What is the Sabbath?

Short summary:
* Sabbath day is on Saturday (seventh day of the week).
* The command to obey the Sabbath was specifically for the Israelites.
* Rest is good and is essential for endurance in this life, but we shouldn’t use the Sabbath day as an excuse to refuse helping others and advancing the Kingdom of GOD.
* It is not a sin to work on Sunday.
* Sunday is not the Sabbath day, but is the first day which we use for fellowship and praise and worship.
* The Sabbath foreshadowed the eternal rest provided through Jesus.

Detailed explanation:
It is written in
Genesis 1 that GOD created the heavens and the earth in six days. With each description of each new day, it is written “and there was evening and there was morning.” However, that phrase doesn’t appear for the seventh day. The seventh day represents the day without end, just as it is described in Revelation 21:23-25.

It is written in Exodus 20:11: “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.”

Although GOD’s rest on the seventh day (Genesis 2:3) did foreshadow a future Sabbath law, there is no biblical record of the Sabbath before the children of Israel left the land of Egypt. Nowhere in Scripture is there any hint that Sabbath-keeping was practiced from Adam to Moses.

Exodus 31:16-17 makes it quite clear that Sabbath observance was a special sign between GOD and Israel: “16 So the sons of Israel shall observe the sabbath, to celebrate the sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant.’ 17 It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed.”

In Deuteronomy 5:12-15 (emphasis on verse 15), Moses provides the reason the Sabbath was given to the nation Israel: “12 ‘Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you, so that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day.”

So, GOD commanded the Sabbath to the Israelites, not to remember the seventh day of rest from creation, but so that they would remember their Egyptian slavery and their deliverance from that slavery. Note the requirements for Sabbath-keeping: A person placed under that Sabbath law could not leave his home on the Sabbath (Exodus 16:29), he could not build a fire (Exodus 35:3), and he could not cause anyone else to work (Deuteronomy 5:14). A person breaking the Sabbath law was to be put to death (Exodus 31:15; Numbers 15:32–35).

An examination of New Testament passages shows us four important points:
(1) Whenever Christ appears in His resurrected form and the day is mentioned, it is always the first day of the week (
Matthew 28:1, 9, 10; Mark 16:9; Luke 24:1, 13, 15; John 20:19, 26).
(2) The only times the Sabbath is mentioned from Acts through Revelation, the occasion is Jewish evangelism, and the setting is usually a synagogue (
Acts 13–18). In 1Corinthians 9:20, Paul wrote, “To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews.” Paul did not go to the synagogue to fellowship with and edify the saints, but to convict and save the lost.
(3) After Paul states, “From now on I will go to the Gentiles” (
Acts 18:6), the Sabbath is never again mentioned.
(4) Instead of suggesting adherence to the Sabbath day, the remainder of the New Testament implies the opposite (including the one exception to point 3, above, found in 
Colossians 2:16-17).

Looking more closely at point 4 will reveal that there is no obligation for the New Testament believer to keep the Sabbath day, and will also show that the idea of a Sunday “Christian Sabbath” is also unscriptural. As discussed above (Colossians 2:16-17), there is one time the Sabbath is mentioned after Paul began to focus on the Gentiles: “16 Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— 17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” Thus, the Jewish Sabbath was abolished at the cross where Christ canceled the written code along with its regulations (Colossians 2:14).

This idea is repeated more than once in the New Testament. Consider the following examples:
Romans 14:5-6: “5 One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord,”
Galatians 4:9-10: “9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years.”

But some people claim that a mandate by Constantine in A.D. 321 “changed” the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. But is that true? On what day did the early church meet for worship? Scripture never mentions any Sabbath (Saturday) gatherings by believers for fellowship or worship. However, there are clear passages that mention the first day of the week. For example, it is written in Acts 20:7 that “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread.” In 1Corinthians 16:2 Paul urges the Corinthian believers that on the first day of every week, they should set aside a sum of money in keeping with their income. Since Paul designates this offering as “service” in 2Corinthians 9:12, this collection must have been linked with the Sunday worship service of the Christian assembly. Historically, Sunday (not Saturday) was the normal meeting day for Christians in the church, and its practice dates back to the first century.

The Sabbath was given to Israel, not the universal church. The Sabbath is still Saturday, not Sunday, and has never been changed. But the Sabbath is part of the Old Testament Law, and Christians are free from the bondage of the Law (Galatians 4:1-26; Romans 6:14). Sabbath keeping is not required of the Christian—be it Saturday or Sunday; however, rest is essential for a healthy life and will enable us to endure until the end as we are called to do (Matthew 10:22; 24:13; Mark 13:13; John 6:27; 1Corinthians 4:12; 10:13; 13:7; 2Corinthians 1:6; 2Timothy 2:10-13; 2Timothy 4:5; Hebrews 12:3-17). However, just as Jesus showed us by His example, we are never to use the Sabbath day as an excuse to refuse helping people and advancing the Kingdom of GOD (Matthew 12:9-13; Luke 13:10-17).

The first day of the week, Sunday, the Lord’s Day (Revelation 1:10), celebrates the New Creation, with Christ as our resurrected Head. We are not obligated to follow the Mosaic Sabbath—resting, but are now free to follow the risen Christ—serving. Again, the apostle Paul taught that each individual Christian should decide whether to observe a Sabbath rest: “5 One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord” (Romans 14:5-6). Therefore, if you desire to use Saturday as a complete day of rest so that you can get closer to the Lord, there’s no condemnation in doing that! In fact, I wrote and published this article on a Saturday. Some people might consider doing such a thing as work, but I am completely at rest in doing this for others in order to glorify the Lord.

However, because the purpose of the Sabbath was to remember how the Israelites were freed from slavery (GOD did all the work for the Israelites), we should celebrate every day the fact that we are no longer slaves to sin because of the finished work of Jesus (Christ did all the work for us)! The command to not do any work on the Sabbath was to showcase how we are not saved by our works but by faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), trusting in the Lord (Proverbs 3:5-6). And this was revealed in the example of the gathering of the manna (Exodus 16). The Israelites were instructed to gather only for six days and not gather on the seventh day. On the sixth day, GOD would provide double so that they did not need to gather on the seventh day. This is the main message of the Sabbath: rest in the knowledge that GOD will provide. In fact, many Scriptures reveal GOD is our provision (Genesis 22:8,14; 45:11; 50:21; 1Kings 17:4; Matthew 6:26). As showcased by Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4; 6:25-34; John 6:35,41,48,51, GOD did provide and Jesus was/is our provision. GOD did the work to set the Israelites free and lead them into the promised land; likewise, GOD did the work to set us free from slavery to sin and lead us to the new earth under the new heavens (John 19:30; Revelation 19-22). We are to worship GOD every day, not just on Saturday or Sunday. Even if we are working jobs to provide for our families, we must rest through faith in the Lord every day.

The Sabbath was rest or completion on the seventh day. And the Sabbath was one of seven festivals: Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Firstfruits, the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles. Read Leviticus 23 to examine instructions for all seven festivals/feasts. GOD designated seven specific festivals/feasts that Israel was to celebrate each year. Each one of these Jewish festivals/feasts is significant both in regards to the Lord’s provision for His people and in regards to the foreshadowing of the coming Messiah and His work in redeeming people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. And every seven years, the Israelites were to liberate slaves, forgive debts, and allow the land to rest for a year (Exodus 21:2; 23:10–11; Leviticus 25:1–7; Deuteronomy 15:1–17; 31:10–13). And then every seven-times-seven years is the ultimate seventh day rest — the year of the Jubilee — where everything was forgiven and all was to be restored (Leviticus 25).

As GOD incarnate, Jesus decides the true meaning of the Sabbath because He created it, and He is our Sabbath rest in the flesh. When the Pharisees criticized Him for healing on the Sabbath, Jesus reminded them that even as sinful as they were, they would not hesitate to pull a sheep out of a pit on the Sabbath. And because Jesus came to seek and save His sheep who would hear His voice (John 10:3-4,27) and enter into the Sabbath rest He provided by paying for their sins, He was beyond the Sabbath rules. Jesus told the Pharisees that people are more important than sheep and the salvation He provided was more important than rules. The sabbath does not control a person nor dictate decisions; rather, the sabbath only exists to provide rest.

It is written in Mark 2:27-28: “27 Jesus said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.’ “

Jesus had essentially restated the principle that the Sabbath rest was instituted to relieve man of his labors, just as Jesus came to relieve us of our attempting to achieve salvation by our works. So, the creation story of six days of work and one endless day of rest is the story of humanity’s fall and restoration. The six days of labor represents our time here on this earth and the seventh endless day of rest represents our time on the new earth under the new heavens with the Lord for eternity. We no longer rest for only one day, but forever cease our laboring to attain GOD’s favor. Jesus is our rest from works now, just as He is the door to heaven (John 10:7,9), where we will rest in Him forever. There is no other Sabbath rest other than Jesus. He alone satisfies the requirements of the Law, and He alone provides the sacrifice that atones for sin. He is GOD’s plan for us to cease from the labor of our own works. In fact, Jesus timed His death so that His body would “rest” over the Sabbath and then He resurrected on the first day of a new week. Therefore, if you truly desire to rest, then put your entire trust in the Lord!

(Matthew 11:28) -NASB
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

(Hebrews 4:9-11) -NASB
9 So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. 10 For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. 11 Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.”

We must be diligent to enter that rest. How do we do that? Jesus told us to enter through the narrow door (Matthew 7:13; Luke 13:24). And as I’ve already mentioned, Jesus is the narrow door (John 10:7,9). No one enters that rest unless they go through Jesus (John 14:6). There is no rest for the wicked (Isaiah 48:22; 57:20-21) because they will be cast out into outer darkness and eternal flames where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:12; 13:42,50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28; Jude 1:13; Revelation 21:8).

* Are you resting in the knowledge that GOD will provide for your needs while you’re here on this earth?
* Are you refusing to help people or advance the Kingdom while using the Sabbath as an excuse?
* Are you resting in the finished work of Christ Jesus for your salvation?
* Will you enter the rest of eternal life with the Lord on the new earth under the new heavens?

5 thoughts on “What is the Sabbath?

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