What About the Sabbath?
What About the Sabbath?
From time to time the question is asked whether Christians should keep or practice the Sabbath. Of the many groups that profess to be Christians “at least a dozen denominations, including Seventh-day Adventist, Seventh-day Baptist, the Church of God (Seventh Day), and the Worldwide Church of God, teach that the Sabbath day requirement of the Ten Commandments is till binding upon people in the New Testament age” (Sutton 2003, 5). But not all groups practice or believe this. In this lesson we want to see what the Bible teaches about the Sabbath.
The Sabbath Was Given to Israel
The first mention of a sabbath observance is found in Exodus 16:22-26 where God instructs Israel about the Sabbath after He has delivered them from Egypt. Later in the book of Exodus the Sabbath is given to Israel as one of the commandments in the law. We read in Exodus 20:8-11 “Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God…”
One of the first things we need to understand is that the Law, which contains the command to “remember the sabbath day” was given to Israel and only Israel. Consider these passages:
- Deuteronomy 5:2-3 – The covenant was made with Israel (“us”).
- Psalm 147:19-20 – God did not give this covenant to any other nation.
- Ezekiel 20:12 – It was a sign between God and Israel.
This Covenant Was Temporary
This covenant was divine, good, and holy since it came from God. However, it was God’s design that it would be a temporary covenant. In Jeremiah 31:31 we read what God said through the prophet concerning the temporary nature of this covenant. He said.
““Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 31:31).
Jeremiah delivered God’s message of judgement to Israel. And as God does in His discipline, He also gave Israel a light of hope. God contrast the covenant they were in, the one given after the exodus, with the coming new covenant that will not be like the former one.
In the New Testament we read of Jesus statement in Matthew 5:17-18, ““Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” Now those who teach that the sabbath is still binding today will say that Jesus is saying here that He is not removing the law. However, that is a misreading of the text. To fulfill is to bring to completion like fulfilling an order. Once its filled the order is done and is done away with.
When Jesus says, “do not think I came to abolish” he means that He did not come as some “kind of religious rebel, bent on discrediting, invalidating, and promoting contempt of Mosaic law” (Pope. 136). Jesus did not come as a religious anarchist bent on destroying everything. Instead he came not to “abolish but to fulfill.” Jesus’ life and ministry were the fulfillment of the whole of the old law (Hebrews 10:9-10).
The Sabbath Was Abolished
This was in accordance with the prophecies, promises, and covenants God had given throughout the ages and once those were fulfilled the law’s purpose was complete. Consider Paul’s argument in Galatians 3:16-29.
- The promise is not dependent upon the law (vv.16-18).
- The law was given until Jesus would come (v.19).
- Now that Jesus has come the law has been fulfilled and now serves as a tutor pointing us to Jesus (vv.23-29).
Now Paul is more explicit in this point when we look over in Colossians 2:14-17. Paul tells us when Jesus died on the cross he “canceled out the certificate of debt consisting decrees against us, which was hostile to us, and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” What were those decrees and what is the certificate of debt? Paul identifies them in vv.16-17.
- Food or drink (food laws).
- Festival or new moon (feast days).
- Or Sabbath day.
These are the things which Paul says, “were a mere shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” Paul was reminding the Colossians of these things because the Colossians were facing false teachers trying to make them practice the things which belonged to the Old Testament Law. And Paul says that you do not need to do that, Jesus took that out of the way. A point that Paul repeatedly made to several churches who were dealing with this kind of false teaching. He says again in Ephesians 2:15 “by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace.”
The Sabbath Was Not Practiced by The New Testament Church
Lord willing, I hope we have seen clearly that the sabbath was given to the Jews at Sinai, it was part of the old covenant which was temporary. That covenant was removed because it was fulfilled and is no longer in force today. However, we do want to show from the Scriptures that the church in the first century (and beyond) did not observe the Sabbath as a mandatory observance required by the Gospel.
Note what was the pattern and practice we see in the New Testament of the first Christians.
- The church was established on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1) which always landed on the day after the sabbath (Leviticus 23:15-16). That means the church was established and began meeting for worship on that Sunday (Acts 2:42).
- “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread…” Acts 20:7.
- We read in 1 Corinthians 16:2 “on the first day of every week…” they were to lay something aside for the collection.
Now while it is true that we do find in the New Testament some Christians observing the sabbath and other parts of the Old Law, “it is important to recognize that inspired apostolic teaching sought to correct this error” (Jackson, “Should Christians Keep the Sabbath?”). (cf. Galatians 4:9-11).
So, we ask the question, does a Christian have to observe the sabbath today? The answer is no. That was part of the old law which served its purpose and is no longer in force today as a law to be followed to be right with God. Jesus came to bring us the better covenant which was enacted on a better promise with the blood of Jesus.
Jesus came to do what the law could not, true, lasting salvation.
Hebrews 10:1-4, 9-10, 19-22