 3, tit. 12, 3; trans. in Phillip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 3, p. 380. As quoted on https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Hebrew_Roots/Neglected_Commandments/Idolatry/Sunday#:~:text=Sun%20worship%20was%20a%20very,religion.%22%20%5BGaston%20H, accessed 12/31/2022.

[3] Bishop Eusebius, quoted in J. P. Migne, “Patrologie,” p. 23,1169-1172. As quoted on https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Hebrew_Roots/Neglected_Commandments/Idolatry/Sunday#:~:text=Sun%20worship%20was%20a%20very,religion.%22%20%5BGaston%20H, accessed 12/31/2022.

[4] https://sabbathsentinel.org/canons-from-laodicea/, accessed 12/26/2022.

[5] The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, p. 153. As quoted on https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Hebrew_Roots/Neglected_Commandments/Idolatry/Sunday#:~:text=Sun%20worship%20was%20a%20very,religion.%22%20%5BGaston%20H, accessed 12/31/2022.

[6] https://www.catholic.com/qa/did-the-early-church-move-the-sabbath-from-saturday-to-sunday. Accessed 12/22/2022.

[7] CCC 1166, https://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P39.HTM, accessed 12/23/22.

[8] https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/saturday-special-word-history#:~:text=Then%20the%20remaining%20five%20days,marital%20love%20and%20the%20hearth, accessed 1/7/2022.

[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabbath_in_seventh-day_churches, accessed 1/19/2023.

[10] Ibid., accessed 1/19/2023.

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Written by Mike Shreve