"Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy." -Exo 20:8
The topic of the Sabbath has become a hot button issue for many Christians in these last days. Much confusion and distraction surround the subject. Sadly, many once-solid Christians have fallen from their steadfastness into the Messianic movement and related cults. New Testament churches and faithful Christians need to understand what the Scripture has to say about the Sabbath so that the Devil cannot use this issue to cause them to err from the faith once delivered unto the saints.
The Placement of the Sabbath
"And Moses said, Eat that to day; for to day is a sabbath unto the LORD: to day ye shall not find it in the field. Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none." (Exo 16:25-26)
Moses makes it clear that the Sabbath is the seventh day of the week (Saturday). Other holy days were called "Sabbath days," even though they fell on other days of the week. However, the weekly Sabbath was always the seventh day.
Nowhere in Scripture (Old or New Testament) is the Sabbath day said to be changed from the seventh day of the week to any other day.
Today, those who demand that New Testament Christians worship on the Sabbath are sometimes called "Sabbath-keepers." These Sabbath-keepers make a point to tell us that the Pope changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. This is silly. The Scripture identifies the Sabbath as the seventh day of the week, and no man can change the Word of God to suit himself, no matter his position or title.
What brings about confusion to some New Testament Christians are those believers who unwittingly call Sunday the "Lord's Sabbath." Of course, this is an error, and we should refrain from giving a name to the first day of the week that does not belong to it.
The People of the Sabbath
"See, for that the LORD hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day." (Exo 16:29)
"Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant." (Exo 31:16)
As we consider the Sabbath day and the place it should hold in the lives of New Testament Christians, it is important to consider the Sabbath in its proper context. The Sabbath was not given to Adam, Seth, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. It is not until Israel was wandering in the wilderness that God spoke of the Sabbath. When God first spoke of the Sabbath, no one was around but the children of Israel.
In fact, in Exodus 31:16 (printed above), we find the Lord making it very clear that the Sabbath was for the children of Israel. No one else was included in this statement. Even when the Sabbath day was incorporated into the 10 Commandments (Exo 20:8), it was given as a part of the covenant that God made with Israel alone (Exo 34:27).
That means that when a Sabbath-keeper tries to guilt-trip a New Testament Christian into attending church services on Saturday (or even Friday evening), they are trying to enforce a covenant that was never intended to apply to New Testament believers. We would do well to turn a deaf ear to these manipulators.
The Purpose of the Sabbath
The Sabbath-keeper loudly proclaims that the Sabbath is the day in which we should attend church services. They tell us that this is what the Lord meant when He commanded us to keep the Sabbath holy.
Is this what the Scripture teaches?
The word "Sabbath" comes from a Hebrew word meaning "intermission." That doesn't sound like a church service. It sounds as if someone is taking a break or a rest. This is evident in the things that the Lord said about the Sabbath.
"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, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it." (Exo 20:8-11)
An honest reading of these verses brings us to the conclusion that the Sabbath was intended to be a day of rest, rather than a day of worship. Further study shows that the priests were required to perform certain duties in the Tabernacle/Temple on the Sabbath day, but the people were not called upon to gather together for the reading of the Scripture. During the Babylonian exile, the Jews began to meet on the Sabbath day for the reading of the Torah and to keep their culture and language alive. This became the common practice for the Jews, as we see in the New Testament. However, we do not find it expected or commanded anywhere in Scripture.
The Sabbath was supposed to be a day of rest! So, if someone tries to make you feel bad about going to church on Sunday, just remember that the Sabbath was never for that purpose.
The Plan of the Sabbath
Since the Sabbath was given to Israel, as a day of rest, what should the New Testament Christian do about it? Are we to continue its practice today? Very simply, we can keep the Sabbath as a day of rest, or we can choose not to keep the Sabbath as a day of rest. We are not bound by the covenant made between God and the nation of Israel.
The Apostle Paul addressed this topic as he wrote to the church in Colosse. He said, "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." (Col 2:16-17) The Apostle Paul did not expect these New Testament believers to follow the Law of Moses, which was only a shadow of good things to come. His desire was for believers to follow Christ, the substance for which Israel had been waiting.
The Purpose of Sunday
Having considered what the Scripture teaches about the Sabbath, we must ask ourselves what we are to do on the first day of the week (Sunday), or why we meet for church services on Sunday. There is much that could be said on this subject, but we will briefly state the highlights that we find in Scripture.
The first reason that we meet together on Sunday is to commemorate and celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We find that the Lord Himself met with His disciples on Resurrection Sunday to bring them peace and direction (Joh 20:19-21). A little study informs us that Jesus met with His disciples again on the following Sunday (Joh 20:26). This sets a good pattern for us today.
The second reason that we meet together on Sunday is to fellowship together and to hear a message from the Lord. "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." (Act 20:7) The breaking of bread that is referred to in this verse is not the observance of the Lord's Supper, but a potluck or "fellowship" meal that the members of this church enjoyed together. This meal was accompanied by the preaching of the man of God, which is needful for every believer.
The third reason that we meet together on Sunday is to bring our tithes and offerings. "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." (1Co 16:2) Would it not be strange for the Apostle Paul to make this statement if New Testament Christians are supposed to meet together on the Sabbath? Yet, he tells the church at Corinth to bring their tithes and offerings when they gather together on Sunday. This leaves no doubt as to what day of the week believers should gather together.
To draw this to a close, we must realize that the Sabbath day has nothing to do with the New Testament Christian, but is part of the covenant that God made with Israel. We do not need to fear the heckling of the Sabbath-keepers. Instead, stay faithful in gathering together each Sunday to celebrate the Lord's resurrection, fellowship together, bring our tithes and offerings, and hear a message from the Word of God.