Will We Keep the Sabbath in Heaven? Isaiah 66:23

The question came up recently in an online discussion, “How should premillennial historicists understand passages like Isaiah 66:23, which is sometimes used to make a point about how Old Testament ritual and Levitical laws will be implemented by God in the Millennial Kingdom?” (For an introduction to premillennial historicism, visit Historicism.com and take the tour.)The_8th_Night

So at the request of a friend, I prepared this brief study of Isaiah 66:23. The purpose of this study is to determine whether if such laws are observed after Christ’s return and triumph, should such laws be mandatory for Christians to observe before Christ’s second advent?

From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the LORD. (Isa 66:23 ESV)

וְהָיָ֗ה מִֽדֵּי־חֹ֙דֶשׁ֙ בְּחָדְשׁ֔וֹ וּמִדֵּ֥י שַׁבָּ֖ת בְּשַׁבַּתּ֑וֹ יָב֧וֹא כָל־בָּשָׂ֛ר לְהִשְׁתַּחֲוֹ֥ת לְפָנַ֖י אָמַ֥ר יְהוָֽה

(Isa 66:23 WTT)

Following the grammar of this verse, the phrases, “from new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath,” is giving the frame of reference in time—a temporal prepositional phrase—for the main action in the sentence.

The subject of the sentence is God: “the LORD declares…”

The direct speech of God is the content of what He declares: “all flesh shall come to worship before me”.

The duration of that worship is defined in the prepositional phrase: “from new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath”.

It’s important to note the influence of the substantive “dey” in each of the prepositions, “from new moon” and “from Sabbath”. The preposition is formed from the prepositional prefix, “m” + the substantive “dey” = “mdey”. So, for example, the Hebrew words “from new moon” form one construct, “mdey-chodesh”.

This is informative because the phrase without the “dey”, “m’chodesh” would still mean, “from new moon”.

The difference the “dey” part adds is that, extending from its basic meaning, “sufficiency, enough” (see Brown Driver Briggs), it takes on the idiomatic meaning, “as long as it is still…” or “as often as”, when used with a temporal preposition like this.

Then, taken with the second part of each prepositional phrase, “to new moon” and “to Sabbath”, the meaning clarifies. Both latter halves of the prepositional phrases are grammatically third-person singular with the “b” preposition: “in its new moon” and “in its Sabbath”. This specifies when each new moon and each Sabbath are going to happen.

So you end up with, “As long as each new moon occurs in its own new moon, and each Sabbath occurs in its own Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me,’ declares the LORD.”

Isaiah uses the vocabulary of Jewish ritual worship, but he does it by setting months and weeks in the pre-existing framework of Creation. As long as there are still months, as long as there are still weeks, all the Earth will be worshipping God.

The picture here is provided by the context in Isaiah 66 as the end time. So this is not the Millennial Kingdom. This is the New Heavens and New Earth. That is clear from the next verse (Isaiah 66:24) which pictures the saints regularly looking at the judgement of the wicked in Hell. That judgement does not occur until the end of the Millennium (Rev 20). (My view of this picture is that it is not that the saints will literally see people suffering in Hell, but rather that the saints will regularly think about and consider the holiness of God and His justice in the eternal punishment of unbelief. I.e., Thinking about the reason Jesus’ death for sinners was necessary, and the consequence of rejecting His atoning sacrifice, will be an occasion to worship God more, not less.) 

So the vision is superlative. It is not just saying that the worship of God in Heaven will be equal to that of the Jewish nation in its golden years; it is saying that the worship of God in Heaven, not just by Israel, but by “all flesh”, will not just be on Sabbaths and New Moons, but perpetually: as long as weeks and lunar cycles still exist in the New Heavens and New Earth!

This shows that God’s plan includes much more than merely extending Israelite worship and Mosaic Law throughout the world. It shows that through the fulfillment of the Gospel, true worship will not be one nation, but all nations; not just on the holy days of the calendar, but all the time; not just the shadowy type, but the real, universal reality. That’s why God “declares” it; that’s why He boasts.

The comparison, the ratio if you will, of Old Testament “New Moon” feasts, and Sabbath observance, is proportionate to the future reality in the same way that the sacrifice of little lambs is to the death and resurrection of the Son of God.

Therefore, in conclusion, if the observance of Levitical laws regarding things like worship are a mere shadow and type of the true worship of God through faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then the requirement of that kind of observance of Old Testament laws in the worship of Christian churches is a Galatians-style regression from Gospel truth and freedom, to slavery and legalism.