Colossian 2:16; Annual Sabbaths or Weekly?

The “Sabbath” in Colossians 2:16 does not refer to the annual Sabbaths, but to the weekly Sabbath, because the phrase “festivals, new moons, or Sabbaths”:

► Implies an annual, monthly and weekly sequence;
► Includes all of Israel’s holy days, also the weekly Sabbath.
► Already includes the annual Sabbaths in the “festivals”.

Different Laws

The weekly and annual Sabbaths are required by different Laws:

Weekly Sabbath

The weekly Sabbath is required by the Ten Commandments, which God wrote with own His finger on both sides of two stone tablets (Ex. 31:18; Deut. 9:10; Ex. 32:15-16; Deut. 4:13).  These stone tablets were put inside the Ark of the Covenant (Deut. 10:5), signifying that the Ten Commandments were at the center of the covenant.

Annual Sabbaths

The instructions for annual Sabbaths were contained in a book which was written up by Moses (Ex. 17:14; 24:4; Deut. 31:24, 26).  This book became known as the “Law of Moses” (Joshua 8:31; 23:6; 2 Kings 14:6; 2Chron. 34:14; etc.) or the “book of Moses” (2Chron. 35:12; Ezra 6:18; etc.).  It was kept “beside the Ark of the Covenant” (Deut. 31:26).  To quote typical verses:

just as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded the sons of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses” (Jos. 8:31).

Take this Book of the Law, and put it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there as a witness against you” (Deut. 31:26).

The annual Sabbaths were part of the seven annual feasts, and fell, like our annual holidays, on any day of the week.

Origin

Another important distinction between the weekly and annual Sabbaths is their origin:

The Seventh Day was blessed and sanctified at creation (Gen. 2:1-3).  Christ therefore could say that the Sabbath was made for man (all people) (Mark 2:27).  Many people are unable to believe the creation account, but at least must agree that Moses and Christ believed that the seventh day was sanctified at creation.

The annual Sabbaths were given to the Jews specifically, thousands of years later.

Which Sabbath is intended in Colossians 2:16?

It is sometimes said that the “Sabbath” in Colossians 2:16 does not refer to the weekly seventh day Sabbath, but to the annual Sabbaths.

Hebrews 10

This view is argued as follows:

The Sabbath in Col. 2:16 is “a shadow of things to come” (2:17).  A shadow, in this sense, is an image of a major future event.

Hebrews 10:1-10 also mentions a “shadow” and “things to come”.  In Hebrews 10 the “shadow” is the Jewish sacrificial system and the “things to come” are “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ” (Hebr. 10:10).

The CrossIt is then assumed that the “things to come” in Colossians 2:17 also refer to is “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ”.

Since “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ” is God’s solution to the sin problem, any shadow of His death must have been instituted after the entrance of sin into this world.  Since the Sabbaths in 2:16 are then a shadow of His death, they cannot refer to the weekly Sabbath because the weekly Sabbath was sanctified before sin (Exodus 20:8, 11).  It can only be the annual Sabbaths (Lev. 23).

The flaw in this argument is the assumption that the “things to come” refer to “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ”.  Colossians 2:16-17, which was written nearly 30 years after Christ’s death, says that the special days and Sabbaths “are (now, today) a shadow of things to come (in the future)”.  This means that the special days in 2:16-17, including the Sabbaths, do not point to Christ’s death, but to His second coming and the renewal of all things.  It is argued below that the festivals and annual Sabbaths do also point to the renewal of all things, but the same applies to the weekly Sabbath.  Hebrews 4 describes the weekly Sabbath as a shadow of the eternal rest in the new heavens and new earth.  The Sabbaths in Colossians 2:16 may therefore include the weekly Sabbath.

Sabbaths (Plural)

A second argument sometimes used, to show that the “Sabbath” in Colossians 2:16 refers to the annual Sabbaths, is that the Greek term for Sabbath in Colossians 2:16 is plural in form (sabbaton) and that it is better to apply it to the annual Sabbaths, of which there were many in a year.  But this argument does not hold because sabbaton is quite frequently translated “Sabbath” (singular) because the context indicates that it must be singular, for instance:

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath (Sabbaton)” (Mat 12:1; see also verses 2, 5, 8, 10, 11 and 12).

But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath (Sabbaton)” (Mat 24:20).

Matthew 28:1, “Now after the Sabbath (Sabbaton)

They went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and began to teach” (Mar 1:21).

Luke 4:16, “He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath

Acts 16:13, “And on the Sabbath day

It is the Weekly Sabbath.

Further proof that the Sabbath in 2:16-17 refers to the weekly Sabbath includes the following:

Firstly, the sequencefestivals, new moons, or Sabbaths” is found several times in the Old Testament (2 Chron. 2:4; 31:3; Neh. 10:33; Eze. 45:17; Hosea 2:11) and also several times in literature outside the Bible (Jub. 1:14; Jos. Ber. 3:11; Justin, Dialogue 8:4.).  At times the order is reversed, but “new moon” is always in the middle.  Since the festivals were annual and the new moons were monthly, the sequence implies that the Sabbaths were weekly.

Secondly, the phrase “festivals, new moons, or Sabbaths” was used as a composite technical term to refer to all of Israel’s holy days, which means that this phrase must include the Sabbath.   See the separate discussion of “Feasts … New Moons … Sabbaths” for more detail.

This is confirmed by Numbers 23, which lists Israel’s holy days, including the weekly Sabbath.  The implication is that the weekly Sabbath was regarded as part of the system of holy days.

Thirdly, all the verses that refer to the sequence “festivals … new moons … Sabbaths” actually are a summary of the daily, weekly, monthly and annual sacrifices prescribed in Numbers 28.  Many of these verses that refer to the sequence “festivals … new moons … Sabbaths” refer explicitly to sacrifices, for instance:

to offer all burnt offerings to the LORD, on the sabbaths, the new moons and the fixed festivals” (1Chr. 23:31).

The Sabbath in Colossians 2:16 at least includes the weekly Sabbaths because Colossians 2:16 is based on Numbers 28, and Numbers 28 include sacrifices for the weekly Sabbath:

  • Daily:a continual burnt offering every day” (v3-8)
  • Weekly:on the sabbath day … every sabbath” (28:9-10)
  • Monthly:at the beginning of each of your month” (new moons) (28:11-15), and
  • Annual: the feast days (28:16-40); “the LORD’S Passover” (v16), “feast, unleavened bread” (v17) and “the day of the first fruits” (v26).

Fourthly, the annual Sabbaths are already included in the “festivals” in the sequence “festivals … new moon … Sabbath day” (2:16).  If “a Sabbath day” meant the annual Sabbaths there would be a needless repetition.

The evidence is therefore that the Sabbath in 2:16-17 refers to the weekly Sabbath.

TO: Colossians Table of Contents

TO: General Table of Contents

Jesus taught a different Sabbath.

The 10 Commandments require rest.  Jesus taught a different Sabbath.  Jesus taught the Sabbath as a day to work to heal and restore people.

By arguing with the Pharisees what is allowed on the Sabbath, Jesus implied that certain things are not allowed.  He thereby admitted the Sabbath as binding.

But the seventh day, as practiced and taught by Christ, was a different Sabbath than prescribed by the Ten Commandments.

The Law of Moses, and specifically the Ten Commandments, required the seventh day simply as a Sabbath, which means it is a day of rest.  Everybody had to rest; including servants and animals.  It was “a sabbath of complete rest … You shall not do any work” (Lev. 23:3).  Contrary to popular belief, the Law of Moses did not require people to have religious meetings or to worship God on that day.  Exodus 16:29 says “Remain every man in his place”.  The only requirement was rest.  The religious leaders applied this extremely conservatively; disallowing anything that even remotely looks like work; even healing.

Christ’s Sabbath – While the Ten Commandments state negatively what is not allowed on the seventh day; “you shall not do any work” (Ex. 20:10), Christ never indicated what is not allowed.  His focus always was on what may and must be done on the seventh day.  As shown in the previous articles, He taught that:

Man may work on the Sabbath if that work will relief the distress and suffering of people or animals.

Man must work on the Sabbath to restore man spiritually and physically.

This means that Christ did more than to interpret the Sabbath commandment; He gave a new meaning to it.  He converted the seventh day from a day of compulsory idleness to a day that is filled with purpose, activity and work; a day to show kindness and mercy; a day to free people from the physical, psychological and spiritual bonds of Satan, to elevate the entire man to God’s ideal; in particular, a day to heal.

This meaning cannot be derived simply from reading the Ten Commandments ot the Law of Moses.  Christ derived His understanding of the seventh day from of its original purpose, as it existed before sin.  This is, for instance, indicated by His statement, “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).  This refers to the creation account, according to which the seventh day was “blessed” and “sanctified” as part of creation (Gen 2:3).  (See also Matthew 19:4-8).

We should not be surprised that Christ taught a Sabbath different from the Ten Commandments because He did the same for the other commandments.  Christ replaced the entire Law of Moses with a higher law with much higher moral standards.  For instance, He replaced the law against murder with a law against anger.  Instead of “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” He taught, “turn the other (cheek)”.  With respect to adultery He said “everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery”. 

Christ’s higher level Law reveals the Father’s perfect heart.  The Father loves His enemies and has compassion with people.  For that reason the Law of Christ requires His followers to do the same.  The “Law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2) is the law as it existed “from the beginning”.  The Law of Moses was God’s eternal laws for mankind, but reduced to fit the condition, abilities and needs of the enslaved and corrupt little nation of Israel.  But Christ again revealed the eternal principles on which the Law of Moses was based.  See the page “The Law of Christ” for more information.

But this does not mean that the requirement to rest, as given in the Ten Commandments, is no longer relevant.  The Ten Commandments made rest the goal.  Christ shifted the focus from the requirement to rest, to the purpose of the rest.  Christ taught the seventh day as the preferred day for healing.  Rest is consistent this purpose.  In Christ’s teaching rest becomes a means to an end. Healing is the end (goal) and rest is one means of achieving this goal.  On the seventh day we must cease from everyday work, to be renewed and refreshed. 

But while the requirement for rest remains, the seventh day is now also a day for planned work to bring joy to people by helping them to be healed and restored.  It also becomes a work day, but a different type of work.  It is the day on which we work for the mentally, physically and spiritually sick, to heal them.

Next: The Sabbath is not repeated in the New Testament
TO: Sabbath Table of Contents
TO: Jesus is not God, but He is God.

TO: Daniel 9 Interpretations Overview
TO: Why did Satan think he could win against God  

TO: General Table of Contents

What Jesus taught about the Sabbath

Jesus taught that man, on the Sabbath:
    – May work to relieve the distress and suffering;
    – Must work to heal people from diseases; and
    – May work if that work is required to redeem.
The work that is allowed and required on the Sabbath is therefore work to recover and to restore. 
The Sabbath is the day on which man should expect supernatural healing.

The purpose of this article is to analyze what Jesus taught about the Sabbath; to determine what work is allowed on the Sabbath and even what work must be done on the Sabbath.

DAVID AND HIS MEN

In defense of His disciples, when they were accused of breaking the Sabbath by picking and eating grain while walking through a grain field, Jesus used the example of David and his men who, when they also were hungry, ate the temple bread which only priests were permitted to eat.  The principle that can be drawn from this analogy is that the real needs of people are more important than the Sabbath.  Just like the David’s hunger was more important than the prescripts with respect to the temple bread, the disciples’ hunger was more important than that the Sabbath.  Man is therefore allowed to perform work on the Sabbath if that work will provide relief to his own distress and suffering, such as hunger.

PRIESTS IN THE TEMPLE

In the same incident Christ furthermore referred to the priests who “break the Sabbath” by working in the temple, but remain without guilt because they did this work in God’s service (Mat. 12:5-6).

For instance, on the Sabbath the priests baked bread (Ex. 16:23; 1 Sam. 21:3-6) to replace the week-old bread of the presence (Lev. 24:8; 1 Chr. 9:32) and performed many other tasks related to the maintenance of the temple and sacrificial system. The same labor in a secular context would not be allowed on the Sabbath.

Christ then applied this principle to His disciples by saying, “something greater than the temple is here” (Matt. 12:6).  He was referring to Himself as “something greater than the temple” (compare Mat. 12:41, 42).  The temple and its services were mere symbols of Christ and His mission.  By comparing Himself to the temple He was, by implication, saying that the disciples were equivalent to priests serving in the temple, who are allowed to work on the Sabbath.  While His disciples were with Him, they were in God’s service for the redemption of sinners, just like the priest work in the temple for the redemption of sinners.

The principle is that work is allowed on the Sabbath if that work has to be done while in God’s service for the redemption of sinners.

MADE FOR MAN

Also in the same incident Christ also said:

the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).

He said this because the Jews, through their traditions, made man the servant of the Sabbath.  The Sabbath was created for man’s benefit (Gen. 2:3); for man’s welfare and happiness.  It must serve man’s needs.  That is why real human needs are more important than the Sabbath.  Wearisome rules with respect to the Sabbath, which prevent people from satisfying their hunger, defeats and perverts the Sabbath’s intended purpose.

LORD OF THE SABBATH

Christ concluded His arguments in the grain-eating incident by saying:

so the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28).

The word “so” means that the Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath because the Sabbath was made for man (v. 27).  The title “Son of Man” comes from Daniel 7:13-14, where “One like a Son of Man”—this is Jesus—receives “everlasting dominion” over “all the peoples, nations and men of every language”.

Putting these thoughts together, since the Sabbath is part of man’s existence, and since Jesus is Lord over man, He is also Lord of the Sabbath.

But why was it necessary for Christ to say that He is “Lord even of the Sabbath”?  Some propose that He said it to indicate that He will change or abrogate the Sabbath, but there is no indication of this in the context.  To the contrary, His previous statement that “the Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27) implies that the Sabbath will remain for as long as man exists.

It is proposed here that He said that He is “Lord even of the Sabbath” not to say something about the Sabbath, but to say something about Himself.  In the same context He also said that “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Mark 2:10), that “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father” (Mat 11:27) and that He is “greater than the temple”, “greater than Jonah” and “greater than Solomon” (Mat. 12:6, 41, 42).  The statement “so the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” therefore explains who Jesus is.

TO DO GOOD

Jesus justified the healing of the man’s withered hand by saying that “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Mat. 12:12).  To “do good” is to assist people or animals that are in distress.  The example of David above shown that man is allowed to work on the Sabbath to relief his own distress.  By saying that it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” Jesus taught that man is also allowed to work on the Sabbath to relief the distress of other people. This example also teaches that disease and illness, even chronic illness are counted as “real needs” or “distress”.

TO FREE FROM THE BONDS OF SATAN

In His justification of the healing of the crippled woman He used the word luein, which means to free.  He used this word three times, but these words are translated differently in each case.  He first said to the woman, “Woman, you are freed (luein) from your sickness” (Luke 13:12).  After the synagogue official responded with anger (v14), Jesus used the example of an ox or donkey that is untied (luein) and lead away to water on the Sabbath (v15).  Lastly He justified her healing by saying:

And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released (luein) from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (v16)

This incident confirms that work is allowed on the Sabbath if that work is to address the real needs of people.  This example also expands on the definition of man’s real needs for which work is allowed on the Sabbath, namely:

  • Illness, even from chronic illness;
  • Thirst (and therefore other basic needs, such as hunger, shelter and clothes);
  • Bonds of Satan;

JOHN

The gospel of John records the Sabbath healings of a man that was an epileptic for 38 years (John 5) and a man that was born blind (John 9).  We find no direct statements in this gospel explaining why healing is allowed on the Sabbath.  Christ’s justifications are limited to more general statements, such as:

My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working” (5:17).

“the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner” (5:19).    Out of his love for the Son, the Father “shows him all things he himself is doing” (5:20).

If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath so that the Law of Moses will not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made an entire man well on the Sabbath?” (7:23).

We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work” (9:4-5).

I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?” (10:32)

The words work, “working”, “do”, “doing” and “does” link these statements to the works of healing which He performed on the Sabbath.  We therefore from John that:

  • To heal on the Sabbath was something that Christ received from the Father.
  • Healing is “good works from the Father” (10:32);
  • To make “man well” (7:23), physically and spiritually, is allowed on the Sabbath.

All work necessary on the Sabbath to accomplish the Father’s purpose to redeem and restore man is in harmony with the Sabbath.

THE PURPOSE OF THE SABBATH

Healing is not only allowed on the Sabbath; it is the very purpose of the Sabbath.  This is implied by the following:

The large number of Sabbath healing miracles that are recorded in the gospels implies that Christ considered the Sabbath as the most appropriate day for healing..

In healing the crippled woman, He said: “this woman … whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:16)  He seems to be saying that the Sabbath is the preferred day for healing chronically ill people.

CONCLUSION

Work that is allowed on the Sabbath, according to Christ, can be divided into three categories.

Firstly, work that is allowed on the Sabbath, namely to provide relief for distress and suffering.  Since “the Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27) and since “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Mat. 12:12), man is allowed to work on the Sabbath if that work will relieve the distress and suffering of people or animals, even his own distress and suffering, even if the suffering began prior to the Sabbath. Distress includes thirst and hunger, and therefore other basic needs, such as shelter, safety and clothes.

Secondly, work that is our duty on the Sabbath, namely work to restore man spiritually and physically / to make man well.  This includes to heal people from disease and illness, even chronic illness, and to release people from Satan’s physical and spiritual bonds.  This work is not only allowed on the Sabbath; the Sabbath is the preferred day for such work, as indicated by the following:

To justify His healing miracles in John 5 and in John 9, He said, “the Father is working still” (5:17) and “we must work” (9:4).  The “we must work” directly contradicts the Sabbath commandment “you shall not do any work” (Deut. 5:14).  But the work which Jesus spoke about was specifically work for man’s spiritual and physical restoration.  Jesus did not say “we may work”.  He said “we must work”.  This means it is our duty to do this work on the Sabbath.

We find the same idea in the healing of the crippled woman, when Jesus asked: And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released (luein) from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:16)  This question implies that the Sabbath is the most appropriate day to release or free somebody, and therefore that the purpose of the seventh day is to free people from the bonds of Satan—which includes physical illnesses.  Since Satan also bounds people psychologically and spiritually, we can conclude that the purpose of the seventh day is to free people from the physical, psychological or spiritual bonds of Satan.

A third indication of this concept is found in the many Sabbath healing miracles, which are recorded in the gospels.  None of these miracles was an emergency.  Neither was He explicitly asked to perform these miracles.  The large number of Sabbath healing miracles imply that the Sabbath is the preferred day for healing. This implies that the purpose of the Sabbath is to restore man.  Anything that we can do to restore people to health, holistically defined, is not only allowed, but the very purpose of the seventh day, and our duty to perform.

Thirdly, related to the second, work that is allowed when one is in God’s service for the redemption of sinners, even if that work is not primarily or directly to redeem, but required for that purpose, for instance the work of the priests in the temple and the disciples picking grain on the Sabbath.

The work that is allowed and required on the Sabbath is therefore work for the benefit of man and beast.  It is a day to recover and to restore.  The Sabbath is the day on which man should expect supernatural healing.

Sabbath: Table of Contents

Next: Jesus taught a different Sabbath

TO: General Table of Contents

Bethesda – John 5: Jesus heals on the Sabbath Day

The traditions were very important to the Jews, but the strict rules allowed little space for the principles of the Kingdom of God, such as compassion and mercy.  The Sabbath Day was made to be a day a rest, but became an intolerable burden, falsely depicting God as a tyrant.

One Sabbath day Jesus deliberately and publicly broke the Jewish traditions by healing one of the many desperately sick people around the pool of Bethesda, and by telling the man to pick up his pallet and go home.  Jesus was seeking confrontation to condemn the traditions.  Therefore, since man did not know who Jesus was, Jesus later introduced Himself to him.

But Jesus did more than condemn the traditions; He gave a new meaning to the fourth commandment.  The fourth commandment forbids work and demands rest, but Jesus taught that the seventh day is the preferred day to focus our thoughts and energy on bringing joy to people by physical, psychological and spiritual healing, while we rest from ordinary work.

Summary

John 5 records Christ’s miracle healing of a paralytic man on the Sabbath day.  This man had been ill for 38 years.  He was lying with a multitude of the sick, blind, lame, and withered next to the pool known as Bethesda, hoping for a supernatural cure.

The man did not ask to be healed.  He did not even know who Jesus was.  Jesus also did not require this suffering man to exercise faith.  Jesus simply told the man to get up, pick up the mat on which he was lying, and walk.  The man immediately became well, picked up his pallet and began to walk.

But it was the Sabbath day and the Jewish religious police was quick to spot him.  They said to him “It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet” (v10).  As if to say that a man, that is able to heal so completely, should know what is allowed on the Sabbath day, the man responded, “He who made me well was the one who said to me, Pick up your pallet and walk”.

The Jews asked him who the Healer was, but he did not know.  Jesus had slipped away into the crowd.  But later the same day Jesus found him in the temple and spoke to him.  Jesus might have remained anonymous, but He was seeking confrontation with the religious rulers.

The man then told the Pharisees who the Man was who cured him, probably expecting the religious leaders to be overjoyed, just like he himself was, to meet this miracle Worker.  But this news made the religious leaders more committed than ever to persecute Jesus.  Not only did Christ heal the sick on the Sabbath; He also told the man to carry his mat.

While the Law of Moses is silent on healing on the Sabbath day, simply prohibiting work on the Sabbath day, the “traditions of the elders”, which was their fence around the Law of Moses, had an extremely strict and detailed definition of work, even prohibiting non-emergency healing on the Sabbath day.  According to these “traditions” Christ clearly contravened the Sabbath commandment.

The traditions were extremely important in Jewish society, but by adding this multitude of very strict rules to the Law of Moses, the Jews allowed very little room for compassion, and consequently perverted the Sabbath day.  What was supposed to be a day a rest from the toil of human existence, became an intolerable burden to which the people were slaves, falsely representing God as a tyrant.

Healing was an integral part of His ministry, but to heal on the Sabbath day was so important to Jesus that He was willing to risk His life and mission for it.

One reason for His Sabbath day healing miracles was to condemn the Jewish traditions and the entire Jewish system that rested upon those traditions.  But the more important reason for Christ’s deliberate contraventions of the traditions was to give a new meaning to the Sabbath day.  Similar to the way in which He replaced the commandment against adultery with a commandment against looking at a woman with lust in the heart, and similar to the way in which He replaced the commandment against murder with a commandment against anger, He gave a much higher / deeper meaning to the Sabbath day.

The fourth commandment forbids work and demands rest.  Jesus accepted the principle that the seventh day is set aside for special use (sanctified – Gen 2:3), but He not only declared that it is allowed to do good to people and animals in need on the Sabbath day; He also declared that the Sabbath day is the preferred day for doing good to others, which includes to restore people to health.  In this way He have a new meaning to the Sabbath day.  He shifted the focus:

From the fourth commandment to the original purpose of the seventh day, namely to be a blessing to mankind (Gen 2:3).

From rest to the purpose of the rest, namely to restore man to health.

From the negative prohibition against any form of work to the work that is required on the seventh day, namely works to restore people to holistic physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual health.

Since this shifts the focus away from the rest required by the fourth commandment, we should accept Christ’s Sabbath deeds and statements as new truth for the Christian; as a founding statement for Christianity.  Thus the Sabbath day also becomes a work day, but a different type of work.  The Sabbath becomes a day on which we focus our thoughts and energy on bringing joy to people by healing; not only by physical healing, but also by psychological and spiritual healing, while we rest from the work that is required on the other days of the week.

The Story

John 5 records Christ’s miracle healing of a paralytic man (v7) on the Sabbath day (v9).  The story is as follows (with comments in brackets):

Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews.

In Jerusalem there was a pool called Bethesda, with five porches.  In these porches lay a multitude of the sick, blind, lame, and withered, waiting for the moving of the waters.  (They had the superstitious belief that the person, who gets into the pool first, after it was “supernaturally” stirred, will be healed.)

One of the men there was ill for 38 years (v5).  When Jesus saw him, He knew that this man had been in that condition for a long time.  Jesus said to him:

Do you wish to get well?” (v6)

The man answered that he has nobody to put him into the pool when the water is stirred.  Jesus then said to him:

Get up, pick up your pallet and walk” (v8).

(The man did not ask to be healed.  He did not even know who Jesus was.  Jesus also did not require this suffering man to exercise faith in Him.  He simply told him to get up, pick up his pallet—his sleeping mat—and walk.)

The man became well immediately, picked up his pallet and began to walk.  (But it was the Sabbath day and the Jewish religious police was quick to spot him carrying his mat.)  When the Jews saw this man carrying his pallet, they said to him:

It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet” (v10).

But he answered them,

“He who made me well was the one who said to me, Pick up your pallet and walk”.

(As if to say, a man that is able to heal me so completely, after lying on my mat for 38 year, should know what is allowed and what is not allowed on the Sabbath day.  If he tells me to carry my mat, then I will do it.)

The Jews asked him who this man was, but he did not know.  Jesus had slipped away into the crowd (v13).  (After his healing the man probably was bewildered, not believing what his body is doing; too excited to pay attention even to his Healer.)

Later the same day Jesus found him in the temple and said to him,

Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.” (v14)

The man then told the Pharisees who the Man was who cured him (v15). (The healed man was naturally overjoyed by his deliverance.  Probably ignorant of the enmity toward Jesus, he assumed that everybody, particularly the religious leaders, will want to meet this miracle Worker.)

For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath” (v16).

(Note the plural “doing these things” (v16).  The Jews could identify two contraventions of the Sabbath Law in this incident.  Firstly the man carried his sleeping mat (5:10) and secondly Jesus healed the sick (compare Luke 13:14).  Jesus was ‘guilty’ of both, because He told the man to carry his mat.)

(The Jews apparently then questioned Jesus, because, according to the next verse,) He answered them,

“My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working” (v17).

Discussion

Jesus did not contravene the Law of Moses; He contravened the Traditions.

But did Jesus contravene the fourth commandment?  The Law of Moses is silent on healing on the Sabbath day, simply prohibiting work on the Sabbath day.  But still the Jewish authorities had no doubt that healing is not allowed on the Sabbath day(Luke 4:40; 13:14; Mark 3:2).  It is therefore concluded that it was the regulations, known as the “the traditions of the elders”, that prohibited healing on the Sabbath day.

The Traditions were a fence around the law.

Because it was, according to the voluminous Talmud, intended as a fence around the law, the “traditions of the elders” had an extremely strict definition of work.  For example, if the Law of Moses determines that the Sabbath starts at sunset, the traditions might require Jews to stop their work an hour before sunset.  And anything that even remotely looked like work was defined as work; a Jew was not even allowed to light a candle on the Sabbath.  In this way they hoped to protect themselves from breaking the law.  They knew that a contravention of the traditions is not necessarily a contravention of the Law of Moses, but the traditions were nevertheless applied as law.

The Traditions were extremely important in Jewish society.

We generally have very little appreciation of how detailed and complex the traditions of the elders” were, or how important it was in the Jewish society.  Paul, describing his previous life, wrote “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions” (Gal. 1:14).

The Traditions perverted the Sabbath Day.

But by adding this multitude of very strict rules to the Law of Moses, the Jews allowed very little space for compassion, and consequently perverted the Sabbath.  What was supposed to be a day a rest from the toil of human existence became an intolerable burden to which the people were slaves.  This falsely represented God as a tyrant.  Because the traditions made people to serve the Sabbath, Jesus objected by saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).

Jesus was seeking confrontation with the religious rulers.

We see this in the following:

Jesus could have healed the sick man on any other day of the week, but He healed him deliberately on the Sabbath.

After He cured him Jesus might have warned the man not to carry his bed, but Jesus deliberately told him to carry away his bed.

The man did not know who healed him, because “Jesus had slipped away” (5:13).  Jesus might have remained anonymous, but instead Jesus afterwards “found him in the temple” (5:14) and spoke with him, apparently with the purpose that the man may inform the Pharisees “that it was Jesus who had made him well” (5:15).

Jesus did not explain in John 5 why healing is allowed on the Sabbath Day, except to say it is the Father’s will.

Healing was an integral part of His ministry, but why was it so important to heal on the Sabbath that He was willing to risk His life and mission for it?  He did not do it simply out of compassion, for there were many other sick people at Bethesda whom He did not heal.  The people whom He healed also were not medical emergencies; they were all sick for many years.  Why did He not delay healing to another day?

In healing the man’s withered hand, He said “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Mat. 12:12).  In healing the crippled woman, He said “this woman … whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:16)  But we find no such explanation in John 5.

John 5, after the healing, does include a long debate between Christ and the Pharisees (5:17-47), but does not explain why He healed.  It seems as if one reason for performing this miracle, deliberately acting contrary to the traditions of the elders, was to create the opportunity to explain to them some higher order principles, such as resurrection from death, judgment, eternal life and honoring the Son “even as they honor the Father” (5:21-30).  He later says, “I say these things so that you may be saved” (5:34).

His justification of the healing is limited to saying:

My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working” (5:17)

the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” (5:19)

Notice that the words “working”, “do”, “doing” and “does” link these statements to the work of healing which He performed on the Sabbath.  These statements seem to simply say that these Sabbath healings are the right and proper things to do, according to the Father’s will, without explaining why.

He later added:

If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath so that the Law of Moses will not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made an entire man well on the Sabbath?” (2:23).

This seems to say that circumcision is a form of healing, and that healing is allowed on the Sabbath, but still does not explain why healing is allowed on the Sabbath.

By healing on the Sabbath, and by His Sabbath declarations, Jesus gave a new meaning to the Sabbath.

Healing was an integral part of His ministry, but to heal on the Sabbath was so important to Jesus that He was willing to risk His life and mission for it.  One reason for His Sabbath healing miracles was to condemn the Jewish traditions and the entire Jewish system that rested upon those traditions.  But perhaps the most important reason for His Sabbath healing miracles was to give a new meaning to the Sabbath:

The Sabbath commandment simply forbids work and requires rest.  The religious leaders applied this literally, and we probably would have done the same, because that is the emphasis in the commandment.  It would be difficult to justify non-emergency work on the basis of the Law of Moses alone.  Even Christian Sabbath-keepers today would find in difficult to justify work related to non-emergency healing on the Sabbath.

But Jesus came and taught that “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Mat. 12:12).  He went further and said the Sabbath is the most appropriate day for releasing people from the bonds of Satan—which includes physical illnesses (Luke 13:16).  He declared this as the Father’s will (John 5:17, 19).

In the view of the Jewish leaders Christ’s statements contradicted of the Law of Moses, but that was due to their extremely narrow and strict interpretation of the Law.  Christians need to assume that these statements are consistent with the Sabbath Commandment because Jesus never acted contrary to the Law of Moses.

By arguing with the Pharisees what is allowed on the Sabbath, implying that certain things are not allowed on the Sabbath, He confirmed the principle that the seventh day is set aside for special use (sanctified – Gen 2:3).

To be able to adopt the meaning which Christ attached to the Sabbath, we have to interpret the Sabbath not only in terms of the fourth commandment, but also in terms of its original purpose, namely that it was created to be a blessing to mankind (Gen 2:3).  As Jesus confirmed, “the Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27).

Then the requirement for rest in the fourth commandment is not an end in itself, but a means to an end.  Then we interpret the “rest” in the Sabbath Commandment as to cease the work of everyday life, to focus the mind and energy on bringing joy to people by restoring ourselves and other people to holistic physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual health.

Understood in this way “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” and anything that we can do to restore ourselves and other people to health, holistically defined, is not only allowed, but completely consistent with the purpose of the Sabbath.  In fact, to neglect to do on the Sabbath anything that we can do to restore people to health would be inconsistent with the Sabbath principle.

But the principle in the previous paragraph apply to all days of the week.  We should go beyond this and accept the Sabbath as the preferred day for healing.  Thus the Sabbath also becomes a work day, but a different type of work.  The Sabbath becomes a day on which we work for the mentally, physically and spiritually sick, blind, lame, and withered, to heal them.  Then our lives will become divided into two parts; for six days we work for ourselves, but on the seventh day we work for the physical, psychological and spiritual health of others.

Understood in this way we accept Christ’s statement, that healing on the Sabbath is the Father’s will, as new truth for the Christian; as a founding statement for Christianity.  Jesus gave a new meaning to the Sabbath which cannot be derived simply from the Law of Moses.

What Jesus did to the Sabbath is the same as what He did to the entire Law of Moses; He replaced it with the The Law of Christ.  The Law of Moses was God’s eternal laws for mankind, but adapted to the condition, abilities and situation of the enslaved and corrupt little nation of Israel.  It therefore, for example, prohibited adultery.  But Christ again revealed the eternal principles on which the Law of Moses was based, replacing the law against adultery with the law that “everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery” (Mat 5:28).  All moral principles of the Law of Moses are retained in the Law of Christ, but the Law of Christ raised the standards to the Father’s perfection.  We should therefore not be surprised to find that Christ replaced the fourth commandment with a much higher law, without lowering the standards.

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