Moses records the Ten Commandments twice in the Pentateuch—in Exodus 20 and in Deuteronomy 5. The commandments are the same in the two accounts, but interestingly, the motivation for keeping the fourth commandment is different. Exodus 20 looks backward to creation (Ex. 20:8–11), whereas Deuteronomy 5 looks backward to the exodus from Egypt (Deut. 5:12–15). In the New Testament, the book of Hebrews looks forward to the eschatological Sabbath rest that will be consummated when Jesus returns (Heb. 4:1–11). Taken together, these passages tell us that the Sabbath is rooted in creation, redemption, and consummation. In other words, we rest because God created us to rest, He has redeemed us for rest, and He is redeeming us for ultimate rest. Given that these factors apply to all the redeemed, we can say that when it comes to Christians, everyone is a Sabbatarian.
Some Christians might be reluctant to embrace this appraisal, for we do not all agree on the theology of the Sabbath. How, then, can we all be considered Sabbatarians? We often debate the particulars of Sabbath observance, asking questions such as: May I go out to eat? May I watch football? May I take a nap? We might also debate the degree of continuity that the Sabbath principle enjoys from the Old Testament to the New. Many (those favoring discontinuity) have understood Jesus’ apparent harshness toward the religious leaders who emphasized the Sabbath as an express abrogation of the Sabbath principle in the new covenant (e.g., Mark 2:25–28). Others (those favoring continuity, among whom I stand) would argue that the Sabbath was never distinctively Mosaic or exclusively Jewish; rather, the Sabbath is creational—that is, God instituted the Sabbath at creation, and therefore, the dawning of the old covenant with Moses did not originate or rescind it. Nor did the inauguration of the new covenant abrogate the Sabbath, though Christ’s work does cast new light on the Sabbath, including its transition from the seventh day to the first day (leading to its also being called the Lord’s Day). According to this view, the Sabbath started not at Sinai but in Eden.
While questions regarding particulars of observance are important, they are secondary. Before we resolve to say what we’re against on the Sabbath, we should determine what we’re for. We must therefore ask why God appointed one particular day in seven, blessing and sanctifying the Sabbath at creation (Gen. 2:2–3). Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees’ questioning is instructive here: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Jesus teaches that God appointed, blessed, and sanctified the Sabbath for Adam and his progeny. From Moses’ account, we also know that God instituted the Sabbath before the fall. The Sabbath, then, is a divine gift for our good. Alongside marriage and labor, the Sabbath was a gift from a benevolent Creator, a “merciful appointment,” says J.C. Ryle. It was to serve as a reminder to man of, among other things, God’s authority and goodness. The Sabbath, Jonathan Edwards said, was “made for the profit and comfort of our souls.”