Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work, which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work, which he had made. – Genesis 2:1-2
The sequence of events during the restoration of the earth in my opinion did not end in the first chapter. Here, in chapter 2, the Bible gives a summary of the previous events already described. If you have followed the discussions from the beginning of this series, a simpler way to state this is: and so the heavens and earth were fully restored. I would like to emphasize a few things at this point.
So far, we have seen how God removed the darkness, pushed back the waters so the dry land could emerge, and made the lights to rule the seasons. He made the invisible things (light and time in Genesis 1:3-5), the celestial bodies (lights in Genesis 1:14-18), and the earthly creatures. At the end of it all, He revealed His will to man and gave him authority over all the other creatures. The heaven and the earth are His handiwork, and He was satisfied with the results. Indeed, the Bible notes that God saw that it was very good (Genesis 1:31). The second chapter, therefore, opens with this feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment.
Now the work was done and God stopped the renovations (Genesis 2:2). Often we talk of the seventh day rest as if God needed a nap to recover after His labor. This passage, however, defines very clearly that God ended the work, not took a break. If He took a break, how long was His nap? Has He resumed working again? I believe that God began a different phase of His plan altogether. In Genesis 3, the Bible tells us that God walked in the Garden of Eden every evening to meet with his gardener, Adam. If He was sleeping, the Bible forgot to inform us of when He woke up.
To further illustrate this, we can look at the story of Jesus. On the Cross, He uttered the same words used in this passage, “It is finished,” and then He immediately gave up the ghost (John 19:30). Note it was the last thing He said before entering into His “rest.” We know that He was buried before the Sabbath and resurrected after it (Matthew 28:1-6). On the surface, it would appear that He rested on the Sabbath, but Matthew 27:51-53 gives us a hint as to where He went and what He did during the period.
And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. – Matthew 27:51-53
Peter puts it even more clearly:
For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. – 1 Peter 3:18-20
For this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit. – 1 Peter 4:6
The only person qualified to preach to the dead was the Messiah crucified. So you see, rest doesn’t mean sleep since God doesn’t sleep (Psalm 121:2-4). Christ Jesus shows us what rest really means…more work—but of a different kind. On the Sabbath day, while the disciples still mourned Jesus’ death, He descended into the graves to evangelize those who were already dead (Ephesians 4:8-10). He was officially resting, but He was doing a different kind of work, closing a roughly 2000-year-old chapter in God’s book: preaching to the spirits of the disobedient from the days of Noah to the time of the crucifixion. The dead apparently believed and received Him, for they also rose after the resurrection according to Matthew 27:53.
This word in the Bible does not mean taking a nap to regain your strength after a tedious job as some suggest. It simply means ending a certain task or completing a goal. To better understand it, I will illustrate with several examples.
After several weeks of renovating our home, building a new fence, painting, redecorating, and so on, none of us decided to take a very long and permanent rest. Instead, we invited our friends over and had a great dinner to show off our accomplishments and bask in the glory of the moment. The morning after, we did not go back to renovating (since that work is finished). Instead, we went on to other things that our lives and responsibilities demanded of us. We “rested” from our renovations. It is finished and done with.
When an artist completes a painting, he “rests” from it by either setting it up to be admired by all, giving it away as a gift, or selling it. He does not go into immediate retirement; rather, he begins a new endeavor.
When God finished the work He started in Genesis 1:2, He moved into a different work: that of ruling over the creation He formed. He is God. The remodeling He did was to rebuild His temple, which He inhabits now that it is completely renovated. Note, as mentioned earlier, that God walked in the garden in the evenings (Genesis 3:8). What was He doing? I think He was admiring the garden that His gardener maintained for him. He was ruling in His garden as a God rules in His temple. This was God’s new work. Now why am I so sure that this is what God was doing? Well, Christ said that He does nothing except what He sees the Father do:
Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. – John 5:19
Now what did Christ do after He ascended up into heaven? He sat at the right hand of the Father from where He now works at building His church.
Wherefore he saith, when he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. – Ephesians 4:8-12.
See also Colossians 3:1.
So, my friends, our God is not taking a nap. He is very much awake, working on His master plan as He always has.
Why The Sabbath?
I write this section with a great deal of caution, hoping to avoid making light of the sacredness of the holy day. When a child is born, we note the day, and every year we celebrate his birthday. Now, for those of you that have children, tell them that you are skipping their birthdays this year and just see how that goes over. Men, skip this year’s wedding anniversary and see how long it takes your wife to toss you in the doghouse.
Every nation in the world celebrates its national day every year. For some, it symbolizes victory over imperial overlords. For others it represents victory in a brutal campaign of tribal unifications. And still for others it commemorates a parliamentary proclamation of nationhood. Regardless of the circumstances or how ancient the history is, those days are still celebrated, becoming public holidays in that nation. We wear our best and most colorful national or tribal clothes, and organize fireworks and parties. We even reach out to strangers and foreigners to share in the joys and celebrations of our special day.
We have many holidays to commemorate different aspects of our national life and history. So if we honor statutory holidays, why should it be wrong to honor the day ordained by the King of kings? God built His house and decorated it: earth. He commemorated the building of his earthly temple with the Sabbath day rest. Consequently, the Sabbath day has a central and crucial place in the Jewish faith. It is a day dedicated to the commission of, the celebration of, and the remembrance of God’s dwelling place.
A physical temple was not needed until man sinned and could no longer survive a face-to-face encounter with God. The man-made temple hid God’s presence behind the veil while He sat on the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies. This was all separated from the people by three temple doors known as way, truth, and life.
In case you are skeptical about my portrayal of earth as God’s temple, note that in revelation 21, the New Jerusalem descends from heaven to earth and the system of physical temples will be abolished. The best way to determine what God’s original plans were is to always look at how things end. He sees the beginning from the end, and so should we. God will dwell here on earth with the New Jerusalem as His capital, and He will dwell directly with man (Revelation 21:3). Like in Genesis 1, no man-made temple is needed. Until such a time, the building of God’s first dwelling place will be hallowed under the Mosaic Law.
Under the Mosaic Law, Israel was given a list of things that could not be done on the Sabbath, but as Christ later mentioned, doing good and helping the poor is not wrong to do. As an example, Jesus often taught in the synagogue and healed the sick on the Sabbath (Mark 1:21). This further confirms that the seventh day rest did not mean a time to do nothing but sleep; rather a time to bless God and do good to men.
Back to the beginning of Genesis.