Let me begin by saying, I don’t believe the seventh-day Sabbath has been terminated, only in the sense that Jesus came to fulfill it (Matthew 5:21-22) and all the laws, and I don’t believe the keeping of the seventh-day Sabbath is an intended practice for those who claim the righteousness of Christ through faith for their salvation. I believe the Sabbath in the Old Testament is pointing toward the Messiah in the New Testament in whom we find rest (Matthew 11:25-29).
Here are a few points to ponder about understanding the Sabbath…
• The 10 Commandments are specifically given to the Israelite’s (Exodus 20:1-2) as the behavior standard of righteousness and a monument of what righteousness is. God wanted them to be holy and set apart from the heathen nations.
• We see a distinct change in the biblical narrative regarding the laws in the Old Testament compared with the New Testament. In Galatians 3:10-11 we are instructed that they are not a means of being justified by God. God does not consider us holier for keeping the 10 commandments in practice. In fact, we are not more obedient for keeping the Sabbath in our practices because we know that salvation is not by works (Ephesians 2:8) and that “whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).
• Jesus also seems to redefine the 10 commandments by teaching us that to kill means to hate (Matthew 5:21-22) and that adultery means to lust (Matthew 5:27-28) and that it means to love God and love man (Matthew 22:36-40). In fact, when Jesus said it was not abolished but that He fulfilled it (Matthew 5:21-22), He was redefining the very essence of its meaning and purpose as the application of the spirit of the law in the New Covenant.
• The laws of the Old Testament are like a textbooks you may have used in school to learn math, but are you now wrong for not reviewing your textbook in order to calculate a purchase at the store? For your drivers license you learned that it was against the law to cross the lines in the roads when driving, but are you breaking the law when you do so to pass a car, or pull into a parking lot, or avoid an accident?
• I think it is worth noting that the 4th commandment of Exodus 20:8-11 is not about worship, it’s about being holy. The 4th commandment defines “holy” as not working or laboring, making it a day set apart from the other days. (Holiness and sanctification comes by faith in the Word of God [John 17:17] not in our works of obedience.) The word “worship” is not mentioned in the Sabbath commandment and neither is there a reference to any practice of fellowship or assembly. It is safe to conclude that the fourth commandment is not about worship and that worship is not confined to the seventh-day or any particular day.
• The Sabbath is called a sign in Exodus 31:13. It is a sign that points to the covenant of the Messiah just as the rainbow is a sign that points to God’s covenant not to send another flood. The Sabbath was a type of Christ to point them to the Christ to come. They were taught to refrain from work, because we could not be saved by works but by resting in faith of Jesus who would come. We use signs on the highway to remind drivers of which road is at the exit ramp, but the sign is not road. The sign points to the real thing – the road at the exit. The Sabbath points to Christ.
• The New Testament church did cite the resurrection day as a “reason” to assemble for worship and an early era Roman historian who lived in New Testament times recorded that the Christians in Rome meet for worship on Friday, citing it as crucifixion day, for close to 3 years (if I remember right) before meeting on Sunday. Sunday or Saturday may be as good as any other day of the week to assemble for worship.
• The apostles as we read in the New Testament are recorded as going to the synagogue on the Sabbath, but that could be more about them intentionally going there because that was the center of a community. The synagogue was a lot like a center of activities and teachers were welcomed to go there to teach various groups who were willing to gather and listen, in addition to their Jewish Sabbath Day worship.
• I also know that in the New Testament there is a repeat mention of some of the 10 commandment laws, but not the 4th Sabbath commandment. There is a mention of “Sabbath rest” in Hebrews 4 where the writer links it to Jesus our High Priest.
• In the Old Testament, or under the Old Covenant, the Sabbath day was somewhat synonymous with the Messiah, the promise of His coming and resting in His righteousness. The Sabbath was declared holy, because the Messiah would be holy and His followers were to be holy. That is why Ezekiel 20:12 referred to it as sign – a sign is not the actual thing but points to the thing that needs one’s attention, and Isaiah 66 refers to the Sabbath (and the dietary requirements) in heaven – although when we come to Revelation we see that the Lamb of God is the center of our worship. The laws of Sabbath keeping and dietary requirements are the two most testifying ways the Israelites had for standing as holy and different from their heathen neighbors and to them that was righteousness. Today, Muslims are keep their holy days and dietary regulations but that does not testify to us as righteousness does it?
• The Sabbath was intended to separate God’s people from the heathen nations, much like the dietary restrictions were meant to separate them from fellowship with the heathens in their worship practices. When we come into the New Testament, the New Covenant, we see that laws were guides like Paul said “school masters” until the coming of the Holy Spirit would separate us from inside out. The laws could only change us from the outside in, before Jesus came and ascended so the Holy Spirit could come in full measure.
• The Old Covenant law for the pre-Pentecost believer became the New Covenant faith for the post-Pentecost believer. John 1:17 says “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.”
• I think a believer can practice keeping the Sabbath day but it can be tough without being in a grace focused fellowship. It is more like asking an alcoholic if he is OK with just one sip, although some people may be OK with just a glass of wine with dinner, some are not. Some can limit themselves to a few coins in the slots, but some can not.
• When we read the gospels we see that the Jews fell into two pits along their religious journey and that was in the area of Sabbath keeping and dietary regulations. We’re fallen people and the test of the believer is walking in the Spirit and keeping that balance between the pitfalls of the temptation of being justified by the works of the law or the equally erroneous belief in presumptuous justification without any involvement on our part.