There is much religious confusion over "The Sabbath." There are some who make it the central focus of faith and religion. There are others who would have us believe that man changed the Sabbath to Sunday. There are others who believe that the Sabbath is for all men and women and that it always has been that way from the beginning. Just what does the Bible really say about "The Sabbath"?
The Sabbath in the Old Covenant
The Fourth Commandment: Remember The Sabbath – Exodus 20:8-11; Deuteronomy 5:12-15
References to the Sabbath in the Old Covenant: Exodus 16:23-30; 20:8-11; 23:10-13; 31:12-18; 35:1-3; Leviticus 16:31; 23:3,11,15,16,32; 24:8; 25:2,4,6; 25:34; Numbers 15:32; 28:9-10; Deuteronomy 4:12-15 and Nehemiah 9:14; 10:31; 13:15-22
The Sabbath in Prophecy: Isaiah 1:13; 56:1-8; 58:13; 66:23; Jeremiah 17:19-27; Lamentations 2:6; Ezekiel 20:1-29; 22:8,26; 23:38; 44:24; 45:17; 46:1,3,4,12; Hosea 2:11; Amos 8:5
References to other Sabbaths in the Old Covenant: (1) The Day of Atonement – Leviticus 16:29-34; 23:26-32; (2) The Sabbatical Year and Year of Jubilee – Leviticus 25:1-55; 26:34,35,43; Deuteronomy 15:1-18 … Exodus 21:2-11. (Note: “You must observe my Sabbaths” – Exodus 31:13; Leviticus 19:3,30; 23:38; 26:2.) See II Chronicles 36:21. It is absolutely imperative to notice that there are several "Sabbaths" in the Old Testament – not just the seventh day of the week Sabbath. If we are still under the Sabbath Law, what about these other Sabbaths?
The Sabbath In The New Covenant
It is important to notice that in the New Covenant the Sabbath is never given as a command for the church! In other words the seventh day observance is nowhere bound on the church as the day of worship. All of those who would bind the Sabbath on the church do so only by assumption and assertion; not with clear proof from the Word of God. There are even those who bind the Sabbath because of the supposed revelations of latter day prophets! (For more on later day revelations, go here and here.) All are without the authority of God's Holy Word.
In the Gospels we find the Sabbath mentioned on numerous occasions. But we should remember that our Lord was “born under the Law.” See Galatians 4:4. We are not. However, it is still interesting to note what we still can learn from the Sabbath. One of Jesus’ main points of conflict with the religious leaders of the First Century was over the Sabbath. It was obvious that this was a major issue in his day and we can learn much from that controversy. Consider the following:
- The Healing of the Lame Man – John 5:1-27 cf. John 7:16-24
- The Disciples Picking Grain – Matthew 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-5
- The Healing of a Man’s Hand – Matthew 12:9-14; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:6-11
- The Healing of the Crippled Woman – Luke 13:10-17
- The Healing of the Man Born Blind – John 9:1-41
- The Healing of the Man with Edema – Luke 14:1-6
Consider Jesus’ principles for the Sabbath: (1) The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath – Mark 2:27; (2) Our Lord used the Sabbath to do good – Mark 3:4; (3) Jesus is Lord even of the Sabbath – Mark 2:28. It must be noted that while there are certainly numerous principles to be learned from Jesus' dealing with Sabbath issues in his day, never once did he make the seventh-day Sabbath observance a part of his New Covenant.
Summary and Conclusion
The Sabbath (a term that means "rest") stood at the beginning of all the sacred seasons as a weekly observance in worship and devotion to the Lord God and thus serves as an archetype (“the original pattern or model of which all things of the same type are representations or copies; prototype, perfect example”) of shadows which point us to something more substantive! We also should not forget that there yet remains a Sabbath rest for the true people of God. See Hebrews 4:9! Thus, the New Covenant shows us that the Sabbath is fulfilled in Christ – Colossians 2:16-17 and Hebrews 3:7-4:11 (Hebrews 10:1) … Galatians 4:9-11. Jesus is our “Sabbath Rest”! See Matthew 11:28-30. It is imperative that one understands the Old Covenant Sabbath from the standpoint of it being but a shadow of the spiritual substance found only in Christ. Thus it is from the standpoint of biblical typology that the prophetic teachings of the Sabbath ultimately point. While we do not "keep the seventh-day Sabbath" we do "keep" the fulfillment of all the Sabbaths found in our Lord and we look forward to that Sabbath Rest that yet remains for the faithful of God.
Addendum on "The Lord's Day"
THE ASSEMBLING OF SAINTS: Acts 2:42-47; 20:7; Hebrews 10:25; Revelation 1:10
The day that the early church met together to worship was clearly the first day of the week – the day of the resurrection of Christ and even the beginning of the church on Pentecost. The resurrection is the most decisive event in salvation history that becomes the basis for making the “first day of the week” the “Lord’s Day.” See Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2,9; Luke 24:1,13; John 20:1,19,26; Acts 20:7.
That Sunday is the Lord's Day is seen in the following: (1) Jesus‘ Resurrection was on the First Day of the Week – Matthew 28:1; (2) The Church Began on the First Day of the Week – Acts 2:1; (3) The Lord‘s Supper is Observed on the First Day of the Week – Acts 20:7; (4) The Collection is Taken on the First Day of the Week – I Corinthians 16:1-2; (5) The Lord‘s Day is the First Day of the Week – Revelation 1:10.
The phrase “first day of the week” (Acts 20:7) is literally “the first of the Sabbaths” and was a Jewish expression based upon the practice of counting up to the seventh day or Sabbath. The early Christians adopted the Semitic way of referring to “Sunday”, which was actually a pagan designation of “The Day of the Sun.” The early church also called this day the “Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:10) and the Greek word used in Revelation 1:10 for “Lord’s Day” (kuriake) is actually the term used in modern Greek for “Sunday.” It is interesting to note that after the close of the First Century, the early church also referred to Sunday as “the eighth day” which clearly separated it from the “seventh day” or Jewish Sabbath. What is more, the writers of the Second and Third Century clearly tell us that the early Christians worshiped on the Lord's Day – the First Day of the week – not on the seventh-day Sabbath.
The first day of the week in the Roman world was the beginning of the workweek and Christians, many of whom were slaves, did not have that day off. (In other words most individuals in the early church had to work on Sundays.) Consequently, the early Christians met together either before dawn or at night on the first day of the week. See Acts 20:7. The early Christians also met together at other times, which showed both the social and spiritual dimensions of their faith and the need to frequently be together. See Jude 12 cf. II Peter 2:13 (Acts 2:42-45). Even in spite of the increasing difficulties faced by the threat of persecution, the early church did not give up meeting together. See Hebrews 10:25.
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