The word “Sabbath” means rest. The Sabbath is the seventh day of the week. This day was set apart from the other days and made holy by God after He finished creating the world in six days. Genesis 2:2, 3 state: And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.
The Sabbath existed since the Garden of Eden and long before Moses and the Jews were given the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.
In Exodus 20:10, the Lord explains what the Sabbath rest is for: “In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates.” The six days are for labor but the seventh day is for rest.
The Pharisees were upset when they saw Jesus’ disciples picked some wheat, rub the husks off with their hands and eat the grain. “Why are you picking grain on the Sabbath? You’re not supposed to do that!”
Jesus reminded them of what David did when he and his men were hungry. “Have you not even read this, what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he went into the house of God, took and ate the showbread, and also gave some to those with him, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat?” This account of David and the holy bread can be found in 1 Samuel 21:1-6
The religious leaders had turned the Sabbath, which was supposed to be a delight into a burden with man-made restrictions–dos and don’t s. Jesus had to remind them that the Sabbath was made for man not the other way around. The Sabbath was intended to be more than a day of rest–it was for the benefit of mankind. It was for spiritual, mental and physical restoration. This is why Jesus healed on the Sabbath on more than one occasion. Jesus also made it clear that He was Lord of the Sabbath which gave Him the authority to overrule any man-made rules and regulations concerning the Sabbath.
It (the Sabbath) was designed to be a blessing to man, a day of physical rest, but also a day devoted to spiritual exercises. The Pharisees treated the day as though man were created to serve the Sabbath, rather than the Sabbath meeting the needs of man (Walter F. Specht, “The Sabbath in the New Testament,” in Kenneth A. Strand, ed., The Sabbath in Scripture and History (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, p. 1982), p. 96).
On another Sabbath, Jesus was in the synagogue teaching. There was a man present whose hand was withered. The religious leaders watched Jesus carefully to see if He would heal the man so that they could have reason to accuse Him of wrongdoing. Jesus knew exactly what they were thinking. He told the man to stand up and then He asked the Pharisees this pointed question: “I will ask you one thing: Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy?”
After He looked at all of them, He told the man to stretch out his hand. The man obeyed and his hand was restored. It was as good as the other one. Jesus was trying to show the religious leaders that the Sabbath was for doing good, for saving lives and for healing people. It was not a day of rest from doing God’s work but they were hardhearted. They were not filled with compassion for the man whose hand had been withered. They did not glorify God for healing Him. Instead they were filled with rage and discussed what they would do to Jesus.
How many Christians treat the Sabbath as a day of restrictions and useless inactivity as the Pharisees did? God meant it to be a day of rest from secular work but not from doing good works. The Sabbath is for reflecting on God’s work of creation, redemption and restoration. Just as it was not good for man to be alone, it was not good for him not to enjoy rest from his labor. The Sabbath is a gift from God and if approached with the right mindset and attitude, it can be a source of physical and spiritual rest and a time of great joy. The Sabbath is a sign between God and men so that they know that He is the One who sanctifies them (Ezekiel 20:12).
We honor God when we keep the Sabbath properly. We must not do our own thing, find our own pleasure or speak whatever we want. When we do what is right and proper on the Sabbath, it allows us to take delight in the Lord (Isaiah 58:12-14).
God does not mean for us to go hungry on the Sabbath. Jesus’ disciples were hungry so He allowed them to pick the heads of the grain. Jesus healed on the Sabbath teaching that it is lawful to do good and to save lives.
“The Sabbath is a powerful testimony to the sovereignty of God. Only He can create, and only He can make something holy. This is why Adventists object so strongly to the change from Sabbath to Sunday as the Christian day of worship. Without a clear divine mandate, such a development is nothing less than an affront to God.” – Richard Rice, The Reign of God (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 1997), p. 403.
It makes no sense that God would change the Sabbath from the seventh day of the week to the first. He set the example that after six days of work, we rest on the last day of the week. It makes no sense that we would work for six days straight after we rest on the first day. Why would God have us rest at the beginning of the week instead of at the end?
What is also strange is that if the Sabbath was changed that not one of the authors of the New Testament mentioned this. If the Lord was going to change the Sabbath, why didn’t Jesus say anything to the disciples during one of the many times He appeared to them? Surely something as important as the change of the weekly Sabbath was worth mentioning in the Gospels.
The Sabbath was never meant to commemorate our Lord’s resurrection. It was instituted before sin came into the world. The Lord’s resurrection is the sign of His victory over death which is the wages of sin–it was His victory over death, our last enemy. In death Jesus rested on the Sabbath. He rested from His work of redemption just as He rested from His work of creation.
Jesus was very active on the first day of the week–the day of His resurrection. He appeared to many people. The two men on their way to Emmaus were traveling a distance of seven miles, more than a Sabbath day’s journey. They encountered Jesus before evening. Sabbath is from evening to evening.
In Matthew 24:20, Jesus said to the disciples, “And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath. ” He was referring to the tribulation that was to come. He was talking about the future and clearly keeping the seventh day Sabbath was still in effect.
There are two things which the Lord instituted and requires us to do for Him:
- The Sabbath–“Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 5:12-14).
- The Lord’s Supper–“This is My body which is given for you; do this in rememberance of Me” (luke 22:19). The cup is the new covenant in His blood which was shed for us (verse 20).
So we keep the Sabbath to commemorate God’s creation of the world and we observe the Lord’s Supper to commemorate His sacrifice for us. One is commemorative of the life created by Him and through Him and the other is commemorative of His death.
Jesus kept the Sabbath. It was His custom to do good, heal and attend the synagogue where He taught. We ought to follow His example. Jesus did not keep the Jewish Sabbath, He kept the Sabbath of the Lord. The Sabbath is not for the Jews only but it is for the Gentiles as well. It is not called the Sabbath of the Jews but the Sabbath of the Lord. In Isaiah 58:13 God calls the Sabbath, “My holy day” and “the holy day of the Lord.”
We keep the Sabbath because it gives us the opportunity to enter God’s rest and to delight ourselves in our Creator.