Thoughts on the Sabbath, the Lord’s Day, and Judaizing

The Jewish Sabbath was essential for the Jews to keep in Old Covenant times because it was part of the covenant which God had made with Israel until the time of the New Covenant in Christ had arrived.  It is virtually impossible to keep the Sabbath according to God’s instructions in the Bible when the Sabbath is not kept by the society in which one lives.  God gave the Sabbath to Israel as a nation; and they were expected to keep it as a nation.  Trying to keep the Sabbath otherwise is impractical.  It is likely that barely anyone who claims to keep the Sabbath now actually faithfully does so according to God’s instructions in the Bible.

God gave the Sabbaths specifically to Israel (there were other Sabbaths in the Law of Moses beside the weekly Sabbath- the holy convocations in the feasts and the Day of Atonement are examples of other Sabbaths in the Jewish ceremonial law).  The Sabbaths were not known before God gave them to Israel since they are not part of God’s eternal moral Law.

Ezekiel 20:10-13 says: “Wherefore I caused them to go forth out of the land of Egypt, and brought them into the wilderness.  And I gave them my statutes, and shewed them my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them.  Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them.  But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness: they walked not in my statutes, and they despised my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; and my sabbaths they greatly polluted: then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them in the wilderness, to consume them.”

As was shown from the passage just quoted from Ezekiel, in reading Exodus chapter 16 we see how the Sabbath was introduced here (just a very short time afterwards God spoke the Ten commandments in Exodus 20).  It is clear in Exodus chapter 16 that the Sabbath was then new to Israel.  God thus did not at that time severely judge the Israelites who disobeyed His command about it in their confusion.  Sometime later in Numbers chapter 15, after there was no confusion about it and the commandment was clear as day to the whole nation, God ordered that a man be put to death who was caught gathering sticks on the Sabbath Day (and He also used this as an opportunity to teach us that there is no blood atonement that can be offered so that the presumptuous sinner can find mercy).  Since the Sabbath was specific to Israel, it would obviously also be included in the ceremonial law.  Thus, the obligation to keep it would end in being released from the Mosaic ceremonies.

We thus read in Colossians 2:15-17 in relation to the redemption which Christ accomplished on the cross: “And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.  Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.”

We know that God is eternal and that His character is unchanging.  Whether a moral principle is pure or corrupt, it is such because it is either consistent with God’s character or because it is inconsistent with God’s character.  The moral Law of God is unchanging and binding upon every moral agent because God is unchanging and human beings are created in His image, with an inherent obligation to walk in the ways of their Creator.  It is always wrong to steal, it is always wrong to commit idolatry, it is always wrong to covet that which is your neighbor’s, it is always wrong to act unjustly as a respecter of persons, etc.  To act righteously and benevolently would mean acting so as to shun such evil things in doing the good and right which such evil things are contrary to. 

Along with the eternal moral law which God sought to incorporate into Israel, He incorporated ceremonies into His worship there also.  These things were not moral issues.  They were only righteous and holy things because God had appointed them as such for the time being.  Many things in the Law which God gave by Moses obviously fit into this category.  As we’ve seen, the Jewish Sabbath is indeed in this category, though many claim otherwise.  A moral law is inherently right and holy; a ceremonial law is only right and holy by appointment.  It’s not inherently right and holy to keep a certain day or a feast, yet when the Living God, the Ultimate Authority, tells you to do it, then you’d better do it!  He obviously has a reason, even if you don’t know it or can’t even guess what that reason might be.  In Israel’s case, He obviously wanted to teach them spiritual lessons (and these lessons in themselves are still valid)- especially about man’s need for redemption, the coming Messiah’s mission of redemption, and the principles by which that mission must be actualized in our lives. 

Christians were released in due time from keeping the Sabbath Day since the Sabbath is a part of the Old Covenant Jewish ceremonial law (as opposed to God’s eternal moral law which has always been in effect and will never cease to be in effect).   Jesus’ resurrection on the first day of the week represents a type of new creation.  The concept of another week after a week has ended is in itself a picture of resurrection which makes Jesus rising from the dead on the first day of the week appropriate.  Though the earliest Christians were Jews who continued to attend the synagogues on the Sabbath Day, the early Christians obviously did have their own meetings on the first day of the week.  

1 Corinthians 16:1-2: “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye.  Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.”

This is implying that the Christians would be meeting regularly on the first day of the week.

Acts 20:7: “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.”

We are to observe everything which God has commanded in the New Covenant.  And that means following God’s eternal moral Law (and thus still adhering to the moral principles set forth in the Law of Moses and throughout the Old Testament), plus observing God’s ordinances for New Covenant Christians.  This is being under the Law to Christ (like Paul spoke of himself in 1 Corinthians 9:21).  

Jesus wholeheartedly observed and perfectly kept God’s moral law, plus the ceremonial ordinances of Judaism which God commanded the Jews under the Old Covenant (which Jesus was born under).  His enemies who accused Him of breaking the Sabbath were false accusers since Jesus’ work on the Sabbath was not done for His personal profit.  It was always lawful to serve God and to freely do good for others on the Sabbath Day.

Matthew 12:10-13: “And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days?  that they might accuse him.  And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?  How much then is a man better than a sheep?  Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.  Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand.  And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other.”

Some of Jesus’ claims to being God in the flesh were even said in the context of declaring His ministry to be an extension of the Father’s work; and in declaring that service to Himself is consistent with acceptable work that is done on the Sabbath.

John 5:15-24: “The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole.  And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.  But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.  Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.  Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.  For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel.  For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.  For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: That all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He that honoreth not the Son honoreth not the Father which hath sent him. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.”

Mark 2:23-28: “And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn.  And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?  And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him?  How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him?  And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.

Jesus’ Lordship over the Sabbath and over all things is upheld in Christianity, even though Christians are not to observe the Jewish Sabbath.  

And that is because the Apostles, through the obvious implications of what God had already done among them (regarding the conversion of Cornelius in Acts chapter 10 without him coming under Judaism; and the conversion to Christ of other gentiles in the following chapters without them coming under Judaism), and through the prophecy of Scripture itself foretelling God accepting gentiles without conversion to Judaism, thus decreed that imposing the Jewish ceremonies upon gentiles was to cease.  At the same time, their understanding of God’s grace is that subjection to God’s law is necessary for one to be eligible for God’s grace.  Yet henceforth (and already at this point in Acts 15) gentiles could be Christians with subjection to moral law and Christian ordinances without also being subject to Jewish ordinances.  Before Acts chapter ten (where Cornelius is brought to Christ and given the Holy Spirit without being circumcised and coming under Judaism) there had never been a convert to Christianity who was not also a convert to Judaism.  God chose Peter’s interaction with Cornelius in Acts chapter 10 as the turning point to change this.  Since ceremonial laws are things which are only right and holy by God’s appointment, unlike moral laws which are inherently right and holy, then God can choose to cease causing ceremonial laws to be binding whenever He sees fit.  And that is obviously something which He could not, and would not do, with moral laws.  Jesus’ Lordship over the Sabbath then is seen in His appointment of it for the Jews in the Law of Moses and in how He in due time removed the requirement to observe it for those who believe in Him after He had come as the substance of what the ceremonial aspects of the Law of Moses foreshadowed.

However, both in the 1st century and up until today, many do not accept this God-ordained verdict regarding Judaizing.  And there are very bad reasons for this.  These are what the Book of Galatians is dealing with.  It is ultimately, if you read it all the way through, an instruction on how the ceremonies of the Jewish Law are not an alternative form of justification to the faith of Abraham, how they were never intended to be such at all, and how to take them as such is to preach another gospel.  When people cling to a shadow when they could embrace the substance instead, they prove that they do not adequately value the substance.  Though the Judaizers (i.e. the Israel people) will deny this, that is what they are doing.  Why would a person be drawn to Judaism when they were not under it by God’s appointment?  Since the Jews so often abused the ceremonial law which God gave them to follow, how much more is a ceremony a danger when the requirement to do it has been lifted or the ceremony isn’t derived from the Bible at all?  So, wouldn’t reverting to Jewish ceremonies when they weren’t binding upon you any longer be subversive to faithfully worshiping God?  Most definitely! 

To Judaize then is to practically elevate the Jewish ceremonies to the point where they are a form of (attempted) justification through ritualistic works which serve in actuality as a substitute for a living faith in Christ.  The Book of Galatians is ultimately an exhortation to walk in the Spirit by faith in Christ in order to fulfill the Law of Christ instead of walking the flesh (heeding this exhortation is fulfilling the moral law of God like Romans 8:4 talks about).  The Judaizers did not sufficiently value this then and they do not today.  If they valued it sufficiently, they would see no need to Judaize.  Just consider what the Judaizers (i.e. the Israel people) talk most about.  It’s not about keeping one’s heart right before God nor about practical righteous Christian living which does good to others and demonstrates proper Christian character.  Their talk rather demonstrates preoccupation with ceremony and ritual.  And whenever there is such preoccupation, especially over ceremony and ritual which God didn’t appoint or has commanded to cease, then you will have an alternate justification system and devaluation of a living faith and practical righteousness before God.  And no one who devalues such is going to faithfully endure on the narrow way in Christ that leads to eternal life.We know that Biblical Judaism centered around the Temple at Jerusalem.  And in AD 70 this Temple was destroyed by the Romans.  The Jewish Christians had already escaped Jerusalem altogether at that point.  The destruction of the Temple obviously made the practice of Biblical Judaism as a whole impossible for anyone, as the vast majority of the Jewish ceremonies require the Tabernacle, which had become incorporated into the Temple, as well as a functioning Levitical Priesthood, to faithfully perform.  The Temple has never been rebuilt to this day, in spite of many plans to do so over the last 1,950 years.  And the Jewish genealogy records have been destroyed, making a Scriptural Jewish Priesthood impossible to have going forward.  God ordained that only men who could prove from these records that they were of the tribe of Levi, and descendants of Moses’ brother Aaron, were to be Priests for the Jewish nation.  And that is how the Jewish Christians were also practically released from keeping the Mosaic ceremonies.  To this day then, God’s rejection of the practice of Judaism, and the validity of Christianity, are both testified to by the fact that Scriptural Judaism is impossible to practice anymore while Biblical Christianity is possible to faithfully practice anywhere on earth.

Aaron’s email is: [email protected]