The Weekly Sabbath and Its Meaning

Keeping the Weekly Sabbath is one of the ten commandments. That ought to indicate to us the importance God places on keeping the Sabbath. Yet it is shocking but true that most people who claim to believe in the God of the Bible do not keep the Sabbath! If they observe any day at all as a day of rest from secular labor, it is not the Sabbath that God commanded to be kept!

Yet, God commanded Sabbath observance for a reason, actually, several very important reasons. One reason to keep the Sabbath holy as God commands, is because it has prophetic significance regarding the future of the world and mankind. Keep reading for vital knowledge about the meaning of the weekly Sabbath.

God commanded the ancient people of Israel to keep the Sabbath, but most of them didn’t keep it either. As a result of Sabbath breaking, and other sins, the inheritance God gave the Israelites was taken from them, and they were sent into a national captivity. “Also I raised My hand in an oath to those in the wilderness, that I would scatter them among the Gentiles and disperse them throughout the countries, because they had not executed My judgments, but had despised My statutes, profaned My Sabbaths, and their eyes were fixed on their fathers’ idols“ (Ezekiel 20:23-24).

Because they forgot the Sabbath, they forgot who they are, and most of the people alive today who are descended from Jacob, or Israel, don’t know their national origin.

In this article we are going to discuss several questions regarding the Sabbath. They are:

Who made the Sabbath?

Why was the Sabbath created?

Who was the Sabbath made for?

When is the Sabbath?

What is the meaning of the Sabbath for you, and for mankind?

Who Made the Sabbath?

The Sabbath was set aside as holy time from the time of the creation of human beings. “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” (Genesis 2:2-3).

This day was different from the other days of the creation week. God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it. The word sanctify means to set apart as holy. God specifically set apart the seventh day, making it holy.

We read three times in these two verses that God did not work on this day. The emphasis is that this was a day of rest. It was God’s Sabbath rest. Some people foolishly dispute this interpretation, saying this was not the origin of the commanded day of rest, asserting that the word “Sabbath” isn’t mentioned here. Even if the Sabbath were not specifically named in these verses it still would not negate the revelation in them of the Sabbath as being set apart, or made holy.

However, the Hebrew word translated “rested” in Genesis 2:2-3 is a form of shabath, the root word for “Sabbath.” Shabath means to cease, or rest, and may include the meaning of “keep Sabbath” (Strong’sConcordance Hebrew-English Lexicon; Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon; Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon; see 2 Chronicles 36:21 where the word is translated “she [or it] kept Sabbath” in a number of English versions). It is from this that the Sabbath gets its meaning as “a day of rest.” To paraphrase the account in Genesis 2, “God sabbathed [or kept Sabbath] on the seventh day from all His work.” The Hebrew language is clear and unambiguous in its intent. This is made even more clear when we compare Exodus 20:11: “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”

Why Was the Sabbath Created?

The Sabbath commandment has a multi-faceted purpose, both spiritual and physical.

Some of the purposes served by the Sabbath include:

(1) The Sabbath identifies the Creator, the Supreme Maker of all things.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”


“For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (Exodus 20:8, 11). It is a required weekly remembrance that a higher power and authority is at work in our lives and the lives of all humanity. God intended that the Sabbath be observed as a reminder of that fact.

The Sabbath command is found in the Scriptures that identify the true God as the Eternal God, the God who revealed himself to Abraham and later to his descendants, and left through them a record of his creative acts, and his dealings with mankind.

It is he who is not only the God of Israel, but the God of creation.

(2) The Sabbath is an identifying sign of God’s people.

When the people of Israel were brought out of slavery in Egypt by the hand of God, they entered into a covenant with God, to obey his word, and thus be a holy people, a model nation to set an example for the other nations of the earth. All nations had strayed from obedience to the Creator, and had lost sight of him. God said to the people of Israel, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6).

The laws given for them to keep as his covenant nation included the Sabbath, and as long as they kept the Sabbath it would be a sign between them and God, that they were a people sanctified by God for his holy purpose. “Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you. You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you” (Exodus 31:13-14).

Other people may enter into a covenant relationship with God as well, if they submit to him and obey his laws, including the Sabbath. “Blessed is the man who does this, And the son of man who lays hold on it; Who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, And keeps his hand from doing any evil. Do not let the son of the foreigner Who has joined himself to the Lord Speak, saying, ‘The Lord has utterly separated me from His people’; Nor let the eunuch say, ‘Here I am, a dry tree.’ For thus says the Lord: ‘To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, And choose what pleases Me, And hold fast My covenant, Even to them I will give in My house And within My walls a place and a name Better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name That shall not be cut off. Also the sons of the foreigner Who join themselves to the Lord, to serve Him, And to love the name of the Lord, to be His servants– Everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, And holds fast My covenant — Even them I will bring to My holy mountain, And make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices Will be accepted on My altar; For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.’ The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, says, ‘Yet I will gather to him Others besides those who are gathered to him’” (Isaiah 56:2-8).

As the Sabbath was intended as an identifying sign between Israel and God under the Old Covenant, so it is under the New Covenant. The Sabbath, made from Creation by God, still remains as a sign of the Creator God, and helps to identify his people.

(3) The Sabbath provides for needed rest.

“Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you” (Deuteronomy 5:13-14).

God rested or ceased on the Seventh day from physical creative works, and instead did the spiritual work of creating the Sabbath. God is all-powerful and eternal. God does not need to rest. “He who keeps Israel Shall neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalms 121:4).

However, human beings and other physical creatures need rest. God decreed that not only human beings, but also animals used for work such as oxen, donkeys and other animals commonly used throughout history for work such as ploughing, grinding, carrying burdens, etc., were to rest on the Sabbath.

A day of rest once a week for human beings produces a number of benefits in terms of physical and mental health, as well as spiritual vitality. The Sabbath teaches us that there is more to life than just physical work, or the pursuit of pleasure and material things.

Resting from secular labor on the Sabbath gives us extra time to commune with God in prayer and Bible study, and to draw closer to our families and fellowship with friends and brethren of like mind. Note how Paul and his companions spent part of the Sabbath day when they were staying in Philippi: “And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there” (Acts 16:13).

When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, they were not allowed a weekly day of rest. The Sabbath rest reminds us that God is our liberator, and that in him is freedom from oppression. God commanded the Israelites: “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” (Deuteronomy 5:15).

The Sabbath should serve as a weekly reminder to those who are converted and have received the Holy Spirit that they have been freed from slavery to sin, “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).

(4) The Sabbath allows time for a “holy convocation,” in other words, congregational worship on the holy day.

“Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation [or assembly]. You shall do no work on it; it is the Sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings” (Leviticus 23:3).

Jesus regularly attended congregational assemblies in the “synagogues,” or meeting halls, where the Jews commonly met for congregational worship on the Sabbath. “Then they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He [Jesus] entered the synagogue and taught” (Mark 1:21).

“Now when He had departed from there, He went into their synagogue. And behold, there was a man who had a withered hand. And they asked Him, saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’ –that they might accuse Him. Then He said to them, ‘What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.’ Then He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And he stretched it out, and it was restored as whole as the other” (Matthew 12:9-13).

“And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, ‘Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands!’” (Mark 6:2).

“So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read” (Luke 4: 16).

This is just a sampling of the Scriptures that show how Jesus kept the Sabbath by attending a congregational service on the Sabbath.

The apostle Paul also kept the Sabbath by attending congregational services. “But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down” ( Acts 13:14).

Paul gave a sermon, and then:

“So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath. Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God” (Acts 13:42-44).

Later, when Paul was in Corinth, we read: “And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4).

(5) The Sabbath Is a type of the Millennial Rest of God’s Kingdom.

The weekly Sabbath has prophetic as well as historical significance, as do all of the festivals of God and the holy days, or Sabbaths, that accompany them.

According to Scripture, the Sabbath days, “…are a shadow of things to come…” (Colossians 2:17). The holy days, the Sabbaths, are a shadow, or as the Greek word skia means, a sketch, or outline of things to come. They reveal the unveiling of God’s plan as it is being worked out in the course of time. The Greek word skia, as defined in Thayer’s Lexicon means: “A shadow, i.e. an image cast by an object and representing the form of that object: opposed to σῶμα [soma], the thing itself, Colossians 2:17; hence, equivalent to a sketch, outline, adumbration [foreshadowing, or prefiguration]….”

The weekly Sabbath prefigures the age in the future when Satan’s oppressive rule, and the burden of slavery to sin for mankind, will be replaced by a new age of peace, righteousness and abundance for all, under the rulership of Jesus Christ. It will be a “rest” from the evil’s of this present age.

“For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: ‘And God rested on the seventh day from all His works’; and again in this place: ‘They shall not enter My rest.’ Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience….


There remains therefore a rest [Greek: sabbatismos, Sabbath keeping] for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:4-6, 9-10).

Satan the Devil is the “god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Jesus referred to him as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16 :11). He is “a liar and the father of it,” who “deceives the whole world” (John 8:44; Revelation 12:9). He is a “murderer” (John 8:44), an “oppressor” who rules in anger (Isaiah 14:4, 6). He is called “Abaddon” (Hebrew) and “Apollyon” (Greek), which means “destroyer” (Revelation 9:11).

This age of man doing his own works and that of his ruler Satan has lasted about six thousand years. It has been a sorry and woeful record of bloody wars, misrule, crime, oppression, poverty, disease, suffering, curses, and death.

The Bible foretells a Millennium, a period of a thousand years, during which, after Jesus Christ returns to earth, he will reign as King of kings over the earth. The resurrected saints of God, those who were converted and remained faithful in this age, will rule with him, under his authority.

“Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years” (Revelation 20:6).

The historian Edward Gibbon comments in discussing the beliefs of the primitive Church, “The ancient and popular doctrine of the Millennium was intimately connected with the second coming of Christ. As the works of creation had been finished in six days, their duration in their present state, according to a tradition which was attributed to the prophet Elijah, was fixed to six thousand years. By the same analogy it was inferred that this long period of labour and contention, which was now almost elapsed, would be succeeded by a joyful Sabbath of a thousand years; and that Christ, with the triumphant band of the saints and the elect who had escaped death, or who had been miraculously revived, would reign upon earth till the time appointed for the last and general resurrection” (The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, The Triumph of Christendom in the Roman Empire, Harper Torchbooks, p. 25).

Jesus Christ did not change God’s Sabbath day. On the contrary, throughout His ministry He showed the true purpose and intent of the Sabbath. Jesus often showed that the Sabbath, and particularly his teachings and actions on that day, prefigured the coming messianic age — the time of the Kingdom of God — as one of healing, freedom and restoration for all humanity.

Who Was the Sabbath Made For?

In Scripture, the Sabbath is never called “the Jew’s Sabbath.” The Sabbath is not referred to in Scripture as “Israel’s Sabbath.” It is referred to as “the holy Sabbath to the Lord” (Yahweh, the Eternal, the Ever Living; Exodus 16:23, cf. Exodus 16:25, et al.), and “the Sabbath of the Lord” (Exodus 20:10; Leviticus 23:3; et al.). God calls them “My Sabbaths” (Exodus 31:13; Leviticus 19:3; Ezekiel 20:16; 44:24; et al.). Jesus said, “… the Son of Man [meaning himself, the Messiah] is Lord even of the sabbath day” (Matthew 12:8).

The Sabbath was not made only for the Jews, as some allege. There were no Jews at time it was made. It was made for mankind (Mark 2:27).

It’s been argued that there was no command for human beings to keep the Sabbath at the time of Creation, nor before the Exodus. Are we to believe that God created the Sabbath during the creation week, and “blessed and sanctified it” (Genesis 2:2-3), but did not reveal it to Adam and Eve, nor insist that they keep holy what he had blessed and sanctified? Especially when the Sabbath was created for man?

God’s commandments, no doubt including the Sabbath, were known to Abraham, and he kept them (Genesis 26:5). The Israelites during their time in slavery had forgotten the Sabbath. But it had been made holy at the time of mankind’s creation. Nehemiah wrote that in the wilderness God “made known” to Israel the holy Sabbath (Nehemiah 9:14). This occurred shortly after God had freed the Israelites from slavery (Exodus 16).

Requiring Sabbath observance is an important test (but not the only test) God uses to distinguish those who are willing to obey him from those who are not. “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you. And the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My law or not.’” (Exodus 16:4). The test had to do with keeping the Sabbath, as the context shows. By sending extra food on the sixth day of the week, and withholding it on the Sabbath, the seventh day, God revealed to them the proper time for keeping the Sabbath.

As pointed out earlier, anyone can have a relationship with God if he or she is willing to repent of sin, or breaking God’s laws, and begin obeying, including obeying the Sabbath.

When is the Sabbath?

Some have asked, how do we know which day is the seventh day?

Exodus 16 rehearses how God revealed to Israel in the wilderness which day is the weekly Sabbath, as we discussed earlier. The Levites were given the responsibility for preserving the Hebrew calendar, and the Sabbath was kept by some Israelites, although not by all, from that day to this time.

The Jewish nation continued to observe the Sabbath and maintain the calendar after their captivity in the sixth century B.C. up to the time of Christ. Jesus Christ kept the Sabbath on the same day as other Jews kept it. The revelation of which day is the Sabbath is preserved in the Hebrew calendar. It’s also preserved in the history of the New Testament Church.

There have been Sabbath keeping Churches in various locations around the world from the New Testament era until today. I have a list of quotations from various sources documenting Sabbath day observance in many centuries in many places on the earth, such as the Near East, Africa, India, China, Persia, parts of Italy, Spain, France, parts of Eastern Europe, Britain, Ireland and Scotland, and others. Some Sabbath keepers were early settlers among the English who came to what is now the United Sates.

Most Churches that reject the seventh day Sabbath and keep Sunday in its place nevertheless recognize that the Biblical seventh day is on what they call “Saturday.” Churches that turned to Sunday (first day) worship sometimes claim that their worship is on the “eighth day,” i.e., the day after the seventh day. God never sanctified the “eighth day,” nor the “first day,” of the week as a day set aside for weekly rest and congregational worship.

From the standpoint of Scripture, and as the Jewish people have understood for millennia, biblical days begin and end at “evening,” or when the sun sets (Genesis 1:5; Leviticus 22:6-7; Leviticus 23:32). So the biblical Sabbath coincides with “Friday” sunset to “Saturday” sunset according to the common civil calendar used in many nations.

What Is the Meaning of the Sabbath For You?

The meaning of the Sabbath for you may depend on what kind of relationship you want to have with the God who created you, if any.

We’ve discussed who created the Sabbath and why, and for whom, and when the Sabbath is to be kept. But for you, the Sabbath will have little meaning until you begin to keep it, except that by not keeping it you are defying God’s commandment, and will suffer the penalty for doing so unless you repent.

Keeping the Sabbath in a world hostile to God’s law, and to Sabbath keeping, is not necessarily easy. But it’s not impossible, either, as there are millions of Sabbath keepers around the world.

There are many benefits and blessings God promises to those who keep the Sabbath faithfully. “If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, From doing your pleasure on My holy day, And call the Sabbath a delight, The holy day of the Lord honorable, And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, Nor finding your own pleasure, Nor speaking your own words, Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord; And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father” (Isaiah 58:13-14).

If you want to come to know God more perfectly, and honor him, and be honored by him, and understand God’s plan of salvation, keep the Sabbath.

This article is also available in pdf format. Download The_Weekly_Sabbath_and_its_Meaning.pdf

Unless otherwise noted Scripture taken from the New King James VersionTM
Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Copyright © 2020 by Rod Reynolds

Messenger Church of God
PO Box 619
Wentzville, MO 63385

Please follow us: