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Covenants and Signs

There appears to be a pattern of covenants and signs in Scripture that would cause the
Sabbath, established by God's resting, blessing, and sanctifying of the seventh day, after
the creation of mankind (Gen. 2:3), to have no significance for mankind in general,
contrary to Jesus' words (Mark 2:27). The reader is invited to prayerfully consider the
evidence of Scripture on this important subject and let the Spirit bring the testimony of
the Word home to the heart.

1. Does the arrival of a later covenant mean that the earlier covenant ceased to have
further significance? No, we still take comfort in the sign of God's covenant with
"all flesh," which was announced to Noah and his family. The rainbow still
reminds us God will not destroy the earth by a flood. Neither the covenant, nor
the sign of that covenant came to an end at the time that God made a more
specific covenant with Abraham. The sign of the rainbow was attached to the
covenant. "This is the sign of the covenant." Gen 9:12 (NKJV). That the advent
of a new covenant means all previous covenants are null and void is an
assumption not based on Scripture.
2. Does the arrival of a later covenant mean the sign of the previous covenant is no
longer valid? No, the arrival of the covenant on Sinai did not signal the end of
circumcision, otherwise it would not have been a matter of controversy in the
early church and there would be no need for the council in Acts 15. As in the
covenant made with all flesh in Genesis 9, the sign of the covenant with Abraham
was attached to the covenant God made with him. "You shall be circumcised in
the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me
and you" (NKJV). That a sign introduced within one covenant must pass away
with the coming of another is an assumption not based on Scripture.
3. When the requirement of circumcision was waved for Gentile believers, did that
mean that Christians are no longer to keep God's commandments? It is true that
being "of Christ" and "circumcision of the heart" are what makes a person a
real Jew (Rom. 2:28-29). While acknowledging the passing nature of
circumcision, Paul affirms the necessity of "keeping of the commandments of
God" (1 Cor. 7:19). What are these commandments? He identifies what He
considers commandments of God in Rom. 7:7, 12; 15:9; and Eph. 6:2. His
traveling companion, Doctor Luke, in his treatise to the Gentile convert
Theophilus, adds one more "commandment" that had significance some thirty
years after the crucifixion, and which was listed without explanationresting on
the Sabbath (Luke 23:56). Isaiah 56:4-7 speaks of the Gentile who enters God's
covenant as keeping "my sabbaths," that is, the "sabbath of the LORD God" (Exo.
20:8). The waving of circumcision as a sign for Gentile believers did not negate
the necessity of keeping God's commandments.
4. Does God designate the Sabbath as the sign of His covenant with Israel on Sinai?
Exo. 31:12-13 does not call the Sabbath the sign of the covenant made on Sinai.
Rather it declares it a sign of sanctification between the LORD God and His
people. "Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you
throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies
you." (See also Eze. 20:12. Verse 20 adds "that ye may know that I am the LORD
thy God." The Sabbath distinguishes God's people from those who worship "the
gods that have not made the heavens and the earth" (Jer. 10:10-12). Notice also
that they are to keep HIS Sabbaths. The Sabbath doesn't belong to human beings.
It is God's, as He says in Isaiah 58:13"My holy day." After Gen. 17:11, there is
no verse in Scripture that connects a "sign" (or "token" KJV) with a covenant.
While the Sabbath is indeed a sign (Exo. 31:17) and a covenant itself (Exo. 31:16)
between God and His people, it is never designated the sign of the covenant given
Israel on Sinai.
5. Did Jesus say that the raising of the temple in three days was the sign of the new
covenant? John 2:18-22. Jesus' response about the "sign" of His rising on the third
day was in response to the demand of "an evil generation" that Jesus provide a
sign to prove He was the Messiah. Mat. 12:38, 39; 16:1-4; Mark 8:11, 12; Luke
11:16-28, 29-30. The "sign" of the new covenant (though the term is not used), is
baptism since Paul points out that the uncircumcised Gentiles of Colossae were
buried with Christ in baptism.
6. What laws are to be written in the fleshy tables of the heart in the new
covenant? Heb. 8:10-12 outlines the three parts of the new covenant. (1) God's
laws written in the heart and mind; (2) knowing the Lord; (3) forgiveness of
iniquity and sins. Which laws (plural) are these? What laws formed the covenant
that Israel did not keep? Heb. 8:10; 10:16 is the fulfillment of Jer. 31:33-34.
Israel knew what law this was. Exo. 34:28 and Deut. 4:13 specifically point to
the Ten Commandments as the covenant. To these ten fundamentals, "He added
no more" (Deut. 5:22). Does Hebrews 8 give us any reason to believe that the
new covenant will have different laws for the Spirit to write in believers' hearts
and minds? Remember, God didn't find fault with His laws, but "with them"
(Heb. 8:8). In Romans 7:12, Paul says the law is "spiritual" and "holy," and he
says the commandment against coveting is "holy, just, and good" (Rom. 7:14;
12). In other words, its requirements are fair and right. They were "ordained to
life" and intended for man's good (Rom. 7:10, 13). What was the law that Paul
delighted in, after the inward man, and described as being in his mind, though
he does not describe it as being written in his heart (Rom. 7:22, 25)? Does Paul
consider the "law of God" to be a "law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:2)? No, the
law of "sin and death" is the law of his members"in his flesh"not the law of
his mind (Rom. 7:18, 23). By the law of sin and death, the writing in tables of
stone was turned into a "ministration of death" and "condemnation" (2 Cor. 3:7-
9; Rom. 7:13). However, through Christ there is no condemnation (Rom. 8:1)
and the "ministration of the Spirit," writing God's laws in the "fleshy tables of
the heart" (2 Cor. 3:3), allows "the righteousness of the law" to be fulfilled
"in"and not just "for"us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit
(Rom. 8:1, 4). The Spirit is well able to write in the heart God's ten precepts for
our relationships with God and manincluding the one that calls for taking
weekly sacred time with our Creator.
7. When was the rest described in Hebrews 3 and 4 available? Heb. 4:3-10 says the
children of Israel would not enter His rest because of unbelief (Heb. 4:6); it says
David described the rest in his day (Heb. 4:7). God's rest for the soul was
available in Jeremiah's day. "Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see,
and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall
find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein" (Jer. 6:16, KJV).
There is no conflict between this rest and the seventh-day Sabbath rest. The
mention of God's rest on the seventh day in Heb. 4:4 is to explain the last phrase
in Heb. 4:3 "although the works were finished from the foundation of the world."
It is not to contrast the Sabbath with the rest of "today." The "certain day" of
"today" that remains is in contrast with the "provocation" or "day of temptation"
(Heb. 3:8, 15). If Heb. 4:9, 10 is using the cessation of labor on the Sabbath to
describe the rest of faith, it does not merely say we are to rest in the grace of
Christ, but we are to cease from our works (literally, the labor of one's hands) as
God did from His. (The literal meaning of sabbatismos in Hebrews 4:9 is "an
observance of sabbath." God says, "There remains an observance of Sabbath to
the people of God.") God's rest for the soul has always been available.
8. Does Scripture tell us that Jesus has become our eternal Sabbath? Paul plainly calls
Christ "our passover" (1 Cor. 5:7). Yet, he doesn't call Christ "our sabbath."
"Better" is the watchword in Hebrews for the New Covenant of grace. The ministry
of Jesus is better than that of the angels (1:4). The hope that Jesus brings is better
than that of the law (7:19). Jesus is the surety of a better testament (7:22). He is the
mediator of a better covenant established on better promises (8:6) with better
sacrifices (9:23), a better heavenly reward in a better heavenly country (10:34, 35;
11:16), a better resurrection (11:35), and many other better things (11:40; 12:24).
Yet, there is nothing in Hebrews about a "better sabbath" and nothing in Hebrews
that would tell the people of God that they are to abandon the seventh-day Sabbath
in favor of a first-day memorial to the resurrection. We do have rest to our souls in
Christ, but that doesn't mean we need not rest and assemble on the day God claims
as His and which He made "for man."
9. Is there anything in Romans 14 that points to "worship," "commandments," "the
Sabbath," or the sacredness of a day? No. "More sacred" is added into the NIV, but
is not in the Greek text. If "esteem" is to be rendered "considers more sacred," then
it should also be rendered "considers sacred" for the person "esteems" all days
alike, meaning that he "considers all days sacred." This makes no consistent sense.
If all days are sacred, then no day is sacred. In this matter of "doubtful disputation"
(Rom. 14:1), Paul takes no sides. He doesn't say the man who esteems a particular
day is wrong. (For what purpose the man esteems the day, Paul doesn't say except
that Paul connects the regarding of a day with eating or not eating in verse 6.) Paul
doesn't say the man who esteems all days alike is right. If Paul were advocating that
each person pick his or her own day for worship, study, and assembly, he would be
creating a conflict with Heb. 10:25, which exhorts believers not to forsake their
assembling "together" and introducing great confusion into the fledgling church. If
there is no particular day for assembly, how do they assemble together? If they
assemble on all days alike, when do they work to support their families as Paul
admonishes believers to do in 2 Thes. 3:10? The evidence in the text reveals that
Romans 14 is not a comment on giving other believers freedom to worship on
Saturday or Sunday according to their own preference, but on giving freedom in
matters of personal preference.
10. What is the last word from God on worshipping Him as Creator of heaven and
earth and on keeping of the commandments of God? On worshipping Him as
Creator, see Rev. 4:11; 14:6. On keeping the commandments of God Rev. 12:17;
14:12; 22:14.
*
The Revelation of Jesus Christ makes it clear that God has not
changed His mind about His expectations for His people. Not only do we worship
Jesus as the risen Lord (Rev. 5:9), but we are to worship Him as Creator and keep
the commandments. The intersection of worship and keeping the commandments,
as required by Revelation for the remnant, is the Sabbath, the day of
remembrance, set aside at the creation of the world.

*
When quoting Rev. 22:14, the earliest Church Fathers quote "do His commandments." These include
Tertullian (AD 200), Cyprian (AD 248-258), and Tertonius (AD 390). The first Church Father to quote Rev.
22:14 as "wash their robes" was Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria in the fourth century (AD 326-373).