If we are to observe the Sabbath, shouldn’t we also do the works which Christ did on the Sabbath? Shouldn’t we follow Christ’s example and do what he did on the Sabbath?
When the New Testament is surveyed we find the following:
• Jesus was condemned by the religious leaders as a Sabbath breaker.
• Jesus never condemned anyone concerning the Sabbath.
• Jesus was actively working on the Sabbath meeting the needs of people.
Christ is the true rest that the Sabbath in the Old Testament foreshadowed. The scriptures testify of Jesus, and in him alone the true rest of the Sabbath.
Some may object to this, claiming that the New Testament doesn’t teach that Jesus is our Sabbath. Ahh, but it does. You may ask, how? Well, each of the feasts given to Israel was in and of itself a Sabbath in addition to the weekly Sabbath.
Consider the following:
And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall ye have a Sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets (the festival of trumpets), an holy convocation. Ye shall do no servile work therein: but ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord. ~ Leviticus 23:23-25
Notice that the festival of Trumpets is called a Sabbath, and the Sabbath is repeatedly described as a time in which “Ye shall do no servile work therein.”
Also, Leviticus 23 refers to an eight day Sabbath following the feast of Tabernacles:
Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the feast of tabernacles for seven days unto the Lord. On the first day shall be an holy convocation: Ye shall do no servile work therein. Seven days ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord: on the eight day shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord: it is a solemn assembly; and Ye shall do no servile work therein. ~ Leviticus 23:34-36
The feasts which were ceremonial Sabbaths, we just as much a command to observe under the Law as the seventh day or weekly Sabbaths.
If either is still binding, so is the other.
Yet in the New Testament, the apostle Paul says, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” Passover was a festival Sabbath under the Law, but Paul tells us that Christ himself is our Passover under grace.
In Christ, and in him alone, we have the rest foreshadowed in the Sabbaths, both in the weekly and ceremonial Sabbaths.
In Matthew 12, Jesus and his disciples were walking through some grain fields on the Sabbath day. His disciples were hungry, so they began breaking off some heads of grain and eating them. But some Pharisees saw this and objected. They accused Jesus and his disciples of breaking the Law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath.
The response given by Jesus is very intriguing to me. Jesus does not protest he and his disciple’s innocence in typical fashion. He actually cites two accounts from the scriptures where the breaking of the Sabbath occurred, and He cites these to defend his actions.
In verses 3-4 Jesus says, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungered, and they that were with him; How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?
Then in verse 5 He says, Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the Sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless?
Profaning the Sabbath (KJV), is a reference to the priests who carried on the service of the Temple on the Sabbath. In other words they were working.
Jesus goes on to say, But I say unto you, that in this place is one greater than the temple. But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of man is LORD even of the Sabbath day. ~ Matthew 12:6-8
Jesus is greater than the Temple because He is the Son of God, and by definition he is greater than those who are blameless for working in the Temple on the Sabbath. He is Lord of the Sabbath.
There is a hint here that we do not need to overlook. Jesus’ Lordship trumps the mere rules and regulations. The Sabbath is not Lord. Jesus is Lord, and the Sabbath serves him and his purposes not the other way around.
Suffice to say, Jesus’s theology really irritated the religious leaders because his understanding of the purpose of the Sabbath wasn’t conducive to their religious bondage.
Now, in John 5 we have another interesting set of events. During one of the Jewish feasts Jesus went to the pool of Bethesda and healed a man who had been sick or infirmed for 38 years. This healing by Jesus happened on the Sabbath and this infuriated the religious Jews.
And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the Sabbath day. But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the Sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God. ~ John 5:16-18
First, Jesus actually claims that his Father, God, was working on the Sabbath as the defense of why he healed the man on the Sabbath. Jesus says, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.”
Secondly, John (the Gospel writer) doesn’t say Jesus was falsely accused of breaking the Sabbath, John says he broke the Sabbath and claimed that God was His Father.This is a real problem for those who point the finger at others as lawless for not keeping all the rules according to their standards.
In Luke 13, as Jesus was teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath day, he saw a woman who had been crippled by an evil spirit. She had been bent double for eighteen years and was unable to stand up straight. The KJV says she had a spirit of infirmity. When Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, “Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity.” Then Jesus laid his hands on her and immediately she could stand straight, and she glorified God.
The ruler of the synagogue became indignant because Jesus had healed this woman on the Sabbath day. He said to the crowd in the presence of Jesus, “there are six days of the week for working, come on those days to be healed, not on the Sabbath.”
Jesus then replied, “You hypocrites! Each of you works on the Sabbath day! Don’t you untie your ox or your donkey from its stall on the Sabbath and lead it out for water? This dear woman, a daughter of Abraham, has been held in bondage by Satan for eighteen years. Isn’t it right that she be released, even on the Sabbath?”
They had no understanding of the purpose for the Sabbath. It’s wasn’t about a legalistic observance to please a Law-driven God. Instead it should have been observed as a gift, for a day, of ret in remembrance of the goodness of the God Israel who is gracious and full of tender mercies and loving kindness. If they had sought God by faith, rather than by the works of the Law they would understood this.
On another Sabbath the Scribes and Pharisees watched Jesus to see if he would heal on the Sabbath day. They did this because they were looking for the opportunity to find an accusation against him. Luke 6 records this as follows:
On another Sabbath day, a man with a deformed right hand was in the synagogue while Jesus was teaching. The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees watched Jesus closely. If he healed the man’s hand, they planned to accuse him of working on the Sabbath. But Jesus knew their thoughts. He said to the man with the deformed hand, “Come and stand in front of everyone.” So the man came forward. Then Jesus said to his critics, “I have a question for you. Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?” He looked around at them one by one and then said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored! At this, the enemies of Jesus were wild with rage and began to discuss what to do with him. ~ Luke 6:6-11
The teachers of religious law, and the Pharisees, had no desire to celebrate the man’s healing because their hearts were hardened to the purpose for which the Sabbath was given. They were bound in their legalistic traditions and completely blind to the goodness of God.
Throughout the gospels we have Jesus’ interpretation of the true meaning and purpose of the Sabbath. He taught, healed, worked miracles, and cast out demons, all on the Sabbath day.
According to Jesus, the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). One translation of Mark 2:27 says, The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.
The Sabbath ought to be about finding rest in Jesus and abiding in Him. He is the true rest that we are all looking for and in Him alone there is the true Sabbath rest.
Jesus met the needs of the people on the Sabbath and in meeting their need they experienced their true Sabbath rest and that is the rest that is found in him alone.
All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, except the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. ~ Matthew 11:27-30
In Isaiah 1:13 God referred to backslidden Israel’s observance of the Sabbath and feasts as worthless assemblies because they were full of iniquity in their hearts towards God and in how they treated others. It is how we treat one another that really matters to God.
We love him, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also. ~ 1 John 4:19-21
Backslidden Israel was in rebellion against God and doing those things which were detestable to him. In their rebellion they had forsaken those who were the most feeble and vulnerable among them. They were far from being a nation that demonstrated mercy and true justice, therefore God sent them into exile. They became so rebellious towards God and repulsive in his sight that God said to Jeremiah “Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people.” And through Isaiah the prophet God refers to them as “you rulers of Sodom and people of Gomorrah.”
Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the instruction of our God, you people of Gomorrah! “The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?” says the LORD. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood! Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. ~ Isaiah 1:10-20
The Sabbath never was about the day of the week. It is about the ways of God which is mercy, justice, and faith, which Jesus referred to as the weightier matters of the Law.
God gave the Sabbath to Israel to remind them that they were at one time slaves to the Egyptians and he had delivered them from oppression so that he could to bring them into their promised rest. He also commanded them to treat their servants with the same kindness that they had received from the Lord.
Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee. Six days thou shalt labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou. And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day. ~ Deuteronomy 5:12-15
The Sabbath command was not about the day only, instead it is about people whom God loves and wants to bring out of oppression as Jesus said of the woman in Luke 13, “ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?”
The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were more concerned about the letter of the Law, than God’s intent of setting people free from oppression. The letter of the Law in the hard hearted does not reveal God’s heart.
It is Jesus who reveals the Father. Jesus brought the true revelation of the Father that those who were in bondage to the letter of the Law did not know. When people attempt to enforce the letter of the law without mercy and grace, they only promote bondage and death.
The religious leaders of Jesus’s day put all kinds of restrictions on people with the letter of the law because they did not know the Father. And since they did not know the Father, they did not understand the heart or intent of the giving of the Sabbath.
The Sabbaths and the feasts which God gave to Israel were intended to reveal HIM and his glorious, and redeeming power. All the feasts point to him and his love for his people, but the religious leaders of Israel were blind, and did not even recognize him when he walked among them in the flesh.
I have heard the stories of men who have lost their jobs because they refuse to work on the Sabbath and others who can’t find a job because they refuse to work on the Sabbath. This has caused much grief to their families and put some of them in real financial straits.
Is this really what God intends?
Is this God’s intended result for those who keep the Sabbath? Is it right in the eyes of God for a man to neglect his family in order to keep the Sabbath?
If those who claim to be Torah Observant would actually and prayerfully read the dialogue between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day, they would discover that Jesus does not support their interpretation of the Sabbath.
It is right and godly to do that which is good on the Sabbath, and providing for your family qualifies as doing right and good.
On the other hand, it is wrong to attack the Sabbath itself by attempting to refute it simply because some have abused it. You cannot refute the Sabbath because there is absolutely no scriptural grounds for refuting the Sabbath.
Now, read carefully, and don’t misunderstand what I just said. You may refute the legalistic interpretation of the Sabbath as Jesus did, but you can’t refute the Sabbath with scripture. The Sabbath was ordained by God in Genesis 2:2-3 and it is a part of the Biblical narrative. It’s how the Sabbath is understood, or misunderstood, that needs to be addressed.
When the Sabbath becomes about pleasing a rules driven God rather than about a beautiful and personal relationship with God in Christ, then people go into error.
The first ever Sabbath in scripture is recorded in Genesis 2:2-3. God rested on the seventh day and sanctified it. This was God’s Sabbath and it was a day which God sanctified.
Exodus 20:10-11 and Exodus 31:16-17 tells us that God later commanded Israel to keep the Sabbath because he had rested on the Seventh day.
From Adam until Moses, there is no recorded Sabbath command for man. The only Sabbath is the one mentioned in Genesis 2:2-3, the seventh day in which God rested from his work.
As stated earlier, Deuteronomy 5:14-15 reveals one of the reasons God commanded Israel to observe the Sabbath. God gave this command because the children of Israel had been slaves to the Egyptians. Israel was not only to have a day of rest, but their servants were to rest also. We ought to see the heart of God in this. God delivered Israel and gave them a day of rest, something they did not have as slaves in Egypt.
God’s intended purpose was rest and that is the concept that we need to latch on to. If we’ll hear the scriptures with our hearts we will understand that God is in favor of our rest, we’ll understand the heart of God, in Christ, with regards to the giving of the Sabbath. Instead of being bound by the letter of the Law we need to hear what Spirit is saying in view of the person of Jesus Christ.
The Psalmist said, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire— but my ears you have opened — burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, “Here I am, I have come— it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, my God; Your law is within my heart.”
Sacrifices and offerings were an actual requirement according to the letter of the law. Yet the Psalmist says “sacrifice and offering you did not desire” because the Lord had opened his ears, and consequently he understood that this is not what God truly wanted. The writer of Hebrews quotes these verses in reference to Jesus.
In like manner, God’s desired purpose concerning the Sabbath is not a legalistic observance of a holy day. Instead, it’s intended purpose is rest for our souls, and that rest can only be found in the Lord Jesus Christ.
If a person, technically, keeps the Sabbath after the letter of the Law, yet his soul finds no rest because of worries and cares, has he really kept the Sabbath?
Again, you cannot refute the truth of the Sabbath with Scripture because scripture never refutes it. You can refute interpretations of the Sabbath observance and what it means within the context of New Testament doctrine but scripture does not turn us against it.
There is a beautiful truth within the Sabbath and that truth is discovered in the person of Jesus Christ. When understood in view of the rest which we have in Jesus Christ the purpose for the Sabbath within the Biblical narrative becomes a very liberating. In addition, we ought to learn from the scriptures that observing the technical Sabbath, according to the letter of the law, has never been able to bring God’s people into the rest that God has for them.
The writer of Hebrews addresses this issue telling us that God rested on the seventh day form all his works, and God commanded Israel to keep the Sabbath, because he had rested on the Sabbath day.
The command which God gave to Israel to keep the Sabbath is uniquely tied to the promised inheritance of the land of Israel. Inheritance and rest go hand in hand and both are to be obtained through faith. In Hebrews 3 and 4 the writer of Hebrews speaks of the first generation of Israelites who failed to enter the Promised Land as failing to enter into God’s rest.
Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years. Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways. So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into MY REST). ~ Hebrews 3:7-11
Notice that the writer of Hebrews refers to the first generation of Israelites not entering the promised land as falling short of God’s rest.
When Hebrews 3 – 4 is read in its entirety, we see that the first generation of Israelites did not enter in the Promised Land (God’s rest) because of their unbelief. The writer of Hebrews says this as an exhortation to us with regards to faith. In chapter 4 he speaks of God resting from all of His works on the Sabbath day within the context of exhorting us to labor to enter into that rest.
We are to labor to enter into GOD’S REST for us and THAT REST is in the finished work of God, in Christ Jesus.
For us who are under the new and better Covenant, keeping the Sabbath is all about finding true rest for our souls, by completely trusting in Jesus Christ!
Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into My rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works. And in this place again, If they shall enter into My rest. Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief: Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. For if Joshua had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day. There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.
As previously stated, There is a beautiful truth within the Sabbath throughout the narrative of scripture, and that truth is discovered in the person of Jesus Christ. When understood in view of the rest which we have in Jesus Christ the purpose for the Sabbath within the Biblical narrative becomes a very liberating truth.