Keeping the Biblical Sabbath Today
On many occasions, Zion’s Hope receives phone calls from very sincere Christians who desire to abide in God’s Law. Their zeal is commendable. In the Old Testament, we see the benefit of obeying God’s Law in passages that say:
And thus did Hezekiah throughout all Judah, and wrought that which was good and right and truth before the LORD his God. And in every work that he began… he did it with all his heart, and prospered (2 Chronicles 31:20-21).
We all desire to prosper like Hezekiah. However, there is a sincere heart attitude which must go with our obedience of God’s Word. In the Book of Isaiah, God expresses this sentiment:
Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. (Isaiah 1:13).
Those people on the phone might mention they are “keeping the Sabbath,” often explaining that God’s Word says we should keep His Law. They might say they are keeping the Commandments, which includes keeping the Sabbath. After all, Scripture says:
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work (Exodus 20:8-10).
They would say, if one keeps nine of the Ten Commandments, why not also keep the one regarding the Sabbath? “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). A natural follow-up question we typically do not ask could be, “Are you really keeping the other nine flawlessly?”
When asking the person on the phone which day is the Sabbath, they always – literally one hundred percent of the time – say it begins Friday at sunset and ends Saturday at sunset.
There is a fallacy in their understanding of the Sabbath. Nowhere does Scripture say they should observe the Sabbath starting Friday at sunset through Saturday at sunset. The Sabbatarian has superimposed the secular Gregorian solar calendar, invented by man, over the biblical lunar
calendar laid out by God. The two calendars cannot work in harmony on this issue.
So how widespread is this fallacy of keeping the Sabbath from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday? It is immense!
To this author’s knowledge (which admittedly is limited), there are many groups following the Friday-Saturday Gregorian solar calendar Sabbath, but none do so according to the biblical lunar calendar. Nor are any maintaining the New Moon Sabbath, if one is to abide strictly by what the Bible says, especially if under the Law.
Zion’s Hope travels to Israel several times during the year. We are there for more than a week and there are times when the streets are vacant because the Jewish community is keeping the Sabbath, which they also observe Friday-Saturday on the Gregorian solar calendar.
Even the most religious, zealous Jews in Israel, the Hassidic, Ultra-Orthodox Jews, are not abiding strictly by the biblical lunar calendar when it comes to following the observance of the New Moon and seventh-day Sabbaths. At a minimum, one would expect them to watch for the first New Moon of their first month (Kislev, March-April) and set their seventh-day Sabbaths from that day forward for the whole year. Instead, they are following the sunset Friday-sunset Saturday scenario of the solar calendar.
The whole world, literally, would have to make a change for the lunar biblical calendar to work. That change will happen one day, however it will be during the Millennial Reign:
For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the LORD, so shall your seed and your name remain. And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the LORD (Isaiah 66:22-23).
HOW SHALL WE PROCEED?
We must strive to understand the great wealth of wisdom from both the Old and New Testaments.
Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old (Matthew 13:52).
In so doing, we can discerned how God handles what appears to be an
impossible dilemma – that is, how to keep a seventh-day Sabbath of rest in a non-Sabbath world.
God established both Covenants, Old and New. He even prophesies in the Old Testament about changes He would eventually make in the New Covenant.
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:… I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people (Jeremiah 31:31, 33).
Interestingly, God speaks of a Law in the inward parts. His first Law was a written, external Law, which was engraved on the stone tablets at Mount Sinai and also written in the five books of Moses. God is saying, at some future time, the written Law will be replaced by a heart relationship with Him.
This promise of a New Covenant was made to the descendants of Jacob (Israel) via the house of Judah (vss. 31, 33). These words do not apply to the Gentiles, since they are not biological descendants of Israel.
Jesus spoke of the New Covenant in the upper room: "Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:27-28).
For the Gentile, an engrafting process has taken place which gives privileges of the New Covenant to those who are not deserving of it. Paul makes a clear statement regarding this relationship between the Gentiles and Israel:
And if some of the branches [of Israel] be broken off, and thou [Gentiles], being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in [by grace through faith] among them [ancient Israel], and with them partakest of the root [ancient Israel and God’s promises to them] and fatness of the olive tree [the ultimate blessing coming out of Israel];… And they [Israel] also, if they [Israel] abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them [Israel] in again (Romans 11:17, 23).
The Bible is talking of a major change – the possible salvation of the whole world, Jew and Gentile alike – made available through the people of Israel.
There are other changes spoken of, perhaps with a little more subtlety. For example, look at the Spring feasts.
The Spring feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits were literally fulfilled by Jesus Christ during His first coming. He fulfilled these feasts on the exact day of the respective feasts on the biblical lunar calendar.
Christ’s resurrection became apparent to His followers not on a Sabbath, a day said to be blessed by God (Exodus 20:11), but on the day after a Sabbath. This is a major New Covenant biblical event occurring on the first day of the week:
In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week,… the angel answered and said unto the women,… He is not here: for he is risen (Matthew 28:1, 5, 6).
Scripture is clear to identify the day Jesus visited His disciples after His resurrection:
Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week,… came Jesus and stood in the midst” (John 20:19).
At the time of Christ’s ascension, He told His disciples to wait because He would send the Comforter, His Holy Spirit. Following His first examples, they could have had an idea the next event would likely occur on the next God-ordained feast; the Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost.
Certainly, if the first three feasts had great significance in their details, then so should the Feast of Weeks.
Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days [the day after the Sabbath];… And ye shall proclaim on the selfsame day, that it may be an holy convocation unto you: ye shall do no servile work therein [this day is also declared a Sabbath day of rest unto the Lord] (Leviticus 23:16, 21).
If God’s blessing was solely on the seventh day or multiple of the seventh day, the Feast of Weeks should fall on the forty-ninth day. Instead, God gives His blessing to the day of Pentecost, now making it also a Sabbath day, on the day after the forty-ninth day, the fiftieth day.
With the first three feasts being a fulfillment of the Old Testament through Jesus Christ, is it possible this intermediate feast, between the Spring and Fall feasts, is speaking of a transition involving more than just the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit in His children? This is a season of change, of the New Covenant, no longer bound by the Law, because Christ is now the Law’s fulfillment. This is not an era of synagogue worship under a rabbi, or Temple worship under the pharisaical priesthood, because believers are the Temple of God (2 Corinthians 6:16) and priests (Revelation 1:6) through Jesus Christ.
This New Covenant, in which men were indwelt by the very Spirit of God on the fiftieth day, is a covenant of freedom, similar to the Jubilee year every fiftieth year. “Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own clan” (Leviticus 25:10).
In essence, we who partake in the New Covenant, by the indwelling Spirit of God, can return to our original state, no longer seen as sin-filled; no longer separated from God. We are no longer outsiders or slaves, no longer apart from the family of God. We are no longer servants bound to the external, written Law, but, instead, we are free from slavery to sin and now have a Law on our hearts by which to live. We are now part of the family of God through the redemptive, adoptive work of God and His Christ:
God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ (Galatians 4:4-7).
For believing mankind, an amazing release from bondage happened that day at Pentecost.
The adoption by God was manifested by His Holy Spirit indwelling His children. That indwelling continues to this day.
If details of the timing of Pentecost are important, then could it also be God is identifying a change to a new day acceptable for worship? Not only did God send His Spirit to indwell men on Pentecost, the first day of the week, but He also seems to have changed His pattern, to the fiftieth day, and gave it His blessing by declaring it also a Sabbath.
There are several New Testament passages that allude to a change in the day Israel’s believers (who may have also still met in synagogues) gathered for fellowship, worship, and to hear the Word of God.
We read, “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them” (Acts 20:7).
On another occasion, we see the church exhorted to take a collection for needy saints: “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him” (1 Corinthians 16:2).
Was there also a change in the Law? Why was the Law needed? How long was it supposed to remain in effect? “It was added because of transgressions, till the seed [Jesus Christ] should come to whom the promise was made…” (Galatians 3:19). In the Law, God is the One who identifies and condemns mankind’s unrighteousness. God is also His own Mediator through the atoning work of His Son on the cross. He has completed both sides of the equation.
The Law had a purpose until the arrival of the One in whom we could have faith.
But before faith [in Christ] came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed [by the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ and faith in His work of substitutionary atonement] (Galatians 3:23).
Jesus was revealed, then He fulfilled the Law. He knew of the Law’s good purpose in its time, but those times were changing, especially with the indwelling Spirt of God at Pentecost. In His first coming, He was finishing the complete conversion from the Old to the New Covenant.
Jesus alluded to not combining the Old and New Covenants:
No man putteth a piece of new cloth [New Covenant] unto an old garment [Old Covenant], for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse. Neither do men put new wine [New Covenant] into old bottles [Old Covenant]: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved (Matthew 9:16-17).
Each covenant was intended for use at its own specific time; not intended to be mixed with the other. In both cases, Old and New Testament saints are saved by the same means: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
The Law was intended to teach men about their sinfulness and to lead them to their Redeemer.
Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:24-26).
Righteousness unto salvation is not gained by physical obedience of the Ten Commandments. The means of salvation is the law of faith in Jesus Christ and His redemptive work at Calvary:
Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:… Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law (Romans 3:24, 28).
So, we must return to the central question, “What about keeping the seventh-day Sabbath of rest?”
Even Jesus Himself, the perfect, pure, Son of God found the keeping of the Sabbath, as taught by the rabbinical leaders, was in error. “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?” (Mark 2:23, 24)
After a basic explanation about the Sabbath, which the Pharisees should have already understood, Jesus responded: “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath” (Mark 2:27, 28).
Either the Pharisees were wrong, or Jesus was wrong. Obviously, if God wants to change the Sabbath observance, it is His to change. However, “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should repent [change his mind]” (Numbers 23:19). Jesus was right, the Pharisees were wrong.
At Creation, God did not need rest – but rest was good, as was His whole Creation. It was the Pharisees who put their hedge of laws around God’s law. God made no changes. His principle of rest was still in place and acknowledged by Jesus: “The Sabbath was made for man.”
Before the Law, the day of rest was good. As part of the Law, the day of rest was good.
Now, fulfilled by Christ, after the Law, the day of rest after six days of work is still good.
Is there an obligation to keep the Sabbath? In the New Testament, the question was even bigger. Should Gentiles keep the Law?
But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them [Gentiles], and to command them to keep the law of Moses (Acts 15:5).
In essence, the Pharisees believed Gentiles should become Jewish and abide by the Law.
Instead, the Holy Spirit-led council wrote letters stating:
That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well.” (Act 15:29).
There was no mention of abiding in the Law of Moses. These Gentiles, without the Law, had recognized their own sinfulness and realized they needed a Savior. For these Gentiles, the external Law was not necessary. God’s New Covenant was already at work in their hearts.
For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another (Romans 2:14-15).
Also, nowhere do we see the Gentiles being required to abide by the lunar calendar, the Feasts of the Lord, or the holy days assigned by God to Israel.
Apparently, keeping feast days, New Moons, and Sabbaths was a hot issue Paul dealt with. He says:
One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.... Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way (Romans 14:5, 13).
Where do you stand regarding observing the seventh-day Sabbath of rest? Do you feel it is required by God as part of the Law? Or do you feel that under the New Covenant you are free from the obligation found in the Law? Perhaps some other thought?
Whichever it is, you must be convinced in your own mind. Then, once you are convinced, live by that conviction, without throwing a stumblingblock in the way of fellow believers. Do not waiver, like a sheaf of grain blowing in the wind. Determine what God intends and adhere to it. The principle in the verses above continues regarding other “gray areas” of life:
Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin (Romans 14:22-23).
Regardless of which side you’re on, the benefit and good of the seventh-day Sabbath is not questionable. Whether you do it out of obligation to the Law or out of freedom from the Law, either choice and your adherence is between you and the Lord.
THE SEVENTH DAY SABBATH: WHICH DAY?
The transition of humanity away from the God-ordained lunar calendar to the man-made solar calendar, implemented by Julius Caesar and later modified by Pope Gregory, do not derail the benefit of God’s seventh-day Sabbath of rest. The calendars are merely an inconvenience.
There remains a principle, however, that can be applied to either calendar.
Apply the principle of rest – six days of labor, one day of rest. That’s the principle that has withstood the test of history. The Creator of mankind knows His children work best with one day of rest after six days of work.
Which day of rest? The seventh day, after six days of work.
Which day of the week? The truth is, it doesn’t matter. There were no named days of the week when God rested. He worked six days, then rested on the seventh.
And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made (emphasis added, Genesis 2:1-3).
Clearly, God used His days of labor to determine when He would take His day of rest.
When He began His work, He began His countdown.
The seventh-day Sabbath is all about the days of work, not the days of the week. God created the human body to be capable of doing amazing things, for extended periods of time. But God also set the example of six days and one. Do six days of work, then set the seventh day aside unto the Lord when no servile work will be done.
Apply the principle of rest – six days and one. It was mandated for the people of Israel in the Ten Commandments. But, the principle pre-existed the Jewish Law, as demonstrated by God in Creation, and even in the collecting of manna in the wilderness.
Apply the principle of rest – six days and one. Christ fulfilled the requirements of the Law and freed us from the obligation to keep the Law. The apostle Paul says:
Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage... Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace (Galatians 5:1, 4).
Keeping the seventh-day Sabbath is not an obligation, as if under the Law, for believers in Christ. However, we are now free to enjoy the benefits of the Law written on our hearts, as well as the benefits of work and rest as designed for our good by God.
One should be convinced in their own heart that they are doing God’s will, and then do it to their fullest for the glory of God.
Apply the principle of rest – six days and one. The principle has continued valid for the good of mankind during the past 2,000 years after the Law was fulfilled by Christ and will continue until Christ returns again.
It doesn’t matter which calendar you use, whether you are Jew or Gentile, whether you observe pre-Law, Law, or post-Law faith, or which day of the week you choose to rest, the principle has remained the same from the beginning of Creation and will until the end of time.
The Sabbath was made for man – six days of labor and one of rest. Enjoy your six days of work, then praise the Lord and enjoy your day of rest. After all, He designed it at the Creation just for you.
Published in Zion's Fire Magazine. September 2014.