Remember the Sabbath by Keeping It Holy
DIG: What is the difference between observing the Sabbath and worshiping on Sunday? Are there differences between the way Hebrew Christians and Messianic Jews observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy? Why is the Sabbath a sign of the everlasting covenant between God and the Israelites? What is replacement theology? What is the difference between the first four commandments and the last six?
REFLECT: Do I choose to observe the Sabbath or to worship on Sunday? Do I fail to take time off for rest, spiritual rejuvenation, and worship? Is my day of worship just like any other day of the week? Is a Christian Gentiles’ worship on Sunday any better, or worse, than a messianic Jew observing the Sabbath? Why or why not?
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath for ADONAI your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For six days God made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but He rested on the seventh day. Thus, God blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy (Exodus 20:8-11).
Remember that you were slaves in Egypt, and ADONAI your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore, ADONAI your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day (Deuteronomy 5:15).
Of the Ten Commandments, nine of them are fulfilled in the Torah’s true meaning, which Messiah upholds, and often made more stringent, so we are obligated to obey them. However, this particular commandment regarding the Sabbath day, or Shabbat as it is called in Hebrew, is not found in the New Covenant and as a result, while Gentile Christians may obey it for the blessing (Genesis 11:3a), most choose not to observe it. It is not for the Church. But while keeping the Sabbath saves neither Gentile believers nor Jewish believers; for the Jew, just as the rainbow was the sign of the Noahic Covenant (Genesis 9:12-13) and circumcision was the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 17:11),373 Shabbat on Saturday is a special sign between God and the Israelites forever (Exodus 31:13-17; Ezeki’el 20:20). In other words, this passage explicitly states that the Israelites are to keep the Sabbath.
Christians worship on Sunday, the first day of the week, to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Jews observe the Sabbath on Saturday, the seventh day of the week, for the blessing, and to be obedient to the Torah. Moses, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote when speaking of the Day of Atonement: This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live. It is a Sabbath rest (Leviticus 23:31b-32a). Israelites were to keep the book of the Torah on their lips, and meditate on it day and night, so that they would act according to everything written in it (Joshua 1:8). The Sabbath is the most important appointed feast day on the Jewish calendar, even greater than Yom Kippur (see the commentary on Leviticus – Yom Kippur). For messianic Jews, the messianic synagogue is a practical way to express the New Covenant faith within the Jewish cultural framework from where it originated.
An allegory. At the beginning of time was One, eternal. But time undivided, time eternal, would be unrelated to the world of space. So time was divided into seven days and entered into an intimate relationship with the world of space. With every single day, another realm of things came into being, except the seventh day.
The Sabbath was a lonely day. It may be compared to a king who had seven sons. To six of them he gave his wealth, but to the youngest he gave nobility, with the privilege of royalty. The six older sons, who were commoners, found their mates, but the noble one remained without a mate.
After the work of creation, the seventh day pleaded: Master of the universe, all that You have created is in couples; to every day of the week You have given a mate. Only I was left alone. And God answered: The community of Isra’el will be your mate. That promise was not forgotten. When the people of Isra’el stood before Mount Sinai, the Lord said to them: Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Here is your mate.374
Are there differences between the way Hebrew Christians and Messianic Jews observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy? Yes, most certainly. Historically Hebrew Christians are those believers in Christ that are Jewish but are not affiliated with Messianic Judaism. As a result, they faithfully attend church but do not keep Shabbat. Messianic Jews, on the other hand, are those Jewish believers in Messiah who fully keep and retain their Jewishness in theology and practice. In this context, a “Messianic Jew” would never consider himself or herself either a “Christian” or “Hebrew Christian”. Paul defines the Christian for us in Acts 11:26 as being a person or congregation of Gentile believers. The Antioch church of Acts 11:26 was exclusively a Gentile congregation, while the Messianic Jews of the first century were commonly called followers of the Way (Acts 24:14), or simply The Way (Acts 9:2).
In the messianic Siddur, or prayer book, it states that, “The children of Isra’el shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations as an everlasting covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Isra’el forever, that in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he ceased from work and rested”. For the Jew, it is not a question of salvation, but a question of blessing. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy (Gen 2:3; also see Exodus 20:11b and Isaiah 56:2-7). If a Jew is saved and chooses to worship in church on Sunday, it has no affect on his or her salvation, but he or she will lose the blessing of Sabbath worship. If a Gentile chooses to worship with a Messianic congregation on Saturday, he or she will also be blessed greatly. The blessing will be a result of the Abrahamic Covenant where ADONAI said: I will bless those who bless you (Genesis 11:3a). It is interesting to note that the Sabbath day rest will be reestablished during the messianic Kingdom (Ezeki’el 44:24, 45:17, 46:1-4, 46:18).
The fourth commandment was given to the Jews in the Torah to set apart the seventh day of the week, which would be Saturday, as a day of rest. God ceased His work on the seventh day (Genesis 2:1-3), and He wanted them to do the same. There was to be no gathering of manna (16:25-30), no traveling (16:29), no plowing or reaping (34:21), no lighting a fire for cooking (35:3), no gathering wood (Numbers 15:32-36), they were not to make wine or transport it (Nehemiah 13:15), no burden bearing (Jer 17:21-22), and no trading (Amos 8:5). In the Torah, the Sabbath was a day of individual or corporate worship.
In the gospels, there were three major areas of conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees and Sadducees: First, His claim that He was the Messiah; secondly, the authority of the Oral Law, or the traditions of the men (see the commentary on The Life of Christ Ei – The Oral Law); and thirdly, the correct way of observing the Sabbath. In the day of Jesus, the Sabbath had become an end to itself. In fact, certain Jewish religious leaders had developed a theology that Isra’el had been created to observe the Sabbath. But by adding so many rules and regulations, the Pharisees made the Sabbath a burden instead of a blessing. By building ‘the fence around the Torah’ with the Oral Law, they detracted from its true meaning. It was supposed to help man, not enslave him. The Jewish religious leaders missed the human element, because the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). Furthermore, Jesus was, and continues to be, Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8).
There is no question that Jesus observed the Sabbath in the manner given by the Torah, though not always in the manner given by the rabbis. However, this is not sufficient ground to insist that Jewish or Gentile believers be obligated to keep the Sabbath today for salvation. Yeshua lived under the Torah and perfectly obeyed every one of the 613 commandments applicable to Him, be they moral, civil, or ceremonial. To insist that Jewish or Gentile believers keep the Sabbath today to be saved would also require them to perfectly keep all of the same commandments, down to the smallest letter, or tiniest part of a letter of Scripture (Matthew 5:18), including the civil and ceremonial laws.375
For the Gentile believer, Sunday, or the first day of the week (Acts 20:7), is not the same as Saturday, the seventh day. Although Sunday is the most common day of worship for the Christian today, no specific day is assigned. One man considers one day more sacred than another; but another man considers every day alike. Each one should be convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord (Romans 14:5-6a). We are commanded to come together in fellowship (Hebrews 10:25), but today the local church determines what day we choose to worship, and most churches have chosen Sunday. Messianic synagogues worship on Saturday. But there are Gentiles whose jobs require them to work both Saturday and Sunday. They should take a day of rest on some other day of the week. The point is that, for our own well being, we need to take a rest from our normal work every week.376
So, are Gentile believers obligated to rest and abstain from work on the Sabbath? No. If you take one day of the week to rest and do something other than your normal work, will you have a richer, fuller, and more rewarding life? But for the Jew, Shabbat can only be celebrated on Saturday.
Although the Christian should have their day of rest, whether Sunday or any other day, it should never be called a “Christian Sabbath”, in that, it does not exist. Certainly, they should all have a designated day or time to rest and be with the Lord in worship, ministry, and service – still that would never be the prescribed Sabbath of the Torah. To call Sunday worship at a church, the “Christian Sabbath”, is a subtle form of replacement theology, where Gentile believers take that which was given to Isra’el and claim it as their own in replacement of the covenant with Isra’el. Thus, because of its great importance, Sabbath worship and Sunday worship cannot be compared.
The first four commandments are more vertical and describe our relationship with God, but the last six are more horizontal and describe our relationship with each other.