The Jewish Sabbath versus the Lord’s Day

In Exodus 31:12-13 God said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a SIGN between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy.’” And in verse 16, “The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant,” and verse 17, “It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested.”

The Sabbath was a sign to the Israelites every Saturday from their Creator that HE was making them holy. This was what resting on the Sabbath every week told them, that there was nothing they need do but simply trust God to provide. He’d done it already with the manna, and now he’d do it again with their holiness. That’s why the 7th day Sabbath is so important to Jews, because it’s the sign of THEIR covenant with God that he will provide for them and save them, both physically and spiritually.

But that’s NOT the sign for Christians because, Ephesians 2:12, “as Gentiles by birth” we are ”excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of promise.” The covenants and promises given to Israel were never meant for us, so they aren’t the sign that Christians look to for THEIR salvation. “BUT NOW IN CHRIST JESUS,” verse 13, “you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” It’s “IN HIM,” Ephesians 1:7, “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” The Jews, however, stumble over Jesus Christ, so their lifeline to God in the meantime is still the Sabbath Day – “UNTIL,” Romans 11:25, “the full number of the Gentiles has come in.”

For a while Christians also kept the Sabbath Day on Saturday, but then began celebrating “the Lord’s Day” on Sunday as well when it dawned on them how important Jesus’ resurrection was. When Jesus rose from the dead it was the dawn of a new day, a new creation, that would fill the whole world. The Lord’s Day, therefore, became a signpost pointing ahead to the time when heaven and earth would come together as one, at last. It was an encouraging reminder when times got tough that Jesus’ resurrection guaranteed the new creation was on its way, and one day it would be fulfilled completely.

The Lord’s Day was never a required sign like the Sabbath was for the Israelites. It was a useful signpost, though, that the new creation had begun.

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Should Christians be offending Jews?

By calling Sunday (or Saturday) a Sabbath Day, Christians are offending Jews. Is that important? Yes, because God calls us Gentiles to show his beloved Jews that entering God’s eternal rest is based purely on faith in Jesus Christ making us holy, not a day (or any other work we do) making us holy.

But what do we Christians do instead? We make Sunday a Sabbath Day and make it seem holy and even necessary for salvation. But that’s no help to the Jews because we’re only reinforcing the idea in Jewish heads that a day of the week is still important – when it’s not. The only “day” of importance to all humanity in all of Scripture is the 7th day of creation, God’s eternal rest, and the only way we enter that rest is by faith in Jesus Christ who made that eternal rest possible in the first place.

That’s the message Jews need to hear because they failed to enter God’s eternal rest due to their LACK of faith (Hebrews 4:1-3). They never believed as a nation that God would totally take care for them, provide for them, and make them holy (Exodus 31:12-13). That’s why he had them keep a Sabbath day in the first place, to prove to them that he would provide for all their physical and spiritual needs, which he always did when they trusted him, but they could never keep on trusting him (Hebrews 3), and that was their problem.

So, Romans 11:11, “salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.” God is now using Gentiles to reach his beloved Israel. How? By us Gentiles “pursuing righteousness by faith” (Romans 9:30). We aren’t depending on any works of our own to make ourselves holy and righteous in God’s sight; we trust entirely in the “the righteousness that comes from God” (Romans 10:3). And that’s what the Jews need to see us Gentiles doing, because that’s how they, and we, enter God’s eternal rest. It’s not by making ourselves holy (by keeping one day in the week holy), it’s by trusting Christ to make us holy every day.

Paul’s great desire in his ministry was to “somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them” (Romans 11:13-14). He knew it was God’s desire that “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26), because God loves them (verse 27) and he hasn’t rejected them (verses 1, 11). It was never Paul’s desire, therefore, to offend the Jews, and neither should it be our desire either, because God called us Gentiles to be the best help possible to his beloved Jews – not by keeping a day to make us holy, but by trusting Christ to make us holy.

How do Christians keep the Sabbath?

If the law isn’t done away, then the Sabbath isn’t done away either, then, is it? And if Christ died so that the righteous requirements of the law can be FULLY met in us (Romans 8:3-4), how can the Sabbath law be left out? Obviously the whole law has to be kept, so how do Christians keep the Sabbath?

There’s an answer in what Jesus said to those who accused his disciples of breaking the Sabbath in Matthew 12:2. In verse 3 he gave a couple of examples of good men breaking the law – like David and his companions entering the temple of God and eating the “consecrated bread” meant only for priests, and the priests themselves breaking the Sabbath by working in the temple (verses 3-5).

To which Jesus then says in verse 6, “I tell you that one greater than the temple is here.” There was in their presence someone much greater than the temple, so to those who thought the law was all important, whether it was temple law or Sabbath law, Jesus replies: No, they’re not all important – because I’m here, and I’m more important, “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath,” verse 8. He not only lords it over the temple, he lords it over the Sabbath too.

Their focus, therefore, should be on HIM, which is what the Sabbath was all about in the first place. When the Sabbath law was first instituted in Israel it was associated with Jesus providing enough manna on Friday that the people could rest from collecting it on Saturday (Exodus 16), and it was also associated with Jesus promising to make them holy (Exodus 31:13). In both cases, the Sabbath was about Jesus providing for all their needs, both physical (the manna) and spiritual (holiness). The Sabbath, therefore, was about trusting him.

And only ten verses before Jesus said he was “Lord of the Sabbath” in Matthew 12:8, he also said in Matthew 11:28, “Come TO ME, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” And you wonder how many people hearing both statements put them together and came up with, “Oh, I get it, Jesus is our Sabbath, because that’s what the Lord created the Sabbath for, to rest and trust in him.”

And now here he was in person, actually providing for people’s needs on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:13), perfectly picturing what the Sabbath was for: It was all about trusting him. So how do Christians keep the Sabbath? By trusting Jesus – which is what the Sabbath has always been about.

Is Sunday the right Christian Sabbath?

Many Christians through the centuries have called Sunday their “Sabbath Day” or “holy day of rest,” but why was ANY day of the week lifted to the level of a “holy” day when the Sabbath pictures trusting Christ for one’s source of rest, not a day?

Making a day of the week so important has led to problems – like division among Christians over WHICH day is the proper day of rest (Saturday or Sunday), further division between Christians and Jews because Christians changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, and still more division between Christians and secular society because Christians keep trying to make their Sunday Sabbath the rule for everybody.

But why all this fuss from Christians about a Sunday Sabbath when there’s no biblical command to set aside Sunday as a day of rest? Because, they believe, the 10 commandments are still binding on all people forever, and that includes, therefore, “keeping the Sabbath holy” by setting aside the seventh day of the week as a day of rest.

But why, then, did Christians change the 7th day Sabbath to Sunday? Well, from what little historical evidence there is, a “Lord’s Day” first appeared among Roman Christians as a weekly commemoration of Christ’s resurrection on Sunday, and it became so popular that for many years Christians not only met on the Saturday Sabbath, they also met on the Sunday Lord’s Day. By 150 A.D., however, most Christians were observing just the Lord’s Day on Sunday.

The Lord’s Day was acceptable to Christians back then because they were still keeping the spirit of the Sabbath Day commandment alive by observing “a day of rest” to meet and worship together. But Christ’s resurrection on Sunday became a far more important reason for which day should be set apart for Christians. So it was a mix of retaining the “spirit of the 4th command” by keeping a day holy, but wanting to celebrate Christ’s resurrection as well that led to Sunday becoming the Christian day of rest. Christians ever since, however, have made Sunday a Sabbath command, for which there is no biblical support whatsoever.

Christians worship Christ, not a day, and Christ can be worshipped any day. When Jesus said “Come to me … and I will give you rest,” did he mean “Only on Sunday, or only on Saturdays?” No. The Christian Sabbath – the living, resurrected Jesus Christ – is every day, and “keeping the Sabbath” is trusting him for rest, not a day.

Proclaiming the kingdom of God

While we’re alive in this life, Jesus has a job for us. It’s to “go and proclaim the kingdom of God,” Luke 9:60. How? Through the power Jesus gives us to heal people. Wherever Jesus went people were healed, and he gave the same power to his disciples, to prove to people that “The kingdom of God is near you,” Luke 10:9. People would know the kingdom was real because its presence could be felt. How? Through healing.

What kind of healing? Luke 4:18-19 – “Preaching good news to the poor, freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, release for the oppressed and  proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favour.” Jesus came to tell us that God was now deeply and personally involved in reversing all the damage in people’s lives caused by the devil. Proclaiming the kingdom meant healing people in every way. “When God raised up his servant (Jesus),” Acts 3:26, “he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.” God sent Jesus and Jesus now sends us to heal people in every way possible. The restoration of every human being has begun.

We can be assured then, that wherever we go, Jesus is giving us the power to heal, because that’s what he made us his disciples for. We make the kingdom of God near and real to people through clear and obvious healing. In what form that healing happens is deeply personal to each human being, but anyone looking to God for healing will be healed. It’s a promise, stated outright in James 5:15 – “And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.”

Is that restricted to physical illnesses only? No, it gets right to the heart and core of all sickness – physical, mental, social, emotional or spiritual – because healing from God includes forgiveness of every sin, turning us from the error of all our ways, saving us from spiritual death, and reversing the effect of a multitude of sins, verses 15 and 20.

It’s God’s goal “that you may be healed,” verse 16 – healed in every way, that is, because healing in every way is what God sent Jesus for, and healing in every way is what Jesus now sends us for. This is the year of the Lord’s favour, the era of healing, as God now sets about the “times of refreshing,” Acts 3:19, “until the time comes for God to resiore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets,” verse 21.

And the proof that God truly is restoring everything? Through the healing and restoration of people’s lives now, proving God’s kingdom is near and real.

Is our hope only in the future?

A couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses dropped by to offer me a message of hope. It was based on Jesus bringing an end “very shortly” to all the frightening things going on in our world. I asked the leader how she knew it was going to happen “very shortly,” and she replied, “Prophecy.” The signs of the end of this godless age, she said, are all there in Bible prophecy and the conditions exist right now that prove we’re in “the last days.”

I asked her which Bible prophecy proves we’re in the last days, and she replied, “Matthew 24.” She hastily added that not all the events predicted in Matthew 24 happened in 70 AD. Jesus was also referring to “our age now,” she said, and the signs are all there for anyone to read and recognize that this age is near its end and the Kingdom of God is coming “very shortly.”

I asked her what Jesus meant in Matthew 24:34, when he said, “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened,”and in verse 36 when he said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” In the very chapter she mentioned, Jesus states that nobody actually knows when “the end of the age” is (verse 3), and secondly, that all the events he predicted in that chapter would happen in THAT generation then, not at some time in the future.

I also asked her why her hope was only in the end of the age happening at some time in the future, when Matthew 24 makes it clear that the end of the age happened in Jesus’ day, and the book of Acts then makes it clear that a new age has ALREADY begun in which Jesus has been establishing his Kingdom on the earth in his Church through the Holy Spirit.

My hope, therefore, is not in the Lord coming soon, but in the Lord already having come. He’s not here in person, but he is in the Church, which he calls his body. And the reason for him being here in the Church is to pass on the message of hope that “God raised us up with Christ and seated us in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,” Ephesians 2:6, where the Father “has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ,” Ephesians 1:3. Jesus is already in the process of healing all humanity. We don’t have to wait and hope until some time in the future – because it’s happening right now.

Feeling discouraged

For me, it’s horribly discouraging when there’s so little interest in the Christian message, or when things keep going wrong, or when people just leave the church without saying anything. Or when nobody takes any interest in what’s happening in your life, and it’s all one-way conversations as they talk a mile a minute about themselves but never ask about you.

You can get to thinking, “What’s the point?” or “Why bother?” I can imagine Jesus thinking that too, when most people only took an interest in him when he did miracles. When he preached the Christian message most people cleared off and didn’t want anything more to do with him. His very own hand-picked disciples often didn’t care much for what he said and did either. They often misunderstood him, and saw him mainly as a leg up for themselves in the kingdom. The religious authorities wanted him dead, despite the obvious evidence that Jesus was fulfilling many of the Old Testament prophecies that they knew by heart. The general public never let him get a moment’s rest, in their endlessly self-centred quest to get a healing or a demon removed. And when Jesus needed people the most, they either fell asleep, ran away, reported him to the authorities or denied ever knowing him. And at the last, just before he died, he felt utterly deserted.

So Jesus knows all about being discouraged. He sorrowed unto death at one point. I imagine him wondering, then, why on earth his Father had sent him in the first place when most people weren’t the least bit interested in his message, and the few people who could have been a great support to him, like the the religious leaders, scoffed at him and told lies about him. Clearly, there was no one Jesus could fully trust to understand him, be sensitive to his needs, or try to grasp what he was really saying.

And it’s a bit of a shock when that dawns on us too, isn’t it? That really most people are incapable of knowing our needs or taking an interest in what makes us tick, including our closest friends, our parents and even our spouses. But maybe that’s exactly what we need, to realize there isn’t a human being alive (or dead) who can satisfy our deepest longings and desires.

At which point, the Father appears through the mist of our tears and discouragement, just as he promised. He comforts those who mourn, because without his comforting arm round our shoulder, there isn’t any other help strong enough and concerned enough for us. But we always have him. Our Father.