The Law and the Sabbath vs the New Covenant
The Law and the Sabbath vs the New Covenant

The Law and the Sabbath vs the New Covenant

The Ten Commandments and the Law of Moses

It is interesting to note the Jewish translation of Deuteronomy 5:22. (Soncino Chumash, A. Cohen, ed., Soncino Press, 1968, p. 1019).  The direct announcement of the commandments from Sinai “went on no more.” It wasn’t (as other versions imply) that God added no more words, thus making the ten commandments a unique set of laws distinct from the rest of the law, but that the people, as the story goes on to say (Deut. 5:22-28), could not bear to hear God’s voice. In response God continued with the announcement of the law through Moses. In this case the ten commandments are separated from the rest of the law because God was interrupted by the extreme fear of the people. It is nowhere said that all ten (which includes the Sabbath law representing the whole Sabbatical system) are binding on all men at all times. The ten commandments are part of a whole legal system given to Israel. In 2 Corinthians 3 Paul deliberately contrasts the provisional nature of the ten commandments as a system of law with the new spirit of the law which characterizes the Christian faith. The old system “came with glory” (v. 7), but that glory is outdone by the new administration of the spirit. The law given at Sinai was written on tablets of stone (a reference to the ten commandments in Ex. 34:28, 29), but the “epistle” written by the spirit of Christ in the heart (v. 3) is far superior. Paul did not say that the law given through Moses was “God’s eternal law.”

In Acts 15 a council was held to address the pressing problem raised by some Jewish Christians who were “teaching the brethren that unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved…Some believers who belonged to the Pharisees rose up and said: ‘It is necessary to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the law of Moses’” (Acts 15:1, 5). Peter’s response indicates the enormous change of policy directed by God and the Messiah for the international body of Christians: “Now therefore why do you make trial of God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we shall be saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will” (Acts 15:10-11). It would be a direct contradiction of Scripture to say that the Torah in its Mosaic form was an unmixed blessing for Israel! There was much which was intended as a severe discipline and its purpose was to build a barrier between Israel and the nations. Under the New Covenant, as Peter explained, God has now given the holy spirit to Gentiles as well as to Jews, “and He made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9). It was the intelligent reception of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God which purified the hearts of everyone who believed the Gospel as Jesus preached it (Mark 1:14-15; Mark 4:11-12; Matt. 13:19; Luke 8:11-12; John 15:3; Acts 26:18; Rom 10:17; I John 5:20; Isa 53:11).

Paul refers to the Sinai covenant, at which time the ten commandments were given, leading to bondage: “The covenant which proceeds from Mount Sinai is bearing children who are slaves” (Gal 4:24). In another passage Paul describes the two tablets of stone, which were probably two copies of the ten commandments, as the “ministry of condemnation and death” (2Cor 3:7-9). The ten commandments are definitely not God’s final word to man. They were a provisional code of law to be replaced by a higher set of commandments today centering on the words of Jesus and the Apostles: We are to pay attention to “the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and the commandment of your Apostles appointed by the Lord and Savior” (2 Pet 3:2). These New Covenant words are certainly not just a repeat of Moses.

The Origin of Sabbath Observance

Based on Genesis 2:2, 3 and Exodus 20:8-11, it is often argued that the Sabbath day was instituted at creation as a weekly rest for all mankind from Adam onwards. This account of the origin of weekly Sabbath-keeping overlooks the following biblical facts:

  1. Exodus 16:23: The Sabbath day is revealed to Israel by God. The Lord says, “Tomorrow is a Sabbath observance, a holy Sabbath to the Lord.” There is no hint here that the seventh-day rest had been in force since creation. God did not say: “Tomorrow is the Sabbath given to all nations from creation.” Moses adds: “See, the Lord has given you [Israel] the Sabbath; therefore He gives you bread for two days on the sixth day. Remain every man in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day” (Ex. 16:29). If God gave the Sabbath to Israel in Exodus 16, was He removing it from mankind in general? It is most strange that if Sabbath keeping was revealed as divine law from creation for every nation God would now specify Israel as the nation obliged to keep the Sabbath.
  2. Nehemiah 9:13, 14: The origin of weekly Sabbath observance is not at creation, but at Sinai: “Then You came down on Mount Sinai, and spoke with them from heaven; You gave them just ordinances and true laws, good statutes and commandments. So You made known to them Your holy Sabbath, and laid down for them commandments, statutes and law, through Your servant Moses.”
  3. Nehemiah 10:29-33: The weekly Sabbath is part of God’s law given through Moses and thus part of the whole system of Sabbatical observances revealed at Sinai: “[The people] are taking on themselves a curse and an oath to walk in God’s law, which was given through Moses, God’s servant, and to keep and to observe all the commandments of God our Lord, and His ordinances and His statutes…As for the peoples of the land who bring wares or any grain on the Sabbath day to sell, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or a holy day; and we will forego the crops the seventh year…We also placed ourselves under obligation to contribute yearly one third of a shekel for the service of the house of our God: for the showbread, for the continual grain offering, for the continual burnt offering, the Sabbaths, the new moon, for the appointed times, for the holy things and for the sin offerings to make atonement for Israel, and all the work of the house of our God.” Notice that Israel was bound to a whole system of Sabbaths and holy days.
  4. The purpose of the Sabbath, though it reflects God’s rest at creation, is specifically to commemorate the Exodus of the nation of Israel from Egypt. That is why the fourth commandment was given: “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you [Israel, not mankind from creation] to observe the Sabbath day” (Deut. 5:15).
  5. The covenant made with Israel at Horeb was not made with the fathers (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob). The ten commandments cannot therefore represent some universal law given to all mankind. The statement in Deuteronomy 5:3 is specific: “The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers.” The Sabbath was given to Israel as a sign of God’s special relationship with Israel, “that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them” (Ezek. 20:12). This would have no point if the Sabbath was required of all nations. It is a particular mark of God’s dealing with one nation, Israel.
  6. The Jews should be credited with some understanding of the origin of their national Sabbath. In Jubilees 2:19-21, 31 we learn that: “the Creator of all things…did not sanctify all peoples and nations to keep Sabbath thereon, but Israel alone.”

Confirmation of the biblical texts we have cited above comes from rabbinical literature. Genesis Rabbah states that the seventh day of creation was God’s Sabbath, but not humanity’s. In the Mishnah under Shabbata, we find that “if a Gentile comes to put out the fire, they must not say to him, ‘do not put it out,’ since they [Israel] are not answerable for his keeping the Sabbath.” The reason for this is that “the Sabbath is a perpetual covenant between Me and the children of Israel, but not between Me and the nations of the world” (Melkita, Shabbata, 1).

From these passages it is clear that the whole system of laws, including the weekly Sabbath, the holy day Sabbath of the seventh week (Pentecost), the holy day Sabbath of the seventh month (Trumpets), the new moons and the other holy days, the seventh-year land Sabbath and the Jubilee after forty-nine years, were all part of a Sabbatical system given to Israel through Moses. The weekly rest was a commemoration of Israel’s Exodus (Deut 5:15). Thus Ezekiel states that God “took [Israel] out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. I gave them My statutes and informed them of My ordinances, by which, if a man [i.e., an Israelite] observes them, he will live. Also I gave them My Sabbaths [plural] to be a sign between Me and them [Israel], that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them…Sanctify My Sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between Me and you, that you may know that I am the Lord your God” (Ezek 20:10-12, 20).

From this data it could not possibly be deduced that the Sabbatical system was enjoined on mankind from creation onwards. All these passages of Scripture, confirmed by other Jewish writings, point to the Sabbaths as a special sign of God’s relationship with one chosen nation. Since Deuteronomy 5:15 traces the origin of the Sabbath to the Exodus, why does Exodus 20:11 connect it with creation? The answer is that God did indeed rest on the seventh day at creation. However, the text (Gen 2:3) does not say that He then commanded Adam and mankind to rest every subsequent seventh day. If He had said this, the Sabbath could not be a memorial of Israel’s Exodus (Deut 5:15). The fact is that many misread the text in Genesis 2:3 to mean that God rested on the seventh day and blessed every following seventh day from then on, commanding mankind to rest on that day. Actually it was only God who rested at creation and only on the one seventh day which ended His creation. It was not until thousands of years later that He used His own seventh-day rest at creation as a model to introduce the every seventh day Sabbath given to Israel. God alone rested on the first seventh day and much later revealed the seventh day to Israel as a permanent Sabbath observance (Ex 16). The weekly Sabbath appears in the ten commandments, which summarized the law given through Moses to Israel, but it is not to be separated from the whole system of Sabbatical rest given to Israel, weekly, monthly, yearly, seven-yearly and at the Jubilee.

Claus Westermann, in his commentary on Genesis 1-11, sums up his findings about the origin of the Sabbath: “Indeed one cannot find an institution, and not even a preparation for the Sabbath, but rather the later foundation of the Sabbath is reflected in these sentences” (p. 237)

Jesus and his disciples are exempt from the seventh day Sabbath

Matthew notes that the priests working in the Temple were not bound by the seventh day Sabbath law (Matt 12:5). It was not a sin for those priests to break the Sabbath. As Jesus pointed out, he and his followers represent the new spiritual priesthood (Matt 12:4-5) and he is himself the new High Priest. The seventh-day Sabbath keeping is part of the old order. We may well say that the law, by exempting the priests from the Sabbath commandment when they worked in the Temple, foreshadowed the Christians’ freedom from the Sabbath law while they now carry out God’s work every day of the week. Let no one pass judgement on you with regard to a festival, or a new moon or a Sabbath (Col 2:16) Just as the sacrifices of the Old Testament was a shadow of Christ , so is the Sabbath (Col 2:17). The priests’ exemption from Sabbath observance pointed to a time when those who obey God would do so by complying with a new covenant that was perfected, not like the one God made to the fathers (Heb 8:7-13) We ourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1Pet 2:5) In Christ we are chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession. (1 Pet 2:9) Jesus has loved us and freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father (Rev 1:5-6, Rev 5:10, Rev 20:6). As a royal priesthood, Christ and those who are in Christ are guiltless in profaning the Sabbath. (Matt 12:5) Christ is our Sabbath (Mat 11:28-29). He said Come to me and I will give you rest in the context of his disciples being accused of violating the sabbath. (Matt 11:28-30 followed by Matt 12:1-8) Today is the day to enter into the rest of God – today if you hear his voice do not harden your hearts. (Heb 4:7) If Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. (Heb 4:8) The day has arrived and there remains a rest for the people of God (Heb 4:9-10). Therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience – the hardness of heart. (Heb 4:11)  The promise of entering God’s rest still stands, for we who have believed enter that rest (Heb 4:1-3)

Matthew 12:1-7 (ESV), The priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless

1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” 3 He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him4 how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests5 Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7 And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.

Colossians 2:16-17 (ESV), Let no one pass judgment on you – with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath

16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

Hebrews 8:6-13 (ESV), I will establish a new covenant – not like the covenant that I made with their fathers

6 But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. 8 For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 9 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest 12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” 13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

1 Peter 2:4-5 (ESV), Being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood

4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 2:9 (ESV), A royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Revelation 1:5-6 (ESV), Made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father

5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Revelation 5:9-10 (ESV), You have made them a kingdom and priests to our God

9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

Revelation 20:6 (ESV), They will be priests of God and of Christ

6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.

Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV), Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Hebrews 4:7-11 (ESV), If Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on

7 again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” 8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. 9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. 11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.

Hebrews 4:1-3 (ESV), We who have believed enter that rest

1 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2 For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. 3 For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world.

Our Sabbath is Christ

What counts now is Christ and his commands. He and his new law are the fulfillment of that shadow. In him we should strive for a permanent “Sabbath,” every day of the week. No wonder, then, that Matthew includes Jesus’ famous saying about coming to him to find rest in the same context as a dispute over plucking ears of corn on the Sabbath (Matt 11:28-12:8). 

Matthew hints at the spiritualizing of the Sabbath as he records Jesus saying that the priests could break the Sabbath and be blameless (Matt. 12:5-6). The priests who innocently broke the Sabbath, that is, they were not bound by the Sabbath when they worked in the tabernacle or temple, are a “type” of the new priesthood of all believers. David and his colleagues also broke the Old Testament law by eating the showbread. But their conduct was a justifiable “type” of the New Covenant freedom from the law (Matt. 12:4). Christ had offered “rest” to those who came to him (Matt. 11:28-30). Would not this be a constant rest rather than a weekly Sabbath? Is not better observe the Sabbath rest in Christ each and every day rather than following the letter of the fourth commandment that must only be observed one day a week?

Our Passover is Christ

Jesus celebrated his last feast with his disciples on the Passover. He said, “I will drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” (Luke 22:18. And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you – Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19)And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (Luke 22:20) As often as we take the body and blood of Christ we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1Cor 11:23-26) Christ is our Passover has been sacrificed. (1Cor 5:7). The unleavened bread is sincerity and truth (1Cor 5:8) For this reason we are not to eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner but to first examine ourselves. (1Cor 11:27-29) That which is to be purged from our midst is sexual immorality, greed, fraud, idolatry, drunkenness’ and abusive behavior. (1Cor 5:9-11) This is the evil that is to be purged – not failure to comply with the old written code. (1Cor 5:9-13) 

In 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 Paul applies the same “spiritualizing” principle to the annual Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread as with the Sabbath. “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed.” Our Christian Passover is no longer a lamb slain annually but a Savior slain once and for all, with the power to deliver us daily, not once a year. “Let us therefore keep festival, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1Cor 5:8).

We note that the “unleavened bread” which has replaced the literal unleavened bread is the “unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” These are the real spiritual issues, not the matter of cleaning out leaven from our cars and houses for one week in the year. Christians, says Paul, are to be “keeping festival” permanently. The translation in the KJV is misleading, giving the impression that we are to “keep the feast.” The comment of the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges is appropriate: “Let us keep festival [a present progressive tense in Greek], referring to the perpetual feast the Christian Church keeps…not the feast, as in the KJV, which would imply some particular festival.” (Rev. J.J. Lias, Commentary on I Corinthians, Cambridge University Press, 1899, p. 61.) The Mosaic system of law as a set of statutes has been replaced by the law of freedom in the spirit, summed up in the one commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves (Gal 5:14).

Luke 22:15-20 (ESV), This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood

15 And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. 18 For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood

1 Corinthians 5:6-8 (ESV), For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed

6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

1 Corinthians 11:23-32 (ESV),  Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me

23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.

A festival, new moon or a Sabbath –  a shadow of the things to come

We should treat as of major importance Paul’s only reference to the words “Sabbath” and “holy days” in the whole of his preserved writings. This occurs in Colossians 2:16. In this verse Paul describes the holy days (annual observance), new moons (monthly observance) and Sabbath (weekly observance) as a “shadow.” In so doing he reveals the apostolic mind on this crucial issue.

16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17)

 

It would seem quite amazing that if Paul felt that Sabbath-keeping was an absolute requirement for salvation he could describe the weekly Sabbath and holy days as a shadow! This could lead to dangerous misunderstanding. Nevertheless the fact is clear beyond all doubt. Paul does indeed call the Sabbath, the holy days and the new moons a shadow. A shadow ceases to be significant when the reality, Christ, appears. Paul uses exactly the same language of shadow and reality that we find in Hebrews 10:1 where the “shadow” sacrifices of the Old Testament are now rendered obsolete by the “body” sacrifice of Christ (Heb 10:10): “The law having a shadow of the good things to come…” (Heb 10:1).

Here the law of sacrifices was provisional and rendered unnecessary by the appearance of Christ. But Paul says exactly the same of the observance of special days in Colossians 2:16-17. The law prescribing the observance of holy days, new moons and Sabbaths foreshadowed the reality of Christ and his Kingdom — the good things coming. The point about the Sabbath being a shadow is so important that we should look again at Colossians 2:16-17: “[Because Christ has cancelled the certificate of decrees which was against us, v. 14], therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food and drink or in regard to a festival, new moon or a Sabbath day — things which are a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.”

There it is in black and white. This is the final New Testament information given about Sabbath-keeping. The significance of the Sabbath day for Christians, as well as of the holy days and new moons, is comparable to a shadow. These days no longer have any substance and will not therefore benefit those who try to observe them.

Dean Alford in his celebrated Commentary on the Greek Testament: “We may observe that if the ordinance of the Sabbath had been, in any form, of lasting obligation on the Christian Church it would have been quite impossible for the Apostle to have spoken thus [Col 2:16-17]. The fact of an obligatory rest of one day, whether the seventh or the first, would have been directly in the teeth of his assertion here: the holding of such would have been still to retain the shadow, while we possess the substance.”

If the Gentile Christians had been required at conversion to rest on the Sabbath day, this would have needed specific directions from the Acts 15 council which decided how far a Gentile believer was obligated to follow the practices of Judaism. Sabbath-keeping, according to the apostolic decision, is not a requirement for Gentile believers. We should remember that Gentiles had been permitted to attend at the synagogues of the Jews, but the latter did not instruct them to become Sabbath-keepers. Only those who became full proselytes to Judaism adopted Sabbath observance. The Jews themselves knew that God had given them the Sabbath and did not expect Sabbath keeping of other nations. Thus it would have required a special ordinance for Gentiles if Sabbath-keeping were necessary for them as Christians.

Throughout the book of John the feasts are described as Jewish — John 7:2 (Tabernacles), John 6:4 (Passover), John 5:1 (Passover). The preparation day for the Sabbath is called “the Jewish day of preparation” (John 19:42). John thinks of the Sabbath as Jewish with a Jewish preparation day preceding it. These terms are scarcely compatible with the conviction that the Old Testament observances are now binding on the Christian community. With Paul, John sees the days as a shadow of the much greater reality of Christ. 

Our Freedom in Christ

There is a freedom in Christ which Christians can enjoy and pass on to others. A rigid holding on to Old Testament festivals hampers the spirit of Christ and the Gospel. We are no longer under the law (Rom 6:14). We have been “released from the law” (Rom 7:6). We have “died to the law through the body of Christ, that [we] might be joined to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God” (Rom 7:4). To those who “desire to be under the law” (Gal 4:21) we recommend the important words of Paul in Galatians 4:21-31: The Mount Sinai covenant leads to bondage. For the children of the promise there is a new and glorious liberty in Christ. There is a New Covenant in the spirit. The Old Covenant with its legal system has been replaced by something better (Heb 8:13). We are not “under obligation to observe the whole law” (Gal 5:3). If we attempt to do so, we “have fallen from grace” (Gal 5:4). Now that faith has come, we are no longer under The Law, the Sabbath and New Covenant Christianity custodianship of the law (Gal 3:24, 25). Those who insist on the law in its old form risk belonging to the covenant from Mount Sinai (Gal 4:24). Children of the covenant of law cannot be heirs with the sons of the free woman (Gal 4:30). Those who cling to the Sinai legal system are not good candidates for the Kingdom of God.

Surely it is clear that all types of Old Covenant rest days are no longer binding on those who seek to rest in Christ, ceasing from their own works daily (Heb 4:9, 10). In the words of a sixteenth-century theologian, the Sabbath means “that I cease from all my evil works all the days of my life, allow the Lord to work in me through his Spirit, and thus begin in this life the eternal Sabbath.” (Zacharias Ursinus in the Heidelberg Catechism, 1563)

The dangers of Legalism

There are serious dangers related to sects and teachers which advocate that Christians should be Torah observant in complying with ordinances of the Mosaic Law that do not have moral implications.

  1. A danger of legalism is that it may promote a self righteous justification on the basis of strict observance to Old Covenant law – this is a false Gospel
  2. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. (1Cor 8:1-3). “Lawyers” who are well studied in the Law tend to puff themselves up into arrogance rather than walking in humility. The law is a stumbling block in this regard. Knowledge of the Mosaic law becomes a point of pride for many modern day Pharisees.
  3. An emphasis on the Mosaic Law undermines the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Judaizing Christians tend to emphasize the old written code over and above the specific teachings of Christ. They tend to teach Torah observance rather the core message of the Gospel including repentance, baptism in Jesus name, and receiving the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38) Jesus, who is exalted to God’s right hand and is the one mediator between God and man is our authority. (1Tim 2:5-6) We are to follow his teachings and to emphasize what he and his apostles emphasized.
  4. Emphasizing the old written code obscures the fact that we are to serve in the new way of the Spirit. Now we are released from the law- and no longer are we to serve in the old way of the written code. (Rom 7:6)  It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that Jesus spoke are spirit and life. (John 6:63) We receive the Spirit by hearing with faith, not the works of the law. (Gal 3:2-6) It is only by being born again by the Spirit of God that we may inherit eternal life (John 3:3-8)
  5. Legalism is a trap that many fall into which will actually condemn them rather than ensure their justification. Our righteousness through the works of the flesh are as filthy rags and justification comes through faith and not the works of the Law. (Gal 2:16, Gal 3:10)  He who receives the sign of the Old Testament Covenant — physical circumcision — is “under obligation to keep the whole law” (Gal 5:3). Those who insist on law, in the Old Testament sense as a code of regulations, “have been severed from Christ…You have fallen from grace” (Gal 5:4). These are Paul’s stern warnings to any who impose upon believers legal obligations which Jesus does not require of his followers.

As Jesus said, watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (Mat 16:6) In saying this, he was not telling them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Mat 16:12) Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgement. (John 7:24)

1 Corinthians 1:27-31 (ESV), Christ Jesus – to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption

27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

God Desires Mercy more than Sacrifice

Hosea 6:6 (ESV)

6 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

Micah 6:6-8 (ESV)

6 “With what shall I come before the LORD,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
8 He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Matthew 9:11-13 (ESV) 

1 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Matthew 12:1-7 (ESV)

1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” 3 He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: 4 how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? 5 Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? 6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7 And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.

Isaiah 1:10-17 (ESV)

10 Hear the word of the LORD,
you rulers of Sodom!
Give ear to the teaching of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
11 “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the LORD
;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of well-fed beasts
;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats
.
12 “When you come to appear before me,
who has required of you
this trampling of my courts?
13 Bring no more vain offerings;
incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—
I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly
.
14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts
my soul hates
;
they have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.
16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil
,
17 learn to do good;
seek justice,
correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause

Jesus overshadowed the Law

Jesus and his disciples work on the Sabbath

Mark 2:23-28 (ESV) – One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the SabbathSo the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

Matthew 12:1-8 (ESV) – At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

Luke 6:1-5 (ESV) – On a Sabbath, while he was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” And Jesus answered them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?” And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

John 5:16-17 (ESV) – And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”

John 9:16 (ESV) – Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them.

Jesus declared all foods clean

Mark 7:15-23 (ESV) – There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him,  since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Luke 11:37-41 (ESV) – While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.

Jesus teaches against violence

Matthew 5:38-39 (ESV) – “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Matthew 5:43-45 (ESV) 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Matthew 26:52 (ESV) – Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.

Luke 6:27-31, 36 (ESV) – “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them … Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

Jesus overrides the law on divorce

Mark 10:2-12 (ESV) – And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Matthew 5:31-32 (ESV) – “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Matthew 19:3-9 (ESV) – And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

Luke 16:18 (ESV) – “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.

Jesus taught not to judge

Matthew 7:1-5 (ESV) –  “Judge not, that you be not judgedFor with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Luke 6:37-38 (ESV) – “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

Additional commandments of Jesus

The commandments of Jesus, such as described in Matthew chapters 5-7 pertain to having a pure heart and righteous conduct. These cover topics such as anger (Mt 5:21-26), lust (Mt 5:27-30), divorce (Mt 5:31-32), oaths (Mt 5:33-37), retaliation (Mt 5:38-42), loving enemies (Mt 5:43-48), giving to the needy (Mt 6:1-4), praying (Mt 6:5-13), forgiveness (Mt 6:14), fasting (Mt 6:16-18), anxiety (Mt 6:25-34), judging others (Mt 7:1-5), the golden rule (Mt 7:12-14), and bearing fruit (Mt 7:15-20)

Some paragraphs above are excerpts from the ebook, The Law, the Sabbath and New Covenant Christianity, Sir. Anthony Buzzard, used with permission

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