WHAT ABOUT THE SABBATH?
©Copyright 1998 Randall D. Hughes
The Sabbath was a day that was set aside by God, for the Jew's as a day of rest for man, and a day of worship. God included remembering the Sabbath as the 4th commandment. And because of this there are some who contend it should still be observed today. But does it really matter?
The Bible is clear that God has a very low tolerance for those who disobey him. The Old Testament is full of examples of individuals who died for not obeying God's laws. There are around 367,183 deaths recorded in the Bible that were directly cause by God for enemies of Israel and those who disobeyed Him. Included is the death of a man who picked up sticks on the Sabbath Day (Number 15:32-36). The 4th Commandment reads:
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: 10But 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, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: 11For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it." Exodus 20:8-11
So yes, the man was clearly in violation of this commandment. But are we still under this law? It is interesting that the Sabbath is mentioned 60 times in the New Testament, and 77 times in the Old Testament. The first mention of it in the New Testament is in Matthew 12. In this passage Jesus and the Disciples are going through a corn field. The Disciples are hungry and began to pick the corn and eat. The Pharasee's began to condemn them for such unlawful behavior! Jesus replies,
"Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him; 4How 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? 5Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless? 6But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple. 7But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. 8For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day." Matthew 12:3-8
Verse seven is particularly interesting. Jesus calls the Disciples guiltless! How could this be? Was it simply because Jesus was with them? In Numbers the man was stoned for picking up sticks. How different is it to pick corn? Yet Jesus calls them guiltless!
The discourse about the Sabbath continues. Jesus goes into the Synagogue and finds a man with a withered hand. Jesus proceeds to heal the man. Saying it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. This being the introduction to the Sabbath in the New Testament!
Thus Jesus violated this law here and on several occasions and commanded others to also. When Jesus healed the man at the pool of Bethesda, he commanded him to "take up thy bed, and walk." (John 5:1-16) The Jews sought to slay Jesus because he had done these things on the Sabbath day.
Occasions were Jesus and his Disciples violated the Sabbath:
Jesus Disciples picking corn. MT 12:1-8, MK 2:23-28, LK 6:1-5,
Healed the man with the withered hand, MT 12:10-13, MK 3:1-6, LK 6:6-11.
The woman with the infirmity, LK 13:11-17.
A man with dropsy, LK 14:1-6.
The man at the pool of Bethesda, JN 5:1-16.
The blind man who Jesus placed clay in his eyes, JN 9:1-7, 14-16.
In each of these instances, Jesus, being God manifest in flesh, surely could have arranged another time and place for them to occur. If it was his intent on our continued keeping them, surely he would have set the precedence by careful observance. While the healings may be argued as to whether they indeed were in violation, the picking of corn is the most blatant. Yet, Jesus said they were guiltless. And then the man carrying his bed. These are instances that stand out as the beginning of the transition from the Dispensation of the Law to the Dispensation of Grace.
There is one additional instance that is a powerful demonstration of this transition. That being the woman caught in the act of adultery. In John 8:3-11 Jesus is confronted by the Scribes and Pharisees to make a decision regarding the fate of this woman. The stated she should be stoned. After writing in the sand, Jesus said, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." Her accusers left and then Jesus told the women that he did not condemn her, but to go and sin no more.
This is not to say adultery is no longer a sin, but the punishment of the law was no longer in force. God's grace provides time to repent.
It is interesting in the New Testament to review the various times the Ten Commandments are reiterated.
In the Sermon on the Mount, MT 5:17-20, Jesus says, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. 18For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. 19Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven."
Jesus spoke of fulfilling the law. He then gives additional insight to the commandments.
Thou shalt not kill. Jesus added hatred. The inner man of the heart.
Thou shalt not commit adultery. Jesus adds lustful thoughts, and spoke against divorce.
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain. Jesus adds every idle word.
Yet throughout this discourse, MT 5:21-48, the Sabbath is never mentioned.
In MK 10:18-19, Jesus again speaks of the commandments and only mentions 6 of them. "Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother."
In LK 18:18-20, Jesus again speaks of the commandments and only mentions 5. "Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother."
Although neither of these are complete listings, the Sabbath is constantly omitted. This is true in Paul's list in Romans 13. "For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 10Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." The reason is clear. The Sabbath was never intended to be observed by the New Testament Church.
The issue of the New Testament Church following every tenet of the Jewish Law is first brought up in Acts 15. When the Gentiles began to convert, the Jew's wanted to impose all the laws of the Jews upon these new converts. Acts 15:5, "But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses."
After calling a council in Jerusalem to pray and discuss the matter, the following conclusion was reached by the Apostles. James declares, "Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: 20But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood."
They then wrote letters to the Gentile believers saying: "The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: 24Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment: 25It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth. 28For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; 29That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well."
For some reason the Apostles under direction of the Holy Ghost did not see fit to include the Sabbath as one of the "necessary things." And realizing, the New Testament does give additional instruction to the believer as how to live. But never is the keeping of the Sabbath included.
In fact, when Paul wrote unto the Gentiles in the book of Colossians he indicated the Sabbath is no longer to be observed. "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: 17Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ." Colossians 2:16-17. In verse 14 Paul mentions that the handwriting of ordinance have been nailed to the cross. We know the issue of meat is diminished in the New Testament for Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 10:25, "Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake…"
Colossians 2:16, is the only reference to the Sabbath in all of the Epistles. Although it is possible Paul was also referring to the Sabbath in Romans 14. "One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. 6He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it." Paul goes on to speak of things being unclean to eat, this being a major issue with the Jews. Yet Paul says, "I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself…" Once again, Paul doing away with the stringent dietary guidelines of the law and possible also here, the Sabbath.
So it is clear from Scripture the Gentile Church was not intended to observe the Sabbath, any more than they were to be circumcised, eat a restricted diet, or the many other Laws applying only to the Jews.
So who is the Sabbath for? It was a command given to the Jews specifically! In Exodus 31:12-18, God makes this very clear. "And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 13Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the LORD that doth sanctify you. 14Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. 15Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. 16Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. 17It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed."
Notice how specific verses 16-17 are. "Wherefore the Children of Israel shall keep the sabbath…it is a sign between me and the Children of Israel for ever." It is true we are the Children of Abraham through faith. And we are God's people if we obey his plan for us, but the keeping of the Sabbath was not intended for the Gentiles of this Dispensation. If we are to enforce the keeping of the Sabbath, then it would also be necessary to enforce all of God's laws imposed upon Israel. Circumcision, dietary, no blended fabrics, the Sabbath of the land every seven years, etc.
It is true the Church in the book of Acts is spoken of as honoring the Sabbath. But remember, they were primarily all Jews! And when these Jews set down the guidelines for the Gentile converts they omitted the Sabbath!
It is true that the prophet Isaiah speaks of the Sabbath being kept during the Millennium. Isaiah 66:23 indicates that new moons and Sabbaths will be kept. This is a period of time we know little about. God has always just given partial glimpses of what lies ahead. (MT 13:7) But it also seems during this time God will re-institute animal sacrifice, Hosea 3:4 and Zechariah 14:21. There are those who feel that we today should keep the Sabbath because of its certain importance in the future. This proves absurd unless they also are offering animal sacrifices and observing the new moons and the feast given to the Jews today.
One other objection is we live in a variety of time zones. We cannot all observe the same day simply because it is a different day on the other side of the world. Thus the observing of one day for all to rest and worship is absolutely impossible.
God has given the New Testament Church a "type" of the Sabbath. For when God prophesied of the day when he would pour out his Spirit, it was said, "This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing…" Isa. 28:12. When God fills you with his Spirit he has given you his rest. The Sabbath was the shadow of the coming rest. Not a one day a week thing, but God's Spirit within you to help you and keep you everyday.
So the Bible is clear by its absence in the New Testament instructions given to the Church that we are not required to keep the Sabbath. Instead, we should honor every day as a day to be lived unto the LORD.
©Copyright 1998 Randall D. Hughes
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