Various Questions on the Sabbath

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  • Various Questions on the Sabbath

  • - 09/09/2009
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It seems more and more these days as I open the mail, I’m getting letters from some Seventh-day Adventists that say that since I worship on Sunday I’m taking the mark of the beast. They’re Seventh-day Adventist traditionalists and they often major on the aberrant doctrines like soul sleep, sabbatarianism, and the seer status of Ellen G. White.

I recently received a letter from one of these Adventists. They said, “As you (Hank Hanegraaff) know, you have never responded with a coherent thought. It’s apparent that you are either unable or unwilling or both to acknowledge scriptural truth. Over 150 years ago, Ellen White predicted you and your type as elements of Protestantism reaching across the sea to join the Roman power in advocating for the counterfeit sabbath. You are setting the stage for the mark of the beast.”

Those are particularly sharp words and they raise a number of issues. Let me attempt to counter with some semblance of coherent thought.

I would say that the traditionalist wing of the Seventh-say Adventist church has denounced Sunday worship as the end time mark of the beast but not correctly or biblically because there are good reasons why millions of Christians gather on the first day of the week and worship. It’s a result of the resurrection. It was because of the resurrection that we celebrate the rest we have in Christ, who delivers us from sin and the grave (Heb. 4:1-11). For the emerging Christian church, the most dangerous snare was a failure to recognize that Jesus is the substance that fulfills the symbol of the Sabbath.

If we insist on being slavishly bound to the laws of the Old Testament be forewarned, it could be hazardous to your health. You could be put to death because according to the Mosaic law anyone who does work on the Sabbath “must be put to death” (Ex. 35:2). The Sabbath was “a shadow of the things that were to come, the reality, however, is found in Christ. (Col. 2:17).

Just as it would be an abomination and trampling of Christ’s blood under foot (Heb 10:29) to go back to temple priests and sacrifices, it would be wrong to go backwards and worship the shadow rather than the Savior in whom we have our Sabbath rest. Religious rights must bow to redemptive realities.

In respect to the contention that I’ve taken on the mark of the beast because I worship on Sunday. I’ve explained this consistently in my writings and on The Bible Answer Man broadcast that biblically the mark of the beast is parody of the mark of the Lamb. The mark on the foreheads of the 144,000 in Revelation 14 symbolized something. It symbolized identity with the Lamb. So it’s not a stretch to say in Revelation 13, the chapter preceding Revelation 14, the mark of the beast would symbolize identity with the beast. Jesus says that He will write “the name of my God, the name of the city of my God.” (Rev. 3:12). Jesus is not talking about scribbling on your forehead.

The notion that the mark of the beast is Sunday worship simply has no biblical basis. It might be sensationalistic and it might sell well, but the question is: Are we as Christians going to be tethered to the text of Scripture, or are we going to go off on subjective flights of fancy as a result of the latest prophet who hits the scene?

Ellen G White claimed divine authority for her prophecies[1] and she was obviously wrong when she prophesied that she would be alive at the Second Coming of Christ.[2] The prophetic words of Scripture always expose the pretenders. They fail the biblical test given in the Old and New Testaments, and often times—as Peter put it—they end up using boastful words that appeal to the desires of human nature, then entice people, many times people who are just escaping those that live in error, and they promise freedom but they enslave you to depravity. (2 Peter 2:1-22). The bondage of tradition should always give way to the text.

I also recently took a call on The Bible Answer Man broadcast from David in Portland, OR who grew up in the Seventh-day Adventist church. He left the Seventh-day Adventist church but still had questions on the Sabbath, like: Since the Saturday Sabbath was ordained before sin entered the world, how does Christ’s sacrifice on the cross change this?

In response to David’s question I noted the following: In the Old Testament you have a pattern and the emphasis for the symbol of the Sabbath. So going back to Gen 2, you have a Sabbath as a celebration of God’s work in creation by resting on the Sabbath day. This is a hierarchy in creation that is given from separation of light from dark, the water above from the water below, the sun, moon, and stars, the dry land and so forth all the way to man. Then the creator Himself, God, who rests on the Seventh Day, which of course He doesn’t need to rest because He’s tired, but we have a picture that God is giving us as a pattern and that’s the point. After the Exodus, the Sabbath expands to a celebration of God’s deliverance from oppression in Egypt.

When you go to the New Testament you have the ultimate shift in emphasis. It’s not saying you shouldn’t work six days and rest on the seventh as a pattern. It’s saying that pattern culminates in the substance of Jesus Christ who fulfills the symbol. That’s why Hebrew 4:1-11 says that in Christ we have our Sabbath rest.

I think it’s also particularly important to realize we’re not bound to Sabbath laws, and that’s why I mentioned earlier that if you want to keep Sabbatarian laws in the way that they’re given in the Old Testament, why not keep them in total? If you’re going to do that, then you have to put people to death who do any work on the Sabbath. In fact, driving your car would be a lethal penalty.

Even if you make a differentiation between the Sabbath of the Ten Commandments and the Sabbath of the Feast Days, you still have to grapple with the notion of pattern and that Jesus is the culmination of that pattern. Also that we celebrate on Sunday because we’re celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The early Christian church changed the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday. Within weeks, thousands of Jews willingly gave up their theological tradition that had given them their national identity. This is because God gives the early church a new pattern, the operative word being pattern, because Christ rose on the first day of the week and that’s what we’re celebrating. This is the apex of the Christian worldview, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul says that if we don’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ we have no hope because we are still dead in our sins, and our preaching and faith is useless (1 Cor. 15: 15-19). So Christ appeared to his disciples on the first day, as well as the Holy Spirit descending on Pentecost (Sunday); therefore, the Jews gave up a tradition seeing the culmination in Christ.

The Christian church did not arbitrarily make this decision. This is not a new decision. This was the pattern of the early Church because it was based in the resurrection of Christ in whom we have our Sabbath rest. We rest on Sunday because we’re remembering the resurrection of Christ. In Acts 20:7, I Corinthians 16:2, and Colossians 2:16 we see this pattern.

Also church history tells us that early Christians worshipped on Sunday. Ignatius Bishop of Antioch around the turn of the 1st century said, “If therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s Day on which also our life has sprung up again by Him, by His death, whom some deny, by which mystery we have obtained faith and therefore endure that we might be found disciples of Christ our only master….”[3] Or Justin Martyr, writing less than a 150 years after the death of Christ, said “On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read as long at time permits…but Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly because it is the first day on which God having wrought a change in the darkness and matter made the world and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead.” [4]

You can worship on Saturday or on Sunday. The point is not the day. The point is what you are remembering and that Jesus fulfills all the types and shadows. Therefore, the pattern changes and we worship collectively in honor and remembrance of the resurrection. It’s not sin to worship on Saturday. If you want to worship on Sunday, I won’t tell you you’ve taken the mark of the beast. The point is that you recognize that Jesus is the substance that fulfills the shadow and that apex of Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through the resurrection, Jesus demonstrates that He doesn’t stand in a line of peers, but that He is the Messiah, the fulfillment of all that came before.

For more information on the Sabbath please check our Website at www.equip.org for articles and also check out my entry on it in The Complete Bible Answer Book.


1.         Ellen White, Selected Messages, Book 1, from Ellen White and Her Writings, chapter 2, from section entitled “No Boastful Claims” found on page 34; chapter 2 from section entitled “The Work of A Prophet and More,” from page 36.

2.       Ellen White, Early Writings (1882), from “Experience and Views,” from “Duty in View of the Time of Trouble,” from page 58(egwdatabase.whiteestate.org/nxt/gateway.dll?f=templates$fn=default.htm$vid=default); Ellen White, Early Writings (1882), from “Experience and Views,” from “Mark of the Beast,” from page 64 (egwdatabase.whiteestate.org/nxt/gateway.dll?f=templates$fn=default.htm$vid=default) page 67. Please note for this and all references, CRI utilized the search function through the Ellen White Estate that can be accessed through egwdatabase.whitestate.org/nxt/gateway.dll?f=templates$fn=default.htm$vid=default, “Table of Contents,” “Complete Writings of Ellen G. White.” Please note that information quoted that is in brackets, as well as numbers and other notations (not including ellipses), were included in original text.

3.       Ignatius Bishop of Antioch, The Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians, Chapter IX.—Let us live with Christ. (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.v.iii.ix.html?highlight=if,therefore,those,who,are,brought,up,in,the,ancient,order,of,things,have,come,to,possession,a,new,hope#highlight).

4.         Justin Martyr, The First Apology of Justin, Chapter LXVII.—Weekly worship of the Christians (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.viii.ii.lxvii.html?highlight=on,the,day,called,sunday,all,who,live,in,cities,or,country,gather,together,to,one,place#highlight).

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