When God created the world, He rested on the seventh day. When God gave the ten commandments to Israel, He commanded Israel to rest on the seventh day as well. In Exodus 20:11 the reason given for that is that God rested on the seventh day from His creation work. In Deuteronomy 5, we find the second version of the ten commandments. The reason that God gives to rest on the Sabbath is to remember that the Lord delivered Israel from Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:15).
Sabbath law in the New Testament
So the Sabbath given by God in the Old Testament is the seventh day. It started with sunset on Friday and ended with sunset on Saturday. That is the Sabbath that the Jews are still celebrating.
How is the situation in the New Testament? In the New Testament we read that we are not under the law, but under grace (Romans 6:14). Christians do not have to submit to the ceremonial law anymore. The New Testament shows in several ways that the Sabbath law does not apply to Christians:
- All other nine commandments are repeated in the New Testament, but the Sabbath commandment is not repeated.
- Paul never wrote to the gentile churches he planted that they had to keep the Sabbath. Since the Sabbath was not part of their culture, that certainly would have been necessary if Paul had been of the opinion that they had to keep a Sabbath rest.
- The churches in the New Testament met on Sundays, not on the Sabbath, like the Jewish synagogues.
- Paul explicitly teaches that the Sabbath is just a shadow of things to come, but that the reality is found in Jesus. He gives us the heavenly rest. Therefore Paul forbids us to judge other people on the basis of whether or not they observe a Sabbath (Colossians 2:16-17).
The Lord’s day
The Jews met on the Sabbath. Christians started meeting on Sundays (see Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:2). They did that because Jesus was risen from the dead on a Sunday and appeared to them at least on the first and second Sunday after He was risen (John 20:19,26). Almost immediately the Sunday was called ‘the Lord’s day’ (Revelation 1:10).
So it is clear that Christians do not need to keep the Sabbath on Friday and Saturday. It is also clear that the church, following Jesus’ lead, from the beginning had its main meetings on Sunday. This does not mean that the Sabbath laws were transferred to the Sunday. We are under grace, not under the law.
That the Sabbath is fulfilled in Jesus, and that we therefore do not painstakingly have to follow the Old Testament Sabbath laws, is great news. But it would not be wise if we would use that to say we can now work each and every day. That the Lord rested on the seventh day of His creation work still is a powerful lesson for us. Rest is a blessing that we receive from the Lord. That the Sabbath law is fulfilled in Jesus probably means we should enjoy rest more, not less than in the Old Testament; that we should focus on God longer, not shorter than in the Old Testament.
While we do not need to be afraid that we are sinning if we work on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, one great way to honor Jesus’ fulfillment of the Sabbath law is to set the Sunday as much apart as possible to go to church, to meet Christian brothers and sisters, and to focus on God through prayer, Bible reading and the reading of Christian books.