Sabbath - Did Jesus abrogate sabbath as a requirement for salvation???
Mature Christians ought to have respect for the
Sabbath day of God revealed to Israel in the Ten Commandments at the time of
Moses. It is my view that all mature Christians should “remember
the Sabbath Day.” But of course, we need to remember the seventh
day of the week (from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset) in the manner that God
the Father and Christ Jesus presently remember it. This is what all Christians
should want to do.
In the very start of Genesis we have God Himself
“resting” on the seventh day. I see no reason why we could not allow this
example to lead all of us. But we have to ask ourselves what is “rest” as
far as God is concerned? In the first instance of God resting on the Sabbath
Day, we are not told that God “rested” by going to church. We are not told
He refrained from doing business. We are not told whether He lit a fire or not.
All we are told is that God “rested.”
What we have to find out is just what God does on
the Sabbath today and whether He still “rests” on the Sabbath. If He does
indeed “rest” even in heaven, does He want us to follow His example and
“rest”? We need to know because, as I explained from the Holy Scriptures in
previous chapters, all who have a mature relationship with the Father and Christ
now have our citizenship in heaven with God. We are expected to obey the rules
and regulations that govern heaven and God’s throne, not those rules on earth
intended to command human beings. Paul said we have died to this world and no
longer are subject to its rules and regulations, even those intended for people
in their infant stage of spiritual development. We should now have a mature
approach to our spiritual existence in Christ.
From the records of Scripture we know that God
“rested” on the Sabbath after six days of His creative activity. We are not
told how He “rested.” We do know there was no command to Adam and Eve that
they “rest” as God did each Sabbath Day. If one wants to rely solely on the
Holy Scriptures for teaching on this matter, as all mature Christians should do,
there is no instruction concerning the Sabbath Day until the time of Moses.
We are told plainly in the Holy Scriptures that the Sabbath Day as a command
came into effect only in the time of Moses (Nehemiah 9:14; Ezekiel 20:12; Exodus
16:23). And though Abraham became the father of the Christian faithful there is
no evidence that he ever kept a Sabbath day. Besides Abraham, we read biblical
information about Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and the rest of the patriarchs, yet
there is no teaching that they were required to keep the Sabbath Day. Only in
the time of Moses does Scripture make it plain that Israelites were given the
command to observe the Sabbath day as a day of “rest” and a Day in which no
fire would be lit or business done.
As far as God Himself is concerned, there is not
the slightest hint He continued to “rest” every Sabbath Day from His
first “rest” on the seventh day of creative activity recorded in Genesis.
However, we do know that when Jesus was teaching the Jews in Palestine, He said
about “work” on the Sabbath Day: “My
Father works hitherto and I work” (John 5:17). That is right.
Christ said that up to that very moment, the Father worked on the Sabbath
day, and so did Christ.
Of course, we need to ask the question: just what
did Jesus mean when He said that He and the Father “worked”? Also, what did
the apostle John mean in the next verse when he recorded?
Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the Sabbath,
but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.”
These teachings about God working on the
Sabbath (or the breaking of it) appeared in the Gospel of John written in
the last decade of the 1st century C.E. John’s Gospel was the last
portion of the New Testament to be written. It was God’s final written word
for all mankind since the 1st century C.E.
We need to look carefully at the unique teachings
found in the Gospel of John. They were revealed for a different purpose than the
teachings in the first three Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke (called the
Synoptic Gospels). As they represent the final mature teachings that Christ
taught, let us look at what the Gospel of John is all about.
When John and the other apostles heard Christ
teach while on earth, they were not able at first to rightly evaluate His
teachings or actions at that time. But after they were given the Holy Spirit
they began to understand the mature teachings of Christ and were able to
remember the actual teachings of Christ. Several verses in the Gospel of John
therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that
he had said this unto them.”
things understood not his disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified,
then remembered they that these things were written of him.”
these things [His teachings] have I
told you, that when the time shall come you may remember that I
told you of them. And these things I said not at the beginning, because I was
Christ spoke of a time in the future when the
apostles would begin to properly appraise Christ’s former actions and
teachings. There were many things Christ did while in the presence of His
disciples that they were unable to appreciate or even understand. Only later
(and especially after the revelation of “the Mystery” in 63 C.E.) did they
comprehend their significance.
And in case some might think that John, who wrote
his Gospel when a much older man, was not able to remember the essential
teachings of Christ, John wrote the following promise of Christ:
the Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name,
he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your
remembrance whatsoever I have said unto you.”
Christ knew the apostles could not grasp the full
meaning of what He was teaching during His earthly ministry. That is why He told
them on the eve of His crucifixion that they would understand later.
have yet many things to say unto you, but you cannot bear them now.
Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all the
John 16:12–13 Greek
Once the apostles received the Holy Spirit they
slowly began to understand what the true spiritual teachings of Christ really
were. Whereas, up to the time of Christ’s death the apostles tried to obey all
the laws of Moses and those laws of Christ which they could comprehend. But
soon, in a step-by-step way they began to realize that Christ came to
abolish all physical requirements as a means to salvation that He formerly
commanded to Abraham, Moses, David, and the prophets. Circumcision became
irrelevant (Acts 15). That ritual had been one of the most holy and sacrosanct
ceremonies in the entire Old Testament. Still the Holy Spirit made it clear that
the ceremony of circumcision was no longer a means to salvation. They also came
to see that scrupulous observance of the Old Testament days, months, times, and
years was unnecessary (Galatians 4:10) and a whole new way of understanding the
Gospel was coming on the scene.
The revelation of “the Mystery” in 63 C.E.
changed the whole character of what the apostles thought represented the Gospel
of Christ. A new dimension of understanding came into play. It became apparent
to the apostles that a thorough revision of what they thought constituted the
New Covenant Gospel became necessary. John thoroughly understood this new and
majestic teaching of “the Mystery” when he wrote his Gospel in 90 C.E.
By 90 C.E., it was well known that a new way of
looking at the Gospel of Christ had emerged and Christians throughout the world
needed to understand the teachings of this new revelation called “the
Mystery.” As explained in Chapter 5 in this book, only the Jews were left with
the New Covenant relationship. So, John wrote his Gospel to accommodate this new
revelation of “the Mystery.” Even the New Covenant teachings were graced by
a new spiritual emphasis. Note that John in his Gospel no longer referred to the
Old Testament holy days as God’s holy days. He had a new emphasis. In John’s
Gospel in 90 C.E., he consigned the holy days of Moses to the rank of being
the Jews’ Passover was at hand” (John 2:13); |
was a feast of the Jews” (5:1); |
the Passover, a feast of the Jews was nigh” (6:4); |
the Jews’ feast of tabernacles was at hand” (7:2); |
the Jews’ Passover was nigh” (11:55). |
Even the day on which God formerly commanded
Israel to prepare for the Sabbath (Exodus 16:23) John called “the
Jews’ preparation day” (John 19:42). John even records that
Christ, speaking to Jews, referred to the Mosaic Law as “your
law” (John 10:34). He also called it “their
law” (15:25). And if anyone should say that these last references
were only Christ’s attitude to the Pharisaical interpretation of the law —
that is, the Pharisaical additions to the law and not the original Law of Moses,
it should be noted that in both cases (10:34; 15:25) Christ quoted from the
Psalms in the Bible. He was not citing the Jews’ traditional laws at all, but
was talking about the Mosaic Covenant.
John showed a definite contrast between the Law
of Moses and the Teachings of Christ. “For the law
was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ”
(John 1:17). The Old Testament days, John came to find out, were not necessary
for Christians to observe in the plan of salvation, and John reflected this
later teaching in his Gospel. He wrote to Christians who then knew those days
were no longer a means to gain a salvation in Christ.
And not only were holy days redundant, but the
apostle John makes it clear that even the weekly Sabbath day was no longer
necessary in God’s plan of salvation, a fact exhibited in the Gospel of John
itself. As clear as John could make it, he wrote that Christ by His teachings
and actions abrogated even the Sabbath day for humans as a necessary step to
salvation. Let us see where he shows this. Notice:
therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had
done these things on the Sabbath day. But Jesus answered them. My Father
works hitherto and I work. Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him,
because he not only had broken the Sabbath, but said also that God was his
Father, making himself equal with God.”
This teaching recorded by the apostle John is of
profound importance as far as the question of Sabbath observance is concerned.
When one understands just what these verses teach, we see that keeping the
Sabbath as a means to gain salvation (as it was in Old Covenant times) has been
repealed by Christ Himself.
A careful reading of John 5:16–18 shows John
looking back on this important event in Christ’s ministry and he gives his
inspired commentary on it. Christ had just healed a lame man and he told him to
pick up his pallet and carry it. This was a direct violation of Old Testament
law (Jeremiah 17:22). What Christ told the man to do was illegal, but Christ
nevertheless commanded the man to perform that “work.” Christ Himself
acknowledged that His miracle of healing and His command to the man were
“work” when He said: “My Father
works hitherto, and I work.” And in His “work” Christ
claimed “equality” with the Father. Even Christ said “I
and my Father are one” (John 10:30). And truly, they were equal in
the functions they performed. Christ did what the Father did.
Son can do nothing of himself, but what he sees the Father do; for what things
so ever he does, these also does the Son likewise.”
Though they are not equal in rank, there is still
equality in their spiritual and legal functions. Christ told Philip: “he
that has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Christ knew it
was proper to “work” on the Sabbath, because His Father had no qualms about
such “working” and Christ considered carrying a pallet as work!
Now, carefully look at this teaching of the
apostle John. The original words that John used in John 5:18 have great
significance. They actually give John’s commentary on the actions and
teachings of Christ by commanding that lame man to carry his bed.
the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the
Sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with
Verse 18 is a statement made by John himself. It
was John’s commentary on Christ’s actions. Some people, notably from
Sabbath-keeping groups, refuse to accept that verse 18 is John’s own teaching
about this Sabbath incident. They do not want John saying what is actually
written in the text. But why do they balk at taking John’s statement to be
John’s own personal comments? It is simple. If John made that comment as a
personal appraisal of John’s own teaching, then it would show that Christ was
indeed a Sabbath-breaker — an habitual breaker, because the word “broken”
in the original Greek is in the imperfect tense. To relieve Christ of such an
infraction, some have invented an explanation to satisfy their sensitivities
over the matter. They say John simply recorded what the Jews were saying.
They want it to be only the Jews who accused Him of breaking the Sabbath, not
that He actually broke the Sabbath itself. In one translation made by a
Sabbath-keeping denomination, they render verse 18 in the following manner:
the Jews sought the more to kill Him, because they contended that He not
only had broken the Sabbath, but said also that Elohim was his Father, making
Himself equal with Elohim.”
(bold words added to text)
Notice the three italicized words in the verse.
The translators of that particular version added them to show their
opinion of what the text means. They had to add the extra words to the text,
because the Greek of the inspired New Testament states no such thing.
These translators are forcing John to say what he did not say. This is tampering
with the text of Scripture in an effort to make the Bible agree with their own
theories. The truth is, the three added words of those false translators do not
belong in the text. Leaving the inspired passage just as written by John proves
that John himself made the comment that Christ “broke” the Sabbath.
Indeed, if John wished to show what the Jews
thought about the actions of Christ, all that John had to do was to quote them.
John constantly quoted people. Note that in his Gospel there were no fewer than
368 separate quotations, averaging some 17 quotes for each chapter. John was
always careful to quote what other people were saying. In a literary sense, he
was one of the most persistent users of quotations in the New Testament. Note
who made the quotes John records. Sometimes John quoted the Jews who countered
Christ, sometimes he quoted Christ Himself and at other times John gave his own
comments and observations about the quotes he recorded. We must be careful to
distinguish all these various quotes and comments made by John in his Gospel. An
honest appraisal will yield interesting and informative teachings.
What does this mean? It means that if John in
5:18 was merely quoting what the Jews thought of Christ, he could have used his
consistent manner of saying, “the Jews said.” But he didn’t. The point we
must recognize is this: John always differentiated what he himself believed from
the beliefs of the Jews. He clearly delineated when the Jews were stating their
beliefs. Notice what John wrote.
“The Jews said”
2:18, 20; 5:10; 7:35; 8:52, 57; 11:36
“the Jews answered”
8:48; 10:33; 19:7
“the Pharisees said”
9:16, 40; 11:47
Pharisees “the chief priests and answered”
“the Jews cried out”
“the Jews read”
“the Jews asked”
And if one takes the pronouns of the contexts
into account, John used the expression “the Jews
said” at least 38 different times in his Gospel; “the
Pharisees said” 13 times; and “the
chief priests said” 8 times. This means that 59 times out of his
368 quotations, John was careful to identify the quotations as coming from the
unconverted Jewish authorities. But concerning the important scripture in 5:18, John
said nothing about quoting anyone, even though a few verses earlier, in
5:10, he wrote his familiar statement “the Jews
said” and then quoted what they were saying.
An analysis of those 368 separate quotations in
John’s Gospel is interesting. About 47% of John’s Gospel comprise the exact
quotations of Christ. About 23% record the quotes of other people, including the
Jewish people. But 30% of the Gospel is a record of John’s own comments. Look
up these facts yourself and you will find them to be true. This shows that John
himself was very interested in giving his own mature commentary on the
significance of Christ’s teachings and actions at this earlier time. And
remember, God’s Holy Spirit inspired the commentary of John. John’s comments
represent the teachings of God for Christians.
The point we must recognize is this: John always
differentiated what he himself believed from the beliefs of the Jews. When the
Jews saw Christ violate the Sabbath, John quoted the Pharisees as saying: “This
man is not of God because he keeps not the Sabbath day” (John
9:16). In that verse John makes it clear what the Pharisees believed because he
quotes them verbatim. But in the important scripture of 5:18, John was not
quoting anyone. Verse 5:18 is John’s own evaluation of what Christ was
doing. Once this fact is understood, a flood of light emerges to show the
significance of this important scripture (John 5:18) regarding the whole
question of the Sabbath day and its relation to Christians today. This is
precisely how John the apostle intended it.
The original words used in this verse give
John’s commentary on the actions and teachings of Christ concerning the
Sabbath day of the Ten Commandments and its relationship to mature Christians.
When one uses the original Greek meaning in an honest and proper way, John
states clearly that Christ was doing nothing less than canceling the Sabbath
command for mature Christians who are “in Christ.”
The Greek word translated “broke” in the King
James Version is a very strong one. It is the Greek word LUO. It may only
be three letters in length, but its meaning is powerful and decisive. The word
never suggests a leniency or slackening of anything. It always signifies a
complete and thorough loosing.
Let us notice the comments of Greek scholars on
the meaning of the word “broke” (Greek: luo) in John 5:18. The first
we will mention is Vincent. He gives the actual meaning:
broken. Literally was loosing: the imperfect tense. Not, broke the Sabbath in
any particular case, but was annulling the laws and duty of Sabbath
This is exactly what John meant.
This word LUO translated “was loosing”
has profound legal significance to its meaning in contexts dealing with laws or
judicial decisions. It is the same word used in Matthew 16:19: “Whatsoever
you shall loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven”
(Greek). It was also used to show a legal divorce in the New Testament. “Are
you loosed from a wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:27). It also was used to
describe the destruction of this world system. “Seeing
then that all these things shall be dissolved ..., wherein the heavens
being on fire shall be dissolved” (2 Peter 3:11–12). The
word LUO was even translated as “destroy.” “The
Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil”
(1 John 3:8). And as Vincent said, the word LUO meant in Greek to annul
the laws and duty of Sabbath observance.
Notice what other scholars have said on this
matter. Professor Vine gave the following definition of the word “broke” in
his Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.
to loose, release,
of Satan [from prison];
of one diseased; of the marriage tie, of release from sins;
to loosen, break up, dismiss, dissolve, destroy.” 2
Bauer’s authoritative Greek-English Lexicon
of the New Testament edited by Arndt and Gingrich, says the word means
(2) set free, release, be set free from bond;
(3) break up;
(4) destroy, bring to an end, abolish, do away with.
Of commandants, laws, statements [it means to] repeal, annul,
abolish, abolish the Sabbath.” 3
Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon,
also discussed the same word. Thayer saw its use in John 5:18 as a legal
decision on Christ’s part. The word LUO had judicial significance to it.
as having binding force are likened to bonds; hence LUO is the same as to annul,
subvert; to do away with; to deprive of authority, whether by precept or by act [such
as] the commandment concerning the Sabbath,
John 5:18.” 4
The wording of the Greek shows that the Sabbath
was being abrogated by the express command and example of Christ Himself. This
was further echoed by B.F. Westcott, one of the finest Greek scholars of the
last century. He said:
[Christ] was loosing,
that is, he declared that the law of the Sabbath was not binding. The word LUO
expresses not the violation of the sanctity of the day in a special case but
the abrogation of the duty observance.” 5
In fact, the authors of Harper’s New
Testament Commentary tell us that the Greek means that Christ was
“canceling the Sabbath.” 6
But this is not all. The authoritative ten volume
Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, in which most Greek
words in the New Testament are given excellent analyses, has the following
meaning for the word LUO. It means: “was
loosing the Sabbath” (John 5:18). The best rendering here is
“to set aside,” “to invalidate.” 7
These linguistic scholars recognize that the word
LUO in John 5:18 was used by the apostle John in a legal sense and the
scholars are perfectly correct in their academic appraisals. Something more than
a simple “breaking” of the Sabbath was meant. The word clearly has a
judicial or legislative ring to it. It is used like a “divine command.” Even
in the secular Greek world, there are many examples of the word LUO being
used “to repeal or annul laws, to rescind a
vote, to revoke a will, to break a legal agreement or obligation.” 8
And the apostle John used LUO to show the official abrogation of the
Sabbath day by Christ Himself. Or, to make it plain, as the New
Commentary on Holy Scripture says, Christ “was teaching that the Sabbath day was not binding.” 9
The scholars are using plain linguistic rules to come to their conclusions. They
have no ax to grind over the matter. The plain and simple meanings of the words
written by the apostle John show that Christ was clearly “abrogating the
Sabbath” for those who read his Gospel and were mature in the teachings of
John showed by his personal comments the legal
invalidation (a divine cancellation) of the Sabbath as a Law which God required
mankind to observe. Did Christ have such authority to annul the Mosaic laws if
He so desired? Yes, He had all the legislative jurisdiction needed to make such
verily, I say unto you, the Son can do nothing of himself, but what he sees the
Father does, these also does the Son likewise.”
What did Jesus see the Father do even on the
Sabbath? John quoted Christ as saying: “My
Father worketh hitherto, and I work” (John 5:17). Both the Father
and the Son worked (that is, they continually worked) on the Sabbath day. Does
not the Father perform as much “physical” work on the seventh day as any
other day of the week? Why certainly! The physical universe is in operation
seven days a week and none of its functions is curtailed on the Sabbath. And in
case one might say that sustaining the universe does not involve any work on
God’s part, let him be reminded that Christ said “My
Father works hitherto.” God does work on the Sabbath. And what
about Christ? He also worked! The working that He was doing on the Sabbath was
the Father’s wish. After all, He was equal to God and in Christ’s teachings
and actions He did nothing unless the Father approved (5:19).
This working of the Father, and of Christ while
He was in the flesh, was a way for Christ to show that the Sabbath was abrogated
as a duty. This was John’s appraisal in his Gospel. By the time John wrote his
Gospel, the apostles already received revelations that the Sabbath was no longer
a command for Christians to observe. 10
The apostle John was simply reflecting, under the inspiration of God, that
Christ was even canceling all holy days including the Sabbath command by
His actions and teachings while He was on earth. After all, Christ was the Lord
of the Sabbath and He had the authority to do as He pleased with the day. Since
Christ was the one who commanded the Angel of the Lord to give the Sabbath
command to Israel at the Exodus (Nehemiah 9:14; Ezekiel 20:18–20), He also had
the power to abrogate it if He so pleased. And that is what He did in John 5:18.
There is one final important point to illustrate
beyond doubt that John 5:18 was not John’s recording of Jewish opinion: Since
the verse means that Jesus was canceling the Sabbath as a command in a legal
sense, would any Jew state that this was what Christ was doing by simply letting
the man carry his bed?
How many of them would have said: “Christ was
legally abrogating the Sabbath?” No Jew at the time saw in Christ’s actions
such a legislative decision, nor would they have accused Him of such. Not even
Christ’s apostles saw this single breaking of the Sabbath by carrying the
pallet as a repeal of the Sabbath. It was John who later recognized this, not
those Jews. For ordinary Jews at the time, they looked on Christ as a mere man
who had no power to cancel any law given to Moses. True, they recognized that
Christ made Himself equal with God and for this they called Him a blasphemer,
but would Jewish authorities have seen in His actions of allowing a man to carry
his bed that He was making an official abrogation of the Mosaic Sabbath? To
admit that Christ was canceling the Sabbath shows He was a divine legislator.
This they would not acknowledge.
On the other hand, if one translated the word LUO
simply as “broke,” it might be imagined that the Jews were indicting Him for
the charge of “breaking” the Sabbath. But for the Jews to say that He was
abolishing the Sabbath by simply telling a man to pick up his pallet and carry
it, makes no sense whatever. The admission that Christ was indeed rescinding the
Sabbath command cannot be an opinion of the Jews; it was that of the apostle
John. Some 60 years after the event, John looked back on Christ’s
teachings and actions and saw that Christ was truly canceling for mature
Christians the Sabbath command given to Moses.
Finally, remember that Christ fulfilled all the
law. For the first thirty years of His life, He kept the laws of Moses
precisely, but then He commenced His prophesied role of giving commandments of
His own (Deuteronomy 18:15–19). He began to modify those earlier laws. And one
of Christ’s major alterations was the abrogation of the Sabbath as a necessary
day to observe for salvation. To treat it as simply a day of rest and nothing
more would be completely proper if one wished to do so. I still feel it is the
best day on which to assemble for Christian fellowship and teachings. That is
simply my opinion. But it goes no further than that for any mature
Christian. And remember, no Christian should judge what another Christian does
or does not do on the Sabbath (Colossians 2:16).
Since the Father and Christ (and while Christ was
in the flesh) worked on the Sabbath, any Christian may do the same today without
violating the New Testament law of faith and love (Romans 3:27; 13:10).
Christians may move all the furniture they wish.
The Gospel of John is a legal document given very
late in the 1st century and long after “the
Mystery” was commanded to Paul and others in 63 C.E. This Gospel is
a summation of all the basic (and even profound) teachings that Christ gave
while on earth but it was meant for people of a later time when the Spirit would
be available for mature interpretation. John’s teaching in his Gospel is a
review of the basic philosophical and doctrinal teachings found in “the
Mystery,” but placed within a biographical style of dissertation
on the life of Christ. John gives nothing less than mature evaluations and
teaching on some of the actual statements and examples of Christ that He
performed while He was on earth. But John gives teachings when the apostles were
able to interpret them correctly. In the earlier period, they did not have the
Holy Spirit nor the later experiences involving the advanced teaching of “the Mystery” to determine the significance of what
Christ taught and meant.
In short, John’s Gospel is not a simple
biographical narrative of Christ’s life and teaching designed to enhance the
doctrines of the Old or New Covenants. His Gospel was a final summation of
mature doctrines that Christ taught — doctrines that could only be
understood beginning when the Spirit was given to the apostles in 30 C.E. and
then later with the teaching of “the Mystery” given in 63 C.E. And, John was
writing about 90 C.E. in order to give the most advanced reflections on the
mature teachings of Christ.
The Gospel of John is really “the
Mystery” in biographical form. It is a type of mature
constitution for Christians. In this sense, the apostle John gave to the world
with his Gospel a type of Christian “law” regarding the mature teachings of
Christ and God the Father. And the question of the Sabbath day had to be
answered for people of the 1st century C.E. (and for us today), so
John recalled the exact actions and mature teachings of Christ about the Sabbath
when He was in the flesh. True, at that early time the apostles themselves did
not appreciate or know how to interpret His actions or His words. Only after the
revelation of “the Mystery,” did it
become possible for those actions and words of Christ to make sense. And John
recorded them for us under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This is
why John’s Gospel had to be written. It brought things into mature focus.
Those Christians who feel that Christ kept the
Old Testament Sabbath precisely as Moses stated, should read their New
Testaments very carefully. The teaching of some Christians is to believe that
Christ did not heed the Pharisaical interpretations regarding the Sabbath, but
that He did observe the biblical Sabbath in every way. The truth is, once Christ
commenced His ministry at thirty years of age, He did no such thing!
When Christ’s disciples went through the grain
fields on the Sabbath, they plucked the grain, rolled it in their hands and ate
it. The Pharisees said His disciples were doing “that
which is not lawful to do upon the Sabbath day” (Matthew 12:2). And
true enough, the activity of the apostles was strictly forbidden by biblical law
(Exodus 16:27–30). Sabbath-keeping denominations normally feel that Christ or
His disciples did not really break the Sabbath of God. They think that He was
simply not concerned over “minor work” being done on that day. But this is
not true. Christ was as interested in the smaller points of the law like mint
and anise and cummin (Matthew 23:23) as He was in major matters. After all, if
one breaks the law even in a minor way, he still breaks the law. But
Christ permitted His disciples to break the biblical Sabbath law. And Christ was
not a sinner in doing this. He was the Lord of the Sabbath. This is clear in the
Note Christ’s answers to the Pharisees critical
of Him. He did not say: “God never meant that the gathering of a few handfuls
of grain is Sabbath-breaking.” No, He said nothing like that. Christ admitted
that His disciples had truly broken the Old Testament Sabbath law. And Christ,
as an excuse for His disciples, gave the Pharisees some illustrations of how
others in the past had BROKEN the law without penalty.
he said unto them, have you not read what David did, when he was an hungered,
and they that were with him; how he entered into the house of God, and did eat
the Shewbread, which was not lawful for him but only for the priests?”
Christ’s example to the Pharisees was one of
law breaking, not law observance. Actually, David committed a serious infraction
of the law of God. He and his companions entered the Tabernacle of God (and if
this entry was into the Holy Place, even that entry was illegal). They also
unlawfully ate the consecrated bread. David even committed this sin on the
Sabbath day itself. Compare 1 Samuel 21:6 with Leviticus 24:8. This is one of
the reasons Christ used David’s example of lawbreaking in defense for His own
disciples when they also violated the Sabbath rules.
Christ was telling the Pharisees that since
David had broken the law on the Sabbath and without retribution, His
disciples also had permission from Him to break the Sabbath law. David
broke Temple laws, but Christ said, “In this
place is one greater than the Temple” (Matthew 12:6). Christ was
the One who created the Temple and the Sabbath in the first place. He was the
One who formerly allowed David to break the Temple and Sabbath laws. And now
Christ was commanding His disciples also to break the Sabbath laws. “For
the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (verse 8).
The Sabbath belonged to Christ. He was its Lord
and could do with the Sabbath as He pleased. If Christ was the Son of God on
earth (which He was), no one could hold Him accountable for doing with His own
creation as He wished.
To further strengthen His case, Christ said:
you not read in the law, how that on the Sabbath days the priests in the Temple
profane the Sabbath, and are blameless.”
Christ taught that the priests profaned the
Sabbath of the Ten Commandments, not that they profaned the ritualistic Sabbath
of Moses with their physical ceremonies at the altar. The Ten Commandments
clearly demanded all people to rest. The command in the Decalogue was
all-inclusive, without exception. But the priests were allowed to break that
Commandment law in order to perform rituals in the Temple. Indeed, the priests
worked more on the Sabbaths than on ordinary weekdays because the sacrifices
were doubled on those days (Numbers 28:9–10).
Some may say that this religious activity of the
priests was not a real profaning of the Sabbath. Those who feel that way will
have to argue their case with Christ for He said the priests were
profaning the Sabbath! It is better to believe Christ in this matter than the
opinions of men. The truth is, Christ was Lord of the Sabbath and He could do
with it as He pleased.
This latter illustration of Christ shows which of
the ceremonies in the Old Testament was most important. Was it the keeping of
the Sabbath as found in the Ten Commandments, or was it the sacrificing of
animals in a Temple ritual? There can be no argument in the issue. In this
illustration of Christ, performing the animal sacrifices took precedence over
the Ten Commandments law. This shows that God in the time of Moses was more
concerned about proper sacrificing than Sabbath keeping for the priests. But
even though the sacrificial rituals took precedence over the Sabbath of the Ten
Commandments, there was something more important than mere sacrifices.
if you [Pharisees] had known what this
means, ‘I will have mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned
Christ showed that people could violate laws
(whether Temple laws, Sabbath laws, or even sacrificial laws) in order to show
the higher virtue of mercy. That is what Christ was doing; He was showing mercy.
The disciples were hungry, so Christ showed them mercy by allowing them to break
the biblical Sabbath laws and to gather food to eat. Recall that Christ’s
illustrations to the Pharisees in defense of His disciples were examples of
breaking laws, not keeping them. Christ knew the disciples had in fact
broken the biblical Sabbath, but He used their infringement to show His own
Lordship over the Sabbath and to show His authority over all religious laws in
the Scriptures. He taught that He was greater than the Temple (Matthew 12:6) and
Lord of the Sabbath (verse 8).
Since Christ was the firstborn Son of God in the
flesh, His authority extended beyond all laws made by any man and beyond those
He Himself formerly gave. He was the “Second Moses” with infinitely more
power and authority than any human on earth — past, present, or future! It is
time people begin to realize this and stop demanding that Christ obeyed all the
sacrificial laws of Moses, all Temple regulations, or all Sabbath injunctions.
Certainly, He committed no adultery, stole nothing from anyone, lied to no one,
coveted no one’s property. He honored His parents and performed all that the
Father commanded Him, but He certainly violated the Sabbath laws as recorded in
the Old Testament. This is clearly what Matthew 12:1–8 teaches.
To sum up, the apostle John came to understand
more fully the teachings of Christ and later wrote his Gospel account about
them. And in John 5:18, the apostle John made the dogmatic statement (his own
personal comment and evaluation) that Christ Jesus indeed “canceled” the
Sabbath requirement for mankind. It was no longer a law that had to be kept for
salvation. That record in John’s Gospel gives us God’s final teachings
concerning the ministry of Christ. In the latest book in the New Testament, we
find the legal definition that Jesus “loosed” or “canceled” the Sabbath
day as a requirement for the Christian.
Even though this is the case, what should we
mature Christians do who have our citizenship in heaven at the right hand of
God? Because we are yet humans on this earth, we can still heed the example of
God the Father when He “rested” on the seventh day of the week after His six
days of creative activity. Now, we are not commanded to “rest” and to
“recuperate our bodies” on that day, but we can if we wish. In my view, it
is better to have one day of “rest” from normal work. The Sabbath is better
than on the first day of the week which was (and is) a day in honor of the pagan
Sun God. But if others feel Sunday can still be retained as the day of
“rest,” their opinion is as valid as mine. The simple truth is, let a man
observe any day he or she pleases (Romans 14:1–5). All days are of equal
Yet, as a protest to this modern Christian
society which is heathen to the core and needs correction for rampant idolatrous
ways, it is better in my view to “rest” and associate for Christian
fellowship and teaching on the Sabbath day on which God once “rested.” So, I
leave this chapter with a positive view of the Sabbath. It is the best day for
mature Christians to “rest” and to “assemble” for fellowship and
teaching. In that regard, let me quote what God says: “Remember
the Sabbath Day.”
M.R. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, vol. II, (New York:
Scribner, 1887–1900), p. 1340.
W.E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, vol. III,
(London: Oliphants, 1939–41), p. 15.
William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New
Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, English edition based on
Brauer’s 4th edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979),
pp. 484–485. This is their translation of John 5:18, not mine.
Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Edinburgh: T&T
Clark, 1908), p. 1385.
Brooke Foss Westcott, The Gospel According to St.
John: the Greek text with introduction and notes, vol. I (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1954) p. 187.
J.N. Sanders, A Commentary on the Gospel According to John (New York:
Harper & Row, 1968), p. 164.
Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. IV (Grand
Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–1976) p. 336.
and Scott, Greek-English Lexicon, vol. II (New Edition, Oxford), p. 1068.
Charles Gore, ed., New Commentary on Holy Scripture (New York: The
Macmillan Company, 1928), p. 254.
Galatians 4:10, and in verse 16 Paul called his teaching the “truth.” Also
see Colossians 2:16; Hebrews 3:11–4:11; and Romans 14:5.