Is there such a thing as a ‘Christian Sabbath’? We know that practising Jews observe the Sabbath, and for them there are strict rules as to what can be done on that day, i.e., the last day of the week which is a Saturday.
The real meaning of ‘sabbath’ in Hebrew is ‘to rest from labour’. It’s origins may be traced back to the creation of the world when God created it in six days and rested on the seventh. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Bible Words states that the Greek word for Sabbath has a root meaning ‘to cease or desist’, and it specifically explains it does not mean refreshment, but cessation from activity.
From Genesis 2:2, 3 we learn that God ceased creating the world on the seventh day, and He blessed and sanctified it: ‘And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.’
Over 2,660 years later God gave the Israelites Manna from heaven (Exodus 16:1-31), and speaking through Moses He said to them about the Manna, ‘“Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. Bake what you will bake today, and boil what you will boil; and lay up for yourselves all that remains, to be kept until morning (Exodus 16:23).’ On the morning of each sixth day God would provide double the amount of Manna for collection and preparation, and on the seventh day when none would be provided they were to do no work and they were to rest (Vs 29, 30).
Later God set forth His Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) for obedience by the Israelites. He commanded them to, ‘“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it (Vs 8-11).’
So clearly the Sabbath was to be kept and honoured by the Israelites, i.e., the Old Testament (Mosaic Covenant) People of God (Deuteronomy 16:18, 19). How were they to keep it? By resting and doing no work (Leviticus 23:3; Deuteronomy 5:13, 14), but how about the New Testament (New Covenant) People of God? What did Jesus have to say about His church (Matthew 16:18) regarding Sabbath keeping?
He said He was Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8) and, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:27, 28).” In other words He was the Arbiter who would decide what His disciples could do on a Sabbath. In fact He did many of His miracles of healing on the Sabbath, and by so doing He technically contravened the fourth commandment to do no work and to rest.
It must be noted that after the coming of the Holy Spirit and the formation of the Church (Acts 2), the disciples generally met for worship on the first day of the week, i.e., Sunday. But nowhere in the Scriptures is Sunday described as, ‘The Sabbath’ or a Sabbath. Instead the Lord’s people referred to it as ’The Lord’s Day’. They did not set it aside as a day of rest on which no work was to be done; nor did they make a rule that Sunday was to be a regular or obligatory day of worship.
By extension the writer of Hebrews explains that believers in Jesus enter into His Sabbath rest: ‘Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said, “So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest,’” although the works were finished from the foundation of the world (Hebrews 4:1-3).’
The Old Testament Israelites under the Mosaic Covenant never made it into Canaan because of their unbelief. They never had rest in the land of their inheritance, because they lacked faith; whereas New Covenant Christians enter into God’s rest, which is a Sabbath rest where no work is done to inherit it. Their salvation and inheritance is in, and through Jesus, who by the New Covenant in His blood (Matthew 26:28) has bought them that rest in His kingdom land.
So the ‘Christian Sabbath’ rest is obtained by faith in Jesus; not by works. Christians can rest in Him and receive His peace (John 14:27). They should not be forever striving to do more and more, and yet they should ‘…..not grow weary in doing good (2 Thessalonians 3:13).’