Do We observe the Sabbath?

                                          SABBATH KEEPING UNSCRIPTURAL

The Sabbath, as an ordinance to be observed, was first made known to the Israelites in the wilderness.  There is no record of sabbath keeping being kept prior to the time of Israel in the wilderness.


In the Creation Record, God finished the work in six days and rested from creative activity on the seventh day.  In Genesis 2:2, the word “rested” is the Hebrew word “sabbath“, which essentially has the idea of rest from work.  The word “seven” though beginning with the same two consonants as “sabbath” is actually quite a different word.  Though God rested on this day, the day is not set apart as an ordinance at this time.  There was only one law given in the garden, relating to the tree in the midst of the garden.

At the recitation of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5, Moses clearly says that this covenant “was NOT made with our fathers, but with us, who are all of us here alive this day.” (verse 2, 3).  This is also supported by Nehemiah 9:13,14.  This same passage gives the reason for the keeping of the sabbath (13-15). It was to remind Israel that they had been slaves in Egypt, and that their God was gracious in providing them rest from their labours.  In this was the implicit promise that finally, God would provide an even greater rest – the millennial rest (Hebrews 4).

The Law is not Divided

The ten commandments were not separate from the Book of the Law (or the Book of the Covenant as it was also called).  The Ten Commandments were written on tablets of stone and were kept HIDDEN IN THE ARK FOR 486 years.  The Ten Commandments were also written in the Book of the Covenant – “Moses wrote ALL the words of the Lord…” (Exodus 24:4)  The so called “lesser laws”, were written in the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 24:7).  If the ten commandments were NOT in the Book of the Covenant, then the people would not have had them as part of their law, because they be easily accessed.  The Book of the Law was kept in the side of the ark where it could be got out easily.

The Book of the Covenant also included the penalties referred to as “curses of the covenant“.  (Deuteronomy 29:18-21)  The Ten Commandments on their own are incomplete.  The Law had to have penalties for punishment and the Ten Commandments did not provide any penalty for disobedience.  A law to sinful man without a penalty is in-operative.  The ten commandments were also styled “the words of the covenant..” (Exodus 34:18) and in the day of Josiah (2 Kings 22:10-17) the ten commandments were in the Book of the Law.


When Moses was up in the Mount, Yahweh impressed upon him the importance of the Sabbath.  But it was only for the nation with whom He had covenanted.  (Exodus 31:12-18)  “Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep:  for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations…” (verse 16) “Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant.  It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever“.

Ezekiel 20:10-12 also supports this teaching.  “A sign between me and you”.  But Israel disobeyed.  Temporarily they were cast off (Romans 11) and the sabbaths were discontinued, even as God said they would be.  (Refer Hosea 2:11 and Isaiah 1:13,14 for just two examples).

The Law Superceded

The law was done away in Christ.  This is generally acknowledged.  But it sometimes a surprise to see that this includes the ten commandments.  2 Corinthians chapter 3 – that which was written and engraven in stones  was glorious … which glory was to be done away“.  The ten commandments were a “ministration of death”, written and engraven in stone.  Note the conclusion of Paul’s argument in verse 11 – “For if that which is done away was glorious (ie Mosaic Covenant), much more that which remaineth is glorious” (ie the Abrahamic Covenant).  Those still under the law have a veil over their eyes and hearts, and this is done away in Christ.   (verse 14).  They are not ministers of the new covenant (as Paul and the apostles) but of the old (verse 6).  Those who teach that the law of Moses must be observed today are ministers of the old rather than the new covenant.

Type of Tables of Stone

The first tablets were hewn by Yahweh.  The tablets were broken because of the people’s sin.

The second tablets were carved out by man, since Moses had to hew them himself

But God wrote on the tablets

This is a type of Adam and Eve being created by God.  They fell from grace because of their disobedience.

We have to “hew” our hearts to prepare ourselves for the writing of God’s Word on the “tables of our heart.”

Only God commands – and His commands should be in our hearts.


Refer to Hebrews 4:1-11.

The law was a “shadow of good things to come” (Hebrews 10:1).  The sabbath was given for two reasons:

a)         To remind them of the rest God had provided from their work in Egypt (symbolising and keeping in remembrance their deliverance from slavery)

b)         To foreshadow the great millennial rest, which is the true rest.

A memorial points backward AND forward

Remember the Lord’s supper, which points forward to the ‘Marriage Supper of the Lamb’ in the Kingdom, and at the same time, back to the Lord’s death and resurrection.  Note also baptism, which at the same time as washing away our sins and being clothed with the righteousness of Christ” (Romans 6), points back to the Lord’s death and resurrection, and points forward to our own death and resurrection, when we will truly be clothed with both immortality and righteousness, if found worthy.

Christ’s pre-eminence over the Sabbath

“The sabbath was made for THE man”  In the Greek, “ton anthropon” – THE man.  Christ was THE man; indeed the greatest Son of Man there has even been.  As Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus is authorised to change the law, as he did.  “THEREFORE, the son of man is Lord of the sabbath“.  Note his authority to change the direction of the law in Matthew 5:21,22 etc.

The Lord spoke to those that were weary and burdened, and promised them rest from the law.  (Matthew 11:28-30)  For if a man offended in one point, he was guilty of the whole law.  Instead, “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me… for my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (verse 29,30).

Never once, does Jesus command the keeping of the sabbath.  He reiterates certain other laws from the ten commandments (Matthew 19:17-19), but never once the sabbath law.  There must be significance in this.

Colossians 2:14

The sacrifice of Christ involved “blotting out the handwriting of ordinances… nailing it to his cross.” (Verse 14).  Therefore, Paul concludes, believers are not to be judged in respect of what they eat or drink or of keeping of the sabbaths. (verse 16)  All these matters pertain to the observance of the Jewish law in everyday life.  The word for sabbath here is the usual word used for the weekly sabbath throughout the New Testament (eg Matthew 12:2), as well as the keeping of the feasts.


A problem arose in the Christian ecclesias.  Certain Jews who had accepted Jesus as Messiah, were teaching the necessity of the keeping of the law.  “Certain men… taught.. saying ‘Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved’.” (Acts 15:1, 5)

As a result of this pernicious doctrine, which would have created a sort of hybrid Judo-christianity, it was necessary to call for a conference.  (Acts 15:6)

The first speaker was Peter (who had had such difficulty accepting that what the Lord now called clean, the law still regarded as unclean {Acts 10}).  Peter refers to the law as a yoke which could not be easily borne by the Jewish fathers (verse 10), words which he must have first heard from Christ (Matthew 11:28-30).  Acceptance for a believer now involved belief, which was the true motive of obedience.

After Peter sat down, Barnabas and Paul addressed the ecclesia in Jerusalem, demonstrating that the power of God in miracles and healings, had put the seal of approval on their preaching to the Gentiles.

The summing up is left to the great elder of the Jerusalem Ecclesia – James – the Lord’s own half brother to whom he had appeared after the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15).

            “Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name, and to this agree the words of the prophets… (verse 14, 15)

James proceeds to demonstrate from Amos that the promises of God to Israel, involving a restoration of David’s kingdom and tabernacle, would include Gentiles who have had the name of God named upon them (verses 16, 17); that, despite the promises and covenants of promise being vested in Israel, there was provision for those who were non-Jews to be included.  Explaining this teaching, Paul assures the Gentile converts at Ephesus that before their baptism “you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world; but now in Christ Jesus you who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:12,13)

NOTE VERSE 15 – To do this, unite Jew and Gentiles, “making both one” (verse 14), “the law of commandments in ordinances.. had to be abolished”.  Both are reconciled in one body by the death of Christ, because the enmity between them is “slain” (verse 16).  The enmity was the law, which firmly kept Jews and Gentiles separated, and though providing for consideration of non-Jews in the land, it was only the Abrahamic Covenant which universally provided for “all nations of the earth” to be blessed. (Genesis 12:3)

The Decision of James

Acts 15:19 – “That the Gentiles be not troubled..”  They were not to have any Jewish laws or customs placed upon them, apart from a few concessions James mentions in verse 20.  This was simply to make allowance for the Jewish conscience, which was revolted at the eating of blood etc.  They found it impossible to join in with a “mixed” congregation of Jew and Gentile where the Gentiles were eating black puddings etc.   As a result of this ruling, with which the apostles and elders agreed (verse 22), a letter was sent to all the ecclesias to advise of their decision. (verses 23 – 29)


The Law was righteous and honourable and true.  It was however only meant as a temporary measure, to regulate the lives of men and women and “bring them to Christ”.  Many of its laws involve principles which believers build into their lives.

To understand why the law was concluded, we have to go back to the time of Abraham, the man to whom great promises were made.

Briefly, the promises to Abraham are this:

A land, a people, an international blessing.  (Genesis 12:1-3;  Genesis 13:14-17)

A Covenant, setting the boundaries for the land. (Genesis 15:18-21)

An Oath, guaranteeing that the descendant of Abraham will inherit, and rule the world. (Genesis 22:16-18)

This promise is called “The Gospel” (Galatians 3:8); Christ’s death enabled it to be opened to all (Galatians 3:17); and, through Christ, believers become co-inheritors with Abraham (Galatians 3:27-29).  This promise/covenant/oath is unchangeable.  (Hebrews 6:13-18)

A careful reading of Galatians 3 will show that the issue for believers is between law and faith.  The law is not of itself faulty, but the disposition it generally tended to produce in those who came under its jurisdiction, was.  Faith governs how a man thinks, AND IS MOVITATED.  Law governs action.  Jesus made this distinction in Matthew 5.  “The law says do not…., but I say unto that whosoever looketh to lust (hence thought is being identified).  The thought is after all, the father to the action.

The allegory of Galatians 4

Verse 21 “Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, DO YE NOT HEAR THE LAW!”  Paul takes the life of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar to present a spiritual allegory.  Sarah is the freeborn wife of Abraham, Hagar the bondmaid.  Both women had sons.

Hagar represents the Law given at Sinai “And is in bondage with her children”  (verse 25)

Sarah is the free woman, likened to Jerusalem “above” (ie not the Jerusalem of the day in Jewish hands!)  The child of Sarah was free – in fact, he was the heir, born as the result of promise from God.(verse 28)  “Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise“.

Who is the true son?  Undoubtedly Isaac.  What about Ishmael?  “What saith the scripture?  Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman SHALL NOT BE HEIR with the son of the freewoman.  So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.” (Verses 30,31)

Thus for those who must keep the law given at Sinai, they are “cast out”, and not an heir with Christ.

Romans 7

In this chapter, Paul endeavours to explain the difference between the law and Christ.  This time, he likens the believer to a wife whose husband died (the law) and who married again (Christ).  In verse 4 he explains that once the first husband is dead, then the woman is no longer under his law.  “Wherefore my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ;  that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God..” and in verse 6 NOW WE ARE DELIVERED FROM THE LAW”.

We might want to know how does Paul define what the law is here.  Verse 7 leaves us in no doubt.  Paul quotes a piece of the law to which he is referring in general: “Thou shalt not covet.”  There is absolutely no doubt then that the ten commandments are also encompassed in Paul’s reference to ‘the law’.