What Happened to the Sabbath Day?
Have you ever wondered what happened to the Sabbath day? After leading the children of Israel out of Egypt, the Lord established the seventh day as a day of rest for the people. We see the first direct reference to the Sabbath day in Exodus 16. In giving the instructions regarding the collection of manna, the Lord told the people to, on the sixth day, collect enough manna for two days. In explanation of this, Moses said,
“This is what the LORD has said: ‘Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. Bake what you will bake today, and boil what you will boil; and lay up for yourselves all that remains, to be kept until morning.’ ” On the seventh day, Moses said to the people, “Eat that today, for today is a Sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will be none.” (Exodus 16:23, 25-26)
The word Sabbath is from the Hebrew word shabbath meaning “a day of rest.” Shabbath is from shabath meaning “to cease to do to,” “to rest”). The Lord declared the seventh day to be a “Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord.”
The next reference to the Sabbath day is found in the ten commandments. Moses wrote,
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8)
Having stated the command, the Lord clarified the reasons for His command. Again, Moses wrote,
“Six days you shall labor and do all your work, (10) but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: . . . (11) For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” (Exodus 20:9-11)
With this explanation, the Lord referred back to the creation, the time when He rested on the seventh day. In writing the book of Genesis, Moses wrote,
“And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” (Genesis 2:2-3)
From the beginning, the Lord set aside the seventh day as a day of rest.
While the Lord established the seventh day as a day of rest, it was the nation of Israel upon whom God established the Sabbath as a part of the covenant between Him and the Israelites. In Deuteronomy 5, Moses reminded the children of Israel of the covenant God made with them. Moses wrote,
“The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The LORD did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, those who are here today, all of us who are alive.” (Deuteronomy 5:2-3)
Continuing in chapter 5, Moses reviewed the ten commandments which God had given to the Israelites. (Deuteronomy 5:6-22) The command to keep the Sabbath day holy was a part of the ten commandments which God gave the Israelites. This command did not apply to any other race or nation of people.
While the command to keep the Sabbath day holy lasted for many generations, it came to an end when Jesus died on the cross. The Hebrew writer explained the reason for this transition in Hebrews chapter 8. Beginning in verse 6 we read,
“But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. (7) For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. (8) Because finding fault with them, He says: ‘Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah– (9) not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in my covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord.’ ” (Hebrews 8:6-9)
In this passage, the writer references Jeremiah 31:31-34. From this quote, we can see the former covenant was the covenant which God made with Israel when He led them out of Egypt. This covenant is the same as we read in Exodus, chapter 20 and Deuteronomy, chapter 5. It is within this former covenant we find the command to keep the Sabbath day holy. According to the Hebrew writer, this former covenant was taken away when Jesus became the mediator of a better covenant. Hebrews 9:15-16 reads,
“And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.” (Hebrews 9:15-16)
The question which remains is this: Does the new covenant of Jesus Christ carry the same command to keep the Sabbath day holy? The answer to this question is no. The Sabbath day was not a holy day for man to worship and revere. The Sabbath day (or day of rest) was created for man (Mark 2:27). The Sabbath day was a day of rest and a day for a holy convocation to worship God (cf. Leviticus 23:3) While the people of Israel were not allowed to work on the Sabbath day, the priests continued with their responsibilities to make sacrifices and offerings for the people. (Numbers 28:9-10) During the first century, Jews would go to the synagogues on the Sabbath day to worship the Lord. Jesus participated in this weekly assembly. Mark records,
“Then they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He (Jesus) entered the synagogue and taught.” (Mark 1:21)
Luke also writes,
“So He (Jesus) came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.” (Luke 4:16)
While Jesus and some of His apostles participated in these Sabbath day assemblies (cf. Acts 13:13-14; 18:1-4), they did not bind the keeping of the Sabbath day on Christians.
Instead of keeping the Sabbath day, Christians, under the new covenant assemble together on the first day of the week to worship the heavenly Father. Here are the reasons for the first day of the week assembly:
- Jesus arose from the grave on the first day of the week (Matthew 28:1-6);
- According to Acts 20:7, the disciples in Troas assembled together on the first day of the week to partake of the Lord’s Supper;
- The saints in Corinth assembled together on the first day of the week (1 Corinthians 16:1-2); and
- John writes, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet,” (Revelation 1:10).
The Greek word translated as “Lord’s” is kuriakos which means “1) belonging to the Lord 2) related to the Lord” (Thayer’s) Paul uses this same Greek word in 1 Corinthians 11:20 in reference to the “Lord’s supper.” The only day which fits John’s phrase “Lord’s day” (or the day belonging to or pertaining to the Lord) is the day that Jesus arose from the grave and the day the saints assembled to worship the Lord. The Lord’s day is the first day of the week.
What happened to the Sabbath day? The command to keep the Sabbath day as a holy convocation to the Lord ceased when Jesus died on the cross. While some commentaries refer to the first day of the week as the “Christian Sabbath,” this phrase is not found in the New Testament. However, based upon New Testament teachings, Christians assemble together every first day of the week for a holy convocation, or assembly, to worship the heavenly Father.