God’s Plan for the Sabbath: Does It Still Exist?

Ted Noel

A large number of Christians (nearly all) make no pretense of observing the Sabbath. In fact, most of them are largely unaware of any concern regarding the issue. To them, Sunday is the natural day to go to church and observe an hour of worship prior to the sporting event of the day. Can all those people be wrong?

In order to know God’s will, God requires us to study. 2 Timothy 2:15

15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (KJV)

He also requires us to reach individual conclusions. Romans 14:5,12

5 One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind.

12 So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God.

If what we have seen so far is correct, then “200 million people CAN be wrong”. What does God say about the future of the Sabbath?

We have already seen that the Sabbath was to be a “perpetual covenant”. This would certainly imply that it will exist into the new earth. But we know that the form of the covenant with Abraham changed. When Israel brought its “transgression . to the full” (Daniel 8:23), Jesus came, was crucified, and the Gospel went to the Gentiles. Following this, the covenant blessings went to spiritual Israel, not literal Israel. Galatians 3:29

29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

What about the Sabbath? Did it change when the covenant changed? If it did, we would expect to see scriptural evidence of it. The best place to start would seem to be with the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. Jesus began his ministry in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Luke 4:15-19.

15 And He began teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all.
And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read.
And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book, and found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are downtrodden,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. ”

Jesus was reading from Isaiah 61:1-2. The “favorable year of the Lord” is the Jubilee year described in detail in Leviticus 25. The Lord declared that for six years, the Israelites should plant, but on the seventh “Sabbath” year they should not plant. After seven “Sabbaths of years”, the fiftieth year (v10) would be a Jubilee year. It was to be a special Sabbath year.

10 ‘You shall thus consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim a release through the land to all its inhabitants…

Note the specific reference in both texts to a “release “. The Jubilee year, with its freeing of captives and forgiveness of debts was a foreshadowing of Jesus’ coming to forgive our debt of sin, and free us from its bondage. Jesus was saying that He was bringing in our ultimate Sabbath year. But Jesus’ interest in the Sabbath was not just symbolic. He taught about the Sabbath. In fact, he taught more about the Sabbath than he taught about any other subject! More important than what he taught is what he did not teach. Not once do we find Jesus questioning the existence or importance of the Sabbath. On the other hand He showed that the hundreds of rabbinical restrictions on the Sabbath destroyed God’s Sabbath. This can be summed up by Jesus’ words in Mark 7:6-9 (where He is quoting Isaiah 1:13)

6 And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me.
‘But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’
“Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.”
He was also saying to them, “You nicely set aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition.

(In the interest of accuracy, Jesus was not specifically referring to the Sabbath in this passage. However, it is clear from the considerable scope of his teaching that this was in fact his attitude toward the Pharisees and their manner of observing the Sabbath.)

Jesus didn’t change the Sabbath while He was alive. What did he teach about its future? Matthew 24:15,16,20

15“Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place let the reader understand,
then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains;

20 “But pray that your flight may not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath;

It is clear that Jesus expected that the Sabbath would remain after his ascension into Heaven. The Christian church of Jerusalem clearly understood, since they fled in AD66 after the Roman Army under Cestius Gallius withdrew its siege of Jerusalem. The Christians were spared the horrors of the destruction of Jerusalem under Titus in AD70. We have to ask if this is simply a case of Jesus ignoring future changes in observances or of ignoring new observances. But this is not the case. Luke records the Last Supper. In it Jesus commands (Luke 22:19):

19 And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”

He does not, however, state a time for this celebration. Paul records in 1 Corinthians 11:25-26

25 In the same way He took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

Even Paul does not give this celebration a set time. He only says ” as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup”. It should further be noted that the Lord’s Supper celebration is a celebration of the Lord’s death, not his resurrection. This will become important as we examine the practices of the early church.

Before we leave the issue of the Biblical future of the Sabbath, we should look one more place. Isaiah’s last chapter is a prophetic discussion of the new earth. In verses 22 and 23 he explicitly states that we will have the Sabbath in Heaven.

22 “For just as the new heavens and the new earth Which I make will endure before Me,” declares the LORD, “So your offspring and your name will endure.
“And it shall be from new moon to new moon And from sabbath to sabbath, All mankind will come to bow down before Me,” says the LORD.

Isaiah is saying the same thing I said about the beginning of the Sabbath. The Sabbath, made for man in a sinless state, will be there for him when he is restored to a sinless state. Adam and Eve observed the Sabbath in Eden. They continued to observe it after the fall. God reminded His people of their need for the Sabbath in Sinai, and the faithful kept the Sabbath until the time of Christ. Jesus kept the Sabbath, and told us to expect that it would continue after His death. Isaiah tells us that it will be present in Heaven. Is there any reason to expect that there has been or should be any change in the Sabbath between 66AD and the second coming?

Nowhere in the Bible do we find a command repealing the Sabbath commandment. As we discussed earlier, such a command would be required to terminate our Sabbath obligation. Yet, many theologians insist that we are no longer obligated to keep the Sabbath! They tell us that the apostles kept Sunday in honor of Jesus’ resurrection, and list a few texts to support their position. So now we will look at the apostolic record.