Law, Sabbath, Gospel, and Jesus

This issue seeks to validate the connection between God's original creative act and the seventh-day Sabbath.

Willmore D. Eva, D.Min., is the editor of Ministry and an associate in the Ministerial Association of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.



This issue of Ministry con firms the conviction, foundational to Seventh-day Adventist faith and identity, that God is calling His creation to "worship Him who made the heaven and the earth" (Rev. 14:7, NASB). Among other things we seek in this issue to validate the connection between God's original creative act and the seventh-day Sabbath. We affirm that, consistent with the explicit wording of the moral law, the seventh day of the weekly cycle is inescapably interwoven with God's original creative work (Ex. 20:11). For this reason the Sabbath is designated by God to be the specific weekly point in time in which human beings come to worship Him. Thus again we confirm that if the Sabbath is these things, it is not something solely for Jewish people, but was "made" by God for "humankind" (Mark 2:27, NRSV) in the beginning before the existence of Abraham, Moses, or the Hebrew nation.

This issue of Ministry definitely assumes these more law-oriented and conventional Adventist views of Sabbath, but its central purpose is to probe deeper into the heart of what the Sabbath is all about. We try to do this by concentrating more on the magnificent Scriptural connection between the Sabbath and the redemptive or gospel themes of the Bible. In doing so we want to contribute not only to an expanded understanding of Sabbath, but to an enhanced experiencing of it.

With this in mind, here are some introductory reflections on the Sabbath.

What happened to the Sabbath when Jesus came?

More to the underlying point is the question What happened to law when Jesus came? Written with passion, Paul's discussion of this in Galatians is the most concise. The core of Paul's thinking comes in chapter three, especially verses 19-25 where significantly Paul presents more of a law-Christ continuum than the law grace tension that we most often seem to see in it.

At the center of our struggle to understand this passage is the concise, seminal statement "The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ" (Gal. 3:24). Again, we must notice that the "tension" in this statement is between law and Christ rather than between law and grace. Adventists, of course, have quite a history with this passage. Part of that history definitely includes the following thoughtful interpretation: "I am asked concerning the law in Galatians. What law is the schoolmaster to bring us to Christ? I answer: Both the ceremonial and the moral code of ten commandments"1 and, '"The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith' (Gal. 3:24). In this scripture, the Holy Spirit through the apostle is speaking especially of the moral law."2 This interpretation has critical implications that reach in significant directions, including a direction that throws light on the question of the present role of the law and the seventh-day Sabbath.

So what is Paul saying in this and similar passages (such as Romans 7)? How does he believe Christ's (or faith's) arrival impacted "the law" and thus the Sabbath?

At the heart of what Paul is saying is this: Though Christ did not come to remove law He did come to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17). What does this mean? Even though the law is holy, just, good, (Rom. 7:7,12, 13,14,16, 22), authoritative, and eternal, it still is in itself an incomplete or imperfect expression of the will of God and of all that God is (moral law included). Law, including the moral law, foreshadowed something or Someone more perfect or complete yet to come, namely the Author of that law, Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus is the ultimate expression of all that God wills and all that God is, including what was communicated through Moses (see John 1:14-18 and Heb. 1:1-3).

Thus Jesus said such things as "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery [moral law]. But I tell you anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery" (Matt. 5:27, 28, NIV). And in the same context He said similar things, mixing in elements of the ceremonial law. Here Jesus is clearly showing that He Himself and His teaching is the ultimate expression of a revelation that could never be announced simply on tables of stone at Sinai, or in a written code of any kind, even when presented by someone as illustrious as Moses (see Heb. 3:3). Jesus is the complete articulation of all divine truth. He is truth (John 14:5-11).

Jesus, the ultimate expression of law and Sabbath

Jesus is the living embodiment of "law." He is the personification of all Scripture and of all God ever meant to say to human beings. He is the word who became flesh and lived among us so that we could see the glory of God. He is also, therefore, the perfect expression of what Sabbath is. He is literally the picture worth a thousand words. He is our Sabbath, and He thus confirms and fully expresses whatever the weekly Sabbath was ever meant to portray. The Sabbath stands as a perpetual memorial etched in time, a sacrament which makes the great divine centrality of Christ and His gospel a reality to us humans.

Thus when one comes to the question of the seventh-day Sabbath, one sees that Jesus was not attempting to remove the Sabbath. He came to fulfill it, or again, to fully ex press its meaning. Thus in dealing with the Sabbath in His ministry in Palestine He constantly sought to open up the real meaning of the Sabbath and to release it from the hold that misled religious leaders had put on it. He came, if you like, to give the seventh day a mature Christian expression.

It is my hope that this edition of Minis try will do the same.

1 E. G. White, Selected Messages (Washington,
D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn.,
1958), book 1, p. 233.

2 Ibid., p. 234.

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Willmore D. Eva, D.Min., is the editor of Ministry and an associate in the Ministerial Association of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.



May 1997

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More Articles In This Issue

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Jesus' view of Sabbath and Sabbath keeping and its implications for contemporary Christians

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Sabbath: Nailed to the Cross?

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The sabbath and salvation

Insights into how Old Testament Sabbath typologies evoke images of God's redemptive work in Christ

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The forgotten key to effective leadership

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