Old Covenant versus New Covenant
Before I answer that you need to understand that there are two Covenants, an Old Covenant (Also known as the Mosaic Law) and a New Covenant. We who profess Jesus as our Lord and Savior are under the New Covenant. Jeremiah 31:31-34 describes this New Covenant and it was established when Jesus died on the cross for our sins. (See Matthew 26:28, Hebrews 9:14-17, New Covenant or is it Renewed?). Now why is this important? Because without a clear understanding of when the New Covenant started and what it means to us we could easily get confused when reading the Bible. So we see from the above scriptures that the New Covenant has begun and if you look at Jeremiah 31: 32 you will discover that this New Covenant is different from the old one. It says very clearly that this New Covenant will not be like the Old one at all, “It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt…” Take time to read Hebrews chapter 8, pay special attention to the last verse in that chapter (Verse 13). We see that the Old Covenant is already made obsolete, and that it is getting ready to disappear altogether.
Old Testament is Still Upheld
It isn’t totally gone yet, because we still need the Old Testament: 1.) for its historical value, 2.) to understand New Testament references, 3.) to prove that Jesus did indeed fulfill the scriptures and He is the Messiah, and 4.) to convict people that they have sinned and need a Savior. But those of us that are in Christ Jesus we are no longer bound by the Old Covenant (Or Mosaic Law). For us the Law has changed and we have entered into the New Covenant. And Here is our proof that a change has indeed occurred in the Law:
1. Jesus is the sacrifice for our sins (He is the Paschal Lamb.)
2. Jesus is our High Priest now, not the Levites (The Priesthood has changed. See Hebrews 7:11-16)
3. We are the New Temple (The Holy of Holies used to keep God’s Holy Spirit, now we do. See I Corinthians 6:19)
4. Foods have been declared clean by Jesus (Mark 7:19)
All of this points to the fact that a change in the Old Law has already taken place and a new one has been established!
Sabbath Established by God
Now the Sabbath was first established by God Himself in Genesis 2:1-3, “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 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.”
Jesus Explains the Sabbath
Many people teach that because of this scripture and because of the Mosaic Law which gives instructions on how to keep the Sabbath Day holy. We need to worship God on the seventh day or Sabbath Day (also known in English as Saturday.) In fact even Jesus was accused of working on the Sabbath by the Priests of His day and was reprimanded for it.
Now keeping all this in mind, now check out how Jesus responds to His critics with this incredible scripture. Look at John 5:17, “In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” The actual word for word translation from the Greek is this, “But Jesus answered them, ‘The Father of Me until now works and I work.'” Jesus explained that the reason why He was working on the Sabbath was because His Father hasn’t stopped working. Looks like God wasn’t resting on the Sabbath? Why not? Well first the scripture says that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. (See Mark 2:27)
His point was (one) this doesn’t apply to God (And Jesus is God) and (two) the Sabbath was made to serve people, instead of people being created to serve the Sabbath. The Sabbath serves us like a servant would; it is not our boss or master. The declaration in Genesis 2 about it being Holy is true for God’s word is infallible and that declaration was made for all humans. According to Jesus the day was made for us, like a servant it serves us.
Mosaic Law’s Explanation for the Israelites – A Sign of the Old Covenant
Now here is where it gets tricky. There seems to be a difference from the declaration about the Sabbath in Genesis 2 from later in the scripture. According to Jesus, Genesis declares it for all mankind and it is Holy, our servant. The Mosaic Law however elevates the Sabbath for the Israelite and now we see it become a shadow (symbol) for what is to come. (See Colossians 2:16-17)
In the scripture we can clearly read how Old Covenant Mosaic Law begins to define how or establish ways the Israelites are to specifically observe the day. Why? Because the Lord declares that the Sabbath was to serve as a SIGN of the Old Covenant between God and the Israelites. (See Exodus 20:12, 20) But we just established that we are no longer under the Old Covenant but under the New one. And now that that Covenant has been changed to the New one those old rules and regulations (on how to observe that day) no longer apply, and really they only applied to the Israelites.
The Sabbath Explained for Non-Jews
Now a Gentile could place himself under the Old Covenant law see Isaiah 56:1-8 and observe the Sabbath which would bring rewards from God, but this act was before the New Covenant was established. It is interesting on how the Israelites were told in Exodus 23:12 to cease from their work so that the livestock, servants and even foreigner in the land could rest too. Yet the instruction was still to the Israelite. When the men from Tyre were bringing in fish to sell to the Israelites on the Sabbath in Nehemiah 13:17. We observe Nehemiah fussing at the Israelites for not observing the Sabbath; he does not seek out the people of Tyre and scold them. And why not? Because they were not obligated to keep the Sabbath. The gentile (non-Jew) was only obligated to observe the law and the Sabbath if they chose to put themselves under the Mosaic Law. That’s why Nehemiah simply bars the gate to keep them from coming into Jerusalem.
Old Covenant Not Before Moses
To drive home the point that the Old Covenant is different from whatever was given before by God to the Israelites or even Mankind in general, observe Deuteronomy 5:2-3, “”The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. The LORD did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, with all those of us alive here today.” Here we see that Moses himself declares the Old Covenant wasn’t made before this time.
Now let’s bring this all home. Let me give you an example of what I mean. Let’s compare apples to apples.
Take this remark: Circumcision was made for man, not man made for circumcision. First of all this comparison has issues because circumcision really was only for the Israelites not for all mankind. It was only given to Israel, not the rest of the world. And that’s the whole point. So it would be better to say circumcision was made for Israel, or even Old Testament Laws on how to observe the Sabbath was made for Israel. Why? Because the laws of circumcision and the laws concerning the Sabbath served as a SIGN, it was about a covenant relationship between God and Israel.
Now that doesn’t change the fact that the medical practice of circumcision exists in other cultures nor does the Bible prohibit other groups from following it. Its existence has medical value for mankind. So it can still serve even Gentile human males in preserving good health. Likewise the creation of a day of rest can serve all mankind. This is why I believe Jesus used the phrase the Sabbath was made for man and not Israel. He always chose His words carefully, and by using mankind and not Israel, Jesus is definitely referring back to Genesis 2 here and not the Old Covenant regulations on observing the Sabbath.
Conclusion – Jesus is Our Sabbath
So Christians do not have to observe the Sabbath, and we are free to worship God any day of the week. We are not required to observe the Old Covenant rules since we have not placed ourselves under the law of the Old Covenant, but instead have placed ourselves under the blood of Jesus and live under the New Covenant through a saving faith in Christ Jesus of Nazareth, who is our permanent rest! Jesus is the fullness, the fulfillment, the reality of that law which was only a shadow of what is to come. The Sabbath was a shadow, a symbol, for the coming Messiah who would provide a permanent rest for His people. The Israelites were constantly working (doing works) to make themselves acceptable to God. Jesus becomes our Sabbath because He gives us rest from those works of the Old Covenant. This is why Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath. (See Matthew 12:8) Hebrews 4 really explains how Jesus is our Sabbath rest now. (See especially Hebrews 4:9-11)
Now if you want to rest from your physical labor on a Saturday or the seventh day of your work week, Great! It isn’t prohibited and probably is a good idea. After all the day of rest was made for us. Just don’t let anyone judge you if you do and don’t judge others if they don’t (Colossians 2:16). Simply enjoy the day God has made and the freedom you have been given in Christ.