Remember the Sabbath Day
All who have read this far will realize the respect and honor mature Christians ought to have for the Sabbath day of God revealed to Israel in the Ten Commandments at the time of Moses. It is my view that all mature Christians should “remember the Sabbath Day.” But of course, we need to remember the seventh day of the week (from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset) in the manner that God the Father and Christ Jesus presently remember it. This is what all Christians should want to do.
In the very start of Genesis we have God Himself “resting” on the seventh day. I see no reason why we could not allow this example to lead all of us. But we have to ask ourselves what is “rest” as far as God is concerned? In the first instance of God resting on the Sabbath Day, we are not told that God “rested” by going to church. We are not told He refrained from doing business. We are not told whether He lit a fire or not. All we are told is that God “rested.”
What we have to find out is just what God does on the Sabbath today and whether He still “rests” on the Sabbath. If He does indeed “rest” even in heaven, does He want us to follow His example and “rest”? We need to know because, as I explained from the Holy Scriptures in previous chapters, all who have a mature relationship with the Father and Christ now have our citizenship in heaven with God. We are expected to obey the rules and regulations that govern heaven and God’s throne, not those rules on earth intended to command human beings. Paul said we have died to this world and no longer are subject to its rules and regulations, even those intended for people in their infant stage of spiritual development. We should now have a mature approach to our spiritual existence in Christ.
From the records of Scripture we know that God “rested” on the Sabbath after six days of His creative activity. We are not told how He “rested.” We do know there was no command to Adam and Eve that they “rest” as God did each Sabbath Day. If one wants to rely solely on the Holy Scriptures for teaching on this matter, as all mature Christians should do, there is no instruction concerning the Sabbath Day until the time of Moses. We are told plainly in the Holy Scriptures that the Sabbath Day as a command came into effect only in the time of Moses (Nehemiah 9:14; Ezekiel 20:12; Exodus 16:23). And though Abraham became the father of the Christian faithful there is no evidence that he ever kept a Sabbath day. Besides Abraham, we read biblical information about Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and the rest of the patriarchs, yet there is no teaching that they were required to keep the Sabbath Day. Only in the time of Moses does Scripture make it plain that Israelites were given the command to observe the Sabbath day as a day of “rest” and a Day in which no fire would be lit or business done.
As far as God Himself is concerned, there is not the slightest hint He continued to “rest” every Sabbath Day from His first “rest” on the seventh day of creative activity recorded in Genesis. However, we do know that when Jesus was teaching the Jews in Palestine, He said about “work” on the Sabbath Day: “My Father works hitherto and I work” (John 5:17). That is right. Christ said that up to that very moment, the Father worked on the Sabbath day, and so did Christ.
Of course, we need to ask the question: just what did Jesus mean when He said that He and the Father “worked”? Also, what did the apostle John mean in the next verse when he recorded?
“the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the Sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.”
These teachings about God working on the Sabbath (or the breaking of it) appeared in the Gospel of John written in the last decade of the 1st century C.E. John’s Gospel was the last portion of the New Testament to be written. It was God’s final written word for all mankind since the 1st century C.E.
We need to look carefully at the unique teachings found in the Gospel of John. They were revealed for a different purpose than the teachings in the first three Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke (called the Synoptic Gospels). As they represent the final mature teachings that Christ taught, let us look at what the Gospel of John is all about.
When John and the other apostles heard Christ teach while on earth, they were not able at first to rightly evaluate His teachings or actions at that time. But after they were given the Holy Spirit they began to understand the mature teachings of Christ and were able to remember the actual teachings of Christ. Several verses in the Gospel of John show this.
“When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them.”
“These things understood not his disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him.”
“But these things [His teachings] have I told you, that when the time shall come you may remember that I told you of them. And these things I said not at the beginning, because I was with you.”
Christ spoke of a time in the future when the apostles would begin to properly appraise Christ’s former actions and teachings. There were many things Christ did while in the presence of His disciples that they were unable to appreciate or even understand. Only later (and especially after the revelation of “the Mystery” in 63 C.E.) did they comprehend their significance.
And in case some might think that John, who wrote his Gospel when a much older man, was not able to remember the essential teachings of Christ, John wrote the following promise of Christ:
“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance whatsoever I have said unto you.”
Christ knew the apostles could not grasp the full meaning of what He was teaching during His earthly ministry. That is why He told them on the eve of His crucifixion that they would understand later.
“I have yet many things to say unto you, but you cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all the truth.”
John 16:12–13 Greek
Once the apostles received the Holy Spirit they slowly began to understand what the true spiritual teachings of Christ really were. Whereas, up to the time of Christ’s death the apostles tried to obey all the laws of Moses and those laws of Christ which they could comprehend. But soon, in a step-by-step way they began to realize that Christ came to abolish all physical requirements as a means to salvation that He formerly commanded to Abraham, Moses, David, and the prophets. Circumcision became irrelevant (Acts 15). That ritual had been one of the most holy and sacrosanct ceremonies in the entire Old Testament. Still the Holy Spirit made it clear that the ceremony of circumcision was no longer a means to salvation. They also came to see that scrupulous observance of the Old Testament days, months, times, and years was unnecessary (Galatians 4:10) and a whole new way of understanding the Gospel was coming on the scene.
The revelation of “the Mystery” in 63 C.E. changed the whole character of what the apostles thought represented the Gospel of Christ. A new dimension of understanding came into play. It became apparent to the apostles that a thorough revision of what they thought constituted the New Covenant Gospel became necessary. John thoroughly understood this new and majestic teaching of “the Mystery” when he wrote his Gospel in 90 C.E.
By 90 C.E., it was well known that a new way of looking at the Gospel of Christ had emerged and Christians throughout the world needed to understand the teachings of this new revelation called “the Mystery.” As explained in Chapter 5 in this book, only the Jews were left with the New Covenant relationship. So, John wrote his Gospel to accommodate this new revelation of “the Mystery.” Even the New Covenant teachings were graced by a new spiritual emphasis. Note that John in his Gospel no longer referred to the Old Testament holy days as God’s holy days. He had a new emphasis. In John’s Gospel in 90 C.E., he consigned the holy days of Moses to the rank of being Jewish festivals.
Even the day on which God formerly commanded Israel to prepare for the Sabbath (Exodus 16:23) John called “the Jews’ preparation day” (John 19:42). John even records that Christ, speaking to Jews, referred to the Mosaic Law as “your law” (John 10:34). He also called it “their law” (15:25). And if anyone should say that these last references were only Christ’s attitude to the Pharisaical interpretation of the law — that is, the Pharisaical additions to the law and not the original Law of Moses, it should be noted that in both cases (10:34; 15:25) Christ quoted from the Psalms in the Bible. He was not citing the Jews’ traditional laws at all, but was talking about the Mosaic Covenant.
John showed a definite contrast between the Law of Moses and the Teachings of Christ. “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). The Old Testament days, John came to find out, were not necessary for Christians to observe in the plan of salvation, and John reflected this later teaching in his Gospel. He wrote to Christians who then knew those days were no longer a means to gain a salvation in Christ.
And not only were holy days redundant, but the apostle John makes it clear that even the weekly Sabbath day was no longer necessary in God’s plan of salvation, a fact exhibited in the Gospel of John itself. As clear as John could make it, he wrote that Christ by His teachings and actions abrogated even the Sabbath day for humans as a necessary step to salvation. Let us see where he shows this. Notice:
“And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the Sabbath day. But Jesus answered them. My Father works hitherto and I work. Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the Sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.”
This teaching recorded by the apostle John is of profound importance as far as the question of Sabbath observance is concerned. When one understands just what these verses teach, we see that keeping the Sabbath as a means to gain salvation (as it was in Old Covenant times) has been repealed by Christ Himself.
A careful reading of John 5:16–18 shows John looking back on this important event in Christ’s ministry and he gives his inspired commentary on it. Christ had just healed a lame man and he told him to pick up his pallet and carry it. This was a direct violation of Old Testament law (Jeremiah 17:22). What Christ told the man to do was illegal, but Christ nevertheless commanded the man to perform that “work.” Christ Himself acknowledged that His miracle of healing and His command to the man were “work” when He said: “My Father works hitherto, and I work.” And in His “work” Christ claimed “equality” with the Father. Even Christ said “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30). And truly, they were equal in the functions they performed. Christ did what the Father did.
“The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he sees the Father do; for what things so ever he does, these also does the Son likewise.”
Though they are not equal in rank, there is still equality in their spiritual and legal functions. Christ told Philip: “he that has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Christ knew it was proper to “work” on the Sabbath, because His Father had no qualms about such “working” and Christ considered carrying a pallet as work!
Now, carefully look at this teaching of the apostle John. The original words that John used in John 5:18 have great significance. They actually give John’s commentary on the actions and teachings of Christ by commanding that lame man to carry his bed.
“Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the Sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.”
Verse 18 is a statement made by John himself. It was John’s commentary on Christ’s actions. Some people, notably from Sabbath-keeping groups, refuse to accept that verse 18 is John’s own teaching about this Sabbath incident. They do not want John saying what is actually written in the text. But why do they balk at taking John’s statement to be John’s own personal comments? It is simple. If John made that comment as a personal appraisal of John’s own teaching, then it would show that Christ was indeed a Sabbath-breaker — an habitual breaker, because the word “broken” in the original Greek is in the imperfect tense. To relieve Christ of such an infraction, some have invented an explanation to satisfy their sensitivities over the matter. They say John simply recorded what the Jews were saying. They want it to be only the Jews who accused Him of breaking the Sabbath, not that He actually broke the Sabbath itself. In one translation made by a Sabbath-keeping denomination, they render verse 18 in the following manner:
“Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill Him, because they contended that He not only had broken the Sabbath, but said also that Elohim was his Father, making Himself equal with Elohim.”
John 5:18 (bold words added to text)
Notice the three italicized words in the verse. The translators of that particular version added them to show their opinion of what the text means. They had to add the extra words to the text, because the Greek of the inspired New Testament states no such thing. These translators are forcing John to say what he did not say. This is tampering with the text of Scripture in an effort to make the Bible agree with their own theories. The truth is, the three added words of those false translators do not belong in the text. Leaving the inspired passage just as written by John proves that John himself made the comment that Christ “broke” the Sabbath.
Indeed, if John wished to show what the Jews thought about the actions of Christ, all that John had to do was to quote them. John constantly quoted people. Note that in his Gospel there were no fewer than 368 separate quotations, averaging some 17 quotes for each chapter. John was always careful to quote what other people were saying. In a literary sense, he was one of the most persistent users of quotations in the New Testament. Note who made the quotes John records. Sometimes John quoted the Jews who countered Christ, sometimes he quoted Christ Himself and at other times John gave his own comments and observations about the quotes he recorded. We must be careful to distinguish all these various quotes and comments made by John in his Gospel. An honest appraisal will yield interesting and informative teachings.
What does this mean? It means that if John in 5:18 was merely quoting what the Jews thought of Christ, he could have used his consistent manner of saying, “the Jews said.” But he didn’t. The point we must recognize is this: John always differentiated what he himself believed from the beliefs of the Jews. He clearly delineated when the Jews were stating their beliefs. Notice what John wrote.
“The Jews said”
2:18, 20; 5:10; 7:35; 8:52, 57; 11:36
“the Jews answered”
8:48; 10:33; 19:7
“the Pharisees said”
9:16, 40; 11:47
“the chief priests and Pharisees answered”
“the Jews cried out”
“the Jews read”
“the Jews asked”
And if one takes the pronouns of the contexts into account, John used the expression “the Jews said” at least 38 different times in his Gospel; “the Pharisees said” 13 times; and “the chief priests said” 8 times. This means that 59 times out of his 368 quotations, John was careful to identify the quotations as coming from the unconverted Jewish authorities. But concerning the important scripture in 5:18, John said nothing about quoting anyone, even though a few verses earlier, in 5:10, he wrote his familiar statement “the Jews said” and then quoted what they were saying.
An analysis of those 368 separate quotations in John’s Gospel is interesting. About 47% of John’s Gospel comprise the exact quotations of Christ. About 23% record the quotes of other people, including the Jewish people. But 30% of the Gospel is a record of John’s own comments. Look up these facts yourself and you will find them to be true. This shows that John himself was very interested in giving his own mature commentary on the significance of Christ’s teachings and actions at this earlier time. And remember, God’s Holy Spirit inspired the commentary of John. John’s comments represent the teachings of God for Christians.
The point we must recognize is this: John always differentiated what he himself believed from the beliefs of the Jews. When the Jews saw Christ violate the Sabbath, John quoted the Pharisees as saying: “This man is not of God because he keeps not the Sabbath day” (John 9:16). In that verse John makes it clear what the Pharisees believed because he quotes them verbatim. But in the important scripture of 5:18, John was not quoting anyone. Verse 5:18 is John’s own evaluation of what Christ was doing. Once this fact is understood, a flood of light emerges to show the significance of this important scripture (John 5:18) regarding the whole question of the Sabbath day and its relation to Christians today. This is precisely how John the apostle intended it.
The original words used in this verse give John’s commentary on the actions and teachings of Christ concerning the Sabbath day of the Ten Commandments and its relationship to mature Christians. When one uses the original Greek meaning in an honest and proper way, John states clearly that Christ was doing nothing less than canceling the Sabbath command for mature Christians who are “in Christ.”
The Greek word translated “broke” in the King James Version is a very strong one. It is the Greek word LUO. It may only be three letters in length, but its meaning is powerful and decisive. The word never suggests a leniency or slackening of anything. It always signifies a complete and thorough loosing.
Let us notice the comments of Greek scholars on the meaning of the word “broke” (Greek: luo) in John 5:18. The first we will mention is Vincent. He gives the actual meaning:
“Had broken. Literally was loosing: the imperfect tense. Not, broke the Sabbath in any particular case, but was annulling the laws and duty of Sabbath observance.” 1
This is exactly what John meant.
This word LUO translated “was loosing” has profound legal significance to its meaning in contexts dealing with laws or judicial decisions. It is the same word used in Matthew 16:19: “Whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (Greek). It was also used to show a legal divorce in the New Testament. “Are you loosed from a wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:27). It also was used to describe the destruction of this world system. “Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved ..., wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved” (2 Peter 3:11–12). The word LUO was even translated as “destroy.” “The Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). And as Vincent said, the word LUO meant in Greek to annul the laws and duty of Sabbath observance.
Notice what other scholars have said on this matter. Professor Vine gave the following definition of the word “broke” in his Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.
(a) to loose, release,
(1) of things;
(2) of animals;
(3) of persons;
(4) of Satan [from prison];
(5) of one diseased; of the marriage tie, of release from sins;
(b) to loosen, break up, dismiss, dissolve, destroy.” 2
Bauer’s authoritative Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament edited by Arndt and Gingrich, says the word means
“(1) loose, untie;
(2) set free, release, be set free from bond;
(3) break up;
(4) destroy, bring to an end, abolish, do away with.
Of commandants, laws, statements [it means to] repeal, annul,
abolish, abolish the Sabbath.” 3
Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon, also discussed the same word. Thayer saw its use in John 5:18 as a legal decision on Christ’s part. The word LUO had judicial significance to it.
“Laws, as having binding force are likened to bonds; hence LUO is the same as to annul, subvert; to do away with; to deprive of authority, whether by precept or by act [such as] the commandment concerning the Sabbath, John 5:18.” 4
The wording of the Greek shows that the Sabbath was being abrogated by the express command and example of Christ Himself. This was further echoed by B.F. Westcott, one of the finest Greek scholars of the last century. He said:
“He [Christ] was loosing, that is, he declared that the law of the Sabbath was not binding. The word LUO expresses not the violation of the sanctity of the day in a special case but the abrogation of the duty observance.” 5
In fact, the authors of Harper’s New Testament Commentary tell us that the Greek means that Christ was “canceling the Sabbath.” 6
But this is not all. The authoritative ten volume Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, in which most Greek words in the New Testament are given excellent analyses, has the following meaning for the word LUO. It means: “was loosing the Sabbath” (John 5:18). The best rendering here is “to set aside,” “to invalidate.” 7
These linguistic scholars recognize that the word LUO in John 5:18 was used by the apostle John in a legal sense and the scholars are perfectly correct in their academic appraisals. Something more than a simple “breaking” of the Sabbath was meant. The word clearly has a judicial or legislative ring to it. It is used like a “divine command.” Even in the secular Greek world, there are many examples of the word LUO being used “to repeal or annul laws, to rescind a vote, to revoke a will, to break a legal agreement or obligation.” 8 And the apostle John used LUO to show the official abrogation of the Sabbath day by Christ Himself. Or, to make it plain, as the New Commentary on Holy Scripture says, Christ “was teaching that the Sabbath day was not binding.” 9 The scholars are using plain linguistic rules to come to their conclusions. They have no ax to grind over the matter. The plain and simple meanings of the words written by the apostle John show that Christ was clearly “abrogating the Sabbath” for those who read his Gospel and were mature in the teachings of Christ.
John showed by his personal comments the legal invalidation (a divine cancellation) of the Sabbath as a Law which God required mankind to observe. Did Christ have such authority to annul the Mosaic laws if He so desired? Yes, He had all the legislative jurisdiction needed to make such a cancellation.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, the Son can do nothing of himself, but what he sees the Father does, these also does the Son likewise.”
What did Jesus see the Father do even on the Sabbath? John quoted Christ as saying: “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work” (John 5:17). Both the Father and the Son worked (that is, they continually worked) on the Sabbath day. Does not the Father perform as much “physical” work on the seventh day as any other day of the week? Why certainly! The physical universe is in operation seven days a week and none of its functions is curtailed on the Sabbath. And in case one might say that sustaining the universe does not involve any work on God’s part, let him be reminded that Christ said “My Father works hitherto.” God does work on the Sabbath. And what about Christ? He also worked! The working that He was doing on the Sabbath was the Father’s wish. After all, He was equal to God and in Christ’s teachings and actions He did nothing unless the Father approved (5:19).
This working of the Father, and of Christ while He was in the flesh, was a way for Christ to show that the Sabbath was abrogated as a duty. This was John’s appraisal in his Gospel. By the time John wrote his Gospel, the apostles already received revelations that the Sabbath was no longer a command for Christians to observe. 10 The apostle John was simply reflecting, under the inspiration of God, that Christ was even canceling all holy days including the Sabbath command by His actions and teachings while He was on earth. After all, Christ was the Lord of the Sabbath and He had the authority to do as He pleased with the day. Since Christ was the one who commanded the Angel of the Lord to give the Sabbath command to Israel at the Exodus (Nehemiah 9:14; Ezekiel 20:18–20), He also had the power to abrogate it if He so pleased. And that is what He did in John 5:18.
There is one final important point to illustrate beyond doubt that John 5:18 was not John’s recording of Jewish opinion: Since the verse means that Jesus was canceling the Sabbath as a command in a legal sense, would any Jew state that this was what Christ was doing by simply letting the man carry his bed?
How many of them would have said: “Christ was legally abrogating the Sabbath?” No Jew at the time saw in Christ’s actions such a legislative decision, nor would they have accused Him of such. Not even Christ’s apostles saw this single breaking of the Sabbath by carrying the pallet as a repeal of the Sabbath. It was John who later recognized this, not those Jews. For ordinary Jews at the time, they looked on Christ as a mere man who had no power to cancel any law given to Moses. True, they recognized that Christ made Himself equal with God and for this they called Him a blasphemer, but would Jewish authorities have seen in His actions of allowing a man to carry his bed that He was making an official abrogation of the Mosaic Sabbath? To admit that Christ was canceling the Sabbath shows He was a divine legislator. This they would not acknowledge.
On the other hand, if one translated the word LUO simply as “broke,” it might be imagined that the Jews were indicting Him for the charge of “breaking” the Sabbath. But for the Jews to say that He was abolishing the Sabbath by simply telling a man to pick up his pallet and carry it, makes no sense whatever. The admission that Christ was indeed rescinding the Sabbath command cannot be an opinion of the Jews; it was that of the apostle John. Some 60 years after the event, John looked back on Christ’s teachings and actions and saw that Christ was truly canceling for mature Christians the Sabbath command given to Moses.
Finally, remember that Christ fulfilled all the law. For the first thirty years of His life, He kept the laws of Moses precisely, but then He commenced His prophesied role of giving commandments of His own (Deuteronomy 18:15–19). He began to modify those earlier laws. And one of Christ’s major alterations was the abrogation of the Sabbath as a necessary day to observe for salvation. To treat it as simply a day of rest and nothing more would be completely proper if one wished to do so. I still feel it is the best day on which to assemble for Christian fellowship and teachings. That is simply my opinion. But it goes no further than that for any mature Christian. And remember, no Christian should judge what another Christian does or does not do on the Sabbath (Colossians 2:16).
Since the Father and Christ (and while Christ was in the flesh) worked on the Sabbath, any Christian may do the same today without violating the New Testament law of faith and love (Romans 3:27; 13:10). Christians may move all the furniture they wish.
The Gospel of John is a legal document given very late in the 1st century and long after “the Mystery” was commanded to Paul and others in 63 C.E. This Gospel is a summation of all the basic (and even profound) teachings that Christ gave while on earth but it was meant for people of a later time when the Spirit would be available for mature interpretation. John’s teaching in his Gospel is a review of the basic philosophical and doctrinal teachings found in “the Mystery,” but placed within a biographical style of dissertation on the life of Christ. John gives nothing less than mature evaluations and teaching on some of the actual statements and examples of Christ that He performed while He was on earth. But John gives teachings when the apostles were able to interpret them correctly. In the earlier period, they did not have the Holy Spirit nor the later experiences involving the advanced teaching of “the Mystery” to determine the significance of what Christ taught and meant.
In short, John’s Gospel is not a simple biographical narrative of Christ’s life and teaching designed to enhance the doctrines of the Old or New Covenants. His Gospel was a final summation of mature doctrines that Christ taught — doctrines that could only be understood beginning when the Spirit was given to the apostles in 30 C.E. and then later with the teaching of “the Mystery” given in 63 C.E. And, John was writing about 90 C.E. in order to give the most advanced reflections on the mature teachings of Christ.
The Gospel of John is really “the Mystery” in biographical form. It is a type of mature constitution for Christians. In this sense, the apostle John gave to the world with his Gospel a type of Christian “law” regarding the mature teachings of Christ and God the Father. And the question of the Sabbath day had to be answered for people of the 1st century C.E. (and for us today), so John recalled the exact actions and mature teachings of Christ about the Sabbath when He was in the flesh. True, at that early time the apostles themselves did not appreciate or know how to interpret His actions or His words. Only after the revelation of “the Mystery,” did it become possible for those actions and words of Christ to make sense. And John recorded them for us under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This is why John’s Gospel had to be written. It brought things into mature focus.
Those Christians who feel that Christ kept the Old Testament Sabbath precisely as Moses stated, should read their New Testaments very carefully. The teaching of some Christians is to believe that Christ did not heed the Pharisaical interpretations regarding the Sabbath, but that He did observe the biblical Sabbath in every way. The truth is, once Christ commenced His ministry at thirty years of age, He did no such thing!
When Christ’s disciples went through the grain fields on the Sabbath, they plucked the grain, rolled it in their hands and ate it. The Pharisees said His disciples were doing “that which is not lawful to do upon the Sabbath day” (Matthew 12:2). And true enough, the activity of the apostles was strictly forbidden by biblical law (Exodus 16:27–30). Sabbath-keeping denominations normally feel that Christ or His disciples did not really break the Sabbath of God. They think that He was simply not concerned over “minor work” being done on that day. But this is not true. Christ was as interested in the smaller points of the law like mint and anise and cummin (Matthew 23:23) as He was in major matters. After all, if one breaks the law even in a minor way, he still breaks the law. But Christ permitted His disciples to break the biblical Sabbath law. And Christ was not a sinner in doing this. He was the Lord of the Sabbath. This is clear in the New Testament.
Note Christ’s answers to the Pharisees critical of Him. He did not say: “God never meant that the gathering of a few handfuls of grain is Sabbath-breaking.” No, He said nothing like that. Christ admitted that His disciples had truly broken the Old Testament Sabbath law. And Christ, as an excuse for His disciples, gave the Pharisees some illustrations of how others in the past had BROKEN the law without penalty.
“But he said unto them, have you not read what David did, when he was an hungered, and they that were with him; how he entered into the house of God, and did eat the Shewbread, which was not lawful for him but only for the priests?”
Christ’s example to the Pharisees was one of law breaking, not law observance. Actually, David committed a serious infraction of the law of God. He and his companions entered the Tabernacle of God (and if this entry was into the Holy Place, even that entry was illegal). They also unlawfully ate the consecrated bread. David even committed this sin on the Sabbath day itself. Compare 1 Samuel 21:6 with Leviticus 24:8. This is one of the reasons Christ used David’s example of lawbreaking in defense for His own disciples when they also violated the Sabbath rules.
Christ was telling the Pharisees that since David had broken the law on the Sabbath and without retribution, His disciples also had permission from Him to break the Sabbath law. David broke Temple laws, but Christ said, “In this place is one greater than the Temple” (Matthew 12:6). Christ was the One who created the Temple and the Sabbath in the first place. He was the One who formerly allowed David to break the Temple and Sabbath laws. And now Christ was commanding His disciples also to break the Sabbath laws. “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (verse 8).
The Sabbath belonged to Christ. He was its Lord and could do with the Sabbath as He pleased. If Christ was the Son of God on earth (which He was), no one could hold Him accountable for doing with His own creation as He wished.
To further strengthen His case, Christ said:
“Have you not read in the law, how that on the Sabbath days the priests in the Temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless.”
Christ taught that the priests profaned the Sabbath of the Ten Commandments, not that they profaned the ritualistic Sabbath of Moses with their physical ceremonies at the altar. The Ten Commandments clearly demanded all people to rest. The command in the Decalogue was all-inclusive, without exception. But the priests were allowed to break that Commandment law in order to perform rituals in the Temple. Indeed, the priests worked more on the Sabbaths than on ordinary weekdays because the sacrifices were doubled on those days (Numbers 28:9–10).
Some may say that this religious activity of the priests was not a real profaning of the Sabbath. Those who feel that way will have to argue their case with Christ for He said the priests were profaning the Sabbath! It is better to believe Christ in this matter than the opinions of men. The truth is, Christ was Lord of the Sabbath and He could do with it as He pleased.
This latter illustration of Christ shows which of the ceremonies in the Old Testament was most important. Was it the keeping of the Sabbath as found in the Ten Commandments, or was it the sacrificing of animals in a Temple ritual? There can be no argument in the issue. In this illustration of Christ, performing the animal sacrifices took precedence over the Ten Commandments law. This shows that God in the time of Moses was more concerned about proper sacrificing than Sabbath keeping for the priests. But even though the sacrificial rituals took precedence over the Sabbath of the Ten Commandments, there was something more important than mere sacrifices.
“But if you [Pharisees] had known what this means, ‘I will have mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.”
Christ showed that people could violate laws (whether Temple laws, Sabbath laws, or even sacrificial laws) in order to show the higher virtue of mercy. That is what Christ was doing; He was showing mercy. The disciples were hungry, so Christ showed them mercy by allowing them to break the biblical Sabbath laws and to gather food to eat. Recall that Christ’s illustrations to the Pharisees in defense of His disciples were examples of breaking laws, not keeping them. Christ knew the disciples had in fact broken the biblical Sabbath, but He used their infringement to show His own Lordship over the Sabbath and to show His authority over all religious laws in the Scriptures. He taught that He was greater than the Temple (Matthew 12:6) and Lord of the Sabbath (verse 8).
Since Christ was the firstborn Son of God in the flesh, His authority extended beyond all laws made by any man and beyond those He Himself formerly gave. He was the “Second Moses” with infinitely more power and authority than any human on earth — past, present, or future! It is time people begin to realize this and stop demanding that Christ obeyed all the sacrificial laws of Moses, all Temple regulations, or all Sabbath injunctions. Certainly, He committed no adultery, stole nothing from anyone, lied to no one, coveted no one’s property. He honored His parents and performed all that the Father commanded Him, but He certainly violated the Sabbath laws as recorded in the Old Testament. This is clearly what Matthew 12:1–8 teaches.
To sum up, the apostle John came to understand more fully the teachings of Christ and later wrote his Gospel account about them. And in John 5:18, the apostle John made the dogmatic statement (his own personal comment and evaluation) that Christ Jesus indeed “canceled” the Sabbath requirement for mankind. It was no longer a law that had to be kept for salvation. That record in John’s Gospel gives us God’s final teachings concerning the ministry of Christ. In the latest book in the New Testament, we find the legal definition that Jesus “loosed” or “canceled” the Sabbath day as a requirement for the Christian.
Even though this is the case, what should we mature Christians do who have our citizenship in heaven at the right hand of God? Because we are yet humans on this earth, we can still heed the example of God the Father when He “rested” on the seventh day of the week after His six days of creative activity. Now, we are not commanded to “rest” and to “recuperate our bodies” on that day, but we can if we wish. In my view, it is better to have one day of “rest” from normal work. The Sabbath is better than on the first day of the week which was (and is) a day in honor of the pagan Sun God. But if others feel Sunday can still be retained as the day of “rest,” their opinion is as valid as mine. The simple truth is, let a man observe any day he or she pleases (Romans 14:1–5). All days are of equal authority.
Yet, as a protest to this modern Christian society which is heathen to the core and needs correction for rampant idolatrous ways, it is better in my view to “rest” and associate for Christian fellowship and teaching on the Sabbath day on which God once “rested.” So, I leave this chapter with a positive view of the Sabbath. It is the best day for mature Christians to “rest” and to “assemble” for fellowship and teaching. In that regard, let me quote what God says: “Remember the Sabbath Day.”
1 M.R. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, vol. II, (New York: Scribner, 1887–1900), p. 1340. ELM
2 W.E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, vol. III, (London: Oliphants, 1939–41), p. 15. ELM
3 William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, English edition based on Brauer’s 4th edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pp. 484–485. This is their translation of John 5:18, not mine. ELM
4 Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1908), p. 1385. ELM
5 Brooke Foss Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John: the Greek text with introduction and notes, vol. I (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954) p. 187. ELM
6 J.N. Sanders, A Commentary on the Gospel According to John (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), p. 164. DWS
7 Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. IV (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–1976) p. 336. ELM
8 Liddell and Scott, Greek-English Lexicon, vol. II (New Edition, Oxford), p. 1068. ELM
9 Charles Gore, ed., New Commentary on Holy Scripture (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1928), p. 254. ELM
10 Galatians 4:10, and in verse 16 Paul called his teaching the “truth.” Also see Colossians 2:16; Hebrews 3:11–4:11; and Romans 14:5. ELM
Order our Book: Essentials of New Testament Doctrine to read all the chapters.
© 1976-2014 Associates for Scriptural Knowledge - ASK is supported by freewill contributions