Sabbath School

War Against the Sabbath

A closer look at Satan’s attacks

Francis Gayoba
War Against the Sabbath
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“What are you doing? Are you texting?” I guiltily looked up from the phone in my hand to see my girlfriend with a sharp look in her eyes on the video screen.

Before we were married, Ainee and I had a one-year semi-long distance relationship. She was teaching preschool a few hours away from where I worked, and due to the demands of her work, she had to live near her school. Since we could see each other in person only about two weekends a month, we promised to have a video call every evening despite our busy schedules.

On this particular evening, I had come from a full day of work that was yet unfinished, and by the time our video call began, I was still trying to sneak in sending a few messages on my phone. That’s when I heard her loaded questions. In firm words, she reminded me of our agreement. Even though she still had much work to do, Ainee had gifted her precious time to grow our relationship, but I had failed to do the same.

I learned an important lesson that day. Relationships are built on exclusive and undistracted sacred time. Setting apart a special time reveals one’s commitment to a relationship. Giving exclusive and undivided attention within that specific time is an expression of priority because it shows that this particular time together matters more than anything else. If one values the relationship, no distractors should be allowed to affect that sacred time, and any intrusion must be repelled.

The necessity of sacred time is also evident in the God-human relationship, one that Satan vehemently seeks to suppress and destroy. Since the beginning of earth’s history, Satan has been seeking to sabotage the special relationship God shares with humanity. Satan subverts humanity’s allegiance to God by making slanderous claims against God’s character, just as he did in heaven (Ezek. 28:16). If the “father of lies” (John 8:44) can convince humans to mistrust God’s character, he is one step closer to claiming their allegiance. Satan succeeded with Adam and Eve (Gen. 3), and now continues his attack upon their descendants (1 Pet. 5:8). Satan’s goal in the cosmic conflict is to win over as many to his side as possible. By usurping humanity’s allegiance from God to himself, Satan seeks to establish his own kingdom.

Satan’s Schemes

Particularly vexing to Satan is the sacred time that God instituted to foster relational intimacy with humanity. Ever since its inception in the Garden of Eden, Satan has been attempting to eradicate the meaningful practice of the Sabbath. The tools in his arsenal are varied, all utilized to assault God’s special day. He tries to undermine the importance of the Sabbath, distort its meaning, create a counterfeit, and force observance of the counterfeit through oppression.


One of Satan’s methods is to subvert and erode trust in God’s law, leading people to doubt the veracity of God’s instructions (“Has God indeed said?” Gen. 3:1). While God gives His law as a gift to enhance human life, Satan presents God’s law (1) as overly strict and demanding and thus impossible to obey, (2) as being trivial, arbitrary, and of minor consequence, or (3) as restrictions and impediments to true freedom and happiness. As a result, “sin ceases to appear sinful or righteousness desirable”[i]

The same tactics are used on the Sabbath. It is made to appear trivial (“It’s just a day”), irrelevant (“It doesn’t matter”), or outdated (“It doesn’t apply to us anymore”). Even within Christian circles, some believe people can relate to God however they wish. As long as it is from the heart, the notion goes, the method or the day does not matter. This idea is dangerous because it is focused on self, leaving God out of the picture. How about the way God wants to receive loyalty and devotion, which He Himself has already clearly outlined (Ex. 20:1–17)? By subverting God’s law, Satan aims to weaken the footing of the Sabbath.


Guile and deceit have always been in Satan’s toolbox of tricks to ensnare and capture his prey (2 Cor. 11:13; 2 Tim. 2:26). He attempts to confuse people by distorting the meaning of the Sabbath, thereby making it less attractive. His way is to take away the true essence of the Sabbath, and lead people to “major in the minors.” The Jewish leaders of Jesus’ time had transformed the Sabbath from a day of freedom into a day of burden. The Sabbath became about rules instead of relationship, about national pride instead of a means to bless the nations. God’s beautiful life-affirming gift had lost its luster.

Even today, there is the risk of turning the Sabbath into a restrictive burden. The danger of such an approach is that instead of being seen as One who desires the best of human flourishing, the God of the Sabbath is perceived as an overbearing tyrant, harsh and exacting. By distorting the meaning of the Sabbath, Satan turns the attractiveness of God’s gift into something undesirable. He is then one step closer to turning people away from the Gift-giver.


The good things God creates, Satan counterfeits. He sets himself up as a counterfeit to God with his own counterfeit kingdom built on the counterfeit principle of selfishness instead of love. His counterfeits are crafted in such a way as to closely imitate the original, promising the benefits of the original while failing to deliver. Through various agencies, Satan has set up his counterfeit to the beautiful Sabbath God instituted. Beginning with anti-Jewish sentiment in the young Christian church and further intensified by a “Christianized” imperial Rome, the sanctity of the Sabbath was shifted to Sunday, losing much of its biblical significance along the way.[ii]

The danger of Satan’s counterfeits is when someone wrongly believes what they have is real when what they have is an imitation. Those who are misled by Satan’s deceptions miss out on the beauty of the real thing. Creating a new holy day, one that does not contain the “portfolio of meaning,”[iii] that the seventh day has, means that the counterfeit is divorced from the theological anchors of the original. Thus, the institution of an alternate day of worship is more than just about a day. It is ultimately about biblical teachings tied to that day, teachings that Satan wants people to forget.


In the end-times, the Sabbath becomes the focal point of Satan’s attacks on the God-human relationship. It becomes “the issue in the great final conflict.”[iv] Biblical prophecy points to a “beast rising up out of the sea” (Rev. 13:1), through whom the dragon (Satan) will “intend to change times and law” (Dan. 7:25). Moreover, through the “beast coming up out of the earth” (Rev. 13:11), Satan requires earth dwellers to “worship the image of the beast” (verse 15) upon penalty of death. Those who worship the beast receive a mark indicating their loyalty (Rev. 13:16, 17; 14:8–11). In contrast, those loyal to God receive a different seal (Rev. 7:4; 14:1). For Seventh-day Adventists, the “mark” and “seal” are best understood as visible signs of worship, a “time and law” none other than the question of Sabbath versus Sunday.

Anthony MacPherson observes that the Sabbath and the mark “reveal differences between the respective characters and reign of God and of the dragon,” which are outlined below:[v]

The SabbathThe Mark
Protects the vulnerableIs oppressive
Is about economic releaseIs about economic force, control, and marginalization
Expresses allegiance to the CreatorExpresses allegiance to the beast
Is rest in the God who completesIs restless rebellion
Is willing obedience to the Creator GodIs a coercive force that achieves obedience through fear and deception

History has shown that brute force is in Satan’s arsenal. While his persecution of God’s people has never completely worked, Satan will try so again, perhaps out of desperation.

Why Satan Attacks the Sabbath

 Satan’s varied attacks against the Sabbath beg the question: Why does Satan direct his fury on the Sabbath institution, and why does he exert so much effort to separate people from its practice? Unpacking the spiritual significance of the Sabbath will help shed light on the reasons for Satan’s attacks.

Sabbath and God’s Character

As pointed out above, Satan’s goal is to discredit God’s character. Satan attacks the Sabbath because it illuminates the character of God. The Sabbath reveals the God who has so much love to give that He creates more beings to be recipients of that love. Not only does He give these beings life, but He also sets apart special time to spend in relational intimacy with them. He desires to know them personally and for them to know Him not just as their Creator but as their Friend (John 15:15). The Sabbath reveals that God desires a close relationship with humanity (Ezek. 20:12, 20). As such, the Sabbath is a sign of a covenant relationship with God.

With the entrance of sin, the Sabbath took on a new meaning. The Sabbath became a reminder of how God liberates humanity (Deut. 5:15). The Sabbath is also a reminder of God’s providential care (Ex. 16; Matt. 11:28, 29) amid the uncertainties in a broken world.

Satan hates the Sabbath because it reveals the God of love who calls people to find rest in Him. He wants to destroy the Sabbath because by doing so, he hopes to attack God’s authority as Creator and erode trust in Him as Redeemer and Provider. Simply put, “An attack against the Sabbath is an attack against God [and] all that the Sabbath represents.”[vi]

Sabbath and Well-Being

Since the Sabbath is a reminder that God is the Creator (Ex. 20:11), it points to the reality that human beings do not exist by an accident of nature but are created with a God-given identity (Gen. 1:26, 27) and purpose. As God’s creation, humanity is designed to find ultimate joy and meaning in relation to Him. These truths are engrained in the Sabbath. The Sabbath points to the worth of every human being as God’s workmanship (Eph. 2:10), a reminder that worth and value are not found in what humans can gain or accomplish. Instead, it is found in relation to the God who places immeasurable value upon them.

Sometimes, human beings need to be reminded about what matters most. The Sabbath reminds us that there is more to life than what we can earn. The Sabbath helps recognize limitations and ultimate dependence on God for life and flourishing. By keeping the Sabbath, human beings rest in God’s goodness and providential care instead of relying on the capacity to work for oneself. This applies not only to physical realities but spiritual realities as well. The Sabbath, properly understood and practiced, is an antidote to legalism.

The Sabbath, properly understood and practiced, is an antidote to legalism.

Sabbath brings freedom from self-dependency because it holds in check the human tendency to think that well-being and survival depend on personal effort, resulting in freedom from anxiety and worry.[vii] In contrast, Satan wants people to be work-oriented and self-dependent, and consequently separated from God. A hurried, restless, and labor-filled lifestyle makes one more susceptible to Satan’s attacks because an obsessive occupation with life’s pressing needs often leaves little room for God. The more people think they can rely on themselves, and the less they think they need God, the more Satan has succeeded.

Sabbath and the God-Human Relationship

More than a religious obligation, the Sabbath is a deeply personal experience because it draws people to God. The Sabbath is a weekly reminder of how much God loves and cares for humanity. Recognizing God as Creator and Redeemer, the human heart responds in a spirit of thanksgiving, worship (Rev. 4:11), and loyalty in recognition of God’s love and authority. It helps them see how truly beautiful His character is, leading them to love Him in return. The binding effect of the Sabbath on the God-human relationship is what makes Satan view the Sabbath with particular animosity.

The rest on the Sabbath is not mere cessation of activity. It is not stopping activity in and of itself. It is freeing oneself to find rest in Christ as Creator and Redeemer. It is a weekly opportunity to refocus one’s life and assess one’s relationship with God, to see whether one is still walking the path God desires for them. This reality could serve as a warning to Sabbath keepers. It is possible for one to abstain from work on the Sabbath, but still miss out on truly keeping the Sabbath.

It is possible for one to abstain from work on the Sabbath, but still miss out on truly keeping the Sabbath.

Abstaining from work and everyday activity gives freedom for sacred undistracted time with Jesus. If one ceases to work but does not actively build a connection with Jesus, then the essence of the Sabbath is lost.

Satan is a relationship-wrecker, and the relationship-building nature of the Sabbath attracts his anger. If Satan can undermine all these relationship-building attributes by undermining the Sabbath, then he has succeeded in distancing people from God. The loss of the constant connection and re-connection with God is a relationship breaker. Relationships are built on sacred and exclusive time, and by attacking the Sabbath, Satan attacks humanity’s relationship with God. “The sad fact in the end-time is that separation from Christ’s Sabbath leads inexorably to separation from Him, or rejection of Christ leads to rejection of His Sabbath.”[viii]

Relationships are built on sacred and exclusive time, and by attacking the Sabbath, Satan attacks humanity’s relationship with God.

Sabbath and Loyalty to God

While it has not yet arrived, biblical prophecy points to a time when the Sabbath will become a test of loyalty. Beneath that test is the issue of authority: Who should we listen to? Who should we obey? And still beneath that issue of authority is the question of character.

A tyrant would not care about convincing his citizens to obey him, only that they obeyed absolutely. In contrast, God desires His created beings to obey Him out of love (John 14:15). Thus, He takes extra effort to convince people of the goodness of His character, so that people will realize that He is the one to be rightfully obeyed—not just because He is Creator and Sustainer, but because He is love.

Keeping the Sabbath is indeed a recognition of God’s Lordship and supreme authority. But the Sabbath points to more than God’s authority. It reveals God’s loving commitment to and desire for intimacy with humanity. [ix] It is this evidence of God’s loyalty and His commitment to humanity’s well-being that awakens a response of loyalty in return.

Satan rebels against God’s authority and is angry at those who are loyal to Him (Rev. 12:17). Consequently, the Sabbath, being a visible sign of loyalty to God, becomes the focus of Satan’s fury.


It has ever been Satan’s purpose to hinder people from hearing the gospel (Mark 4:15; 1 Thess. 2:18), and Christians should not be “ignorant of his devices” (2 Cor. 2:11). Since the Sabbath, properly understood, carries the pure gospel of finding true rest and freedom in God, Satan seeks to distort and destroy its meaningful observance using all the tools at his disposal. The intensity with which Satan attacks the Sabbath points to its significance not only for the God-human relationship but also for the cosmic conflict as a whole.

Genuine Sabbath-keeping, rooted in a personal relationship with Jesus is a protection against Satan’s schemes. Despite Satan’s attacks, Christians should have nothing to fear. It is faith in Jesus (Rev. 14:12) that gives assurance of victory.

[i] Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 584.

[ii] See Robert K. McIver, “Why (and When) Did the Change of Sabbath Take Place in the Early Church?,” in The Sabbath in the New Testament and in Theology: Implications for Christians in the Twenty-First Century, ed. Ekkehardt Mueller and Eike Mueller, vol. 2 of Biblical Research Institute Studies on the Biblical Sabbath (Silver Spring, MD: Biblical Research Institute, 2023), pp. 493-514, and Sigve K. Tonstad, The Lost Meaning of the Seventh Day (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 2009), pp. 297–314.

[iii] This expression is borrowed from Tonstad, Lost Meaning.

[iv] Ellen G. White, Testimonies to the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948) 6:352.

[v] Anthony MacPherson, “The Mark of the Beast as a ‘Sign Commandment’ and ‘Anti-Sabbath’ in the Worship Crisis of Revelation 12–14,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 43.2 (2005): 279.

[vi] Norman R. Gulley, “The Battle Against the Sabbath and Its End-Time Importance,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 5.2 (1994): 81.

[vii] Walter Brueggemann, Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now, New Edition with Study Guide. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2017), pp. 20–33.

[viii] Gulley, “Battle Against the Sabbath,” p. 101.

[ix] Tonstad, Lost Meaning, p. 440.

Francis Gayoba

Francis Gayoba is an associate pastor and chaplain at Adventist University of the Philippines (AUP).