The Sabbath is not repeated in the New Testament.

Jesus taught more about the Sabbath than all the other nine commandments put together.  Why would He do that if the Sabbath would expire soon?

One hears, from time to time, preachers claim that nine of the Ten Commandments are repeated in the New Testament, and that the only commandment that is not repeated, is the Sabbath.  From that they most often conclude that the seventh day is not applicable to the church.  This argument seems to be based on the view, since Christ lived under the Old Covenant, that the gospels effectively are part of the Old Testament, which would make Paul the primary author and teacher of the New Covenant.

However, although Christ lived under the Old Covenant, His teachings are the foundation of the New Covenant.  After His death the church continued to exist for a few year as part of Judaism, consisting of Jews only.  After a number of years God guided the church to take the gospel to the Gentiles as well.  This caused a controversy in the young church over the question whether believing Gentiles must become Jews through circumcision.  This was the main controversy when Paul started to work, which was about ten years after Christ’s death, causing Paul to write the letter to the Galatians.  In that letter Paul wrote that, through the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit, he was informed that Gentiles are saved without becoming Jews through circumcision.  Paul’s main God-given task was to extract the church from Judaism, but Paul did not introduce a new system of ethics.  As far as ethics (moral laws) are concerned, he followed Christ.  Christ was therefore the primary teacher of the new covenant.

Since the ethics of the New Covenant are based on what Christ taught, and since He taught more about the Sabbath than about all the other nine commandments put together, it is not true to say that the Sabbath commandment is not repeated in the New Testament.  Jesus taught a different Sabbath, but His statements, such as that the Sabbath was made for man, and that to do good is allowed on the Sabbath, implies the continued relevance of the special seventh day.

Why would Jesus spend so much time teaching about the Sabbath, and resisting the traditions of the elders, which corrupted the Sabbath, if the Sabbath would come to an end just a few months later; at His death?

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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.

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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.

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The Real Reason they killed Jesus

The Jewish religious rulers received their authority from the complex traditions.  Christ transgressed the traditions—not the Law of Moses—and thereby condemned the Jewish system of authority.  This, combined with the influence Christ gained with the common people, made Christ a threat to their rule, and they sought Jesus death. 

SUMMARY

What Christ did on the Sabbath made the Pharisees so angry that they wanted to kill Him.  Some argue today that Christ cancelled the Sabbath commandment by acting and teaching contrary to it.  However, He accepted the Sabbath as binding, but also consistently refused to admit having transgressed the Sabbath.  The Sabbath laws which Jesus contravened were the Jewish traditions.  The extremely strict Jewish traditions prohibited anything that even remotely looks like work.  It is therefore not possible to argue that He revoked the Sabbath.

Israel’s rulers merely wore a religious cloak.  They were not acquainted with God.  Religion for them was merely a method for maintaining their power over the people.  They ruled on the basis of the Law of Moses, as interpreted by their traditions.  The extremely complex and detailed traditions gave them power over the common people.

Jesus was not accepted by the leaders in Israel, but He gained an influence with the people. But this influence made Him a threat to the authority of the religious rulers.  Furthermore, by ignoring their traditions, and by even acting publicly and deliberately contrary to their traditions, Christ challenged the basis of their authority to rule.  That is why the Pharisees sought Jesus death.

Sometimes it is said that Jesus deliberately violated the rules to liberate the Sabbath from the stranglehold of the traditions, but it is proposed here He healed on the Sabbath, as a deliberate and public violation of the traditions, to condemn the entire Jewish system of authority.

DISCUSSION

WHAT SABBATH LAWS DID JESUS CONTRAVENE?

What Christ did on the Sabbath made the Pharisees so angry that they wanted to kill Him.

Some argue today that Christ cancelled the Sabbath commandment by acting and teaching contrary to it.  However, He never acted or taught contrary to the Old Testament Sabbath laws:

Firstly, as a general principle, Christ never violated any of the Laws of Moses. 

In the Sermon on the Mount He said: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill” (Mat. 5:17-19).  Whatever “fulfill” here means, it at least means that He observed the Law.

This principle is also seen in Christ’s claims that, “I have kept My Father’s commandments” (John 15:10) and “Which one of you convicts Me of sin?” (John 8:46).  Christ was a living representative of the law. No violation of its holy precepts was found in His life.

Secondly, He admitted the Sabbath as binding, but refused to admit breaking the Sabbath.

On a number of occasions the Pharisees accused Christ of breaking the Sabbath law.  In His various defenses He never questioned or contested the binding obligation of the Sabbath commandment.  To the contrary, by debating with the Pharisees what is lawful on the Sabbath (Mark 3:4), He admitted that certain things are not lawful, and by implication admitted the Sabbath as binding.

He therefore accepted the Sabbath as binding, but He also consistently refused to admit having transgressed the Sabbath.  He consistently justified His Sabbath deeds on the basis of the Old Testament, arguing that it is the Pharisees that are inconsistent with the Old Testament (Mat. 12:4-12; Mark 3:4; John 7:22-24).

Thirdly, the things which he did on the Sabbath did not violate the Law of Moses; it violated the traditions.

He was accused of breaking the Sabbath in two ways, namely by healing and by picking and eating grain while walking through a grain field.  The Old Testament is silent on both these issues.  When one looks for specific biblical laws regulating how to observe the day, one finds only injunctions against lighting a fire, going away from one’s dwelling, cutting down a tree, plowing and harvesting (Ex. 16:23-30; 20:10; 25:3; 34:21; Deut. 5:14).

But healing of people that were disabled for many years is a form of liberation.  Since the Law of Moses presents the Sabbath as a symbol of liberation, (see the article on the Sabbath in the Law of Moses), healing should not only be allowed on the Sabbath; it is the very purpose of the Sabbath.

Furthermore, as Jesus pointed out in the grain-picking incident, the disciples were not just men walking through grain fields on a Sabbath; they were part of His mission.  As such they were doing God’s work, which, as Jesus argued, allowed them to do things on the Sabbath that for other people would not be lawful.

Despite the fact that the Law of Moses is silent on these matters, there was no dispute among the Jewish authorities over whether healing or picking grain are allowed on the Sabbath (Luke 4:40; 13:14; Mark 3:2).  The Sabbath laws which Jesus contravened therefore must have been the Jewish traditions.  The extremely strict Jewish traditions so corrupted the seventh day that even healing of chronically ill patients was prohibited.  It prohibited anything that even remotely looks like work.  It was these traditions that interpreted picking grain as harvesting, rubbing grain in the hands as threshing and blowing the chuff away as winnowing.

It is therefore not possible to argue that He revoked the Sabbath, or even that He planted the seed for later abrogation of the Sabbath.

WHY WERE THE PHARISEES SO ANGRY?

Why were the Pharisees so angry when Jesus contravened the Sabbath traditions?  The synagogue official was annoyed when he saw that Jesus made the woman erect.  He should have been amazed.  It was not like claiming healing for some invisible illness, such as AIDS, where one can see no immediate change.  The people knew the ill people that Christ healed.  Their healings were clearly visible.  If the religious rulers were God’s children, they would have appreciated the infinite invisible Power faintly reflected in the woman’s physical healing.  They would have fallen to their knees and begged for mercy.  But these healing miracles only annoyed them (Luke 6:11; 13:14), and even more astounding, made them want to kill Jesus.

To understand this, remember that Israel had no king or civil rulers at the time.  It was governed by religious leaders.  And as with all human government systems, it is the people with dominating, strong personalities that push themselves forward to become leaders; not the meek and humble children of God.  Consequently Israel’s rulers merely wore a religious cloak.  They were not acquainted with God.  To them His voice through Christ was the voice of a stranger.  As Christ said to them, “you do not have the love of God in yourselves” (John 5:42) and, “You do not believe because you are not of My sheep” (John 10:26).

Religion for the religious rulers was merely a method for maintaining their power over the people.  They ruled on the basis of the Law of Moses, as interpreted by their traditions.  The extremely complex and detailed traditions gave them power over the common people.

Into this context Jesus came by the authority of God, bearing His image, fulfilling His word, and seeking His glory; yet He was not accepted by the leaders in Israel because His teaching demanded the sacrifice of self, while the Jews “receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God” (John 5:44).

He gained an influence with the people because they could understand His words, and because their hearts were warmed and comforted.  He spoke of God, not as an avenging Judge, but as a tender Father.  He revealed the image of God as mirrored in Himself.

The influence which Jesus gained with the people made Him a threat to the authority of the religious rulers.  Furthermore, by ignoring their traditions, and by even acting publicly and deliberately contrary to their traditions, Christ challenged the basis of their authority to rule.  In order to maintain their own power, these leaders determined to break down Christ’s influence; they sought Jesus death.

In one incident we see that they actually wanted Him to heal on the Sabbath so that they could justify His murder on the basis of the Old Testament, which requires the death penalty for working on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1).  When He entered into a synagogue where there was a man whose hand was withered, they watched to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him.  They did not ask whether it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:10) because they were concerned for the sick man, or because they desired understanding.  They were convinced that they knew the answer to that question, and put this question to Christ to trick Him into the ‘crime’ of healing on the Sabbath, so that they could justify His murder.  After He healed the man the Pharisees went out and immediately began conspiring with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.

WHY DID CHRIST DELIBERATELY HEAL ON THE SABBATH?

Sometimes it is said that Jesus deliberately violated the rules to liberate the Sabbath from the stranglehold of the traditions and to restore the Sabbath to God’s original intent, but it is proposed here that He had a greater purpose in mind.  He taught that the traditions set the commands of God aside (Mark 7:8-9; Mat 15:3) and “destroyed the authority of God’s word” (Mark 7:13).  It is therefore proposed here that He healed on the Sabbath, as a deliberate and public violation of the traditions, to condemn the entire Jewish system of authority.  The Sabbath miracle healings were therefore a natural part of His condemnation of the Jewish system of authority, and consistent with what He elsewhere said to them:

If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains”  (John 9:41).

“You do not believe because you are not of My sheep” (John 10:26).

I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:7), “he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way (implying the Pharisees), he is a thief and a robber” (John 10:1).

I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.  He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd (by implication the Pharisees), … sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees … because he … is not concerned about the sheep.” (John 10:11-13)

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