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The Theological Significance of the Eighth Day

In recent decades, the "eighth day" has been taken up by American pop-culture as something of a rhetorical literary device. When I was in high school there was a somewhat annoyingly catchy song about God making sweat tea on the eighth day. Then there was the Superbowl commercial about how God supposedly made farmers on the eighth day. While these attempts to employ the idea of the eighth day as an apparatus to show appreciation for the goodness of beloved objects, there is a divinely invested theological significance to the eighth day in Scripture--both with regard to the day on which the Israelite boys were to be circumcised (Genesis 17:12), as well as to the ceremonial Sabbaths in the Old Testament ceremonial law (e.g. the Feast of Tabernacles in Leviticus 23:36-39 and Numbers 29:35). The "eighth day" (in a seven-day week cycle) denotes new creation--one and eight representing creation and new creation. In his disputation with Faustus, Augustine explained the change of signs from circumcision to baptism, and the change of the Sabbath day from the seventh to the eight, by suggesting that the "eighth day" in the Old Testament carried with it the idea of new creation and resurrection. He wrote:
[Christ] suffered voluntarily, and so could choose His own time for suffering and for resurrection, He brought it about that His body rested from all its works on Sabbath in the tomb, and that His resurrection on the third day, which we call the Lord’s day, the day after the Sabbath, and therefore the eighth, proved the circumcision of the eighth day to be also prophetical of Him.  For what does circumcision mean, but the eradication of the mortality which comes from our carnal generation?  So the apostle says:  "Putting off from Himself His flesh, He made a show of principalities and powers, triumphing over them in Himself." The flesh here said to be put off is that mortality of flesh on account of which the body is properly called flesh.  The flesh is the mortality, for in the immortality of the resurrection there will be no flesh; as it is written, "Flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God.1
Notwithstanding his overly cautious caveat, John Calvin also indicated that he was attracted to this redemptive-historical idea regarding the "eighth day" for circumcision in the Old Covenant in his comments on Genesis 17:12:
Augustine also thinks that it had reference to the resurrection of Christ; whereby external circumcision was abolished and the truth of the figure was set forth. It is probable and consonant with reason, that the number seven designated the course of the present life. Therefore the eighth day might seem to be fixed upon by the Lord, to prefigure the beginning of a new life. But because such a reason is never given in Scripture, I dare affirm nothing. Wherefore, let it suffice to maintain what is certain and solid; namely, that God, in this symbol, has so represented the destruction of the old man, as yet to show that he restores men to life.2
This also fits in well with the idea of the eighth day Sabbaths at the appointed feasts and festivals in the ceremonial law. On a seven day week, the first and the eighth are essentially the same day, with this one difference--the eighth day represents the re-creation or new creation. If you were an Old Covenant Israelite, reading the divine prescriptions concerning the observance of the Old Covenant ceremonies, you would be compelled to ask the question, "Why, if the Sabbath Day, from creation to the giving of the Law on Sinai, was the seventh day of the week, is there explicit reference to eighth day Sabbaths attached to the festivals?" For instance, in Leviticus 23:36-39--at the institution of the Feast of Tabernacles, the LORD commanded Israel:
For seven days you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. On the eighth day you shall have a holy convocation, and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. It is a sacred assembly, and you shall do no customary work on it...on the first day there shall be a sabbath-rest, and on the eighth day a sabbath-rest.
Note especially how the Lord prescribed a first and eighth day Sabbath during the Feast of Tabernacles. This alone ties together the point about them having identity in their theological significance.  Then in Numbers 29:35 we read again read of the Feast of Tabernacles: "On the eighth day you shall have a sacred assembly. You shall do no customary work." The Feast of Tabernacles was a reminder to the Israelites of God coming and dwelling with them in the wilderness. Israel lived in tents. In His redeeming mercy, God graciously came and dwelt with His people. In order to do so, He became like His people. The Israelites lived in tents, so God lived in a Tent. This was all a prefiguration of the incarnation. The Apostle John tells us, "The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us" (John 1:14). The purpose of the incarnation was to restore the lost presence of God to His chosen people. In order for this to occur, the incarnation was necessary; but--and this should be carefully noted--reconciliation was only possible through the sin-removing, substitutionary death of Jesus. In order for God to dwell with His people their sins need to be atoned for and His wrath needs to be satisfied. This is what Christ accomplished in His death. The incarnation (tabernacling) made this possible. Interestingly, as Augustine noted, Jesus finished this necessary work and then rested in the tomb on the Old Covenant Sabbath. Then, on the first day of the week (i.e. the eighth day), He rose and His presence was forever guaranteed to believers. The restored presence of God is seen in the manifestation of the two angels, sitting one at the head and the other at the feet where the body of Jesus lay, just as the two Cherubim sat over the Ark of the Covenant where the presence of God appeared when the blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled on the mercy seat. In the resurrection of Jesus on the first day (i.e. the eighth day), the glory of God's presence is made manifest to His people. Jesus brings about the new creation through His incarnation, death and resurrection and so fulfills the Feast of Tabernacles.  The Sabbath day prefigured the need for eternal and new creation rest. Picking up on the time element of the Sabbath, Iain D. Campbell, in his very helpful work, On the First Day of the Week, made the following observation on the significance of the eighth day in the prophecy of Ezekiel's eschatology Temple:

Things will be different in the future, but the Sabbath principle will remain. The blessings of communion with God, of which the Sabbath speaks so eloquently, will be enjoyed in new measure by the people of God. Iain Duguid brings out the importance of this, when he comments on the ‘lack of timelessness’ so often found in eschatological visions in the Bible. He goes on to say that ‘in Ezekiel’s reordering of the festival calendar, time itself is brought under the discipline of the new age’, and he goes on to apply this to Christian worship today. And although he does not explicitly speak of the Sabbath factor in Christian worship, that is surely one of the main lines along which Ezekiel’s vision takes us: to the realization that just as Jesus is our sacrifice and Prince, and just as we are a spiritual temple in him, so he has given us a new sacred ‘time’, a new Sabbath, a Sabbath of the eighth day (cf. 43:27), our Lord’s Day Sabbath.3

While these truths certainly have implication for the theological shift from the bloody sign of circumcision to the unbloody sign of baptism, and from the seventh day to the first day (eighth day) for the Sabbath, they teach us much about the fulfillment of all things in the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. The storyline of the Scriptures is the story of the new creation through the death and resurrection of Christ. By His death on the cross, Jesus brought about the new creation. Peter T. O'Brien makes the following helpful observation about the meaning of the phrase "the circumcision of Christ" in Colossians 2:11 when he suggests, "It is better to regard the statement as denoting the circumcision that Christ underwent, that is, His crucifixion, of which His literal circumcision was at best a token by way of anticipation (cf. Bruce, 234).4 His death was a bloody circumcision that brought about the circumcision (made without hands) in the hearts of His people. When he was cut off in bloody judgment under the wrath of God, He was providing all that was necessary for the cutting away of the guilt, corruption and power of our sin. By His resurrection, Jesus ushered in the new creation, by both raising His people up to newness of life now as well as by securing our bodily resurrection and the New Heavens and New Earth wherein righteousness will dwell at the consummation. The "eighth day" is pregnant with ceremonial significance in redemptive history. As with all the types and shadows ordained by God, it was invested with theological significance to serve the redemptive historical purposes of God.

1. St. Augustine Reply to Faustus the Manichaean 16.29

2. An excerpt from Calvin's comments on Genesis 17:12 in his Commentary on Genesis

3. Campbell, I. D. (2005). On the First Day of the Week: God, the Christian and the Sabbath (p. 95). Leominster, UK: Day One Publications.

4. Peter T. O'Brien Word Biblical Commentary: Colossians, Philemon (Word, Inc., 1982) vol. 44 p. 117

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