Recently a friend inquired about the relevance of the Sabbath and the New Testament Church. That’s a very good question and the scripture is not silent on the issue.
The Hebrew base for ‘Sabbath’ is Shabbathon and means a sacred time of rest. The Greek base for ‘Sabbath’ is sabbaton which also means rest, or a cessation from labor and is in fact transliterated from the Hebrew Shabath.
The first use of the word is found in Genesis signifying God’s completion of creation.
“Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day…Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work…” Genesis 2:1-3
Note the Old Testament day of rest was the seventh day of the week, and the observance of the Sabbath Day in the Old Testament became one of the original Ten Commandments.
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work…” Exodus 20:8
The Ten Commandments are as follows:
1) ‘You shall have no other gods before Me.’
2) ‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image – any likeness of anything…’
3) ‘You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain…’
4) ‘Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy…’
5) ‘Honor your father and your mother…’
6) ‘You shall not murder.’
7) ‘You shall not commit adultery.’
8) ‘You shall not steal.’
9) ‘You shall not bear false witness…’
10) ‘You shall not covet…’
Nine of the original Ten Commandments are confirmed as relevant and continue to represent God’s standard of righteousness and justice in the New Testament Church.
But when it comes to commandment number 4, i.e. ‘Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy…’ the New Testament does not instruct the church to observe it.
Jesus was resurrected early on the day after the Sabbath or the first day of the week.
“Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early…and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb…Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled…Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” John 20:1, 19
The term ‘peace’ in this passage also means rest.
From resurrection day forward the church met on the first day of the week.
“Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread…” Acts 20:7
The Jews, however, still met in their Synagogues to pray and study on the Sabbath or seventh day. It was in the Synagogues on the Sabbath that Paul preached Christ.
“And he (Paul) reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.” Acts 18:4
The term ‘rest’ as used in the New Testament means eternal rest in Jesus Christ.
“For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.” Hebrews 4:10
The Sabbath in the Old Testament was instituted as a symbol of that eternal rest that is a divine gift from God when a person’s earthly work is finished.
The New Testament cautions one not be deceived into believing that the observation of the Sabbath is still required as in the Old Testament law.
“So let no one judge you…regarding a festival…or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ…” Colossians 2:16-17
One can, however, observe the Sabbath if his heart is right towards God.
“One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.” Romans 14:5
Therefore, if one knows that the original Sabbath was a foreshadow of things to come, and was fulfilled in Christ, he may observe the Sabbath and be guiltless.