He Is Risen—or “The Great Sabbath”?
I was reading a blog last week on an independent Adventist website. In it the author was exploring the day between Jesus’ death and resurrection, the day known in the Eastern Orthodox tradition as “The Great Sabbath”. In his opening paragraph the author observes,
“The poignancy of Sabbath is found when it allows for some emptying and emptiness. While celebrating God’s presence, we should also allow ourselves to feel something of His absence, even if only that as waiting ‘Adventists’ we are at the end of another week in which Jesus has not returned.”
Christians with no background in Adventism might find this blog’s ideas interesting. However, from my perspective of being raised from the womb with an Adventist worldview, then transitioning into biblical Christianity during mid-life, I understand both the underlying assumptions behind the blog as well as the reality of the new covenant. I also know both the spiritual arrogance and despair that drives the focus on “The Great Sabbath”.
Adventists have made the Sabbath of Passion Week the most important day of the weekend. According to Adventism, after dying Jesus “honored” the Sabbath, the day the rest of the world has “forgotten”, and by example taught us to honor the day as well. Sunday was the day Jesus did the hard work of coming to life; what nonsense to suppose the “work day” is the day we are to observe! Sabbath was sacred, even to Jesus, and even in His death—His absence—He honored its holiness, they say.
What Adventists do not acknowledge, however, is that while Jesus’ body was in the tomb, His spirit was with His Father, just as He said before He died: “Into Your hands I commit my spirit.” Not only that, but Jesus also told the thief who died next to Him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Despite the SDA arguments about English comma placement, the Greek text leaves no ambiguity; Jesus meant what the translations say: “Today you will be with me.”)
Moreover, Jesus was and is the second person of the Trinity; God did not cease to exist. There was no risk that the Trinity would ever be torn apart; Jesus was God, and there was never any doubt that He would succeed in His mission. As the Son of God, eternal, almighty God Himself, Jesus’ identity as God the Son did not cease to exist nor lie quiet in the tomb as Ellen White said. God the Son is eternal and has life in Himself. He was never missing, AWOL while the universe waited to see what would happen.
Jesus became sin—the thing God hates—and the Father turned away from the embodiment of sin that Jesus was as He hung on the cross. He was the curse that the law promised sinners. He experienced, as a man, the separation from God that is the natural consequence of sin.
For people to say, however, that the Sabbath—even the Sabbath before Easter—is a time to celebrate the absence of God is to completely miss what Jesus did by His death and resurrection.
The Sabbath Jesus spent in the tomb was part of His fulfillment, not His honoring, of the day. The Sabbath was His shadow (Col 2:16-17). When He came out of the tomb on Sunday morning, He shattered the curse of death and He became in that moment the Reality that Sabbath foreshadowed. He was the Substitute for humanity who destroyed the barrier that kept man from being intimate with God. He Himself became our Rest.
Adventists don’t generally understand that they are born spiritually dead or that they are under a curse and judged already (Jn. 3:18)—until the day they repent and believe in the Lord Jesus and His completed atonement for sin. However, when we believe in Jesus and His blood of the eternal covenant, we never have a time when God is absent. He will never leave us nor forsake us. He indwells us.
God’s absence is only for sin. Jesus became our sin, and when we receive His blood payment for our sin, we never will experience God’s absence. Ever.
We may have times when He seems silent, but His promise is true: He never leaves us. Instead of celebrating His “absence”, if we are believers we are to act on the reality of His promise to us: He is with us; He will never leave.
This year, are you celebrating the omnipresent, risen Christ, or are you honoring The Great Sabbath and the absence of God?
He is risen!