What Does The New Testament Say About The Sabbath?
(This is the second part of a three-part article regarding whether Christians should observe the Old Testament Sabbath holy day.
We have seen in the previous article how there is no indication in the Old Testament that the Sabbath was intended for all of mankind. With that in mind, what relationship did Jesus have with the Sabbath? Christ came into this world as a Jew born under the Law of Moses (Gal. 4:4), which would stay in effect until his death (Heb. 8:7-13; 9:15-17). In order to be our High Priest, he had to live a sinless life, which he did (Heb. 4:15-16). In order to live a sinless life, he would have had to have observed the Law of Moses perfectly (Rom. 4:15; 1 John 3:4), which would include observing the Sabbath. Thus, he taught in the synagogues on the Sabbath (cf. Mark 1:21) and observed it perfectly as a Jew.
However, his actions on the Sabbath were controversial to some of his Jewish peers. He allowed his Jewish disciples to pluck grain on the Sabbath in order to eat (Matt. 12:1-2), and he miraculously healed the sick on the Sabbath (cf. Luke 13:10-14). The Jewish leaders thought this to be a violation of the command to rest on the Sabbath, but Jesus countered his critics’ objections by showing their ignorance of the Law of Moses (Matt. 12:3-7) and pointing out their own inconsistencies (Luke 13:14-16). By doing so, he showed himself to be Lord even of the Sabbath (Matt. 12:8). It is noteworthy that Jesus as the Lord of the Sabbath never extended the Sabbath to Gentile nations. As a Jew obligated by God under the Law of Moses to observe the Sabbath along with other Jews, there is no indication in Scripture that he ever commanded the same of Gentiles.
After his death, resurrection, and ascension, what relationship did his apostles have with the Sabbath? During Jesus’ life, he prophesied that the Romans would destroy the temple and Jerusalem during their generation, something which took place in 70 A.D. (Matt. 24:1-34) Even though this would be after God had taken the Law of Moses out of the way, non-Christian Jews would still be observing the Sabbath that year. Therefore, they would have the gates of Jerusalem shut on the Sabbath (Neh. 13:19), thus providing an obstacle to Christians wanting to escape the destruction. Thus, the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Matthew to record in his gospel the instruction Jesus gave to his followers that they pray that their flight from the destruction of Jerusalem not occur “in winter or on a Sabbath” (Matt. 24:20). However, notice that Christ’s instructions to his apostles here do not indicate whether God still bound the Sabbath under the Christian dispensation.
The book of Acts brings out in several places how the apostle Paul utilized the Sabbath during his evangelistic efforts (cf. Acts 17:1-3). He knew the Jews would be in the synagogue on the Sabbath Day, so he had the habit to enter the synagogues on Sabbaths and teach them about Jesus. However, this also does not indicate whether God wanted all Christians to observe the Sabbath like the Jews did in the Old Testament.
In fact, Paul and the other inspired apostles and prophets taught that the Law of Moses, including the Sabbath, had to come to an end. Paul taught that the Jews had spiritually died to the Law of Moses when they became Christians (Rom. 7:4-7), and that Jesus had ended the Law of Moses with its ordinances when he died on the cross (Eph. 2:13-16; Col. 2:14). This led him to conclude via divine inspiration that the Law of Moses and its ordinances like the Sabbath and other Jewish holy days could not be bound on others, especially Gentiles (Col. 2:16-17). Paul also wrote that those who think they are justified by observing the Law of Moses have fallen away from grace and would be obligated to obey all the Old Testament commands, not just certain ones (Gal. 5:3-4). Therefore, those who teach that it is God’s will under the New Testament to observe the Sabbath Day and keep it holy as he had commanded under the Old Testament (like the Seventh-Day Adventists teach) are obligated to offer animal sacrifices, burn incense, and observe and obey all other Old Testament commands…all to no avail from an eternal perspective, since they would have fallen from grace.
Fortunately, the New Testament teaches that a new, superior covenant has replaced the Old Testament covenant, which was the Law of Moses and which included the Ten Commandments and the Sabbath Day commandment (Heb. 8:6-7, 13). Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the new covenant replacing the old (2 Cor. 3:6-11). Did you notice how he called the old covenant “the ministry of death carved in letters on stone” (2 Cor. 3:7)? That is an obvious reference to the Ten Commandments, including the commandment to keep the Sabbath Day holy…yet God inspired Paul to tell Christians that this was “the ministry of death” which was replaced by the new covenant.
The above is blatant, biblical proof that the Sabbath is not something God has commanded Christians to observe. This is why the apostles taught that observing the Sabbath was no longer necessary. Granted, it is true that Jewish Christians in the first century A.D. continued to observe elements of the Law of Moses. Paul himself did so at times in order to not offend his Jewish peers (Acts 21:20-26). However, he and the other apostles drew a clear line when they taught that the Law of Moses could not be bound on Gentiles (Acts 15:1-2, 19-20, 28-29) and that obeying the Law of Moses would not bring anyone salvation (Gal. 5:4; Rom. 3:28). If an individual Christian desired to privately set apart a day as holy (like the Sabbath Day, for example), that was between the individual and God (Rom. 14:5-6, 22). However, it was not something that God wanted the church as a whole to do (Gal. 4:9-11), and those within the church who would promote such are “false brothers”trying to either wittingly or unwittingly bring the church back into spiritual slavery (Gal. 2:3-5; 5:1).