The Sabbath Day was established to commemorate the creation week: because the Lord created the world in six days and “rested” on the seventh, so too were the Israelites to follow this pattern (Genesis 2:3 cf. Exodus 20:11). However, what does it mean to say that God rested? Is it simply another way of saying He didn’t do anything that day? I don’t think so. To paraphrase Seraphim Hamilton, Sabbath rest is about the enthronement of God and His judgement of the world through the light of the Spirit. In Genesis 1, God builds a Palace for Himself and sits down to judge the world on the Sabbath Day. This becomes evident by following the chronology of Genesis 2-3, wherein one sees that the Sabbath Day is the day when Adam and Eve fell. We know this because Genesis 3:8 tells us that God was walking through the Garden “in the Spirit of the Day” (per Meredith Kline’s rendition of ‘לְרוּחַ הַיּוֹם) and that He was coming to inspect and judge Adam and Eve is known not only because this is in fact what He did, but how did Adam and Eve respond to the coming of the Lord? They tried to hide from His sight.
Throughout Scripture, sight is always the language of judgement. Hence in Genesis 6, the Lord “sees” the wickedness of humanity before judging them with the Flood, and in Genesis 38 we learn that Er was “wicked in the sight of the Lord,” a judgement that God gave him the death penalty for, and so on. Moreover, judgement in the Old Testament is consistently linked with the Spirit, hence Judges 3:10 tells us “The Spirit of the Lord came upon [Othniel], and he judged Israel,” and Isaiah 42:1 says about the Suffering Servant “I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring judgement to the nations.”
Ultimately this is tied back to Genesis 1 when “the Spirit hovered over the waters” and God created light, separated it from darkness, and “sees” that it is “good,” which is the very first divine judgement recorded in Scripture. This is what establishes the biblical theme of the Lord’s Day or “the Day of the Lord,” i.e. the Day of Judgement. Amos 5 picks up on this by alluding to Genesis 1 in saying that, for the wicked, “the Day of the Lord is darkness and not light,” and Malachi 4 likewise says that the Day of the Lord begins with “the rising the Sun of Righteousness,” something that enables Israel to judge the wicked. Thus, that Adam and Eve were hiding from God’s sight as He walked in the Spirit of the Day, tells us that they were trying to avoid the judgement that they knew was coming after God “rested,” i.e. was enthroned on the Day of the Lord, the Day of Judgement.
This is further confirmed by the book of Revelation, wherein we’re told:
‘Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.” (Revelation 14:13)
In the context of Revelation, Jesus has just ascended into the heavenly throne-room, thereby enabling the saints to follow Him there (see here and here for a detailed proof of that). This is why “from now on,” those who die in the Lord are able to “rest from their labor.” This is the unfolding of the prophecy of Daniel 12:12-13, wherein we’re told that on the Day of the Lord, the saints “will rest” and “receive [their] allotted inheritance.” We see the fulfillment of this in Revelation 20:1-6 when the saints ascend to heaven with Christ, but what do they do there? They sit on their “thrones” and “reign with Christ” during the millennium, thereby inheriting the earth by rendering judgements on it. This means that to rest from your labors, i.e. to enter into Sabbath rest, is to be enthroned on a judgement seat, which is why St. Paul says that “the saints shall judge the world” (1 Corinthians 6:2), and this is also why judgement in the Bible is very frequently linked to enthronement (see Psalm 9). If you need any more confirmation of this, remember above how prophet Isaiah said that the the Spirit will be put upon the Servant, thereby allowing Him to bring judgement to the nations, and then consider the famous messianic prophecy of Isaiah 11:
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him… In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.
Notice here that the Spirit is said to “rest” on the Servant, and this will allow Him to rally the nations around His glorious “resting place.” In the broader context of Isaiah, this is talking about the day in which the (Divine) Davidic King will be enthroned over the world, “judging between the nations” (cf. Isaiah 2:2-4). Thus, that the place around which the nations gather is a “resting place,” directly tells us that Sabbatical rest is about Divine enthronement and judgement.
With all of that understood, the meaning of the Sabbath Day comes into focus: After God was finished creating the world, He rested from His labors by taking a seat on His Divine throne, declaring Himself King over the creation and rendering judgements through the Spirit, thereby completing the work that began on the first day. Importantly, this reality was represented in the Tabernacle (and Temple), which had at its center “the Mercy Seat” on which God sat and reigned as King of Israel, and this seat had two angelic cherubim statues sitting on either side of the Lord (Exodus 25 cf. 1 Samuel 4), representing God’s actual throne-room in heaven that we see in Ezekiel 1, from which He rules the world (the words “Palace” and “Temple” are the same in Hebrew: the Palace of the King represented the Temple/Tabernacle of the Divine King). This is why the Lord says in Isaiah 66:1, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be?” Notice that God describes “the house” that Israel will build for Him (i.e. the Temple) as His “resting place,” that is, the place where God is enthroned in Sabbatical rest.
With all that in mind, let’s consider the Resurrection account given to us in John 20. As Brian Phillips has summarized excellently, the entirety of John’s Gospel is a literary walk through the Tabernacle. Not only does the Gospel explicitly tell us this at the beginning (“the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us”), but each section of the Gospel corresponds precisely to each section of the Tabernacle: ch. 1 describes the Table of Burnt Offerings, ch. 2-5 describe the Bronze Basin, ch. 6-7 describe the Table of Shewbread, ch. 8-13 describe the Lampstand Menorah, and ch. 18-19 describe Jesus as an innocent sacrifice, exactly what was needed for the High Priest’s approach to the Holy of Holies, which we finally encounter in ch. 20. When Mary Magdalene comes to the Tomb of Christ, what does she see? There were “two angels seated where Jesus’ body had been,” signifying that it is now Jesus who is enthroned in the Holy of Holies on the Mercy Seat, with two angels by His side. The significance of this cannot be overstated. Not only is this a direct identification of Jesus as YHWH, but consider this: Jesus is resurrected on “the first day of the week,” i.e. Sunday. This alone calls our minds back to the “first day” of creation, on which God said “let there be light.” This tells us that Christ’s Resurrection was the beginning of the New Creation, and this is confirmed by the fact that Jesus had a “spiritual body,” just like we will have when the fullness of the New Creation comes during the Final Judgement (1 Corinthians 15).
And not only does the Resurrection connect to the first day of creation, but it also connects to the Sabbath Day itself because remember, Jesus was enthroned in the Tomb, and this maps onto the Lord’s enthronement in the Tabernacle, which itself represented His enthronement over the world on the Sabbath. This is further confirmed by the fact that St. John, who represented the whole people of God (see here), was the first to arrive at the Tomb, but he waited for St. Peter, who would be the first to enter the Holy of Holies, before entering himself. As I’ve argued at length before, Jesus established St. Peter as the New Covenant’s High Priest (Bishop) in Matthew 16, thus him approaching the Lord’s Tomb first, followed by the beloved disciple, represents the fact that the Bishops are the first to approach the altar of the true Bread of Presence, the Eucharist, followed by the laity (remember that the Tomb is the Holy of Holies, and the “Body” of Jesus was laid on the Mercy Seat, which John 6 identifies as the true Eucharistic Bread of Presence). I bring this up because St. Peter, being the first Bishop, represented the entire episcopate, of which all of the Apostles were members (Matthew 18). This is significant because later in John 20, when Jesus appears to the Apostles, what does He say?
“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:21-23)
On the first day of the week, the day on which the New Covenant’s High Priest approaches the throne of God (the table of the Eucharist), Jesus breathes “the Spirit” on the Apostolic College, and tells them that they have the power to “forgive” and “retain” sins, i.e. the power to judge. This is tied back to Luke 22:29-30 when, at the Last Supper, Jesus tells the Apostles that they will “eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” So what we see is that, on Sunday, not only does Jesus re-create the world through His Resurrection from the dead, but He also judges the world by giving the Spirit to His Apostles, enthroning them with Himself, enabling them to carry out His judgement through the sacramental ministry that they have been given. In other words, Jesus has brought the world into its eighth day, its true Sabbath. This is why St. Paul describes the Eucharistic gathering in the following manner:
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. (1 Corinthians 11:27-32)
St. Paul patterns the reception of the Eucharist after the jealousy test of Numbers 5, when the wife suspected of adultery brings bread to God, drinks the divine presence (water mixed with Tabernacle dust) and is blessed or cursed depending on whether or not she had slept with another man. Likewise in the Eucharist, the Divine Bridegroom comes to inspect His Bride the Church, having us partake of the chalice either unto life eternal, or judgement and condemnation.
This means that the Eucharistic Liturgy IS the Day of the Lord on which God sits enthroned over the world with His sacramental ministers, and comes to inspect and judge His people in the Spirit (consider how the transformation of the Gifts takes place when the priest says “send down Thy Holy Spirit”). This makes perfect sense of why, in the New Testament and early Church, the Eucharistic “breaking of bread” takes place “on the first day of the week” (Acts 20:7 cf. 1 Corinthians 16:2, Didache 14, Letter of Barnabas 15:6–8, First Apology 67, Didascalia 2, and many more), and why St. John describes this day by saying “on the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit” (Revelation 1:10). Quite literally, St. John tells us he is in the Spirit (remember the connection between the Spirit and judgement) on THE DAY OF THE LORD. Thus, St. Ignatius of Antioch writes in the 2nd century:
[T]hose who were brought up in the ancient order of things [the Israelites] 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 and by his death. (Letter to the Magnesians 9)
Just as the Sabbath of old celebrated the Lord’s enthronement and judgement over creation, so too is the eschatological eighth day, the Lord’s Day, a celebration of the Lord Jesus’ enthronement and judgement over His New Creations, “for if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). This point is further solidified when we consider this: Jesus re-creates us through His Death and Resurrection, and the means by which we participate in this salvific work is through baptism: “In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” (Colossians 2:11-12). St. Paul identifies baptism, which is the means by which we become “new creations,” as the New Covenant’s circumcision, and in the Old Covenant, circumcision happened “on the eighth day” (Leviticus 12:3). This means that when we participate in the Resurrection of Jesus, the fruits of the New Creation, through baptism, this is indeed a participation in “the eighth day,” i.e. the eschaton (because the week only had seven days, there being an eighth day points beyond time).
Even the Lord Jesus Himself seems to allude to this when He says “If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath in order that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because I healed a man’s whole body on the Sabbath?” (John 7:23). Here, Jesus refers back to when He healed a man on the Sabbath, declaring Himself “Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8, Mark 2:28, Luke 6:5), and He compares this to the circumcision of infants that happens “on the eighth day.” Read in this light, the point seems clear: Jesus heals all men on the eighth day, the eschatological Sabbath that was inaugurated through His Resurrection from the dead, “on the first day of the week.” Thus, Sunday is not simply the New Sabbath, but it is the fullness of what the Sabbath was an image of: Sunday IS the eschatological Day of the Lord on which God judges the world from His throne, giving life to the righteous and condemnation to the wicked, the literal and perfect fulfillment of the Fourth Commandment. This is why we can say with St. Paul:
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17)
Excurses: The Eucharist and Confession
I just wanted to note the deep connection between the sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist that becomes evident from this reading of John 20 and 1 Corinthians 11. After St. Peter symbolically serves St. John at the Eucharistic Liturgy in Jesus’ Tomb, Jesus gives the Apostles the authority to “forgive” or “retain” sins. Clearly these two events are connected, and tradition has also tied forgiving and retaining sins to the “binding” and “loosing” of Matthew 16 and 18, which is given credence by my above cited article that argues for a liturgical reading of those passages. This all seems to imply that “forgiving” and “retaining” sins refers to the Apostles’ authority to determine who is allowed to the partake of the Eucharist, i.e. who is in the communion and fellowship of the Church, and who isn’t. This seems to be confirmed by St. Paul stating that “if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged” at the Eucharist. How do we judge ourselves? James 5:14-17 tells us that if one is sick, the elders of the Church are to pray over that person so that “his sins will be forgiven,” and immediately after this, St. James writes: “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” The word “therefore” implies continuity between the former and latter halves of the passage, telling us that the “others” to whom you should “confess your sins” in order to be “healed,” are “the elders” of the Church who heal the sick and forgive their sins, just as the Apostles were commissioned to do. When we confess our sins to the Church’s hierarchy, i.e. “judge ourselves,” we will be healed and permitted to enter the Eucharistic fellowship that is offered by that same hierarchy, an idea that has been believed since the very beginning of the Church’s history, with the Didache (4:14, 14:1) telling us, “Confess your sins in church, and do not go up to your prayer with an evil conscience… On the Lord’s Day gather together, break bread, and give thanks, after confessing your transgressions so that your sacrifice may be pure.”