Of all the Ten Commandments, it’s the Fourth that points more clearly to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
You know, the one where we’re told to “keep the Sabbath.”
I’ve grown more settled over this interpretation across the years, but I was surprised to see NT Wright address it in his massive 1700-page work, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, which I just completed.
In a sermon on this subject a few years back, I pointed out that there are three ways Christ-followers might interpret the Fourth Commandment:
The first way is to say, “Everything in the Old Testament is still in force and so we rest and worship on Saturday.”
The second way is to say, “Everything about the Old Testament Sabbath has been transferred to Sunday, and so we rest and worship on Sunday.”
But the third way, the best way to obey the Fourth Commandment in my opinion, is to enter into the rest that God has provided for us in Christ’s work. Contained in the Fourth Commandment is a promise: God has prepared a rest for you and me. Jesus restored our relationship to God through his atoning death on the cross, and as we trust that his work accomplished our reunion with God, we truly enter into rest. This, I believe, is what the letter to the Hebrews is addressing in the discussion of God’s ‘rest’, and the invitation to his people to share it (Hebrews 3:7 to 4:11, drawing on Ps 95:11).
In Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Wright also discusses how the Sabbath command is completed in Christ. He says that Romans 15:7-13 “breathes the air of present reality, the combined praise and worship of Jew and gentile celebrating the Messiah’s completed achievement and his enthronement as lord of the nations; something has happened, something has been completed, and we are now in a time of worship….This is the time of the new creation; the time of the new Temple; the time which, I suggest, constitutes the new sabbath” (page 556).
In our day, says Wright, “‘sabbath’ has been reduced to a generalized ‘day off,’ if that,” and this “may be a reason why the question has scarcely been raised as to what has happened to the sabbath, that vital Jewish worldview-marker, in Paul’s newly-constituted worldview. My proposal here is that his emphasis on ‘the now time,’ the time when the Messiah is ruling in heaven over all things in heaven and on earth, implies within the Jewish mindset at least that the new creation has been accomplished, and that the ‘sabbath,’ not in terms of cessation of work but in terms of God’s dwelling in, and ruling within, the new world has had made, has been inaugurated….God now ‘rests’ in the sense of ‘taking up residence’….As with sacred space, so with sacred time. He [the Messiah] was in himself the new Temple; now he has inaugurated, through his cosmic triumph, the new Time, the great Jubilee, the messianic Sabbath’” (559-560).
He acknowledges that it is a “rather dramatic proposal–the kind of thing wise friends advise one to publish in a recondite journal rather than a mainline monograph.” (560) But he says it gains “oblique support” from the understanding of Sabbath expounded by near eastern expert, John Walton in his Genesis commentary (The NIV Application Commentary on Genesis and also The Lost World of Genesis 1.)
So, Wright entertains “the possibility of understanding Paul’s emphasis on the present rule of the Messiah as the newly constituted ‘sabbath,’ the ‘messianic time’ in which Jesus himself is now ruling the whole world” (561).
If it is right to see the Old Testament Sabbath commands as fulfilled in the rest the Messiah has made available, then the way we “keep the Sabbath” is to enter into that rest and cease our self-salvation efforts.