And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”[Mark 2:27-28]
Have you ever wondered why Jews and some Christian groups keep the 7th day of the week — Saturday — as the dedicated day of worship, whereas the church historically has identified Sunday as the day of worship?
Should followers of Yeshua observe the Sabbath today? If not, why and if so, how? After all, Jesus declared Himself Lord over the Sabbath. What does that mean and why does it matter?
All of these questions are not only theologically important but extremely relevant, and the more I study the Bible the more I am beginning to understand the significance of the Sabbath. God has placed special emphasis on one day of the week, so maybe it’s time we discovered why.
After finishing the awesome work of creation in six days, God set apart the 7th day as the Sabbath — or shabbath in Hebrew — שַׁבָּת. Sabbath not only is designed to bless and reorient man back to God, but also I have discovered that it is the original template for all of redemptive history.
Unfortunately, the Biblical precedence and prophetic significance of the Sabbath has been all but lost among the covenant people of God. Both Jew and Gentile alike have failed to keep the Sabbath according to God’s clear command and expectation. It seems that while most Christians are ignorant of God’s purposes for the Sabbath, many Jews superficially keep it in name only. Even 7th-Day Adventists and other Hebrew Roots groups tend to misinterpret and limit the full application of the Sabbath.
Fortunately, Jesus came to straighten us all out, and He has given us the full counsel of His word to do so.
What does the Bible say about Sabbath? You may be surprised to discover that it is much more than meets the eye.
The Sabbath is the Original Pattern of Creation
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.2And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.[Genesis 2:1-3]
In the beginning, God created the Sabbath. God’s creation of Sabbath from the beginning must not be underestimated. One of the first mistakes we can make is by assuming that the Sabbath was established with Moses on Mt. Sinai when entering into covenant with the children of Israel. Many have misinterpreted Sabbath as exclusively a Jewish holy day, when in reality the Sabbath day was instituted and set apart as holy by God at the very beginning of creation for all of mankind, not just for Israel.
From the moment God said “let there be light” and the dimension of time was born, the LORD created the heavens and the earth in 6 literal, 24-hour days, ordering the days of the week after His own glorious work. After finishing and blessing His work, God then established the seventh and final day of the week to be a day of rest, reflection, relationship, and reorientation. Of course God is never in need of rest, so He established the pattern of the Sabbath for man.
The pattern of the 7-day week has been embedded by God into the very fabric of creation itself. Having created the Sabbath, only God owns the exclusive rights to determine its purpose and function. As we will soon see, the 7-day week goes far beyond establishing natural rhythms in life by revealing spiritual realities and prophetic patterns that teach us more about God and His redemptive plan.
The Sabbath Preceded the Giving of the Law
For in six days the LORD made heaven and 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.[Exodus 20:11]
Having been established at the beginning of creation, Sabbath obviously was in place long before the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai. The Bible does not explicitly tell us that Adam, Noah, Abraham, Job and the patriarchs observed the Sabbath prior to Moses, yet as covenant people in relationship with the One True God, their knowledge of the Sabbath was certain. If God blessed the Sabbath as holy from the beginning of creation, then surely the patriarchs would have desired to participate in that blessing.
Either way, the first time the Sabbath is mentioned after the creation account is during the Exodus, when God sends manna from heaven to feed the children of Israel. Notice that God commanded His people to keep the Sabbath prior to giving the law at Sinai.
This is what the LORD has commanded: “Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay aside to be kept till the morning … Eat it today, for today is a Sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. 26Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is a Sabbath, there will be none.”[Exodus 16:23, 25-26]
The Sabbath was Written into Law by the very Finger of God
And the LORD gave me the two tablets of stone written with the finger of God, and on them were all the words that the LORD had spoken with you on the mountain out of the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly. 11And at the end of forty days and forty nights the LORD gave me the two tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant.[Deuteronomy 9:10-11]
The LORD’s covenant with Israel on Mt. Sinai represent the climax of the Old Testament. The LORD came down on the mountain in holy fire before the people and met with Moses face to face. The covenant at Sinai was God’s betrothal to His people and the 10 commandments were in effect the marriage vows.
Written in stone by the very finger of God, the 10 commandments embody the essence and the spirit of God’s law for all generations. Jesus eventually would come in the fullness of time, born under the law, not to condemn the law but rather to perfectly fulfill it [Matthew 5:17]. Of course Jesus perfectly observed the Sabbath. He is the One who engraved the law in stone and gave it to Moses to begin with.
As a Gentile follower of the Jewish Messiah and Israel’s King, I have often wondered why Christians emphasize and observe all of the 10 commandments, except one — the 4th commandment to keep the Sabbath holy. So far I have heard and read most of the primary reasons why the church does not keep Sabbath, but honestly I have found them all lacking.
Some say Sabbath is tied only to the land of Israel and exclusively for the people of Israel and therefore is no longer in effect within the Gentile church. The only problem is that as Gentile believers in Christ we have not replaced Israel but rather have been grafted into the commonwealth of Israel. God’s covenant promises — including the New Covenant [see Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36] — have always been for Israel. It is by faith in Jesus Christ that all nations have received the privilege to inherit the covenant promises of God and given the right to participate as citizens in the Kingdom of Israel [see Ephesians 2 & Romans 11].
My point is that even if the Sabbath is tied to the land and people of Israel, then as a Gentile believer in Jesus, I am now included in Israel and will inherit the land. Naturally, God’s covenant blessings include the Sabbath.
I admit, the issue of how believers are to keep the Sabbath is complex with many things to consider, yet the one question I keep coming back to is this. If we affirm the other nine commandments as binding on the life of the believer for all generations, then why do we cast the Sabbath aside, making it obsolete?
I strongly affirm the freedom we have in Christ to worship the Lord each and every day of the week, but keeping the Sabbath is not only about which day of the week is dedicated to worship the LORD. Sabbath primarily is about God’s divine pattern in both creation and redemption — from Genesis to Revelation. Furthermore, I do not find any New Testament command or principle that abolishes or forbids keeping the Sabbath.
The 4th commandment was written in stone by the finger of God Himself, signifying its permanence and place of priority among the covenant people of God — both for Israel and the nations. If Christians affirm the universal and transcendent place of the 10 commandments as a whole, then we must also include and observe God’s commandment to keep the Sabbath holy.
The Sabbath was the Reason for Divine Chastisement
He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, 21to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.[2 Chronicles 36:20-21]
The Biblical concept of Sabbath extends far beyond just setting apart the seventh day as holy. The LORD instructed His people also to observe a Sabbath year every seven years. Israel was to leave the ground fallow on the seventh year to give the land rest but also to give the people an opportunity to demonstrate total reliance upon the God of Israel [see Leviticus 25:1-4].
Then after observing seven sets of Sabbath years — or 49 years — Israel was to announce the year of Jubilee, which was a year to celebrate God’s provision and goodness by forgiving all debts, liberating indentured servants, wiping the slate clean, resetting the economy and starting over again like new! Once again, Jubilee directly was connected to the Sabbath and was a prophetic picture of the coming Messianic Age when Christ returns to make all things new.
Unfortunately, Israel failed miserably to observe both Sabbath years and the year of Jubilee, and because of her disobedience, the LORD cast them from the land into exile for 70 years — to give the land its Sabbath rest.
Then if you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me, I will continue striking you, sevenfold for your sins … And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste. 34Then the land shall enjoy its Sabbaths as long as it lies desolate, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbaths. 35As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, the rest that it did not have on your Sabbaths when you were dwelling in it.[Leviticus 26:21, 33-35]
The Sabbath is the Prophetic Pattern of Redemption
So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.[Hebrews 4:9-10]
I have written extensively about the 7,000 years of God’s redemptive plan. Using the Biblical principle that one day with the Lord is as 1,000 years and 1,000 years as one day [Psalm 90:4, 2 Peter 3:8], I believe God has provided a literal template for all of redemptive history.
For those who may not be familiar with this concept, consider how the Sabbath is at the heart of God’s prophetic pattern.
- 6 Days of Creation = 6,000 years of literal history
- 7th Day Sabbath = Millennial Kingdom of Christ, or 1,000 years
- Feasts of Weeks (Shavuot) = 7 Sabbaths after the Feast of Unleavened — also the day of Pentecost and the coming of Holy Spirit
- Sabbath years = Year of rest every seventh year culminating with the year of Jubilee
- 70 Weeks of Daniel = 70 periods of 7 Years — 490 years — shown to the prophet Daniel to provide a prophetic timeline for Jerusalem and the end of the age
- Daniel’s 70th Week = Final 7 years of this age culminating with the great tribulation and the Day of the LORD
- Ultimate Fulfillment of Sabbath = Eternal State of Rest for God’s people
As one can see, the prophetic pattern established by God from the beginning of creation is playing out in real time and leading to the ultimate fulfillment of all of God’s promises when Christ returns on the Day of the LORD to establish His kingdom and bring all of God’s people into their rest!
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.[Colossians 2:16-17]
The Sabbath will be Observed in the Millennial Kingdom of Christ
“For as the new heavens and the new earth which I will make shall remain before Me,” says the Lord, “So shall your descendants and your name remain. And it shall come to pass that from one New Moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, all flesh shall come to worship before Me,” says the Lord.[Isaiah 66:22–23]
The 1,000 year reign of Christ on the earth will be the 7th Day — the ultimate Sabbath day. If that weren’t enough, our participation in the Kingdom of Israel in the age to come will include the observation of all the holy Feasts of the LORD [see Zechariah 14] and also the Sabbath.
So if the LORD established the Sabbath at the very beginning of creation for all generations, wrote in stone with His own finger the commandment for us to keep the Sabbath as holy, tied His prophetic pattern of redemption to the Sabbath cycle, promised to give the ultimate Sabbath day of rest in the age to come, and to perpetuate the keeping of Sabbath into the Millennial kingdom of Christ, then why would God not expect His people to keep the Sabbath today?
Jesus says the Sabbath was made for man — not just the Jews — and as Lord over the Sabbath, Jesus did not come to abolish this sacred day but rather ultimately to fulfill that Sabbath and bless it forever.
For this reason, I am more convinced than ever before that all believers for all time should keep the Sabbath day holy. As a pastor of a Christian congregation that meets on Sundays, I realize this conclusion is not convenient and that I will trust the Holy Spirit to guide me in all truth as I move forward in my spiritual journey.
That we should keep the Sabbath is clear. How we are to keep the Sabbath day is a discussion for another day. I can say with confidence, however, that in keeping Sabbath, God would have His people rest in Him, reflect upon His goodness, connect with Him in deeper relationship, and reorient themselves to His will and His word.
Until next time — Maranatha!