The Sabbath: should Christians keep the Sabbath?

Recently I have been getting questions about the Sabbath and whether or not Christians should observe the Sabbath. So I thought I would share my thoughts about this subject on this platform as well. But before I begin, let me acknowledge that I understand that this subject can be a very contentious one, so let me encourage my brethren to participate in this discussion as followers of Christ and children of God (Matthew 5:9).

There are three Sabbaths commanded in Israel:

1. The seventh day Sabbath (Exodus 31:15-17). This was a reminder that it is God who sanctifies them.
2. The Sabbath year to be kept every seventh year (Exodus 23:10-11; Leviticus 25:1-7). On the sabbath year the land was to rest by not being sown, cultivated, or harvested (Ex 23:10–11). God promised to provide for Israel’s needs while the land lay fallow (Le 25:20–22).
3. The Year of Jubilee– or Jubilee Sabbath- is to be observed on the 50th year after observing seven Sabbath years; Israel was to rest for another year (Leviticus 25:8-17; cf 25:1-8). It was heralded on the day of atonement by the sounding of “jubilee” (Heb. yobel), i.e., a “ram’s horn” or a trumpet made in the shape of a ram’s horn (Le 25:9; cf. 16:29–30). The year of jubilee provided Israel with a time of release and rest (Le 25:10–12). Like the Sabbath years of rest, it was to be observed “to the Lord” with celebration and trust that God would provide food as He promised (Le 25:2–7, 11–12, 18–22).

Although the weekly Sabbath receives most our attention, these other two Sabbaths are very important to God. One of the purposes for the seventy-year Babylonian captivity was to make up for and punish Israel’s failure to observe the sabbatical years (2 Ch 36:21; cf. Le 26:34–35, 43).

I want to say that I actually have great respect for those Sabbatarians who take their position in response to their reading of the Old Testament commandments (Exodus 31:15-17) with a pure desire to express their love to God through obedience to His commandments. And I have nothing but respect for the fact that at some point in their life they took it upon themselves to study the Word to gain understanding for why we do what we do – I can only wish that others would follow suit! So many Christians who worship on Sunday have never asked themselves why, nor taken it upon themselves to bring their understanding of the matter before the Word of God. Unfortunately, there are also many Sabbatarians who have found their way to observing the Seventh day Sabbath for the same reasons; someone came to them with strong argument, or they were raised in a Sabbath observing family, and they never questioned what they were presented with the same rigor that many Sabbatarians have questioned observing “The Lord’s Day”. I’m sorry for such a lengthy side note here, but I do not want to conceal my respect for those who have sought to obey God in earnest. That is commendable.

Should Christians observe the Sabbath(s)? Here is my view:

Each one of the ten commandments is expressly repeated in the New Testament gospels- and significantly elevated- except, some would argue, the Sabbath. I would argue that the Sabbath is implicitly addressed in the gospels and elevated in the New Testament epistles.

Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to Me, all you who labor 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.”

I believe the three Sabbaths progressively build on each other and culminate in the Year of Jubilee, which is observed on the Day of Atonement; these three Sabbaths point us to Christ. The weekly Sabbath is “a sign that it is I the LORD who sanctifies you” (Ex. 31:13); the yearly Sabbath is to teach dependence (faith/ trust) upon the blessing of God (Lev. 25:20-22); the Jubilee Year is to joyfully celebrate and proclaim liberty (Lev. 25:10). Atonement, faith, and liberation from captivity (to sin) form the bedrock of all Christian doctrine.

This is what I believe Jesus is implicitly teaching here.

Hebrews 4:1, 9, “Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it… There remains therefore a sabbath-rest for the people of God.”

The Sabbath and Circumcision were given as “perpetual signs” to the Children of Israel. Circumcision is elevated in Scripture to a “circumcision not made with human hands” (Colossians 2:11), and I believe Scripture has elevated the Sabbath to a “promised rest in Christ”.

My hope is to encourage both Sabbatarians and The Lord’s Day observers to bring their understanding before the Word of God and peacefully discuss this subject as the children of God (Matthew 5:9).

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