Introduction (and Prologue) to Revelation: Part 6

Below are my notes from yesterday’s teaching in Revelation. These notes include not only the end of my introduction to the book, but also some comments on the first three verses of the book (The prologue).  Enjoy!

PJ

The Outline

I believe that in order to put this book together and understand the flow of this book, there are some things we need to take into consideration regarding the outline of the book.

Different people from different schools of thought have strong opinions about the flow of this book. Johnson divides the book into three[i] major sections:

  1. The Prologue 1:1-8
  2. The Body 1:9-22:9
  3. The Epilogue 22:6-21

John MacArthur[ii], a dispensationalist, outlines the book like this:

  1. The Things which You Have Seen (1:1–20)
  2. The Prologue (1:1–8)
  3. The Vision of the Glorified Christ (1:9–18)
  4. The Apostle’s Commission to Write (1:19, 20)
  5. The Things which Are (2:1–3:22)
  6. The Letter to the Church at Ephesus (2:1–7)
  7. The Letter to the Church at Smyrna (2:8–11)
  8. The Letter to the Church at Pergamos (2:12–17)
  9. The Letter to the Church at Thyatira (2:18–29)
  10. The Letter to the Church at Sardis (3:1–6)
  11. The Letter to the Church at Philadelphia (3:7–13)
  12. The Letter to the Church at Laodicea (3:14–22)

III. The Things which Will Take Place after This (4:1–22:21)

  1. Worship in Heaven (4:1–5:14)
  2. The Great Tribulation (6:1–18:24) This is the majority of the book!
  3. The Return of the King (19:1–21)
  4. The Millennium (20:1–10)
  5. The Great White Throne Judgment (20:11–15)
  6. The Eternal State (21:1–22:21)

MacArthur sees the book as a continuous/progressive chronological outline of the things that are to come. Men like Baptist scholar Jim Hamilton, who are not dispensationalists, also read the book chronologically to some degree.

What is most distinctive about MacArthur’s schema is the fact that so much of the book is set in the future. I think that there are serious issues with this, not the least of which is the fact that if most of the book is set in the future then how would this have meant anything at all to John’s original audience? They were undergoing tremendous persecution, and if all these tribulations are all supposed to be in the future (and we’ll throw in a pre-trib rapture, of course), that’s the equivalent of John saying, “hey I know you’re suffering now, but your great hope is that one day there will be a lot more suffering, and you won’t have to be around for that!” That’s exactly what the message of the pre-trib premil crowd boils down to for us today as well – its only when you actually write it out in its boiled down essence that it begins to sounds illogical.

However, others like Tom Schreiner, William Hedriksen, Voddie Baucham and G.K. Beale (to name a few) see the book as a series of angles looking at the same scene – the time between Christ’s first advent and second advent. This is called “recapitulation”, and can be broken up in a number of ways, generally showing the same scenes in ever increasing drama. They see the bowls, seals, and trumpet judgments as simply different ways to describe the tribulation on earth between Christ’s coming again.

Baucham’s rough outline[iii] is derived from Derek Thomas and goes something like this: 

  1. 1-3 – the introduction, letters to 7 churches
  2. 4-5 – the throne room, the sovereignty of God proclaimed
  3. 6-7 – the seals – judgments which represents issues common to every age
  4. 8-11 – the unfolding trumpets, final which sounds the coming of Christ. These run parallel to the seals judgments.
  5. 12-14 – the scene changes completely and doesn’t flow with continuity from previous chapters. The story is told again from a new vantage point. God is victorious over his enemies.
  6. 15-16 – the Bowl Judgments, Babylon is destroyed (was destroyed in Ch. 14, this retells it from new angle)
  7. 17-19 – The destruction of Babylon the beast and false prophet
  8. 20-22 – God deals with the dragon, new heavens and new earth and eternal fellowship with God enjoyed.

One thing that I’d like to note is that Hendriksen combines sections 2 and 3 and says that chapters 4-7 form one unit. I don’t think one needs to necessarily hold to one or the other very tightly. Baucham, for instance, also posted Hendriksen’s view and outline on his own church website, so I think they pretty much agree on the divisions here for the most part. I appreciate that where there are disagreements on the divisions they aren’t disagreements as to the approach of the book as a series of visions or perspectives, but rather they are disagreements about when one vision ends or how we ought to categorize these visions. This is something we’ll look at closely as we go along in our study because the text will present us with forks in the road that we’ll need to address.

Under the recapitulation view, the tribulation encompasses the entire time between the first and second advent of Christ. Whereas the premillennial view (either one) views these great tribulations as happening during a compressed period of time – 7 literal years – prior to Christ’s 2nd advent, and therefore label this as one long event with the proper name ‘The Tribulation’.

It seems that in order to study the book in a cohesive way one must at least take a viewpoint on how these things should be understood/viewed, otherwise it would be very difficult to understand the big picture of this book.

I will be teaching from the recapitulation perspective that the tribulation passages are meant to describe the trials Christians (and others) will endure between the advents of Christ, thus taking the 7 years to mean the fullness of this interadvental time, and not a future 7 year period of time.

This also means that the judgment scenes and some of the heavenly throne scenes (for example), as giving us different perspectives, or camera angles, on the events that will take place between the advents of our Lord. Each section is not comprehensive of every event of this age – some focus on one thing to the exclusion of another, though the parallels remain constant. Hendricksen also notes that as we get toward the end of the book the judgment scenes continually increase in intensity. So this is the view I think it makes the most sense, and offers the clearest explanation of what we’re looking at, and the way we’ll be moving forward in our study of the book.

Now, some more info on the recapitulation perspective…One thing to note, and that is that Hendriksen’s chapter divisions (mentioned above) are not precise. Beale actually does a little better job showing the nuances in the recapitulation in his work (note especially page 131 of his commentary if you’re interested in checking that out in detail), and he seems to think that a man named Farrer has the most cogent breakdown – this is a bit more precise than the Henriksen one: 1-3, 4-7, 8:1-11:14, 11:15-14:20, 15-18, 19-22.[iv]

It should also be noted that 1. Within these sections there are subsections and sub-points that the author makes, and that 2. There are wider ways to classify the book as a whole (as I did just a bit earlier).

There are MANY nuances to these breakdowns, but the general 7-8 recapitulation divisions seems to hold pretty true across spectrum of theologians of this mindset who are not strict futurists.

The next thing to know about the recapitulation perspective is that it is found in much of the OT prophetic literature from which Revelation draws much of its imagery (much of which is in chiastic form).[v] Daniel, Beale points out, has a structure of “five synonymously parallel visions (chps. 2, 7, 8, 9, 10-12)” and “may be the most influential on the structure of Revelation, since Daniel is used so much in the book and is used to signal the broad structural divisions of the Apocalypse.”

Later in his writing Beale puts numbers to ideas (mostly based on the influence of Daniel, which I mentioned earlier): 1:1-18; 1:19-3:22; 4:1-22:5; 22:6-21. This is a broader structure which can be broken down further, but the point is that 4-22:5 really form an overarching idea – not that they are in the future, but that these visions of judgment and destruction are sequential and similar in form and also “bracketed by the overarching vision of God the Creator and Redeemer.”[vi]

Beale leans on the obvious Daniel allusions and the natural literary breakdown of the book, and has himself settled on a recapitulation view:

If it can be concluded that these Daniel 2 allusions are intentional and draw with them the contextual idea of Daniel 2, then there is a basis for proposing that this provides a significant framework of thought for the whole Apocalypse, that is, end-time judgment of cosmic evil and consequent establishment of the eternal kingdom. As has been seen, this is an inaugurated latter-day thought pervading the visions as well as the letters, which means that the visions should not be understood in an exclusively futuristic manner, but as also including significant sections pertaining to the eschatological past and present. This conclusion is most compatible with a recapitulation view, according to which repeated sections that concern past, present, and future occur throughout the book.[vii]

And, on a more advanced note…if you want to study even further, Beale notes that he and others definitely see the possibility for some chiastic structure in the literary makeup of Revelation. At the center of the structure seems to be 11:19-14:20. Also interestingly, each of the judgment scenes, whether it’s the seals, the trumpets, the bowls or the final judgment of the world (19:11-21:8) there are always three components: prelude, vision, and interlude. These three things repeat over and over again.

Chapter One

Chapter one finds us with John the Apostle on the island of Patmos, in exile “on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (vs.9). He opens his letter explaining where his message comes from its in this prologue where we’ll begin our verse by verse exposition.

The first three verses have been called the “prologue” and the “introduction” and Beale says that they indicated that “the apocalypse was revealed for the purpose of witness, which results in blessing” and that “The main emphasis here is the blessing obtained from reading the book and hearing it read.”[viii]

1:1-2 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, [2] who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.

Here we see the transmission of the message that we’ll be studying. First and foremost it is called “the revelation” of Jesus Christ. This is Jesus’ message, not the invention of John or any other man. Secondly, it is given him by God – presumably the Father and head of the Trinitarian Godhead. Thirdly it is sent via “his angel” and this angel could be the messenger we read about later and this angel communicates it to John. It seems to be a four-step process of communication.

Now there are some significant things to note about the words John uses here in the opening graph of his letter.

First, and most obvious, this word “revelation” or “apocalypse” gets at the heart of the book, and that’s likely why the church has called this John’s Apocalypse from pretty much the beginning of the church onward. “Apocalypse” means to lay bare, it is a disclosure of the truth and a revealing of things previously unknown.[ix]

Another set of important words are those which say “He sent and communicated it (NASB)” or as in the ESV, “He made it known by sending.” The three words “and communicated it” are just one in the Greek sēmainō (pronounced say-my-no) which means “signified” or “to give a sign” or “to indicate.” This original meaning of the word carries with it prophetic/apocalyptic overtones and perhaps signals to us the kind of communication we’ll be getting here.

Apart from the words themselves, Beale sees real importance in the structure of John’s opening. Namely, it looks a whole lot like Daniel’s introduction of the revelation he was given by God to communicate to King Nebuchadnezzar in the second chapter of Daniel. A portion of that passage goes like this:

Daniel answered the king and said, “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked, [28] but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days. Your dream and the visions of your head as you lay in bed are these: [29] To you, O king, as you lay in bed came thoughts of what would be after this, and he who reveals mysteries made known to you what is to be. [30] But as for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because of any wisdom that I have more than all the living, but in order that the interpretation may be made known to the king, and that you may know the thoughts of your mind. (Daniel 2:27-30)

Daniel then goes on to describe the great image of a god/idol that is separated into several kinds of metal and representative of different kingdoms of man.

The most important part is that verse 28 I think. You see how se says, “there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries” and “he had made known”, and it is these phrases that lead scholars like Beale to see clear allusions to Daniel’s literary structure in Revelation 1:1-3 (and other parts as well).

This allusion to Daniel is important because it reveals John’s thought process about how what he has seen fits into the fulfillment timeframe of Daniel. John is trying to tell us that he is picking up where Daniel left off – this revelation is about disclosing in more detail something that formerly had been predicted, but now more details are here for us to understand.

I’m noting this now because we need to put ourselves in John’s shoes here and try to understand John’s own understanding of the context of what he saw. His literary/prophetic context was the OT prophecies. So when he is using phrasing like Daniel, it is likely because he’s saying “I’m picking up where Daniel left off.”

This helps us understand several things. For example, John says that, “God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place” and then says in verse three, “for the time is near.” Understanding John’s own perspective helps us understand what he means by this, and Beale has a great insight into this that is worth quoting in full:

Rev. 1:1 especially should be seen as introducing the main idea of the book, and it is, indeed, understood by many as the title of the whole work. Therefore, if John understands this Danielic allusion in 1:1 in the light of the eschatological context of Daniel 2, then he may be asserting that he conceives of what follows in his book ultimately within the thematic framework of Daniel 2 (and probably its parallel apocalyptic chapters) or at least as closely linked to that framework. The focus of “quickness” and “nearness” in vv 1-3 is primarily on inauguration of prophetic fulfillment and its ongoing aspect, not on nearness of consummated fulfillment, though the latter is secondarily in mind as leading from the former.

Indeed, what follows shows that the beginning of fulfillment and not final fulfillment is the focus. The references to the imminent eschatological period (v 3b), the fact of Christ’s present kingship over the worlds kings (v 5), the initial form of the saints’ kingdom (vv 6, 9), and the following “Son of man” reference (1:7) and vision (vv 13-15), also indicating initial fulfillment of Daniel 7, point strongly to this focus and to the presence of a Danielic frame of reference [x]

This is important for us to understand and really digest. John is saying that these things are upon him – they are not something that will happen in the distant future.

1:3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.

I love verse three because it is so very John-like. John has told us that beholding the Word incarnate changed the lives of the disciples. He has told us that when we see Him in the flesh one day, we will be like Him. The reason John gives for this is that “we will see Him as He is.” John Piper and Jonathan Edwards seem to think this has to do with our soul seeing His soul, that somehow we will grasp all of who He is spiritually and that will bring us into total understanding and conformity to who we ought to be (who we were made to be!).

A similar sentiment is uttered here. John says that those who read the words of this book will be blessed and also those who hear it. Surely this is true of all the saints for all time. For every Christian you find that reads the Word of God, you will also find a Christian who is or has been blessed by that reading. It is the Word that changes us (Hebrews 4 and 2 Corinthians 3:18 attest to this) and that change is a blessing from God. To be changed into the image of God is the greatest blessing one can comprehend. God changing our minds and hearts and bringing us into an understanding of who He is, and who we are, and what He wants with us – can you imagine a greater privilege or blessing?

And of course, as we mentioned earlier, the verse ends with the phrase “the time is near.” This indicates that these sayings, these warnings, these truths are upon the apostle. He believes that they are near, they are soon, they are going to be relevant in the very immediate future or present. Of course our minds automatically go to the conclusion that whatever we read next (the rest of the book) must have a great amount of finality, or consummation. But I think there is no great call for holding onto that supposition. John is not saying that the time is “near” for the fulfillment of all things, rather the time is near that we will be seeing and experiencing all the things that are in this book that he’s writing. This makes the book eminently relevant to the early church that he’s writing to, as well as to us today.

Conclusion to the Prologue

The thing that stood out to me most in this prelude to the book of Revelation is the fact that God reveals Himself progressively. He is truly the Lord of history. Abraham didn’t know who would come from his lineage to fulfill the promises God had given him. David didn’t realize that the everlasting kingdom God gave him would be fulfilled in God’s own Son. Noah didn’t realize that his ark symbolized the fortress of freedom that God would one day embody in the personage of Jesus who alone is our raft to safety from the shoals of sin and death. Nor did Daniel know that the eternal kingdom and the Son of man whom he foresaw would be ushered in by a King who would rule all kings, a Lord that would reign over all lords, an eternal God inaugurating an eternal kingdom.

In Revelation we are given a glimpse into the trials and tribulations that we’ll face in this world. We see their nature, their genesis, and the pain they will bring the saints of God. We see the cost of following Jesus. But we also see the triumph of the Lamb and the amazing power He wrought on that dead tree 2,000 years ago. We see that when He triumphed over the grave, He arose and took up His rightful place at the Father’s right hand. The consequences of this for us are simply amazing. This book recounts not only the reality of our trials here on earth, but of the blessings we have in the triumph of Jesus, the Firstborn among many brethren (Romans 8).

Footnotes 

[i] Johnson, pg. 26

[ii] From his commentary (Volume I) on the Book of Revelation, pg. 11.

[iii] From Voddie Baucham sermon May 27, 2012, www.gracefamilybaptist.net. Sometimes you will find that an associate pastor preaches here in his stead, but both hold the same perspective.

[iv] Beale, Pg. 112.

[v] Beale, Pg. 135.

[vi] Beale, Pg. 140.

[vii] Beale, Pg. 141.

[viii] Beale, Pg. 145.

[ix] See the blue letter bible online and the Strong’s concordance: http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G602&t=NASB

 

[x] Beale, Pg. 182.

Study Notes 12-16-12

9:8-12 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” [9] Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” [10] So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” [11] He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.” [12] They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

Textual Note: Morris explains that the “NIV’s ‘demanded’ (from verse 10) is a mite strong; the Greek means no more than ‘they said.’

The Testimony

Morris notes that the neighbors were in awe, “They were so astonished at such a cure that some of them refused to believe that this was the man who had been blind.”

He also notes that the man who was healed speaks of Christ in a way that indicates, “he has, as yet, little understanding of his Person. As the chapter progresses we will observe how his awareness of the significance of Jesus grows.”

I love this point from Morris because it connotes the subtlety and writing ability of John.  I never ceased to be amazed at the intricacy of this Gospel. John has so many strong themes, and so many subtle points, that it is a real joy to let the truth written herein soak into one’s mind for continual meditation.

There is no denying that when the man had been healed, people noticed. I find this significant because, as it relates to spiritual blindness, we are all groping in the dark until Christ heals us (1 John 2:11; John 3:19-21). When that happens, it is not something that happens in a vacuum. Baptism is meant to be the first outward showing of the inward change. But as one begins to follow Christ, can there be any doubt that neighbors, friends, family, co-workers and others will be able to see the light of Christ shine through us? There will be something different about those who love and follow Christ.

John says in his epistles that, “If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him (1 John 2:29).”

And Christ says that we will recognize false prophets because they won’t reflect this change:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. [16] You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? [17] So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. [18] A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. [19] Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. [20] Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:15-20 ESV)

That is what is meant that we are to be salt and light (Matthew 5) to a dying world (Puritan Richard Baxter first said he would preach as a dying man to a dying world – something echoed by Paul Washer and others as of late in their preaching of the gospel).

Therefore, let us reflect the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5), and shine forth the light of Christ so that they may see our good works and give glory to God (Matt. 5:16).

9:13-14 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. [14] Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.

The Neighbors Have Questions…

I wondered at first why in the world these neighbors and friends would have brought the man to the Pharisees. It truly puzzled me. My first thought ran to the story of how the lepers were once cleansed by Christ and he instructed them to go show themselves to the priests (that was part of the law for cleansing) and that perhaps this was the same thing. But I think not, that would have been something the man would have done on his own, and in private. This was more than that.

The second thought that came to mind was that these people ought to have minded their own beeswax! What business was this of theirs? But as I read further into the customs and backdrop of the situation, I found that there is no reason to suppose these neighbors were committing any social taboo here.

In the end, D.A. Carson provided the most satisfactory explanation:

There is no need to ascribe malice to those who brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. They could not have known that the healed man would be subjected to interrogation and expulsion from the synagogue. In a day when almost all events bore religious overtones, the extraordinary healing cried out for comment by the religious authorities – much more so than the way that, in today’s world, after a significant international event millions of people will expect the Foreign Office or the State Department to express an opinion.

In short, John pictures the healed man’s neighbors turning to their local religious leaders and asking them what they should make of the healing.

The Significance of the Fulfilled Sabbath

I think it’s helpful to read the ESV notes on verse 14:

The belated mention of the Sabbath (cf. 5:9 and note on Matt. 12:8) recalls the earlier Sabbath controversy in John 5. Jesus had kneaded the clay with his saliva to make mud, and kneading dough (and by analogy, clay) was included among the 39 classes of work forbidden on the Sabbath (Mishnah, Shabbat 7.2). Jesus’ frequent conflicts with the Jews over the Sabbath suggest that by his coming he is changing the Sabbath requirements (see John 5:17).

Although Calvin seems to think that Jesus purposefully wrought the miracle on the Sabbath to make a point (and indeed He did nothing without purpose), Morris points out that it isn’t as though He seeks publicity on the matter, and only approaches the man after his interrogation with the Pharisees. This is evidence “against” this design says Morris, but I tend to agree with Calvin, because as we all know, Christ did not do anything during His life and ministry that was not specifically designed to be done, and although we must be cautious about reading meaning onto a thing which does not exist, still this controversy over the Sabbath was not a new thing (see chapter 5), and not something Christ avoided.

Sabbath Under the Old Covenant and Overview

There are two important things to understand about the Sabbath controversy in the gospels.  First, the Pharisees misunderstood the nature of the Sabbath under the old covenant.  They had added to it to make is something that it simply was not.  Second, we are no longer under the old covenant, so it is not as if we need to learn from the Pharisees’ mistakes, and correctly keep the Sabbath.  The Sabbath was never meant to simply be a physical rest, but also a spiritual rest.

The word “rest” itself has been misunderstood to mean physical rest, when it really means to “stop” – when God “rested” on the 7th day, it wasn’t as though He needed a break due to exhaustion.  It was because He stopped creating. The reason the Jews had a Sabbath was because it was a time for them to “stop” striving to keep the law and rest in the provision of God for their salvation. Of course they could never fully do this because even keeping the Sabbath was a form of law! So they were striving even in their stopping/resting.

And just as Christ pointed out that the Jews were incorrectly “keeping” the Sabbath during His day (under the Old Covenant), Paul had to show new covenant Christians that they were incorrectly enforcing a law that no longer was in force. To this day we misunderstand the nature of what the Sabbath means

J.C. Ryle, whom I love and admire dearly and who has imparted to me many spiritual truths, is a study in contradictions on this point.  First, he (rightly) sees that these Pharisees are completely misunderstanding the meaning of the Sabbath under the Old Covenant (they have added to the law).  He says:

These would-be wise men completely mistook the intention of the Sabbath. They did not see that it was “made for man,” and meant for the good of man’s body, mind, and soul. It was a day to be set apart from others, no doubt, and to be carefully sanctified and kept holy. But its sanctification was never intended to prevent works of necessity and acts of mercy. To heal a sick man was no breach of the Sabbath day. In finding fault with our Lord for so doing, the Jews only exposed their ignorance of their own law. They had forgotten that it is as great a sin to add to a commandment, as to take it away.

But Ryle completely goes astray after this, for his still applies the old covenant law to new covenant believers! Note how Pharisaical he sounds here:

Here, as in other places, we must take care that we do not put a wrong meaning on our Lord’s conduct. We must not for a moment suppose that the Sabbath is no longer binding on Christians, and that they have nothing to do with the Fourth Commandment. This is a great mistake, and the root of great evil. Not one of the Ten Commandments has ever been repealed or put aside…Whatever men may please to say, the way in which we use the Sabbath a sure test of the state of our religion. By the Sabbath may be found out whether we love communion with God. By the Sabbath may be found out whether we are in tune for heaven. By the Sabbath, in short, the secrets of many hearts are revealed. There are only too many of whom we may say with sorrow, “These men are not of God, because they keep not the Sabbath day.”

Note those bolded words “by the Sabbath may be found out whether we love communion with God.”  He is saying that by keeping the 10 commandments we show we love God. Nonsense! This is not what we’re told in the New Testament at all!

John says this:

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. (1 John 2:3)

And what is this commandment?  The commandment of Christ – to love the Lord with all our hearts minds and soul and to love our brother as ourselves.  Not “keep the old law to the best of your ability.” John continues…

Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. [10] Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. (1 John 2:9-10)

The New Testament/New Covenant Sabbath

The overarching point regarding the Sabbath is this: the Sabbath was meant primarily as a way to point forward to the spiritual rest that Christ has become for us.

It actually took a little while for this legalism to catch so much fire that it became the norm for us to think that we need to keep a “Sabbath” day, and certainly the puritan writers who were so influential in early American history were very legalistic about keeping a Sabbath.

However, the early church under Roman rule didn’t keep a Sabbath in the Jewish legalistic sense, if for no other reason than they weren’t allowed to.  Certainly these stalwart Christians would have died to obey Christ if this was truly a command worth dying for.  Craig Blomberg explains the context:

…Christians scarcely transferred everything about the Jewish Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday.  Gentile believers, who comprised the majority of the church from the middle of the first century onwards, had no weekly days in their communities on which to rest. Greeks and Romans had several holidays each month according to the various religious festival calendars they followed. Bu unless one of these holidays fell on a Sunday, Gentile Christians had to work a full day on the first day of the week and squeeze in worship and fellowship with other believers either on Sunday morning before dawn or Saturday or Sunday night after dusk.

Perhaps one of the most important passages on the Sabbath is found in Hebrews where we read of how Christ has become our rest:

For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. [15] As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” [16] For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? [17] And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? [18] And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? [19] So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

So already here in Hebrews we see that entering the Sabbath rest is directly connected to obedience – and of course none of these Jews could obey – in fact the entire law was given to show them mainly just that (Romans 3:23).  But the passage continues:

4:1 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. [2] For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. [3] For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. [4] For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” [5] And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, [7] again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” [8] For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. [9] So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, [10] for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. [11] Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. (Hebrews 3:14-19; Hebrews 4:1-11 ESV)

So that opportunity still stands for rest – that is what the author of Hebrews is saying. That even though the Old Testament saints failed to enter into this rest by their disobedience, we can now enter into it simply by faith in Christ – not by the works of the law which no man can keep. After all, we are no longer under the law of death.

This is further explained in Hebrews 8:

Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. [5] They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” (Hebrews 8:4-5 ESV)

And…

For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, [9] not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. (Hebrews 8:8-9 ESV)

And finally…

In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. (Hebrews 8:13 ESV)

Gotquestions.org summarizes this point well, they say, “There is no other Sabbath rest besides Jesus. He alone satisfies the requirements of the Law, and He alone provides the sacrifice that atones for sin. He is God’s plan for us to cease from the labor of our own works.” They continue, “Because of what He did, we no longer have to “labor” in law-keeping in order to be justified in the sight of God. Jesus was sent so that we might rest in God and in what He has provided.”

In the Old Testament, Israel had the Sabbath to be reminded to stop and depend on God because of their woeful inability to obey God. It pointed forward to Christ, to a time when one day they would not have to labor to keep His law; one day they would be freed from the curse of the law. Christ would come and fulfill the entirety of the law, and we would “rest” in His finished work.  Our only “work” now is to declare His work by proclaiming the gospel.

The Law Kills…Christ Fulfills

We have a tendency as Christians to fall back into legalism. The Sabbath is no different, and Paul addresses this in Galatians because these men and women fell into the same trap:

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. [2] Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? [3] Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:1-3)

They were still striving to accomplish all that laid out in the law, instead of resting in the finished work of Christ. They were still forcing people to be circumcised and still following holidays (like the Sabbath) where some did not feel the need follow these for sake of conscience. For we are no longer under this curse as Paul says:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—[14] so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:13-14)

Perhaps the key passage here is verses 24-26:

So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. [25] But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, [26] for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. (Galatians 3:24-26)

Note the word “until” Christ came. The law was added and did not annul the gospel promise that was made to Abraham. But the law has now been fulfilled in Christ. Paul puts it this way that “we are no longer under a guardian” (the law). How much more clearly must he state it? We are no longer under the law! Stop trying to keep the law – fulfill the law of Christ as He commanded.

Hebrews 10:1 explains the futility of trying to keep the Old Testament law, “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.”

I enjoy the insight of my friend Pastor Tony Romano on the matter of the Sabbath.  In an email conversation about this he put it this way:

Foundationally, commanding literal rest is anything but rest-giving, it’s part of the deliberate burden woven into the old covenant (Galatians). The Decalogue is not described as rest-giving in the New Testament scriptures, but as the “letter that kills.”  Yes, they were meant to use the Sabbath as an occasion to be thankful and remember God…because that is right…but the commandment could not produce this righteousness God required of them. That was the whole point of giving the commandment, to show they could not follow it and needed a Savior. The Sabbath ordinance brought death; not life and not rest. They were constantly under the burden of making sure they rested when Sabbath came. I guess that’s the nuance I would add here…the Sabbath is actually not ultimately about physical rest and relaxation, as it finally provided neither. Law creates work, not rest.

Another important passage in this discussion is Colossians 2:16-17 which states:

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. [17] These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17 ESV)

The ESV Study notes have helpful commentary on this passage:

Col. 2:17 “a shadow of the things to come.” The old covenant observances pointed to a future reality that was fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Heb. 10:1). Hence, Christians are no longer under the Mosaic covenant (cf. Rom. 6:14–15; 7:1–6; 2 Cor. 3:4–18; Gal. 3:15–4:7). Christians are no longer obligated to observe OT dietary laws (“food and drink”) or festivals, holidays, and special days (“a festival … new moon … Sabbath,” Col. 2:16), for what these things foreshadowed has been fulfilled in Christ.

If the law kills, how does Christ fulfill? In Matthew 5:17-18 Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”

Christ was on a mission to fulfill these laws completely not abolish them.  He didn’t abolish them because He had not fulfilled them yet. In other words, He is describing His work, not ours.

Commenting on the Matthew 5 passage, Blomberg puts it this way:

It’s an unusual contrast. Normally, if someone says he is not abolishing something, he goes on to say he is preserving it intact. But that’s not how the word fulfill is used in the Bible. In Matthew alone, its most common meaning is “to bring about that which was predicted” or “to give the complete meaning of something that was once only partially disclosed” (for example, 1:22; 2:15, 17, 23; 3:15; 4:14).

Therefore, He came to earth to be subject to the law and to complete it in perfect obedience. Then, and only then, could this perfect righteousness of His be imputed to our account. If He had abolished the law and said “I’m not going to obey the law, but do what I want”, He certainly could have done anything since He is God, but the point was to fulfill that which we could not fulfill (to obey what we could not obey) so that His righteousness could be given to us.  Despite our failures, He has completed the task perfectly for us.  But there’s no more task to be completed.  He did that already.  He fulfilled the task’s assignments and we no longer need this guardian of the law because Christ has come to get rid of the babysitter (so to speak) and adopt us into the family. In this way we need no more communion with the law because we have communion with God through the Holy Spirit who is the one helping us obey the commands of Christ, namely to love the Lord and our neighbors as well.

Blomberg, commenting on the Colossians passage, concludes, “Christ’s incarnation is the reality that the holy days foreshadowed. Jesus’ followers come to Him and He gives them rest 24-7, as we would say today, for His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30). Our whole lives are a Sabbath rest, foreshadowing our eternal rest (Heb. 4:9-11).

This leads me to the final point in our look at the Sabbath…

We Also Look Forward

Like the Israelites who looked forward to one that would usher in spiritual “rest”, we also feel the tension of the already/not yet in that while we rest in His finished work, His provision, His imputed righteousness, and our adoption, we also long for the day we will see the consummation/realization of this rest (in a physical sense – we will no longer battle sickness and disease which are all the results of the fall and original sin) and the kingdom of earth will become the kingdom of Christ at His parousia.

Paul explained this tension in Romans 8:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. [19] For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. [20] For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope [21] that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. [22] For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. [23] And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. [24] For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? [25] But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:18-25)

9:15-17 So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” [16] Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them.

So we see here that the reaction of the Pharisees is once again abhorrence for Christ.  This time, as in chapter 5, it is for His breaking of the Sabbath.  Morris notes, “John evidently wants us to see that the activity of Jesus as the Light of the world inevitably results in judgment on those whose natural habitat is darkness. They oppose the Light and they bring down condemnation on themselves accordingly.”

Not only this, but I see a sort of interesting parallel in the way they (not unlike the disciples) were using faulty logic. It is a sign of the weakness and impotence of the mind of man that, without the aid of the Divine Being, they cannot understand the things of God. Here the Pharisees deduced that because Christ did “work” on the Sabbath, He must have therefore not been “from God.”

While we understand from our previous study of chapter 5 that this is incorrect (because Christ is “Lord of the Sabbath”), what was going on here was something bigger – a new covenant was about to be inaugurated, with new rules. This new covenant would not simply be a renewal of the old (Jer. 31:32), but would be something entirely new.

The reason for this is also explained in the book of Hebrews where it says, “Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well (Hebrews 7:11-12).”

Commenting on this passage, Blake White says, “Notice that the law and the priesthood are bound up together. It is a package deal. If the priesthood changes, then the law changes as well.”

Christ was changing the paradigm, and this was yet another outward manifestation (or “sign”) of that reality, of that Kingdom which He came to usher in.  In Matthew 12:28 after performing a cleansing of a man who had a demon, Christ had been criticized by the Pharisees for casting out these demons by the power of Satan.  But Christ corrected their illogical argument and then added, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”

The Point and Application

Now, I don’t think that the Pharisees understood what was going on here entirely – they couldn’t have understood it (Rom. 8:7), but for us looking back on this I find it significant.  Christ is Lord of the Sabbath (Matt. 12:8), and here He is showing us what kinds of things must be done by those who rest in Christ (us!).  We must go to a lost and dying world and offer them the Bread of Life, which can only be found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

John MacArthur points out that this was a beautiful illustration of the salvation process:

Blinded by sin, lost sinners have no capacity to recognize the Savior or find Him on their own. The blind man would not have been healed had Jesus not sought him and revealed Himself to him. So it is in salvation; if God did not reach out to spiritually blind sinners, no one would be saved. And just as the blind man was healed only when he obeyed Jesus’ command and washed in the pool of Siloam, so also are sinners saved only when they humbly and obediently embrace the truth of the gospel.

And R.C. Sproul concludes:

The Bible uses the metaphor of blindness again and again for people who have never perceived the truth of Christ. The eyes of their hearts are blind until God the Holy Spirit, without the help of spit and clay, opens them. When He does, they not only perceive the light of day, they see the light of the world. John said in his prologue, “We beheld His glory” (1:14). All those whose spiritual eyes have been opened may say the same. Are you among them?

Therefore, we must learn to be mortifying and hating sin, and we must understand that God has a plan for us that outweighs all the pain and suffering caused by sin.

On the latter score Barnes remarks, “Those who are afflicted with blindness, deafness, or any deformity, should be submissive to God. It is His appointment, and is right and best. God does no wrong; and when all His works are seen, the universe will see and know that He is just.”

And on the former point, J.C. Ryle says, “Let us learn to hate sin with a godly hatred, as the root of more than half of our cares and sorrows. Let us fight against it, mortify it, crucify it, and abhor it both in ourselves and others. There cannot be a clearer proof that man is a fallen creature than the fact that he can love sin and take pleasure in it.”