Fulfilling the Law
“The Sabbatarian vision is too small. This is why Paul chides the Galatians for observing ‘days and months and seasons and years.’ The Sabbath, along with the Torah administration as a whole, belonged to the stoicheia, the “elements of the world,” the things that constituted the first creation.”
From Tim Gallant’s blog:
The Sabbath and the Day of Yahweh
It strikes me that people tend to read the conflicts between Jesus and the Pharisees in the Gospels as a matter of incompatible casuistries. “The Pharisees are applying the fourth commandment wrongly because they don’t make the proper exceptions for works of necessity, works of mercy and works of piety.”
But when we consider the Gospels themselves, it is hard to take that approach all that seriously. The Gospels globally are not about Jesus needing to correct the moral vision of His opponents in connection with their reading of Torah (even if that may come up occasionally on the fringes).
The Gospels are about JESUS. The reason He comes into conflict repeatedly with the Pharisees on this is not merely that they have too many minutiae attached to the rulebook, nor that they forgot some categories of exceptions.
Rather, the reason is that Jesus presents HIMSELF as the embodiment of true Sabbath, doing what Torah could not do. We look at Jesus’ Sabbath healings and conclude: “Aha, works of mercy are exceptions to the general rule.” But although Jesus observes that it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath, that is hardly His fundamental point. We should not miss that Jesus is performing HEALINGS by a power that His opponents did not have, no matter how good they may have been at lawkeeping.
So long as we view the Gospel Sabbath episodes primarily as moral directives, we will misread them. They are primarily signs of an inbreaking kingdom that transcends the old creation and its Torah.
This of course is why the supposed problem of “only nine commandments” is beside the point. As Jordan says, the Ten Words were Israel’s charter. While the other Nine Words are transformed but retransmitted to the Church, it is not at all problematic to say that the Fourth Commandment does not simply switch days of the week and carry on. In the Gospels, the Fourth Commandment plays a key role, but not because it needs to stick around in any independent way. It plays a key role because Jesus is emerging from its heart with something new: His arrival is the arrival of the Day of Yahweh, promised throughout the prophets.
It is no accident that in Matthew 11-12, the narrative flows from John the Baptizer to Jesus the rest-giver, and on into Sabbath conflicts. In Malachi 3-4, the Day of the Yahweh would be marked by the messenger of the covenant purifying the sons of Levi as well as bringing justice and hope to the poor and oppressed. A time of new creation would arrive. This would be preceded by “Elijah the prophet.”
Jesus’ Sabbath healings are not merely intended as a generalized picture that doing generic good (“works of mercy”) is a suitable activity for the Sabbath. Rather, they demonstrate that in Him, not only is a “greater than the temple” present, but that the Day of Yahweh has arrived, transcending the Sabbath. The seventh day Sabbath is part of the first creation, but now, in Jesus, the new creation has come in the eschatological Day of Yahweh.
He is Yahweh; and His ministry is the Day of Yahweh.
And thus He says, “Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”—a rest that the law’s Sabbath could not give.
The “Day of Yahweh” is translated “the Day of the LORD” (Kuriou) in the LXX (Greek OT) and thus into the New Testament. It is therefore no surprise when we get to the Revelation of St John, and he uses another form for that genitive: “the LORD’s Day” (Rev 1:10). On the first day of the week, when the disciples around the Roman world were gathering into the presence of the God of Israel, John was alone, exiled on Patmos, but “in the Spirit” he enters into God’s throne room where that host of believers has also gathered for worship.
And there, John sees what? He sees the unfolding apocalypse (revelation) of “the Day of the LORD,” beginning with preliminary judgments and culminating in the final one.
It is fair to say that in the New Testament vision, Lord’s Day worship is a miniature, a preliminary anticipation of the final Day of Yahweh. The reason that Hebrews says not to forsake the assembling together “as you see the Day approaching” is that the assembly itself partakes of the character of that Day.
The Sabbatarian vision is too small. This is why Paul chides the Galatians for observing “days and months and seasons and years.” The Sabbath, along with the Torah administration as a whole, belonged to the stoicheia, the “elements of the world,” the things that constituted the first creation.
But for us, there is something more than that. We gather into the Day of Yahweh, and find not merely physical rest, but an eschatological event that is busy setting the kosmos to rights, even as Yahweh incarnate did throughout His earthly ministry.