God designed mankind to need a time of rest from physical labor and to focus its attention on the worship of God every seventh day. He created the Sabbath day for this central purpose. It was made to be a time of rest and refreshment to put things into proper perspective upon communing with and worshiping the Creator.
Of all the Ten Commandments, the fourth one, pertaining to the Sabbath, is expounded in greater detail, utilizing more words and space (in the English language), than any of the other commandments. The Second Commandment, which forbids idolatry, is almost as detailed. These two commandments are the very ones that organized Christianity most blatantly violates. The Roman Catholics have claimed the authority to change the Sabbath to the first day of the week, while sanctioning idolatry in many forms. The Protestants have blindly followed their lead on both of these issues.
Jesus Christ kept the Sabbath, as did the original apostles and the Church of God through the centuries. The weekly seventh-day Sabbath was commanded to be kept forever and will be kept by all humanity in the coming Millennium. This lesson presents the biblical proofs of the Sabbath in a clear way, and leads to a more in-depth study of the subject.
The Weekly Sabbath—Day of Commanded Rest
(1) How was the Fourth Commandment introduced? Exodus 20:8. Rewrite and highlight the first word in this verse, for emphasis.
Comment: The command to “remember” shows that the Sabbath had been known by the patriarchs of Israel before the time the Ten Commandments were given. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jacob’s sons had already known about and observed the Sabbath before this knowledge was lost by the following generations while enslaved in Egypt.
(2) If the Sabbath commandment was in force before the time of Moses, when was it first given? Genesis 2:1-3.
Comment: We find that at the end of the Creation Week, God blessed the seventh and final day of the week and sanctified it—set it apart for holy use. This was the day that God rested from His labors and He commanded mankind to do the same.
(3) What else do we find recorded pertaining to the Fourth Commandment? Exodus 20:9.
Comment: God expects man to work the first six days of the week and be productive at his endeavors. Man is to provide for himself and his family the best he can and manage his resources in accordance with God’s laws. Many verses, such as John 5:17, 36, show that God the Father and Christ are diligent to work themselves. Once man has accomplished his labor for six days, he is in need of rest, refreshment and reflection as to the purpose of his labors and to commune with God.
(4) What are the central instructions contained in the Fourth Commandment? Exodus 20:10-11.
Comment: Here we find recorded that the seventh day is the Sabbath and that neither man, nor his family, nor his hired help, nor work animals are to labor on this day. Further, to recount what was recorded in Genesis 2:1-3, Exodus 20:11 clearly shows that God rested on this day at the end of Creation Week and blessed and hallowed it. To hallow means “to make holy or set apart as holy.” God brought the Sabbath day into existence at this point in time and did so for the benefit of mankind.
(5) Did the patriarch Abraham keep God’s commandments and laws long before the time of the law being given at Mount Sinai? Genesis 26:5.
Comment: Abraham kept all of God’s laws, statutes and commandments and this certainly included the keeping of the Sabbath, as established immediately at the end of Creation Week.
(6) Did Christ explain that the Sabbath was made for the benefit of mankind, rather than to restrict man from performing good deeds in order to comply with Pharisaical regulations that went far beyond what the Scriptures specified or forbade? Mark 2:27; 3:1-4.
Comment: Some of the philosophers and theologians of the first century expressed their contempt for God’s Law, while proclaiming that the Sabbath commandment applied only to Jews and not to the rest of mankind. At the outset, God set apart the Sabbath as holy time for all mankind. The Jews—who were descendants of Judah, the son of Jacob—were not born until over 2,000 years later. The Sabbath day was set apart for all humanity in spite of the opinions of worldly theologians who despise God’s Law and look down on Jews because of their association with Sabbath-keeping.
The Sabbath Given as a Sign
(1) After delivering Israel from Egyptian bondage, did God provide a special sign to Israel setting them apart as His own people? Exodus 31:13.
Comment: Israel’s Exodus from Egypt was marked with numerous miracles from God. In the wake of this deliverance, God presented the Sabbath (already a commandment for all mankind) as a special sign between Him and this nation, whom He would set apart and bless with His presence and guidance.
(2) Was God serious about Israel’s obedience to the Sabbath command? Exodus 31:14-15.
Comment: The penalty for willful disobedience was death. This was not a harsh decree from a harsh God whose rule over the people created abject fear. Rather, obedience to this and all other commandments yielded great benefits and blessings, whereas rebellion spread to the national level and spelled chaos and ruin. God had to literally mandate happiness and fulfillment in order to guard against self-destruction by ancient Israel. This meant that the ultimate penalty for sin and rebellion had to be demonstrated on a personal level.
(3) Were the terms of the Sabbath sign between God and Israel essentially part of a separate Sabbath covenant? Exodus 31:16.
Comment: All other nations of that time were cut off from the knowledge and truth of God because they never kept His true seventh-day Sabbath. Only Israel had this contact with the true God, which was possible by fearing Him and keeping His laws—especially the all-important commandment to keep the Sabbath, which identified them as His people by a special covenant.
(4) How long was this covenant intended to last? Exodus 31:17.
Comment: This sign between God and Israel was to continue forever. Also, verse 16 shows that the Sabbath covenant was to be a perpetual covenant. The terms “forever” and “perpetual” do not imply a temporary span of time but rather “lasting for eternity.”
(5) Ancient Israel was carnal and never continued in obedience to God’s Law. Yet, what was Israel’s track record with regard to their faithfully keeping this sign of the Sabbath with their Creator? Ezekiel 20:11-13.
Comment: The term “Sabbaths” in Ezekiel 20 referred to not only the weekly Sabbath but the annual Sabbaths as well, to be discussed in future lessons.
Israel rebelled in the wilderness, in the Promised Land during the time of the judges, and especially during and after the time of Solomon’s rule. Amazingly, the book of Ezekiel was written after Judah was taken into Babylonian captivity about 585 B.C., but was addressed to Israel, which had already been taken into captivity over 140 years prior to the writing of this prophecy. The prophecy of Ezekiel was clearly intended for modern Israel—a people far removed from the laws of God and knowledge of the true Sabbath.
Sabbath Command Applies Even Today
(1) Does God expect us in this modern age to keep the Sabbath? Hebrews 3:8-11.
(2) Was ancient Israel’s failure to believe God and their disobedience to His Sabbath command the reason they never entered into the “rest” offered to them, as mentioned above? Hebrews 4:1-2.
Comment: Ancient Israel’s unbelief and faithlessness rendered the admonition given to them as unprofitable, since they rejected the instructions given to them through Moses.
(3) Did the apostle Paul admonish the Hebrews to take measures not to fall into the same state as ancient Israel and their unbelief? Hebrews 3:12, 15; 4:3.
(4) Exactly what is the direct connection between the “rest” discussed in Hebrews chapters 3 and 4 with the Sabbath Command still being in effect today? Hebrews 4:4, 9.
Comment: Verse 4 is a clear connection in which God rested on the Sabbath at the end of the Creation Week. It mentions the seventh day twice in connection with the Sabbath. In verse 9, we find the correct meaning of “rest”: “There remains therefore a rest to the people of God.” The margin of the Oxford edition of the King James Version gives the correct meaning of the word translated “rest.” Translated from the Greek word Sabbatismos, it means “a keeping of a (the) Sabbath.” This verse, in its given context, should read, “There remains therefore a keeping of the Sabbath for the people of God.” Rather than being done away with, we find that the Sabbath still “remains.”
(5) Does the “rest” of the Sabbath typify the “rest” of the coming Millennium and kingdom of God? Hebrews 4:10-11.
Comment: Verse 10 clearly shows that when one enters his rest, he ceases from his works or labors, just as God rested on the original Sabbath at the end of Creation Week. Then verse 11 admonishes all to labor in order to enter into “that rest,” referring to the coming kingdom of God, which is the central part of the gospel message.
Seven-Day Week Reveals the Pattern of God’s 7,000-Year Plan
(1) Was each day of the Creation Week a literal 24-hour day? Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31; Genesis 2:2.
(2) Does the seventh-day Sabbath picture the coming 1,000 years of rest upon the earth? II Peter 3:8; Revelation 5:10; 20:6.
Comment: A day (according to God’s Plan) is as a thousand years and a thousand years of man’s history is as a day in the overall seven-day week (which consists of seven 1000-year days). Some accuse the Church of God of inventing this “idea” during the twentieth century. However, God’s overall plan of seven 1000-year days has been understood by His servants over the course of time and this understanding has also been attributed to the prophet Elijah. Notice the following:
“The ancient and popular doctrine of the Millennium was intimately connected with the second coming of Christ. As the works of the creation had been finished in six days, their duration in their present state, according to a tradition which was attributed to the prophet Elijah, was fixed to six thousand years. By the same analogy, it was inferred that this long period of labor and contention, which was now almost elapsed, would be succeeded by a joyful Sabbath of a thousand years; and that Christ, with the triumphant band of the saints and the elect who had escaped death [by divine protection; Rev. 3:10], or who had been miraculously revived [resurrected from the dead], would reign upon earth till the time appointed for the last and general resurrection” (Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon, 1858, Vol.1, ch.15, pp.533-534).
Christ Kept the Sabbath
(1) Did Christ create all things? John 1:3; Colossians 1:16.
Comment: This same Member of the God Family, who was the Spokesman or Word, was the one who created the Sabbath and set it apart as holy. For this very reason, He referred to Himself as “Lord of the Sabbath” in Mark 2:28 and Luke 6:5.
(2) Did this Member of the God Family divest Himself of His glory for a time in order to become a fleshly human being? Hebrews 2:9.
Comment: Christ came as a human being for a number of reasons, including preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God and the teaching and commissioning of the apostles, as He established His Church to continue to the end of the age. He also came for the suffering of death and the offering of his life for the sins of the world after having set the example for those called in this age to follow, including when and how to observe the Sabbath.
(3) Are we specifically told through Scripture to follow Christ’s example?
Matthew 28:20; I Corinthians 11:1; I Peter 2:21; I John 2:6.
(4) Was it Christ’s custom to observe the Sabbath and to assemble with others on the Sabbath? Leviticus 23:3; Luke 4:16, 31.
Comment: Christ obeyed the laws of God perfectly and had established keeping the Sabbath as a way of life.
The Apostles and the New Testament Church Kept the Sabbath
(1) Did the disciples of Christ observe the Sabbath commandment even after He was crucified? Luke 23:56.
Comment: After having rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment, those disciples were involved in laboring on the first day of the week, a regular work day.
(2) Did Paul always observe the Sabbath? Acts 17:1-2; I Corinthians 11:1.
Comment: As a zealous Jew, Paul had always observed the Sabbath—the same day Jesus kept. He continued to keep it with greater purpose after receiving God’s Spirit.
(3) During the time he was in Antioch in Asia Minor, did Paul preach to the Jews, as well as Gentiles who met with them, at the synagogue each Sabbath? Acts 13:14-15, 42-43.
Comment: When speaking almost exclusively to the Gentiles, Paul made no mention that the Sabbath was no longer binding or had been changed to Sunday. Rather, they continued to meet on the Sabbath (verse 44).
(4) Being a tentmaker by profession, did Paul suspend his work in order to observe the Sabbath? Acts 18:1-4, 9, 11.
(5) Did Christ indicate that the Church in the end-time would be a Sabbath-keeping Church? Matthew 24:20.
Comment: Christ’s admonition for His people in the end-time to pray that their flight not take place on the Sabbath was a sure sign that the true Church would be keeping the Sabbath.
Final Points to Consider
(1) After the Babylonian captivity, did the Jews come to understand from God’s servants that Sabbath-breaking was a major reason for their captivity? Nehemiah 13:17-18.
Comment: As referenced earlier, the Jews have been very diligent to keep the Sabbath for this reason. Read Ezra’s words to this effect in Nehemiah 9:13-14, 33, 36.
(2) Does God promise special blessings upon those who keep His Sabbath with diligence, so as not to profane or pollute it? Isaiah 56:2. Does this also apply to the people of other nations besides Israel? Verse 6.
(3) Does God expect those who keep the Sabbath to do so in a way that is oriented toward pleasing God instead of pursuit of their own pleasures? Isaiah 58:13.
Comment: The proper approach to keeping the Sabbath is to seek to do what is pleasing to God. (We have a series of sermons available on our website covering the subject of keeping the Sabbath. This series answers many questions regarding the proper way to keep the Sabbath.)
(4) What are the blessings associated with proper observance of the Sabbath? Isaiah 58:14.
Comment: This is not an empty promise. God can and will reward those who seek to do His will.
(5) Will the Sabbath be kept during the millennial reign of Christ? Isaiah 66:23; Ezekiel 46:1.
Comment: In the Millennium, the Sabbath will be universally kept by all mankind.
For more detailed information about the Sabbath, take the time to read our extensive book Saturday or Sunday – Which Is the Sabbath? and our booklet The Sabbath – Has Time Been Lost?