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The Sabbath - Everything You Ever Wanted To Know



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Chapter 4

Sabbath in the New Testament

When we come down to the time of the New Testament, we still face the one great fact that God is our Creator. We also remember that it was our Creator who said, "I am the Lord, I do not change" (Malachi 3:6). When we think of these two monumental considerations, we are obliged to expect God’s original Sabbath-keeping requirement to remain in effect during the time of the New Testament. And, happily, the holy character of the Sabbath did continue in force during this time.

Let us look first at the example of the Savior Himself. He was faithful in all that He did, including Sabbath-keeping: "So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read" (Luke 4:16). As we read the Gospels, we discover that Jesus often performed miracles of healing on the Sabbath. What a wonderful way to celebrate this supreme day of the week! What great joy these healings must have brought to those with hurting bodies, and to their families! And don’t you know that the Father in heaven and the angels smiled as they witnessed our Lord’s overflowing kindness as He moved among men.

But the Jewish leaders did not smile. They frowned on Christ’s deeds of love for the suffering people. They even scolded these hurting ones for allowing themselves to be healed on the Sabbath. In their perverted view, Jesus was desecrating this holy day. They accused Him of breaking the Sabbath. His acts of healing were in violation of their artificial man-made rules for Sabbath-keeping. During the period between the two Testaments, the Jews had gone overboard in their zeal to guard Sabbath sacredness. They had enacted hundreds of little unreasonable requirements. Notice here some examples of these Sabbath restrictions:

One must not tie two camels together and then pull one of them, forcing the second to follow; but he was permitted to take the cords of the two camels in his hand and pull them both, providing he did not twine the two cords together.

A woman could wear superfluous ornamental garments on the Sabbath, except certain ones that the rabbis prohibited because she might remove them for a friend to inspect and admire, thus carrying them, bearing a burden on the Sabbath. (The Babylonian Talmud, Isidore Epstein, ed., 35 vols.; London: The Soncino Press Ltd., 1935-1952, cited in the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Students’ Source Book, art.: Sabbath, Jewish Traditions Concerning; Washington: Review & Herald, 1962, 847-856)

Of course, it was a violation of the Sabbath to walk on green grass, for that would bruise or thrash it. So, as a man might not hunt on the Sabbath, he might not catch a flea; for that would be a species of hunting. As a man might not carry a burden on the Sabbath, he might not carry water to a thirsty animal, for that was a species of burden&ldots;a man might minister to the sick for the purpose of relieving their distress, but not for the purpose of healing their diseases. He might put a covering on a diseased eye, or anoint it with eye-salve, for the purpose of easing the pain, but not to cure the eye (Sabbath Manual of the American Tract Society, 214, 215, cited in J. N. Andrews and L. R. Conradi; History of the Sabbath, Washington: Review and Herald, 1912, 135)

It is true that the Son of God did not heed these rabbinical laws. But Jesus never broke the Sabbath! He simply ignored these ridiculous rules that God had never made. Our Lord knew better than anyone on earth how the Sabbath should be kept. That is because He Himself made the Sabbath in the beginning. And so He could say, "the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:28). He had the authority to say it is lawful to do well on the Sabbath day and to demonstrate what He meant by lawfully doing well. For further study concerning Christ’s being the Creator, you may refer to John 1:1-3, Colossians 1:14-17, and Hebrews 1:1-3.

The Sabbath is God’s sign of authority, His flag. He set it aside in a sinless world and gave it to man to keep as a sign of allegiance to Him. After sin came into the world, the significance of the Sabbath was expanded so that it would represent the saving power of God. The same power that created us is the power that redeems us. We are created "a new man" in Christ Jesus. This added meaning of the Sabbath is set forth in the book of Ezekiel: "Moreover I also gave them My Sabbaths, to be a sign between them and Me, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them" (Ezekiel 20:12). And then the Lord shows this fuller significance of His holy day in the command: ". . . and hallow My Sabbaths, and they will be a sign between Me and you, that you may know that I am the Lord your God" (Ezekiel 20:20).

The reason for the above reference to the Old Testament is because the theme of this Scriptural passage is the theme of the New Testament – Heaven’s gift of life and holiness brought to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

The binding nature of the Sabbath day in the New Testament shows up clearly in the descriptions surrounding the sacrifice of our Savior at Calvary. Referring to the day when Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus’ body down from the cross and buried it in his own new tomb, we are told:

That day was the Preparation, and the Sabbath drew near,
And the women who had come with Him . . . observed the tomb and how His body was laid.
Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment (Luke 23:54-56).

All four Gospels record that Christ arose from the grave on the first day of the week. Matthew (28:1) and Mark (16:1) remind us that the resurrection occurred on the day after the Sabbath. The Bible record of events at the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection clarify not only the sacredness of the seventh day, but also its identity.

It was the Lord Jesus Himself who made plain that the holy Sabbath obligation would continue on after He left this earth. For when He foretold the destruction of Jerusalem, He said, "And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath" (Matthew 24:20).

In our effort to clarify the status of the Sabbath obligation during apostolic times, we need to inquire into the activities of the Apostle Paul, since his work is recounted in greater detail than that of the other apostles. We find that the Gospel writer Luke also wrote the book of Acts, in which he has made a record of Paul’s travels and preaching.

When Paul and his party came to Antioch in Pisidia, they "went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down." This was a regular Sabbath worship service, as we see in this further quotation: "And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, ‘Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on’ (Acts 13:14,15). This, of course, was a Jewish service, not yet a Christian one; but Paul stood up and preached a powerful sermon about Jesus. His preaching was evidently well received, for He preached there the next Sabbath to the Gentiles as well. The record says, "On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God" (Acts 13:42,44). Not surprisingly, when the Jews saw this great crowd, "they were filled with envy" (v. 45).

Then, when Paul and his companions came to Philippi, they joined a group of women on the Sabbath in a regular worship spot beside the river. They spoke to the women, and there Lydia, "a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira," was converted. She and her family were baptized and persuaded Paul and his helpers to stay in her home (Acts 16:13-15).

When Paul came to the city of Corinth, he stayed with some fellow tentmakers, Aquila and Priscilla. The record reads that while in Corinth, "he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks . . . . And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them" (Acts 18:4,11). These seventy-eight weeks of Sabbath celebration make clear Paul’s habit of keeping the seventh day.

While one occasion of preaching on a certain day of the week is certainly not enough reason to assume that day to be holy, habitual preaching on the actual day that God set aside as holy time would indicate that that day is still sacred. These three passages in Acts show that Paul consistently treated the Sabbath as a sacred day of worship. It is noteworthy that the Jews who brought Paul to trial (See Acts 23,24) did not accuse him of Sabbath-breaking, and these were the same men who had complained so sharply about Christ’s treatment of the Sabbath. Clearly, Paul still kept the seventh day. And in view of the absence of any discussion in the New Testament as to which day is really the Sabbath, none even at the Jerusalem Council, reported in Acts 15, we can be sure that all the apostles continued to keep the original seventh-day Sabbath.

If the sacred nature of God’s holy creation Sabbath had come to an end at the cross, surely the church leaders at this important Council in AD 49 would have decided to abandon it. For what could please the Gentiles more than to retain their traditional celebrations in honor of the sun? The rejection of God’s holy Sabbath day is exactly what happened many years later, but not at all in New Testament times.

It seems appropriate here to mention two other texts of Scripture that distinguish the weekly Sabbath from ordinary days. The first one is 1 Corinthians 16:2, where the first day of the week is seen to be a regular business day, a day of accounting and setting aside of funds, no doubt at home or in a place of business. This, of course, is in contrast to the sacred day of worship.

The second text is Colossians 2:16,17, which mentions new moons and sabbaths. These were festival days that came yearly and not weekly. They could fall on any day of the week. They were symbols that presented lessons teaching the plan of salvation. These were in effect until Jesus came as the Lamb of God and was sacrificed for our sins. The contrast here is that these days were "a shadow of things to come," whereas the weekly seventh-day Sabbath is a monument to creation, a memorial of what has already happened in the past. Notice too that there is no New Testament record of any dispute as to which day is the correct weekly Sabbath. This was never an issue in apostolic times.

Before leaving the New Testament, we should notice three passages in the book of Revelation that show relevance to the Sabbath. The first such passage is in Revelation 1:10, recording John’s words: "I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day." To ascertain which day John refers to, we decide to let the Bible be its own interpreter, and so refer to three earlier texts of Scripture:

  1. "the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God" (Exodus 20:10).

  2. "If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, From doing your pleasure on My holy day" (Isaiah 58:13).
  3. "The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:28).

Our conclusion? The Lord’s day is the Sabbath day.

The other two passages in Revelation do not mention the Sabbath specifically, but the implication in each is clearly that the obligation to keep that day holy still stands in the last book of the Bible and in the last days of earth’s history. In Revelation 4, the twenty-four elders fall down before "the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying:

You are worthy, O Lord,
To receive glory and honor and power;
For You created all things,
And by your will they exist and were created" (Revelation 4:11).

The symbols of Revelation 14 are three angels carrying urgent messages for these last days. The critical nature of these messages is very evident from the facts of flying, the loud voices, the widespread destination, and the actual wording. We consider here the first of these three messages:

Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth – to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people –
Saying with a loud voice, Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water (Revelation 14:6,7).

This very serious announcement by the flying angel uses almost the exact wording of the Sabbath commandment of Exodus 20, a clear indication of the perpetual nature of the holy Sabbath requirement. This is a vital call for God’s people to return to Sabbath-keeping.

These last two passages, cited from the book of Revelation, bring us again face to face with the fact that God is our Creator. This reminds us that this fact is the very basic reason why He deserves our worship. Our very lives come from Him, and He owns us! It was the Creator Himself who sanctified the seventh day of the week, and commanded us to keep it holy in honor of His work of creation. We need to remember – God is still our Maker and our King. Sabbath-keeping is a mark of identification for those who acknowledge that God is sovereign because of creation and who reject all Godless philosophies.

McDonald Road SDA Church


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