Shabbat Rest

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: A Sabbath Rest Remains

The Sabbath represents the Messianic Era and the menuchah of the world to come. In Hebrews 3:7-4:11, the holy epistle to the Hebrews compares this present world to the work week of preparation, and he warns us to prepare ourselves now for the kingdom and the world to come. This important message demonstrates that Hebrews 4 should not be used to justify a spiritual interpretation of the Sabbath that makes actual Sabbath observance obsolete.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Eleven: A Sabbath Rest Remains
Originally presented on March 16, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Lancaster spent about the first half of his sermon reviewing the previous sermon. Remember we were left with a cliffhanger? What is God’s rest? Is it…

  1. The Sabbath?
  2. The Land of Israel?
  3. The Messianic Kingdom/The World to Come?

We are told a number of stories in today’s sermon, most from the Talmud, such as one found in Tractate Sanhedrin 98a, of Rabbi Joshua ben Levi who, while meditating near the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, met the Prophet Elijah.

Rabbi ben Levi asked Elijah, “When will the Messiah come?” asked Joshua. “Ask him,” replied the Prophet. “The Messiah is at the gates of Rome, sitting among the poor, the sick and wretched. Like them, he changes the bindings of his wounds, but does so one wound at the time, in order to be ready at a moment’s notice.”

The Rabbi traveled to Rome, found the Messiah, and greeted him with ”Peace upon you, my Master and Teacher, to which the Messiah replied, ”Peace upon you, son of Levi.” When the Rabbi asked Messiah when he would come, Messiah replied, ”Today!”

But by the time Rabbi ben Levi returned to Elijah, the Messiah had not come. Messiah had lied…or did he?

Elijah explained “This is what he said to thee, To-day, if ye will hear his voice”, a reference to Psalms 95:7, making his coming conditional with the condition not fulfilled.

You should remember Psalm 95 from last week’s review, since it figured heavily in laying the foundation for our “mystery” of what is meant by “God’s rest” or for that matter, the mystery of “What is today?”

Before continuing, as Lancaster said, Hebrews 3 and 4 are frequently used by many Christian Pastors to prove that a literal Saturday Shabbat has been done away with and that it has been spiritually “converted” into Christ. Our Sabbath rest is Jesus Christ. Problem is, this letter was written by a Jewish writer to a Jewish audience who were still keeping the Sabbath. While Gentiles may not have been placed under that aspect of Torah obedience, these Jews were still Jews and were still performing all of the mitzvot including observing Shabbos.

But these guys were tired. They’d been waiting for the return of the Messiah for thirty years and their faith and patience were wearing thin. They either had been barred from the Temple because of their Messianic faith or were about to be. As we learned last week, the writer of Hebrews was adjuring them to keep their faith in Messiah or risk the fate of that faithless generation in the desert who disobeyed God and did not enter the Land of Canaan to take it as their possession. They did not enter God’s Sabbath rest.

But again, what is God’s rest?

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest is still open, let us take care that none of you should seem to have failed to reach it.

Hebrews 4:1 (NRSV)

Apparently it was something that the readers of Hebrews could still attain since ”his rest is still open.” If Lancaster is right, then it can’t be the literal Saturday Sabbath, because they were already keeping that. It couldn’t be literally the Land of Israel, because they were already there.

…again he sets a certain day—“today”—saying through David much later, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

Hebrews 4:7 (NRSV)

shabbat-queen-elena-kotliarkerLancaster went through a rather lengthy explanation of what “today” means, which includes literally this very day, that is, right now. But from our perspective, it’s always “right now” or “today.” Part of what the Hebrews writer is saying, according to Lancaster, is that as long as you are still alive, “hear (heed) his voice, do not harden your hearts, ” but repent and return to God.

But “today” is also idiomatic language for the Shabbat. I just got done saying this wasn’t about a literal Shabbat on Saturday, but what were the Hebrews risking by a lack of faith? And why did Lancaster tell the story of Rabbi Joshua ben Levi, Elijah, and Messiah?

The object of the Midrashic story from Talmud was to say Messiah would come today if Israel would repent. The Jewish readers of the Hebrews letter will enter God’s rest if they repent. If the coming of Messiah is linked here to God’s rest, then what is to be entered is the Messianic Kingdom.

The Sages liken the Shabbat to the Kingdom of Heaven and the World to Come. It’s as if the days of the week and Shabbat represent the different ages of creation with the seventh day, the end of time, being a grand, millennial Shabbat, an age of great rest, and our weekly Sabbaths are merely a periodic reminder, down payment, or foretaste of that ultimate rest in Moshiach.

This seems to resolve Lancaster’s mystery or cliffhanger, but in fact, he states that it was a trick question. Since the Messianic Age is future oriented, then Hebrews 3 and 4 are not only a rendition of history but prophetic. It may surprise you to realize that all of the prophesies in the Bible have to do with Israel and Jerusalem and for all prophesies to be fulfilled, there must be an Israel and Jerusalem. No Israel, no fulfillment of prophesy.

So a literal Sabbath, a literal Land of Israel, and the Messianic Age to Come all figure into God’s rest and the object of Lancaster’s sermon for the past couple of weeks.

He says some interesting things about work and rest:

Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs.

Hebrews 4:11 (NRSV)

one-of-ten-virgins-oilWhy do we work to enter God’s rest? I thought we were saved by grace. Lancaster says we must do all that is necessary to get ready for the Messiah’s return, even though it will never be enough. It’s like if you keep a traditional Shabbat. On Friday you work and work and work to get ready, but even if you don’t get everything done in time, Shabbat comes and then you stop, you are quiet, there is peace, and there is rest…

…whether you’re ready or not.

Jesus said “It is finished” on the cross (John 19:30) and in the past, I’ve said that it can’t mean literally all of Messiah’s work is finished. If it did, then he wouldn’t have to return. But in another sense, besides Messiah’s suffering, something else was finished, which was the inauguration of the Messianic Age. It started with the death and resurrection, so that part’s finished, but everything will not be completed until all of Israel (according to Lancaster) repents:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Matthew 23:37-39 (NRSV)

I should say that Rabbinic opinions differ on this point, with some saying that Messiah will come when all Israel repents, and others saying that Messiah will come when Israel is wholly corrupt and about to fall. Lancaster apparently is taking the former view.

So does “get ready” and “strive” and “work” mean “shore up your faith?” I can see why Lancaster says we’ll never be ready because no one’s faith will ever be perfect. Of course, we have the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) that says there are things to be done, preparations to make, to be ready for the coming of the bridegroom (Messiah), with the oil in their lamps representing perhaps our faith and devotion to God.

And yet without God’s grace, nothing we do could ever be enough all by itself to merit the Messianic Age and a life in the world to come, which is part of what Joshua ben Levi wanted to know from Messiah. But being faithful and obedient, by grace, we shall enter God’s rest if we persevere to the end (see 2 Timothy 4:7).

What Did I Learn?

I think I’ve been learning this lesson for a while now. I wrote a little bit about it nearly two years ago, and it also seems associated with something I wrote more recently.

Beyond that, someone commented about one of my blog posts on Facebook not too long ago. I’ll withhold his name unless he allows me to use it, but here’s what he said:

A.) There’s 6,000 years of linear-time human history since Adam & Chava ‘stepped out of Gan Edan into the physical world of existence.’

B.) For the sake of Israel, G-d will deduct ‘time served in the captivity of Egypt’ from the 6000 years. Consensus opinion is 210 years.

C,) Mashiach comes and ushers in a 1,000 year earthly kingdom with Israel as head of the nations

D.) At the end of this 1000 year “shabbat hagadol” the earth is ‘recreated’ and existence as we know it ends and begins in a new reality – THIS is the time of the New Covenant, as outlined in the Tenakh, the writings of the sages and the final chapters of the book of Revelation.

E.) The New Covenant existence is one of no more ‘evil,’ no more ‘free will,’ no more ‘choice,’ no more ‘sin,’ no more consequence of sin, i.e., death, suffering, sadness, etc.

Of course, the eye-catcher in all that is the 210 year idea and how it relates to the Jewish calendar. We are presently in 5774 which would mean another 226 years maximum to go (Messiah can come any time in a 40-year window before this but no later.) Now, deducting the 210 years for ‘time served in Egypt’ we have a year that corresponds to 2030 on our western calendars. This is not some modern nonsense to sell books. It is primarily from the Zohar first published in the 13th century. Rabbi Pinchas Winston has some interesting stuff on this.

This will all make more sense if you listen to Lancaster’s forty minute sermon on A Sabbath Rest Remains, since I hardly have related everything he taught. This is just a review. Also remember that taking midrash and mysticism too much to heart is a lot like playing with matches. It’s dangerous and you could get burned. Just saying.

practicing_faithAs I conclude this eleventh sermon in a series that is still ongoing over a year after it started, I find I could easily get lost. There is so much detail involved, so many sources and references, both inside and outside of the Bible, to consult and connect, that it’s hard for my mind to apprehend and hold in focus everything all at once.

OK, I admit it. I can’t keep everything Lancaster’s taught so far in my head in “active memory,” so to speak, all at the same time.

So, like most people, I have to reduce a lot of talking and studying into a small, manageable point. Faith is an active and even physical process. It may start with intellectual ascent of the existence of God and a spiritual awareness of the presence of the Creator, but that means nothing unless it also encompasses a lived obedience to God.

For the generation who died in the desert (except for a very few such as Joshua and Caleb), even the physical awareness of the Divine Presence with them for over forty years on a daily basis was not enough for them to merit entry into the Land of Israel or into the Messianic Kingdom. They failed to obey. They failed to fulfill the promise of God to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by entering the Land, going to war, and taking possession of Israel.

For the readers of the letter of Hebrews, like the generation in the desert standing on the eastern bank of the Jordan, they too stand on the threshold, risking everything, risking the fate of the faithless generation of Israelites, should they also test God as did that generation of their Fathers. Intellectual knowledge and spiritual awareness are not enough. Lived, active obedience to God in the continuation of their faith in Messiah as the future King who is coming but who already rules is an absolute requirement.

The readers of the letter had waited thirty years and their faith was wavering. We’ve waited almost two-thousand years. What about us?

For more about a traditional Jewish perspective on Messiah, the world today, and the world to come, see Moshiach and the World Today.


23 thoughts on “Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: A Sabbath Rest Remains”

  1. I have listened to this sermon from Lancaster as well, but it has been a while. I will have to revisit it again soon. I remember being overwhelmed with the amount of information packed into a 30-40 minutes lesson.

    To those of us reading and digging with in the Hebraic context, seeing the legitimacy of the Sabbath is not a difficult concept. The common discussion is whether the Sabbath is required, optional, or replaced.

    From a scriptural context, I have yet to find any legitimate biblical source that replaces the Sabbath. I am on the fence between required and optional. Are we, as Gentiles, required to observe the Sabbath or are we just invited? I cannot help but think logically and ask that if we are not required to observe, yet invited, why would we not accept the invitation from our divine Creator to meet with Him on a day He asked us to set aside?

    I get very skeptical of anyone that attempts to put a timeline on when Messiah will return, especially when the Messiah himself said that only the Father knows (Matthew 24:36). We are to always be ready with anticipation, but beyond that expecting to predict is dangerous territory.

  2. I have listened to this sermon from Lancaster as well, but it has been a while. I will have to revisit it again soon. I remember being overwhelmed with the amount of information packed into a 30-40 minutes lesson.

    Yeah, Lancaster’s sermons have that affect on people.

    My opinion, since the New Covenant is initiated but not yet fully realized and the Torah of God is not yet completely written on our hearts, is that the Shabbat for Gentiles is not currently an obligation. I don’t think there’s any reason why Gentiles can’t keep a Saturday Shabbat in one way or another, and history is replete with Gentile Sabbath keepers, but I think it won’t really be an obligation until the Messianic Era where all of the New Covenant conditions will be realized.

    I read Isaiah 56:6-8 as a prophesy of the Messianic Age when foreigners (i.e. nations that are not Israel) will join themselves to the Lord, keep the sabbath, hold fast to His (new) covenant, go up to His holy mountain (the Temple Mount in Jerusalem), pray, offer sacrifices and when the exiles of Israel are gathered, we will be among the others gathered as well.

    Until then, as I said, I think we can choose to observe Shabbat and participate in the festivals as they exist today, though I don’t believe it is a sin for not participate in the current age.

    1. I find cynical humor, James, that you may be one step ahead in having a Jewish spouse. However, by definition doesn’t that put your spouse one step behind?

      Hopefully you can see the same humor and do not take offense to what I said…

  3. Regarding the “messianic age”. No theology degree needed to know that the Jesus of the text (“Bible”) and the Jesus of the Bimah (pulpit), are two completely different people.

    The Jesus of the text was a Torah observant Jew, that rejected at least some aspects of the mitzvote d’rabbanan, “commandments of the rabbis”, of the Oral Torah/Oral Law (which ever you prefer) . The reader of the text should CLEARLY DEFINE, which they are talking about in the conversation back and fourth,(in the text), sometimes the are talking about the original Torah, other times they are talking about the Oral Toral/Oral Law. As only ONE example, Netilat Yadayim, ceremony of washing of the hands is a commandment of the Rabbis in Talmid that was in practice then, as it is in Conservative/Orthodox Jewish community today.

    The Jesus of the pulpit as REPRESENTED BY CLERGY, world wide is a Jesus that not only would allow but encourage people to do many things that have been condemned not only in original Torah, but strictly forbidden in ALL of the the writings, (ie), Isaiah, strictly condemned by the Prophets, over and over again. Things like, but not limited to:

    Eating swine
    Praying to the dead
    Adopting rituals of other cultures, (Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas, Holloween, the assignment of specific days and “appointed times” to supercede any and all ORIGINAL appointed times,

    I strongly support religious freedom, so people have the right to choose what ever they want, by definition, that’s what religious freedom is.

    However, for the sake of being accurate,being precise, this GLARING fact can’t be overlooked.

    I do not speak for other Jews, I speak for myself. However, it should not surprise evangelist that so many Jews reject Jesus.

    I don’t believe in a Messiah, or Jesus that wants people to eat swine, burn incense, pray to the dead, completely ignore all of the original observances, replacing them with observances of the cultures of other nations.

  4. I don’t doubt that how traditional, Evangelical Christianity understands Jesus and how I read him in the Bible are rather at odds with each other, Jack. Yes, he was a Torah-observant Jew and sometimes (but not always) he did criticize the Pharisees and members of other branches of Judaism as it existed in the late Second Temple period.

    I do want to point something out, though:

    Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (emph. mine)

    Mark 7:1-2 (NRSV)

    If some of the Master’s disciples were eating with “defiled hands” that at least implies that others had washed them in accordance with halachah as defined by the Pharisees. The First Fruits of Zion TV episode All Food Clean presents a very good explanation regarding the level of ritual purity the Pharisees kept in those days, which was in excess of what was generally required for day-to-day living, which goes a long way to explain the spirited debates between Jesus and the Pharisees.

    Getting back to some of your other comments, it’s true that Christians don’t give a second thought to Kashrut, but at least in the church I currently attend, Valentine’s Day and Halloween aren’t honored at all. Pastor eliminated anything related to Easter bunnies or Easter egg hunts the first year he was there, however, they do celebrate Resurrection Day to honor the day of the Master’s rising from the tomb. And of course, they enjoy celebrating Christmas immensely.

    I’ve never heard of anyone at this church praying to the dead or burning incense, but Fundamentalist Baptists tend to be pretty conservative about that sort of thing.

    I’m not sure what all that has to do with my review of Lancaster’s sermon on Hebrews 3 & 4 and what “a Sabbath rest” means in this context. Jack, do you have anything to say about the actual topic at hand? (Hint: please see my comments policy. Thanks).

  5. “…Hebrews 3 and 4 are frequently used by many Christian Pastors to prove that a literal Saturday Shabbat has been done away with and that it has been spiritually “converted” into Christ. Our Sabbath rest is Jesus Christ. Problem is, this letter was written by a Jewish writer to a Jewish audience who were still keeping the Sabbath.”

    I agree with your response to Terry that it isn’t a sin for Gentiles not to observe Shabbat, so no finger pointing at the Church for that.

    The problem is the universalization of that “freedom” and declaring Shabbat observance null and void to Jews. Ignoring that Hebrews is, as you point out, written by a Jew to other Jews at a specific point in history and making up simplistic ways to nullify established scripture with it is what’s so troubling, and this isn’t the only example that the book of Hebrews is used for that purpose.

  6. Agreed, Sojourning. I think many churches tend to overly generalize the contexts of these letters, as you say, rather than try and understand how the specific context and intent of the writer influences what we can and can’t apply to other audiences at other points in history.

    That said, I don’t think there’s any harm if any Gentiles who want to come alongside the Jewish people, to keep a form of Shabbat in anticipation of the Messianic Kingdom. Certainly, since we both have Jewish spouses, we’re already a step ahead, so to speak.

  7. It was just a joke, Terry. I’ve met “Sojourning” in real life so we know something about each other’s lives and spouses beyond these blog comments.

  8. May the L-rd bless your endeavors. This is lengthy, but it explains why the gentile doesn’t have to keep the Shabbats. Glean what you will.
    (URL removed by blog owner)


  9. Hi Cynthia. Yes, I’ve heard of this fellow. He writes a lot of material and most of his articles are exceedingly long. I’ve done a bit of research and while I don’t doubt he’s sincere in his intent, his credibility is a little sketchy. For that reason I am disinclined to allow a direct link from my blog to his website. Sorry. Don’t mean to offend, but I feel I have a certain responsibility to those who read my blog to link to sources that I believe are more or less reliable. I’ll occasionally break this rule but usually I’ll need a really good reason to do so.

  10. Thank you, James. I respect your integrity. I am not very good at writing, and that blog seemed to answer much. Whatever you glean from it worth sharing, I know would be valuable. With the internet, the resources are endless. The statement in Daniel about, ‘knowledge shall increase…’ seems like an understatement.

  11. James said: That said, I don’t think there’s any harm if any Gentiles who want to come alongside the Jewish people, to keep a form of Shabbat in anticipation of the Messianic Kingdom. Certainly, since we both have Jewish spouses, we’re already a step ahead, so to speak.

    I have been involved in MJism for 22 years and was pretty gung-ho at the first, but I have and continue to feel that being ‘frum’ by a Gentile feels a bit like theft. I have come around to the position where my observance is vestigal and when I do Sabbath kiddush, I don’t say the blessing as if I were Jewish (‘our fathers, us..etc.) I insert ‘Israel’ and ‘them’ etc in those places. Seems a lot more honest.

  12. And that’s my point about differentiating Jewish and Gentile observance, Steve (I know I’m going to get into trouble with someone for saying that). I once wrote a blog post called Evangelical Jewish Cosplay based on a comment made by blogger Krista Dalton on her weblog (she’s changed her site so the link is broken) and that’s what I want to avoid, the idea that Gentiles must engage in “Jewish Cosplay” in order to worship God and obey His will.

  13. How does this sound to you as a Gentile?

    Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who hast sanctified Israel by thy commandments and hast taken pleasure in them, and in love and favor hast given them thy holy Sabbath as an inheritance, a memorial of the creation—that day being also the first of the holy convocations, in remembrance of their departure from Egypt. For thou hast chosen them and sanctified them above all nations, and in love and favor hast given them thy holy Sabbath as an inheritance. Blessed art thou, O Lord, who hallowest the Sabbath.

  14. Sounds fine, Steve. There are probably Noahide siddurim out there somewhere that have language adjustments for use by non-Jews and First Fruits of Zion has been working on a Messianic siddur for ages (still not out yet).

    1. @Steve & @James — Well, gentlemen, since the proverbial cat’s already out of the bag about the FFOZ siddur project, perhaps Boaz wouldn’t mind if I relay what he told me day before yesterday, that plans are afoot to release its first volume, that begins with erev Shabbat prayers and song-lyrics (no musical notation), in about two months. It is indeed a beautifully bound and printed volume, and very serious in its scholarship and its goals to serve the messianic community, particularly including the non-Jewish segment of the bilateral ecclesia, as it includes dual-alternative versions of a number of its prayers tailored to each ecclesial segment. Those for non-Jews are often derived from the Didache or the Apostolic Constitutions. I hope to offer a better review of it soon, but I’ve barely had opportunity yet to open its covers.

  15. I will be looking forward to it too. At home I have been using Tim Hegg’s Messianic siddur for almost 10 yrs now (since he published it). Since it was the first to come out. Our shul used it too. However we have recently developed our own. I think this is just what the Messianic movement needs, an alternative to the one law publication.

  16. James said “That said, I don’t think there’s any harm if any Gentiles who want to come alongside the Jewish people, to keep a form of Shabbat in anticipation of the Messianic Kingdom. Certainly, since we both have Jewish spouses, we’re already a step ahead, so to speak.”

    when Messiah says, “my commandments” does he means different commandments that are not the same as His Father’s commandments? Yeshua said in John 15:10, “If you will keep my commandments, you will remain in my love; just as I have been keeping my Fa­ther’s commandments, and remain in his love.”

  17. Yeshua was talking to his Jewish disciples at the time, so we have to take that into consideration. Also, Shabbat had been established long before the earthly ministry of the Master, so that wouldn’t exactly have been news to his disciples.

    Shabbat is somewhat unique in that is was established and commemorated in Genesis 2, but was made a specific memorial for the Israelites (Ex. 20:8-11). Since the New Covenant language (Jer. 31, Ezek. 36) only mentions Judah and Israel and does not automatically include the nations, it is only through Israel, and more specifically, Israel’s first born son Messiah ben David, that the rest of us can apprehend any of the blessings of the New Covenant at all, not to mention any of the commandments.

    It would have made more sense for you to quote from Isaiah 56:6-8, since the language does associate foreigners (Gentiles) with Shabbat, thus strengthening your case.

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