Many Bible students have taken note of Jesus Christ’s “I am” revelations about Himself in the Gospel of John. He said, “I am the bread of life,” “I am the light of the world,” “I am the door [or gate],” “I am the good shepherd,” “I am the true vine,” “I am the resurrection and the life,” “I am the way, the truth, and the life” and, even more profoundly, simply “I AM” (John 6:35; John 8:12; John 8:58; John 15:1; John 10:7; John 10:11; John 10:14; John 11:25; John 14:6).
But He also gave important self-disclosures in third person, such as this one in Mark’s Gospel: “Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28). The Greek word for Lord here is kurios, meaning one who has power, authority and ownership in a matter.
The matter addressed is the seventh-day Sabbath, the term originating in a Hebrew verb meaning to cease or desist. God had given a loving command to pause from six days of work and personal pursuits and transition into a unique 24-hour realm of time, from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday, that He created for our spiritual, mental, emotional and physical well-being (Exodus 20:8-11; Mark 2:27).
Yet most professing followers of Jesus do not observe the weekly Holy Day He observed and proclaims as His to oversee. Did you realize that the four Gospel writers devote more space to what Christ taught regarding the Sabbath than to any other particular subject?
Rather than abolishing the Sabbath commandment or transitioning its observance to another weekday, as so many think, Jesus displayed how God in human flesh would observe such holy time—in line with His declaration that “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). He was at that time correcting the misuse of the Sabbath. Religious leaders had added nonbiblical regulations that made it burdensome rather than the loving blessing God intended it to be.
A New Covenant disciple will grow in understanding that observing the seventh-day Sabbath is connected to Jesus’ declaration, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” How many people have simply lost their way in life? The seventh-day Sabbath provides us a compass to point to what God has done in the past and why, what He is currently doing in the present and how, and the incredible future He has planned for everyone made in His image and likeness.
God grants us this grace-filled compass of time to anchor us in the shifting sands of society and our personal lives, helping us to stay on course in heeding Christ’s call of “Follow Me.”
Remembering and identifying with our Creator
The seventh-day Sabbath reminds us of where we came from and by Whom. Where the Ten Commandments are listed in Exodus 20, the fourth (in verses Exodus 20:8-11) states: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you nor [others under your authority] . . . For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them [including human beings in His image (Genesis 1:26-27)], and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath and hallowed it.”
This divinely designated time of the week takes us back to our roots, reminding us that we were created for a purpose and not merely by accident of evolution. It calls to mind the truth that we are not alone, that we worship an awesome and loving Creator who doesn’t want us to live accidentally but with design and purpose to honor and glorify Him and love our fellow man.
With the Old Testament origins of the Sabbath, some say, “Well that was then, and this is now.” But who is the great “I Am” (Exodus 3:13-15) who gave Moses and the Israelites the Ten Commandments? The answer is given in John’s Gospel, where Jesus said He is the “I Am” (John 8:58)—besides His cavalcade of other “I Am” declarations.
Further, John opened His Gospel by taking us back to the beginning of creation, where we see two divine Beings, God and the Word who was also God—later to be known as God the Father and Jesus Christ—and also that everything was made through the Word who became Christ (John 1:1-3; John 1:14). The apostle Paul adds that “all things were created through Him and for Him” (Colossians 1:16)—which includes the Sabbath!
Jesus was the God who gave us the Sabbath
Thus, Jesus is the very Creator of the Sabbath on behalf of the Father—and He’s also the one who commanded Israel to observe it at Mt. Sinai. As Paul stated regarding the people’s reliance on God as their Rock and Deliverer: “All of them ate the same spiritual food, and all of them drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that went with them, and that rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:3-4, God’s Word Translation).
The preincarnate Christ was giving a liberated people more than simply physical food and water. He was providing them with spiritual sustenance to link them with the Creator God, who had a purpose for them.
And this wasn’t just for the ancient Israelites. Have you ever considered that when God initially created the Sabbath and gave it to Adam and Eve, there was no Israelite, no Jew, no gentile? There were simply two human beings made in His image, and He gave them a gift—a piece of Himself. Genesis 2:3 tells us: “Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it [set it apart as sacred], because in it He rested [Hebrew shabath, meaning “cease, rest”] from all His work which God had created and made.” It’s also forward looking, as we will see.
The prolific religious writer N.T. Wright described it this way in his book Simply Jesus: “The sabbath was the day when human time and God’s time met, when the day-to-day succession of tasks and sorrows was set aside and one entered a different sort of time, celebrating the original sabbath and looking forward to the ultimate one.
“This was the natural moment to celebrate, to worship, to pray, to study God’s law. The sabbath was the moment during which one sensed the onward movement of history from its first foundations to its ultimate resolution. If the Temple was the space in which God’s sphere and the human sphere met, the sabbath was the time when God’s time and human time coincided. Sabbath was to time what Temple was to space” (2011, p. 136, emphasis in original).
Those who understood that a holy God had given a holy people a holy day for a holy purpose would understand that the seventh-day Sabbath was an identifying symbol of a relationship between the God of creation and a called-out and delivered people. They would embrace the power and wonder of Exodus 31:13, where God told Moses, “Speak also to the children of Israel, saying, ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you.’”
Only God can make things holy, but—as the Fourth Commandment prescribes—we are to “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” as we seek to experience God’s presence within this temple in time.
Defining the present life of a Christian
The seventh-day Sabbath not only reminds us of God’s formation and ordering of His physical creation, but it refocuses us on what He’s doing here and now in a current and awesome spiritual creation, which is yet to come to full fruition. The Fourth Commandment ultimately speaks to plural creations—yet in motion towards a common future.
Deuteronomy 5:12-15 is instructive in this regard. Here, in a reiterated listing of the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath commandment is not tied alone to the original creation, but to a deliverer God who not only brought the cosmos into being but continues to interrupt human history, now to liberate an enslaved people, granting them freedom and making them new and holy to Him (see Leviticus 11:44).
And here He reminds Israel of old as well as those within the Body of Christ, “the Israel of God” today (Galatians 6:16), “And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out . . .” (Deuteronomy 5:15). Observance of this commandment is a weekly reminder of the time of transition from a “living death” to living fully for an intervening Creator who is not merely a “First Cause” but the ongoing Sustainer of His divine purpose for humanity.
Christ’s followers have been set free from their pasts, Scripture describing a converted person as “a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Paul speaks of this further in Romans 6:17-18: “But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”
Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath, is now our Master, and we are now liberated from the penalty of sin, from the dominance of Satan’s influence, free to love God and those made in His image, free to utilize the God-given spiritual tools of His guiding Spirit—a new heart and mind (Hebrews 8:8)—to maintain freedom from the pulls of our human nature and the siren song of human society.
Every seventh day, once a week, we are able to rest from our physical labors and the stress-filled stranglehold of society and take time to be nourished by God’s Word and to appear before Him in worship, praise and song, as was the regular custom of Jesus and the apostle Paul in obedience to the Fourth Commandment (see Luke 4:16; Acts 17:2).
Pointing to a better future for all humanity
The apostle Paul in Romans 8:22 gives voice to the cries of the initial creation gone astray that “groans and labors” under “the curse” humanity brought on itself in Eden (Genesis 3:13-19). And yet, God is going to again intervene and establish His peace on earth. The seventh-day Sabbath is a weekly reminder and signpost to that eventful time yet ahead.
It is of note that Hippolytus of Rome in the early third century wrote the following in a commentary on the book of Daniel: “And 6,000 years must needs be accomplished, in order that the Sabbath may come . . . For the Sabbath is the type and emblem of the future kingdom of the saints, when ‘they shall reign with Christ,’ when He comes from heaven, as John says in his Apocalypse.” It was understood early on that the seventh-day Sabbath provides a small picture of God’s Kingdom.
The initial six days of the working week expressed the vast difference between man’s restless world and the perfection of God’s day—the seventh day, symbolizing the world yet to come—a return to Eden. The Sabbath represents the 1,000-year period mentioned in Revelation 20:4-5, thus connecting the first book of the Bible with the final one in presenting a God who never ceases His spiritual work to redeem humanity!
When Jesus says, “I am . . . the life” (John 14:6), this is the liberating life that the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6-7), the Lord of the Sabbath, will bring for all people when His intervening Kingdom interrupts and replaces the kingdoms of man (Daniel 2:44; Revelation 11:15).
When Jesus offers us the incredible privilege of personal discipleship in calling to us, “Follow Me,” He offers an important parameter in John 8:31-32: “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
Abiding in His words is not merely sticking our noses in the Bible, but obeying His words and following His example as the Son of Man, the Son of God, the Lord of the Sabbath. As the great “I Am” of Scripture, He inspired Moses to write, “Whatsoever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it” (Deuteronomy 12:32).
What will you do now that you have read this column and have come to discover that a holy God has given a holy people a holy day for a holy purpose?