8. The New Testament Rest Day


CHRIST is “the way, the truth, and the life.” John 14:6. He has gone all the way before us, “leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps” (1 Peter 2:21), and “he that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked” (1 John 2:6), and all will admit that the footsteps of Jesus cannot lead any one astray. Let us therefore agree to follow His steps in regard to Sabbath observance. He worked as a “carpenter” at Nazareth during “the six working days,” but rested on the seventh-day Sabbath. (Mark 6:2, 3; Ezekiel 46:1; Luke 4:16) And after He began His ministry, He faithfully continued His Sabbathkeeping. (V. 31).

While He taught His disciples that such necessary work as eating, healing the sick, or lifting a sheep out of a pit, was lawful to do on the Sabbath days (Matthew 12:1-12), He thereby acknowledged the claims of the Sabbath law, which makes ordinary work not lawful on that day. It was “the Spirit of Christ” in the prophets (1 Peter 1:10, 11) who instructed His people to “bear no burden on the Sabbath day” through the gates of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 17:21, 22, 27). And when foretelling the destruction of that city (which took place A. D. 70) Jesus warned His disciples saying: “But pray ye that your flight be not . . . on the Sabbath day.” Matthew 24:20. This warning was not, as some would have us believe, on account of the gates being closed on that day, for in the same connection Jesus says: “Let him which is on the housetop not come down.” V. 17. But how could he flee without coming down from the housetop? There can be only one answer. There was an elevated road from one flat roof to another on which they could flee till they reached the wall, where they could be let down. (See Acts 9:25; Joshua 2:15; 1 Samuel 19:12) In such a case closed gates could hardly come into consideration. This instruction shows Christ’s sacred regard for the Sabbath, and His anxiety that His church should keep it properly. A Lutheran minister says:

“When God gave the third [fourth] commandment. . . . He designated definitely the seventh day, which already had been sanctified by Him at creation, as this rest day. And as Christ says that He had not come to destroy the law (Matthew 5: 17), so He has also in the words of His last prophetic speech (Matthew 24: 20), which has reference to the destruction of Jerusalem, and the flight of the Christian church from the doomed city, expressly emphasized the Sabbath, or Saturday, as the still valid rest day, by saying: ‘Pray, that your flight be not on the Sabbath’ (on which day ye according to the third [fourth] commandment should rest, and not undertake any long journey). For this reason many godly Christians have solemnly upbraided the Christian church for keeping Sunday instead of Saturday: it [the church] can have no right to change God’s commandment, and, if in the catechism the whole commandment had been embodied verbatim in its entire wording from Exodus 20: 8-11, as has been done in the Heidelberg Catechism, then we should still keep the Saturday holy, and not the Sunday.” - “Opbyggelig Katekismus undervisning,” (“Edifying Instruction in the Catechism,”) K. A. Dachsel, pp. 23, 24. Bergen: 1887.

‘Neither on the Sabbath day.’ The Jewish Christians might entertain scruples against travelling on the Sabbath beyond the legal distance, which was about five furlongs” – “A Commentary on the Gospels of Matthew and Mark,” John J. Owen, D. D., LL. D., p. 314. New York: Scribner and Co., 1868.

Christ had so carefully instructed His followers about proper Sabbath-keeping, that they would not even anoint His sacred body on the Sabbath. They “prepared spices and ointments” on Friday, “and rested the Sabbath day according to the commandment,” but early the next morning, “the first day of the week,” they came to the grave to anoint Him. (Luke 23:52-53, 24:1). They left their work unfinished from Friday evening until Sunday morning, because they “rested the Sabbath day according to the commandment.” Luke wrote this thirty-five years after the resurrection. Some claim that the Sabbath was abolished at the cross, and that therefore the Sabbath commandment is not mentioned in the New Testament. But here we find the Sabbath commandment in the New Testament, and we find that it enjoins the keeping of the “Sabbath” which comes between Friday and the “first day of the week” and that Christ’s followers were keeping it.

The apostles are entirely silent in regard to any change of the day of rest from the seventh to the first day of the week. Paul, while working among the Gentiles, knew of no change. At Antioch he preached on the Sabbath, and when asked by the Gentiles to preach the same sermon again, he did not suggest a meeting on Sunday, but waited till “the next Sabbath day.” (Acts 13:14, 42, 44). He knew of no other weekly rest day than the Sabbath, for he worked at his trade as tent maker during the “six working days “(Ezekiel 46:1), but “he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks “ (Acts 18:1-4). And this was his custom. (Acts 17:2) When he came where there were no Jewish synagogues, he did not stay in the hustling, bustling, heathen city on God’s holy day, but the record says: “And on the Sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made.” Acts 16:12, 13. This shows it was a matter of conscience with him to keep the Sabbath. He says: “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” Romans 3:31.

If Christ or the apostles had changed the Sabbath from the seventh to the first day of the week, does it not seem strange that they never informed us about it in the New Testament, which is the only record they left us? Could they have neglected to inform us regarding so important a matter? Paul declares emphatically: “I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you.” Acts 20:20. History reveals that most of the Christian church kept the seventh-day Sabbath till the seventh century.


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