COMMENTARY: Did the New Covenant Nullify the Sabbath?

Monday, November 02, 2015 |  Brian Hennessy

As more and more Christians recover their stolen Hebraic heritage and begin to draw near to their Jewish brethren again, the question arises - “how do we keep holy the Sabbath day?” Surely this commandment is central to being part of God’s Israel – “for it shall be a sign between Me and you throughout your generations” (Ex. 31:12).

For centuries we thought as Christians we were keeping the Sabbath by going to church on Sunday. Then we discovered the Sunday Sabbath was an unauthorized change to God’s Law instituted by the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century. But does that mean God’s official day of rest is still Saturday? Or is there some other way to understand the fourth commandment in light of God’s New Covenant (NC) with Israel? I believe there is.

To begin, Jesus was quite clear about the purpose of his coming regarding the Mosaic Law: “I did not come to abolish [it] but to fulfill [it]” (Matt. 5:17). So none of the commandments and ordinances given on Mount Sinai were ever abolished by Yeshua. The key is understanding what Yeshua meant by “fulfilled.” For surely things were not the same in Israel after he left. 

As the inspired New Testament writers revealed, the original Mosaic commands were only “a shadow of the good things to come” (Heb. 10:1). They all pointed to a future spiritual fulfillment in Yeshua. So once the New Covenant (NC) fulfilled the first covenant, Israel’s understanding of how God wanted His people to serve Him also had to change. 

The command for physical circumcision became the required circumcised heart. The Levitical priesthood was replaced by the priesthood of believers. The temple building by the body of Messiah. Passover was now the remembrance of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God in the bread and wine. And the Sabbath became a command to rest, not just one day a week, but 24-7 in the finished work of Yeshua.

  • No one explains this NC truth concerning the Sabbath better than Watchman Nee. In his little book, Sit, Walk, Stand, a study of the Book of Ephesians, he reminds us the Sabbath law was based on God resting on the seventh day of creation.  We were to see that while God worked six days and rested on the seventh, man, who was created on the sixth day, began his work on God’s day of rest. This showed us man must first enter God’s rest in Yeshua before he could work. “For anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own works, just as God did from his” (Heb. 4:10).

To keep the Sabbath now we must sit down with Yeshua in heavenly places each day and cease from all our striving and unrest. We can rest from trying to stay saved, from trying to provide for ourselves and family, from trying to serve God – and just receive it all by faith, knowing God has already met all our needs and accomplished all our work for us in him. All we do now will be done in the Spirit. 

Ironically, that means the Sabbath is the only time we should work! All other times of labor for God, even if deemed a “good work,” will have no lasting value in God’s Kingdom. Do you realize how much religious busy-work would end if we were all truly keeping His Sabbath?

That doesn’t mean someone can’t designate one day to be a personal sabbath rest to honor God if he so chooses. It just means he won’t be stoned if he fails to keep it. 

The bottom line: “Let no one  act as your judge with regard to food or drink, or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day, things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Messiah” (Col. 2:16,17).


Brian Hennessy is the author of Valley of the Steeples, available at: ketchpublishing/BrianHennessyBooks.htm

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