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Which day is the true Sabbath?
Bible Questions - VBVM Staff - September 27, 2011
Q. I heard a sermon explaining why we should follow the Ten Commandments and keep the Sabbath day on Saturday, but then I heard other teaching that said the New Testament changed the Sabbath to Sunday. These different teachings are confusing me. Please help.
A. Confusing and contradictory Bible teaching is nothing new, unfortunately. Since the beginning of the Church, false teaching and ignorance have produced confusion and disagreements within the Body of Christ. Today, we can find denominations and schools of teaching for every conceivable view under the sun, and yet the true source of truth, God's word, remains unchanged. Verse By Verse Ministry is working to teach God's word in a methodical and consistent way so that the truth would be revealed and false teaching would be countered.
Regarding the teaching of the Sabbath, the Jewish Sabbath is observed from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday each week. Jews also used the Sabbath day as their worship day in the synagogue. In New Testament times, the early Church often met for worship on Sundays, in honor of Christ's resurrection which occured on a Sunday. Secondly, the early church was largely Jewish and sometimes met in synagogues. Since the Jewish synagogues were in use on Saturdays for Jewish worship, Christians moved their day of worship to Sunday.
So which day is the correct Sabbath day? For a Jew, the Sabbath day is Saturday, as it has been from the beginning. For a Christian, the traditional worship day has become Sunday, though there is no Biblical requirement to worship on a particular day of the week. More importantly, a day of worship and a Sabbath day are not the same thing. While the Bible teaches that Christians are to participate in regular corporate worship (see Hebrews 10:25), it also teaches that Christians are not under obligation to observe any Sabbath day.
The Sabbath day was given to Israel as part of the Law of Moses. You can find the Sabbath requirement in the Law in Exodus 20. The Law (including the Sabbath day) was given to Israel to prepare Israel for the Messiah's eventual arrival.
Paul teaches in Galatians:
Gal. 3:19 Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made.
Earlier in Galatians Paul taught that the Law was never given as a mean to salvation, since salvation was made possible only through promises extended to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So now Paul asks why was the Law of Moses given to Israel if not for salvation? Paul answers that the Law was added to the earlier promises given to Abraham because of men's sin, and the Law would remain in effect until the seed (i.e., the promised Messiah) arrived.
The Law was intended to last only until the Messiah came, and it was given during that time to "keep" God's children from sin. Paul goes on to say:
Gal. 3:23 But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed.
Gal. 3:24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.
Paul says before our faith in Messiah came, God's children were kept under custody by the Law of God. The Law was a tutor teaching men about the coming Messiah until the time the Messiah arrived, thus leading men to recognize and know the Messiah when He was revealed in Jesus Christ. Once the Gospel arrived, the Law relinquished its authority over God's children, because Christ fulfilled the Law's requirements on our behalf and by faith we receive credit for Christ's sinless work. In place of the Law of Moses comes the Law of Christ written on the hearts of believers.
The Sabbath is part of the Law of Moses, and therefore like the rest of the Law, the Sabbath's ultimate purpose was to teach men about the coming Messiah. Specifically, the Sabbath taught a spiritual lesson concerning the relationship between our works and spiritual rest. Under the Law of Moses, men performed physical work six days each week while looking forward to a day of rest each Saturday. But after the Sabbath ended, a new week of work began again. The physical Sabbath rest provided by the Law was temporary and, ultimately, unsatisfying.
This pattern of weekly Sabbaths was a tool God used in the Law to teach men a spiritual truth. The Sabbath reinforced the truth that the work of men isn't capable of producing permanent rest. Spiritually speaking, men who rely on their own works to merit God's favor will fall short of securing God's eternal rest (i.e., heaven).
The writer of the letter to Hebrews explains the connection between the Sabbath rest and our salvation rest this way:
Heb. 4:1 Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it.
Heb. 4:2 For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.
Heb. 4:3 For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said,
“ AS I SWORE IN MY WRATH,
THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST,”
although His works were finished from the foundation of the world.
Heb. 4:4 For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: “ AND GOD RESTED ON THE SEVENTH DAY FROM ALL HIS WORKS”;
Heb. 4:5 and again in this passage, “ THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST.”
When the Jewish people observed the Sabbath each week, they were portraying a spiritual story by God's design. As they rested from their physical work each Saturday, they produced a picture of how ceasing form human work leads to a resting in God's work. The picture is of how our by faith in Christ's work on the cross puts an end to our own efforts to work our way into heaven. Christ's work leads to our spiritual, eternal rest (our true Sabbath).
The writer of Hebrews says that just as God now sits at rest from His works of Creation, we too may share in His rest when we believe in Christ. In that sense, Christ becomes our Sabbath rest. We rest in Christ's work by faith and we receive God's eternal rest of salvation. While the Sabbath day rest offered in the Law of Moses was only earthly and temporary, the Sabbath rest offered by faith in Christ is heavenly and eternal.
The lessor was a picture of the greater, which is why Paul taught that we now have no need to observe the lessor (i.e., the weekly Sabbath rest) since we have already obtained the greater Sabbath in Christ. As Paul said:
Col. 2:16 Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day —
Col. 2:17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.
The weekly Sabbath day was a Law given to Israel to teach men about the need to believe in (i.e., rest in) Messiah. If you have already trusted in Jesus Christ as your savior, then you have already fulfilled the Law of Moses having accomplished its greater purpose, that is to believe in Christ. As a Christian, therefore, you are no longer under the Law of Moses. Just as the rest of the Law is no longer in effect for believers, likewise the Sabbath (which is part of the Law) is no longer a requirement for believers. As Paul says:
Rom. 7:6 But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.
God does not obligate Christians to observe any particular day of rest. We are free to observe a Sabbath day or forego a day of rest altogether. We are no longer under Law; we are under grace!
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