Two Priesthoods and the Passing of the Law #5- What About the Sabbath?

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Two Priesthoods and the Passing of the Law of Moses – #5
Sabbath and the Passing of the Law of Moses

This series is investigating the question of whether two priesthoods, the Levitical and Christ’s could co-exist for the period between the Cross and AD 70. Opponents of Covenant Eschatology, i.e. full preterism, claim that this would not be possible. It is my position, however, that the two priesthoods did co-exist for that second exodus period, but, that the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple signaled the full end of the Old Covenant, with that ineffective priesthood.

This installment will focus on the issue of the Sabbath, specifically, the seventh day Sabbath. We will look at the other Sabbaths as we proceed, but for the moment, I want to focus just on the seventh day Sabbath. Let me say this: The issue of the seventh day Sabbath is the achilles heel of all futurist eschatologies. It is an issue that for all practical purposes is swept under the rug and ignored, by all except the Sabbatarian community. They see- although perhaps not as fully as could be– the implications of saying that the typological meaning of the Sabbath is not fulfilled. In short, if the foreshadowing meaning of the Sabbath is not fulfilled, the Sabbatarian position on the Sabbath observance is true. The seventh day Sabbath, a type and shadow of the final salvation, remains valid and binding.

Non-Sabbatarians fail to see that maintaining a futurist eschatology virtually demands Sabbath observance – and we do not mean “the Christian Sabbath.” That concept is unbiblical. It is a theological invention to avoid the core issue of the Sabbath. But in reality, it is a misguided “Replacement Theology” that fails badly.

Let me establish a few critical points:

1. Not one jot or one tittle of the Law could pass until it was all fulfilled– Jesus- Matthew 5:17-18.

2. The seventh day Sabbath was a foundational tenet of “the Law” (Exodus 20:4).

3. The Sabbath was a type, a foreshadowing of the final salvation, resurrection rest- i.e. of the “good things to come” – Colossians 2:14-16.

4. It goes without saying, but has to be said anyway, that the entire futurist eschatology of the non-Sabbatarian theological world says the typological and foreshadowing meaning of the seventh day Sabbath is not fulfilled.

5. The conclusion to the above should be clear: until and unless the typological and foreshadowing meaning of the seventh day Sabbath was (is) fulfilled, the seventh day Sabbath would remain valid. So, let me say again by way of emphasis, that the seventh day Sabbath issue is the elephant in the room in regard to eschatology. If the seventh day Sabbath has passed and is no longer valid, the resurrection and final salvation is a reality. If the resurrection and final salvation has not been fulfilled, the seventh day Sabbath remains valid and binding.

(I will not discuss here whether Sabbath would be still binding on Israel, as a covenant sign for the covenant people, and not for Gentiles. The fact is that the Sabbath was given to Israel and not the nations. My only focus here is whether or not the Sabbath has passed. I will only say this: If the Sabbath has not been fulfilled, then Israel remains as God’s covenant people, for the Sabbath was a distinctive, covenant sign between Israel and YHVH- Deuteronomy 5:15. I am currently writing a major book on the issue of the Sabbath in which I discuss these issues in greater detail).

Point #1 – I will not dwell on this, as it is simply undeniable. Jesus said that not one jot or one tittle of the Law would pass until it was ALL– not some, not most, not just a small portion of it– but until it was ALL fulfilled (Matthew 5:17-18). The disingenuous efforts to avoid this truth are staggering and troubling.

The Sabbath as “The Law”

Point #2– The seventh day Sabbath was an integral, foundational tenet of “the Law.” As just noted, there are various efforts to avoid the clear meaning of Matthew 5:17-18. “The Law” is defined (read that “re-defined”) in ways foreign to Scripture. Here are two of the “definitions” that have been offered to me in discussions of the passing of the Law of Moses.

☛ “The Law” refers only to the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments. Thus, Sabbatarians argue, since the Sabbath is embedded in the Decalogue and Sabbath has not been fulfilled, Sabbath remains binding today.

☛ “The Law” refers to ceremonial law, and not the Decalogue. Thus, Jesus has removed the ceremonial law with its Sabbath observances. But of course, once again, the seventh day Sabbath is residing – firmly embedded – right there in the Decalogue. This view has “some” of the Law (i.e. the Sabbath) passing– without being fulfilled!

☛ “The Law” refers strictly and solely to the legal requirements, the legal mandates and commands of the Old Testament. It does not refer to the prophetic element of the Tanakh. Thus, once again, the eschatological prophecies of the resurrection, Day of the Lord and New Creation, found in the prophetic books, remain valid, while the ceremonial mandates and Sabbaths have been annuled.

There are variations of these definitions of “the Law” But, these will suffice to illustrate how commentators attempt to deal with Matthew 5:17-18. Let’s quickly look at each of these definitions.

First of all, there can be no doubt that “the Law” does refer to the Decalogue. I have never read a commentator of any school of thought that denies this. So, since “the Law” contains the seventh day Sabbath mandate, the Sabbatarians are on sound footing to appeal to Matthew 5:17-18 to show that until the Sabbath was fulfilled – which of course, they erroneously posit at the end of time – the Sabbath would remain valid. Non-Sabbatarians, holding to a futurist eschatology cannot escape this without resorting to all sorts of un-Biblical theological gymnastics. There is no better illustration of this confusion and error than the writings of the late Greg Bahnsen.

Bahnsen said:

1.) The Sabbath is eternal and binding.

2.) The Sabbath was part of the moral code. “Man’s moral obligation to Sabbath observance is placed right along side the nine other universally moral words of the Decalogue, which was written by the very finger of God.” (226).

3.) All men are subject to the Sabbath (226).

4.) “The Sabbath has universal extension and perpetual obligation.” (226)

5.) “At the coming of Christ the Sabbath was purged of the legalistic accretions brought by the scribes and Pharisees (Luke 13:10-17; 14:1-6; Mark 3:1-6); the Sabbath had suffered corruption at the hands of the autonomous Pharisees just as numerous other moral precepts had (cf. Matthew 5:21-48). Moreover, the ceremonial and sacrificial aspects of the Older Testamental cycle of feast days (‘new moon, sabbath year, Jubilee, etc.) along with those cyclic observances of feast days, were ‘put out of gear’ by Christ’s work of redemption. Hence, Colossians 2:16f looses us from the ceremonial elements of the sabbath system (the passage seems to be referring specifically to feast offerings), and passages such as Romans 15:5f and Galatians 4:10 teach that we need not distinguish these ceremonial days any longer (as the Judaizers were apt to require.).” (P. 226-227– all emphasis his)

6.) The Sabbath was a shadow of coming salvation under Torah– Sabbath is now a shadow of coming salvation. (227). “As Christ provides for entrance into eternal Sabbath rest of God by His substitutionary death upon the cross, He makes the typological elements (e.g. the offerings) of the Sabbath system irrelevant (things which were a shadow of the coming substance according to Colossians 2:157; Hebrews 10:1,8). By accomplishing our redemption Christ also binds us to the observance of that weekly Sabbath which prefigures our eternal Sabbath (cf. Hebrews 4).” (Greg Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics, (Nagadoches, Tx.; Covenant Media Press, 2002), 226

If you are not confused after reading these comments, then with all due respect, you did not pay attention! On the one hand the Sabbath mandate was a shadow of the final rest under Torah, and is eternal and binding on all men. On the one hand, the seventh day Sabbath is no longer binding. It has been changed into Sunday. It has been stripped of the ceremonial and sacrificial aspects. And yet, the shadow of Torah Sabbath has not been fulfilled, it has been transferred to the Gospel and is still a shadow of the coming final salvation; it is still unfulfilled. Let me say with all due respect: Bahnsen’s claims are specious sophistry in the extreme, an undeniable violation of Jesus’ words and a theological invention with no merit at all.

I suggest that the Sabbath issue is fatal to the Dominionist paradigm. Proponents of that view insist that the Law remains in effect, although they will admit that the “ceremonial aspects” of the Law have been removed. But, there is great inconsistency within that camp in this regard.

Gary North, chief underwriter of many Theonomic publications, commented on Deuteronomy 8 and its significance to the Dominionist movement:

“This passage in Deuteronomy presents the biblical basis of progress in history.” He added, “Any attempt to renounce this passage as no longer judicially binding in the New Covenant era is inescapably a denial of any biblical basis for God honoring cultural progress in history.” (Gary North, Millennialism and Social Theory (Tyler, Tx.; Institute For Christian Economics, 1990), 52f). Of course, the problem for North is that in Deuteronomy 8 the Lord said that Israel was to observe “every commandment that I command you this day” and those commandments included the Sabbath (Deueronomy 5:12-15). Thus, if North truly accepts his emphasis on Deuteronomy 8 as the ground of “cultural progress in history” he must of necessity observe the Sabbath– not to mention the slaughter of the enemies of that “social progress” Deuteronomy 7:1-2). These two mandates, among others, were part and parcel of the “commandments that I command you this day” that North insists are still “judicially binding in the New Covenant era.” This is troubling, to say the least.

North is not alone in taking a disturbing and decidedly un-biblical view of the Sabbath. In my 2012 formal debate with Dr. Joel McDurmon, now president of American Vision, in Powder Springs, Ga. I asked McDurmon if he observed the seventh day Sabbath. He initially refused to answer, but when pressed, he said that he did not do so. His reason for this is because Christ has fulfilled the Sabbath. In fact, said McDurmon:

“Christ fulfilled that law. He fulfilled every single ceremony, Sabbath day, right, and everything else. He fulfilled all of the moral code that Don says is apart from the Law of Moses out there. And he fulfilled all of the judicial law. He fulfilled everything. But when he was resurrected and that new priesthood, new law comes along, does the content of that law completely change? No. In fact, I would argue it’s for the most part identical. But we don’t observe those covenants and rights and ceremonies because they’re fulfilled in the body of Christ to which those things typologically pointed. But as far as the civil laws go, the judicial aspects, and the judgments, the case laws, and the moral law, he fulfills that, but we’re also told to mimic him.” (Quote from the book of our debate, page 175. That book is available on my websites, on Amazon, Kindle and other retailers)

Incredibly, McDurmon then proceeded to say that Christ did not abolish the death penalty for violating the Sabbath or the other laws! So, McDurmon does not keep the seventh day Sabbath because it is fulfilled. The ceremonies surrounding Sabbath are fulfilled and have passed away. However, the death penalty for violating the Sabbath and other of God’s Old Covenant laws remains valid!

Like Bahnsen’s quote, McDurmon’s position is incredibly self-contradictory. On the one hand the Sabbath has been fulfilled, no longer binding. But, McDurmon does not believe that what the Sabbath foreshadowed– the final salvation and resurrection- has been fulfilled! The seventh day Sabbath passed away without being fulfilled! Do you catch that? But, while the Sabbath has been annulled, the “judicial penalties” for violating the Old Testament remain in force. McDurmon said: “Where has Paul rescinded those? Where has the gospel, the New Testament, where has God, anywhere rescinded those?”

So, McDurmon breaks down “the Law” into the moral code– which excludes the Sabbath. He then speaks of the ceremonial laws, and those have been removed, fulfilled in Christ. (But remember, not really, because what the ceremonial “New Moons, Feast Days and Sabbaths” foreshadowed has not yet come to pass!) He then speaks of the “judicial elements” of the Law, and those judicial elements remain in force, including the death penalty for violating the law. That Law, penalty for which violation would be the death penalty, is the moral code. But wait! Once again, the seventh day Sabbath is firmly embedded right there in that “moral code” and even Bahnsen was emphatic in teaching that the Sabbath was a “moral” commandment, eternally binding.

In our debate, I challenged the audience, and McDurmon, how anyone listening to Jesus would have understood that he was enunciating McDurmon’s position. Would that audience have understood from, “Not one jot or one tittle shall pass from the law until it is all fulfilled” that what he really meant was, “Some jots and tittles, in fact the majority of the jots and tittles of the law, will pass from the law without being fulfilled”? Would they have actually understood his words to say that some of the ordinances would pass, while the judicial penalties for violating those injunctions would remain, and, the entire “moral code” – of course excluding the Sabbath – would remain? To say that McDurmon’s view slices and dices “the law” into an unrecognizable body– and absolutely unbiblical– is a huge understatement.

Now, McDurmon, like other Dominionists, can say: “He fulfilled everything.” However, when they then say that the judicial laws remain in force, then clearly the law has not passed as Jesus said it would. When they say the resurrection and final salvation has not come, they are contradicting their own claims that he fulfilled the Sabbath and the entire corpus of the ceremonial festivals that were eschatological to the core. When they say that “the law” remains valid and binding, and then they exclude major portions of “the law” from that application, they are being sophists. Very clearly, they are guilty of dividing “the law” into so many elements that it is virtually impossible to know what they mean by “the law.” To make matters worse, their definitions are foreign to Matthew 5:17-18.

I have to make a quick observation here. When the Dominionists say that Christ fulfilled all of the Law, they once again play word games. On the one hand, Jesus did fulfill many elements / prophecies of the Law. He did that by actually bringing to pass, in his historical tangible actions what they Law foreshadowed. But then, the Dominionists tell us that the eschatological elements of the Law, were fulfilled by Christ, but we are still waiting for the historical, tangible realities to take place! They are fulfilled, but not really! They are fulfilled, but not real! They are fulfilled but not realized! This is double talk to say the very least.

Amillennialist Greg Beale, equally confused and confusing on the Sabbath- and the passing of the Law of Moses –  as Bahnsen, North and McDurmon, nonetheless commented on the false dichotomization and dissection of the Law practiced by the Dominionists: “Many in the past have categorized the law into three parts: ceremonial, civil, and moral. Although this has no exegetical basis, it is a broadly helpful way to conceive of the law” (Greg Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, (Grand Rapids; Baker Academic, 2011), 871. Okay, so the dichotomization of the Law– as practiced by Dominionists, has no exegetical basis, but it is “helpful”? When an entire doctrine of “social justice,” theology and eschatology is based on a false division and dissection of “the Law” that is not “helpful.” It is simply wrong.

We have spent a bit of time documenting the confused and confusing view of the Sabbath found in the Dominionist camp. It is important to understand that not only the Dominionists, but, Amillennialists, and even Dispensationalists are equally confused. For instance, Beale says the Sabbath is still binding. But, it is no longer the seventh day Sabbath, it is Sunday. The sacrifices of the Sabbath are now abrogated, we offer spiritual sacrifices. The Sabbath was a type and shadow of resurrection and salvation under Torah. It remains a shadow of the eschatological consummation under the Gospel: “The upshot of this difficult chapter so far is that the observance of a Sabbath at the end of each week is an end time sign. The weekly Sabbath sign is grounded in God’s creational rest and is still to be observed by the church until Christ’s final coming, at which time the weekly observance will cease.” (Theology, 2011, 789, n. 32). But of course, he does not mean the seventh day Sabbath. He means the “Christian Sabbath” that has, ostensibly, replaced the seventh day, but still remains unfulfilled! This is rampant confusion.

This is sufficient for now. I felt it necessary to share with the readers the total confusion that exists in the evangelical world in regard to the Sabbath. Let me close with this: if the typological seventh day Sabbath has not been fulfilled, then the Sabbath is still binding. And if the Sabbath is still binding, then clearly, the Levitical priesthood that administered the sacrifices of the Sabbath is equally valid. You cannot extrapolate the fulfillment of the Sabbath into the future without thereby confirming the abiding validity of the Law of Moses and the Levitical priesthood.

(It will do no good to say that since the Temple is destroyed the Sabbath is not binding and therefore the priesthood is invalid. The Temple was destroyed in BC 586, but, that did not mean the covenant or the priesthood had ended).

In our next installment, we will develop the importance of the Sabbath, its typological significance, and what it means to say– as all non-Sabbatarians do– that the Sabbath has been removed, but, the resurrection and coming of the Lord have not been fulfilled. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, be sure to get a copy of my book, The End of the Law: From Torah To Telos, an in-depth discussion of the passing of the Law of Moses.