"Understanding the Sabbath" Series
Is the Sabbath For Christians?
The Sabbath in the New Testament
By David M Rogers
Published: January 2009
Table of Contents
There's a lot of talk these days about the Sabbath. Some Christian and Messianic groups promote it. But most Christian churches reject the Sabbath, stating that it was done away with under the terms of the New Covenant. And most Christians don't have a clue about the real significance of the Sabbath. They have been taught that Sunday replaced the Sabbath.
So, if you conduct a survey on the sidewalk outside the church after the worship service and ask people why they worship on Sunday, you will likely get some surprising responses. Some may say, "I worship on Sunday because it is the Sabbath." Another will say, "I worship on Sunday because the Bible tells us to." Still another will say, "I worship on Sunday because we have always gone to church on Sunday." And one might reply, "I don't know. I just do!"
While we may commend that last respondent for his honesty, the first three answers, though they have an appearance of truth, simply are not true! Sunday is not the Sabbath. The Bible does not teach believers to assemble on Sunday for the purpose of corporate worship. And followers of the Messiah have not always gone to worship services on Sunday, as is taught and believed.
Let's take a look at what the Bible has to say about the Sabbath. And let's find out how and when New Testament believers worshipped. And even more importantly, let's study to ascertain Yahusha's (the real Hebrew name of the Messiah, also known as "Jesus") teaching and attitude toward the seventh-day Sabbath. This, it seems to me, would be a good way to discover the true applicability of the Sabbath rest for the followers of Messiah Yahusha.
The widespread teaching in Christian churches that Jesus came to do away with the Law is a lynchpin in their doctrine that the Sabbath has been replaced by Sunday. This theory is launched from the thought that the resurrection occurred on "Sunday morning" and signaled a change in the holy day. Supportive to this Christian thinking is the teaching from most Christian pulpits and schools that Jesus intentionally broke the Sabbath by "working" on the Sabbath in order to show that is was fading away; soon to be replaced by Sunday. In addition to this, they say, the Sabbath was only given to "the Jews" and "to Israel" anyway! The Christians teach that the Sabbath was only intended to be a temporary institution "for Israel only." The Church, in their view, has different promises and a different day of worship.
What a thrilling pipe dream it must be for people who believe that a holy "God" has decided to do away with his Law and not to hold anyone accountable any more for transgressing his holy Law. By believing this, they can continue in their secret sins or their blatant, public sins without any concern for any possible impact their immoral behavior has upon their "eternal destiny."
If Messiah did away with the Law, then it stands to reason that the Sabbath has been retired, as well. But if Yahusha did NOT do away with the Law, then the Sabbath could not have possibly been eliminated or replaced either, because the Law teaches that the Sabbath is to be observed "throughout your generations." Let's find out what Yahusha's teaching is regarding the Law. Then we can proceed to understand his attitude toward the Sabbath.
The New Testament book of Matthew stands as the first book in the canon of Scripture detailing the life and teaching of Yahusha and his followers. It contains numerous teaching discourses, the first of which is popularly called the Sermon on the Mount. In this teaching discourse, Yahusha sets the tone for his ministry by laying out his understanding and interpretation of proper conduct for the assembly of his followers. He makes an emphatic statement to his disciples so that no mistake can be made about his interpretation of the Law:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law (Hebrew, Torah) or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place. So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:17-19).
This pregnant statement of intent has been severely maligned and distorted by theologians, pastors and teachers for way too long. This saying is a clear and unmistakable endorsement of the Law of the Old Testament Writings.
Without even going into the meaning of the Greek words translated "abolish" and "fulfill", it is obvious that Messiah is teaching that every last detail of the Law is still valid throughout the time of man on the earth. He said that the Law would remain until heaven and earth disappear. And if you are reading this, neither heaven nor earth has disappeared yet, so that we must conclude that the Law is still valid in all its detail. Even the very least of the commandments is required to be followed by the disciples of Messiah. In fact, in the judgment, what you do with the commandments of the Law has a huge impact on what will be the outcome of the judgment for you.
I have compiled a more detailed examination of the Greek vocabulary usage and explanation of the meaning of this saying where I explain the meaning of the Sermon of the Mount, at this link: http://bibletruth.cc/SermonOnMount.htm
Since it is clear then that Yahusha presented the Law as the correct way to display one's faith before Elohim and men, then it is equally clear that the Sabbath was not abolished, either. But, did Messiah replace or alter the Sabbath law? And how then should we understand the Sabbath for today and how should we apply it to our faith walk?
A true and accurate understanding of how Messiah Yahusha regarded the Sabbath can be surmised from the Gospel accounts. In them we find many stories of what Yahusha said and did on the Sabbath day. Let's take a look at what Yahusha taught about the Sabbath and what activities he pursued on the set apart seventh day of the week.
First, since Yahusha expressly declared that he had not come to destroy the Law but to fulfill it, we would expect to see the record of the gospels to indicate that he did, indeed, keep the Sabbath as his regular habit. And this is precisely what we find.
Then they went to Capernaum. When the Sabbath came, Yahusha went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people there were amazed by his teaching, because he taught them like one who had authority, not like the experts in the law (Mark 1:21-22).
Yahusha went to the assembly of Israel on the Sabbath to teach Torah. In his hometown, he did the same:
Now Yahusha left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue (Mark 6:1-2).
Luke records this same incident of Yahusha going to synagogue while his his hometown:
Now Yahusha came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Yesha'yahu was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, "The Spirit of Yahuwah is upon me..." (Luke 4:16-18).
The additional piece of information given is that Yahusha customarily entered the synagogue on the Sabbath to read and teach. Again this is what we would expect to find if Yahusha were keeping the Sabbath day. Yet another passage tells us the same:
Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath (Luke 13:10).
When taken together, these testimonies indicate that Yahusha was in the regular habit of keeping Shabbat by attending synagogue and reading, teaching and explaining Torah on the Sabbath. This is in keeping with the positive commandment of the Sabbath that we should regard the day unto Yahuwah and read and proclaim the Scriptures on that day.
Second, if Yahusha were promoting Sabbath-keeping, we would expect him to teach that the Sabbath is an institution Yahuwah established for mankind, according to what is revealed in Genesis chapter 2. And we are not disappointed. While picking and eating food in the fields on one Sabbath, the Pharisees challenged him and his Sabbath-keeping. Here, he explained the scope of the Sabbath:
Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for mankind, not mankind for the Sabbath. For this reason the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27-28).
Note that Yahusha did not say the Sabbath was made for the Jew or for Israel. He clearly declared that the Sabbath was given to all of man. This was a reference to creation week where it is declared that after Elohim created man on the sixth day, he established the seventh day as a day to be set-apart and for blessing.
By the seventh day Elohim had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And Elohim blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done (Genesis 2:2-3).
The Sabbath was given to mankind the day after Elohim created man. The order of first man and then the Sabbath indicates purpose for the Sabbath - it was made for man.
Third, if Yahusha were promoting Sabbath-keeping, we would expect him to teach and preach the paramount importance of love for and fellowship with Yahuwah on that day. After all, the seventh day is to be guarded as set apart to Yahuwah. Yahusha demonstrated this principle of the purpose of the Sabbath by performing many of his mighty miracles of healing on the Sabbath.
They watched Yahusha closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they could accuse him. So he said to the man who had the withered hand, "Stand up among all these people." Then he said to them, "Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath, or evil, to save a life or destroy it?" But they were silent (Mark 3:2-4).
Yahusha healed on the Sabbath to re-establish wholeness to men in order to fellowship with Elohim and enjoy Covenant relationship of Yahuwah acting as Elohim for the people and taking care of their every need.
On another Sabbath, Yahusha healed a woman in the synagogue who was twisted for 18 years. Yahusha healed her.
But the president of the synagogue, indignant because Yahusha had healed on the Sabbath, said to the crowd, "There are six days on which work should be done! So come and be healed on those days, and not on the Sabbath day." Then Yahusha answered him, "You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from its stall, and lead it to water? Then shouldn't this woman, a daughter of Avraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be released from this imprisonment on the Sabbath day?" (Luke 13:14-16).
By this action, Yahusha was confirming the redemptive\restorative nature of the Sabbath day. The Sabbath day is the time when Yahuwah meets with his people and meets their needs by restoring them to wholeness.
Furthermore, Yahusha also explained that there are even some physically strenuous activities which are normally thought of as "work" which are nevertheless appropriate for doing on the Sabbath day. In certain unusual circumstances, when there is a pressing human need, or the health or life of an animal is in danger, it is permissible to "work" to free those people or animals from distress on the Sabbath (see Mark 2:23-28).
He said to them, "Would not any one of you, if he had one sheep that fell into a pit on the Sabbath, take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath" (Matthew 12:11-12).
The purpose of the Sabbath day is for man to cease from his labor and meet with Elohim. Yahusha affirms this purpose and explains it in practical terms by healing people of their afflictions, and forgiving them of their sins to re-establish relationship between Elohim and people.
It is frequently suggested by Bible thumpers that Yahusha intentionally broke the Sabbath commandment not to do any work, thus signifying that it was to be done away with. They offer the account in Yochanan's (John's) gospel, chapter 5 of the man who was told to pick up his mat and carry it on the Sabbath.
A great number of sick, blind, lame, and paralyzed people were lying in these walkways. Now a man was there who had been disabled for thirty-eight years. When Yahusha saw him lying there and when he realized that the man had been disabled a long time already, he said to him, "Do you want to become well?" The sick man answered him, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up. While I am trying to get into the water, someone else goes down there before me." Yahusha said to him, "Stand up! Pick up your mat and walk." Immediately the man was healed, and he picked up his mat and started walking.
(Now that day was a Sabbath.) So the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, "It is the Sabbath, and you are not permitted to carry your mat." But he answered them, "The man who made me well said to me, 'Pick up your mat and walk.'" They asked him, "Who is the man who said to you, 'Pick up your mat and walk'?" But the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Yahusha had slipped out, since there was a crowd in that place.
After this Yahusha found him at the temple and said to him, "Look, you have become well. Don't sin any more, lest anything worse happen to you." The man went away and informed the Jewish leaders that Yahusha was the one who had made him well.
Now because Yahusha was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began persecuting him. So he told them, "My Father is working until now, and I too am working." For this reason the Jewish leaders were trying even harder to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was also calling Elohim his own Father, thus making himself equal with Elohim (Yochanan 5:3-18).
This account of Yahusha ordering a man to carry his mat on the Sabbath has been greatly misunderstood and misconstrued.
First, Yahusha healed the man and then ordered him to pick up and carry his mat. Note that it was the Jewish leaders who insisted that it was unlawful to carry a mat on the Sabbath. But you will not find any such commandment in the Torah of Scripture. The Pharisees had enacted their own laws and rules for the Sabbath day. Not to carry one's mat on the Sabbath was one such law. But no man has the authority to create a law to add to Yahuwah's laws and no man has the authority to subtract a law that is a part of Yahuwah's Torah.
The Torah explains very explicitly that no one is to add to or subtract from Yah's own Law:
Do not add a thing to what I command you nor subtract from it, so that you may keep the commandments of Yahuwah your Elohim that I am delivering to you (Devarim 4:2).
You must be careful to do everything I am commanding you. Do not add to it or subtract from it! (Devarim 12:32).
The commandment that Yahusha was telling the healed man to break was a commandment of men. Therefore the Pharisees were upset with him. But he did not, nor has he ever, commanded anyone to intentionally break one of the commandments of Yahuwah. Thus, when the record tells us that "the Jewish leaders were trying even harder to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath...", it is talking about a man made Sabbath commandment that Yahusha was breaking.
Another possible interpretation of Yochanan 5:18 would render the text, "For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he setting the Sabbath free, but he was even calling Elohim his own Father...." The Greek word, luo, can mean either "to loose, set free" or "to break, to destroy." In the context of this Sabbath day episode, Yahusha was not breaking the command of Elohim, but rather, he was freeing the Sabbath observance from the legalistic interpretations of the Pharisees, who would not permit a man to carry a pallet under any circumstances on the Sabbath. Samuele Bacchiocchi concludes from this episode that
Christ's provocative infringement of rabbinical regulations (such as those dealing with the carrying of a pallet or mixing of clay on the Sabbath) were designed therefore not to invalidate the Sabbath commandment but rather to restore the day to its positive function. (Bacchiocchi, Samuele, From Sabbath to Sunday, p.47. Bacchiocchi's discussion of Jesus' attitude toward the Sabbath day and the Sabbath controversies in the Gospels is very illuminating and is therefore recommended reading, pp.26-63.)
Yahusha never so much as hinted that the Sabbath was to be done away with. Instead, he restored the original meaning of the Sabbath to his disciples because the Sabbath had been stripped of its original intention and had become distorted. Yahusha did this by setting his disciples free from the legalistic regulations by which the Pharisees held the people in bondage.
So the Sabbath day is a day of freedom, not a day of bondage as many in our own day think. We noted earlier that Yahusha came to fulfill, that is, to restore the meaning to the law of Elohim. In the same way, Messiah was restoring the Sabbath day to its original state by rebuking the leaders for insisting upon strict obedience to their hundreds of man-made regulations regarding Sabbath activities, but who had forgotten what the true intention of the Sabbath was - a day of true freedom to worship the Creator Elohim and to do good deeds.
What is furthermore interesting about this occasion of healing on the Sabbath is that Yahusha alludes to the redemptive work that Elohim is doing on the Sabbath day:
"My Father is working until now, and I too am working."
This theme of the Father working on the Sabbath day is obviously a reference to his work of redeeming mankind. It is certainly clear that Abba is not doing any work of creation on the seventh day. The father is doing a work of salvation and redemption on the Sabbath to restore man to a right relationship with Elohim. In fact, we learned that one of the purposes of the Sabbath day is to picture the kingdom age when all is restored to rightness again.
On another occasion, the Pharisees again made accusation against Yahusha for "breaking the Sabbath":
Now the day on which Yahusha made the mud and caused him to see was a Sabbath. So the Pharisees asked him again how he had gained his sight. He replied, "He put mud on my eyes and I washed, and now I am able to see." Then some of the Pharisees began to say, "This man is not from Elohim, because he does not observe the Sabbath." But others said, "How can a man who is a sinner perform such miraculous signs?" Thus there was a division among them (Yochanan 9:14-16).
Here is another case where Yahusha is misrepresented by mainstream Christian thinkers. They believe that "Jesus" was indicating that the Law of Mosheh was in the process of "passing away" - thus, he "broke" the Sabbath.
But this is not what happened here. If anyone who thinks that he can produce the commandment of Scripture that says that its unlawful to heal on the Sabbath, or that its unlawful to "make mud" on the Sabbath, bring it on. The problem is that there is no such law in the Torah of Mosheh (as written in the 5 books attributed to Moses). However, the Pharisees had made another law! Their law says that its unlawful to spit on dirt to make mud on the Sabbath. Ha!
So Yahusha was NOT nullifying the written Law of Elohim by his actions. He was intentionally confronting the Pharisees by breaking their fake, made-up law. The message he is sending is that no one needs to be imprisoned by man-made law or man-made authority anymore. You don't have to obey the Pharisees. You don't have to obey the Rabbis. You don't have to obey the Catholic Church. You don't have to submit to the authority of men when that authority is in conflict with the revealed will of Elohim as stated in the Instructions of Scripture - the words which Yahuwah himself spoke to Israel.
Therefore, Yahusha was not "breaking" the Sabbath or transgressing the Sabbath commandment. He was doing on the Sabbath what is lawful to do on any day of the week. He was helping and serving people and meeting their needs.
Since Yahusha upheld the validity of the Torah and since he guarded the Shabbat without transgressing the commandment, we should expect to find biblical and historical confirmation that the first century followers of Messiah did indeed keep the Sabbath. And we are not disappointed. First, there is the conspicuous absence of controversy in the New Testament over the keeping of the Sabbath. Second, there is biblical testimony regarding the regular habit of New Testament followers of Messiah of meeting on the Sabbath. And third, there is extra-biblical testimony confirming the Sabbath-keeping practice of the 1st century Messianic congregations.
The two major institutions of the Jewish religion were circumcision and the Sabbath. If the new sect of followers of Yahusha had tampered with either one of these cornerstones of their religion, there would have been major disputing between the Messianic Jewish followers who were zealous of the law and the Gentile believers. There was a noteworthy dispute over circumcision which necessitated a major convening of elders to debate (i.e. the Jerusalem Council which we discussed in The Truth About Lawlessness), but there was no such controversy over the need or importance of obeying the fourth commandment in the law of Moses. The only reasonable explanation for this glaring absence of contention in the New Testament is that the disciples did continue to keep the Sabbath day in obedience to the law of Elohim.
The controversy discussed by Paul in Colossians was of a different nature. There, the exhortation, "Don't let anyone judge you with regards to ... the Sabbath" is not talking about keeping the Sabbath, per se. But Paul was encouraging the Colossians not to be intimidated by the judgmental attitude the Pharisees took toward their manner of Sabbath keeping. The Pharisees would have everyone obey the Sabbath laws as established by the Pharisees (and later by the Rabbis), but Yahusha had taught quite clearly that the Sabbath laws of the Pharisees had no authority over his disciples. Thus, "don't let them judge you" about such things as healing on the Sabbath, carrying a mat on the Sabbath, etc.
Second, the book of Acts records over and over again how the believers met on the Sabbath to worship, pray, preach and teach Messiah Yahusha as Master. Opponents of the Sabbath contend that the early believers began to meet on Sunday instead of the Sabbath. But this is contrary to the written accounts of the apostolic assembly as recorded in the book of Acts. Luke was very explicit regarding the habit or custom of Paul to meet with the believers on the Sabbath. In Thessalonica, for example, "as his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures" (Acts 17:2). And in Corinth, on "every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks" (Acts 18:4).
There are, in fact, eight references to the Sabbath and several to the annual set-apart feast days in the book of Acts. Evidently, the followers of Messiah still continued to observe these feast days and guard them as set-apart times. (Other references to Sabbath-keeping in Acts include: 13:14,27,42,44;15:21;16:13.) But there is only one mention of the first day of the week.
The popular Christian tradition of meeting on Sunday to preach and study the Scriptures is borrowed from the Torah concept of having miqra (reading, proclamation of Scripture) on the set apart days. Unfortunately, Christianity has torn this day of proclamation away from its proper context of occurring at particular set times (i.e. the seventh day of every week and the annual set-apart days). The Christian tradition has appointed its own times of observance which is a form of rebellion and lawlessness.
The only occurrence in the book of Acts of activity which took place on the first day of the week is recorded in Acts 20:7
...on the first day of the week, we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight."
Evidently, the reason Paul met with these believers in Troas on "Sunday" was because he intended to leave the next day. Obviously, the departing of Paul the following morning was the compelling reason to meet with him and listen to his teachings until midnight.
And the test expressly states that they reason they came together was to break bread (to eat together), not to worship on a newly established holy day. In no way can it be persuasively argued that this single mention of meeting on the first day of the week constitutes prove that a new convention of "Sunday worship" was established by Paul. It would be irresponsible Biblical interpretation to come to such a rash conclusion from one mention, especially since the reason for getting together is explicitly stated - they met on Sunday to eat together!
A second "proof text" as used by Christian theologians to argue that the Sunday became the replacement day of worship in the first century congregation of Messianics is the occurrence of the term "Lord's day" in Revelation 1:10:
I was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day when I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet....
Actually, it is circular reasoning on the part of Christians to suggest that this text proves Sunday was the "Lord's Day." It is merely assumed by theologians, based upon the prevailing opinion of the moment, that the "lord's day" means "the first day of the week." In fact, it does not.
A more cogent interpretation of the unusual phrase "lord's day" in Revelation 1:10 is that it is a reference to the "Day of the Lord" or "the day of Yahuwah." In his prophetic trance, Yochanan was taken in vision to the future time, called by all the prophets, "the day of Yahuwah" or "Yahuwah's Day." This is by far the most likely meaning of the phrase because it agrees with all the rest of Scripture.
The Sabbath day is actually (as discussed in our article, http://bibletruth.cc/WhatIsTheSabbath.htm) a shadow picture and rehearsal for "the day of Yahuwah" - when Yahuwah comes down from heaven in person to execute judgment and to rule the earth. Thus, Yochanan probably received this vision on the Sabbath day, which he called "the lord's day" or the "day of Yahuwah."
If the statements of Yahusha about the Sabbath and the activities he and all of his disciples undertook on that day are not enough to convince the reader regarding the contemporary validity of the Sabbath, Hebrews 4 provides an irresistibly explicit apologetic for the believer's continued observance of Elohim's holy day. The text of Hebrews chapter 4 states very unequivocally that the Sabbath day rest remains for Elohim's New Testament people. So the writer to the Hebrews accordingly invites every believer to participate in the same rest which Elohim experienced on the seventh day of creation week.
Therefore, let us fear, lest, by leaving behind a promise of entering into His rest, one among you seems to have come up short. For indeed the proclamation was brought to us as well as to them, but the message of the report did not profit them, not having been put together with belief in those who heard it. For we who have believed enter into that rest, just as He has said, "As I swore in My wrath, if they shall enter into My rest..." And yet His works took place with the laying down of the cosmos. For somewhere He has spoken about the seventh day in this way: "And Elohim rested on the seventh day from all His works," and in this again, "If they shall enter into My rest..." Since then it remains for some to enter into it, and those who formerly received the proclamation did not enter in because of disobedience (Ivrit [Hebrew] 4:1-6).
The context of this invitation is set in chapter 3, where the writer describes the serious consequences of unbelief. This stern warning to the Messianic community links unbelief and disobedience with apostasy: "see to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away (Greek, aposteenai, "apostatizes") from the living Elohim." Israel had received instruction from Yahuwah but did not trust Elohim enough to obey those divine principles. Because they did not take Elohim seriously, they disobeyed. So, they were not allowed to enter Canaan, we are told, because of their unbelief (3:19). And as a result of their disobedience, Elohim swore to them that they would never enter his rest (3:18).
The barriers to entering Elohim's rest are unbelief and disobedience. Thus, Hebrews exhorts its readers to guard against having a hardened heart against Elohim which leads to apostasy. We noted earlier that apostasy is turning away from Elohim's law. And here again, apostasy is linked with disobedience to divine instruction. Furthermore, the writer notes in chapter 4:1, "since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it." The Holy Spirit is here teaching us that the disciple of Messiah must be careful not to disobey Elohim's commands as the Israelites did and thereby forfeit the promise of entering his rest.
Let it be noticed that the writer is not merely talking about entering the promised eternal rest of the Messianic kingdom when he speaks of Elohim's rest. The writer has much more in mind. In chapter 4:3, he begins to define what he means by the term "rest." Entering into Elohim's eternal rest is to begin "today" by obeying his command to join him in his Seventh-day rest which he established at creation:
And yet his work has been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere [Gen.2:2] he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: "And on the seventh day Elohim rested from all his work." And again in the passage above he says, "They shall never enter my rest" (4:3-5).
To those who believe and obey Elohim, the Seventh-day Sabbath is that rest which Elohim is offering as a precursor to his eternal rest - or entrance into the kingdom. This is the command of Elohim which the believer is encouraged not to disobey.
The Sabbath, to be sure, is a picture and type of the Messianic kingdom rest which all believers in Yahusha will enjoy. But the way to enter the future bliss of the eternal rest of Elohim's kingdom is to trust Messiah "today" and enter now into Elohim's Seventh-day Sabbath rest. The two rests go hand in hand. Those who are entering into the promised eternal rest will also obediently enter into Elohim's Sabbath rest on the seventh day of every week as an act of showing faith in that promised Messianic rest.
This is stated even more emphatically when the Holy Spirit says,
There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of Elohim; for anyone who enters Elohim's rest also rests from his own work, just as Elohim did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience (4:9-11).
This is the most explicit statement made in the New Testament regarding Sabbath-keeping for the New Testament believer. The Greek word sabbatismos , which is translated, "a Sabbath-rest" in verse 9, means "a Sabbath-keeping." This Sabbath-keeping, the inspired writer explains, remains for Elohim's people. The Greek word used here, apoleipetai, also appeared in verse 6, where the author writes, "it still remains that some will enter that rest."
This Sabbath rest which remains (or "is left behind") is the Sabbath-keeping which had its beginning at creation. (Samuele Bacchiocchi discusses the Sabbath as being "left behind" in The Sabbath in the New Testament, p.41) Elohim has been offering and still is offering ("remains") participation in his own rest. The Sabbath was not a temporary gimmick or test for Israel only. It is a permanent fixture for any and all who wish to enter Elohim's kingdom rest.
The explanatory clause which follows ("for anyone who enters Elohim's rest also rests from his own work" 4:10) lucidly communicates the author's message that the Seventh-day Sabbath is for Messiah's followers. The writer to the Hebrews is inviting every believer, without apology, to rest from all his work on the Sabbath day. The meaning of the text hinges on our understanding of the rest which Elohim has entered. When the Holy Spirit says, "rests from his own work, just as Elohim did from his" (4:10) he can not be speaking of an alleged rest Elohim is taking from his work of redemption. The Scriptures speak of only one work from which Elohim rested, and that is his work of creation. Elohim is still performing his work of redemption. (This is what Yahusha meant when he told the Jews, "my Father is always at his work to this very day" --John 5:17.)
The writer of Hebrews states explicitly that Elohim's seventh-day rest he commenced at creation is that rest which believers should engage in: "somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: 'And on the seventh day Elohim rested from all his work'" (Hebrews 4:4). Thus, the rest to which the believer in the New Testament age is invited is the Sabbath day cessation from work which Elohim himself enjoyed after he created the universe.
With this in mind, the writer to the Hebrews invites all who are attached to Messiah to rest on the Sabbath day: "for anyone who enters Elohim's rest also rests from his own work, just as Elohim did from his." The Holy Spirit is saying that "anyone who enters Elohim's rest," that is, places his faith in Messiah as his Savior, "also rests from his own work," by ceasing to work on the Sabbath day, "just as Elohim did from his" when He rested on the seventh day of creation week from all the work of creating that He had done. So when the Word exhorts us "to make every effort to enter that rest," the "that rest" is the Seventh-day rest which Elohim enjoyed at the end of creation week and now enjoins us to participate in.
For the talmid (disciple), keeping the Sabbath is not an effort to earn salvation. On the contrary, it is an act of faith! "Entering Elohim's rest" is followed by "resting from his own work"; that is, after receiving Messiah as Savior, the believer will by faith begin to obey his command to "remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy." To put it another way, whoever loves Yahusha will keep the Sabbath. When we keep in mind the purpose of the Sabbath day, it all begins to become clear. The Sabbath is that time Elohim has set aside to worship the Creator ("and Elohim blessed the seventh day and set it apart" Gen.2:2). So, whoever loves Yahusha will worship Elohim on his set apart day.
The weekly assembly of Israel for worship on the Sabbath is a picture of the future gathering of believers at Messiah's posttribulational parousia in the clouds when they ultimately will enter into Elohim's eternal rest. When he keeps the Sabbath by faith, the believer is testifying to all who will listen that he belongs to Yahusha. For this reason, the believer is exhorted to "not give up meeting together (Gr. episunagogee, see a discussion of this gathering here), as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day (of the gathering at Messiah's posttrib parousia) approaching" (Hebrews 10:25).
The evangelical Bible-believing community would do well to heed the advice of the Scripture writer and participate in Elohim's Seventh-day Sabbath rest. By doing so, the believer has the testimony that by faith, he will one day enter with Yahusha into the heavenly kingdom of which the seventh day Sabbath-rest is a foretaste. But whoever follows the example of disobedience of the unbelieving Israelites and refuses to keep holy the Sabbath day, even though he knows Elohim's Sabbath is for the Christian today, to them Elohim has sworn, "They shall never enter my rest" (4:3).
This language is strong and may even appear to be harsh. The inspired writers did not beat around the bush. They often got right to the point. It all boils down to the issue of loyalty. If, through faith in Yahusha, one chooses to willingly obey the heavenly Father and enter into his Seventh-day Sabbath-keeping, then Elohim will keep his promise and give him his part in the inheritance of the promised kingdom of heaven. But if one chooses to disobey and go his own way, then that person will forfeit the promise through unbelief as those Israelites did long ago. So, we should not harden our hearts against obedient submission to Elohim's right way (see 3:12,13; 4:7).
In addition, there are other historical sources which testify that the Christians who were dispersed from Jerusalem before her destruction continued to keep the Sabbaths of the Lord. Those who argue that the apostolic church changed the day of worship to Sunday readily agree that this change must have taken place in the mother church at Jerusalem. Samuele Bacchiocchi debates along these lines because
Christians at large would hardly have accepted the injunction to change the day of their weekly worship or the date of their annual Passover celebration from any one church, except from the one that enjoyed universal and undisputed position of leadership. (From Sabbath, p.134)
So if the apostles made the change of the worship day of the church from Sabbath to Sunday, it would have been reflected in the practice of the descendants of the Christian community at Jerusalem.
But Bacchiocchi has unearthed some spectacular historical evidence which indicates that the Jerusalem church was a Sabbath-keeping, not a Sunday-keeping, church. One such discovery is that made of the Nazarenes, a Christian sect who "appear to be the direct descendants of the Christian community of Jerusalem which migrated to Pella."
Bacchiocchi surmises that
if the Nazarenes, as most scholars maintain, are indeed the "direct descendants of the primitive community of Jerusalem," we would expect these...to have retained the original practice of Jewish Christianity. (From Sabbath, pp.156,157)
He then goes on to quote Epiphanius, a church historian (ca. A.D. 315-403), who reports that
The Nazarenes do not differ in any essential thing from them [i.e. Jews], since they practice the custom and doctrines prescribed by the Jewish law, except that they believe in Christ. They believe in the resurrection of the dead and that the universe was created by God. They preach that God is one and that Jesus Christ is his Son. They are very learned in the Hebrew language. They read the law... Therefore they differ both from the Jews and from the Christians; from the former, because they believe in Christ; from the true Christians because they fulfill till now Jewish rites as the circumcision, the Sabbath and others. (Epiphanius, Adversus Haereses 29,7, PG 41,402, quoted in From Sabbath, p.157.)
The credibility of this historical record is enhanced by the fact that Epiphanius was attempting to degrade this Christian group on account of their "unorthodox" practices such as Sabbath-keeping. Ironically, Epiphanius' attempt to "denigrate" those "heretic" Nazarenes turns out to actually confirm that the Jerusalem church and their descendants were faithful to the laws and traditions of the Bible. Their adherence to the "doctrines prescribed by the Jewish law" including the "Sabbath and others" goes a long way in proving that the Jerusalem church did not worship on Sunday, but on the Sabbath of the Bible.
The biblical and non-biblical historical accounts of the early church show that the New Testament believers did indeed keep the weekly Sabbath, the annual holy days and the rest of the commandments of Elohim in accordance with the teaching of the apostles. (Bacchiocchi also discusses the testimonies of several church fathers and historians who indicate that the apostles and their disciples kept and celebrated the Passover on the 14th Nissan rather than Easter Sunday, which was a later development, in From Sabbath, pp.198-204) So, since it has been confirmed that the believers at Jerusalem kept the Sabbath, and since they alone held the authority of leadership in the early Christian community, we conclude that Sabbath-keeping was the norm, not the exception, in the apostolic church.
The Sabbath is Elohim's sign, the seal of his authority and his mark of ownership on the believer. It was given by Elohim at creation to benefit mankind whom he had created in His image. Elohim wants all men to benefit from his plan to give them rest and fellowship every seventh day.
The Sabbath was properly observed by Messiah and his disciples. The book of Hebrews strongly exhorts all believers to join Elohim in his seventh day rest as a precursor to joining Elohim in His kingdom rest. Those who refuse to rest on the seventh day are like the Israelites of old who hardened their hearts against Elohim's way. Ultimately, refusal to obey Elohim will result in Elohim rejecting the stubborn ones from entrance to his eternal kingdom.
Let it be so that all who love Messiah and are covered by his atoning blood will join the Master and Savior in resting on the seventh day of the week in humble obedience to Elohim's loving plan for each one of us.