What role will the Sabbath play in the “last days?” Does the book of Revelation really predict that the biblical day of worship will be a hot issue in the “end time?” Is there a connection between the Sabbath and the “mark of the beast?”
In order to find satisfactory answers to questions like these, it is helpful to look at the Sabbath in the setting of the conflict between God and Satan.
Let’s start at the beginning of the story of the Sabbath. Note these foundational points:
» The seventh day – the day the Fourth Commandment calls “Sabbath” – was originally linked to a cosmic event: Creation. From its very beginning it was unmistakably identified with the Creator (Genesis 2:2-3; Exodus 20:10-11).
» The Creator’s reason for establishing the weekly day of rest was not because of weariness or fatigue (Isaiah 40:28), but to mark the completion of His perfect work (Genesis 2:2-3; Exodus 20:11).
» The Creator is none other than the Son of God (Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:1, 2). As the incarnate Christ He declared Himself “Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28).
That’s the way it was, in the beginning. As the pivot point of the divinely ordained weekly cycle, the Sabbath is a perpetually recurring tribute to the Son of God, the Creator. This marks the Sabbath as a crucial point of contention in the spiritual conflict that has been raging since before the origin of life on this planet.
Let’s focus on that conflict as it is revealed in the early chapters of Genesis:
» God, through His Son (see above), creates a perfect world and gives it to Adam and Eve.
» Satan wants to set up his own kingdom, make himself the god of this world, and subject the human race to his rule. He successfully tempts Eve, causing her to doubt the goodness of her Creator and to distrust His word – fatally altering her relationship with the Creator.
» Eve’s actions, and her husband’s complicity, drive a wedge of fear, guilt, and mistrust between human beings and their Maker. It brings the curse of sin upon the earth in general and the human race in particular. That curse dooms mankind to a life of sweat and toil (Genesis 3:17-19) – a life that will end in death.
» While this early chapter of the story seems to end with a victory for Satan, the Creator did not surrender the human family to the control of His enemy. Even while formally pronouncing sentence upon the fallen race, He offers the promise of eventual salvation (Genesis 3:15).
The Creator left the Sabbath in place as a divine outpost in human time, a sacred enclave in the territory Satan claimed as his. It marked the cadence of life, providing a weekly respite from labor – a day of release from the temporal curse of sin. The post-Fall Sabbath would be a sacred place in time where man could commune with his Creator undistracted by the mundane demands of life.
The very existence of the Sabbath is a challenge to the aims and claims of Satan. As long as the Sabbath calls mankind to recognition of the Creator, and as long as it provides a point of contact between God and man – fostering the divine-human relationship – it remains a bastion of resistance against Satan’s rule.
When God delivered the children of Israel from bondage in Egypt He added another dimension to the meaning of the Sabbath. While Exodus 20 presents the Sabbath in Creation terms, Deuteronomy 5 employs the language of deliverance.
For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy (Exodus 20:11).
And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:15).
Another dimension is added in Exodus 31 and Ezekiel 20, where the Sabbath is presented as a token of God’s work in the sanctification of His people.
But as for you, speak to the sons of Israel, saying, 'You shall surely observe My sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you (Exodus 31:13).
And also I gave them My sabbaths to be a sign between Me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them (Ezekiel 20:12).
Threatened by this three-dimensional significance of the Sabbath (Creation, Deliverance and Sanctification), Satan has launched numerous direct attacks against God’s holy day, including:
» replacing the true Sabbath with pagan sabbaths in honor of false gods;
» substituting the first day of the week for the seventh day as the “Christian Sabbath” or “Lord’s Day;”
» creating confusion over which day of the week is truly the Sabbath;
» encouraging the view that the Sabbath is an ethnic Jewish institution;
» negating the role of the Ten Commandments as the essential moral compass for the human race;
» fostering an attitude of carelessness and forgetfulness toward Sabbath keeping;
» prompting the development of various theories of Evolution that break the Sabbath-Creation connection and lead to the rejection of the Sabbath as a memorial of God’s completed work as Creator;
» advancing the popular notion that sinners can somehow save themselves by making their good deeds outweigh their sins, thus robbing the Sabbath of its significance as a reminder of God’s essential work as Deliverer;
» promoting the idea that man can achieve holiness by his own efforts or through a process of evolution, repudiating the Sabbath symbolism of reliance upon the God who sanctifies.
These indirect measures, where successful, strip the Sabbath of its spiritual substance and turn it into a dry religious obligation – a mere custom devoid of spiritual meaning or value.
The book of Revelation portrays an intensifying focus on Sabbath-related issues in the build-up to climactic end-time events.
And the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple… (Revelation 11:19).
The “ark of the covenant” contains the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 10:3-5; Hebrews 9:4).
This scene introduces a vivid portrayal of the great controversy between Christ and Satan – and the climactic judgment of mankind (see Revelation 12-14). The appearance of the “ark of the covenant” brings the Law of God, including the Sabbath commandment, into the prophetic foreground.
Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters (Revelation 14:7).
This angelic pronouncement goes forth when “the hour of His [God’s] judgment has come.” Thus it is near the end of the prophetic timeline.
This is a call to the worship of the Creator and is linguistically linked to the Fourth Commandment. The biblically prescribed form of Creator worship is to "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Exodus 20:8).
And there was given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast might even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed. And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand, or on their forehead (Revelation 13:15-16).
These verses are part of the notorious “mark of the beast” scenario that depicts in graphic terms the end-time activity of satanic, anti-God forces.
Pictured here is an attack against true religion; the enemy attempts to force a system of false worship upon “the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves.”
An attack like this clearly targets the Sabbath, bulwark of true Creator worship.
A comparison of Revelation 13 with the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14:6-11 leaves no doubt about the nature of the end-time crisis. Chapter 13 depicts a worldwide religious movement demanding worship of the beast and his image; chapter 14 depicts a worldwide movement inviting people back to the worship of their Creator.
Worship is a sign of loyalty and allegiance, but, on a deeper level, it is an expression of faith. So the crisis is spiritual in nature – a matter of the heart.
» The demand, under threat of death, for acquiescence to a counterfeit religious system goes against the very heart of the relationship between God and those who love and worship Him.
» Yielding to the threats and intimidation of “the beast” is, in essence, a turning away from the kind of faith and reliance on God that gives the Sabbath its real meaning; it is a denial of the claims of the Creator and a rejection of His power to save.
Revelation 13:15-16 pictures Satan’s last desperate effort against the Sabbath, his final thrust against that temporal territory within human time that God continues to claim as His.
When we look at the conflict between God and Satan on the personal level – which is really what’s most important for you and me – it’s clear that if Satan cannot claim that Sabbath territory in our lives as his own he can never claim us as subjects of his kingdom.
(For a more thorough treatment of Revelation 12 and 13, see our article on "The Sabbath and the Mark of the Beast.")