Janus was the god of beginnings and transitions in the ancient Roman pantheon. Most often, he is depicted as having two faces on his head, facing opposite directions: one face looks into the future the other into the past. So, what do Janus and the Sabbath have to do with one another? Well, nothing really, but then again the Sabbath does function as a Janus, looking to the past and the creation in the Garden of Eden and to the future and the new creation.
For instance, the future grounded the Fourth Commandment in Deuteronomy 5:12–15. The Sabbath in Deuteronomy looks to the future as it appeals to redemption (from Egypt). It is important to understand that Deuteronomy’s context presumes sin, bondage, and lack of true rest as Israel remembers their slavery. While they were not free from sin and bondage, they looked to a future deliverer to come. Deuteronomy points forward to the resurrection and ultimate rest in Christ (Acts 1:6; 3:17–26; Heb. 4:1–13). The Sabbath then functions as a sign of the resurrected Messiah. It was a sign of one who would fulfill the covenant of works to obtain and restore rest by his perfect life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Colossians 2:17 explains how the Old Testament promises were fulfilled in Christ, “ These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” Christians now have the substance of Deuteronomy 5. Therefore, instead of looking forward like Israel before the cross, we now look back to the resurrection that followed the cross. The Old Testament fathers participated in the “shadow of the things to come,” which nurtured their hope in the future reality as they longed for the coming King of Kings. Our King has come and conquered sin, death, and the devil to release us from bondage. So, look to that release from bondage and find rest.
Does this mean then that there is no longer a Sabbath here on earth? No, there remains a Sabbath rest for God’s pilgrims, because the Sabbath also looks back to creation. The Fourth Commandment in Exodus 20:11 looks to the past at creation to ground the Sabbath (see later post). Men are still sabbatical creatures called to image a God who worked and rested. We too are to work and rest just like our sabbatical Creator in whose image we are made. All men therefore must obey creational law (i.e. Ex. 20:11).
The Sabbath as a Janus still looks to the past. Christians on this side of the cross do a double take back. We look to creation to ground the Sabbath and we look to the cross. So, does the Sabbath still function as a Janus for the New Testament believer? Yes, for after looking backwards, we also look forward for the Sabbath to come and the consummation of all things—the new heaven and earth and our resurrected bodies.
This Sunday, we will rest on the Lord’s Day letting the Holy Spirit renew us into the image of the Son (Rom. 8:29). This Sunday, we will rest on the Lord’s Day to become more and more like Christ. This Sunday, Lord willing, we will rest knowing that God’s work will not be complete in this life, so we will continue to look forward reminded by the gospel that we do not work to rest. We have rest in the Grace of Christ, so we have restful peace on the Sabbath. We rest to love God and neighbor the other six days a week. Heidelberg 103 therefore speaks of God’s sanctifying work on the Sabbath as he renews believers after his Son’s image,
In the second place, that all the days of my life I rest from my evil works, allow the Lord to work in me by his Spirit, and thus begin in this life the everlasting Sabbath.
I assume a Sunday Sabbath for the Christian. Those who oppose Sunday argue it is a human ordinance, and not a divine command. The Reformed church follows not just explicit commands, but the pattern set by Christ and the Apostles (Acts 20:7 breaking break on the first day of the week; 1 Cor. 16:1 setting aside offerings on the first day of the week; Rev. 1:10 calls the first day, the “Lord’s Day”).