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Should Christians Keep the Sabbath Day?

Lord of the Sabbath

The Preeminence of the Messiah

by John Parsons

"I have been crucified with the Messiah. It is no longer I who live, but the Messiah who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the Torah, then the Messiah died for no purpose" (Gal. 2:20-21).

RECENTLY SOMEONE ASKED me to explain why I wrote that "Christians are not legalistically required to observe the Sabbath day" in my online Shabbat Seder Guide.  Doesn't this statement contradict the clear teaching of the Ten Commandments?  And if I make an exception regarding this commandment, then what's to stop me from making an exception regarding one of the others -- for instance, the commandment against committing adultery? Am I being inconsistent here?

I want to take a few minutes to clearly respond to this issue, since I think that the question reveals a profound confusion between the idea of "Torah" (תּוֹרָה) and "Covenant" (בְּרִית) as revealed in the Scriptures. As I've stated repeatedly on this site, Torah is a general word that means "instruction" and always is a function of the underlying covenant of which it is part. Torah is therefore our response to the covenantal actions of the LORD God of Israel.  Followers of Yeshua (Jesus) are therefore not "anti-Torah" even if they understand this word in relation to the New Covenant. The all-important matter is to understand our response to the God's covenantal actions as mediated through our beloved Messiah...
So please let me restate and reaffirm the liberating truth that because of the gracious covenant of God as mediated through Yeshua our Messiah, we are no longer bound to the terms of the Sinai covenant.  We have a "better covenant based on better promises" (Heb. 8:6). Please pause over that statement, chaverim (and see "Compare the Covenants").  We are called to serve a higher law of love and mercy as evidenced in the life and Torah of the Messiah. Of course we are free to "observe Shabbat" and to recall that the LORD is our Creator on this day of the week, but we are not legalistically required to do so (Rom. 14:5). Plainly put, the issue of "Sabbath observance" is tied to the terms of a covenant that was "destined for obsolescence" (Heb. 8:13). The Sabbath, in other words, prefigures something far more significant for our lives.... You can read more about this here.

Second, it's vital to realize that the principle of Shabbat is valid, just as the principle of adhering to faithful love is (i.e., the positive expression of the commandment not to commit adultery). The statement that "there is a rest for the people of God" (Heb. 4:9-10) does not refer to ritualistic "Sabbath-keeping," however, since the context clearly states that "whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his." This is a "tetelestai" revelation -- a moment when you apprehend that God has fulfilled the Torah's demand on your behalf through the gift of Yeshua's life and sacrifice (2 Cor. 5:21). Accepting the "death benefits" of the Messiah makes you an heir to the Kingdom of Heaven (Gal. 4:4-7). You are no longer "married" to the former arrangement of being in union with God; there is a better cup and a better ketubah (Rom. 7:1-4).

With all due respect to those of you who believe that Christians should "return to Sinai" for sanctification, let me ask a few hard questions... If you are serious about keeping the 613 laws of the Torah -- rather than merely trifling with the idea -- then you should likewise consent to the practice of slavery -- and you might even consider selling your daughter should the need arise (Exod. 21:7; Lev. 25:44). You also should seek the death penalty for homosexuality (Lev. 20:13) and argue that parents have a "divine right" to put to death a rebellious child (Deut. 21:18-22). Indeed, you would be perfectly justified stoning to death anyone who does "work" on the Sabbath (Exod. 35:2) -- even if that person simply leaves his or her dwelling (Exod. 16:29). Moreover, you should approve of the Spanish Inquisition and its auto-de-fe of publicly executing blasphemers (Lev. 24:10-16). If you're a real zealot, you also might consider burning apostate cities to the ground and killing all their inhabitants (Deut 7:2, 12:2, 13:15-17). Which city should be first on your list?  Las Vegas?

And don't forget the various social, religious, and dietary laws given in the Torah, either. Be careful to never shake the hand of a woman, since she might be niddah -- in a state of menstruation (Lev. 15:19-24). Always eat kosher, and never leave your house on the Sabbath, either -- not even to go to synagogue services (Exod. 16:29). And don't light a fire in your dwelling either (Exod. 35:3) -- which the rabbis later extended to mean refraining from turning on a stove, flipping on a light switch, starting your car, etc.  You'll also have some trouble finding a way to offer your guilt, sin, and freewill sacrifices at the Holy Temple, since it doesn't exist.... Of course, you can choose to submit to the authority of the rabbis who created "Judaism without the Temple" after its destruction in 70 AD, though Yeshua certainly would have advised against this (Matt. 23:8-9). You can read more about this here.

My point here is simple enough.  When the Lord Yeshua came there was a change in the law, because there was a change in the priesthood (see Heb. 7:11-12). Today we don't offer sheep and goats upon altars in our churches because we understand that this is no longer the way to come before the LORD.  We have a better hope before the Throne of Grace (Heb. 4:16, 7:19).

With the destruction of the Second Temple (in 70 AD) and the loss of the Levitical priesthood, there were only a few options available to the Jewish community. One was to accept the death of Yeshua as the atonement for sin, and the other was to reconstruct Jewish theology so that the community could exist without a Temple (and to therefore find a way to forgive sin without blood sacrifice). Choices were made and polarizations occurred. The Council at Yavne represented the mainstream Jewish choice.

The Preeminence of the Messiah

In light of God's redemptive work through the Messiah, the Scriptures command us to "consider Yeshua, [who] has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses -- as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself" (Heb. 3:1-6). Yeshua alone is our great Kohen Gadol (High Priest) of the better covenant (Heb. 8:6), and Yeshua alone is the Supreme Mediator between God and man. Only Yeshua brings God and man together.

Consider, then, how Yeshua the Messiah is greater than:

  1. The first Jew, Abraham (John 8:53-58)
  2. Israel and his children (John 4:12-14)
  3. Moses the lawgiver (Heb. 3:1-6; Matt. 17:1-8; John 1:17; Acts 13:38-39, etc.)
  4. All the angels of God (Matt. 13:41-42; Heb. 2)
  5. The Levitical priesthood (Heb. 7; 13:10)
  6. The Temple itself (Matt. 12:6, cp. Mark 11:16);
  7. All the sacrifices offered at the Temple (Heb. 8-10)
  8. King David, Israel's first great king (Matt. 22:41-46)
  9. Solomon, the greatest king of Israel (Luke 11:31)
  10. Jonah, one of the greatest Jewish prophets (Matt. 12:41)
  11. Elijah, one of the greatest Jewish prophets (Matt. 17:1-8)
  12. The Sabbath (John 5:17-18; Matt. 12:8)

Indeed, Yeshua is called the very Creator Himself (Col. 1:18-19) who sits upon the throne of God Himself (Psalm 45:6-7; Heb. 1:8). He is both the Judge and the Savior of the world (Matt. 16:27). Yeshua is both the LORD of the Sabbath and the LORD of the Torah of Moses...   Simply put, Moses stands in relation to Yeshua as the creature stands before the Creator and is accountable to Him. Every knee shall bow to Him. Yeshua = YHVH.

Chagall Moses at Bush

The "Church" (or better, kehilat Mashiach) is a called-out group of people from among all the nations who are made partakers of the covenantal blessings and redemptive purposes of the LORD God Almighty. It is what the Apostle Paul termed a "mystery," meaning that it was undisclosed before the advent of the Messiah Yeshua. The entire history of ethnic Israel was accomplished in order to "get Yeshua to Moriah" - the place of ultimate sacrifice - where He would offer up His life for the sins of the world.... and thereby break the "spell" of the kelalah (curse).

Yeshua at Moriah is the Central Point of all history. It is the Altar. All the outpouring of the wrath of God against sin was accomplished here, since it involved the torture and death of the only true Tzaddik who ever lived. Yet it was by means of Yeshua's righteous suffering that all the families of the earth may now be blessed and escape the kelalah of HaShem. It is finished -- Tetelestai -- by the hand of Yeshua, not Moses.  We are called to follow Him....

Adultery, in its truest sense, is promiscuity: those who denigrate the sacrifice of the Messiah and claim something else is necessary are called spiritual adulterers (see Rom. 7:1-4). Trying to mingle the covenants of Sinai and Zion leads to confusion and to potential destruction (Gal. 1:6-9; 2:4-5; 2:21; 3:3,10, etc.).

Addendum: So what now? Where do we draw the line between the words of the older covenant and the new covenant? After all, Yeshua is the One who spoke from the midst of the fire at Sinai... How do we put all this together?

Jewish thinking regards the Sabbath primarily as a testimony that God alone is the Creator of the universe (celebrating His rule over creation), and secondarily as a memorial of the redemption from Egypt (Deut. 5:15). The Sabbath is a day of blessing wherein a "double portion" of heavenly food is provided (Exod. 16:22) that represents a foretaste of olam haba (the world to come).  For Messianic believers, especially, the Sabbath "is a delight" – not a burden -- a time for celebrating our personal rest in the salvation of the LORD.

It is evident that Yeshua did not "keep the Sabbath" -- at least not as the Pharisees of His day regarded the matter. For Yeshua, the Sabbath was not so much a time of inducing a state of static rest as it was a time of providing rest and comfort to others. Recall that it was on the Sabbath that Yeshua said to them, "My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I, too, am working (ἐργάζομαι)."  For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill Him; not only was He breaking the Sabbath (ἔλυεν τὸ σάββατον), but He was even calling God His own Father, making himself equal with God" (John 5:17-18). Later, some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for He does not keep the Sabbath" (John 9:16). Likewise the Apostle Paul acted contrary to the Torah's commandment (Exod. 16:29) when on the Sabbath "he went outside the city gate to the river..." (Acts 16:13).

We are called to walk in the Spirit of Truth (רוּחַ הָאֱמֶת) and to worship the LORD God of Israel (John 4:23-24). If we love Him and genuinely desire to please Him, we will fulfill the inward intent of the Torah in our daily lives (Jer. 31:31-33).   All of the moral law of the Torah is restated in the New Testament -- but even more radically. We ask the Holy Spirit for help in discerning the truth on a personal, moment-by-moment basis. We trust in God's guidance and help as He promised in the terms of the New Covenant. Freedom doesn't mean we're "free to do whatever we want," but rather we're "free to love God without fear..."   We are now heirs of God, no longer slaves (John 15:15, Rom. 8:17). Yeshua came to elevate our lives and bring us safely to the Father as redeemed children (Eph. 5:1).

The Apostle Paul wrote: Οὐκ ἀθετῶ τὴν χάριν τοῦ θεοῦ· εἰ γὰρ διὰ νόμου δικαιοσύνη, ἄρα Χριστὸς δωρεὰν ἀπέθανεν / "I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the Torah then the Messiah died for no purpose" (Gal. 2:21).  Note that the word translated "nullify" (ἀθετῶ) means to "transgress" or to "set aside as ineffective." Ironically enough, those who advocate for "Torah observance" (at least in the legalistic sense) are obliquely setting the grace of God aside as ineffective. The writer of the Book of Hebrews warns, "Anyone who has set aside (ἀθετῶ - same word) the Torah of Moses died without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?" (Heb. 10:28-29). If nullifying the Torah warrants death, then nullifying the redemptive work of salvation warrants even greater retribution...  We can't have it both ways: you must choose whether your savior is Moses or Yeshua, chaverim.

As a practical matter, we freely choose to light candles, recite Kiddush and the other blessings in order to "observe Shabbat" in our home... We refrain from doing "business" during this time -- we turn off the computer, set aside time for a fellowship meal and prayer, etc. We choose, in other words, to focus on God as our Creator and to celebrate the greater Exodus from Egypt He gives us in Yeshua...  We are made new creations in the Messiah (2 Cor. 5:17). We celebrate the Light of the World, the Giver of Salvation (i.e., rest); we come before the great High Priest of the Temple made without human hands, etc. We understand that we are not "required" to do this (especially in a "halachic" sense) because the institution of Shabbat itself merely foreshadowed the greater redemptive freedom we now have in the Messiah (Heb. 10:1). Nonetheless, we partake of this sacred tradition anyway, savoring the truth of the Messiah and identifying with our Jewish roots. Yeshua is forever the LORD of the Sabbath (אֲדוֹן הַשַּׁבָּת).

Love ultimately is a choice. Before salvation, we were not free to live apart from sin; now we are free to choose the path of righteousness. God will give us all wisdom and grace if we ask Him to guide us in the way....

A Closing Thought...

Does this mean that we are to disregard the Torah and ignore what it teaches?  By no means. We cannot even begin to understand the idea of the New Covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) and the nature of salvation itself (יְשׁוּעָה) apart from thoroughly understanding the Law of Moses (תּוֹרַת משֶׁה). (Psalm 1:1-2, 19:7, 119:97, etc.)  Yeshua Himself said that Moses and the prophets wrote of Him (John 5:46, Luke 24:27), and the Apostle Paul stated that faith in the Messiah upholds the "lawful" use of the law (1 Tim. 1:8, Gal. 3:19-24, Rom. 3:27-28, etc.). This is the "law of faith" (תּוֹרַת הָאֱמוּנָה) that precedes and underlies all that was given at Sinai to the Jewish people. It is the "deeper Torah" that Abraham and the prophets understood. As Paul wrote, "Does it follow that we abolish (καταργέω, "make useless") Torah by this trusting? Heaven forbid! On the contrary, we establish (ἵστημι, "make stand") the truth of the Torah" (Rom. 3:31).

Just as there is a deeper sense of Torah that Paul appealed to make his case that he was not teaching "against the law" (e.g., Gal. 3:16-18), so there is a deeper sense of rest (שָׁבַת) that God promised those who are trusting in Him. This rest comes from trusting in the finished work of Yeshua as our Torah righteousness before the Father. We are invited to enter into this greater rest by exercising faith in God's promises (Heb. 4:1-3). This is the "law of faith" (תּוֹרַת הָאֱמוּנָה) that precedes and underlies all that was given at Sinai to the Jewish people. "Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts through unbelief." There remains a Sabbath for the people of God (Heb. 4:9), a greater "rest" from attempting to please God based on our own merits (Heb. 4:10, Titus 3:5-6). Paradoxically we are to "labor" to enter into this rest by exercising genuine faith in God's salvation in His Son (Heb 4:11, Phil. 2:11-12). As Yeshua taught, "This is the work of God, that you believe in the One whom the Father has sent" (John 6:28-29).

In all things Yeshua receives the preeminence, chaverim, including the glory of our salvation (Col. 1:18, Eph. 2:10-11). לַיהוָה הַיְשׁוּעָה / La'Adonai ha-yeshuah: "Salvation belongs to the LORD" (Psalm 3:8).

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