Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV): “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
1) Our souls long for rest
We as humans have a core longing for rest. It has been written upon our hearts to seek a peace that brings rest to our souls. In the passage from Matthew, Christ speaks directly to this longing within each of us--the reality that our souls were made to be still and have unity with God. But this reality shouldn’t be attributed to our conception of rest in terms of being lazy, or a mode of existence that we can manufacture. We can “rest”--from this perspective--all day on a couch, and still feel as restless as when the day began. In many ways, the Covid pandemic-shutdown taught many of us that, despite having all the time at home we could want, it did not produce contentment in that leisure. What we can then ascertain is that Christ is speaking about a rest of a different kind--a rest that cannot be artificially made or produced by any effort of ourselves.
To take this idea a step further, not only is the rest that Christ offers superior to the rest that we think we obtain for ourselves, it is also entirely unobtainable by our own abilities. Christ in verse 29 from the passage in Matthew isn’t saying “Take My yoke upon you, and you’ll have another way of finding rest among the many other ways.” No, Christ is saying that in Him, and Him alone, can we find rest for our souls. Jesus makes it clear: when we take Christ’s yoke upon ourselves and learn from Him, we find rest for our souls; if we don’t do this, then we do not find rest. The claim that Jesus is making is a very bold claim--something only God could make. But if we take a look at other parts of Scripture, we can see that God has always desired for us to find this rest.
2) God finished creation on the sixth day; on the seventh, He rested
Beginning from the beginning, Genesis straightaway shows us this pattern of resting. God creates all things in six days, and on the seventh, He sets the example for us by resting, “By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all his work” (Genesis 2:2 NIV). The next verse in Genesis helps us understand the importance that God placed on this day of rest: “Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made” (Genesis 2:3 NKJV). God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it--why didn’t He do this with any other day? He did this because the seventh day represents His rest.
God blessed the seventh day and rested, and commanded us to do the same--that we should have a day of rest, or at least find time to let go of burdens and seek refuge from our work. Even in the Ten Commandments, the command that God gives is to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8 NKJV). At the same time, I believe God is illustrating a deeper, more profound narrative that isn’t so simple (yet inextricably tied together). We see that God made man on the sixth day of His timetable (Genesis 1:26-27), and then on the seventh day, God rested from His completed work.
The number six represents creation--that God finished all the “heavens and the earth, and all the host of them” on the sixth day (Genesis 2:1). To go even further, we see Revelation 13:18 (NIV) directly affirm this idea: “This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666.” In this verse, we see that 6 is attributed to the number of the beast (commonly agreed upon as Satan), but also to the number of a man. The number 6 metaphorically represents creation, and its inability to reach number 7. Just as seven is greater than six, so too is God greater than His creation--there is an insurmountable gap that is fixed.
3) The seventh day can be interpreted as a representation of God
So we see that seven represents God: that God rested on the seventh day and made it holy. We must take note that the seventh day is the day that God made holy--not the sixth, nor any other. Moreover, we must also address the reality that God blessed and sanctified the seventh day, which never came to an end. There is no day written after the seventh that put a stop to that day’s rest; the seventh day was meant to be a place of everlasting peace and rest that Adam and Eve abided in eternally. As we know in the story, that doesn’t happen, and--unsurprisingly--God punishes Adam for his disobedience (God gave the charge to not eat of the tree to Adam, thus the covenant was broken through him).
What is interesting is that the consequence of sin is one that sounds like anything but rest: “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:17-19 NIV). This consequence of Adam’s decision demonstrates the reality of sin: it takes us out of God’s rest and out of His eternal life.
But, what must be continually established, is that the seventh day is a representation of God. With Adam’s sin, the life, blessing, and rest that was found on the seventh day were taken away, and Adam and Eve left the Garden--cursed to continually toil and lead themselves to death, returning to the dust they came from. Why does all this matter?
4) Christ is Lord of the Sabbath; He is the rest we need
While a specific day of rest--like Sunday, for example--can be determined as the day in which we honor the Sabbath (I go to church on Sundays, in this manner), I believe God is trying to communicate a far deeper, and more meaningful day of rest to us than simply an exact day designated to church and not “working”. Returning to the passage from Matthew at the beginning, Christ makes the claim that in Him we find rest. What Jesus also claimed throughout the New Testament can be seen: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6 NKJV); “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38 NKJV); “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47 NKJV).
Simply with these three verses, we see Jesus identify Himself as the way of reconciling the gap between six and seven. Through Christ, we can return to the life found in the seventh day and the same power which brought Adam and Eve into existence (there was no death in the Garden). Jesus is the source of living water--an allusion to the rivers back in the Garden. Christ is the eternal/everlasting life that Adam and Eve originally abided in before the Fall. Jesus is the truth. In Christ we have God’s seventh day; in Jesus, all things have been reconciled. It started with God, and it ends with God; He is the Alpha and the Omega.
When we walk with Jesus and spend time with Him, we are resting. This is why He says, “If only you had known the meaning of ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:7-8 BSB). The Pharisees condemned Jesus and His disciples for doing all kinds of things on the Sabbath--from Jesus healing people to His disciples picking grain and eating it. The Pharisees represent humanity's attempt to attain the righteousness of the Sabbath--or, the seventh day--through their own means. But, no matter what they did and no matter how hard they tried to follow the law tit-for-tat, it did not change the reality that they unequivocally, and irrevocably, belonged to the sixth day. But that is the whole story of humanity: we all belong to the sixth day. We are all God’s creation and God alone is the Creator; He is the only One that resides in the seventh day. But, despite this, Christ provided the way for us to be reconciled to God and actually enter into His "seventh day" rest. For, as Jesus said, "What is impossible with man is possible with God." (Luke 18:27 NIV).
Christ was crucified in our sin--the very disobedience that caused us to lose God’s rest in the first place--but He rose on the third day. This is why Paul writes, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the One Man the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:19 BSB). In Matthew 28:1 (NKJV), we read: “Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.” Mary Magdalene and the other Mary both arrive at the tomb to find it empty (Matthew 28:2-7); Christ’s resurrection heralded in a new week. Where God had first made all things in six days, and on the seventh rested, Christ rose and began a new creation--this time, however, His work was finished on day one. In this new week, God was not making a universe; rather, the Living God was reconciling all His people to Himself. The New Covenant was finished, and the sacrifice of Christ brought full-circle the cycle of death that we created.
Let us obey God in the way that He leads us to honor the Sabbath, but the Sabbath is also not superior to the One who made it--He is our true Sabbath. Christ’s yoke is easy and His burden is light, and when we abide in Him, we find the rest God wants us to find. And we know that in Christ we fulfill the law, for it is by His blood alone that we can come before the throne of The Father, and it is by His stripes that we are freed. Jesus offers us the same rest that was in the seventh day, and it is in Him that we become a new creation: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV); “Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’” (Revelation 21:5 NKJV). All the rest our souls will ever need is found in the Son of God, and when we believe in His name and follow Him, the Holy Spirit will make rivers of living water pour out from our hearts.