The Sabbath as ‘Transhistorical and Eschatological Paradigm’


Geerhardus Vos:

The Sabbath as ‘Transhistorical and Eschatological Paradigm’

Taken from The Family Tree of Reformed Biblical Theology, 206-07



Probably the greatest reason why Vos gives so much attention to the fourth commandment is due to its eschatological function. Dennison comments, “…the fourth precept is an idealizing of a transhistorical and eschatological paradigm.”[1] Vos says:


Before all other important things, therefore, the Sabbath is an expression of the eschatological principle on which the life of humanity has been constructed. There is to be to the world-process a finale, as there was an overture, and these two belong inseparably together. To give up the one means to give up the other, and to give up either means to abandon the fundamental scheme of Biblical history. Even among Jewish teachers this profound meaning of the Sabbath was not entirely unknown. One of them, being asked what the world to come would be like, answered that it would resemble the Sabbath. In the law, it is true, this thought is not developed further than is done in the primordial statement about God’s resting on the seventh day and hallowing it. For the rest, the institution, after having been re-enforced in the Decalogue, is left to speak for itself, as is the case with most institutions of the law. The Epistle to the Hebrews has given us a philosophy of the Sabbath on the largest of scales, partly in dependence on Psa. 95 [Heb. 3, 4].[2]


The weekly Sabbath is symbolic and typical of “the eschatological structure of history.”[3] Life is not aimless; it has a goal beyond it. The successful probation of the covenant of works would have brought the sacramental Sabbath “into the reality it typified, and the entire subsequent course of the history of the race would have been radically different.”[4] The theocracy is a typical and “temporary ‘mirror’ of an eschatological and permanent state, i.e., holiness to the Lord in the arena of the perfect and eternal Sabbath.”[5] “[T]he Sabbath principle and the theocratic era both contain and point to something beyond themselves–a heavenly theocracy and an everlasting Sabbath rest.”[6] The theocracy functions as a recapitulation of the symbolic and typological pre-redemptive revelation and the covenant of works in the Garden of Eden. The Christian Lord’s Day, the first day of the week,[7] is both a looking back to the resurrection as the accomplishment of redemption (i.e., “[t]he new exodus in the eschatological lamb of God”[8]) and “a sign looking forward to the final eschatological rest.”[9] “Weekly sabbatizing is a mirror imaging of eschatological sabbatizing.”[10] Though the theocracy was a temporary institution, its antitype being the church (ultimately in glory), the weekly Sabbath remains with the people of God until its antitype, the eternal state, comes in its fullness.[11] “Our weekly Sabbath now is a reflection of our resurrection union with him who has entered perfectly into his rest–and waits to welcome us to a consummate everlasting Sabbath.”[12]


[1] Dennison, “Vos on the Sabbath,” 62.

[2] Vos, BTV, 140.

[3] Vos, BTV, 140.

[4] Vos, BTV, 140.

[5] Dennison, “Vos on the Sabbath,” 62.

[6] Dennison, “Vos on the Sabbath,” 62.

[7] Cf. Dennison, “Vos on the Sabbath,” 67 for a discussion on the change of the day.

[8] Dennison, “Vos on the Sabbath,” 62.

[9] Vos, BTV, 141.

[10] Dennison, “Vos on the Sabbath,” 64.

[11] Dennison, “Vos on the Sabbath,” 62-63, 66.

[12] Dennison, “Vos on the Sabbath,” 68.