Will we be more prepared for judgment if we kept the sabbath?

One group of Christians which strongly makes its voice heard regarding readiness for the end times believe that we must keep the sabbath law or we will be damned – all our efforts will be for nothing. You will miss the Rapture. You will not be in the kingdom. You are an idolater who should burn forever.

Does the sabbath’s importance really carry this much weight? Did God intend for the sabbath day observance to be our highest priority, that without it all our holy practices and obedience to God will fail? Let’s examine the passages regarding the sabbath in the Old Testament and the New. The scriptures are where I get my teachings, so I will ignore the writings of the many believers who insist on keeping the sabbath. You can use an online Bible search and search the Word for “sabbath,” as I did for this study.

God repeatedly promised severe penalties for those who would not keep the sabbath:

Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. (Exodus 31:14)

But if ye will not hearken unto me to hallow the sabbath day, and not to bear a burden, even entering in at the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day; then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched. (Jeremiah 17:27)

Clearly, God felt strongly about His people keeping the sabbath. Various penalties have been shaken before the Israelites, including death, fire, and being cut off or cast out of the land. The sabbath rituals were a non-negotiable with God.

In addition, God clearly indicated that the sabbath was to continue for a long time:

Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. (Exodus 31:16)

Every sabbath he shall set it in order before the LORD continually, being taken from the children of Israel by an everlasting covenant. (Leviticus 24:8)

It shall be a sabbath of rest unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls, by a statute for ever. (Leviticus 16:31)

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 66:23)

These passages clearly indicate that God did not intend for the sabbath to stop. He expected His people to keep them “perpetually,” “a statute for ever,” “from one new moon to another,” “throughout their generations.” How many different ways does He have to say it before we get the point – the sabbath was meant to be kept always. We already know the penalties for neglecting or dishonoring the sabbath day with work: death and fire. So are the sabbath-keeping Christians right about this after all? If we stop here, we must agree. However, if we remain with this conclusion, then I believe it conflicts with later biblical revelation. Clearly, the sabbath statutes are not supposed to end. But is that the real meaning of “perpetual”? Let’s take a look at other verses using this word and let the Word interpret itself:

And thou shalt gird them with girdles, Aaron and his sons, and put the bonnets on them: and the priest’s office shall be theirs for a perpetual statute: and thou shalt consecrate Aaron and his sons. (Exodus 29:9)

We know from Hebrews 7:11-12 that Aaron’s office has been shut down:

If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law. (Hebrews 7:11-12)

The Old Testament priesthood was not “perpetual” at all in the English sense of the word. The Aaronic priesthood (with the Levitical priesthood) came to an end when Jesus came. When Jesus came, the law changed. So the law was never meant to continue forever. “Perpetual” means a long time, not forever.

Look at a couple more instances of “perpetual.” God speaks of perpetual judgment on Israel:

To make their [Israel’s] land desolate, and a perpetual hissing; every one that passeth thereby shall be astonished, and wag his head. (Jeremiah 18:16)

And I will bring an everlasting reproach upon you, and a perpetual shame, which shall not be forgotten. (Jeremiah 23:40)

Has this judgment continued on Israel? No, for God has shown mercy and Israel has prospered abundantly. The perpetual was conditional. Perpetual does not mean forever, but a long time, until something else interrupts it. In this case, Jesus’ priesthood replaced the Levitical priesthood, as mentioned previously. Why is this significant? Because the Levitical priests officiated over the sabbath. If there are no Levitical priests, the sabbath cannot be observed:

Every sabbath he shall set it in order before the LORD continually, being taken from the children of Israel by an everlasting covenant. (Leviticus 24:8)

And I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves, and that they should come and keep the gates, to sanctify the sabbath day. Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me according to the greatness of thy mercy. (Nehemiah 13:22)

Has the Lord clearly changed His mind about a “perpetual” ordinance? Yes; He told Eli in 1 Samuel 1:30 that though He promised that Eli’s house would go in and out before Him “forever,” the Lord changed that, “for those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed.” The promise was conditional on honoring the Lord. The Sabbath certainly did not result in people honoring the Lord; the Israelites were disposed to follow after the gods of the peoples around them.

Let’s consider something else. Remember the severe penalties for violating the sabbath? Well, just when it is acceptable to ignore the sabbath laws? Jesus Himself violated the sabbath laws several times and the priests called Him to account over and over:

And it came to pass, that 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)

And he said unto them, 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)

It was against the sabbath law to work. Plucking ears of corn was considered work, not rest. Yet Jesus, the Author of the sabbath, had no problem with His disciples helping themselves to the corn. What was the guiding principle here? Mercy and compassion should guide the application of any spiritual law. The disciples were hungry, so they should eat, sabbath or no. When Jesus said that the sabbath was made for man, He was saying that the sabbath yielded to the needs of man. Furthermore, the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath. The sabbath was not the highest law. Jesus is even higher than the sabbath. This means that following Jesus is a higher priority.

We can see how promoting the sabbath law more highly than we ought will harden hearts of those who prize it too highly:

And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day. (John 5:16)

The sabbath is mentioned repeatedly in the New Testament. In the book of Acts, it tells us when the people met in the synogogue. For example:

And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, (Acts 17:2)

These passage merely tell me when they met. None of the passages indicate that meetings must be held on that day. Historically, Jews met for reading of the Word on the sabbath days. Shall we follow this custom because the Jews did? Shall we follow this custom because the Scriptures say that it is a “perpetual” statute?

Jesus did not come to destroy the law. He came to fulfill it:

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. (Matthew 5:17)

In what way does He fulfill the law? The following gives us a clue:

Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

This is the first and great commandment.

And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:36-40)

Love and compassion fulfills the law. (Truly, if the sabbath was supposed to be the greatest law, this would have been a terrific place for Jesus to mention it!) The law could never make us perfect. It could never take away our sins or our guilt. When we try to keep laws and fail, we are ashamed and draw away from God. With the coming of Jesus, we find God merciful and may draw back to Him again:

For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God. (Hebrews 7:19)

There was something “wrong” with the law, in a matter of speaking. That is, it could not fulfill God’s purpose of creating a people who love to serve Him. So God disregarded the law and replaced the covenant with a new covenant. Instead of trying to follow external laws written on paper, God would put the law in our hearts so that we follow it from an inner prompting to obey:

For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.

For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:

Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: (Hebrews 8:7-10)

With Jesus, we find the ability to obey the spirit of the law, which is to love one another. When we love God and others, we fulfill the law. We yield to the goodness of God and eagerly serve Him, something we find difficult to do consistently by obeying principles alone. When we find ourselves failing, the law could only condemn us, and we withdraw from God in failure. But with the new covenant we may come boldly to Christ – and find His cleansing blood and a Shepherd who eagerly receives us again.

This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them;

And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. (Hebrews 10:16-17)

This is not the covenant with the sabbath! This is the covenant of faith in Jesus:

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)

I conclude that we need not worry about keeping the sabbath law. A greater than the sabbath has come. Those who insist the sabbath must be observed forget that the law, of which the sabbath is a part, never made anyone perfect – Jesus perfects us. It never forgives sins, but reminds us of sins repeatedly – but Jesus forgives us. It never sanctifies us – but Jesus has sanctified us through the offering of His body.

What Do You Think?

a. Is Sunday the Christian sabbath? What proof do you have to back it up?

b. If you believe in keeping the sabbath, are you making up your own ideas on how to go about it, or are you following the laws of the OT?

About Steve Husting

Steve Husting lives in Southern California with his wife and son. He enjoys encouraging others through writing, and likes reading, digital photography, the outdoors, calligraphy, and iced coffee. He has written several books and ebooks, and hundreds of Christian devotionals. Steve is also having a great time illustrating God's Word with calligraphy.
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