The seventh day of the week, which divided the Hebrew month into four equal parts, was called the Sabbath. The biblical month was a lunar month of 28 days. To fit the solar year, an additional month was inserted every three years. However, it is the religious significance of the Sabbath that is primarily important in the Old Testament.
First, the Sabbath was a testimony to God the Creator, who rested after His six days of shaping our universe (Gen. 2:2-3). The statement about the Sabbath in the 10 Commandments goes like this:
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy (set apart for God). Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the 7th day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, but He rested on the 7th day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (set apart for Him) – Ex. 20:8-11.
Second, the Sabbath became a symbol of Israel’s covenant relationship with the Lord. Ex. 31:12-17 identifies it as a lasting sign, celebrating the mutual commitment expressed in the Mosaic covenant. Israel’s observance of the Sabbath as a day of rest was a clear indication of her spiritual condition, for it showed obedience to the divine law (e.g., Jer. 17:19-27; Neh. 13:15-22). This relationship of the O.T. Sabbath to the Mosaic Law in important, for when Jesus instituted the new covenant through His death at Calvary, Sabbath observance, like the other aspects of the old covenant, was done away with (Jer. 31:31-32; Heb. 8:6-13; 10:1-9; 7:11-22; Lk. 16:16; Eph. 2:13-16; 2 Cor. 3:5-14; Gal. 3:16, 19; Rom. 10:4; Col. 2:13-14).
Third, the Sabbath is also intimately linked with deliverance from Egypt. God, in repeating the 10 Commandments, says this about the Sabbath: “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day” (Deut. 5:15).
Each 7th day provided a full-orbed reminder of who God was to His people. He was the source of their life. He was the one who ordered their lives and gave them meaning. He was the one who provided for their freedom. The Sabbath day provided a rest from the normal activities of life in the world and an opportunity for each believing Israelite to contemplate his roots and his identity.
In addition to these theological aspects of the Sabbath, there was an intensely practical aspect as well. The Sabbath was provided for the benefit of all who lived in the sphere of divine influence. Family members and servants, and even the animals of the land, were to have a time for relaxation and restoration of strength. Even the land was to be given its Sabbath, lest its nutrients be used up. In its rest, the land was to bless the poor and the animals (Ex. 23:10-11). As verse 12 goes on to say, “Six days do your work, but on the 7th day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the slave born in your household, and the alien as well, may be refreshed.”
The humanitarian aspect of Sabbath law was ignored in Jesus’ day and gave rise to many of Jesus’ conflicts with the Pharisees. These zealous men focused on do’s and don’ts that had grown up around and over the basic biblical principles. Again and again they challenged Jesus’ right to heal on the Sabbath. In most of these instances, Jesus, who claimed lordship over the Sabbath (Lk. 6:5), pointed out that it had always been right to do good on the Sabbath. Clearly God’s humanitarian concern, expressed in Ex. 23:12 and other passages, demonstrates that it is not the legalities but the benefits to humankind that the Lord values in this Old Testament holy day.
Lawrence Richards’ Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, pp. 524, 525.
The command to keep the Sabbath holy is the only one of the 10 Commandments not repeated in the New Testament, and Paul argued against enforcing it (Rom. 14:5-6; Gal. 4:9-11; Col. 2:16-17). The unique nature of this command regarding the Sabbath is due to the fact that it served as a “sign” of the special relationship between God and Israel. During these Israelites’ physical rest, they were to remember their physical deliverance from slavery and burdensome toil in Egypt (Ex. 31:12-17; Deut. 5:15).
After the Mosaic covenant was done away with (Heb. 8:13) by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Heb. 10:1, 8-9; 7:22; 8:6, 8; 9:13-15), the Church obtained a special relationship with God – their spiritual deliverance from sin and works for righteousness (Rom. 4:5; Col. 2:13-17) and their entering a spiritual rest (Heb. 4:3, 9-10)through faith/belief in Jesus Christ, which is to be remembered in the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:23-26).
So the Sabbath command was something special between God and Israel and not for Christians.
The following statement of Jesus is often quoted to prove that Sabbath-keeping is mandatory for all mankind rather than a special sign between God and Israel, “Then He said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.’” Those who promote Sabbath-keeping as a basic moral obligation contend that Jesus did not say, “The Sabbath was made for Israel,” but rather, “The Sabbath was made for man.” Does this prove that God gave the Sabbath to the entire human race? No! The context of Jesus’ words in Mark 2 makes it clear that when Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man,” He was simply denouncing the legalistic Pharisees who were exalting a strict observance of a sacred day above the welfare of the people. All of God’s rules and regulations given to Israel were designed for their benefit. “The Sabbath was made FOR man” should be the emphasis, not that it was made for All men.
Richard DeHann’s Who Changed the Sabbath?, p. 18.
Does the fact that Paul preached in synagogues on the Sabbath (Acts 13:14; 18:4) support the view that Christians kept the Sabbath because they felt obligated? No! Paul’s preaching was not directed to Christian congregations, but rather to unbelieving Jews and Greeks (Jewish proselytes) in order to convert them to Christ (Acts 13:26-39; 18:4-6). Paul went to the synagogue on the Sabbath – not because he thought that he was under the law to keep the Sabbath, but because it was the best time and place to evangelize Jews (1 Cor. 9:19-20).
Acts 1:5 tells us of a church council that was called to determine which aspects of the law should be kept by Gentile believers (Acts 15:5). But Peter makes it very clear that Gentile believers were not in any way to be subjected to the law, when he says, “Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?” (Acts 15:10).
We must remember that it wasn’t easy for Jews who turned Christian to break away completely from their rituals and regulations of their former life. Circumcision, temple rites, and Sabbath-keeping had been a vital part of their lives up until their conversion. So, it’s not surprising that they had a strong tendency to carry some of these features into their new life and even demand that Gentile Christians place themselves under some aspects of the law. But the apostles and elders of the church in Jerusalem did not mention Sabbath-keeping as a requirement for these Gentile Christians to observe.
The four things the church council did recommend for Gentile Christians to avoid were: food sacrificed to idols, blood, the meat from strangled animals, and sexual immorality (Acts 13:23, 29). Since in most churches Gentile believers had to live alongside Jewish believers, the church council asked the Gentile Christians to respect their Jewish brethren’s conscience in areas where Gentile practices were strongly offensive to Jews. This would smooth the path of social and spiritual fellowship between Christians of both Jewish and Gentile birth.
F.F. Bruce’s The Book of the Acts, p. 311.
Eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols, to the Jew, smacked of taking part in the worship of pagan deities, which offended them. Religious prostitution in pagan temples, as well as, immorality in general which was so common among Gentiles was also offensive to these Jews. Meats from which the blood had not been properly removed was considered a delicacy by many pagans. And “blood” refers to the pagan custom of using blood as food. These last two items were especially offensive to the Jew because of his belief that “life is in the blood” (Lev. 17:11). So these four items were to be avoided by Gentile Christians so as to not be a barrier between them and the Jews (Acts 15:21).
The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 115.
The apostle Paul repudiated the teaching that Christians must go back to at least a partial submission to the law, he said in Galatians 4:9-11, “But now that you know God – or are rather known by God – how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years? I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my effort on you.”
These Galatian Christians had at least begun to observe the Mosaic calendar. They kept special days (weekly Sabbaths), and months (new moons), and seasons (seasonal festivals such as Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles), and years (sabbatical and jubilee). They observed these special times, thinking that they would thereby gain additional merit before God. But Paul had already made it clear that works could not be added to faith as grounds for either justification or sanctification.
The Bible Knowledge Commentary, p. 602.
The days, months, and years which the Galatians were observing, were those which the Mosaic law required Israel to observe. This is made clear by Paul’s statement in Gal. 4:21, to the effect that the Galatians are bent on being under law. From Gal. 5:1 it is clear that the Galatians had not yet adopted circumcision, and from Gal. 5:3, that they had not been asked to adopt the whole law as yet. The “days” probably refer to the Sabbath days and to the feasts which were observed just for a day.
Wuest’s Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, vol. 1, p. 122.
In Colossians 2:13-14, 16-17 it states, “When you were dead in your sins … God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code with its regulations, that was against us…, He took it away nailing it to the cross. Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.”
The term “written code”(Col. 2:14) is a business term meaning a certificate of indebtedness in the debtor’s handwriting. Paul uses it as a designation for the Mosaic law, under which everyone is a debtor to God. The term “shadow” (Col. 2:17) refers to the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament (Heb. 8:5; 10:1) which symbolically depicted and were fulfilled in the coming of Christ, and therefore need not be observed, any longer.
The New International Study Bible, p. 1815.
The Bible Knowledge Commentary, page 678 states, “this written code, the (Mosaic) Law, was like a handwritten certificate of debt. But Jesus took … away this criminal charge, by his death. It is as if He were nailing it to the cross with Him, showing He paid the debt. He wiped the slate clean. Christians are free from the Law’s legalistic requirements. This liberation of believers pertains to … a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. Those who would bring Christians under the bondage of the Law make artificial distinctions between the ceremonial and moral law, and so they say the Sabbath has not passed away. That this is false can be seen from the following: (1) The Sabbath command is the only one of the 10 Commandments not repeated in the New Testament. (2) The early believers, following Christ’s resurrection and appearance on Sunday (Mk. 16:1; Jn. 20:1), met on Sundays (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2). (3) The Bible nowhere distinguishes between the so-called moral and ceremonial laws (this distinction was not made before the 13th century A.D.). (4) This Colossian passage explicitly condemns those who command Sabbath obedience. (5) As Paul put it, the O.T. Law (including the Sabbath) was only a shadow of the things that were to come. The reality is to be found in Christ. What the Old Testament foreshadowed, Christ fulfilled (Matt. 5:17). Once one finds Christ, he no longer needs to follow the old shadow.”
On page 13 of Richard DeHann’s Who Changed the Sabbath? it states, “The law is an indivisible unity. To distinguish between moral and ceremonial law within the Mosaic system, saying Christ freed us from only the ceremonial aspect, is without warrant in Scripture.”
The “law” can and does refer to the 10 Commandments (James 2:10-12; Romans 13:8-10).
The “Law of Moses” includes the 10 Commandments (1 Kings 2:3).
The “Mosaic covenant” includes or is the same as the 10 Commandments (Exodus 34:27-28; Deuteronomy 4:13).
The “law” (commandments) were for the Israelites under the Mosaic covenant (Ex. 19:3-5; 20:2, 22; 21:1; 24:3; Lev. 26:13-15, 46; Deut. 4:44-45; 5:1-6; 6:1-3, 17, 20-24; 2 Kings 21:8; Neh. 8:1; Mal. 4:4; Deut. 8:1-2, 11; 10:22-11:1) and not for Christians under the “New covenant” (Rom. 3:20-28; 4:1-5; 5:13; 6:14; 7:4-7; 10:4; 11:6; 14:2-14; Heb. 8:13; 10:1-14; 7:11-12; Gal. 3:24-25; 4:21, 31; 5:18; 1 Cor. 9:20).
Therefore, Christians do not need to or have to keep the Sabbath or any other Old Testament law/command under the Mosaic covenant in order to be a Christian/saved or to stay saved or to be a good Christian.