The Sabbath God made has been through 6000 years of assault and restoration. Bible history reveals that God’s holy day has little appeal for fallen human nature. For it was originally made for holy people. After man fell, God chose a group of obedient people to be custodians of His "oracles," and gave them His Sabbath as a sign of sanctification. (Rom 3:2; Ezek 20:12)
So in the lives of most human beings, the practice of Sabbath-keeping finds no place. Even many Jews among God’s chosen people felt it was no sin to work and trade on the Sabbath day. When a servant of God rebuked them for thus "doing evil"(See on Neh 13:17), they did not take it seriously. In short, this command of God was not appreciated. Even to many Christians of our day the Sabbath is an offensive topic, and they try to dismiss it with many arguments. But God uses it as His final test of loyalty.
1) You say the Sabbath is an offensive topic to some Christians; that reminds me of Gal. 5:11. Which speaks of the "offense of the cross." Is there anything in common between these two "offenses"(stumbling blocks)?
Answer: The cross was an instrument of painful execution used by the Romans, so it was a symbol of a disgraceful end. The Jews had always thought of their Messiah as a magnificent world monarch. So it was very difficult for them to think that Jesus, who had been crucified as a criminal, was their Messiah. For them to accept Jesus, an ideal that had prevailed for many centuries had to be demolished, and a new concept established.
To many Christians the Sabbath likewise presents a challenge. The Sunday tradition of many centuries must give way to resting and worshiping on the Sabbath. This called for a bold step, so the Sabbath became a stumbling block for many.
2) What does this have to do with walking with God?
Answer: When a true Christian thinks of Sabbath-keeping as a part of his walk with God, it will cease to be offensive, and become a pleasant experience. The question is whether you really want to walk with God. We have seen from the Bible that God highly regards His Sabbath. It is a pity that most of His chosen people of old---the Jews---and many modern Christians have no use for the Sabbath. The crux of the problem is whether you really love God. If so, you will love what He loves and think His thoughts. Since God regards the Sabbath highly, you will want to keep it despite all difficulties, and will enjoy the Sabbath, for to be in God’s presence is a great joy, just as Isa. 58:13 puts it: "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."
3) I see that to walk with God demands standards that only a man of high spirituality can meet. You once said that the Jews made many detailed rules for keeping the Sabbath, which spoiled it instead. That surely is going to the other extreme.
Answer: Yes. Because these man-made rules made the Sabbath very hard to keep, and became a burden to the people, thus spoiling the Sabbath instead. One such rule was that the sick cannot be healed on the Sabbath. Jesus once healed a woman who had lived in a bent position for 18 years. "But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, and he said to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.’ The Lord then answered him and said, ‘Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or his donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound---think of it---for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?’" Luke 13:14-16.
4) There are orthodox Jews today who kindle no fire on the Sabbath. Is there Bible authority for that?
Answer: Exod. 35:3 says, "You shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations on the Sabbath day." This rule was made after they started eating manna. They were told to cook enough manna on the sixth day to be kept for Sabbath meals, so there was no need for fire on the Sabbath. And they traveled in the desert that was warm in the daytime, so they needed no fires for warmth. They had no matches, so kindling a fire required much physical effort. This rule, like the one in Exod 16:29, "Let every man remain in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day," was given only once in the Bible, being limited to time and place, and is not applicable to colder regions. But cooking Sabbath food on preparation day is still a principle to be observed.
5) Num. 15:32-36 says, "While the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron, and to the entire congregation. They put him under guard, because it had not been explained what should be done to him. Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘The man must surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.’ So, as the Lord commanded Moses, all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him with stones, and he died." Some feel that the Lord was too strict in this case. They cite it to dissuade people from keeping the Sabbath, saying, "If you fail to keep it holy, you will be stoned." So their logic is, if you refuse altogether to keep the Sabbath, you will not be stoned. Does that make sense?
Answer: Such strange logic is typical of many people who find the Sabbath a stumbling block. The case is on record as an illustration of the unforgivable sin described in Num.15: 27-31. The text first mentions how unintentional sins are to be forgiven, saying, "If a person sins unintentionally, then he shall bring a female goat in its first year as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement for the person . . .and it shall be forgiven him." Then follows a passage regarding intentional sin:
But the person who does anything presumptuously, . . .that one brings reproach on the Lord, and he shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the Lord, and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off, his guilt shall be upon him."
"Presumptuously" is translated from a Hebrew word that means "with a high hand," meaning that he is not sinning in secret, but with his hand raised up in open transgression, daring to challenge God.
The man gathering sticks on the Sabbath clearly demonstrates such an attitude, and is without excuse. Even before the Ten Commandments were proclaimed, it was clearly stated that Sabbath food should be cooked on the sixth day, and no fire was to be kindled on Sabbath. So there was no need for fire on this day. Hence it was evident that the man acted in open defiance of God. He was breaking the law for all to see, as if to say, "I would like to see what can you do to me." This is precisely the attitude mentioned above: he "despised the word of the Lord. And has broken His commandment." Knowing the law, this man dared to openly break it, thus placing himself beyond the influence of the Holy Spirit. He had in fact committed an unpardonable sin.
6) I see that the rule against kindling fires on the Sabbath was limited in time and space, not applicable in colder regions. But how can they keep the Sabbath near the arctic circle where they don’t see the sun rise or set for months at a time?
Answer: People living near the arctic circle who want to keep the Sabbath from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown, can consult sunset tables of places in temperate zones near the same longitude as their place of dwelling, to determine sunset time.
7) Then there is the problem of the International Date Line. People traveling across that line by air or by sea either gain or lose a day, depending on their direction of travel.
Answer: That is true. But so long as one is determined to keep the Sabbath day holy, he will have no difficulty. A man, who worships on Sunday once said to a Sabbath keeper, "You cannot keep the Sabbath on a round world, because once you cross the International Date Line, your weekly cycle will be broken." The Sabbath keeper replied, "No problem. I will just follow you, and see on what day you go to church; then I’ll attend my church one day ahead of you. It will be the seventh-day Sabbath"
8) By studying the Sabbath so many times, are we not overdoing the topic and straying from the central theme of the Bible?
Answer: We have not departed from the central theme by stressing God’s Sabbath day. What is the central theme in the Bible? Is it not to worship the true God instead of false gods? Was it not because man obeyed the words of a false god and broke a command of the true God that sin, sorrow and death entered the world? The despoiling of the Sabbath and its restoration is a part of the struggle between the true God and false gods. 1 Cor. 4:9 says, "We have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men." The actors on the stage are groups of people, with God and Satan directing them in backstage. The last dramatic scenes of this drama are depicted in chapters 12,13 & 14 of Revelation.
On one side are those who worship the beast and his image, on the other side are they "who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ." They proclaim the warning of the three angels of Rev. 14. The day God sanctified continues to be His test of loyalty to the end of time. In opposition to it is the mark of the beast. There is no neutral position.
9) We have studied the prophecies in Revelation regarding the Sabbath-Sunday issue, but you have not yet explained the symbolic meaning of "Babylon," which is said to be fallen in Rev. 14 and 18, and is described as a harlot in Rev. 17.
Answer: The virtuous woman that is hated by the dragon in Revelation 12 typifies the true church of God, so the harlot symbolizes the fallen church---Babylon. The following words from The Great Controversy, p.382, 383 explain it well:
"The power that for so many centuries maintained despotic sway over the monarchs of Christendom is Rome. The purple and scarlet color, . . .vividly picture the magnificence and more than kingly pomp affected by the haughty see of Rome. And no other power could be so truly declared 'drunken with the blood of the saints' as that church which has so cruelly persecuted the followers of Christ. Babylon is also charged with the sin of unlawful connection with ‘the kings of the earth.’ . . .
"Babylon is said to be the ‘mother of harlots.’ By her daughters must be symbolized churches that cling to her doctrines and traditions, and follow her example of sacrificing the truth and the approval of God, in order to form an unlawful alliance with the world. The message of Revelation 14, announcing the fall of Babylon, must apply to religious bodies that were once pure and have become corrupt. Since this message follows the warning of the judgment, it must be given in the last days; therefore it cannot refer to the Roman church alone, for that church has been in a fallen condition for many centuries. Furthermore, in the eighteenth chapter of the Revelation the people of God are called upon to come out of Babylon. According to this Scripture, many of God’s people must still be in Babylon. And in what religious bodies are the greater parts of the followers of Christ now to be found? Without doubt, in the various churches professing the Protestant faith."
10) Please explain in what way these churches have fallen from God’s high and holy standard.
Answer: We read in the same book, p. 383:"Many of the Protestant churches are following Rome’s example of iniquitous connection with `the kings of the earth`---the state churches, by their relation to secular governments; and other denominations, by seeking the favor of the world. And the term ‘Babylon’---confusion---may be appropriately applied to these bodies, all professing to derive doctrines from the Bible, yet divided into almost innumerable sects, with widely conflicting creeds and theories.
"During the lives of the apostles the church remained comparatively pure. But ‘toward the latter end of the second century most of the churches assumed a new form; the first simplicity disappeared, and insensibly, as the old disciples retired to their graves, their children, along with new converts, . . . came forward and new-modeled the cause.’---Robert Robinson, Ecclesiastical Researches, ch. 6, par. 17, p. 51. To secure converts, the exalted standard of the Christian faith was lowered, and as a result ‘a pagan flood, flowing into the church, carried with it its customs, practices and idols.’ ---Gavazzi, Lectures, p. 278."
11) Since the message of the first angel of Rev. 14: 6,7 was proclaimed in 1843-1844, when was the second angel’s message proclaimed?
Answer: "The second angel’s message of Rev. 14 was first preached in the summer of 1844, and it then had a more direct application to the churches in the United States, where the warning of the judgment had been most widely proclaimed and most generally rejected, and where the declension in the churches had been most rapid. But the message of the second angel did not reach its complete fulfillment in 1844. The churches then experienced a moral fall, in consequence of their refusal of the light of the advent message; but that fall was not complete. As they have continued to reject the special truths for this time they have fallen lower and lower. Not yet, however, can it be said that ‘Babylon is fallen, . . . because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.’ She has not yet made all nations do this. The spirit of the world conforming and indifference to the testing truths for our time exists and has been gaining ground in churches of the Protestant faith in all the countries of Christendom; and these churches are included in the solemn and terrible denunciation of the second angel. But the work of apostasy has not yet reached its culmination." The Great Controversy, p. 389.
12) When will that culmination come?
Answer: "Through the two great errors, the immortality of the soul and Sunday sacredness, Satan will bring the people under his deceptions. While the former lays the foundation of spiritualism, the latter creates a bond of sympathy with Rome. The Protestants of the United States will be foremost in stretching their hands across the gulf to grasp the hand of spiritualism; they will reach over the abyss to clasp hands with the Roman power; and under the influence of this threefold union, this country will follow in the steps of Rome in trampling on the rights of conscience." Ibid. p. 588.
1 Tim. 4:1says, "Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons." "As spiritualism more closely imitates the nominal Christianity of the day, it has greater power to deceive and ensnare. Satan himself is converted, after the modern order of things. He will appear in the character of an angel of light. Through the agency of spiritualism, miracles will be wrought, the sick will be healed, and many undeniable wonders will be performed. And as the spirits will profess faith in the Bible, and manifest respect for the institutions of the church, their work will be accepted as a manifestation of divine power." Ibid. p. 588.
In Matt. 24:4,5, 24 Christ says, "Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. . . .For false christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to deceive, if possible, even the elect." Rev. 13:13,14 says, "He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs."
"Only those who have been diligent students of the Scriptures and who have received the love of the truth will be shielded from the powerful delusion that takes the world captive. By the Bible testimony these will detect the deceiver in his disguise. To all the testing time will come. By the sifting of temptation the genuine Christian will be revealed. Are the people of God now so firmly established upon His word that they would not yield to the evidence of their senses? Would they, in such a crisis, cling to the Bible and the Bible only? Satan will, if possible, prevent them from obtaining a preparation to stand in that day. He will so arrange affairs as to hedge up their way, entangle them with earthly treasures, cause them to carry a heavy wearisome burden, that their hearts may be overcharged with the cares of this life and the day of trial may come upon them as a thief." Ibid. 625-626.
This topic we need to study very diligently, for the testing time is sure to come. We invite our friends to resolve to be modern Enochs, walking with God right up to the day of Jesus` return, when all living saints will be caught up to glory without seeing death!