Introduction to Revelation: Part 5

Today we looked at the classic premil and dispensational premil views of the millennium period spoken of in Revelation 20. I also spoke briefly about the nature of dispensationalism, and its hermeneutic. In my notes (below) I have given a slightly expanded voice to my concerns and why it matters to us today. I just can’t stress enough how important it is that we get our hermeneutics right, and I believe that when we do, our Bibles will lead us away from dispensational views of Revelation, and, well, anything…

Enjoy!

PreMillenialism – Historic

There are two kinds of Premils, the first is historic or “classical” and has been around since the early church fathers (ancients referred to this as chiliasm). The second is dispensational which came into being in the last 200 years. I’ll start with historic premillennialism.

Grudem says:

According to this viewpoint, the present church age will continue until, as it nears the end, a time of great tribulation and suffering comes on the earth. After that time of tribulation at the end of the church age, Christ will return to earth to establish a millennial kingdom….some premillennialists take this to be a literal one thousand years, and others understand it to be a symbolic expression for a long period of time. During this time, Christ will be physically present on earth in his resurrected body, and will reign as King over the entire earth.

John Frame sums up what happens next:

They (the early church fathers who were premil) taught that at the end of the present age, Jesus will come and raise believers to be with him. Then he will reign upon the earth for a thousand years, or some other long period of time. During this time (and not until then), Satan is bound in the bottomless pit. At the end of this time, God will release Satan, and at his instigation some on earth will rebel against Jesus (Revelation 20:3, 7-8). But the Lord will put down the revolt and raise all the dead for final judgment. Then comes the new heavens and new earth.

Therefore, according to this viewpoint, Christians will indeed endure a great time of persecution – they will not be raptured away from this tribulation prior to the Lord’s second coming.

Premillenialsim – Dispensational

The dispensational version of premil belief is “more recent (nineteenth century) and more complicated.”[i]

John Frame sets up the view for us:

The key to understanding the dispensational view is the idea that Jesus actually returns twice, making three times altogether that Jesus comes to earth. His first coming was, of course, his conception in the womb of Mary 2000 years ago. At his second coming, at the end of this age, he comes secretly and raptures believers to be with him. The rapture is described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, where Paul says:

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

This is what you read about or have seen in those Left Behind movies with Kirk Cameron (and now Nicholas Cage). As Wayne Grudem notes, “This return is thought to be a secret return of Christ to take believers out of the world.”[ii]

Then there will be a period of intense tribulation – dispensationalists call this the “Great Tribulation” – which will last 7 literal years. Some hold that the rapture of the church will occur mid-way through the tribulation and that the last 3.5 years of the tribulation (seen to be the worst years) will be avoided by the church.

After the literal 7-year tribulation period Christ will come again (for a third time), this time to usher in His kingdom here on earth.

Grudem says:

During this seven-year period of tribulation, many of the signs that were predicted to precede Christ’s return will be fulfilled. The great ingathering of the fullness of the Jewish people will occur, as they trust Christ as their messiah. In the midst of great suffering there will also be much effective evangelism, especially carried out by the new Jewish Christians. At the end of the tribulation, Christ will then come back with his saints to reign on the earth for 1,000 years. After this millennial period there will be a rebellion, resulting in the final defeat of Satan and his forces, and then will come the resurrection of unbelievers, the last judgment, and the beginning of the eternal state.[iii]

That is their system in a nutshell. But both Frame (leans postmil) and Grudem (a classic premil guy) wisely note that one of the things that makes this form of premil unique is the way they separate the Jews from the church, basically saying that these are two separate and distinct peoples with two separate and distinct futures. To me this is one of the most unbiblical features of the dispensational system.

Grudem additionally notes that, “Another characteristic of pretribulational premillenialism is its insistence on interpreting biblical prophecies ‘literally where possible.’ This especially applies to prophecies in the Old Testament concerning Israel. Those who hold this view argue that those prophecies of God’s future blessing to Israel will yet be fulfilled among the Jewish people themselves; they are not to be ‘spiritualized by finding their fulfillment in the church.’”[iv]

Issues with the Dispensational View

I believe each view has strengths and weaknesses. However, I admit openly that I loathe the dispensational view (not those who believe it, but the view itself) for its absolutely wacky and misleading hermeneutic. I single it out because it’s the most popularized view of the church today, and many in the church don’t know of the alternatives.

The two main distinctives of this view are its futurist bent (i.e. with regard to the millennium and the tribulation period), and its separation between the future destinies of Jews and the Church respectively.

Much of these issues stem from their “literal” hermeneutic. To ignore context, symbolism, figures of speech, allegory, and word pictures is to throw out common sense and discard sensus literalis to the dustbin.

As it concerns the “spiritualizing” of the promises to Israel and those promises being fulfilled (at least partially) in the church. It’s important to realize that our framework for understanding the role of the church with regard to its fulfillment of OT promises is given to us by the Apostle Paul who not only called Christ “Israel” but also called the church the “true Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16) and said that the church – the elect – were Abraham’s offspring In Romans 4 and Romans 9 Paul says that it’s the elect by the promise of God who are Abraham’s offspring). This same apostle also maintained that the Jews would eventually be grafted back in to the church (Romans 11). He used the comparison to a wild olive tree. He never spoke of two trees, only one with the two different branches. Additionally, the Bible doesn’t speak of two brides of Christ, only one – the church. Are we to think that the church is Christ’s bride and that the Jews are, well, just another group hanging around on the outside of the eternal marriage?

There are further consequences – major consequences – not the least of which is a complete misunderstanding of Jeremiah 31:31 and subsequent (and necessary) disregard for Hebrews 8. If this passage only applies to Israel in the future, then the new covenant hasn’t been ushered in, and we aren’t a part of it. You can see how important it is to get the hermeneutic right when we read our Bibles. I will address this momentarily.

Under the dispensational hermeneutic the future will also look, well, very odd. There will be rebellion after Christ has physically reigned on earth for 1,000 years – which means there will still be sin even though Christ will be here on earth – so apparently we’ll have to wait awhile for that problem to be solved. Also, if there’s sin in the millennium, why not death? Sin leads to physical decay and death, so how is this to be dealt with?

Needless to say there are issues with every viewpoint – because we can’t perfectly understand the future and what God has for His people. That’s why He’s God and we’re not! I don’t believe we’re meant to know every detail of the future and how things will exactly play out.

Why this Matters to Us Today 

I mentioned Jeremiah 31:31 above because I believe that dispensationalists inadvertently undervalue the new covenant and the victory Christ achieved on the cross. Again, I don’t think this is their aim, but it’s the consequence of their hermeneutic. This actually really matters to us today because this view of the Bible has consequences for how we view our own salvation, and previous promises that we claim to be ours right now.

In recent years some within their camp have realized there are issues with creating such a dichotomy between the church and Israel. This is why some now call themselves ‘Progressive Dispensationalists’ because they are starting to see that many of these promises made with the “House of Israel” in the OT are actually being fulfilled in the church – chief among them is the promise of a New Covenant. In Jeremiah 31:31-34 we read of a prophecy concerning the new covenant[v] that I’m sure many of you have read or heard before. Listen to the words of Jeremiah, made with the “House of Israel” but now being fulfilled in His church:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, [32] 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, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. [33] For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. [34] And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

Why am I bringing this up now in the context of our study on Revelation? Because how we view the Bible in Jeremiah (and other books) has an affect on how we view and read Revelation. Having a literalistic hermeneutic not only ruins Revelation, it stultifies and obscures other vital prophetic passages, and the Jeremiah passage is just a great example of this. I said earlier that “hermeneutics matter”, this is just one example of why that is so, and why I want to caution anyone who holds to a dispensational view of this book.

 

Footnotes 

[i] Frame, Systematic Theology, Pg. 1089

[ii] Grudem, Systematic Theology, Pg.’s 1112-1113

[iii] Grudem, Pg. 1115

[iv] Grudem, Pg. 1116

[v] Bruce Ware is in this camp and in his Systematic Theology I lectures at SBTS he gives the Jeremiah 31:31-34 passage as one of the glaring passages which simply can’t be gotten around.

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.”