How to Interpret the Bible Lesson #8 - Should Christians keep the Sabbath?
Introduction. From the time of the Exodus until Jesus’ death on the cross, the Sabbath day was considered a holy and consecrated day. Even Jesus, who lived under the Law of Moses kept the Sabbath and the four accounts of the gospel mention it about fifty times. Yet the Holy Spirit revealed that “God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law" (Gal. 4:4-5). After Jesus’ redeemed Israel, and they were no longer under the Law, what happened to the Sabbath? What about Gentile Christians? Did the Sabbath laws of the Old Covenant continue to be binding on them? After a thorough discussion of Gentiles and keeping the Law, the Sabbath was not among the four necessary things Gentiles were charged to keep (Acts 15:23-29).
The rest of the NT Scriptures only mention the Sabbath eleven times. One occurs in a “Sabbath day’s journey” and another with in the Law “being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” (Acts 1:12; 15:21). Seven were specifically tied only to the Jews in their synagogues as Paul preached the gospel to convert them (Acts 13:14, 27, 42, 44; 16:13; 17:2; 18:4). Once it was used as a reference to the Sabbath rest awaiting the people of God after this life is over (Heb. 4:9). The last use of “Sabbath” is in the command to all Christians: “let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come”(Col. 2:16). Since no one can judge us over keeping Sabbaths and there is not a single mention of Christians ever meeting on a Sabbath day, doesn’t this prove to a fair-minded person that the Sabbath was done away? Yet the Sabbath was such an important command under the Old Law that some still seek to bind it today.
The Sabbath did have some very special qualities. God placed it into the Ten Commandments, on the tables of stone, as a holy and consecrated day: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work.” God gave two important reasons why He gave Israel the Sabbath. First, they were to remember the creation: “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it." Second, they were to remember their deliverance from Egypt. “And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” (Ex. 20:8-11; Deut. 5:12-15). Yet, nowhere in the NT are Christians commanded to remember either of these things. Christians have been asked to remember Jesus as we eat bread and drink the cup: “Take eat this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me. . . this cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." (1Cor. 11:24-25). This command in no way is connected to the Sabbath.
The question is simple. Did the seventh day Sabbath, placed in the Ten Commandments written on the stone tablets, continue into the New Covenant? God made it very clear to the Jews as long as the first covenant lasted, they would keep the Sabbath day holy, but they broke that covenant and God removed it. God then promised, “I will make a new covenant” because “if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second.” “In that He says, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” (Heb. 8:7-13)
Some affirm the old covenant had two parts: the ceremonial portion which was done away, and the Ten Commandments written on the two tables which were not done away. Although this sounds logical, it is not taught in the Scriptures. There was only one covenant given by God to Moses, and it included the Ten Commandments! Moses “wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.” (Ex. 34:28) Since God revealed that “the words of the covenant” (NOTE: a single covenant not plural) were “written on the tables of stone,” there is no way to separate the ceremonial law and the tables. They are one and the same. God joined them in Scripture and man cannot separate them into two parts, one kept and one discarded.
As one of the “ministers of the new covenant” which is “not of the letter but of the Spirit,” Paul called the old covenant “the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones.” He also stated that the new covenant was the “ministry of the Spirit” “not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh. that is, of the heart.” How much clearer can God make it? The Old covenant was written on tablets of stone and the New Covenant is written on hearts. Paul also spoke of the “face of Moses” and “the glory of his countenance.” When did Moses face have this glory? “Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of the testimony in Moses' hand,” and “knew not that the skin of his face shone.” (2 Cor. 3:1-18; Ex. 34:29-33). It all occurred on the same day. What was “written and engraved on stones” and on “tablets of stones” are the “the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.” (Ex. 34:28). Thus the Ten Commandments were part of the Old Covenant.
The Law of Moses, including the Ten Commandments, has been done away. Jesus wiped them out for us when He died on the cross: “having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col 2:14). As Gentiles only under the Law of Christ, we look to Him and not Moses. As we study the gospel, we find clear proof that nine of those commands are still binding under His law. But there is no evidence that Christ is still binding the Sabbath today, because He is not.
Conclusion. The power the Sabbath held over Israel was removed, and Christians can’t be judged if we don’t keep it. There are no commands, no examples and no inferences to bind it today. God gave us something far greater to remember (His Son’s body and blood - 1 Cor. 11:23-26) and a new day on which to remember it (the first day of the week - Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2).
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