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 different from the Sabbath of the Law of Moses.
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 Law of Moses states 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. 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 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 Law of Moses 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 Law of Moses, is no longer relevant. The Law of Moses 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.
Sabbath Table of Contents