God finished his work of creation on the sixth day. On the seventh day He ceased from working. (Gen. 1) This question comes to mind when the Genesis creation account is read: Why is God ceasing from his labor significant? I would suggest that this “resting” of God is meant to point forward to something greater that God has in store for his people. We will find rest through Christ and we can rest in his finished cross work.
The idea of rest shows up most prominently in the fourth of the ten commandments: Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. The seventh day was a holy day. No work was to be completed on that day because God himself had ceased from labor on the seventh day. The Mosaic law continues with the idea of rest on “sevens” throughout. Each seventh year, the land was not to be worked. The Israelites were commanded to let the land rest. The question inevitably comes to mind: Why is it that God wants the seventh day to be remembered?
The pattern of work followed by rest is picked up by the Old Testament prophets. When pronouncing judgment upon Israel, the prophets connected the absence of sin with the Sabbath. The land itself would experience a “Sabbath” from sin when the Israelites went into exile. This connection between Sabbath, purity, rest, and relationship becomes a theme in the New Testament.
Jesus shows up on the scene proclaiming to be the “Lord of the Sabbath” (Luke 6). He is the one who calls all to rest (Matt. 11). He heals on the Sabbath thus showing a connection between spiritual renewal and the Sabbath. A.G. Shead says it this way: “In all three Synoptics, the subsequent miracle is an example of what Jesus’ lordship of the Sabbath will mean in practice: people delivered from the shadow of death and restored into the unblemished image of God.“
It is little wonder then that the Hebrew writer speaks of our future glory as a “Sabbath rest.” The Lord of the Sabbath gives us Sabbath rest. We cease from our labors, we are redeemed from the burden of sin, we find rest for our souls, and we get back to the original activity that took place in the garden on the seventh day: We glorify God and enjoy him forever. We have Sabbath rest in him.