October 26, 2019

Growing in Understanding—About the Sabbath

Editor's Note: This article is one more contribution to the worldwide Adventist celebration of Creation Sabbath. For more on CREATION SABBATH, go to https://www.facebook.com/events/384688605512271/

“I saw that God had children, who do not see and keep the Sabbath. They had not rejected the light on it. And at the commencement of the time of trouble, we were filled with the Holy Ghost as we went forth and proclaimed the Sabbath more fully.”1

The Sabbath Halo Vision 

On April 7, 1847 a young visionary, Ellen White, wrote a landmark letter to the Sabbath preacher and abolition activist, Joseph Bates. Her husband, James, published it two months later in “A Word to the Little Flock,” the manifesto that first set forth the core beliefs of the coalescing Seventh-day Adventist movement. The letter was a straightforward account of what we now call the Sabbath Halo Vision.

The Holy Spirit had shown Ellen White the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary. As she looked into the ark of the covenant, Jesus opened the tablets of stone that contain the Ten Commandments: “the fourth (the Sabbath commandment,) shone above them all; for the Sabbath was set apart to be kept in honor of God's holy name. The holy Sabbath looked glorious—a halo of glory was all around it.”2

Then the scene panned down on terrestrial events. She saw how the Sabbath had been changed and that just before the final crisis of earth’s history Sabbath keepers would go out and proclaim the Sabbath “more fully.” Ellen White, reflecting on the vision five years later, understood the fuller proclamation of the Sabbath as a promise that the Sabbath message would be widely propagated by a greater number of Adventists than “the little flock” honoring the seventh-day Sabbath in 1847. 3

Seeing the Vision More Clearly

Beyond a greater quantity of proclamation, the Sabbath Halo Vision indicated qualities of the Sabbath message not previously understood or emphasized that must be proclaimed “more fully” before Jesus comes. By 1847, the Seventh Day Baptists had long taught that the sacredness of the seventh day had not been changed, and was just as important for Christians to observe as the other nine commandments. But the scenes of the final crisis Ellen White was shown portray its special significance prior to the second coming: “all we were required to do, was to give up God's Sabbath, and keep the Pope's, and then we should have the mark of the Beast, and of his image.”4 Because of their total commitment to Jesus, Ellen White saw that Sabbath keepers would be persecuted and God would save them with supernatural power at the second coming. Evidently, a full proclamation of the Sabbath includes its end-time role as a sign of our commitment to God and of God’s protection for His people.

This part of the Sabbath Halo Vision confirmed Joseph Bates’ conclusions about the heart of Revelation (chaps. 12–14), and ever since Seventh-day Adventists have proclaimed the final test of God’s relationship with his people as the center of the Sabbath’s end-time significance.

Understanding the Vision More Fully

White also saw the second coming in sabbatical terms: “Then commenced the jubilee, when the land should rest. I saw the pious slave rise in triumph and victory, and shake off the chains that bound him, while his wicked master was in confusion, and knew not what to do; for the wicked could not understand the words of the voice of God.”5

The Year of Jubilee was the culmination of the sabbatical year system (Lev. 25). Every seven years the land was to lie fallow, keeping its sabbatical rest (Lev. 25:2), and allowing the people also to enjoy a year of rest from labor. At the end of seven cycles of seven years (49 years), came the Jubilee, in the 50th year, providing an extra sabbatical year. During this year all debts were to be cancelled, all Israelite slaves set free, and everyone permitted to return to their ancestral lands (verses 10-12).

Understanding the import of the Jubilee year may also contribute to a fuller proclamation of the Sabbath before Jesus comes. Ellen White’s Sabbath Halo Vision presented the Sabbath commandment as part of the first table of the law, along with the three preceding ones, all pertaining to various aspects of our relationship with God: the first, on the uniqueness of His stature to which there is no equivalent or parallel; the second, on His dignity, not to be insulted by any human product that claims to depict His person; the third, on the awesomeness of His identity, not to be trivialized by common or mindless usage. The Sabbath commandment, fourth of the ten, encompasses multiple elements that are the focus of others. But with regard to the Jubilee we may note its particular emphasis on divine sovereignty over time: “Remember the Sabbath day to set it apart as holy. For six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the your God; on it you shall not do any work…” (Ex 20:8-10, NET). 6

One principle that undergirds the idea of Sabbath in relation to time is the fundamental truth that a week of six days without the seventh, is incomplete. Note that day six is the day on which human beings were created, and day seven the day of God’s and humanity’s rest. The Sabbath command is clear: on the seventh day “thou shalt not do any work” (Ex. 20:10). God prescribes for His created children an inversion of the effort and rest sequence He employs for Himself. Humans are to rest for a full day before they are allowed to work for one. This is the depiction seen in Genesis 1:1-2:3, and the prescription ordered in Exodus 20:8-11. Thus, Sabbath keeping is a rhythmic reminder that human flourishing is not based on human effort, neither is human serenity purchased by human striving: we rest and thrive, delight in the garden and in each other’s company, because of who God our Father provides and prescribes. Resting on the seventh day is our intelligent and privileged expression of complete dependence on His power and care and love for us.

As we have already stated, time provisions are not the limit of the Sabbath’s blessing. Note its center again: “on it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, or your male servant, or your female servant, or your cattle, or the resident foreigner who is in your gates” (Ex 20:10, NET). God the Father means for all His children to savor together, in His company, the serenity and confidence of Sabbath rest. Weekly Sabbath keeping is a commentary on how we relate to other people, and indeed, to the animals and flora of creation—a subject demanding its own full article. Creation Sabbath teaches that everyone is equal before God. Biblical Sabbath allows for no socio-economic divisions. The rest from labor that it provides is rest for all from the exploitations and power structures of earth’s social [dis]orders. God did not create human beings to be physically enslaved by endless production and consumption, globalized competition, and indebtedness, or virtually enslaved to electronic screens and machines. Nor did God create human beings to be inescapably oppressed by discrimination, police brutality, welfare dependency, predatory mortgages, and gang violence. Proclaiming the Sabbath more fully in the end times encompasses more than preaching Sabbath as a sign of God’s relationship with his people. As resting on the Sabbath calibrates our relationship with God, it recalibrates our relationship with each other. Therefore, the Sabbath is especially significant in the end-times because it functions as the bridge that unites the two great commands: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,’” an
d “‘Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37, 39, NET).

Applying the Meaning More Closely

In this regard Ellen White spoke directly to the responsibilities of Christians to a particular group of their neighbors, that specific segment of society who were surviving victims of the American institution of slavery. Slavery’s abolition did not exhaust the need for society to work for racial equality in America: Blacks’ downtrodden state resulted directly from their abuse. Referring to their condition she asked, “who made them so? Is there not much due to them from the white people? After so great a wrong has been done them, should not an earnest effort be made to lift them up?”7  She asked and probed: “Are we not under even greater obligation to labor for the colored people than for those who have been more highly favored? Who is it that held these people in servitude? Who kept them in ignorance, and pursued a course to debase and brutalize them, forcing them to disregard the laws of marriage, breaking up the family relation, tearing wife from husband and husband from wife?”8

Adventism’s pioneers saw no distinction between preaching the Advent—the soon second coming of Jesus—and working for a better world now. They took up idealistic causes with little likelihood of success—abolition, prohibition, health reform.  But high idealism is where you want to lift your eyes to if Jesus is your Leader, because Jesus is coming to right all the wrongs of this world. And the ultimate ideal is the one you want to dream of and strive for if you believe in the Bible’s descriptions of heaven! My church’s founders didn’t regard history’s persecution of goodness, or prophecy’s prediction of the eventual triumph of righteousness as excuses to wash their hands of involvement with activism and politics. Rather they took the second coming as permission to make a difference in society, knowing that their work would find its eternal value in the restoration of all things.

Today, Americans are confronted with a crisis of race and law enforcement that has its roots in a failure of empathy and solidary for those whose experience differs from those with whom we identify, whether the already vulnerable or those who make themselves vulnerable for the sake of protecting others. Today, Adventists in America must decide whether to step out of their demographic box to help humanity, or hide in the boxes where convention and cowardly conformity constrain them to stay. We are every moment deciding whether to step out and work with those advocating solutions to this crisis, or find refuge in containers marked FRAGILE, that will be shipped away from the scenes of the devil’s progressive destruction of sisters and brothers they will face again in the judgment. God wills to use His church, this advent and reforming movement to proclaim His Sabbath more fully. He is sending us out to the many waiting to be caught up in a drama of fuller proclamation and more glorious revelation of His love, proclaiming the Sabbath “more fully.” I choose to join the proclamation.

David Hamstra is an Adventist pastor on study leave at the Seventh-day Adventist theological Seminary, Berrien Springs, MI, 49104

1 Ellen G. White, A Word to the Little Flock (Washington, DC.: Review & Herald Pub. Assn., 1847), p. 18.

2 Ibid.

3 Ellen G. White, Early Writings (Washington, DC.: Review & Herald Pub. Assn., 1882), p. 85.

4 White, A Word, p. 19.

5 Ibid. p. 20.

6 Scripture quotations credited to NET are from the New English Translation Bible, copyright © 1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

7 Ellen G. White, The Southern Work (Washington, DC.: Review & Herald Pub. Assn., 1901), p. 14.

8 Ibid.