It struck me today that there are broad connections between the Sabbath and the entirety of redemptive history. We will take as our starting point the magnificent contribution of Geerhardus Vos to our understanding of the Sabbath, when he said that the Covenant of Works was nothing other than an embodiment of the Sabbatical principle. Just as God worked for six days and rested the seventh, so also Adam was work for the probationary period, and then enter into his eternal rest. Adam had a weekly reminder of this probationary period in the Sabbath. So far, so Vos.
The thing that struck me was that the change of day from seventh day of the week to the first day of the week can then be connected to the change of covenant from works to grace. Now, here we have to be careful, since we can in no way imply that salvation was by works in the Old Testament. Nor are we positing a dispensational understanding of the different eras of history. The Covenant of Grace began in the Garden of Eden after the Fall. However, what we can say is that Adam was told “Do this, and live.” We can expand the sentence to say “Do this for six ‘days,’ and then you will enter your seventh ‘day’ of rest, which is eternal life.” The Sabbath is a weekly sign of that Covenantal promise affixed to the Covenant of Works. OT believers thus lived in a time when the Covenant of Grace was administered in type and shadow, not in its fullness. This might have some implications for the debate on whether the Covenant of Works was republished at Sinai. I would think this Sabbatical principle connected to covenant theology does support a form of republication at Sinai (especially given the rationale for Sabbath-keeping which we find in the Ten Commandments in Exodus, which hearkens back to the time of probation in the garden; and, the people did not celebrate the Sabbath on the first day of the week yet, since the Covenant of Works had yet to be fixed by Christ. The Sabbath pointed towards Christ’s work as bringing true rest). However, just trying to think through how that would work is making my head spin.
The change of day from seventh day to first day at the very least parallels the shift to the time of Gospel, when we hear “Live, and do this.” To be more specific, the connection goes like this: Jesus has now accomplished the fulfillment of the Covenant of Works, and so now the order of events is reversed. Instead of “Do this and live,” we now hear “Live and do this.” Expanding the sentence yields the following formulation: “Celebrate your eternal life on the day of the week on which Jesus obtained it for you, and then work in the light of that salvation afterwards.” Instead of work coming before rest, rest now comes before work.
Furthermore, there is a telescoping relationship of type and antitype in the OT and in the NT. In the OT, the weekly Sabbath telescopes into the seventh year Sabbath for the land, which in turn telescopes into the Jubilee, a pattern of seven times seven. The last implied link is eternity. In the NT, the beginning of this eternity has erupted into time with the beginning of the Sabbath rest obtained for us by Jesus. In the NT, there are elements of “already” and “not yet” with regard to the Sabbath, just as in the OT. The difference is that there is a lot more “already” in the NT than in the OT. We celebrate the Sabbath on Sunday in order to celebrate the new life and salvation we have in Christ Jesus. However, we still have not entered into our bodily eternal rest, even though our souls have, as Christians.