Sabbatarians have argued that the Sabbath commanded in Exodus 20:8-11 is part of the moral law given by God to mankind and as such, it remains binding on all Christians. They assert that the Sabbath had its origin in Genesis when the earth was created and not at the time of the giving of the law in Exodus. On the other hand, other Christians see no evidence for the origin of the Sabbath before the time of Moses. They see the Sabbath as one of the temporary, ritual institutions which found their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. They point to several New Testament Scriptures which indicate that the Sabbath has been abrogated by Christ.
Sabbath Rules from the Bible
When the sabbath was given to the people of Israel, Sabbath keeping rules were strict. Sabbath breaking was punished severely. The sabbath regulation was so strict that the Israelites never kept it for any length of time.
Ex.35:2 Anyone who worked on the Sabbath was put to death.
Ex.35:2 On the sabbath day they could not light a fire in their house.
Ex. 16:23 Food for the sabbath had to be prepared the day before.
Ex.16:29 On the sabbath day they had to stay in their places. Do not go out looking for manna (food).
Num.15:32 Man stoned for picking up sticks on the Sabbath.
Jer.17:21-27 Carrying loads out of the house or through city gates were forbidden. Ex.20:8-11 Animals, servants, children, everything under one’s supervision had to rest.
Jesus and the Sabbath
Jesus came to do his Father’s will. He always emphasized that the work he did was exactly what the Father told him to do John 5:19
Gal.4:4-5 Jesus was born under law to redeem those under law that we may have the right to sonship.
Luke 6:1-5 Jesus and his disciples went through the corn field on the Sabbath. His disciples picked corn and ate. When confronted by the Pharisees about the disciples’ action, Jesus said that David, because he was hungry, took the consecrated bread, ate and gave some to his companions. Jesus also told them that he was Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus did not tell the Pharisees that what they were insisting on was not in the law. Clearly, the law forbade going out on the sabbath to procure food(Ex.16:29). Food for the Sabbath was to be prepared the day before(Ex.16:23). Jesus just ignored that rule. According to the law, the Pharisees were not wrong.
On the Sabbath day, Jesus went into the synagogue and deliberately healed a man with a shriveled hand. In this case, Jesus wanted to show the Pharisees that the Sabbath must not be used as a hindrance to doing good. Jesus took pleasure in making the Pharisees squirm at the things he did on the Sabbath(Luke 6:6-10). The Jews persecuted Jesus because he was healing and setting people free from all sorts of sicknesses and disabilities on the Sabbath(John 5:16). The reasons they tried harder to kill Jesus were 1) He was breaking the Sabbath 2) He was calling God his Father and 3) He was making himself equal to God (John 5:18).
Why did Jesus persist in provoking the anger of the Pharisees by performing these dramatic miracles and telling people to do things they would normally not do on the Sabbath? Could he not have healed the man at the pool of Siloam another day or instruct him to wait until the Sabbath was over before traveling with his bed?(John 5:8-9). Before Jesus healed the man who was blind from birth, he explained that the man was born blind not as a result of sin, but that God’s work would be demonstrated in his life. Jesus went on to teach that He (Jesus) had to do the work of the One who sent him while it was day (John 9:3-5) We see here once again that Moses’ law was not Jesus’ guide or motivation; doing his Father’s will was. He ignored aspects of the Sabbath law, but kept his Father’s command.
Jesus responded to his detractors by saying that he did nothing on his own. He was imitating the Father. Jesus went on to show them that his authority was given him by the Father. (John 5:19-45). Jesus did not defend himself by citing the law of Moses. Instead, he insisted that what he did was approved and sanctioned by the Father thus signifying a shift away from Moses. Jesus made no effort here to conform his behavior to Moses’ law. Instead, he rigidly and tenaciously stuck to his Fathers will and desire. Jesus was thus indicating to all and sundry that the era of Moses was coming to an end and God’s new purpose for all humanity was dawning.
Paul And the Sabbath
Paul in Col.2:16 places the Sabbath in the same category as annual holy days and new moon celebrations. He calls them shadows, but in comparison, Christ is the substance. He further instructs the brothers at Colossae that since Christ had set them free from sin and human regulations, they should not let anyone judge them by those shadows. Jesus Christ lifted the Sabbath restrictions, thus giving Christians the freedom to worship Him on any and every day. God’s work of doing good goes on every day without cessation. Keeping the Sabbath is therefore not a requirement for the Christian. Paul made it clear to the Galatian church that becoming circumcised carried an obligation on their part to keep the entire law Gal.5:3. Paul preached against circumcision and by extension against law-keeping (which includes Sabbath keeping) for Christians (Gal.5:11).
We who have entered God’s rest have ceased from our own works (Heb.4:10-11). That is the rest we aspire to enter. The rest that is found in Jesus Christ who said come to him for rest (Matt.11:28). “He (Jesus) is the great and everlasting Sabbath, whereof the less (and temporal) Sabbath was a type and figure, which had continued until his coming: by him commanded in the law; in him destroyed and by him fulfilled in the holy Gospel.”(P.159 The History of the Sabbath by Peter Heylyn 2nd revised. Ages Software, Albany OR. USA 1997).