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Why is the Sabbath Observed from Sunset to Sunset?

Adventists observe the seventh-day Sabbath from the time the sun sets on Friday to the time it sets again on Saturday evening.

In this post, you’ll understand more about the Sabbath and why it is observed between sunsets. You’ll see that this practice is based on biblical instruction, and it has been kept that way since Creation and all throughout the Bible.

We’ll look further at the following reasons behind this Sabbath timing:

Let’s begin looking at the origins of the Sabbath and how it was observed in the beginning.

The beginning of Sabbath at Creation

Sunrise at the seashore, reminding us of God's love & care every morning through His beautiful creationThe Bible introduces the Sabbath at the end of the Creation week. It was the seventh day after God had spent six literal days to create all “the heavens and the earth” and everything in it (Genesis 2:1, NKJV).

Each of the six days were marked out as separate periods of time divided into two parts—an evening and a morning. Each new evening was a new day, followed by a morning before turning into the next day (Genesis 1:1, 5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31).

And to wind up the six days of creating the earth, we read: “The evening and the morning were the sixth day” (Genesis 1:31, NKJV).

So when the seventh-day Sabbath is introduced in Genesis 2:2, it picks up the same order of how a day was counted from the very beginning. It started with the evening, progressed through the morning, and continued until the next day began the next evening.

This full day period for the Sabbath was designed by God as time to spend with His children, Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:7). As time to commune with their Creator and celebrate God’s creative power as they enjoyed the brand new earth He’d created just for them.

Later when He gave the Ten Commandments to the Israelites, the Sabbath commandment was included as the fourth commandment.

God told them that they were to keep the Sabbath holy as a memorial of Creation—a time to stop other weekly obligations and reflect upon and enjoy what He made for them (Exodus 20:10, NKJV).

Sabbath was observed from sunset to sunset throughout the Bible

The practice of Sabbath observance from sundown to sundown continued through the Bible. Both in the Old Testament and the New Testaments, we find numerous instances of God’s people keeping it this way.

Let’s look at some examples:

Jesus’ followers observed the Sabbath from Friday evening

3 crosses on a hill near a lake as we study that Jesus died and was buried before sunset and beginning of the weekly Sabbath.From the events during Jesus’ death and burial, we find that His followers faithfully observed the Sabbath from evening to evening.

Matthew 27:45-56 tells us that Jesus died at around 3:00 p.m. And after it was confirmed that He was indeed dead, two of His secret disciples—Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus—asked to bury his body that evening.

They buried Him in a nearby tomb because it was “the preparation day and the Sabbath drew near” (Luke 23:54; John 19:31-42, NKJV).

They were careful not to let the burial activities get to the Sabbath hours.

Also, there were women who were His followers from Galilee. They wanted to embalm Jesus’ body with spices.

But since the Sabbath was about to begin, they only went and saw where He was buried. Then “they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment” (Luke 23:56, NKJV).

They waited until “the Sabbath was past” before going back to the tomb early in the morning on the first day of the week (Mark 16:6, NKJV).

Today, we celebrate Easter on Sunday, to remember Jesus’ resurrection. It’s this resurrection day that’s referred to as the first day of the week.

And we have Good Friday to mark when Jesus died. That’s the preparation day referred to here.

So we can safely conclude that the day between the two was Saturday.

This means that even in the New Testament, Jesus’ disciples knew Sabbath began Friday evening until Saturday evening.

Annual celebrations in the Bible began in the evening

A Jew praying on the wailing wall in Jerusalem as we learn how annual festival and celebrations of Jews began at sunset.In Leviticus 23, the Israelites were given instructions on how to observe various yearly feasts.

The most solemn of these feasts was the Day of Atonement—also known as “Yom Kippur” in Hebrew (Leviticus 23:26-32).

It was held on the tenth day of the seventh month.

This was considered one of the Jewish high days, also called yearly sabbaths or celebratory sabbaths.

And though such days didn’t always fall on the seventh day of the week, they were often referred to as special sabbaths. Some like this Yom Kippur had specific directions not to work because it was a holy day of solemnity and focus. It was a day of contemplative rest.

For other special days, the people were just required to meet in a holy convocation.

These were generally different from the weekly Sabbath of the fourth commandment that was kept every seventh day.

But the one thing they all had in common with the Sabbath was that they were all observed from evening to evening.

For the Day of Atonement, God instructed His people to observe it from the evening of the ninth day of the seventh month, to the evening of the tenth (Leviticus 23:32).

From this, we see a major nation of people keeping track of days from evening to evening.

Nehemiah made sure to prepare for Sabbath just before it became dark

When the Israelites returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity, Nehemiah led them to reform in how they observed the Sabbath.

The problem was that their neighboring countries were trying to get them to do business with them on Sabbath (Nehemiah 13:15-16). And this “business” often meant significant bartering. It’s likely they weren’t simple transactions, and they probably were trading luxuries rather than necessities.

To ensure this didn’t disrupt the Sabbath, Nehemiah set the following in motion:

“Just as it became dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, [he] ordered that the doors be shut, and that they were not to open them until after the Sabbath. Then [he] stationed some of [his] servants at the gates so that no load would enter on the Sabbath day” (Nehemiah 13:19-20, NKJV, emphasis added).

This demonstrates how seriously God’s people took the Sabbath’s meaning and timing.

Even today, Jews begin the Sabbath and all feasts in the evening

Much of the Bible was written by Jews and in the Jewish culture. And even today, Jewish cultural traditions are deeply rooted in biblical practices.

Together with their yearly feasts, the Sabbath is their distinguishing mark.

Let’s see how they observe these holidays and why.

The Jews observe Sabbath from evening to evening

Lion with wings on Ishtar gate of ancient Babylon as we learn how Jews kept Sabbath from sunset to sunset during Nehemiah.As we’ve seen in Bible times, the Israelites observed the Sabbath from Friday evening to Saturday evening.

Jewish people kept this tradition as an integral part of their communal and family life.

They traced it from the creation account in Genesis 2:2-3. Then in the Sabbath command in Exodus 20:8-11 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15.

And as we’ve seen in the book of Nehemiah, they still kept it from evening to evening during their recorded biblical history.

After the Babylonian exile, the Jews became more strict in their observance of God’s laws given to them in the Torah. This was an effort on their part to uphold the Mosaic laws.

While they anticipated the coming of Yahshua (the Messiah), they became careful to obey God’s laws and to avoid another captivity.

So, their religious leaders expounded on the laws and formed what came to be known as Rabbinical laws. These are laws that they followed during the time of Jesus and which are largely followed by modern Jews today.

The Sabbath was also expounded upon and details of its observance outlined. This included its observance spanning from evening to evening.

Today, Jews celebrate the Sabbath—known as Shabbat in Hebrew or Shabbos in Yiddish—from Friday night at sunset to Saturday night at sunset. In fact, an observant Jew will begin Sabbath a little before sunset.

This is because they consider it not only a sacred day, but also a delightful day worth looking forward to.

They begin it on Friday evening, lighting candles and enjoying a special Shabbat meal for dinner.

They go to the synagogues on Saturday for prayer, and to learn from the Torah. And they gladly greet each other with the Sabbath greeting, Shabbat Shalom, which translates to “Sabbath peace.”

Then when Saturday night comes, they hold a ceremony called “Havdalah.” This is usually a short ceremony that separates Shabbat from the rest of the week.

Jewish feasts begin from sundown to sundown

Travelers on camels near pyramids in Egypt as we discuss how Israelites observed Passover at twilight or after the sunset.As we saw in Leviticus 23, the Israelites were commanded to observe the Day of Atonement from evening to evening.

But this practice of starting the day in the evening was not unique to just the Sabbath and the Day of Atonement.

All their holidays were counted from evening and still are even today.

Let’s look at one of these feasts: The Passover, or Pesach in Hebrew.

We are first introduced to the Passover in Exodus 12.

It was meant to celebrate freedom and family in remembrance of the Israelite Exodus from Egypt.

In Leviticus 23:5, we read that it began at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month.

According to the dictionary, twilight is “the period of time at the end of the day after the sun has gone down.”

It’s the time just before nightfall.

Even today, Jews begin the Passover in the evening, just before night begins.

Orthodox Jews especially maintain a strict observance of this practice.

Seventh-day Adventists observe the Sabbath from sunset to sunset

Seventh-day Adventists are Christians who observe the biblical Sabbath today. And they keep it from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday, just like it’s outlined in the Bible.

Like the Jews, they trace the origins of the Sabbath from the creation week. And they find evidence for keeping it from sundown to sundown in the Bible.

But they didn’t always know this truth. They learned it from the Seventh-day Baptists.

Here’s their story.1

After the time of Jesus and the apostles, the early Christian church kept the weekly Sabbath.

But through the years, the Sabbath became mixed up with other cultural traditions. Eventually, Christians in most parts of the known world kept Sunday instead of Saturday as the day of worship. They called Sunday, “the Lord’s day.”

Additionally, other church systems started observing the day of worship from midnight to midnight. But in many places, they maintained the evening to evening practice.

Table clock showing 10 minutes to 6, as we study how Seventh-day Baptist interpreted evening to evening in Bible to be 6 pm.Finally, the Reformation came in the 16th century, and many groups started studying the Bible for themselves. Some, like the Seventh-day Baptists, discovered the true Sabbath was supposed to be kept on Saturday rather than Sunday.

So they started observing it.

But when they read the Sabbath was to be kept “from evening to evening,” they interpreted it to mean from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. (Perhaps this was just an easy way to standardize the practice).

But this whole idea of Saturday instead of Sunday didn’t go well with the established reformed church in England. So they were forced to leave England due to persecution. They took the journey across the Atlantic and ended up in America.

Once in America, they taught the truths to other Sunday keeping Baptists and eventually formed a congregation.

Then in the early 1840s, there was a great anticipation of the soon second coming of Jesus among a group called Adventists. Their leader’s name was William Miller, so they were referred to as Millerites.

The Millerites kept Sunday as their day of rest.

They expected Jesus to come in the Fall of 1844. When He didn’t, they went through what came to be known as the Great Disappointment.

It’s around this time that the Sabbath truth was received by influential Millerites like Joseph Bates. He went on to share it with other key Millerites like James and Ellen White.

With this, they began to be referred to as “Sabbatarian Adventists.” Later they organized into a Christian denomination and the Seventh-day Adventist Church was born.

But since they learned about the Sabbath from the Seventh-day Baptists, they continued to keep it from 6:00 p.m. on Friday until 6:00 p.m. on Saturday.

But by 1855, they realized that the Bible didn’t specify the time. It just said, “from evening to evening” (Leviticus 23:32, NKJV).

And actually, Mark 1:32 clarifies that “evening” means “when the sun ha[s] set” (NKJV).

So they settled on the conclusion that evening is marked by sunset.

And this was significant because based on one’s location on the planet, and the various seasons, sunset may come before or after 6:00 p.m. So the Sabbath will not always begin at 6:00 p.m. It will vary.

After much study, John Nevins Andrews wrote a thorough article on this subject and it was circulated among the members in their publications. It was clear that based on biblical evidence, the Sabbath spans from sunset to sunset.

Finally, they were united in the truth of the biblical Sabbath and its correct practice in terms of when it begins and ends.

The Biblical way of keeping the Sabbath is still applicable to us today

Woman sitting on a cliff near sea as we learn that Sabbath is observed from sunset to sunset every seventh day of the week.To this day, Seventh-day Adventists around the world observe the Sabbath from sundown to sundown.

As we can see, the practice of observing the Sabbath from sunset to sunset is rooted in the Bible.

From Creation and throughout the Bible, Sabbath was kept this way.

And among contemporary Jews and Seventh-day Adventists, we still find the Sabbath observed from sunset to sunset.

From this, we learn that the Bible provided instruction to God’s children that was both applicable to a specific time and culture and is still applicable today.

We get a deeper understanding of how God’s Sabbath rest is truly a gift for humanity. And from sunset to sunset, God wants to commune with us just as He did in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve.

He cares about even the smallest details in our special relationship with Him. So, we can trust that if we have the Bible to guide us, we can be assured of God’s wise leading and His listening ear.

Even in the smallest things, we can find our way to truth and safety through His guidance.

To learn more truths in the Bible, sign up for Bible studies!

  1. Kenneth A. Strand, The Sabbath in Scripture and History, Review and Herald Publishing Association, Washington DC: 2012, pp. 135-255. []

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