Sabbath – Story of Liberty

To understand why the Sabbath as an institution of God’s legal order has survived even in times of complete apostasy of Christianity, we need to understand its essence—the idea of ​​the Sabbath, which is universal, inspiring, and determines the identity of the follower of Jesus.

Why Is the Sabbath So Special?

The Sabbath is the seventh day on which God completed the work of creating the world. “And on the seventh day God finished His work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all His work that He had done in creation.” Genesis 2:2, 3 (ESV)

Therefore, if we understand that the Sabbath comes directly from God, it means that by its very nature it must be unique, different in every respect from what comes from a man with a sinful nature. The Sabbath is the crowning achievement of creation, not an ordinary weekday. By the Sabbath we mean the difference between the Creator and the created. The Sabbath is a memorial of God’s creation and at the same time a memorial of God’s deliverance: “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” Deuteronomy 5:15 (ESV)

Rest in Christ

The eternal God in the person of Jesus Christ, through His saving mission completed on Friday, rested on Saturday to become, for us who believe in His merits, the One who freed us from the slavery of sin. So, if we celebrate the Sabbath in accordance with the fourth commandment, that celebration is a joyful weekly update of our experience of salvation in Jesus. Salvation is God’s gift, grace offered to us, therefore on the Sabbath we rest in the merits of Jesus. God blesses and sanctifies those who rest in Jesus.

Work-Life Balance

The modern world emphasizes and appreciates, above all, activity, creativity in action and work. The dizzying pace of life, an avalanche of information, and high expectations as to professional effectiveness can easily lead to a situation in which private life is overshadowed by work. This, in turn, often results in the destruction of relationships with loved ones, chronic fatigue, reduced involvement in the relationship with Jesus, and even neurotic disorders. More and more people realize that it is necessary to maintain a balance between their work and personal life, the so-called work-life balance. In the description of the creation of the world, we see God who is active, creative, and involved. At the same time, we can see God resting, blessing, and sanctifying. It is a God who celebrates and rejoices in His creation. The Lord of the Sabbath invites us to celebrate together, to enjoy existence, and to marvel at the beauty of God and His creation.

However, the Sabbath is not, nor can be, servile to the other days of the week, as if by resting we are later to increase our efficiency at work! It is not the Sabbath for the weekdays; the weekdays are for Sabbath. It is not a break, but a culmination of life!i Thus, all other days of the week are to be a gradual preparation for the celebration of that day.

The Peace of the Sabbath

As humans, we live in time and are subject to death, and as with all creation, from the time of Adam’s sin until now, are troubled and in pain, and long to be freed from this handicapped state (Romans 8:22). The Sabbath, on the other hand, is eternity in time. The presence of the eternal God is revealed to us in the Sabbath. Peace and solace, happiness and freedom from the fear of non-existence are found on the Sabbath in God’s presence. The peace of the Sabbath applies to all of creation, not just humans. For along with man, the animals (Exodus 20:10) and the earth (Leviticus 25:11) are also to rest. The joy and holiness of the Sabbath cannot be lived apart from another human being. Have you ever tried to celebrate your own birthday alone? It would be the saddest birthday ever. For the more we share love and joy with others, the more joy and love there is.

Freedom Celebration

The Sabbath is a holiday of freedom. It frees us from economic and material tyranny, from the pursuit of success, from the fear of losing, from anxiety about our existence. It frees us from the gray, monotonous everyday life, from all the roar and chaos of the world. It frees us from the compulsion to prove anything to ourselves and others. It is freedom from civilization, from the novelty of technology, from the dirt of politics. In this sense, the Sabbath is a profound experience of freedom, an experience of a better world to come. At the same time, the Sabbath is freedom to joyfully celebrate, to be blessed through words of praise, recognition and love—for God and neighbors. It is freedom to relax, to rest, freedom to enjoy the physical and mental closeness of our loved ones, a delicious meal, the beauty of music, the smell of the forest, or the sound of sea waves.

The Jewish people in the time of Jesus and later did not enjoy the freedom of the Sabbath because they did not understand its principle. The Jews kept the Sabbath legalistically, making a caricature of it. Apart from the command to refrain from work and a few guidelines, we will not find in the Bible a list of prohibitions and commandments regarding the Sabbath.

Ecological Sabbath

The seventh-day Sabbath has no analogy with the other days of the week. However, the one-week Sabbath corresponds to the Sabbath year, when every seventh year the land had to be left unsown. At the same time, man and animals rested because no agricultural work was done. The Sabbath year coincided with the year of cancellation of debts. God promised a special harvest blessing in every sixth year, if only the Israelites would obey the command not to sow the land during the Sabbath year. Just imagine the level of faith and trust in God’s promises if all U.S. farmers decided not to farm during the Sabbath year.

The Year of Jubilee–The Year of Liberty

The Sabbath year corresponds to the Jubilee year, celebrated every 50 years after the seventh-Sabbath year. The Jubilee year was a special time of the Lord’s grace. With the sound of the ram’s horn beginning the Jubilee year, freedom was proclaimed for all. All slaves had to be freed and allowed to return to their homes. All debts were to be cancelled. The land was to be returned to the previous owners. All wealth was to be redistributed and returned to the original owners. Just imagine a society that lives according to the principles of the Jubilee year! Imagine that every 50 years our bank loans are cancelled, rich countries cancel the debts of countries that can never repay them. These principles are so perfect that, when confronted with our nature, they have remained only an ideal in history. In principle, the Jubilee year equalizes social inequalities. Everyone gets a chance to start all over again. We see how God cares for His people in a special way. Reading the principles written in Leviticus 25, one might think that God gives man “the best and at the same time the most humane social system that has ever appeared in the world.”i

The Year of the Lord’s Favor

We find in Luke 4:16–21 that Jesus begins His public ministry by observing the seventh-day Sabbath in the synagogue in Nazareth where He reads aloud Isaiah’s prophecy regarding the coming Messiah, and clearly states that He is the Messiah. In His Messianic program, Jesus declares the liberation of all the poor, captives, and prisoners, and through His death and resurrection gives the opportunity to all those who lived in bondage to sin and the devil to start a new life. If Today we heard what Jesus says to us and accept these words with faith, Today the words of Jesus are fulfilled for you. The year of the Lord’s favor includes the blessing of the Sabbath, but does not invalidate the weekly Sabbath as an institution or idea. Since Jesus proclaimed the year of the Lord’s favor, we live in the eschatological Sabbath, in the Messianic era, and at the same time, we are still waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Man, Ecology, Society

The comprehensive idea of ​​the Sabbath has a strong influence on our thinking about God, man, ecology, and society. When there was no just social system, no human rights, including the right to happiness, dignity, and rest, when there was no thinking about the land as a gift of the Creator to His human family, not only for their sustenance and common good, but also as a treasure given by God to be cared for and not abused (Leviticus 25:1–7), God made a covenant with Israel creating a constitution for man, as an individual, but also as part of the community of saints, in the center of which is His seal—the Sabbath.

Sabbath–An Idea from another World

The Sabbath is a powerful idea that comes from another dimension, from a better world, because its Creator is the eternal God Himself. God’s ideas are eternal. The idea of ​​the Sabbath could not be eradicated from Christianity, because Jesus Christ Himself is the Lord of the Sabbath, therefore, there have always been people in the history of Christianity who wanted to imitate their Lord in everything, guarding the Sabbath as a memorial of creation and salvation.

The Sabbath in History

Over the centuries, the Sabbath has been an inspiration for people who want to follow Jesus with all their hearts. Even when it meant opposition to most of the Christian world, even when it meant to be anti-establishment. In every epoch since the apostolic times, there have been Christians keeping the Sabbath, which is confirmed by historical sources. In every age, there has been the church of Jesus Christ—the church that the book of Revelation 12 describes as the woman in the wilderness. According to the Bible, almost from the beginning of Christianity there are two global churches. One church is a powerful political-religious power. The other church is the one that has never formed a majority, that recognizes the Bible as the only authority on matters of faith and practice, that keeps the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. This does not mean, of course, that there are only two denominations on earth, but rather that there are two types of religion represented by these two global churches.

The Sabbath in Language

The word Sabbath remains to this day in the name of the seventh day of the week in many languages ​​of the world. In Polish and Czech, it is Sobota and in Russian, subbota. In Italian it is Sabato and in Portuguese and Spanish, sábado. In Armenian, Shabat, and in Arabic Sabt.iii It is also interesting that despite the fact that the Hebrew text of the fourth commandment can be translated into English, there is one word for which we do not find an English equivalent, and that is the word Sabbath.iv However, the name of Sunday in different languages ​​indicates the roots of this day in pagan sun worship. This can be seen in English—Sunday (day of sun) and in German—Sonntag (day of sun).

Sabbath in Underground

Thinking about the Sabbath in the history of Christianity, one can clearly see that the truth about the Sabbath has been alive for centuries, despite the fact that the bishops of Rome tried to completely eradicate it as an institution of the divine law. The Christian world has been deceived by Rome to celebrate Sunday. Sunday as a holy day was established by imperial and papal Rome.v

We know from history that where the power of the Roman popes did not reach, the church of God developed in freedom, but even in those countries that were subject to papal Rome, there was a church that “going underground” preserved the institution of the Sabbath and nurtured its idea. The case of the Oriental churches is interesting. As K. Kościelniak, a Catholic priest, admits: “Due to centuries of isolation from Greek and Western Christianity, the Coptic Church has many separate, extremely original traditions. Some Jewish rites are practiced, such as the circumcision of boys and the observance of the Sabbath.”vi The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo church also observes the Sabbath.vii Faithfulness to the institution and idea of ​​the Sabbath among the churches of Africa was aptly summed up by Keith A. Burton: “The church in Africa [recognized] that the resurrection of Christ in no way nullified the fact that ‘in six days the Lord made heaven and earth.’ … Even though the power of the Western papal legacy has made some indelible indentations on the churches of Africa, to this day they have refused to fully succumb.”viii It is also worth mentioning the Celtic Christians who from the 2nd century, when the gospel reached the British Isles, kept the Sabbath in the times of Patrick, Columba, and Dinooth until the Norman conquest of the British Isles in the 11th century.ix Shabbat was celebrated by many Waldenses and Anabaptists, and through them many Christians in Bohemia, Moravia, Slovakia, and Silesia.x

Papal Imperialism

The system of the Roman Catholic Church is an escape from freedom to totalitarian power over every aspect of an individual’s life. The papacy, by its nature, as a political and religious power, implements its policy through imperialism—political and cultural. The papacy has always sought to subjugate individuals, communities, nations, and churches. By establishing Sunday by its own authority in place of the biblical Sabbath, it made Sunday the hallmark of its system. Therefore, anyone who accepts the papal Sunday accepts, consciously or unconsciously, the authority of Papal Rome over himself. This is confirmed by Monsignor Louis Segur: “Observance of Sunday by the Protestants is a homage they pay in spite of themselves to the authority of the Catholic Church.”xi Thus, Sunday became the opposite of the biblical Sabbath, replacing the freedom of the individual against God with the slavery of man against the power of a man—the pope.

i   A. J. Heschel, Szabat, p. 41.

ii   D. Juster, Powrót do korzeni, p. 31.

iii  J. Dunkel, Apokalipsa, p. 172.

iv  A. J. Heschel, Bóg szukający człowieka, p. 516.

v   J. Dunkel, Apokalipsa, p. 181, 182.

vi  K. Kościelniak, Piękno pluralizmu przedchalcedońskich Kościołów orientalnych, p. 67.

vii  Ibidem, p. 69.

viii, accessibility: 28.11. 2022 cited work: K. Burton, Western European Imperialism and the Literary Suppression of the African Fidelity to the Biblical Sabbath.

ix  J. Dunkel, Apokalipsa, p. 182.

x   Ibiden, p. 183, cited work: G.F. Hasel, Sabbatarian Anabaptist in Andrews University Seminary Studies, 5, (1967): 106–115; 6, (1968): 19–21.

xi  L. Segur, Plain Talk about the Protestantism of Today, p. 213.

Marcin Watras lives in Katowice, Poland. He is interested in the philosophy of religion and trends in society. He works in the funds distribution of the European Union.