Are we still under the command to keep the Sabbath, and what is the Sabbath? Is it Saturday or is it Sunday or is there more to it than just a day?
Sabbath is about rest and holds a principle much deeper than just physical rest. A ‘rest’ in Scripture denotes a finished work. God finished His work of Creation then rested and Man was commanded to rest also.
Whenever you see a rest in Scripture this is God saying ‘This is My work. There is nothing you can do about it so don’t even presume to try.’ On the Day of Atonement, everyone had to rest in their tents while the High Priest [God’s representative] made Atonement. This of course pointed to the fact that only Jesus, God’s appointed High Priest, could make Atonement. We can’t add to it by our good works any more than Adam and Eve could improve on Creation; we can only rest by faith in His finished work.
Jesus angered the Jews when He healed a crippled man on the Sabbath. [John 5]. Jesus answered the by saying that His Father was still working and so was He. The work of Creation had been completed but there was still a work to be done. That was the work of Redemption. In Jesus Christ, God began a New Creation. That work was completed with the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. The old Creation was put to death in Jesus, the ‘last Adam’ and the New Creation began on Resurrection Day. The Old Creation is ‘passing away’ but the New Creation is eternal. We are part of that New Creation if, by faith, we rest in Jesus’ finished work on our behalf. When Jesus has finished His work He ‘sat down’ that is He rested, in contrast to the Old Testament Priests who were ‘standing’ continually offering up sacrifices . [Hebrews 10:11 – 14]
Jesus is the Sabbath of the New Creation. The Sabbath rest finds its fulfilment in Him who said “Come unto Me all you who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls, for My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”[Matthew 11:28 – 30] The rest that Jesus gives is a rest of soul, when we cease from struggling and striving in our own strength and rest in His finished work. This is the rest that is spoken of in Hebrews 3:7 – 4:11 which we are to be ‘diligent to enter into.’ As Colossians 2:16,17 says, the Old Testament Holy Days are ‘shadows’ but Jesus is the ‘substance’ or fulfilment of them all. He is our Passover, our Unleavened Bread, our Atonement [propitiation] our Sabbath and all that the Old Testament types portrayed.
As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:7, 8; concerning Passover and Unleavened Bread, [my paraphrase] Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us, therefore this is how we keep the Feast [of Unleavened Bread] now. We put the leaven [symbolic of sin] out of our lives.” Likewise concerning the Sabbath – By one sacrifice, Christ has perfected us forever [Hebrews 10:14] and this is how we keep Sabbath now. By faith we rest in His finished work. With Jesus in our heart, we can have Sabbath every day.
Christians met together on a Sunday very early in Church history. It was not a new Sabbath, but a celebration of the Resurrection. Ignatius 30-107 AD, Bishop of Antioch wrote, “And after the observance of the Sabbath [that the Jews kept,] let every friend of Christ keep the Lord’s day as a festival, the resurrection day, the queen and chief of all days of the week…..on which our life sprang up again, and victory over death was obtained in Christ….” Ignatius would have been contemporary to at least some of the disciples and would surely have known which day was considered to be ‘The Lord’s Day.’
Justin Martyr born about 100 AD wrote. “And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read… but Sunday is the day on which we hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead.”
[These two quotes are taken from vol 1 of “The Ante Nicene Fathers”]
Saturday was the Sabbath of the Old Creation. It was a day of physical rest. It was a shadow or sign, pointing to the soul rest we have in Christ.
Sunday is a day of celebration of the New Creation in Christ. It is the day of the Resurrection. Also the Spirit was given on a Sunday.
The true Sabbath is a Person not a day. Jesus is our Sabbath Rest just as He is the fulfilment of Passover, Atonement and all the shadows of the Old Testament.
Setting one day a week aside for worship and rest is still an important principle to observe.
God is to be honoured every day of the week in all of our living. [Romans 12:1 ‘service’ means ‘worship’]
Christians who gather to worship on Sunday or any other day aren’t worshipping the day, they’re worshipping the Lord and that is a good thing to do any day.
The Romans 14 principle is that these things ought not to separate or cause contention among Christians, but everyone should be ‘fully persuaded in their own mind’ and not judge one another. Whatever day you choose to rest and worship on, you will only know true rest in Jesus; that is by not trusting in your own good works, but by faith resting in the perfect finished work of the perfect One.
For a longer version of this, click on the booklet on this page titled "The True Sabbath"