Is the Sabbath Commanded for Christians Today?
An examination of the gospels clearly shows Jesus Christ kept the seventh-day Sabbath. The Bible tells us He is our example (1 John 2:6). Knowledgeable people are aware that time has not been lost and that the seventh-day of the week today is the same seventh-day of the week Jesus kept. Since the Sabbath was given to man at Creation, Christ kept the very same seventh-day given at the time man was created. The book of Luke tells us, “And 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 for to read” (Luke 4:16). The account tells us that Jesus attended worship services on the Sabbath and participated in the reading. There are other examples in the gospels. See Luke 6:6. “And it came to pass also on another sabbath, that he entered into the synagogue and taught . . . .” Also, Luke 13:10. “And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath.”
Jesus was carefully scrutinized by the religious leaders who were looking to find fault in what He did. He was accused of healing the sick on the Sabbath (Luke 6:6-11; 13:11-17, John 9:16), an act which the religious leaders thought was wrong. He was accused of Sabbath-breaking because His disciples ate a small amount of grain while walking through a field on the Sabbath day. In these cases Jesus showed how these accusations were unfounded and that as the “Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28) He knew how to properly observe the Sabbath. Jesus told these Jews what their real problem really was. “. . . Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition” (Mark 7:6-9).
The religious leaders in Jesus’ day added so many restrictions and rules that they made the Sabbath day a burden rather than the joy God intended it to be. Jesus Christ set the perfect example. He demonstrated that the Sabbath was a day of physical rest and spiritual rejuvenation, a day to do good to others should the opportunity arise. Jesus came to magnify the Law of God and to make it honorable (Isa. 42:21). He said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to [fill full]. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matt. 5:17-18).
New Testament Examples of Sabbath-Keeping
Christ was not the only servant of God who kept the Sabbath. The Apostle Paul is a case in point. Church historians admit that not even the pagan elements which crept into the Christian church could erase the Law of God from the writings of the Apostle Paul. It is clear from Paul’s writings that he upheld the commandments and the Law of God. Various churches in Asia Minor, where Paul did most of his work, continued keeping the Sabbath as late as the fourth century. A number of texts in the book of Acts clearly demonstrate that Paul kept the Sabbath. Here is what we read in Acts, chapter thirteen: “But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down” (v. 14). Paul was the apostle who supposedly repudiated the Law of God in favor of “Christian freedom and self-expression,” so what was he doing in the synagogue on the Sabbath day? To have attended the synagogue on the Sabbath while repudiating Sabbath-keeping would have generated endless confusion among the Christian brethren, as well as setting the wrong example. The fact is: The very act of attending the synagogue on the Sabbath is proof Paul kept the Sabbath. He did not keep Sunday-the first day of the week-as a day of worship. We find in Acts, chapter thirteen, that Paul preached in the synagogue on the Sabbath, and his sermon was so powerful that the Gentiles asked Paul to preach to them on the next Sabbath! And on that following Sabbath almost all of the city came to hear Paul preach! (v.44). Clearly, Paul kept the Sabbath and the Gentile converts kept the Sabbath too.
Notice Acts 17:2 for even more proof. “And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures,” (Acts 17:2). It was Paul’s custom to attend the synagogue on the Sabbath. We find the same thing in Acts, chapter eighteen. “After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth. . . . And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks . . . and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized” (Acts 18:1,4, 8). Here we see Gentile converts attending the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and as a result of Paul’s preaching were converted. What this points out is that New Testament Christians kept the Sabbath.
Paul emphasized in his letters that he had set the right example. “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). “Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample” (Ph’p. 3:17). “Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you” (Ph’p. 4:9). “For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews” (1 Thess. 2:14).
Some who oppose the Sabbath do so on the grounds that there is no New Testament command to keep the Sabbath. Is this a true statement? Take a look at Hebrews, chapter four. An examination of this chapter reveals that Paul is making a comparison between the rest that Israel received when the people entered the promised land and the rest Christians will receive when they enter the Kingdom of God. The word “rest,” in verses one through eight, is from the Greek word katapausis, which means “a place of resting down.” But when we come to verse nine, we have a change in Greek words. “Rest” in verse nine is from the Greek word sabbatismos, which means “keeping of a sabbath.” The verse should be translated, “There remaineth therefore a keeping of the sabbath to the people of God” (Heb. 4:9). There is a lesson in types and antitypes here. Man has been given a weekly cycle of seven days-six days of labor, followed by a Sabbath day of rest. The Sabbath is a type of the Millennium. Since the Kingdom of God will be established during the Millennium-the 1000 year period-as a time of rest from sin and evil, the weekly cycle is a type of man’s 6000 years of sin and rebellion against God. This is why Paul states, “There remaineth therefore a keeping of the Sabbath to the people of God” (Heb. 4:9). The Authorized Version is incorrect in translating this word as “rest.” The fact is: God’s Sabbath day should be kept today; it is a type of the purpose God is working out here below in His plan of salvation.
Sabbath Created by Christ
The Apostle John made it plain that Jesus Christ was the God of the Old Testament. Notice what John writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. . . . “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-3, 14). Of Christ, Paul wrote, “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him” (Col. 1:16). Scripture clearly states that Jesus Christ was the Creator of this earth (Eph. 3:9, Heb. 1:10; 2:10) and the God of the Old Testament. As Jesus Christ of the New Testament, He was manifested in the flesh. “Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:1-4).
Christ created the Sabbath during the Creation week. “And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made” (Gen. 2:2-3). The Sabbath was created for the benefit of man. Jesus stated, “. . . The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28). The Sabbath that Jesus created was the seventh-day Sabbath-Saturday, the seventh day of the week. It is the only day that God has ever sanctified or set apart as a day of worship!
Christ Revealed the Sabbath to Israel
While the Sabbath was revealed to man at Creation, it was generally ignored. In the pre-Flood world only a few men were obedient to God. Enoch and Noah were examples of these, and were exceptions. After the Flood we find Abraham obeyed God. Of him God said, “. . . Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws” (Gen. 26:5). During their slavery in Egypt the children of Israel had lost all knowledge of the Sabbath. When Christ, as the God of the Old Testament, delivered them from Egypt He gave the following instruction to Moses:
Then said the Lord unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no. And it shall come to pass, that on the sixth day they shall prepare that which they bring in; and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily. . . . And it came to pass, that on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for one man: and all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. And he said unto them, This is that which the Lord hath said, To morrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the Lord: bake that which ye will bake to day, and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning. . . . Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none. . . . See, for that the Lord hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day. So the people rested on the seventh day (Ex. 16:4-5, 22-23, 26, 29-30).
This instruction also includes the need to recognize Friday as the preparation day for the Sabbath.
In Exodus, chapter twenty, the command to observe the Sabbath day is included in the Ten Commandments. It is the fourth commandment.
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it (Ex. 20:8-11).
This command emphasizes the need to remember the Sabbath as a day of rest. It had been previously revealed to them by the miracle of the manna as we see recorded in Exodus, chapter sixteen.
There are many commands in the Old Testament regarding the weekly Sabbath. Let us note a few of them.
Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest: that thine ox and thine ass may rest, and the son of thy handmaid, and the stranger, may be refreshed (Ex. 23:12).
Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest: in earing time and in harvest thou shalt rest (Ex. 34:21).
Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day, a sabbath of rest to the Lord: whosoever doeth work therein shall be put to death (Ex. 35:2).
Ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father, and keep my sabbaths: I am the Lord your God. . . . Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord (Lev. 19:3, 30).
Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings (Lev. 23:3).
Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord (Lev. 26:2).
Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee. Six days thou shalt labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou (Deut. 5:12-14).
The following instructions regarding violations of the Sabbath day are plainly spelled out in the Scriptures.
And if the people of the land bring ware or any victuals on the sabbath day to sell, that we would not buy it of them on the sabbath, or on the holy day: and that we would leave the seventh year, and the exaction of every debt (Neh. 10:31).
In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day: and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals. There dwelt men of Tyre also therein, which brought fish, and all manner of ware, and sold on the sabbath unto the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem. Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the sabbath day? Did not your fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon this city? yet ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the sabbath. And it came to pass, that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the sabbath, I commanded that the gates should be shut, and charged that they should not be opened till after the sabbath: and some of my servants set I at the gates, that there should no burden be brought in on the sabbath day (Neh. 13:15-19).
Thus saith the Lord; Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; Neither carry forth a burden out of your houses on the sabbath day, neither do ye any work, but hallow ye the sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers (Jer. 17:2-22).
The Law of God-Its Importance
The Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments. As such it is an important part of the Law of God. What do the Scriptures say about the Law of God?
The works of his hands are verity and judgment; all his commandments are sure. They stand fast for ever and ever, and are done in truth and uprightness. . . . The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments (Ps. 111:7-8, 10).
Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever (Ps. 119:160).
Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. . . . For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin (Rom. 7:12, 14).
The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward (Ps. 19:7-11).
Jesus Christ was the God who gave this law. “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Heb. 13:8). He does not change and His law does not change. What does He say about His nature and what is the instruction for those who refuse to obey the Law of God? “And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the Lord of hosts. For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed” (Mal. 3:5-6). While He does not consume the sons of Jacob, there is much evil among them that must eventually be repented of.
How Important Is the Sabbath?
There are a number of texts in the Bible that show the importance of Sabbath-keeping. Notice the following:
Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil. Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the Lord, speak, saying, The Lord hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. For thus saith the Lord unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off. Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the Lord, to serve him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant; Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people (Isa. 56:2-7).
If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it (Isa. 58:13-14).
And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord. And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh (Isa. 66:23-24).
The Sabbath-an Identifying Sign
The true people of God are identified by the seventh-day Sabbath. Notice what the Bible says.
Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you. Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed (Ex. 31:13-17).
What we see in the above text is that the Sabbath was not only given as an identifying sign but as a perpetual covenant for all generations. The reason the Jewish people have not been lost from sight is due to their fidelity in observing the seventh-day Sabbath. The idea, however, that the Sabbath was given to the Jews, while Sunday is the “Lord’s Day” for the Gentiles is absolutely false. The only day ever given as a day of worship in both the Old and New Testaments is the seventh-day Sabbath. Christians, whether Israelites or Gentiles, are commanded to keep the seventh-day Sabbath. This is readily seen by what took place in the New Testament church, as recorded in the book of Acts.
One of the main reasons the ten tribes of Israel were driven from their land and lost from sight in history was because of Sabbath-breaking. The Bible tells us:
Wherefore I caused them to go forth out of the land of Egypt, and brought them into the wilderness. And I gave them my statutes, and shewed them my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them. Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them. . . . I am the Lord your God; walk in my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them; And hallow my sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am the Lord your God. Notwithstanding the children rebelled against me: they walked not in my statutes, neither kept my judgments to do them, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; they polluted my sabbaths: then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them, to accomplish my anger against them in the wilderness. . . . I lifted up mine hand unto them also in the wilderness, that I would scatter them among the heathen, and disperse them through the countries (Ezek. 20:10-12, 19-21, 23).
Sabbath-breaking was one of the national sins of ancient Israel, just like it is in our land today. Jesus Christ, the God of the Old Testament, is the same yesterday, today, and forever. His law does not change. We will be judged as a nation and as a people for refusing to take seriously the Bible command to keep the Sabbath.
Is the “Lord’s Day” Sunday?
Catholic scholars do not hesitate to tell us that it was church authority and not the Bible that established Sunday as a day of worship. Sunday, as we know, is the first day of the week, not the seventh. Cardinal Gibbons, in 1893, stated that the Church changed the day of worship from Saturday, the seventh-day of the week, to Sunday, the first-day of the week. When he was asked if Christ had changed the day of worship to Sunday, the Cardinal replied “no.” The Catholic view was clearly stated by T. Enright, a Catholic priest, who said that Protestants have no right to observe Sunday since it was the Catholic Church alone who changed the day of rest from Saturday to Sunday. He added that everyone knows Sunday is the first-day of the week, while Saturday is the seventh-day, the day that was consecrated as a day of rest. Furthermore, he said Sunday is not the Sabbath of the Bible, and when Protestants observe Sunday they acknowledge the power of the Catholic Church.
Even leading Protestant clergyman do not hesitate to admit that Sunday, as a day of worship, is not authorized by the Bible. Dr. Edward T. Hiscox, a Baptist, said there was a Biblical command to keep the Sabbath, not Sunday, and that the day of worship was transferred from the seventh-day of the week to the first. When he was asked where there was a record that showed this transfer, he said it was not in the New Testament. Dr. R.W. Dale, a British theologian and Congregationalist, said that while the Sabbath was founded on a specific, divine command, we can plead no such command for the obligation to observe Sunday.
An examination of the New Testament demonstrates that every reference to the first day of the week shows it to be a work day. For example, Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:2, Luke 24:1, and John 20:1 all show Sunday morning to be the time when the women came to the tomb of Jesus in order to prepare him for burial. Sunday morning was a time of work, not a time of worship. John 20:19 shows us that the disciples were hiding for fear of the Jews; they were not gathered for worship. In Acts 20:7-8 the disciples gathered to break bread and Paul continued his speech until midnight. An examination of the text reveals that the meeting was on Saturday night. This was on the first day of the week since Biblical days end at sundown. Paul had been there for a Sabbath meeting and continued preaching until Saturday at midnight thus making the meeting extend into the first day of the week. Notice what happened the next morning. Paul began walking from Troas to Assos, a distance of nineteen and one-half miles (vv. 11, 13-14). This first day of the week was a workday, not a day for worship. In 1 Corinthians 16:1-3 each saint is admonished to “lay by him in store” on the first day of the week. Notice the word “day” is not found in the original Greek. The text merely states, “Upon the first of the week.” The call was for a collection for the needy saints in Jerusalem (v. 3). Paul and his company wished to take this offering to Jerusalem. Acts 11:29-30 illustrates what was often done in times of need. The saints needed food, not money from a Sunday collection plate. To lay in store meant the saints were to store up their contributions in their own homes until Paul could gather the goods to take with him. Why on the first of the week? Because Paul intended to arrive in Corinth early in the week and to leave before the following weekend. Paul did not want to delay his journey to Jerusalem once he arrived in Corinth. This text, along with those above, clearly show that Sunday, the first day of the week, was a workday.
What is the Lord’s Day if it is not Sunday? Notice what we read in the gospel of Mark. “And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28).
It is not without reason that Sabbath-keepers observe the weekly Sabbath from Friday night at sundown until Saturday night at sundown. This is the day for observing the only time period ever commanded in the Bible as a day of worship.