Sabbath in the Time of Jesus

The Sabbath, along with marriage, was first introduced in the Garden of Eden to our first parents. Since then there has been a controversy over the day that the Creator set aside to be a blessing to His people. When on earth, Jesus had many controversies with the Jews over the Sabbath. Who better to understand the meaning of Sabbath than the Creator Himself, but the Jews had conjured up a lot of manmade rules they thought would make them holy. They used these manmade rules to judge others, even Jesus, accusing Him of breaking the Sabbath.

By distorting the actual words of Jesus, Christians today believe that He invalidated the Sabbath. It is claimed that the Sabbath was blotted out by Jesus’ death on the cross. The texts commonly used to try to prove this are Colossians 2:14–17.

Paul says, “Having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. Therefore, let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon, or sabbath days, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (literal translation).

We know that Jesus’ death did not blot out the Sabbath, and that Colossians 2:14–17 is not talking about the blotting out of the Sabbath, for the following reasons:

  1. In verse 14, Paul uses the phrase, “blotting out the handwriting.” The Ten Commandments were not handwritten. We all write by hand but God does not, He uses His finger. “And when He had made an end of speaking with him on Mount Sinai, He gave Moses two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18).

Deuteronomy 9:10 says, “Then the Lord delivered to me (Moses) two tablets of stone written with the finger of God, and on them were all the words which the Lord had spoken to you on the mountain from the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly.”

  1. The Sabbath of the Lord was made before sin entered the world. It is not, therefore, one of those things “which are a shadow of things to come” that foreshadow redemption from sin. It was given as a memorial of creation.
  2. The Sabbath was made for man before the fall. It is not one of those things that are against him, and contrary to him, as Paul said of the ordinances in Colossians 2:14. The Sabbath was given to be a blessing to man.
  3. When the ceremonial sabbaths were ordained, they were carefully distinguished from the seventh-day Sabbath, which is called the Sabbath of the Lord.

Leviticus 23 describes all of the ceremonial sabbaths:

  • the Passover, “the fourteenth day of the first month” (verse 5);
  • the Feast of Unleavened Bread on “the fifteenth day” (verse 6);
  • “the seventh day” of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (verse 8);
  • the Feast of the Firstfruits, the wave sheaf (verses 9–11).

Remember, there was a Passover, then a first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread on the fifteenth day. Then the next day (the sixteenth day), stated in verse 11, was “the day after the sabbath [when] the priest shall wave” the wave sheaf.

Let’s look at the order of events from the crucifixion of Christ until He returns:

  • Christ was crucified on Friday, or Good Friday. That was Passover, the fourteenth day of the first month.
  • The fifteenth day, which was the seventh-day Sabbath, was also a ceremonial Sabbath. That is why it was called in the gospel of John, “a high day” (John 19:31). It was the first Sabbath of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the first ceremonial Sabbath.
  • The sixteenth day was a Sunday, the day they were to wave the wave sheaf. The wave sheaf represented the firstfruits. Jesus Christ and those who were raised with Him were the firstfruits. 1 Corinthians 15:23 says, “… each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.” Christ rose on the exact day so that type (the foreshadow) would meet antitype (the real).
  • The Feast of Weeks followed: “And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the Lord” (Leviticus 23:15, 16). Fifty days later was Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out.
  • Then came the Feast of Trumpets (verse 23), which was the first day of the seventh month to warn the people that the Day of Judgment was coming.
  • The Day of Atonement was next (verses 26–33), which was the tenth day of the seventh month.
  • Then the Feast of Tabernacles (verse 34) began on the fifteenth day of the seventh month.

After these ceremonial sabbaths are listed, Moses says in verses 37 and 38, “These are the feasts of the Lord which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, to offer an offering made by fire to the Lord, a burnt offering and a grain offering, a sacrifice and drink offerings, everything on its day—besides the Sabbaths of the Lord.” [Emphasis supplied.] Notice that these are ceremonial sabbaths, yearly feast days, that are in addition to the Sabbaths of the Lord, in addition to your vows and your freewill offerings. When the ceremonial sabbaths were ordained, they were carefully distinguished from the Sabbaths of the Lord.

5.  The Sabbath of the Lord does not owe its existence to any handwriting of any ordinances, but is contained in the                  heart of the Ten Commandments, which Jesus said He did not come to destroy (Luke 16:17) or blot out by His                      death.

  1. The effort of Jesus throughout His entire ministry was to redeem the Sabbath from the thralldom of the Jewish doctors and to vindicate it as a merciful institution. Jesus claimed that it was lawful to do what He did on the Sabbath. He said, “If you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:7, 8).

Jesus claimed to be keeping the Sabbath, not according to Jewish traditions, but according to the law of God. “So the scribes and Pharisees watched Him closely, whether He would heal on the Sabbath, that they might find an accusation against Him. But He knew their thoughts, and said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Arise and stand here.’ And he arose and stood. Then Jesus said to them, ‘I will ask you one thing: Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?’ And looking around at them all, He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And he did so, and his hand was restored as whole as the other” (Luke 6:7–10, literal translation).

Jesus continually pointed out the hypocrisy of the Jews, especially in regard to the Sabbath. While criticizing Him for healing on Sabbath, they circumcised babies if the eighth day fell on Sabbath (John 7:21–24).

While Jesus redeemed the Sabbath from the thralldom of Jewish customs, He did not invalidate or depreciate it.

  1. The Lord’s instruction to His disciples concerning their flight from Jerusalem, which was to occur many years after the crucifixion, recognized the sacredness of the Sabbath, as found in Matthew 24:20: “Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath.”

Opponents of the Sabbath came up with the argument against this verse saying they could not flee on the Sabbath because the gates of Jerusalem would be shut and they could not get out. This is pure speculation and not only can it not be proven, there is pretty good evidence that it just wasn’t so.

Nehemiah 13:15–19 says, “In those days I saw people in Judea treading winepresses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and loading donkeys with wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. And I warned them about the day on which they were selling provisions. Men of Tyre dwelt there also, who brought in fish and all kinds of goods, and sold them on the Sabbath to the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem. Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said to them, ‘What evil thing is this that you do, by which you profane the Sabbath day? Did not your fathers do thus, and did not our God bring all this disaster on us and on this city? Yet you bring added wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath.’ So it was, at the gates of Jerusalem, as it began to be dark before the Sabbath, that I commanded the gates to be shut, and charged that they must not be opened till after the Sabbath. Then I posted some of my servants at the gates, so that no burdens would be brought in on the Sabbath day.”

Verse 22 says, “And I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves, and that they should go and guard the gates, to sanctify the Sabbath day.”

The gates were guarded to prevent people from hauling their carts back and forth on the Sabbath with all their merchandise for selling. A person was not prohibited from going in or out of the city on the Sabbath. Jesus often came from the Mount of Olives and into the temple to teach the people on the Sabbath.

Jeremiah said, “Say to them, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, you kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who enter by these gates. Thus says the Lord: “Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the Sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; nor carry a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath day, nor do any work, but hallow the Sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers” ’ ” (Jeremiah 17:20–22).

These instructions were given to prevent trading and carrying on business on the Sabbath. It was not wrong to carry something on the Sabbath. Jesus was accused when He healed the man by the pool of Bethsaida on the Sabbath day when He told him to take his bed and go. The man rolled up his mat, his bed, and put it on his shoulder. When he started to walk away, he was accused of breaking the Sabbath. It was not wrong to carry his mat with him on the Sabbath. He would need it when it was time to sleep again.

Our Lord’s instruction to His disciples concerning their flight from Jerusalem, many years after His crucifixion, recognized the sacredness of the Sabbath (Matthew 24:20).

  1. The Sabbath in the new earth will be a perpetual reminder of the Creation. “ ‘For as the new heavens and the new earth which I will make shall remain before Me,’ says the Lord, ‘So shall your descendants and your name remain. And it shall come to pass that from one New Moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, all flesh shall come to worship before Me,’ says the Lord” (Isaiah 66:22, 23).

It would make no sense that in the new earth throughout eternity that every Sabbath all flesh is to come and worship before the Lord if the Sabbath was obliterated at the cross.

  1. Many years after the crucifixion of Christ, the authority of the fourth commandment was recognized. We read in Luke 23:54–56, written many years after the cross: “That day (when Jesus died on the cross) was the Preparation, and the Sabbath drew near. And the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment.”
  2. The royal law, which was not abolished, includes the ten commandments and consequently embraces and enforces the Sabbath of the Lord. James 2:10–12 says, “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.” There is no doubt that the “law of liberty” is the Ten Commandments.
  3. The Ten Commandments are not ten separate laws, but one law. By breaking any part of the ten, the whole law is broken. “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to Me on the mountain and be there; and I will give you tablets of stone, and the law and commandments which I have written, that you may teach them’ ” (Exodus 24:12).

Notice, it is the law that God has written. That is singular—one law. If you break one, you are a law-breaker. Psalm 89:34 says, “My covenant I will not break, nor alter the word that has gone out of My lips.”

Some argue that time may have been lost. Therefore, how do we really know which day the Biblical Sabbath was? The death of Jesus confirms time. Luke 23:54 says, “That day was the Preparation, and the Sabbath drew near.” The Christian world today calls the day that Jesus died on the cross Good Friday. So Good Friday is the day before the Sabbath. “They returned, prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment” (verse 56).

“Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared” (Luke 24:1). This passage of Scripture raises several points:

  • It contains an express recognition of the fourth commandment. It was written many years after the crucifixion of Jesus.
  • It is the most remarkable case of Sabbath observance in the whole Bible. The Lord of the Sabbath was dead, and preparation was being made to embalm Him. But, when the Sabbath drew on, the preparations were suspended while they rested according to the Sabbath.
  • It shows that the Sabbath is the day before the first day of the week that we call Sunday, thus identifying the seventh day in the commandment as our Saturday.
  • It is a direct testimony that the knowledge of the true seventh-day was preserved as late as the crucifixion, for it says, “They observed the Sabbath according to the commandment.”

Many think that when Jesus rose from the dead, the Sabbath was changed from the seventh to the first day of the week. To determine the truth of those assertions, look at all the records in the New Testament of these events:

Matthew 28:1: “Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.” He had already risen.

Mark 16:1, 2: “Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen.”

Mark 16:9: “Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons.”

Luke 24:1: “On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared.”

John 20:1; 19: “Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.” “Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, ‘Peace be to you.’ ”

Some conclusions can be drawn from these verses:

  1. There is no mention of any change of the Sabbath.
  2. They carefully distinguish between the Sabbath and the first day of the week.
  3. They apply no sacred title to the first day of the week, and they do not refer to it as a Sabbath.
  4. They make no mention of Christ resting on the first day of the week, which would be absolutely essential if the first day of the week was a rest day. The word Sabbath means rest. Throughout the Old Testament the word Sabbath from Genesis and on can be translated rest or rest day.

In order for the rest day to be transferred to Sunday, Jesus would had to have rested on this first Sunday. The trouble is, these verses make no mention of Christ resting on the first day of the week.

  1. They make no mention of God removing His blessing from the seventh day. Remember, after God had completed His creation He rested on the seventh day, He blessed it and sanctified it and made it holy (Genesis 2:2, 3).
  2. They give no precept in support of first day observance, nor do they contain a hint of the manner in which the first day of the week can be enforced by authority of the fourth commandment.

When people read these verses, it is claimed that Jesus met with His disciples on the first day of the week after His resurrection. Let’s examine this claim.

In Luke 24:29 Jesus is walking with two disciples on the way to Emmaus. It says, “But they constrained Him, saying, ‘Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.’ And He went in to stay with them.”

It was the first day of the week and the sun was just about to go down. They prepared a meal, sat down and as Jesus blessed the food they noticed the nail prints in His hand. They recognized Him, and instantly He vanished, and they said, “Did not our hearts burn within us” (verse 32)? They were so excited about the most wonderful news that they didn’t even eat their meal and left the food right there on the table. “So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together” (verse 33). Emmaus was about seven miles from Jerusalem along a hilly and rocky road that they travelled after dark.

In Jewish time the evening and the morning were one day, meaning the next day began at sunset.

  • The first meeting that Jesus had with His disciples was not on Sunday but after sunset on what we would now call Sunday evening, the beginning of Monday.
  • The second meeting would be either Monday or Tuesday, however you would reckon it. The first meeting was on Sunday night, or the beginning of Monday. In John 20:26 it says, “And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, ‘Peace to you!’ ”
  • The third meeting, we are not told what day of the week it was, but that the disciples had been out fishing all night.
  • The fourth meeting when He met with them all as a group was forty days after the resurrection on the day He ascended to heaven. Forty days after the resurrection (Sunday), was actually a Friday.

There is no evidence to show that there was any change or transfer of holiness or any blessing given to Sunday as the first day of the week, a day to go to church, or anything else—Sunday sacredness is a manmade institution. The memorial for Christ’s death and resurrection is baptism and the communion service—the ordinances of the New Covenant.

We are told that the Sabbath/Sunday issue will be the conflict that divides the whole world into two camps at the end of the world. “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him” (1 Kings 18:21).

(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)

Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at:, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.