Is the Sabbath a “shadow”?

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Is the Sabbath a “shadow”? A recent BA article said it was.

A shadow is a shaded image cast by light rays striking a body or object. In biblical study, the words type and shadow can refer to a person, event, or item that serves as a pattern, preview, or lesser image of a later, greater person, event, or item in Scripture. Isaac, Joseph, and Moses were types of Christ. Israel’s exodus from Egypt foreshadowed our Christian freedom from sin-slavery through Jesus’ death and resurrection. And Israel’s tabernacle in the wilderness was a copy of heavenly things, according to Hebrews 9:24. The word shadow in this sense occurs three times in the King James Version.

In the “Day of Grace” article (May-June 2018 BA), the word shadow was used to describe the seventh-day Sabbath’s relation to the eternal kingdom of God, to be realized when Christ comes again and defeats all His enemies. That the Bible’s weekly Sabbath is a true prefigure, an accurate shadow, of God’s kingdom to come is seen in these comparisons of the two: 1) Both are times of rest and peace, when the labors, cares, and conflicts of this life are laid aside (Genesis 2:2, 3; Hebrews 4:1-11; Revelation 21, 22). 2) Both are God’s good gifts received and celebrated by faith, not by the works of those who receive them (Exodus 20:9, 10; Mark 2:27; Romans 6:23). 3) Instead of legalistic limitations on humans, both are times of unbounded pleasure and delight as we focus on God in Christ and on His people joined by the Spirit’s love, joy, and peace (Isaiah 35:10; 58:13, 14). And 4) Both the Sabbath and God’s kingdom are holy items of high value. Our desire to keep Sabbath holy (i.e., separate from other days), according to God’s command, points to ultimate wholeness in body, mind, and spirit of all God’s saints in His eternal kingdom to come (Exodus 20:8; Revelation 21:4, 27).

In the Bible’s pattern and in God’s economy, the lesser is blest of the greater and is the shadow of the greater, not vice versa. As wonderful and blest as the seventh day is for those who receive it by faith, this progression from lesser to greater in biblical typology is also true of the weekly rest day. Sabbath is, in many ways, only a preview — a foretaste — of the best in human experience yet to come in God’s kingdom.

Similarly, consider the typical relationship of human marriage, with its heavenly reality to which the shadow points: the marriage of Jesus Christ with His bride, the church (Ephesians 5:22-33, esp. v. 32; Revelation 19:7-9). The exceeding, eternal greatness of the latter marriage does not abolish or diminish the reality and value of today’s temporal marriage, still rightly practiced by God’s people and blest this side of Christ’s return for His bride.

This shared symbolism of two God-given human institutions dating from creation week — Sabbath and marriage — reminds us how those marvelous beginnings (Genesis 1, 2) anticipate an even more marvelous end with its marriage supper of the Lamb and its eternal Sabbath rest in God’s kingdom (Revelation 19-22). It is no insult but high honor indeed to speak of the former institutions as copies, shadows, and types of the latter. We value and delight in the weekly Sabbath indeed. And we pray even more earnestly, “Come, Lord Jesus. Rule and reign forever with our Father in that eternal Sabbath of righteousness and peace!”

— Elder Calvin Burrell

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Calvin Burrell is former editor of the Bible Advocate and director of G. C. Missions. He retired in 2015 and lives with his wife, Barb, in Stayton, OR. They attend church in Marion, OR.