The Sabbath and the Resurrection

The Sabbath and the Resurrection

Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D.

All Saints Church, Lancaster, PA, Pastor

An excerpt from In the Breaking of the Bread

Back in Genesis, we first find the idea of sabbath. "And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made" (Gen. 2:2-3). Right away it appears that this is God's example for our benefit.

It is surprising to think through the creation pattern. Adam's first day was a day of rest. He was created on the sixth day, thus his first full day of life was not a day of labor, but a day of sabbath. Unlike the day of sin when they "hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God" (Gen. 3:8), after the first man and woman were created, they awoke to a day in their Maker's presence.

I believe this is a clue to the purpose and full meaning of the sabbath. No one works to earn rest in the presence of God. It is a gift before one labors. Originally it was not a six-then-one day pattern for Adam, it was a one-then- six pattern. This should remind us of the structure of salvation. It is redemption then service. The order is always grace — then faithful obedience — not works, then grace. The sabbath gift was certainly not a meritorious reward of rest for Adam's works. At this point we may need to adjust our thinking.

Later in the Old Testament, the sabbath commandment was expressed in the fourth commandment. It is striking that among many, "Thou shalt nots"— the form of this command is, "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy"(Ex. 20:8). The Jewish sabbath observance included their synagogue convocations (Lev 23:3). That is, they were to gather in congregations. This seems to be the origin of the Jewish synagogue. But it is important to note that there is an explicit connection to table celebration. The next verse says, "These are the feasts of the LORD, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times" (Lev. 23:4). It goes on to reference, the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and Pentecost, which begin with a day of celebration. The sabbath was for instruction and rest in the presence of God and His people.

The very heart of the sabbath is "remembering." The word here (zakar in Hebrew) means "call to mind" or "recall." What do we recall? This is a little clearer in the second giving of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy. The sabbath was a memorial occasion for the emancipation proclamation of Israel. They were to remember their release from bondage by the power of God. "And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day" (Deut. 5:15). This release from bondage even applied to the land, which also was to be given sabbaths (Lev. 25:4). It applied to debtors in the cycle of restitution, the Jubilee, which is called a sabbath (Lev. 25:8-10).

The fulness of this rest and release from bondage is the work of Jesus (Col. 2:16-17). Jesus is our sabbath rest. "For we who have believed do enter that rest..."(Heb. 4:3). We can see this in the anticipation of His coming. The very paradigm of time leading to the "fulness of time" (Gal. 4:4, coming of Messiah ) is a sabbatical pattern ("seventy sevens," Dan. 9:24).

This explains the force of the frequent conflict over the sabbath in the Gospels. After doing works of healing and restoration on the needy, Jesus was accused of sabbath-breaking. But it was the Pharisees who misused the sabbath (Mark 2:24-28). The sabbath, ironically, had become a kind of slavery. What was meant for the celebration of freedom was made into a yoke of bondage. "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27). It is just because of this that the True Man, the Last Adam was "Lord of the sabbath" (Mark 2:28).

The Pharisaic accusations did not end with minor infractions of permissible sabbath activities. Their zealous bondage created murderous hostility to the Life-giver and Healer. After healing a man, we read, "For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath" (John 5:16). Jesus' Jesus answer to this charge is very interesting. "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working....For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will" (5:17-21). In other words, the Lord is working for our redemption and that redemption is in the resurrection. Here is the explicit connection between the sabbath and resurrection. He became a slave so that we might be free. He died so that we might live. Jesus is our sabbath. We were slaves, but now we are free.

The very heart of this is rejoicing in the grace of God and the reality of new life. Like the Jubilee, we need a fresh start. We need the weekly renewal of taking to heart our freedom and life in Christ. This refreshment, this celebration, is not to be without the Table. Jesus promised His presence in the breaking of the bread.

Just as the Table is a deep theme in Luke, it is deeper still in John. In John's Gospel Jesus is presented in a well known series of signs. The hinge of the structure of these signs is the giving of bread and its accompanying "Bread of Life" discourse in Chapter 6.

The Signs in the Gospel of John

1. New Creator: Water into wine (2:1-11)

2. Redeemer/Healer: The official/nobleman's son (4:46ff)

3. True Sabbath: The paralyzed man at the pool (5:2-9)

4. Bread of Life: Multiplication of loaves (6:1-14)

5. Light of the World: Man born blind healed on Sabbath (9:1-7)

6. Resurrection & Life: The raising of Lazarus (11:1-44)

7. Living Water: The cross (19:1-37) + 8. New Adam/Gardener: The resurrection (20:1-29)

These signs have a chiastic structure. They are arranged in parallels with the center marking the emphasis. The wine of new life, encompassing the first and seven signs are "third day" signs, pointing to resurrection on the "third day." The power of Jesus to prevent and undo death which are showing in the second and sixth signs happen "after two days" (John 4:43, 11:6), alluding the "third day."

The third and fifth signs show Jesus as True Sabbath in healing the paralyzed man at the Sheep Gate pool (5:2-9) and the healing of the man born blind (9:1-7). Note they are both on the Sabbath (John 5:9; 9:14). John goes out of his way to make this point. "And that day was the Sabbath" (John 5:9). John 9:14 says, "Now it was a Sabbath when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes." Both of these events involve pools for cleansing (John 5:2; 9:7). Those who live in the Light of the World are to rest on the work of Jesus and work in rest of Jesus. These Sabbath signs mean that we are to be healed from all our inabilities, not by any other savior, but Jesus only and all who are cleansed through His Sabbath rest can say, "I was blind but now I see."

The overall pattern of the "third day" signs culminates in the resurrection of the first day of the week (or the typological eighth day). On the new creation "eighth day," the restoration will be complete. The new wine of celebration is poured out at the marriage feast (to use John 2 as an example).

The center of the signs is fourth sign of John's Gospel, Jesus is feeding the five thousand which strongly alludes to the Eucharist.

John 6:10 - Then Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. 11 And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted.

Jesus provided for the physical needs of these people. But His teaching on the next day was that He was the eternal bread which comes down from heaven and which is paralleled to the Eucharist.

I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world." 52 The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?" 53 Then Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. 54 "Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 "For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. 56 "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.

We do not need to embrace the error of transubstantiation in order to appreciate John's framing of this as Eucharistic. He claims to be true manna. He claims to give his body for food and blood for drink. Jesus fed the people and called for faith. It should not surprise us that the sequence of the signs places this as the center of chiasm, while the first is the new creation wine (after all He is the true vine) and the last is the cross/resurrection. We have the wine, bread and water/blood sequence in these signs.

The rite and action which is known in the life of the Church is feeding upon Jesus by faith at the Table and experiencing His presence in the breaking of the bread. This shows that we are abiding in Him.

The Eighth Day Sabbath

The sabbath, resurrection, and communion are woven together into the new wine skins of the Church. Given that the first recipients of the gospel saw the weekly Sabbath pattern of worship as divine law and yet the Church emerged from the first century worshiping on the first day of the week — how might this be reasonably explained? The Lord's Day is the first day of the week, the numerical "eighth day" when one counts from the first creation day. Viewed with the typological aspects in mind, one can see that this "eighth day" of creation was the first day of the new creation. It was the day of resurrection, of new life.

But is there more specific warrant for this change of worship-day? It does not stand out in red letters, or does it? Jesus taught us that He had authority over the sabbath, the day of remembrance, "For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath" (Matt. 12:8). When He instituted His new passover supper, He said, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me" (Luke 22:19).

Jesus required His disciples to remember His work of redemption, the antitype of the Exodus. However, His work of redemption was not complete until the first day of the week. Only after His redemptive work was complete, He met with His disciples. And His disciples continued to do this: "on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread . . ." (Act 20:7).

No great leap into the historical and theological unknown is necessary to conclude that the apostolic church had warrant to worship on the Day of Resurrection. But what else did this warrant require? That when the new covenant people meet on the eighth day sabbath, they meet with Him in the breaking of the bread.

One should not hesitate in admitting that the explicit Biblical material is meager regarding the question of worship, including the Table, on the first day of the week. But, what the Scriptures suggest in seed, the universal church demonstrates in full bloom. The voice of these verses is joined by the deep chorus of the theological importance of the Resurrection of Christ on the first day of the week and with the specific requirement of the Lord's Supper: "Do this in remembrance of Me." His disciples should thus remember in Eucharistic participation His redemptive acts on the day that they were demonstrably complete: the Lord's Day. Thus, the same warrant to worship on the Lord's Day compels us to break bread on the Lord's Day.

The Historical Precedents

Would we but listen to them, our eldest brethren in the ancient Church would say this loudly. The earliest writings of the church are in accord with the priority of the gathered congregation with the Table on Sunday. Even the pagan Pliny the Younger reported that Christians meet "on an appointed day."1 The Didache commands that, "On the Lord's Day come together and break bread."2 The Epistle of Barnabas likewise says, "Wherefore, also, we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead."3

Ignatius of Antioch speaks of the early Jewish Christians as "those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord's day, on which also our life has sprung up again by him and by his death."4

The Didascalia very unambiguously, though with a slight thought of speculation, states, "The apostles further appointed: On the first day of the week let there be service, and the reading of the Holy Scriptures, and the oblation, because on the first day of the week our Lord rose from the place of the dead, and on the first day of the week he arose upon the world, and on the first day of the week he ascended up to heaven..."5 Victorinus says that "on the Lord's day we may go forth to our bread with giving of thanks" [after fasting] "lest we should appear to observe any sabbath with the Jews . . . which sabbath he [Christ] in his body abolished."6 Athanasius reasons, "The sabbath was the end of the first creation, the Lord's day was the beginning of the second . . . we honor the Lord's day as being the memorial of the new creation."7 "The Council of Elvira (300) decreed: 'If anyone in the city neglects to come to church for three Sundays, let him be excommunicated for a short time so that he may be corrected' (xxi)."8

The International Standard Biblical Encyclopedia states that, "The glimpses given us in the earlier Fathers of the Eucharist are in entire accord with the more articulate expression of the church's corporate eucharistic worship, which we find in the liturgical documents and writings of the Nicene era."

(1) Ignatian Epistles: The Ignatian Epistles show us the Eucharist as the focus of the church's life and order, the source of unity and fellowship. The Eucharist consecrated by the prayer of the bishop and church is the Bread of God, the Flesh and Blood of Christ, the communication of love incorruptible and life eternal (compare Ephesians, 5,13,10; Trallians, 7,8; Romans, 7; Philadelphians, 4; Smyrnaeans, 7,8; Magnesians, 7).

(2) Justin Martyr: Justin Martyr tells us that the Eucharist was celebrated on the Lord's Day, the day associated with creation and with Christ's resurrection. To the celebrant were brought bread and wine mixed with water, who then put up to God, over them, solemn thanksgiving for His lovingkindness in the gifts of food and health and for the redemption wrought by Christ. The oblations of bread and wine are presented to God in memorial of Christ's passion, and become Christ's body and blood through prayer. The Eucharist is a spiritual sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving commemorative of Christ's death; and the consecrated elements the communion of Christ's body and blood, by reason of the sacramental character bestowed upon them by the invocation of the Divine blessing (compare 1 Apol., 13,15, 66, 67; Dial. with Trypho, 41,70, 117).

(3) Irenaeus: Irenaeus, also, emphasizes the fact that Christ taught His disciples to offer the new oblation of the New Covenant, to present in thank offering the first-fruits of God's creatures--bread and wine--the pure sacrifice prophesied before by Malachi. The Eucharist consecrated by the church, through the invocation of God's blessing, is the communion of the body and blood of Christ, just as He pronounced the elements to be at the institution (compare Against Heresies, i.13,1; iv.17,5; 18,1-6; 33,1; v.22,3).

(4) Cyprian: Cyprian, too, gives evidence of the same eucharistic belief, and alludes very plainly to the "Lift up your hearts," to the great thanksgiving, and to the prayer of consecration. This last included the rehearsal of what Christ did and said at the institution, the commemoration of His passion, and the invocation of the Holy Spirit (compare Epistle to Caecilius, sections 1, 2, 4, 9, 10, 14, 17; Epistle to Epictetus, sections 2, 4; On the Unity of the Church, I, 17; On the Lord's Prayer, section 31; Firmilian to Cyprian, sections 10, 17).9

While more early witnesses to the Lord's Day worship could be called, one final word will suffice from The Apostolic Constitutions,

And on the day of our Lord's resurrection, which is the Lord's day, meet more diligently, sending praise to God that made the universe by Jesus, and sent him to us, and condescended to let him suffer, and raised him from the dead. Otherwise what apology will he make to God who does not assemble on that day . . . in which is performed the reading of the prophets, the preaching of the gospel, the oblation of the sacrifice, the gift of the holy food.10

The Christian church has Biblical foundation, theological implication, and overwhelming ancient historical precedent to call that meeting on the day of Resurrection and celebrate the Eucharist. Just as the ancient hymn by John of Damascus says,

The Day of Resurrection! Earth, Tell it out Abroad;

The Passover of Gladness, the Passover of God.

From Death to Life Eternal, from this World to the Sky,

Our Christ Hath Brought Us over with Hymns of Victory.

Our Hearts Be Pure from Evil, That We May See Aright

The Lord in Rays Eternal of Resurrection Light;

And, Listening to His Accents, May Hear, So Calm and Plain,

His Own All Hail! And Hearing, May Raise the Victor Strain.

Now Let the Heav'ns Be Joyful, Let Earth Her Song Begin;

Let the Round World Keep Triumph, and All That Is Therein;

Invisible and Visible, Their Notes Let All Things Blend,

For Christ the Lord Hath Risen, Our Joy That Hath No End.

© Gregg Strawbridge. All Rights Reserved.