There is a dire warning given to a certain group of people in Scripture:
“If anyone worships the beast and his image,
And receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand,
He himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God,"
(Revelation 14:9, 10)
There is also another group presented in this same chapter of Scripture:
Here is the patience of the saints;
Here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.
Clearly, the group who worships the beast and receives his mark are contrasted with the group who "keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus."
In keeping with Reformation teaching, the beast is regarded as the papal power of Rome – that is, the Roman Catholic Church. This biblical truth can be established in many different ways from the books of Daniel and Revelation, but I would refer the reader to any of the great Reformers (e.g., Luther, Calvin, Knox, Wesley, etc.) – or one could even refer to the writings of one of the greatest mathematicians and scientists of all time (who was also a great biblical scholar), Sir Isaac Newton.
The Catholic Church has always maintained that the definitive mark of her ecclesiastical authority is the changing of the Biblical Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday.
"Of course the change (from Sabbath to Sunday) was her act .... and the act is a MARK of her ecclesiastical power and authority in religious matters."
(Signed by H.F.Thomas, Chancellor for Cardinal Gibbons, in a letter dated Nov. 11, 1895)
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"Sunday is our MARK of authority."
"The church is above the Bible, and this transference of Sabbath observance is proof of that fact."
(Catholic record of London, Ontario, Sept. 1, 1923)
So the mark of the beast power is, by the beast power's own admission, the observance of Sunday rather than the Bible Sabbath. Indeed, God’s word corroborates this truth by stating that the beast power of Revelation 13 (which is also the little horn power of Daniel 7) will “speak pompous words against the Most High, persecute the saints of the Most High, and shall intend to change times and law” (Daniel 7:25).
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The group contrasted with those who receive the mark of the beast is the group that is sealed with the seal of the Living God. The Bible presents this group as comprising those who will be able to stand during the great day of God's wrath (Revelation 6:17-7:4).
It is the Sabbath commandment that contains God's seal inasmuch as it contains all the elements of a ruler's seal: (1) name, (2) title or claim to authority, (3) area of rulership (Exodus 20:8-11).
But how could the keeping of the Sabbath be the true seal of God in the context of salvation by grace through faith? In other words, how can the keeping of the Sabbath be the true seal of God when the Bible is clear that we are saved – not by any type of work (like keeping the Sabbath holy) – but, rather, by simply receiving God’s gift of salvation by grace through faith?
Let’s go back to the book of Genesis to help us understand how the keeping of the Sabbath functions in this way:
“And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had made;
And He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made.
And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it:
Because that in it He had rested from all His work which God created and made.”
(Genesis 2:2, 3, KJV)
We see from this text in Genesis that the Sabbath was set apart by God as holy and restful time, and His blessing rests upon it.
So what does this mean?
One could unpack this meaning in a legalistic way by focusing on the demand of the fourth commandment and state something like this: “It means that all of us are in a position each week where we must keep the Sabbath holy, and this involves that I do this and not do that.” Needless to say, this is how the Pharisees of Christ's day interpreted the meaning of the Sabbath.
But let’s examine the text more closely by first considering the dimension of time.
Much could be written about time (and much has been). We know from relativity theory, for example, that time is not an absolute in our universe (nor is space). But let’s consider time in a rather simple way since God certainly does not expect each of us to be a theoretical physicist to understand the nature of the Sabbath.
Let’s consider time to be the medium (along with space) in which we experience the events of our lives.
Notice again what God says about the time of the Sabbath: He “blessed” and “sanctified” it (Gen. 2:3). The time of the Sabbath is thus different than other time. In other words, God did not simply designated a certain day in the weekly cycle and say, “Cease work on this day and worship Me”; rather, He blessed a certain day so that the time itself is different. It’s holy time. It’s time that is somehow infused with the blessing and sanctification of God.
So what does it mean to say that the time of the Sabbath is different than other time? At the very least, it means that a blessing from God rests upon the Sabbath hours, and this blessing makes these hours different – fundamentally different – than the other hours of the week.
A significant point about time is this: we cannot escape it because we exist in it. For this reason, we cannot escape the blessed hours of the Sabbath. They come to every one of us once each week. Like it or not, they are there. We can successfully avoid a person, place or thing – but we cannot avoid time.
Once again, we exist in it.
Since the Sabbath hours are blessed, and they come to everyone once every week, no one can avoid a confrontation with holy time. Remember, the Sabbath is not just a designated day in the weekly cycle for which God says, “Do this, and don’t do that.” Rather, it is a holy day – holy time – that God has somehow imbued with His blessing.
So, once again, no one can avoid a weekly confrontation with holy time.
And, of course, this includes the wicked of the last days.
For this reason, it makes perfect sense that the Sabbath would be the test in this earth’s last hours because it comprises a commodity (namely, time) that cannot be manipulated or avoided. One can do only one thing with time: receive it. To avoid or rebel against time is to avoid or rebel against the very “container” or medium of life itself.
So, clearly, no one can do this and still retain a medium in which to live.
The wicked of the last days, however, are intent upon avoiding and rebelling against – not time – but, rather, God. But they cannot rebel against God without rebelling against time as well because we have seen that holy time comes to all once each week; therefore, all (even the wicked of the last days) are in the inescapable position where a confrontation with God’s blessing and holiness is inevitable.
I think we can now begin to see why the keeping of the Sabbath is really the epitome of righteousness by faith.
Because it amounts to the passive reception of a commodity (time) that cannot be manipulated or controlled. On the contrary, the keeping of the Sabbath is a simple rest in the holy “container” or medium of blessed time.
Do not slip into the trap of saying, “But the keeping of the Sabbath means that I do this and not do that.” I can assure you that the issue is far deeper than this – far more fundamental. Our Heavenly Father would not institute such a works-oriented procedure for His holy Sabbath rest day and, at the same time, inform us that we are saved by grace and not works.
God is the One Who rested on and blessed the Sabbath, and our keeping of the Sabbath amounts to a simple rest in holy time. Furthermore, if we are in Christ, then we will be able to do this. We will be able to enter God’s rest.
If, however, we are not in Christ, then we will be unable to do this because we will not “fit” into the “container” of holy time. Therefore, we will be overcome by the carnal restlessness of our unregenerate nature, and this will express itself in worldly thinking and activity.
It’s just this simple.
Remember: our position in Christ has nothing to do with anything that is works-oriented. In other words, it is not dependent upon any of our good works for God. (Indeed, all of the works-orientation in relation to salvation pertains to the non-Christian religions of the world.)
Our position in Christ is dependent upon only this: a new birth.
And a new birth is dependent upon an honest confession of need and subsequent acceptance of Jesus Christ as one’s only hope of salvation.
Let’s backtrack a bit to get a deeper understanding of the issues involved here.
Think of trying to place a square peg into a round hole. It cannot be done, right? It simply won’t fit.
Think of you or me as the square peg and the holy time of the Sabbath as the round hole. In this case, you and I have a problem because you and I – as imperfect and unholy sinners – do not "fit" into the container of holy time.
Think about it. If we try to force a square peg into a round hole, then we will get only friction and abrasion. Likewise, if you and I try to force ourselves into a container of holy time (i.e., a container into which we simply do not “fit”), then we will likewise get friction and abrasion.
But what does this really mean once we step outside of the “square peg and the round hole” metaphor?
Simply this: any attempt by unregenerate, sinful beings to find rest in God’s holy time will result in personal pain, agitation and ultimate rebellion (in other words, the same “friction and abrasion” that we see in the square peg and round hole metaphor).
Once again, this is because unregenerate beings simply do not “fit” into any container of holy time.
This may seem a bit abstract; nevertheless, it captures an important principle – namely, that we are born into a state that is misaligned with the God of our creation. Our natures therefore require realignment – just like a wheel that is misaligned with its axle. Whether one looks at eastern thought or Judaeo-Christian thought, one is faced with the same central truth – namely, that we are born into a state that is alienated and estranged from the source (or “ground”) of our being.
The area of study that tackles issues related to the nature and origin of being is that of metaphysics. Whether one is speaking about square pegs, round holes, God, “the force,” quarks – it’s all about what is fundamentally there. It’s all about being. And metaphysics is the study of being.
Most religious beliefs are – to a large degree –beliefs about metaphysics. In other words, they are beliefs about the fundamental nature and origin of being. We, as Christians, believe that God exists as the source of our being and that He is such-and-such a way; others of a different faith believe otherwise.
Religious practices are, for the most part, the means by which religious adherents seek to accommodate themselves to the fundamental structure of being.
And why is there a need to accommodate ourselves to this fundamental structure? Because (as I have stated above) all the major religions of the world maintain that we are (unfortunately) out of harmony with what is fundamentally there; therefore, there is an obvious need to realign ourselves with the ground of our being. The practices of any religion are generally thought of as the means of salvation.
This may seem a bit abstract, but it translates (in the Christian vernacular) into the simple truth that we are all sinners in need of redemption. (This “simple truth” is actually more profound than most realize.) In other words, we are all born into a state that is in disharmony with God and His nature, and we thus have a need to be realigned with His essence if we are to have any legitimate hope of fulfillment in this life or blissful coexistence in the next.
As you probably know, all religions of the world other than Christianity propose something that is works-oriented to accommodate ourselves to God (i.e., to realign ourselves with the ground of our being). That is, non-Christian religions of the world propose some system of works that we need to do, or some body of knowledge that we need to attain, or some state or experience that we need to achieve – all of this would be proposed as a means by which we are brought into harmony with what is fundamentally there.
Our Christian faith, however, maintains that this accommodation (or realignment, or “salvation”) is effected – not by anything directly related to works or knowledge or experience – but, rather, by a new birth.
And this new birth is received by grace through faith after an honest confession of need.
Much could be written about this, but my intent here is simply to focus upon the truth contained in the fourth commandment regarding the keeping of the Sabbath. My point is this: the real significance of this commandment – as well as its relevance for the last days – is appreciated only with an understanding of its relation to metaphysics.
This is the obvious reason that God chose the Sabbath “test” as the true indicator of who is “in Christ” and who is not.
Once again, the keeping of the Sabbath requires that you and I simply rest in holy time. And if we are born again in Christ, then we will be able to do this. We will be able to enter God’s rest. If, however, we are not born again in Christ, then we will not be able to do this simply because we will not “fit” into the container of holy time. We will thus be overcome by the carnal restlessness of our unregenerate nature, and this will express itself in worldly thinking and activity. (Remember: our position in Christ has nothing to do with anything that is works-oriented.)
So what is it about the last days that makes the Sabbath truth the definitive test?
It is this: the last days define the time in earth’s history where the progressive revelation of truth is absolute and complete. Likewise, the world’s rebellion against this truth is equally absolute and complete. For this reason, the holy time of the Sabbath becomes intolerable for the unregenerate of the world.
The wicked of the world at this time will be incapable of discerning that the real problem is with them because they will be (by their own choice) irrevocably steeped in denial. Therefore, as those steeped in denial invariably do, they will project their own sinfulness onto those made spotless by the blood of the Lamb, and they will think that ridding the world of these “Sabbath-keepers” will solve all the world’s problems.
But the real problem is that the wicked do not “fit” into the Sabbath “container” of holy time. Once again, it’s a square peg and a round hole – and it’s uncomfortable. The blessedness of holy time forces conviction of wrongdoing that has long been stuffed by various forms of worldly escape. And since the wicked of the last days have chosen the path of falsehood and denial, they refuse to accommodate and respond appropriately to this discomfort. In other words, they refuse to repent. Therefore, they are left with but one alternative: project their sin upon the saints and seek to eradicate them.
I hope you can now understand that entering God’s rest on the Sabbath represents the one “metaphysically grounded” evaluation of who is on God’s side and who is on the other side. In other words, since holiness is woven into the very fabric of the blessed Sabbath hours, only those who are in Christ will enter God's rest and thus truly keep the Sabbath, while those who are not in Christ will be unable to enter this rest and will thus ultimately rebel.
For this reason, the keeping of the Sabbath is God’s perfect test for the last days.
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