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The Sabbath

A Chapter from Temples and Tithes


Sabbath-keeping is an Old Testament practice that has whole denominations (Seventh-Day Adventists, Seventh Day Baptists etc) lined up behind it. Its perhaps one of the most pervasive of the OT practices that born-again Christians feel compelled to follow. However it is something that Jesus spoke quite strongly about and which was never placed on believers in the NT.

There are four main (and somewhat separate) errors concerning the Sabbath, in order of gravity they are:

1. That you must observe the Sabbath to be saved.

2. That observance of the Sabbath is compulsory (but perhaps not essential for salvation).

3. That the Jewish Saturday Sabbath is still the Sabbath for Christians.

4. That the Sabbath is now on Sunday and Christians must observe Sunday as a day of rest.

Proponents of the Sabbath (Sabbatarians) argue that:

  1. Sabbath was ordained at Creation (Genesis 2:2)

  2. The Sabbath was part of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8-11)

  3. Observing the Sabbath in a consecrated way brings blessing. (Isaiah 58:13,14)

  4. Not one jot or tittle will pass away from the Law until all is fulfilled. (Matthew 5:17)

  5. There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. (Hebrews 4:9)

  6. John the apostle was "in the Spirit on the Lord’s day" (Revelation 1:10)

At first glance this seems quite convincing so lets look at those arguments a bit more deeply. Arguments B,C and D depend on the Law still being in force in some way and their being blessing for obedience and cursing for disobedience. I hope that by now you will be able to see that is no longer the case. The Law has been fulfilled in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Argument A rests on God hallowing that day at Creation. While God did make the Sabbath holy He did not make it compulsory. Besides we have no idea on what day that was, if we are to believe Archbishop Usher (the biblical chronologist who said that Creation was on a Wednesday at 9:00am in the morning in 4004BC) it was a Wednesday!

Hebrews 4:9 "there remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God" is in the midst of a section that shows that the true Sabbath is not the Sabbath instituted under Joshua that the Jews observed but rather was the Sabbath rest from dead works that we find in Christ and which reaches its fulfillment when we find our rest in Heaven.

(Hebrews 4:8-11 NASB) For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that. {9} There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God. {10} For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. {11} Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall through following the same example of disobedience.

The last reference to being "in the Spirit on the Lord's Day" is very enigmatic. It may have referred to Sunday by then. It certainly does not suggest it was compulsory. Believers seemed to meet "on the first day of the week" and that may have been all there was to it. (1 Corinthians 16:2, Acts 20:7) There is no direct NT pronouncement saying "Sunday is now the Sabbath and you must keep it holy.". Most Christians were slaves and had no power to take a day off anyway!

Direct Teaching On The Sabbath

Jesus And The Sabbath

Part of the reason for the intense hostility towards Jesus was His attitude towards the Sabbath. The Sabbath had become one of the chief spiritual control tools of the Pharisees. Hundreds of rabbinical regulations added to the Law made the Sabbath a very complex and burdensome issue for the average Jew. It had turned from being a joyous day of rest and celebration into yet another device for proving how spiritual one was.

Jesus was not tactful. In fact he just charged through the mass of rabbinical red tape like a cavalier with a sword. Culturally He would have come across as very undiplomatic, a sort of spiritual "bull in a china shop". We will see why in the next few verses where Jesus moves to combat the narrow cruel Sabbatarian legalism of the Pharisees. In an astonishing display of heartlessness they would not let the hungry disciples pick a few heads of grain to eat or approve a man being healed on the Sabbath. Their vicious cruelty reached its natural conclusion as they plot to destroy Jesus. The questions of the Sabbatarians are in blue and the main points Jesus makes are in red..

(Matthew 12:1-14 NASB) At that time Jesus went on the Sabbath through the grainfields, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat. {2} But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him,"Behold, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath."

{3} But He said to them, "Have you not read what David did, when he became hungry, he and his companions; {4} how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those with him, but for the priests alone? {5} "Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath, and are innocent? {6} "But I say to you, that something greater than the temple is here.

{7} "But if you had known what this means,'I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,'you would not have condemned the innocent. {8} "For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."

{9} And departing from there, He went into their synagogue. {10} And behold, there was a man with a withered hand. And they questioned Him, saying,"Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"-- in order that they might accuse Him. {11} And He said to them,"What man shall there be among you, who shall have one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it, and lift it out?{12} "Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep! So then,it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath." {13} Then He said to the man, "Stretch out your hand!" And he stretched it out, and it was restored to normal, like the other. {14} But the Pharisees went out, and counseled together against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.

(Mark 2:27-28 NASB) And He was saying to them,"The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. {28} "Consequently, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath."

Jesus points are:

    1. Human needs over-ride religious protocol. (David and the bread)

    2. That the priests in the Temple break the Sabbath with impunity.

    3. That He was greater than the Temple or its priests and therefore can break the Sabbath.

    4. That God desires mercy (in this case for hungry disciples) not sacrifice. Kindness has a higher priority than sacrifices, religion and Sabbath-keeping.

    5. That Sabbatarian legalism just ends up condemning the innocent.

    6. That the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.

    7. That natural common sense, even for animals would tell people to show compassion on the Sabbath.

    8. That it is permissible to do good on the Sabbath.

    9. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. It is there to serve our need for rest and relaxation not to be an onerous religious burden

Jesus was not abolishing the Sabbath (that would happen on the cross) rather He was fulfilling its purpose as a day for freeing people, healing them and restoring them and as a day for showing kindness and compassion. The Sabbath was not just a day for being religious. It was a day for being loving. It was not just a day for going to church. It was a day for feeding the hungry and healing the sick. God's Sabbath was not just a day for demonstrating your holiness and your zeal but for showing your concern for your neighbor and even your animals. It was who you were on the Sabbath not what you did on the Sabbath that was Jesus' chief concern. If you were as hard-hearted, cruel and vindictive as these Pharisees who ended up plotting murder on the Sabbath - then no matter what you "do" in terms of religious acts you are NOT keeping the Sabbath as God intended. (see Isaiah 58 which applies the same principles to fasting).

Don't Be Judgmental About The Sabbath

Paul lists Sabbath-keeping among the disputable things in Romans 14. Thus Sabbath-keeping was not an issue of first importance and certainly not essential for salvation. Good Christians could be on both sides of the issue. Many people who believe in keeping one day aside for God do so out of very real reverence for Him and not out of legalism or bondage to elemental spirits. They do so "unto the Lord" and they are not to be judged by those who see "all days alike" - and of course vice-versa. It is not an issue we are to judge one another on.

(Romans 14:1-6 NASB) Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. {2} …{5} One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. {6} He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.

We are not to let people "act as our judge" on the issue. However if we do keep a Sabbath it should be as Jesus wanted it kept - as a day of compassion not of legalism. Personally I keep Sunday as a day of rest and of visiting friends and I try to make it a "computer free day" so I live in the real world in real relationships - not virtual ones. I see Sunday as a "day of personal restoration and reflection" and do not feel under any obligation to go to two services but I will normally go to one. I make sure there is plenty of space on Sunday for "being human". I run around a lot during the week and its great to crash out and snooze on Sunday afternoon. Sunday should be a day you look forward to with joy in anticipation of refreshment - not a day of even more busyness. I think that is catching the true Creation intent of a Sabbath.

Sabbaths Are Shadows

(Colossians 2:16-17 NASB) Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day-- {17} things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ

(Galatians 4:9-11 NASB) But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? {10} You observe days and months and seasons and years. {11} I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.

The Sabbath is a mere shadow. The substance - the real rest we have, is in Christ. Its simply not worth making a big deal over a shadow! Paul goes on to call these things "weak and worthless elemental things". In other words the Sabbath is a shadowy, weak, worthless, elemental thing. It is therefore NOT to be the major issue for believers that it often is. It is certainly not something we should feel enslaved to. (Gal 4:9) It is the "things to come" and the "substance" that is important - not Sabbaths, new moons, festivals etc. Christ is far above all this and it is Him we should seek.

Therefore answering the four main errors listed at the top of this chapter.

    1. There are no binding Sabbaths on Christians therefore you do not have to obey the Sabbath to be saved.

    2. There are no binding Sabbaths on Christians therefore the Sabbath is not compulsory.

    3. The Jewish Sabbath is still Saturday but the Christian Sabbath is in Christ - not on Saturday or Sunday.

    4. Sunday is the traditional day of worship for Christians but it is not a binding Sabbath that we must observe on that particular day. Days are shadows - the substance is Christ.

This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.