What Is the Christian Sabbath?

The Christian’s True Rest: While it is interesting to see what the Reformers said, our guide to doctrine and practice must be the Bible. We have seen in this article that the Scriptures that seventh-day Sabbath keepers, Sunday-Sabbath keepers, and Lord’s Day keepers point to as supporting their views, do not, in fact, support those views. The Sabbath of the Old Covenant was specific to that covenant and the people to whom that covenant was given, the children of Israel (the Jews). The New Testament neither commands nor implies that Christians keep a particular day or any day at all. From the biblical information given in this article, we have seen that we are not to judge others concerning whether or not they keep a day. We have also seen that we are not to allow ourselves to be judged concerning the keeping of days. And we have seen that Paul calls such observations shadows, weak and beggarly elements, and rudiments of the world. From this information, we must conclude there are no days that Christians must keep.

To say that Christians must either keep a particular day or risk their salvation is legalism. To say that God holds the world responsible for keeping a day because it is a creation ordinance is to add a yoke to the world’s burden that the Scriptures do not support. To say that Christians are required to keep a particular day or risk God’s chastisement is adding to the Word of God, as nothing in the Bible says or implies this. To correct someone for “breaking the Sabbath”—such as scolding a child for kicking a ball on the “Sabbath” or bringing church discipline against a man for trying to support his family by working on the “Sabbath”—is adding to the Word of God, is being blind to the commands God has really given Christians (1 John 3:23; 4:21), and is risking offending people away from God. All of this judging over days is unscriptural and uncharitable.

I believe that the Scriptural position is clearly the Christian’s True Rest position. None of the other positions fully agree with the Bible. God does not command, imply, or expect Christians to keep a day. If someone wants to keep a day, that is fine as long as he or she does not do so out of legalism or trying to earn merit with God, is not judging others, is not imposing his or her view on others, and is not adding to the Scriptures by saying there is a command to keep a day when there is not.

Today, most Christians in an area, other than those in the same household, would find it difficult or impossible to meet daily. For practical reasons, they should set a convenient day to meet. In most cases, the most convenient day is Sunday because it is the day that more people have off from work. But if another day is more convenient, then they should meet on that day. Some may be able to meet together two or three times a week. We should simply know that God has not specified a day on which to assemble.

In Matthew 12:1–8, Mark 2:23–28, and Luke 6:1–5, we find Jesus and His disciples walking through the grainfields one Sabbath. Being hungry, the disciples plucked a few heads of grain to eat. The Pharisees saw in this an opportunity to criticize Jesus for allowing His disciples to do what was unlawful on the Sabbath.

Jesus answered them by recalling the example of David, who did that “which was not lawful” (Matthew 12:4), but was innocent because mercy took precedence (Matthew 12:5–7).  “Then Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath’” (Luke 6:5).  If Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath, should not we who have Jesus as our Lord keep the Sabbath?

Yes, if this is what Jesus told us to do. But Jesus did not tell His followers to keep a Sabbath day.  Even in the above verses, Jesus, although speaking while the Pharisees still sat in Moses’ seat and were to be obeyed (Matthew 23:2–3), told the Pharisees that there were things that were far more important than obedience to the letter of the law. In fact, one might really be breaking the law by keeping the letter in one point while ignoring a weightier matter, such as mercy, that should take precedent.

In Mark and Luke, this incident in the grain field is preceded by Jesus’ teaching that new wine must be put in new wineskins, not old.  What Jesus brought—the New Covenant that is entered by a new birth in which we are given the free gift of faith by which we are justified—was so new and radical a concept that the legal ordinances familiar to the Pharisees could not confine it. This truth encompasses the Sabbath. The real rest of God cannot be confined to a physical rest on one day of the week. In Matthew, the incident in the grain field is preceded by Jesus’ call, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30). Jesus, as Lord of the Sabbath, released us from the Sabbath’s legal obligation and opened the way for us to enter God’s rest through faith.

How? The Sabbath command in the Old Testament was an enforced rest. But is was a rest that was, as Paul explained concerning the observing of all Sabbaths, only a shadow or type of the reality to come (Colossians 2:16–17). Jesus was the reality or antitype (verse 17). Jesus Christ was as much the fulfillment of the Sabbath as he was the fulfillment of the Old Testament sacrifices by becoming the perfect sacrifice, or of the other laws by keeping them perfectly.

But how was Jesus a fulfillment of a rest? As we just read, Jesus said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest…. and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).  Anapausis, the Greek word for “rest” in these verses (Matthew 11:28 contains the verb form, Anapau), is, according to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, p. 529, “the constant word in the Sept[uagint] for the Sabbath ‘rest’.” As Christians, we are to find our Sabbath rest in Jesus. Because Jesus fulfilled the law perfectly for us, we must stop all attempts to work for our salvation. We must, instead, rest in Jesus. By doing so, we enter God’s true rest.

Copyright © 2007-2009 Peter Ditzel