Sabbath in the New Testament

Systematically now reviewing the major Sabbath texts in the New Testament. Our goal is to discover Bible themes for the faithful observance of the day Jesus claimed to be Lord of—the seventh day Sabbath.

19. Matthew 11:25-12:8; Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-5. Grain incident/Lord of the Sabbath. The Pharisees say that Jesus’ disciples are violating the Sabbath by harvesting and eating a few handfuls of grain. Jesus counters that His disciples are guiltless. He cites David and his band eating showbread while fleeing Saul (1 Samuel 21:1-10). It was not proper for David to receive that bread, yet it was given and no divine displeasure expressed. The Gospel of Matthew has Jesus adding that on the Sabbath priests work in the temple and it is not held against them. He points out that He, Jesus, is greater than the temple, and that had they understood that God desired mercy rather than sacrifice (Hosea 6:6) they would not have claimed that His disciples were guilty of breaking the Sabbath. Jesus declares that He Himself is Lord of the Sabbath. Mark includes Jesus saying that the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. God’s purpose is not to make the Sabbath a burden but to free man for communion with Him. Who was more in communion with God than His disciples in that field with Him? They were walking with Jesus on the Sabbath when instead they could have been sitting down to a meal of more than those few handfuls of grain. They were not engaged in excess. Just as taking a few handfuls of grain out of a stranger’s field was not theft, so gathering and eating a few kernels of wheat on the Sabbath was no violation of Sabbath. And, for you and I, plucking an apple or pear off a tree and eating it on Sabbath is no sin.

20. Mark 1:21-28; Luke 4:31-37. Teaching and Exorcism in Capernaum. Jesus conducts an exorcism on the Sabbath. Relieving people from demonic oppression on the Sabbath is doing good. Sabbath is release from bondage to a world-system that is under the sway of Satan (1 John 5:19; John 15:18; 14:30; Ephesians 2:2; Luke 4:6). Sabbath is like a fresh exorcism for every Christian, a removal from the relentless negative influences and pressures encountered in the daily grind. This release is essential for our sanity and spiritual progress.

21. Matthew 12:9-14; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:6-11; 13:10-17; 14:1-6. Watering/recovering Ox, Sheep, Donkey, from Ditch. In similar incidents, Jesus compares healing on the Sabbath with watering a donkey, or rescuing an ox or other creature, even a man trapped in a ditch. He teaches that it is in harmony with God’s law to do good on the Sabbath. He equates saving life with doing good, acting harmfully with destroying life. He argues from lessor to greater. Ironically, because of His authentic Sabbath-observing behavior, antagonists become determined to kill Him. Jesus’ focus is on the positive, helping and delivering others. As in Isaiah 58 where the true fast is helping those in need, Jesus shows that Sabbath observance includes acts of goodness.

22. Luke 4:16-30. Jesus’ Teaching Ministry Launched in Nazareth. It was on the Sabbath that Jesus publicly announced His mission and was almost slain. The Sabbath is thus identified with freedom as a central motif in the purposes of Christ. Jesus’ normal practice, we find here, was to worship God in company with others on Sabbath. Our mission in these last days is an echo of His. The Holy Spirit is to be upon us, we are to proclaim good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, the recovery of sight, liberty for the oppressed, and to herald His intervention in this world.

23. John 5:1-18. Healing at Pool of Bethesda. Jesus again goes out of His way to heal on the Sabbath. He helps us understand that it is in harmony with doing good on Sabbath to carry one’s bed away from a healing that glorified God. Others, uninterested in the healing, wanted to know why the man was violating their interpretation of Sabbath-keeping by carrying his bed. It became known that Jesus was He who had healed on Sabbath, and the complaint was that Jesus was breaking it. Jesus’ answer was, “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (vs. 17). Jesus cannot mean that the Sabbath is no more, or that we are to disregard it. The Sabbath is God’s holy day but it was made for man. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are still engaged in bringing our deliverance; all this is accomplished for our benefit. Jesus’ work was not to violate, but to illuminate. Likewise, our present calling is not to violate Sabbath but to illuminate it.

24. John 7:14-28. Jesus Heals, Pharisees Circumcise. Jesus reminds the Pharisees that they circumcise a male even on the Sabbath if it is the eighth day after birth. No male who was uncircumcised was considered “whole” as a Jew. Jesus proceeds to point out that they are angry with Him because He has made “a man’s whole body well.” The fundamental problem with the Pharisees and others was that the Sabbath had been cumbered about by them with man-made prohibitions and imagined violations. Jesus showed that the Sabbath was better understood as a sign of God’s healing power. There was nothing inconsistent in Jesus’ practice of Sabbath observance. Seventh-day Adventists also need to be careful to avoid creating artificial human prohibitions, and to embrace the positive, healing aspect of Sabbath.

25. John 9:1-40. Jesus Makes Mud, Gives Sight. Jesus takes mud, mixes it with saliva, rubs it on a man’s eyes, and he receives sight—all on the Sabbath! The Jews say that by this act He has proven that He cannot be an agent of God because He is breaking the Sabbath. They had so confused themselves about the Sabbath that Jesus’ manner of observing it confirmed to them that He could not be the Messiah. But to participate in a restoration of sight by God’s power is no contradiction of authentic Sabbath-keeping. Restoring sight on this Sabbath was an echo of Jesus’ mission statement in Luke 4:16-30. We bring sight to the blind when we publicly demonstrate reverence for the holy day that Jesus kept.

26. Matthew 24:15-28. Pray Will Not Need to Flee. Jesus says that the Christian is to pray that in the end-time it will not be necessary to flee during the winter or on the Sabbath day. Praying that it will not be in winter means asking that God will intervene to limit the special hazards of winter travel. But Sabbath imposes no such hazards. The prayer that this situation of duress not occur during a Sabbath is powerful testimony. It not only makes very clear the continuing existence of Sabbath, but says that even the need to flee in an emergency is no license to completely ignore it. Sabbath remains so special that we are to pray that God will intervene in order to prevent the need to flee during it from arising when the final crisis is upon us.

27. Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:31-42. Preparation Day. The distinction between sixth day and others in Exodus 16 is, in the time of Christ, especially employed to prepare for Sabbath. This highlights our need to make the fullest use of the preparation day, so that the Sabbath might be kept holy. It would be well for us henceforth to refer to the sixth day as “Preparation day.”

28. Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8. After Sabbath. The Sabbath is mentioned again after Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus’ followers waited until after Sabbath to prepare His body for burial; this is an example of deferring labor that can wait until after Sabbath.

29. Acts 13:13-52. Preaching on the Sabbath. Preaching is a Sabbath-appropriate activity, both then and now.

30. Acts 15:21. Reading from the Bible. Moses is read from every Sabbath. Another Sabbath-appropriate activity then and now.

31. Acts 16:11-15. Spiritual Meetings and Evangelistic Activities in Nature Settings. Paul went out through the city gate and found believers in God whom he further instructed. We can be indoors or outdoors on Sabbath; each situation offers a different setting for the worship of God.

32. Acts 17:1-9; 18:1-4. Engaging in Christian Apologetics. Paul entered synagogues and won converts to Christ, reasoning with others “from the Scriptures.” We may apply this to our own experience in spending some of the Sabbath hours instructing others from God’s Word.

33. Hebrews 3:7-4:15. The Rest That Remains. Israel in the wilderness is presented as choosing an attitude of unbelief and failing to enter God’s promised rest. This passage is about the need for perseverance. The author of Hebrews exhorts his readers to endure testing. A promise remains; those who believe enter into His rest. Entering Canaan was symbolic of the rest intended by God. The real rest, the sabbatismos, or state of sabbathness (vs. 4:9), is available to us as believers. Today is the day of opportunity; we can turn to Christ. To us—to end-time believers—there remains a resting, a living fully by faith. This kind of life is a sabbath-like, or sabbathized life, persisting in trusting in Jesus. It cannot make sense for His people today to claim to experience the beauty of gospel rest while at the same time denying His instruction and Sabbath rest. Life lived this way makes us restorers of the breach, repairers of right paths, rebuilders of the wall. Sabbath rest is gospel rest—trusting in God. This rest remains as a reality.

34. Revelation 1:10. In the Spirit on the Lord’s Day. John received the Apocalypse on the Sabbath—most appropriate since the Sabbath will be the central issue in the end-time. (The only day identified as God’s day in Scripture is the Sabbath. See Isaiah 58:13; Mark 2:28). There is no better day for us, as John, to spend some of the time in quiet, personal communion with God.

Conclusion

In the New Testament we find further insight shaping our observance of the holy day that Jesus kept. In case after case, Jesus shines a light on true sabbath observance. He cuts through the crust of accumulated human traditions and shows the eternal blessedness of His holy day made for man.

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