How Did New Testament Figures Relate to the Sabbath? (Luke 4:14–16; 23:50–24:3; Acts 13:14, 42–44; 16:12, 13)
If you have ever talked with Sunday-keeping Christians about why they keep Sunday as their day of worship and not the seventh-day Sabbath, it is possible that they have responded by stating that Jesus changed the Sabbath to Sunday. They might also have said that the law was nailed to the cross— thus doing away with the need to keep the Sabbath. Some attribute their practice to the notion that early church Christians kept Sunday as the Sabbath. We need to look to the Bible to see what it says about how Christians are to relate to the Bible and how the Sabbath was “changed.”
I, too, as His follower, must keep the Sabbath.
Luke, the writer of the Gospel account bearing his name and the book Acts of the Apostles, records a number of instances in which Jesus and the Christian church maintained Sabbath observance. When Jesus was officially beginning His earthly ministry, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day (the seventh day) as was His custom (Luke 4:14–16). Luke’s record shows us that Jesus’ custom was to go into the synagogue every Sabbath for worship.
After Jesus’ crucifixion, a man named Joseph from the city of Arimathea came to retrieve Jesus’ body and place Him in a tomb (Luke 23:50–53). This occurred on the day of preparation for the Sabbath, or Friday (verse 54). Jesus lay in the tomb and did not come to life until the first day of the week, Sunday, on which day Christians all over the world celebrate Easter (Luke 24:1–3). Interestingly, even in His death, Jesus kept the seventh-day Sabbath rest!
Furthermore, Joseph and the women who assisted with Jesus’ burial rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment (Luke 23:56).
We have seen that Jesus was a Sabbath keeper and that believers in Him still kept the Sabbath at the time of His death. But what about after Christ’s ascension? Luke provides accounts of which day early Christians kept as holy. When Paul and Barnabas, apostles in the church, entered the city of Antioch, they went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and began to read from the Law and the prophets to teach the people about Jesus (Acts 13:14, 15). (This sounds very much like what Jesus’ custom was.) This episode was not the only instance of them observing the Sabbath. The Gentiles asked Paul and Barnabas to come back the next Sabbath to preach to them again (verse 42). The next Sabbath, almost the whole city came out to hear the words the apostles had to speak (verse 44). In another instance, Paul, Timothy, and Silas went, on the Sabbath day, to a riverside and taught a group of women who had assembled for prayer there (Acts 16:13–15). These occasions show that the leadership of the early Christian church worshiped on the Sabbath as Jesus did.
It is our privilege and duty, as Christians, to imitate Jesus, for He is our example in all things (1 Pet. 2:21). So if the Savior Himself kept the Sabbath, and His followers in the early church kept the Sabbath, I, too, as His follower, must keep the Sabbath.
What About New Testament References to Sunday? (John 20:19–23; Acts 20:6, 7)
There are very few references to Sunday in the New Testament. But none of these presents Sunday as a day of worship. It just so happens to be the day on which certain events occurred. In John’s account of Jesus’ appearance to His disciples after His resurrection, the disciples were not gathered in worship but were hiding for fear of the Jews (John 20:19–23). Luke records Paul’s travels to Greece and Macedonia. Paul stayed in Troas for seven days, and on the first day of the week, the disciples came together to break bread (Acts 20:6, 7).
Some interpret the breaking of bread to mean that they gathered for worship.
However, breaking bread was a regular, daily occurrence for Christians during that time and did not signify a holy day (Acts 2:42–47).
For many years following Jesus’ return to heaven, Christians faithfully followed the example of Jesus and the apostles in keeping the seventh-day Sabbath. The only day of worship mentioned in the New Testament, as we have seen, is the seventh-day Sabbath.
Then How Did the Day Get “Changed”? (Dan. 7:1–8, 21–25; Revelation 13; 14:6, 7)
Jesus has repeatedly given His people the gift of prophecy throughout human history to give them hope and direction as they face a future of difficulty and uncertainty. The book of Daniel prophesied a religiopolitical power that would attempt to change the times and laws of God, a reference to the only law of God that deals with time—the Sabbath commandment (Dan. 7:25). John shares a prophecy of the same religiopolitical power in different terms in Revelation 13.
This power that would attempt to change the Sabbath would arise out of the fourth major world empire, Rome. It would last until the end of time, challenging God’s authority and persecuting the people of God who keep His commandments.
The power attacks the Sabbath because it is a sign of God’s authority as Creator and Ruler of earth. The remnant people of God, however, understanding the beauty and importance of the seventh-day commandment, proclaim a message in the last days that warns people to fear and worship God as Creator of all things (Rev. 14:6, 7). Right at the heart of the last message of the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ is the message to remember God as Creator by keeping the Sabbath.
1. What are the evidences that Christians should keep the Sabbath to honor Jesus?
2. Is keeping the Sabbath incompatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ?