The “Change” of the Law
Central to our understanding of last-day events is the question of the law of God. More specifically, it is the question of the fourth commandment, the seventh-day Sabbath. Although we understand that salvation is by faith alone and that keeping the law, including the Sabbath, can never bring salvation, we also understand that in the last days, obedience to God’s law, including the seventh-day Sabbath, will be an outward sign, a mark, of where our true allegiance lies.
This distinction will become especially obvious amid the climactic end-time events depicted in Revelation 13 and 14, when an all-powerful conglomeration of religious and political forces will unite to enforce a false form of worship upon the inhabitants of the world. All this is in contrast to Revelation 14:7, where God’s people are called to “worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water” (NKJV); that is, to worship only the Creator and no one else.
This week we will look at the law of God, especially the Sabbath, and we will touch on issues surrounding the attempted change of that law and what it means for us, upon whom the end is soon to come.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, May 12.
One of the greatest promises in the Bible is found in Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (NKJV). These words come as a “capstone,” or a culmination of the train of thought that came right before. Only by studying what Paul talked about just preceding this verse can we better grasp the hope and promise found in it.
Although great debate has existed in Christendom over whether or not Paul was talking specifically about himself as a believer here, one thing is clear: Paul is, indeed, talking about the reality of sin. Everyone, even Christians, can relate in some way to the struggle that Paul refers to here. Who hasn’t felt the pull of the flesh and of the “sin that dwells in” (Rom. 7:17, NKJV) them, which causes them to do what they know they should not do, or not to do what they know they should? For Paul, the problem isn’t the law; the problem is our flesh.
Who hasn’t found himself or herself wanting to do what is right but doing what is wrong? Even if Paul is not talking about the inevitability of sin in the life of a born-again Christian here, he certainly is making a strong case for the ever-present struggle facing anyone who seeks to obey God.
So, he comes to the famous words: “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24, NKJV). His answer is found in Jesus, and in the great promise of “no condemnation” for the believer in Jesus who, by grace, walks according to the spirit. Yes, believers struggle; yes, they face temptations; yes, sin is real. But by faith in Jesus, those who believe are no longer condemned by the law; indeed, they obey it. Thus, they learn to walk in the spirit and not “according to the flesh.”
In yesterday’s study we looked at verses (Rom. 7:15–25) that talked about the reality of sin for everyone, even Christians. However, in the verses before these, Paul points to the law, which shows just how prevalent sin is, and how deadly.
Two crucial points come from what Paul teaches here. First, he shows that the law is not the problem. The law is “holy, and just, and good.” The problem is sin, which leads to death. The other point is that the law is powerless to save us from sin and death. The law points out the problem of sin and death; if anything, the law makes the problem of sin and death even more apparent, but it offers nothing by way of solving the problem. Only a superficial reader could use these verses to argue that the law, the Ten Commandments, has been nullified. That’s the opposite of Paul’s point. Nothing Paul writes here makes sense if the law were nullified. His argument functions on the assumption that the law is still binding, because it’s the law that points out the reality of sin and the resulting need of the gospel. “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, ‘You shall not covet’ ” (Rom. 7:7, NKJV).
Read Romans 7:13 carefully. What is Paul saying not only about the law but about why it’s still necessary?
The law does not produce death; sin does. The law is what shows just how deadly sin is. The law is good in that it points to sin. It just has no answer for it. Only the gospel does. Paul’s point is that as Christians, as those who are saved in Christ, we need to serve in the “newness of the Spirit” (Rom. 7:6, NKJV); that is, we live in a faith relationship with Jesus, trusting in His merits and His righteousness for salvation (the theme of so much of what came before in Romans).
As Seventh-day Adventists we often hear fellow Christian brothers and sisters in other denominations argue that the law has been done away with, or that we are not under law but under grace. What they are really saying, however, is that only the fourth commandment has been done away with. Many, though, are not saying even that. They are saying instead that the seventh-day Sabbath has been replaced by the first day, Sunday, in honor of the resurrection of Jesus.
And they believe they have the texts to prove it, too.
Below are some of the common texts in the New Testament that many Christians believe indicate the Sabbath was changed from the seventh day in the Old Testament to the first day in the New Testament. As we read them, we need to ask ourselves if they truly talk about a change of the day, or are they merely describing events that happened on the day, but without rising to the level of prescribing a change?
Here is the essence of the textual “evidence” used to promote the doctrine that the first day of the week superseded the seventh-day Sabbath. Outside of describing a few times when, for various reasons, believers were gathered, not one text indicates that these gatherings were worship services held on the first day as a replacement for the seventh-day Sabbath. This argument is merely reading back into the texts the centuries-long Christian tradition of Sunday keeping. It is putting something into these verses that was never there to begin with.
As we saw yesterday, the texts commonly used to promote the idea that Sunday replaced the Sabbath say no such thing. In fact, every reference to the seventh-day Sabbath in the New Testament reveals that it was still being kept as one of God’s Ten Commandments.
Notice how the women, who had been with Christ, “rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment” (Luke 23:56, NKJV). Obviously, the commandment was the fourth commandment, written in stone at Sinai. There is no indication that they had learned in their time with Him anything other than the keeping of the commandments of God, which included the Sabbath commandment. In fact, Christ told His disciples, “ ‘If you love Me, keep My commandments’ ” (John 14:15, NKJV), which He Himself kept, and which included the seventhday Sabbath. If Sunday were to be a replacement for the Sabbath, these women knew nothing about it.
We find in these texts no evidence of a change of the Sabbath day to Sunday. Instead they point clearly to the practice among early believers in Jesus of keeping the seventh-day Sabbath.
Acts 16:13 is especially interesting because it occurs outside of the context of the synagogue. The believers were meeting by the side of a river where some “customarily” (NKJV) went to pray. And they did so on the seventh-day Sabbath, many years after the death of Jesus, too. If a change to Sunday had occurred, nothing in these texts indicates it.
God’s law, the Ten Commandments, is still binding (see James 2:10– 12), and that law includes the seventh-day Sabbath. Why, then, do so many Christians keep Sunday when there is no biblical justification for it? Daniel 7 talks about the rise of four great empires: Babylon, Media- Persia, Greece, and then Rome, the fourth and final earthly empire. In a latter stage of the Roman Empire, a little horn power is depicted as coming up out of this empire (Dan. 7:8). It is still a part of the Roman Empire, just a later phase of it. What else could this power be but the papacy, which arose directly out of Rome and, to this day, is still part of it? Wrote Thomas Hobbes in the 1600s: “If a man consider the original of this great ecclesiastical dominion, he will easily perceive, that the Papacy, is no other than the ghost of the deceased Roman empire, sitting crowned upon the grave thereof.”—Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 463.
Aramaic, the original language, shows in verse 25 that the little horn power “intend[ed]” (NKJV) to change the law. What earthly power can, indeed, actually change God’s law?
Although exact details are blurred in history, we do know that under papal Rome the seventh-day Sabbath was replaced by the tradition of Sunday keeping, a tradition so firmly entrenched that the Protestant Reformation kept that tradition alive, even into the twenty-first century. Today most Protestants still keep the first day of the week, rather than following the biblical command for the seventh day.
Using imagery directly from Daniel, which included imagery about the latter (papal) phase of Rome, the book of Revelation points to endtime persecution that will be unleashed on those who refuse to “worship” according to the dictates of the powers seen in the book of Revelation.
Further Thought: The same dragon, Satan, who made war against God in heaven (Rev. 12:7), is the one who makes war with God’s people on earth, those who “keep the commandments of God” (Rev. 12:17; see also 13:2, 4). In fact, Satan himself becomes an object of worship, too (Rev. 13:4). So, Satan started the war against God in heaven, and he seeks to continue it here on earth. And central to his attack on God is his attack on God’s law.
“In the fourth commandment, God is revealed as the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and is thereby distinguished from all false gods. It was as a memorial of the work of creation that the seventh day was sanctified as a rest day for man. It was designed to keep the living God ever before the minds of men as the source of being and the object of reverence and worship. Satan strives to turn men from their allegiance to God, and from rendering obedience to His law; therefore he directs his efforts especially against that commandment which points to God as the Creator.”—Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, pp. 53, 54. We worship the Lord because He is the Creator of “the heavens and the earth,” and the seventh-day Sabbath is the foundational sign of His creatorship, a sign that goes back to the Creation week itself (see Gen. 2:1–3). No wonder that in his attack on God’s authority Satan goes after the premier, fundamental sign of that authority: the seventh-day Sabbath.
In the last days, God will have upon the earth people who will stay firm and steadfast in their allegiance to Him, an allegiance manifested in their obedience to His commandments—all of them, including the only one that specifically points to the Lord as the Creator, who alone is worthy of our worship.