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The Holy Sabbath
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The Holy Sabbath

I.       The Sabbath In History

A.     The Sabbath Was Established During the Creation

1.        “So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all his work which he had done in creation” (Gen 2:3).

2.        God completed his creation on the sixth day. And on the seventh day, God sanctified the day as a “holy day,” i.e. a sabbath day, and blessed the seventh day. This is the origin of the holy sabbath (Gen 2:1, 2; Ex 20:8–11).

B.     God First Commanded His People to Observe the Sabbath After the Exodus

1.        After the fall, the Bible did not mention the sabbath again until Israel came to the wilderness of Sin. Moses said to Israel, “Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy sabbath to the LORD” (Ex 16:1, 23). The holy sabbath was thus made known to Israel in the wilderness after the exodus. The sabbath became a day when people and animals could rest from their labor (Ex 23:12). Thus, after God’s command, the people rested on the seventh day (Ex 16:30).

2.        In the wilderness, Israel was given manna—a heavenly food. The Israelites need not worry about food—God’s wondrous provision recalls the Edenic days (Gen 2:16). However, some Israelites failed to keep the sabbath according to the Lord’s grace and provisions (Ex 16:25–29).

C.     The Sabbath Was Included in the Ten Commandments at Mt.Sinai

1.        Since Israel did not observe the sabbath, God specifically included its observation in the Decalogue, which was written by God himself (Deut 9:10). The Fourth Commandment reveals the sabbath’s significance and reads:

2.        “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates; for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it” (Ex 20:8–11; cf. Deut 5:12–15).

3.        God intended Israel to remember his creation by this commandment. Thus, we can infer God also meant the sabbath for Adam and Eve to enjoy in the wonderful garden of Eden.

4.        The reiteration of the Decalogue by Moses stresses the remembrance of God’s salvation (Deut 5:15).

D.     Judah’s Failure to Keep the Sabbath Led to the Babylonian Captivity

1.        The people of Judah profaned the holy sabbath (Jer 17:21–23; cf. Ezek 20:12, 13). Through prophet Jeremiah, God warned his people about the consequences of failing to observe the sabbath: “But if you do not listen to me, to keep the sabbath day holy, and not to bear a burden and enter by the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem and shall not be quenched” (Jer 17:27). Unfortunately, the Israelites were stiff-necked. During Zedekiah’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, came to burn down the holy temple and the royal palaces. Numerous people died, and the people of Judah fell into captivity. Thus, the seventy years of Babylonian captivity finally offered the opportunity for the land to enjoy its sabbaths (2 Chr 36:17–21).

E.     Sabbath Observation was Enforced During and After the Rebuilding of the Temple

In order to fulfill Jeremiah’s prophecy, God moved Cyrus, king of Persia, to release God’s people at the completion of seventy years (Jer 25:11, 12). Thus, the Jews returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple (2 Chr 36:22, 23). At that time, however, some Jews transgressed the sabbath. Nehemiah, their governor, rebuked them severely by saying, “What is this evil thing which you are doing, profaning the sabbath day? Did not your fathers act in this way, and did not our God bring all this evil on us and on this city? Yet you bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the sabbath” (Neh 13:15–18). Therefore, he ordered the Levites to close the city gates on the sabbath so as to hallow the day (Neh 13:19–22). From then on, the Jews strictly observed the sabbath day up until the apostolic era. However, the rules became even stricter during the Hasmonean, i.e. Maccabean era. As time went on, the prohibitions on work and other activities became more and more stringent. The rabbis of the second century imposed many additional regulations aimed at enhancing sabbath day’s sanctity.

II.    Purpose Of Establishing The Sabbath

The Lord Jesus said, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath” (Mk 2:27). The establishment of the sabbath is not to bind people with elaborate regulations under the law, but rather it is for humanity’s benefit.

A.     To Remind Humanity of God’s Creation

The sabbath is a memorial day of the completion of God’s creation. As established by God, the sabbath allows humanity to remember God is the Creator and Provider of all creation (Ex 20:8–11; Ezek 20:20).

B.     To Allow People Physical and Spiritual Rest

“Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your ass may have rest, and the son of your bondmaid, and the alien, may be refreshed” (Ex 23:12).

·         The Bible tells us that the everlasting God, the Creator, does not faint and is not weary (Isa 40:28). God does not need to rest, but out of his love for the world he created the sabbath in order to give a day of rest and refreshment to his creation.

·         Rest became necessary in Adam’s days, because Adam had to till and keep the garden (Gen 2:15), and had dominion over the whole earth (Gen 1:28). The establishment of the sabbath day was a provision for Adam. God blessed this day (Gen 2:3); and those who keep the sabbath will not confront serious “hardships in life,” in the sense of not being able to survive (cf. Ex 16:29). Obviously, day to day hardships that all humanity encounters are excluded.

C.     To Remind Humanity of God’s Salvation

“You shall remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out thence with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day” (Deut 5:15). People forget God and his grace quite easily. Therefore, God demanded the Israelites to have a holy convocation on this day in memory of his deliverance of his people from bondage (Lev 23:3; Ps 103:2, 3). In the New Testament, God’s chosen should all the more remember the Lord’s salvation and grace, since Jesus redeemed us from the bondage of sin and death. We must especially remember the Lord’s great salvation on the sabbath (Acts 26:18; 2 Cor 5:14, 15).

D.     To Remind God’s People That God Sanctifies Them

“Moreover I gave them my sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I the LORD sanctify them” (Ezek 20:12). The sabbath, given by God, is a grace to those who keep it. God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it in creation (Gen 2:3). Consequently, it is different from the other days of the week. God wants his people to keep the sabbath day holy and to avoid profane activities (Neh 13:22; Isa 58:13, 14). Thus, sabbath observance generally consists of a church gathering for the following reasons: spiritual communion with God, listening to God’s word, and a striving “for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14; 1 Pet 1:15). So the sabbath reminds God’s people that he sanctifies them (2 Thess 2:13; Heb 10:10, 14).

E.     To Allow the Chosen People to Look Forward to the True Rest in the Heavenly Kingdom

The sabbath is a present type of the coming true rest in heaven. After God’s redemptive plan is accomplished, he will let his children enter the eternal rest in the kingdom of heaven. The Bible says, “There remains a sabbath rest for the people of God; for whoever enters God’s rest also ceases from his labors as God did from his” (Heb 4:9, 10). There is no true rest in this world (Ps 90:10), except in the Lord (Mt 11:28, 29). Having the promised eternal rest in the future, we should keep the sabbath while looking forward to the Lord’s second coming. For at the second coming Jesus will receive the saved ones into the heavenly kingdom to enjoy the true, eternal sabbath. Thus will we leave behind the pangs and sufferings of the world (Rom 8:22, 23; Heb 4:1).

III. Did The Early Church Keep The Sabbath?

The sabbath is the seventh day (Gen 2:1–3), which is Saturday according to the Roman calendar (Lk 23:56–24:2). However, many Christian churches still observe Sunday. But according to the Bible, there is no evidence of sabbath observance on Sunday in the early church. The following biblical passages are often used as “proof” texts by Sunday observers:

1.        Sunday observers state the Lord Jesus resurrected on the first day of the week, which instituted a new sabbath. Christians should therefore observe Sunday. However, the Bible does not tell believers to observe or remember the day of the Lord’s resurrection.

 a.      In the four Gospels, “the first day of the week” is recorded in six places (Mt 28:1; Mk 16:2, 9; Lk 24:1; Jn 20:1, 19); yet, none of these six passages record the disciples gathered to commemorate the Lord’s resurrection.

 b.      The reason the Bible specifically records “the first day of the week” is to emphasize the fulfillment of prophecy—namely, that Lord Jesus would be buried and would arise on the third day.

 c.      John 20:19 states that the Lord appeared in the midst of his disciples. This cannot be regarded as a Sunday observance proof text since the disciples’ were hiding for fear of the Jews. Moreover, the Lord did not appear to the disciples on the first day alone, for the Bible clearly records the Lord appeared to the disciples “after eight days” (Jn 20:26; cf. Acts 1:3).

 d.      Some regard John 20:19 as grounds for the disciples’ Sunday observance, but the Bible is clear when it says the doors were shut for fear of the Jews. Furthermore, while the Lord Jesus appeared on that first day, some of his disciples (e.g., Thomas) did not even believe the Lord resurrected (Mt 28:17; Mk 16:14; Jn 20:25). How then can we assume the disciples already began to keep a Sunday sabbath in memory of the Lord’s resurrection?

2.        Some take Acts 20:7 as an illustration of Sunday observance.

 a.      The breaking of bread in Acts 20:7 was not necessarily a church doctrine or custom. There is no fixed date for breaking bread, since the Bible records believers breaking bread daily in the temple and at home, i.e., house churches (Acts 2:46, 47).

 b.      This gathering in Acts 20:7 could continue until midnight because there were many lamps in the upper room (Acts 20:8).

 c.      The lengthy gathering was held because Paul intended to depart the next day (Acts 20:7, 11). It was a farewell service. How can we use this verse to assert the disciples substituted Sunday observance for Saturday?

3.        Some hold that 1 Corinthians 16:2 supports Sunday sabbath observance. However, close analysis reveals the weakness of this argument. “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that contributions need not be made when I come.” First, the passage gives no indication a meeting was held nor is there indication offerings were given on Sunday. Paul merely told the believers to lay offerings gained during the previous week aside so that
contributions would be unnecessary on Paul’s arrival.

4.        Some quote Revelation 1:10 as proof of Sunday sabbath observance. However, close analysis reveals that “the Lord’s day” is not necessarily the Lord’s resurrection day (Sunday). The support for Sunday observance in Revelation 1:10 is pure speculation according to the biblical text. Likewise, quotations supporting the “Lord’s day” theory from early church fathers are speculation as well. The church fathers probably used this verse to fit the church practice of Sunday observance after the apostolic period, which shows the drifting away of the church from the truth. Thus, the Sunday observer’s speculative interpretation of Revelation 1:10 cannot be verified by the Bible. While it is true “the Lord’s day” (thought to be Sunday, the day of Christ’s resurrection) appeared in post-biblical writings, the allusions to the Lord’s day, in second century and later writings, reflect the then current practice of celebrating “the Lord’s day.” By that time, celebrating the Lord’s day was gradually coming into vogue, especially after the apostles and early Christians, who kept the true sabbath (Saturday), died. So all literature from the early church fathers cannot be presented in support of the Lord’s day. The Lord Jesus never instituted Sunday observance and no biblical authority sanctions observance of “the Lord’s day” as a Sunday sabbath. On the other hand, both the Lord and the apostles observed and respected the true sabbath under grace. The Lord Jesus claimed that the Son of man is the lord of the sabbath (Mt 12:8; Mk 2:28). The sabbath is a day set apart by the Lord in truth and in grace. God clearly declared that the sabbath is his holy day (Isa 58:13). Since the sabbath is God’s holy day, we should not follow our own holy day(s) or our own pleasures and traditions.

So we should recognize that the first day of the week is not the sabbath nor is it necessarily “the Lord’s day” in Revelation 1:10. Rather, John was revealed the things to come by the Lord Jesus on the “Lord’s day,” which could very well be the sabbath day (i.e., Saturday). For if any day is indeed the Lord’s day it should be the day God blesses and calls his holy day (Isa 58:13).

IV.  Should Christians Keep The Sabbath?

A.     Many Sunday observers assert Christians need not keep the sabbath since they are not Jewish. Thus, many Sunday observers are really non-sabbath observers, since even Sunday is not sacred. In light of this argument, let us examine the following:

1.        1. God gave the sabbath to Israel, because they were the chosen people by whom his oracles and will were proclaimed to the world (cf. Rom 3:1, 2).

2.        The Lord Jesus said that “the sabbath was made for man” (Mk 2:27). So God established the sabbath after he had created man on the sixth day. When the Lord said “man” did he only refer to the Jewish man? Most likely not, since there were no Jews in the beginning; in fact, there were no racial differences in the beginning. Thus, we are all “man,” i.e., human beings, and the sabbath was made for us according to Jesus.

3.        The Bible tells us that strangers who joined themselves to the Lord had the privilege of enjoying the grace of the sabbath (Isa 56:2–7). Many of these strangers were Gentiles.

4.        The sabbath reminds humanity of God’s creation. Is God the God of the Jews only? Can Gentiles be exempted from remembering the Creator and from worshipping him? (Eccl 12:1, 13; 1 Cor 8:6; Phil 2:9–11).

B.     Many non-sabbath observers argue Christians are saved by grace, so they do not need to keep the Ten Commandments. However, according to the Bible:

1.        Salvation does not come from the works of law, but through the Lord’s precious blood and faith in the Lord (Rom 3: 25, 28).

2.        However, under the grace of the Lord, Christians can never abolish the Ten Commandments, nor should they transgress the commandments at will. Paul told us to uphold the law through our faith (Rom 3:31, 6:15; cf. Mt 19:17; 1 Cor 7:19; Rev 12:17, 14:12). The ordinances of the law have been taken away by the cross, and so we need not follow the rules and rituals in a legalistic manner (Eph 2:15; Col 2:14, 16; Heb 9:10). Nevertheless, the fulfillment of the law does not mean that the Ten Commandments are obliterated, perverted, or twisted. Rather, Christians must keep the “spirit” of the moral law, i.e., the commandments, through the help of the Holy Spirit. Keeping the “spirit” of the law is a much higher standard than the legalistic keeping of the law, for it is written in our hearts rather than in letter only (cf. Mt 5:17, 18, 21–23; Heb 8:10; Jas 2:10–12).

3.        Observing the sabbath under grace differs greatly from the legalistic observance according to the Old Testament and additional Jewish traditions (Ex 35:1–3; Num 15:32-36). Observing the sabbath under grace is neither a burden nor a bondage (Mt 12:1, 2; Mk 3:1, 2). Actually, sabbath under grace can be seen as a return to the rest of Edenic days—loving, joyful, peaceful, and healing—since Christians enjoy spiritual and physical blessings from the Lord (cf. Gen 2:3; Ex 16:23–25; Lk 12:9–13; Jn 5:1–18).

C.     Non-sabbath day observers argue that the sabbath is “a shadow of the things to come,” and Christ came to eliminate the sabbath. Thus, Christians are not required to observe sabbath any more. However, according to the Bible:

1.        In Colossians 2:16–17, the food, drink, festival, new moon and sabbath are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance is of Christ. These “shadows” are “eliminated” or overtaken by the cross. The Passover has, for instance, moved from the shadow to true substance, which came with Christ (1 Cor 5:7, 8). The ceremonial laws in the Old Testament concerning food and drink are no longer observed in the New Testament, but the substance of the food and drink cannot be done away with—the substance coming with Christ. Likewise, the stifling legalistic or rabbinical rules, oral or written, concerning sabbath observance are abolished by the Lord Jesus; however, the true substance of the sabbath itself, instituted by God from the beginning, cannot be eliminated.

2.        So from Colossians 2:14–17, Christians should clearly understand that we must not return to legalistic regulations, lest we incite judgment from others (2:16). However, Christians should take care not to judge another Christian because he or she keeps the sabbath under grace. As stated, sabbath observance under grace is very different from observance under law. So the “food, drink, festival, new moon, and sabbath” under the law are merely a shadow of things to come, for the substance is indeed of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ gave us victory by his death on the cross, on which all the ordinances and rituals were nailed with the Lord. Though we do not observe the Old Testament sabbath ordinances and practices, we must still observe the sabbath under grace lest others judge us hypocrites, i.e., do not take the sabbath lightly just because we are no longer bound by stringent regulations. Do not use liberty as a cover for vice. The “things to come” in Colossians 2:17 may refer to the completion of the Lord Jesus’ work of salvation at his second coming, when we shall enter the true and eternal substance of sabbath rest found in Christ (Heb 4:10).

D.     Non-sabbath Sunday observers use Galatians 4:10 and Romans 14:5–6 as evidence that there is no difference in keeping the sabbath on Saturday or Sunday, since the observance of either day is unto the Lord. However, according to the Bible:

1.        “One day,” “another day,” and “everyday” do not refer to “the sabbath” or “Sunday” at all in Romans 14:5–6. Close analysis of the passages in context reveal that these two verses mainly deal with special fasting and feast days, including all the fleshly ordinances of food, drink, washings, etc. (Heb 9:10). In the Old Testament, there were many feasts and days of fasting, such as fasting on the day of atonement (Lev 16:29–31, 23:27–32), fasting on the day of Purim (Est 9:31), and fasting in the fourth, fifth, seventh, and tenth month (Zech 8:19; cf. 2 Kgs 25:25; Jer 39:1, 2, 52:12, 13).

2.        Looking at the two passages in context, we understand some believers of the early church followed legalistic practices of the Old Testament, observing days (feast and fasting days), new moons, sabbatical years, and dietary laws. Many of these believers simply focused on the legalistic practices forgetting the true substance of the gospel. For this reason, Paul exclaimed, “I am afraid I have labored over you in vain” (Gal 4:11). The fact is that Galatians 4:10 and Romans 14:5–6 were not written to refute the sabbath. We know this for at least two good reasons. First, Paul himself observed the sabbath under grace according to his custom (Acts 17:2). Second, we must remember that the sabbath controversy between keeping the sabbath versus Sunday had not yet arisen during Paul’s time, when he wrote the two epistles. The sabbath controversy only arose after Sunday observance became popular and was proclaimed by Constantine in A.D. 321, which was many years after Paul.

V.     Jesus Christ And The Sabbath

Non-sabbath Sunday observers often maintain Lord Jesus abolished the sabbath. Therefore, we should look into the statements and actions of Jesus on the sabbath, since he is lord of the sabbath (Mt 12:8).

A.     Judah Failed to Honor the Sabbath

Judah’s captivity to Babylon was due to their failure to honor the sabbath unto the Lord (2 Chr 36:17–21; Jer 17:27). After returning from Babylon, many Jews deeply understood that the rise and fall of their nation depended on the observance of God’s laws (Neh 13:15–22). In fact, many Jews made oaths that they would keep the sabbath from then on without fail (Neh 10:29–31).

In light of this stress upon sabbath observance, rabbinical tradition added many rules to the sabbath. The Mishnah1 codified 39 different kinds of work forbidden on the sabbath. These additional traditions are complicated and burdensome regulations that bind sabbath observers to the sabbath, i.e., making man for the sabbath. In contrast, the Lord Jesus said “the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.” According to Jewish tradition, anyone who transgressed the rules would be expelled from the synagogue by the rabbis.

B.     Jesus Christ Observed the Sabbath

While Jesus was in the world, “he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath day. And he stood up to read” (Lk 4:16).

In another instance, Jesus went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and taught the people on the sabbath (Lk 4:31).

As the Son of man, Jesus himself “ceased,” in a symbolic sense, his work on the seventh day (Jn 19:31), rested in the tomb, and resurrected on the first day of the week to continue his work of salvation (Lk 23:54–56, 24:1, 2).

C.     Jesus Christ Instructed the Disciples to Keep the Sabbath

The controversy between the Lord Jesus and the Pharisees mostly concerned the legal aspect of the sabbath (Mt 12:9–14; Mk 3:1–6). The reason was not because the Lord Jesus did not observe the sabbath, but because the method, attitude, and perspective of sabbath observance between the Lord Jesus and the Pharisees greatly differed (cf. Jn 9:14–16).

During Jesus’ time, the Jews kept the sabbath under the Mosaic law, in addition to the many traditional restrictions. According to the law, prohibitions and rules were strictly enforced, including the following:

1.        No labor is allowed on the sabbath (Ex 20:10).

2.        No fire is to be kindled on this day (Ex 35:3).

3.        All should rest on this day even during plowing and harvest time (Ex 34:21).

4.        Any one who profanes the sabbath shall be put to death (Ex 31:12–17, 35:2; Num 15:32–36).

The Lord Jesus—the Lord of the sabbath—brings us abundant grace (Jn 1:14, 17). Jesus redeemed us from the curse of the law (Gal 4:5). Therefore, the Lord’s sabbath observance does not follow the fleshly ordinances of the law. Under God’s grace and favor, Jesus observed the sabbath as a free, joyful, and gracious blessing rather than a burden (cf. Gen 2:3; Ex 16:23–25; Isa 58:13).

Although both kept the sabbath, the Pharisees kept it under the law, while the Lord Jesus kept it under grace. For this reason, the Lord Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for looking upon him as a law-breaker. The Lord Jesus came to proclaim the true substance of the sabbath. Thus, Jesus set an example of sabbath observance for his disciples, keeping the sabbath in a gracious manner despite constant threats and persecution from others.

D.     The Controversies Surrounding Jesus’ Sabbath Observance

1.        At one time, the Pharisees pointed out the “unlawful act” of the Lord’s disciples on a sabbath day. The “unlawful act” concerned one sabbath when the hungry disciples, following Jesus through the grainfields, plucked heads of grain to eat. Upon seeing this, the Pharisees took offense, seeing the act as a form of labor (Mt 12:1, 2). However, Jesus justified their act by quoting precedents accepted by the Pharisees themselves:

 a.      David and his followers unlawfully ate the bread of the Presence out of hunger (Mt 12:3, 4, 7).

 b.      The priests in the temple profaned the sabbath, and were guiltless. They were justified because any work performed in the temple was considered temple service. The temple typifies Jesus Christ (Jn 2:19, 21) and all the disciples are priests (Rev 5:9, 10). Thus, if the disciples performed acts under the Lord’s grace, they should be considered guiltless, even though they did not stop working on the sabbath (Mt 12:5, 6, 8).

2.        The Pharisees opposed to Jesus’ healing of the sick on the sabbath.

 a.      One sabbath day, Jesus healed a man who had a withered hand (Mt 12:9–13). The Pharisees were offended by Jesus’ act. The Lord Jesus countered, “What man of you, if he has one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath” (Mt 12:11, 12).

 b.      On a sabbath day, Jesus healed an invalid man who had suffered for 38 years by the pool of Bethzatha in Jerusalem. At the hypocritical protest of the Pharisees, Jesus became furious. He answered, “If on the sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the sabbath I made a man’s whole body well?” (Jn 5:5–18, 7:23).

 c.      On the sabbath the Lord cured a woman from her spirit of infirmity for 18 years. The ruler of the synagogue was indignant at the miraculous cure, saying, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be healed, and not on the sabbath day.” Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger, and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?” (Lk 13:11–16).

From the above passages, the contention between the Lord Jesus and the Jews was not focused on the sabbath day itself, since the Lord did not mean to change the day at all. Rather, the emphasis is on the manner and attitude of keeping the sabbath. The Pharisees kept the sabbath according to the Mosaic law and the rabbinical tradition, but the Lord Jesus kept it under the Lord’s grace since he himself is the lord of the sabbath.

The instructions of the Lord can be summarized as follows:

·         It is lawful to do the service of God on the sabbath (Mt 12:5; Jn 7:23).

·         It is lawful to do good work on the sabbath (Mt 12:12; Mk 3:4).

As the Lord’s disciples, we should follow Jesus’ example—putting aside all secular activities on God’s designated sabbath. What we should do on the sabbath is: to remember God’s grace, to worship him, and to perform good deeds that glorify his name (Gen 2:3; Isa 58:13, 14; Mt 15:9).

VI.  The Apostles Observed The Sabbath

Many Christian churches are inclined to lay the abolition of the sabbath on the Lord and the apostles. There is no scriptural evidence to support either the Lord Jesus or the apostles abolished the seventh-day sabbath. On the contrary, we see that Paul and the other apostles of the Lord kept the sabbath, which was their custom (Acts 17:1, 2).

A.     Paul and Barnabas at Antioch

“But they passed on from Perga and came to Antioch of Pisidia. And on the sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading of the law and the prophets...” (Acts 13:14, 15). “The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered together to hear the word of God” (Acts 13:44).

B.     Paul and Silas at Philippi

“And on the sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together” (Acts 16:13).

C.     Paul and Silas at Thessalonica

“Now when they had passed through Amphipolis anApollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and for three weeks he argued with them from the Scriptures” (Acts 17:1, 2).

D.     Paul at Corinth

“And he argued in the synagogue every sabbath, anpersuaded Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4).

E.     James at the Jerusalem Council

James testified at the council, “For from early generations Moses has had in every city those who preach him, for he is read every sabbath in the synagogues” (Acts 15:21).

F.      The Lord Jesus told the disciples to pray that their flight would not be in the winter, nor on the sabbath day (Mt 24:20).

When the Roman army came to destroy Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the Lord knew the disciples would still keep the sabbath.

VII.           Who Changed The Sabbath Day From Saturday To Sunday?

If the Lord and the disciples did not abolish the sabbath, who did? How did Sunday, often called “the Lord’s day,” come to replace the seventh-day sabbath?

1.        According to the Catholic Church, “The Church of God [i.e., the Catholic Church] has in her wisdom ordained that the celebration of the sabbath should be transferred to the Lord’s day” (Catechism of the Council of Trent, Donovan translation, 1829, p. 267).

2.        “It was the Catholic Church which, by the authority of Jesus Christ, has transferred this rest to the Sunday in remembrance of the resurrection of our Lord. Thus the observance of Sunday by the Protestants is a homage they pay, in spite of themselves, to the authority of the [Catholic] church” (Mgr. Segur, Plain Talk About the Protestanism of Today, p. 213).         

3.        The Sunday legislation has, dated from the first Sunday edict issued by the Emperor Constantine in March, 321 B.C., been mortified and carried on in Christendom.

4.        The term “the Lord’s day” did not appear in any civil legislation concerning Sunday until the year A.D. 387, more than two generations after the first law (“Sunday,” Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. 11, p. 147).

5.        Sunday observance has been existing in Christianity side by side with Sunday activities regulated by the civil legislation of the secular world.

6.        “Is there no express commandment for observing the first day of the week as the sabbath, instead of the seventh day?         None whatever. Neither Christ nor his apostles, nor the first Christians
celebrated the first day of the week instead of the seventh as the sabbath” (New York Weekly Tribune, May 24, 1900).

7.        Dr. Edward T. Hiscox (Baptist) commented, “There was anis a commandment to ‘keep holy the sabbath’, but that sabbath was not Sunday. It will, however, be readily said, and with some show of triumph, that the sabbath was transferrefrom the seventh to the first day of the week.... Where can the record of such a transaction be found? Not in November 16, 1893).

8.        “It [the Roman Catholic Church] has reversed the fourth commandment, doing away with the sabbath of God’s word, and instituting Sunday, as a holy day” (N. Summerbell, History of the Christians, p. 418).

9.        “Sunday is a Catholic institution, and its claims to observance can be defended only on Catholic principles ... From the beginning to the end of the Scriptures there is not a single passage that warrants the transference of weekly public worship from the last day of the week to the first” (Catholic Press, Sydney, Australia, August 25, 1900).

10.     “The Catholic Church ... by virtue of her divine mission, changed the day from Saturday to Sunday” (Catholic Mirror, Baltimore, September 23, 1893).

11.     “Question: Which is the sabbath day?
Answer: Saturday is the sabbath day.
Question: Why do we observe Sunday instead of Saturday?
Answer: We observe Sunday instead of Saturday because the Catholic Church in the Council of Laodicea ... transferred the solemnity from Saturday to Sunday” (Rev. Peter Geiermann, C.S.S.R., The Convert’s Catechism of Catholic Doctrine, 3rd edition, 1913, p. 50, a work which received the “apostolic blessing” of Pope Pius X, January 25, 1910).

12.     “The seventh-day sabbath was ... solemnized by Christ, the apostles, and primitive Christians, till the Laodicean Council did, in a manner, quite abolish the observation of it ... The Council of Laodicea (A.D. 364) ... first settled the observation of the Lord’s day” (Prynne’s Dissertation on the Lord’s day, pp. 33, 34, 44).

13.     “Question: Have you any other way of proving that the      Church [Catholic] has the power to institute festivals of precept?
Answer: Has she not such power she could not have done that in which all modern religionists agree with her: she could not have substituted the observance of Sunday, the first day of the week, for the observance of Saturday, the seventh day of the week—a change for which there is no scriptural authority” (Rev. Steven Keenan, A Doctrinal Catechism, p. 174, New York: Edward Dunigan & Brothers, 1851).

14.     Church history gives ample evidence of the origin of Sunday observance, “a venerated day of the sun,” which has pagan rather than biblical origins. The Catholic Church abolished the sabbath, an act that she has triumphantly declared to the world. Therefore, Christians should not assume Jesus and his disciples substituted the first day of the week (Sunday) for the seventh day (Saturday) just because it is a long-standing tradition. Rather, Christians must return to the truth and observe the true sabbath under the Lord’s grace (cf. Mt 15:9; Rev 22:18, 19).

VIII.        How Do We Keep The Sabbath?

So far, we have examined: how the sabbath was established by God at creation; how it was made known to Israel before the giving of the law; how it was included in the Ten Commandments; how it was related to the severe legalistic rules of the Old Testament; and how it was given new significance by the Lord Jesus, whose observation practices were handed down to the apostles. Let us now look into the Scriptures for how we should observe the sabbath:

A.     Put Aside All Secular Activities

            “If you turn back your foot from the sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly...” (Isa 58:13).

B.     Attend Church Services/Gatherings

            “Six days shall work be done; but on the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation; you shall do no work on it; it is a sabbath to the LORD in all your dwellings” (Lev 23:3).

            “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath day. And he stood up to read...” (Lk 4:16).

            “The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered together to hear the word of God” (Acts 13:44).

C.     Perform Evangelical and Charitable Works

            “And they went into Capernaum; and immediately on the sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught” (Mk 1:21).

            “And on the sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together” (Acts 16:13).

            “So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath” (Mt 12:11, 12; Mk 3:4, 5).

As for the time calculation of the sabbath day, it is to be kept “from evening to evening” (Lev 23:32, cf. Mk 1:21, 32). That is, from Friday evening to Saturday evening.

At first glance, it may seem difficult to reconcile the different time zones around the globe. However, all we need to do is honor and keep the sabbath according to the time and dates of the local area. Therefore, regardless of the country where a true believer dwells, he or she can keep the sabbath according to God’s commandment, and enjoy the abundant spiritual blessings.

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