Do Disciples of Jesus keep the Sabbath?
We who are attempting to base our faith and life on the person and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth know that he does not teach that his followers are to somehow keep or observe the sabbath. However, there are many people involved with many bible sects who try very hard to make Jesus teach that his followers must keep or somehow observe the sabbath. Let us examine the teachings of Jesus to see why we who are his followers are free from "the sabbath" the way religious people define it!
1. Jesus no where teaches that his followers are to "keep" or "observe" the sabbath.
This is the most important fact regarding Jesus and the sabbath. If it were important to the heavenly Father that his children keep or observe the sabbath, He would have had his Son give the command or teaching. Yet in all the hundreds of teachings of the Light, he NO WHERE teaches that his followers are to keep the sabbath. We who are followers of Jesus have him as our only Teacher, and he says that HE IS the New covenant and we should not look back at the old (Please see the article, "Follow Jesus, Not Moses" ).
2. Jesus is not recorded as having 'kept the sabbath'.
Jesus lived a perfect life, for he is the Life. When he came the first time, he came to the people of Israel, and he lived in their midst. In order to reach the Jewish people with his Father's message of Hope and salvation, he had to minimize offending the Jews in respect to appearance and behavior. In other words, he needed to observe some basic norms of the culture - including religious norms since they were a very religious people - in order to not be rejected outright based on appearance or behavior. Thus, he wore clothing consistent with being a spiritual teacher - see Luke 8:33-34; John 19:23. He also would go to their public places of religious observance in order to speak to the people - see Matt. 4:34; 21:23. However, he would be careful to not explicitly endorse or approve of religious activity which he did not teach was necessary. As such, no where in the four gospels is it recorded that Jesus kept or observed the sabbath - commonly understood to mean to do no work on that day. Therefore, he neither taught that his followers were to keep the sabbath, nor did he himself keep the sabbath, meaning he regularly worked on the sabbath. No doubt he also sometimes rested on the sabbath, but he probably also rested at other times as well!
3. The sabbath was made for men to rest, not for men to serve it!
"And it happened that He was passing through the grain fields on the Sabbath, and His disciples began to make their way along while picking the heads of grain. The religious leaders were saying to Him, "Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?" And he said to them, "Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry; how he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him?" Jesus said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. "So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath." (Mark 2:23-28)
Jesus is addressing the religious leaders in this passage - those who regularly accused he and his disciples of breaking the sabbath. He makes the point that even though they (Israel's religious leaders) had a clear religious law regarding who could eat the consecrated bread, David broke that law and yet was guiltless. David was guiltless because he and his companions needed the bread to eat, and the heavenly Father is more concerned about mercy than sacrifice. Jesus then clarifies why the sabbath was created...it was created FOR MAN (to rest), as a blessing to men from a gracious heavenly Father. And just to make sure there is no confusion, he follows up with these important words, "NOT MAN FOR THE SABBATH". In other words the sabbath is not to control men, nor is it to be a burden on men - men where not created to be controlled or governed by the sabbath. Rather, it is to serve men who desire to rest one day out of seven. So, the sabbath is for those people who wish to rest, to rest. All throughout history, men have sought to take advantage of other people and force them to work seven days a week. Israel, at the time the command was given, also had those in power who would take advantage of others and thus seek to have their servants work all the time. And so the command was given that people have the right from God to rest one day out of seven.
4. The Father and the Son work on the sabbath.
"For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath. But he answered them, "My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working." For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father..." (John 5:16-18)
Please read the context of this saying, by reading the preceding verses. Just before Jesus said this, he healed a man on the sabbath, and this was making the religious leader's angry, since they said no work could be done on the sabbath. Please receive what Jesus said in response to their "keep the sabbath" law they tried to bind him in. He said plainly, "My Father is working UNTIL NOW, and I myself am working". Jesus rebuked their "no work on the sabbath" belief in the strongest possible way by saying that God Himself was working on the sabbath! In fact, the "until now" seems to indicate from the beginning of creation, and thus God has been working every day since He started by creating all things! Please note that the "until now" would include all work - creation included - not just physically healing people. You could see by the people's reaction that they did not misunderstand what he was saying...that it is alright to work on the sabbath if you want! In the verses to follow the above quoted passage, Jesus seeks to rebuke their misunderstanding that they thought he was making himself equal to God, but he did not rebuke their understanding that he said that it was alright to work on the sabbath.
Finally, his working on the sabbath fits in perfectly with his saying that he is "Lord of the sabbath". In other words, he works on the sabbath when he judges he needs to because he rules over the sabbath - not the sabbath ruling-being lord over him. And because he is Lord of the sabbath, his followers listen to him for understanding about the sabbath. And as we have seen, he neither commands that his followers keep the sabbath, and he approves of work on the sabbath.
5. Jesus approves of work on the sabbath.
"At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat. But when the religious leaders saw this, they said to Him, "Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath." But He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions, how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone? "Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent? "But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here. "But if you had known what this means, 'I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,' you would not have condemned the innocent. "For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath." Departing from there, He went into their synagogue. And a man was there whose hand was withered. And they questioned Jesus, asking, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"--so that they might accuse Him. And He said to them, "What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out? "How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the sabbath." Then He said to the man, "Stretch out your hand!" He stretched it out, and it was restored to normal, like the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, as to how they might destroy Him. (Matthew 12:1-14)
Here is a very good passage to understand Jesus and the sabbath. First, his disciples were harvesting grain on the sabbath, and so the religious leaders complained to Jesus about his disciples working on the sabbath. So Jesus responds by giving them two examples in their scripture of people breaking religious laws in order to have food to eat. Jesus then gives one of the most important principles of understanding his Father which is, "I desire compassion, and not sacrifice". This is the Father's heart regarding love (compassion) versus religion (sacrifice). The Father wants love expressed among people, not religious rule keeping, which hinders love and compassion. Jesus declared that his disciples were innocent even though they worked on the sabbath. The scene then moves to a local synagogue, where Jesus heals a man on the sabbath in part, to rebuke their "no work on the sabbath" law. He then turns to the religious leaders and their followers and points out how THEY work on the sabbath when it benefits them. He then clarifies the comments about working to help one's livestock with the teaching that it is good to do good work on the sabbath. So, what is left of 'keeping the sabbath' after this teaching of Jesus? Nothing but what the sabbath was always supposed to be...a day where a person can rest if they need to!
To put this into a modern context, this author has met many sabbath keepers who condemn the man who works at the local fast food resturant on the sabbath in order to provide food, clothing and shelter for his wife and children. Jesus, the Lord of the sabbath, does not condemn this man, as his teachings make clear for those listening to him. This author recently went to a religious sabbath keeping community on the sabbath in order to get some building supplies he needed. He forgot it was their sabbath, and after making the journey (time and money) with his wife and child, the sabbath keeper refused to even allow him to take the supplies (without any help-work from the sabbath keeper) lest he break the sabbath. So he had to make the journey back empty handed and make the journey again another day. Sadly, sabbath keepers - like all religious rule keepers - put themselves into to position of not showing compassion in order to make a 'sacrifice' that the Living God does not want.
6. The New Covenant has replaced the old.
"And in the same way he took the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup which is poured out for you is the New Covenant in my blood." (Luke 22:20)
Jesus made it clear that his Father was doing a NEW work by sending the Messiah, and that a NEW covenant was in place which REPLACES THE OLD. He taught that in this passage (found in three gospels):
Then the disciples of John came to Him, asking, "Why do we and the religious leaders fast (old covenant), but your disciples do not fast (new covenant)?" And Jesus said to them, "The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast (they will fast based on sadness based on missing the Head of the New covenant, not for some old covenant purpose). "But no one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth (new covenant) on an old garment (old covenant); for the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear results. "Nor do people put new wine (new covenant) into old wineskins (old covenant); otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved." (Matthew 9:14-17)
In summary, Messiah is the New Covenant, and his Way cannot be somehow combined with the old way. We who are followers of Messiah are free to know and love the Father through Jesus and his teachings alone! Yeah...praise God! We are not bound by the shadows of the old and inferior way! (Please see the article, "Follow Jesus, Not Moses" )
7. Love replaces all ritual observances.
Jesus supersedes all the old laws by making something very clear. He says, ""In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets". (Matthew 7:12)
For those with ears to hear, he plainly says that to treat others the way you want to be treated "IS THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS". In other words, if you are living your life being guided by faith and this single principle, then you ARE KEEPING ALL THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS. Now, this is hard to receive for most people since people hang on tenaciously to their religious traditions and would rather do ANYTHING other than actually practice agaping-loving others the way Jesus defines it (please see the article, What is love? Listen to Jesus to find out... ), consistently on a daily basis. It is SO much EASIER to observe a 'holy day' than it is to live selflessly and sacrificially. This is why sabbath observance is so popular with so many of the thousands of bible-based sects and bible-guided people. It is very easy to convince ourselves that by observing a certain day, we are pleasing to God on that basis, for it is very easy to observe a certain day. It is not, however, easy to lay our lives down for a friend and to lose our life in this world, and thus behave consistently selflessly towards others which is what to love other's means according to Jesus (please see the article, What is love? Listen to Jesus to find out... ).
8. The sabbath divides people seeking to know God.
Saturday or Sunday? There are several hundred bible sects which disagree and divide over which day is the proper day to observe the sabbath. This, in spite of Jesus words...
"The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me." (John 17:22-23)
This truth in itself does not prove that trying to keep the sabbath is wrong, but it is another reason why people ought to listen to Jesus and reject their religious traditions so that love-agape might be manifest.
'No, We Must Keep the Sabbath...'
For those not listening carefully to Messiah, and who are instead listening to the other voices in the bible, the most common objection to needing to keep the sabbath are Jesus' words in Matt. 5. Here they are:
"Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. "For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. "Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. "For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:17-20)
I comment fully on this passage in the article, "Follow Jesus, Not Moses". I will comment again here briefly. First of all, if what Jesus said here means that his followers need to keep the law, then he contradicts himself with the other passages above in this article. But he doesn't mean that his followers in the New Covenant are bound by old covenant laws, as the verses following verse 20 make obvious. He did not come to abolish, but to fulfill that which was UNFULFILLED, complete that which was INCOMPLETE, and perfect that which was IMPERFECT. Here is a section of the article, "Follow Jesus, Not Moses":
"Those who want to obey Moses as much as they want to obey Jesus (or more than they want to obey Jesus) say that verse 17 means that we ought to keep the law of Moses. They say that when Jesus said, "I did not come to abolish but to fulfill", he meant that his disciples are still bound by the law-Torah. But how could this be if Jesus plainly says that to treat others as you would have them treat you "is the law and the prophets"? Where are all the rules and regulations in the Law laid out in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy in that teaching of Jesus? They are notably absent, so why are Jesus' Words rejected in favor of Moses' words? Because men's sinful nature loves the external religion of men, and hates conforming to the Truth who is found only in Jesus and his Words. Just as the religious leaders of his day could claim to be keeping the law of Moses, and yet breaking the spirit of it, so it is today. And what is the spirit of the law? As Messiah plainly says, "Love the Lord your God with all that is in you, and love your neighbors (and even your enemy) as you love yourself".
Let's take a brief look at the word "fulfill". It means:
So Messiah came not to abolish the perfect 'law of God', but to perfect the imperfect law of Moses. Yes, Moses did not offer the perfect law of God, but rather the best that God could work through him. What GOD tried to give Moses was perfect (Exodus 34:1, 4, 28 - vs. 1, 4 have Moses cutting the tables, and v. 27-28 has Moses writing the commands on the tablets.). What the imperfect man Moses actually wrote on the tablets was imperfect as Messiah makes abundantly clear in Matt. 5-7. The rest of Jesus' teachings in Matt. 5-7 are in fact the perfecting of the imperfect law of Moses (not "law of God", which Messiah gives plainly); the filling up of understanding that Moses did not convey; the finishing of that which Moses left unfinished due to his sinful nature; the filling back up of that which was spilled by Moses by his deficiencies in trying to receive God's desires. In fact, Messiah teaches those who are his that the Father has no "law", but to love Him and all other people. Yes, Moses was a man of faith who apparently loved God, BUT HE WAS NOT PERFECT. Thus, he should not be followed when we have a Perfect representative from the Father, Messiah. And the Perfect representative says that the way to please God is to know Him and His Son, and to do what the Son says, which in essence is to love other people!
Many will be offended at this teaching, just as they were offended at Messiah's other teachings about the imperfections of the exalted "Fathers" (Matt. 23:9, "call no man father", including Abraham; "greater than Solomon" - Matt. 12:42; greater than Jacob - John 4:12; yes, even greater than Abraham and the prophets - John 8:53, 58). But then those offended ought to wonder who is the leader of their heart ("Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Messiah." (Matthew 23:10)) or what are they worshipping ("You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent. "You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life." (John 5:38-40))
Indeed, as Messiah continues, "For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished." And what needed to be accomplished? There are two possibilities which don't contradict Messiah's other teachings.
The first is the bringing of the Kingdom of God to men through Messiah's life, death, resurrection and ascension (Luke 16:16-17). Messiah said on the tree, "It is finished" or, "It is accomplished". So what is lacking in terms of the Kingdom of God being brought to, and made available to men, through faith in Messiah? Nothing is lacking, neither in Messiah's work, nor in his teachings. Thus, since "all was accomplished", the mosaic law passed away and the new, perfected Law, which Messiah teaches in Matt. 5-7 was now in place.
The second possibility would be that Messiah, knowing that Moses' law was both good - although imperfect - and highly reverenced by the Jews; acknowledged the "good" aspect of it and affirmed the Jews respect of it with the heaven and earth saying. In other words, 'do not commit adultery' is an eternally binding moral law on men consistent with his Father's will, although imperfect, incomplete and unfulfilled. So men should not commit adultery (have physical sexual activity with someone other than their spouse), but it is also sin to be a married person and think about sexual activity with another woman in your mind while never touching her physically.
What Jesus could not mean was that the old law of Moses was still in place for his followers since he clearly shows the error with it in Matt. 5-7.
However, the more important point is that didn't Messiah already say that to love the Father and our neighbor "is the law and the prophets"? How would we know that without Messiah declaring that to us? Yes the law of God (NOT the imperfect, incomplete and unfulfilled law of Moses) shall not pass away until heaven and earth pass away. And Messiah perfected the imperfect law of Moses through his teachings and his followers are bound by that NEW covenant, and not the old wineskin made imperfect by Moses' lack of understanding.
Those who love the scriptures more than God (John 5:38-39) will say, "but ALL of Moses' writings ARE God's commands". Then why did Jesus correct Moses' law in Matt. chapter 5? And why did Jesus sometimes refer to Moses' writings as "your law" (John 8:17) and "their law" (John 15:25)? If Jesus is the Word of God, then how could he refer to his words in the third person and impugn those words as belonging to the religious leaders he said were in error? Surely if those commands referred to by Jesus in those contexts were his Father's commands, he would not refer to them in the third person of "your" and "their" and in a demeaning manner to boot!
Please listen to Messiah:
"Some religious leaders came to Jesus, testing him and asking, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?" And he answered and said, "Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, and said, 'FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH'? "So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate." They said to him, "Why then did Moses command to GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE AND SEND her AWAY?" He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted (not God!) you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery." (Matthew 19:3-9)
Who gave the law allowing divorce? The Father or Moses? According to Messiah, it was Moses and not his Father. Thus, divorce, being in Moses' law, is wrong and not was intended by the Father. If Moses could be wrong here, where else could he be wrong? Well, Messiah, in the following verses in Matt. 5 shows where Moses' law is imperfect, incomplete and unfulfilled."
The reader can read the rest of the article here.
Another objection by many in, or influenced by, messianic religious groups is that Jesus observed many of the traditions in Moses' law, like the shabbat. However, this objection fails as well. If Jesus did not teach his followers to observe something, then his followers are not bound by it, and Jesus did not teach his followers to follow the Torah. The reason Jesus was present during some of the Jews feasts, religious festivals and torah observances was because he could not reach them with his Father's Words if he were not in their midst. Just because he was present during some observance does not mean he endorses its practice. Jesus was sent to the Jew's first, and he had to observe some of their religious culture to not be rejected outright. For example, let us say that this author wants to bring Jesus' Good News to a muslim neighbor. Let us also say that I have been developing somewhat of a relationship with them as I have been acting kind towards them. If they invite me to their daughter's wedding, and that wedding has a religious element to it, would my being present during that religious element mean that I endorse it and would either practice it or teach others to do the same? No, it does not. The same is true with Jesus and his being in the Jewish religious culture.
'We Keep the Sabbath'...but not the rest of the law?
Most religious people who 'keep the sabbath' treat the old covenant as a doctrine buffet, where they choose to obey only what does not inconvenience their life-style too much. If they say they need to obey all of "God's Word" meaning the old covenant as well as the new, then they should obey all of it. But they don't. They slice out a small section of Exodus 20, label that small section "the ten commandments", and call that "the law". There are hundreds of commands allegedly directly from God in just the books of "the law", which are the books of Genesis through Deuteronomy. So, how come those who insist that God wants people to keep the sabbath, also don't insist that this command from God be kept:
"He who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death." (Exodus 21:17)
If they give some answer to the effect that Messiah's teachings nullify that, then how come they don't listen to Messiah's commands that nullify keeping the sabbath? The inconsistencies are numerous for people who foolishly try to put the old wine into a new wineskin against Messiah's Words to the contrary.
As another example, there are many religious observances (feasts) given in the old covenant with very precise guidelines, yet very few people who say people of faith need to keep the law, actually keep all the feasts in the prescribed ways. WHY? Could it be because that would be inconvenient with their current life-styles?
Ultimately, if a person says they ought to keep "the law", then they would be keeping all the commands given in the first five books of the bible, and if they don't, then they are nullifying most of the commands they say are from God. Or stated another way, they are only keeping those commands which are convenient and fit into their current life-style.
How foolish. Why not become a follower of Messiah instead? Why not learn to love and thus fulfill the law and the prophets?
I do hope that this article will help many who are laboring under a belief they must keep the sabbath, to experience the following:
"If you continue in My word (NOT Moses' word!), then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (John 8:31-32) & "The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. "So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:35-36)
Please listen to the Lord of the sabbath and start to practice love.
Send comments to the author Tim
Top of This Page
Return to "Hot Topics" Page Table of Contents
Return to "Hot Topics" Page Table of Contents