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Should Christians Keep the Sabbath?

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The Origin of the Sabbath

The origin of the Sabbath goes back to Creation. God rested on the seventh day after creating the heavens and the earth in six days (Gen. 2:2). It doesn't mean that God is tired and needs a rest. Why did God rest on the seventh day? Sabbath is from Hebrew, sabat, which means "to rest or stop or cease from work." It was simply that he stopped what he was doing. He ceased from His labours. This is important in understanding the establishment of the Sabbath day and Christ's role in the Sabbath rest.

The Fourth Commandant

God established the Sabbath day rest principle by resting on the seventh day of Creation. In Ex. 20:8-11 and Deut. 5:12-15, God gave the Israelites the fourth commandment. They were to "remember" the Sabbath day and "keep it holy." One day out of seven, they were to rest and give their animals and servants the same rest. There wasn't just a physical rest, but a cessation of work. Every week they had to stop work for a full day.

The Sabbath day was instituted by God for the nation of Israel to commemorate His deliverance of them from Egypt (Deut. 5:15). Sabbath began Friday at sunset and ended Saturday at sunset and was to be a day of complete rest from all labour, symbolic of the Creator’s resting on the seventh day (Gen. 2:2–3; Ex. 20:11; 23:12). The Sabbath was a special sign to the Israelites that they had been set apart as followers of the most High God. Their keeping of the Sabbath would help distinguish them from the nations around them.

Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath

Jesus said,

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. – Mt. 11:28-29

The Lord Jesus declared Himself to be the Lord of the Sabbath (Mt. 12:8). Further, Jesus stated, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" (Mk. 2:27). Hebrews 3 and 4, declare Jesus as our Sabbath rest. They reveal how a relationship with Christ frees us from the works of the law. It allows us to rest in Christ's finished work to forgive sin. Ultimately, those who believe in Jesus will spend eternity in a "Sabbath rest" with Him (Heb. 4:9). We accept salvation as His free gift, entering into His rest both now and in eternity. If Jesus is our Sabbath rest, should Christians keep the Sabbath?

The Lord’s Day

The Lord’s day is Sunday. The phrase “the Lord’s Day” appears only in Revelation, where the apostle John writes, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” (Rev. 1:1). Other passages suggest that “Lord’s Day” simply put a name on the church’s common practice of gathering on Sunday. In Ephesus, Paul met with the church “on the first day of the week . . . to break bread” (Acts 20:7). Likewise, Paul instructed the Corinthians to set aside some money “on the first day of every week” (1 Cor 16:2).

Some have assumed that the Lord’s day is the New Testament equivalent of the Sabbath. None of these passages shows the early church 'resting', as if they considered Sunday their new Sabbath. For the earliest Christians it was not a substitute for the Sabbath, nor a day of rest nor related in any way to the fourth commandment. The majority of these early Christians likely needed to work on the first day of the week. (Sunday was only declared an official day of rest throughout the Roman Empire only under Constantine in AD 321.)

Should Christians Keep the Sabbath?

In one sense, no: under the new covenant, no Christian is bound to the fourth commandment as such. We may still decide to rest one day in seven — and indeed, wisdom seems to support the practice of imitating God’s own work 6 days and rest 1 day pattern (Gen. 1:1-2:3).

In another sense, however, Christians should keep the Sabbath always. And here we do find a connection between the Jewish Sabbath and the Christian Lord’s Day. In the Old Testament the literal physical rest of the Sabbath pointed to future rest; but since Christ has brought fulfilment in terms of salvation rest, it is the present enjoyment of this rest that acts as the foretaste of the consummation rest which is to come. In other words, it is the celebration on the Lord’s Day (Sunday) of the rest we already have through Christ’s resurrection that now anticipates and guarantees the rest that is yet to be. It is an act of regular, intentional trust in God's rule on earth.

When we stop working, we can truly rest in God’s presence. When we practice this purposeful pause, we make room for God to take up residence in our lives.

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father

Thank you for the incredible privilege we have each week of gathering as one family in your holy presence. Thank you that each Sunday, you call us into dialogue with you: You speak words of life to us, and we respond in praise, gratitude, and obedience. Let us be renewed in Christ this and every Sunday as we worship you, that we may live lives that please you in every way, and that the light of Christ may shine ever more brightly in our homes, workplaces, community, and anywhere in the world you may send us. May the name of Jesus be lifted high in our corporate worship!

In his name I pray, Amen.

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