4 Min Read


At creation, God set aside the seventh day to be a day of holy rest and worship for His image bearers. He appointed the Sabbath day to be a symbol of the promise of entering into His eternal rest in glory. Accordingly, the Sabbath command is both rooted in creation and directed to the new creation. Within the framework of God’s laws, the Sabbath command has both a moral and a ceremonial element to it. The moral part of the commandment is seen in its inclusion in the Ten Commandments. The ceremonial element appears in that it was to be observed as the seventh day of the week until the coming of Christ. After the death and resurrection of Christ, the moral principle remains, but the ceremonial principle has changed. The Christian Sabbath transitions from the seventh to the first day of the week after the resurrection of Christ. Though Adam failed to secure the original consummation of the eternal rest held out in the covenant of works, Christ—the last Adam—has secured a way to glory and eternal rest for all who trust in Him. The Christian Sabbath or Lord’s Day anticipates the full experience of eternal rest in the world to come.


After creating a habitable world in which His image bearers would dwell, God “rested” from His work. He set aside the seventh day to be a day in which His image bearers would cease from their labors and enter into His rest (Gen. 2:1–3). The Sabbath day establishes a distinction between the six days of work and the one day of rest. God set a pattern for humanity to follow throughout history—an ethic of work and rest.

The moral obligation for man to keep the Sabbath day holy recurs throughout the Old Testament. It was a binding ordinance at creation long before it became the fourth of the ten moral laws of God (Ex. 20:8–11; Deut. 5:12–15). The Ten Commandments were placed beneath the mercy seat in the ark of the covenant, symbolizing the need for the blood of the sacrifice to atone for violations of God’s law. This points to our need for the atoning sacrifice of Christ to cover our violations of God’s commandments.

Blessing is annexed to Sabbath observance throughout the Old Testament prophets. For instance, Isaiah spoke of the spiritual blessings that come from a joyful observation of the Sabbath (Isa. 58:1–14). This pointed forward to the prospect of the eternal rest prefigured by the Lord’s Day. Scripture places an emphasis on delighting in the Lord of the Lord’s Day more than on restrictions and regulations.

In contrast, the Pharisaic emphasis on the Sabbath was deeply legalistic and self-righteous. Failing to see that Jesus came to give rest to the souls of those who were burdened by sin and misery (Matt. 11:29–30), the Pharisees rigorously opposed Him on the Sabbath. They had made the Sabbath a burden with man-made regulations. The nature of Jesus’ ministry was mercy. For this reason, Jesus did many of His miracles on the Sabbath. As the Lord of the Sabbath (12:8), Christ brought merciful rest, restoration, and spiritual wholeness through His saving work. The principles of mercy and necessity continue to serve as the two biblical exclusions to the cessation of work on the Sabbath (vv. 1–12).

The ceremonial aspect of the Sabbath is embodied in the biblical emphasis on the symbolism of the number seven. From creation until the coming of Christ, the Sabbath was the seventh day of the week. In Scripture, the number seven connoted perfection or completion. The seventh-day Sabbath anticipated the finished work of Jesus for the salvation of His people. It was the culmination of what Adam ought to have secured for himself and his offspring by meeting the conditions of the covenant of works. As the last Adam, Jesus came to fulfill the conditions of the covenant of works and to secure new creation blessings for His people. According to Jonathan Edwards, having finished the work of redemption, Jesus rested in the grave on the old covenant Sabbath and rose from the grave in His resurrection on the first day of the week.

Debate over the continuation of the Sabbath today largely centers on the fact that there were ceremonial Sabbaths in the old covenant law that are no longer binding. These were distinct ceremonial Sabbath days at the end of festivals and ceremonies (Ex. 23:10–11; Lev. 23). When the Apostle Paul stated, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath” (Col. 2:16), he had special feast days, festivals, and ceremonial Sabbaths in mind—that is, the ceremonial laws given to Israel to foreshadow Christ. On the principle of a seven-day week, the first and the eighth days are one and the same. This is why Jesus showed Himself to His disciples “eight days” after His resurrection (John 20:26). The new covenant church accepted this change from the seventh to the first day of the week as the day of rest and worship. The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians to lay aside their giving when they were gathered together on “the first day of the week” (1 Cor. 16:2). The ceremonial purpose of the old covenant Sabbath was fulfilled in Jesus, so the Lord’s Day as the new covenant Sabbath is celebrated by His people on the first day of the week.

The old covenant Sabbath was referred to as “the day of the Lord” or “the Lord’s holy day” in the prophets. These and similar phrases depict the forthcoming final “day of the Lord.” The continuance of the Sabbath day holds out the realities of forthcoming salvation and judgment. This, in turn, reflects the redemptive-historical shift from the OT Sabbath to the Christian Lord’s Day in the resurrection of Jesus. The Apostle John spoke of being “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” (Rev. 1:10). The writer of Hebrews reminds his readers, “There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God” (Heb. 4:9). The weekly Sabbath reminds us that we are not yet home. The Lord’s Day is to be a day of rejoicing in and praising our Savior, who has finished the work of redemption.


In the fourth Commandment of the divine law, part is ceremonial, part is moral. The rest of the seventh day after creation was ceremonial and its rigid observation peculiarly prescribed to the Jewish people. Moral in fact, because the fixed and enduring day of the worship of God is appointed, for as much rest as is necessary for the worship of God and holy meditation of him. With the Sabbath of the Jews having been abrogated, the Lord’s Day is solemnly sanctified by Christians. From the time of the Apostles this day was always observed in the ancient catholic Church. This same day is thus consecrated for divine worship, so that in it one might rest from all servile works (with these excepted, which are works of charity and pressing necessity) and from those recreations which impede the worship of God.

The Synod of Dort

The Synod of Dort on Sabbath Observance

As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in His Word . . . He hath particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto Him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.

Christ rested from his works when he rose from the dead, on the first day of the week. When he rose from the dead, then he finished his work of redemption. His humiliation was then at an end: he then rested and was refreshed.—When it is said, ‘There remaineth a rest to the people of God;’ in the original, it is, a *sabbatism, *or the keeping of a Sabbath: and this reason is given for it, ‘For he that entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. . . . It is evident in these words that the preference is given to the latter rest, viz. the rest of our Savior from his works, with respect to the influence it should have or relation it bears, to the sabbatizing of the people of God, now under the gospel, evidently implied in the expression, ‘There remaineth therefore a sabbatism to the people of God. For he that entered into his rest,’ etc. For in this sabbatism appointed in remembrance of God’s rest from the work of creation, does not remain, but ceases, and that this new rest, in commemoration of Christ’s resting from his works, remains in the room of it.

Jonathan Edwards

The Perpetuity and Change of the Sabbath

As long as Creation is in effect, Sabbath is in effect.