What is the Truth Behind the Sabbath? – Updated and Revisited

Right from the very beginning of the Bible, there is a message or declaration from God that reverberates throughout the entirety of the Holy Scriptures, about the importance of the Sabbath. And what is the underlying important message, truth or declaration, from God, to us? I think, as we shall shortly see, that it is a message of our need to ultimately trust in God.

The truth of this message is that we can’t make ourselves holy, only God can do that for us.

In other words, there is nothing that man can do, in and of himself, that will make us holy like God is holy. Nothing, absolutely nothing. Our only option is to rest or trust in what God has and will do for us.

What follows below is a light summary of what God’s Holy Word says, about the significance of the Sabbath. There are a lot of Scriptures that touch on the Sabbath and I can’t possibly make reference to all of them in this short post, but bear with me if you will.

The first reference to the Sabbath is found in Genesis 2:3 NIV: “Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” The root meaning of the words “Sabbath” and “rest,” as referred to in Genesis, is “to cease.” After having spent six days in His creative work, God ceased from His labors. In other words, God had completed what He had set out to complete. He had put in place all of the moving parts for our redemption and our sanctification. Please note that there is no obligation, on man’s part, given to keep the Sabbath, nor is it even implied in this particular initial Scripture passage. Also note that the Sabbath was considered holy by God. That’s important, that means that this reality is unchangeable or in other words, this is the way it is from God’s perspective. God’s perspective is not open for challenging discussion.

The next mention of the Sabbath is found in Exodus 16:23 NIV: “He said to them, “This is what the Lord commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of sabbath rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.”

This Covenant of the Law took place many years after God had made the covenant of grace via faith with Abram in Genesis 15:6 NIV “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” That is a pointer, an indicator of the path that is to be followed.

Reference is also made to this in Nehemiah 9:13-14 NIV: “You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good. You made known to them your holy Sabbath and gave them commands, decrees and laws through your servant Moses.”

In Exodus 20:8-11 NIV the Sabbath law is made a part of the Ten Commandments: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

Why did God not mention the Sabbath during all this time that had gone by, from it’s first mention until now? The answer becomes evident when the purpose for which the Sabbath was given is realized.

Exodus 31:13-17 NIV explains: “Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy. “‘Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people. For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death. The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’”

And why was the punishment so severe for violating the Sabbath? Because it points to the reality of what our own efforts produce, not being holy, which results in both our physical death and spiritual separation from God..

This Covenant is commanded by God, to Israel, God’s chosen people.

Ezekiel 20:12 ASV also says, “Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am Jehovah that sanctifieth them”. The Sabbath was especially instituted as a sign of separation for Israel, something that no other nation honoured or followed. Any person of Israel not keeping the Sabbath was to be cut off from his people.”

Why? Because this reliance of trusting in God to do for them and us, what we in ourselves cannot do, is a prerequisite of faith. The onus shifts from trusting in our own works or efforts, to trusting in what God does for us. Our works or attempts to justify our own righteousness, ceases, we rely in God to do for us, what we in and of ourselves cannot do.

Consider Galatians 3:24 KJV “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”

Jesus, being a Jew and living in the time when the Law was in force, had to keep the Law, too, including the Law of the Sabbath. But as Jesus states, He did not come to destroy or put away the Law, but rather to fulfill it: Matthew 5:17-18 NIV “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”

As far as any human beings are concerned, Jesus the Christ, is the only one who the Holy Scriptures tell us that ever perfectly kept the Law.

But didn’t Jesus break the Sabbath? Yes He did, from the perspective of the religious leaders, but NOT from God’s perspective. If He had of broken the Law from God’s perspective, then His Sacrifice would have been unacceptable, as He wouldn’t have been the Spotless Lamb of God. Instead, the only Laws Jesus broke, were the man-made rules of interpretations, which the religious leaders had added to God’s Law — misapplying it. The type of work Jesus did on the Sabbath was in accordance with God the Father’s will, and a redemptive and restorative work. And most importantly, Jesus was and is God. At this point, as a refresher, I recommend that you read through John 5 in it’s entirety.

Mark 2:27-28 NIV “Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

That would be made and given from God, for men, as the means whereby man’s redemption (resting in God, trusting in God = God’s righteousness imputed) is achieved. Not man’s redemption earned, through perfect adherence to man made interpretations of the Law of the Sabbath, as the means whereby one becomes holy. And, because the Son of Man is God in the flesh, and has been sent by God the Father, the Son of Man is Lord, even of the Sabbath.

My understanding of this statement that Jesus made, means that the burdens (restrictions) added to the Sabbath Law, defeated the spirit or intent of the Law, and when they applied those restrictions of work (doing good) to Jesus, they were in fact, overlooking the spirit or intent of the Law and the reality that Jesus was God, and not subject to these restrictions.

John 5:16-18 NIV “So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”

In the famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus clearly and forcefully states His position on the Law of God: Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Jesus fulfilled the wholeness, intent or spirit of the Law, for us, on our behalf.

Are we Gentiles who have faith in Christ under the Law or are any Jewish believers who have accepted Jesus as the Christ? The answer is no. After Acts 18 the Sabbath is not mentioned once in the Scriptures with the one exception of Colossians 2:16 NIV: “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.”

I find it especially noteworthy that God lays out the reality of Himself and His work being holy, right from the very beginning, by stating that the Sabbath is holy, man’s ways or works versus God’s ways and works, and that faith is the path via believing in God (Abram) and what God can do and will do, and then reinforces this by giving us the Law, which concludes by our coming to understand that we are unable to keep it. Then He Himself (Jesus) keeps it for us and the path remains the same, trusting in Him over ourselves.

As Christians we are no longer under the Law, but are now under God’s grace and there are many Scripture verses which address this reality, some of which may be viewed here.

Of course there is so much more, within the Holy Scriptures, including the Tabernacle, the sacrifices, the festivals, the priesthood, the clothing, the alters and other instruments of sacrifice, the atonement or covering over, the shedding of blood, the lamb without blemish etc. All of which paints a wondrous picture of God’s holiness and our separation from Him, that is restored through our trust and faith in what Jesus has done for us and does within us now.

God’s Sabbath for man, our rest in God’s provision, Jesus His Son.

Worthy is the Lamb! Blessings!


  1. Excellent, Bruce!! This is the very hardest of the 10 commandments to me, for I always feel the need to push forward, go farther and reach higher. This hit me between the eyes early on in your post.

    “In other words, there is nothing that man can do, in and of himself, that will make us holy like God is holy. Nothing, absolutely nothing. Our only option is to rest or trust in what God has and will do for us.”

    Well said!!


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