What day of the week is the Sabbath? Most Christians will say Sunday, the first day of the week because that’s the day that they attend church. The Jews and Christians who study the Hebrew roots of our faith will say Friday sundown to Saturday sundown, the last day of the week.
What does the Bible say? There is a lot in the Bible about the Sabbath, and it’s not all in the Old Testament. But is the Sabbath important to God? I believe that it is. The fourth Commandment is to keep the Sabbath day holy. Jesus boiled-down the Ten Commandments into two: Love God with all you heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-40), so the fourth Commandment about the Sabbath is one of the “love God” commandments. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My Commandments,” (John 14:15, emphasis mine). Jesus never said that we should give up any of the Commandments.
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven, (Matthew 5:17-20, emphasis mine).
Let’s take that passage line-by-line:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” If He didn’t abolish them in His coming, He also didn’t abolish them in His Resurrection. What Jesus opposed was the Pharisees who put the rabbinical teachings and traditions above God’s Laws.
“For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” By everything, Jesus is not only talking about the enemy’s defeat at the cross, but also the restoration of all things, which signals the enemy’s final defeat. I think we can all agree that the world has not been restored to its former glory in creation, so everything has not yet been accomplished.
“Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven . . .” So clearly the Commandments are not a salvation issue. The Law was never given for salvation, but to show us our need for a Savior (read Romans to understand the purpose of the Law). Salvation is accomplished only through the grace of God in sending Jesus to die for our sins (Ephesians 2:8-9). So there is a penalty for setting aside even the least of the Commandments. That penalty is not hell. Read on for more about penalty and reward:
“. . . but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.” “Great” people in the Kingdom of Heaven will be given the great reward. That great reward? Spending time in God’s presence. God told Abraham: “I am your Shield, your very Great Reward,” (Genesis 15:1). God is the Reward! Therefore, not having time in God’s presence is the penalty. Maybe you don’t care about being in the Glorious Presence, but I do. Having been in His Presence and looked into the eyes of Jesus, I want as much face time with the Lord as I can get.
“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, you will certainly not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” There’s the salvation issue. The Pharisees were all about the Law. They believed that in keeping the Law they could earn their way into Heaven. I wrote about the potential hazard of legalism in Hebrew Roots—Why Bother?, and how the Rabbis constructed a fence of rules around the Ten Commandments to protect them from being broken, and then constructed another fence of rules around that fence. In keeping all these manmade rules, the Pharisees actually sacrificed God’s Law (see Matthew 15:1-6).
This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep His commands. And His commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith, (1 John 5:2-4, emphasis mine).
Loving God is keeping His commands. His commands are not burdensome, and keeping His commands will make us overcomers. How does it make us overcomers? Because in keeping His commands, we are exercising and growing our faith. And God has given us a Helper to help us keep His commands: the Holy Spirit (see John 14).
So, keeping the Sabbath is not an issue for salvation, but it is very much an issue that affects your reward in Heaven.
But does it matter whether you keep Saturday or Sunday as the Sabbath? I believe that it does. God didn’t change the Sabbath day, the early Catholic Church did. And they admit that they did it despite what the Bible says. Constantine made Sunday the “Lord’s Day,” and punished all who ceased to do work on Saturday—an anti-Semitic move. Until then, the early Christians kept the Sabbath on Saturday, as they always had.
For a deeper study of the Sabbath and reasons for Christians to keep it, see Sabbath teaching.
Really, this is not such a difficult thing. And it’s not something that we do out of fear of hellfire. This is something that springs out of our love for God. God is good!
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