Why Observe the Seventh Day?

by Hermanus W. Smeenk

Since Constantine the Great instituted the first day of the week as a day of rest in the fourth century, the vast majority of the professing Christian world has adhered to his proclamation.

 At the Council of Niceae, the council members agreed with Constantine to observe the first day of the week as the day of Christ's resurrection.

This was the reason given for instituting the first day of the week as a day of rest to commemorate Christ's resurrection rather than the seventh day as commanded in the Ten Commandments.

But was this really in conformity with God's will?

Does the observation of the first day of the week teach us any spiritual principles at all?

Search as you might through the Bible, you'll find nothing mentioned there that changes the requirement to observe the seventh day to the first day.

Rather, there are ample scriptures to indicate that we must continue to observe the seventh day as a day of rest.

We also find that observing the seventh day as the Sabbath reveals a number of spiritual principles that cannot be discerned by observing the first day of the week.

How the Day of Rest is Traditionally Observed

As in the days of Jesus when the Pharisees and scribes had made the Sabbath a day of burden for the people, so it is today in many churches.

When I was a young boy, we observed Sunday as the day of rest.

My siblings and I were brought up to follow the strict rules of Calvinism.

We were allowed to go for walks on Sunday, read our books, and play games, quietly, while our parents settled down to a nap in the afternoon.

We had to go to church both in the morning and in the evening and we squirmed and fussed until the service was over.

For many others, the same rules applied, Sunday was a day of rest and was not to be desecrated by things that we normally do during the week.

For many others, observing a day of rest means attending a one-hour service at church and after that its business as usual.

Still others don't even bother to go to church and go about their business in the same manner as the rest of the week.

With so many ways to observe a day of rest, which way of observing the Sabbath would please God most?

Let's go to the Bible and see how God said how the Sabbath should be observed and, more importantly, why should it be observed.

The Sabbath as a Commemoration of Creation

In Genesis 2:2 and 3 we read: "And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made." (To sanctify means to make holy or to set apart for holy use).

Thus God reveals that after he had created all the living things upon the face of the earth and made it possible for life to continue to exist, he created a seventh day by resting on that day.

Thus God created the weekly cycle of time by working the first six days and resting on the seventh day.

After the Israelites left Egypt and well before God gave the Ten Commandments written with his finger on two tables of stone, God commanded the Israelites to keep the Sabbath day holy.

In Exodus 16:4-5, 22-23, and 27-30, God revealed to the Israelites that he expected them to follow his example of resting on the seventh day.

He identified the Sabbath by raining manna on the Israelites for six days, but none on the seventh.

                    We read in Exodus 16:4, 5; "Then said the Lord to Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven
                    for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them,
                    whether they will walk in my law or no.  And it shall come to pass that on the sixth day they
                    shall prepare that which they bring in; and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily."

                    Continuing in Exodus 16:22, 23; "And it came to pass, that on the sixth day they gathered twice
                    as much bread, two omers for one man: and all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses.
                    And he said to them, This is that which the Lord has said, tomorrow is the rest of the holy Sabbath
                    to the Lord: bake that which you will bake to day, and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which
                    remains over lay up for you to be kept until the morning."

                    And in Exodus 16:27-30; "And it came to pass, that there went out some of the people on the
                    seventh day to gather, and they found none.   And the Lord said to Moses, how long do you
                    refuse to keep my commandments and my laws?   See, for that the Lord has given you the
                    Sabbath, therefore he gives you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide you every man
                    in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.  So the people rested on the seventh day".

So we can understand that God expected people to observe the Sabbath even before he gave Israel the Ten Commandments.

The Sabbath as a Sign

God also included the commandment to rest on the seventh day as the fourth commandment of the commandments that he gave Israel at Mount Sinai.

God reiterated that commandment in Exodus 31:12-17 where we read:

                "And the Lord spake 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 that sanctifies you. You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore,
                 for it is holy to you; every one that defiles it shall surely be put to death, for whosoever does any
                 work therein, that one shall be cut off from among his people. Six days may work be done, but
                 in the seventh is the Sabbath of rest; holy to the Lord, whosoever does any work in the Sabbath
                 day, he shall surely be put to death. Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to
                 observe the Sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between
                 me and the children of Israel for ever; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the
                 seventh day he rested, and was refreshed."

Note that God put a double emphasis on no one being allowed to work on the Sabbath by stating it twice and he also warned Israel twice that if any one did work on the Sabbath, that individual would be put to death.

Note that God also used keeping of the Sabbath as a sign between himself and Israel and that it identified Israel as his people.

When the northern ten tribes of Israel ceased to observe the Sabbath they went into obscurity and were subsequently thought of as the "lost 10 tribes".

As physical Israel was identified as God's people through observance of the Sabbath, so also are those individuals who are a part of spiritual Israel identified as God's people.

While anyone who failed to keep the Sabbath in Israel was to be physically put to death, failure to keep the Sabbath by those in spiritual Israel will result in spiritual or eternal death.

The Sabbath as a Symbol for a Thousand Years of Rest

In II Peter 3, Peter prophesies what the world will be like in the last days and what will happen at that time. He tells them that in the last days, people will begin to scoff concerning the return of Christ, saying (v. 4)  " Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation."

Peter continues that they were being willingly ignorant of the flood which occurred because of the ways of the world at that time, and that at the end, the world will be given over to fire.

In this context of continuing to expect the return of Christ, Peter encourages the church in the last days so that they may know the approximate time of Christ's return.

Peter writes, (v. 8) "But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day."

God reveals through Peter that as God established the week consisting of six days of labor, so he has also allotted men to labor under Satan's rule for six thousand years and as he designated one the seventh of the week as a day of rest so he has designated the final thousand year period as a period of rest from Satan.

This period being given to Christ and the saints to establish God's Kingdom and to rule upon the earth in the place of Satan who will be banished for that one thousand year period.

In Hebrews 4:1-11, the writer admonishes the church they should not have the same attitude as the Israelites as he described in chapter 3. In Hebrews 3:18-19, he writes "And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? So, we can see that they could not enter because of unbelief."

Here the writer compares the punishment of the Israelites with the punishment of those individuals in the church that refuse to believe and come short in the faith.

He explains in Hebrews 4 that just as the unbelieving Israelites were not allowed to enter into the promised land (God's rest in 3:18) so also any unbeliever in the church will not be allowed to enter into the spiritual rest or the thousand year period when Christ shall rule upon the earth.

In verse 1-11 of chapter 4, we read;

                    "Let us therefore fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should
                     seem to come short of it. (v. 2) For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them:
                     but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.
                     (v. 3) For we which have believed do enter into this rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath,
                     they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.
                     (v. 4) For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise and God did rest the seventh
                     day from all his works. (v. 5) And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest. (v. 6) Seeing
                     therefore that it remains that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached
                     entered not because of unbelief: (v. 7) Again, he limited a certain day, saying in David, Today,
                     after so long a time; as it is said, Today if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. (v. 8) For
                     if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not after have spoken of another day? (v. 9) There
                     remains therefore a rest to the people of God, (v. 10) For he that is entered into his rest, he also
                     has ceased from his own works, as God did from his. (v. 11) Let us labor therefore to enter into
                     that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief."

How Does God Expect Us to Keep the Sabbath?

With the symbolism of the Sabbath discussed above, let us now turn to the Bible to learn how the Sabbath should be observed.

In Isaiah 58:13-14, God tells Israel through the prophet Isaiah:

                     "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 of the Lord, honorable; and shall honor him, not doing
                      your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words: (14) Then you
                      shall delight yourself in the Lord; and I will cause you to ride upon the high places of the earth,
                      and feed you with the heritage of Jacob, your father: for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it."

Jesus also, in speaking to the Pharisees, explained that you can do good for your fellow man on the Sabbath.

In Matthew 12:10-12, the Pharisees came to Jesus when he entered their synagogue where was a man with a withered hand, and they asked Jesus

                     "…is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath days? That they might accuse him. (11) And he said to
                      them, what man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep and if it fall into a pit
                      on the Sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? (12) How much then is a man
                      better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the Sabbath days."

Again in Luke 13:10-16, we read:

                     "And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath, and behold, there was a
                      woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could
                      in no wise lift up herself.  And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her,
                      Woman, you art loosed from your infirmity.  And he laid his hands on her; and immediately
                      she was made straight and glorified God. And the ruler of the synagogue answered with
                      indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath day, and said to the people, There
                      are six days in which men ought to work; in them therefore come and be healed, and not
                      on the Sabbath day. The Lord then answered him, and said, You hypocrite, does not each
                      one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to
                      watering? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has
                      bound these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?"

We find then that we should follow Jesus' example in that he kept the Sabbath day by teaching in the synagogue and doing good things for others.

As Paul also stated in I Corinthians 11:1 "Be you followers [imitators] of me, even as I also am of [imitate] Christ."

We also learned from Isaiah that we must not go about doing our normal business, nor seek to satisfy our desire for personal pleasure.

In Exodus we also learned that when we refrain from working on the sabbaths, we show obedience to Gods laws and statutes (Ex. 16:28).

But there is yet something else that we must do to honor God and his Sabbath and that is to abide by the Spirit of the fourth commandment.

How to Keep the Spirit of the 4th Commandment

The greatest problem that the Jews and Israelites encountered with keeping God's commandments was that they kept them only according to the letter of the law.

This was also all that God expected of them so that they could receive the blessings that God had promised them in Deuteronomy 28.

However, they were unable to do even that without the help of God's Holy Spirit.

At the time Jesus walked upon the earth, he continually found problems with the Jews' adherence to the letter of the law, rather than the spirit of the law.

In Matthew, chapters 5 - 7, Jesus taught his disciples on the sermon of the mount that he expected them to begin to keep the commandments according to the spirit instead of the letter of the law.

Furthermore, in Mark 12:28-31, we read:

                     "And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving
                      that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all?
                      And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is 'Hear, o Israel; The Lord
                      our God is one Lord:  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with
                      all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength; this is the first commandment.
                      And the second is like, namely this, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is none
                      other commandment greater than these."

With these verses, Jesus summed up the two parts of the Ten Commandments, love towards God and love towards our fellow man.

The fourth commandment falls within the first great commandment of love towards God.

We can only show our love towards God by obedience to him through keeping the Sabbath holy.

The spiritual intent of keeping the Sabbath then is to prove our love to God by keeping his Sabbath holy, and to spend time with him through prayer, meditation, bible study, and showing our love towards our fellow man by the things we can do for them without breaking God's laws.

God has commanded us to use six days for doing our work and taking care of our business and pursuing our pleasure.

During that period of time, we are constantly being bombarded by the temptations of Satan, the world, and our own fleshly lusts.

The seventh day was given to us to help us escape from all these things so that we may be spiritually refreshed.

Jesus also said in Mark 2:27, "The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath."

(Remember, God has decided which day he would use for a day of rest and has not given man the authority to change that day, only God has the authority to do that).

So, God reserved this day for us and for himself that we may spend quality time together, to help us to overcome the temptations that beset us day in and day out.

A father and mother spend quality time with their children so that they may come to be bonded in love and to get to know one another.

Likewise, God also wants to get to know us and for us to get to know him by spending quality time together on the day that he has set apart for that purpose.

Because we are his sons and daughters (and what father is there who is not interested in the development and growth of his children) God, as our spiritual father, is very interested is watching us develop and to grow in spirit and in grace and knowledge of the truth until we reach that same maturity as Jesus Christ possessed when he walked upon the earth.

God wants us to observe his sabbaths that we may mature spiritually through our close relationship with him and learn to love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

When we do this, then we shall be able to call the Sabbath a delight.


We learned that God established the Sabbath when he rested from the creation of life upon the earth and all things needed to sustain that life.

We also learned that God commanded Israel to observe the Sabbath before he gave them the Ten Commandments and rained manna on them from heaven to prove them.

God also uses the Sabbath as a teaching tool in various ways:

         Continue on to the next chapter where we'll discuss how we can know whether we have received God's Holy Spirit. The chapter's title is,  "Do You Have God's Holy Spirit?"

  Return to Table Contents