How The Sabbath Has Evolved From A Mandatory Day Of Physical Rest In The Old Testament To An Eternity Of Spiritual Rest In Christ Jesus

(All Bible quotations, except otherwise stated, are from the New International Version.)

According to the Scriptures, God finished creating the heavens and the earth in six days, and rested afterwards on the seventh day. He thereafter blessed the seventh day, sanctified it and declared it a day of rest. When God adopted Israel as his own nation and made a covenant with them on Mount Sinai/Horeb, he included the observance of the rest on the seventh day as part of that covenant, and thus made the seventh day a mandatory day of rest from all servile/secular work for the Jews. The seventh day was declared a Sabbath (which means rest) for God’s people under the Law, and was to be a day dedicated to the worship of God. Any work unrelated to the worship of God was forbidden on the Sabbath day. For the avoidance of doubt, the Sabbath day in the Mosaic Law (the seventh day) is Saturday (the Jewish Sabbath actually started from 6pm on Friday and ended by 6pm on Saturday), as Sunday is the first day of the week. Thus, for the Jews under the Law, the Sabbath as a day of rest dedicated to the worship of God was a divine commandment to be observed strictly. The violation of this fourth commandment in the Mosaic Law was to be punished with death! That’s how serious the issue of the Sabbath was under the Mosaic Covenant!

Genesis 1:31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning —the sixth day.

Genesis 2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.

Genesis 2:2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.

Genesis 2:3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

Exodus 20:8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

Exodus 20:9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work,

Exodus 20:10 but the seventh 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 male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.

Exodus 20:11 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 seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Exodus 35:1 Moses assembled the whole Israelite community and said to them, “These are the things the LORD has commanded you to do:

Exodus 35:2 For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a day of sabbath rest to the LORD. Whoever does any work on it is to be put to death.

Exodus 35:3 Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day.”

Numbers 15:32 And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks upon the sabbath day.

Numbers 15:33 And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation.

Numbers 15:34 And they put him in ward, because it had not been declared what should be done to him.

Numbers 15:35 And Jehovah said unto Moses, The man shall surely be put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp.

Numbers 15:36 And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him to death with stones; as Jehovah commanded Moses.

By the time the Lord Jesus Christ came on the scene, the Jewish religious leaders had taken the observance of the Sabbath day to ridiculous heights. They hypocritically forbade the doing of even life-saving deeds on the Sabbath day, focusing on the letter rather than the spirit of this law. What God had in mind when he instituted the Sabbath was for man’s good, for man to have a mandatory day of rest each week. It was to give all (but especially slaves and beasts of burden) an opportunity to rest and be refreshed from the labours of the previous six days. Thus, the Sabbath was made for man’s good and welfare, and not the other way round. As Jesus taught, it was in the spirit of the Law to do good on the Sabbath, to heal the sick, save lives and help those in need or in trouble. Thus, according to Jesus, essential and life-saving works were permitted to be done on the Sabbath day. Man was not made to be a slave to the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for man’s good!

Deuteronomy 5:12 “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you.

Deuteronomy 5:13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work,

Deuteronomy 5:14 but the seventh 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 male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do.

Deuteronomy 5:15 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.

St. Mark 2:23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain.

St. Mark 2:24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

St. Mark 2:25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need?

St. Mark 2:26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

St. Mark 2:27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

St. Mark 2:28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

St. Matthew 12:9 Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue,

St. Matthew 12:10 and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

St. Matthew 12:11 He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out?

St. Matthew 12:12 How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

St. Matthew 12:13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other.

St. Matthew 12:14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.

St. Luke 13:10 On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues,

St. Luke 13:11 and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all.

St. Luke 13:12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.”

St. Luke 13:13 Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

St. Luke 13:14 Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

St. Luke 13:15 The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water?

St. Luke 13:16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

St. Luke 13:17 When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

After the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Mosaic Covenant was abolished, and God made a new covenant with Israel and the rest of mankind. Under this new covenant of grace that was ratified by the blood of Jesus Christ, the entirety of the Mosaic Law was abolished. The terms and conditions of this new covenant (which is now the guiding principle of conduct, order and doctrine for New Testament believers) are to be found in the Acts of the Apostles and the apostolic epistles. Under this new covenant, the mandatory observance of Saturday as the Sabbath day of rest has been abolished. The original Apostles of the Lord made it clear in their epistles that for New Testament believers in Christ, no day is to be esteemed above another. No day is more holy than another. The worship of God is not restricted to any particular day anymore. The mandatory rest of God’s people on a particular day is no longer a commandment to be strictly observed. We can now rest on any day of the week we choose to. Just as the Lord Jesus taught that the worship of God is no longer to be localised to any place (Jerusalem) or any structure (the temple), true believers are no longer to worship God only on a particular day. God is a Spirit, and those who worship him must do so in Spirit and in truth. Whatever place or day we choose to worship God doesn’t matter anymore, as long as we worship him in Spirit and in truth. God accepts worship now on all days and in all places, as long as they are done in Spirit and in truth.

Romans 14:5 One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.

Galatians 4:8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods.

Galatians 4:9 But now that you know God —or rather are known by God —how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces ? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?

Galatians 4:10 You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!

Galatians 4:11 I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.

St. John 4:19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet.

St. John 4:20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

St. John 4:21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.

St. John 4:22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.

St. John 4:23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.

St. John 4:24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

Some Christians, in rejecting Saturday as a mandatory Sabbath of rest, have gone ahead to replace it with Sunday as the new Sabbath. They call Sunday the Lord’s day and the Christian Sabbath, and try to refrain from all secular works on that day. Those who believe in Sunday as the new Sabbath do so because it was the day the Lord Jesus rose from the dead, and because it is alleged early Christians gathered mostly on that day for worship. The idea of elevating Sunday above other days, and in making it the day of the Lord and the new Sabbath goes contrary to the principle of spiritual worship as expounded by the Lord. True spiritual worship of the omnipresent God is not limited to any time, place or day. God is a Spirit and can be contacted on any day and at anytime! Wherever two or three are gathered in Christ’s name, he’s there in their midst, irrespective of which day the gathering takes place! The Apostle Paul made it clear that regarding any day as more holy or sacred than another is a personal thing and not a mandatory requirement for new testament believers. The brutal truth here is that, there is no day that is to be viewed as the Christian Sabbath! No particular day is the day of the Lord for Christians, as all days belong to God and he can be approached on any day! Whatever day we choose to gather to worship God is irrelevant. What matters in worship now is that we approach God in Spirit and in truth. As long as our hearts are right with God, our worship and prayers will be accepted by him, whatever day, place or time we approach him!

Matthew 18:20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” (NKJV).

Galatians 4:8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods.

Galatians 4:9 But now that you know God —or rather are known by God —how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces ? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?

Galatians 4:10 You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!

Galatians 4:11 I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.

Romans 14:5 One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.

Colossians 2:16 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.

Colossians 2:17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

If neither Saturday nor Sunday is sacred and to be revered as the Sabbath, then which day is the Lord’s day? The Apostle John talked about being in the Spirit on the Lord’s day (Revelations 1:10). What day was John referring to here, if the Sabbath is no longer any particular day of the week? The Lord’s day, or the day of the Lord, is always portrayed in the Scriptures as the day of God’s vengeance, when his wrath will be poured out, unmitigated, upon the world of sinful men. That will happen during the great tribulation, between the rapture of the church and the second coming of Christ, after which the Lord will come back in power and glory, to dismantle the kingdoms of this world and establish his millennial reign on earth. So, we see from the Scriptures that the day of the Lord (or the Lord’s day) has nothing to do with any of the days of the week. Rather, the day of the Lord will come at the end of man’s days, and will bring an end to man’s system and rulership of the world. Thus, John being in the Spirit on the Lord’s day simply means that John was transported in the Spirit of revelation to witness the day of the Lord (which is still in the future), and to have a preview of the catastrophic judgements that would be released upon sinful humanity by God’s wrath on that day. John wasn’t describing Sunday or any day of the week, but he was talking of the day of God’s judgement in the future, which he was privileged to foresee by divine revelation. He dutifully recorded and transmitted the judgements of that great and terrible day of the Lord for us to read and beware!

2 Peter 3:8 But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.

2 Peter 3:11 Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in all holy conversation and godliness,

2 Peter 3:12 Looking for and hastening to the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?

2 Peter 3:13 Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwells righteousness.

Joel 1:14 Sanctify you a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the LORD your God, and cry to the LORD,

Joel 1:15 Alas for the day! for the day of the LORD is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come.

Joel 2:1 Blow you the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the LORD comes, for it is near at hand;

Joel 2:2 A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness, as the morning spread on the mountains: a great people and a strong; there has not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, even to the years of many generations.

Revelation 6:9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.

Revelation 6:10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”

Revelation 6:11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.

Revelation 6:12 I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red,

Revelation 6:13 and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind.

Revelation 6:14 The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.

Revelation 6:15 Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains.

Revelation 6:16 They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!

Revelation 6:17 For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”

The New Testament teaches that the Sabbath is no longer the mandatory observance of physical rest on a particular day. It is no longer rest from physical toil. The Sabbath, under the New Testament, offers spiritual rest from sin and the works of the flesh. Jesus Christ, the true Sabbath, of which the Old Testament Sabbath was only a shadow and a type, offers eternal rest for the soul from sin and its works. Thus, the New Testament believer’s Sabbath is observed in Christ and not on any day! The Lord Jesus invites all who labour spiritually and are heavy ladden under the yoke of sin to come to him for the true Sabbath (rest). Learning from Christ and taking his yoke upon us will enable us find the true Sabbath (rest) for our souls. The writer of Hebrew makes us understand that the Old Testament saints did not experience the true sabbath. They did not enter into the true rest of God that would have made them cease forever from all their works, as God did from his. That promise of eternal Sabbath-rest for the soul is for believers under the New Covenant. That promise is fulfilled in Christ. The prophet Isaiah prophesied of that true Sabbath-rest which would be experienced by God’s people outside the observance of a day, and that prophecy has been fulfilled in Christ Jesus. Yet, many will not come to the Saviour, that they may experience the refreshing peace and rest which only he can give. Truly, there’s a refreshing spiritual and eternal Sabbath (rest) for God’s people in Christ! It’s only in Christ that we can truly rest from all our vain labours and worship God acceptably in Spirit and in truth.

Colossians 2:6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him,

Colossians 2:7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.

Colossians 2:9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form,

Colossians 2:10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.

Colossians 2:11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ,

Colossians 2:12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

Colossians 2:13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins,

Colossians 2:14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.

Colossians 2:15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Colossians 2:16 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.

Colossians 2:17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

Colossians 2:18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind.

Colossians 2:19 They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

Colossians 2:20 Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules:

Colossians 2:21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”?

Colossians 2:22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings.

Colossians 2:23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Hebrews 3:7 So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice,

Hebrews 3:8 do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness,

Hebrews 3:9 where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did.

Hebrews 3:10 That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, ’Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’

Hebrews 3:11 So I declared on oath in my anger, ’They shall never enter my rest.’ “

Hebrews 3:12 See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.

Hebrews 3:13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

Hebrews 3:14 We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.

Hebrews 3:15 As has just been said: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.”

Hebrews 3:16 Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt?

Hebrews 3:17 And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness?

Hebrews 3:18 And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed?

Hebrews 3:19 So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.

Hebrews 4:1 Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.

Hebrews 4:2 For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed.

Hebrews 4:3 Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, “So I declared on oath in my anger, ’They shall never enter my rest.’” And yet his works have been finished since the creation of the world.

Hebrews 4:4 For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “On the seventh day God rested from all his works.”

Hebrews 4:5 And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.”

Hebrews 4:6 Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience,

Hebrews 4:7 God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

Hebrews 4:8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day.

Hebrews 4:9 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God;

Hebrews 4:10 for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.

Hebrews 4:11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.

St. Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

St. Matthew 11:29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

St. Matthew 11:30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Isaiah 28:9 Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.

Isaiah 28:10 For precept must be on precept, precept on precept; line on line, line on line; here a little, and there a little:

Isaiah 28:11 For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people.

Isaiah 28:12 To whom he said, This is the rest with which you may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear.

Isaiah 28:13 But the word of the LORD was to them precept on precept, precept on precept; line on line, line on line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken (AKJV).

In conclusion, the Sabbath-rest started with God who rested on the seventh day, after working in six days to create the world. When God adopted Israel as his nation and made a covenant with them on Mount Sinai, he included the strict observance of the Sabbath-rest as the fourth commandment in the Mosaic Law. Under the Law, no servile/secular work was to be done on the Sabbath day, with the people mandated to rest from their physical labours and worship God only on the seventh day. The penalty for violating the Sabbath under the Law was death. Jesus Christ threw further light on the purpose of the Sabbath, by reminding the hypocritical religious leaders of his day that the Sabbath was made for man’s good and welfare, so life-saving and other good deeds to help those in need and in trouble could be done on the Sabbath day. After the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Old Testament and the Mosaic Law were abolished, along with the mandatory requirement of the Sabbath rest on Saturday. In the New Testament, no day is to be elevated above another as a holy/sacred day for mandatory rest and worship of God. We can rest and worship God acceptably on any day of the week. The Sabbath for the New Testament believer is not a physical day of rest, but an eternity of spiritual rest and worship of God in Christ Jesus. Jesus Christ is the true Sabbath, of which the Old Testament Sabbath was only a shadow and a type. The true Sabbath-rest for the soul is found in Christ. In Christ Jesus, those who labour under the burden of sin and become weary thereby find perfect rest for their souls. That’s the true, eternal Sabbath-rest!

Thanks for visiting and for reading. We’d love to hear your comments and feedback. God bless you!

Published by Dr. Ndubuisi Emmanuel Ojo

Dr Ojo is a Biblical scholar and teacher who believes firmly in the original Apostolic faith as the only authentic version of Christianity, and the only legitimate basis for Christian doctrine and conduct.

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