the sabbath mandate

The fundamental reason for saying that sabbath observance is mandatory is the commandment, ‘Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.’

‘Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God; in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day; wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.’ Exodus 20:8-11.

This includes (i) a principle, that one day in seven should be kept holy to the Lord, (ii) a requirement, to keep it holy by resting from the work which has to be done on the other six days, and (iii) some reasons for the requirement, in that God claims this day for his own, rested on it himself, and blessed it.

The reasons for celebrating the sabbath are amplified in other parts of scripture, so that today (ie in New Testament times) we not only have the work of creation to give thanks for, but also the memory of the ways that God’s people were delivered in the past (as in Deuteronomy 5 – ‘Remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and the Lord thy God brought thee our thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm; therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day’) and much more especially for the fact that Christ has now risen from the dead, with all that that signifies.

Keeping the sabbath day holy now is a way of showing that you,

  • recognise Christ’s lordship over this day (the Son of man is Lord of the sabbath, he said, just as Jehovah said the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God)
  • believe that he rose again from the dead the third day, according to the scriptures, including the fact that his resurrection was earned by the success of the redemptive death that he died
  • are looking forward to heaven, presented as a sabbath-style rest to be entered into by believers
  • value the benefits made available for your spiritual welfare by the provision of a day when you don’t need to be busy with ordinary work-related things – when you can spend the time absorbing yourself instead in both communal and personal ways of worshipping God on his holy day

Because of how beneficial sabbath observance is to our spiritual lives, it’s a wonder that even Christian people sometimes find it so hard to obey this commandment. It is a commandment – so it’s only as, and yet every bit as, binding and/or restrictive as, say, the commandment ‘thou shalt not kill’ – but none of his commandments are grievous (in themselves, and neither should they be felt grievous by us), and this one in particular is so much more of an opportunity than a duty because of how kindly it makes provision for people’s spiritual and eternal wellbeing, as well as their physical and temporal wellbeing like all the rest of the commandments.

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9 thoughts on “the sabbath mandate

  1. Indeed, Christ is Lord of the sabbath. But what has that to do with Him rising the third day? Do you keep Saturday free from work AND every third day?

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  2. Maybe Berenike thinks you keep a Saturday sabbath? After all, almost everyone who talks much about keeping “Sabbath” on the internet does, from what I’ve seen. And you’d be surprised at how many European languages have the word Sabbath or some corruption of it in their name for Saturday, and also how many of them have the Lord’s Day or some corruption of it in their name for the First Day of the week.

    Britain is unusual in (a) having a (dwindling) section of the population who call the Lord’s Day simply “Sabbath” and also (b) in having calendars that start on Monday (in recent years) – this despite the fact that our EU partners Greece and Portugal make it very plain by having numbers in several of their day names what the correct numerical sequence of days in the week is.

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  3. Peter, yes it struck me belatedly i should have said explicitly that sabbath = sunday = the Lord’s day, the first day of the week

    Berenike – in commemoration of Jesus’s resurrection on the first day of the week, and following the example of the NT church

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  4. Sometimes I think Christians get confused over the terminology. If you read the New Testament carefully (as we all should!), the term “Sabbath” never appears after the gospels and, perhaps, the first couple of chapters of Acts. The term “Sabbath” is used mostly in the Jewish context of the gospels before the death and resurrection of our Lord. In the rest of the New Testament, the day is usually referred to (when it’s mentioned at all) as the “first day of the week.” By the time John wrote (see Revelation), it was becoming known as the “Lord’s Day” in comemoration of our Lord’s rising on that day.

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  5. Mmmm, yes, Sunday is the first day of the week, but what I was trying to ask/point out: but you’ve written “the term Sabbath is used” …. then “the day …first day of the week” which suggests that whatever day you are talking about is both the sabbath and the first day of the week, and is the same day referred to in the OT and NT.

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