By Kelly McDonald, Jr.
Claim: Some claim that the resurrection of Christ changed the Sabbath.
Think it through: How can the Sabbath, which was established in the beginning (Genesis 2:1-3) and continues into eternity (Isaiah 66:22-23) ever be changed by anyone?
Short Answer: There is no evidence in the New Testament that the disciples thought the resurrection changed the Sabbath. They continued to keep the Sabbath after the resurrection (Acts 13:13-48, 16:11-15, 17:1-4, 18:1-4).
How can we know? The life and teachings of the early disciples will clarify this question.
Longer Answer: First of all, there is not a single verse in the New Testament that states “The Sabbath was changed by the resurrection”. The authors of the New Testament never make a claim similar to it. The Sabbath was established in Genesis and continues into the New Heavens and New Earth (Isaiah 66:22-24).
To learn more about the relationship between the resurrection and the Sabbath, we must read the book of Acts. In this important book, we learn the teachings of the Apostles and the practice of their faith. In it, we will find vital clues to resolving this issue. We have some examples below.
“13 Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem. 14 But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down. 15 And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.”
Pisidian Antioch is in the region known as Galatia. Paul wrote an entire letter to the churches in this region (the letter to the Galatians). We can clearly see that Paul practiced the Sabbath; he was also asked to speak when he was there. Let’s look at the content of his message.
“28 And though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain. 29 And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulchre. 30 But God raised him from the dead: 31 And he was seen many days of them which came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses unto the people.”
Paul focused his message on the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ. After preaching on Christ’s death and resurrection, not once did he mention it changing the day of rest away from the Sabbath. No alternative day to Sabbath is given. How did those in attendance respond to Paul’s message?
Acts 13:42-45, 48
“42 And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath. 43 Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. 44 And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God. 45 But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming.… 48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed…” (KJV)
After hearing the message of Jesus’ resurrection, the Gentiles wanted to hear more about Jesus on the next Sabbath. They never insinuated that this message would change or alter the Sabbath in any way. Verse 42 also refutes another common argument which states the Sabbath was changed for Gentiles. Clearly there is no connection between the resurrection message and the Sabbath being changed. But, there is another important detail to learn from these verses.
In verse 43, Paul taught them to continue in the grace of God. In verse 44, they met on the Sabbath with Jews AND Gentiles. He taught them about grace as they obeyed the Sabbath. This proves that grace and Law are not contradictory concepts. Gentiles were present and believed in Jesus.
“1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: 2 And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, 3 Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ. 4 And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few.” (KJV)
In Acts 17, Paul preached in the city of Thessalonica. The writer of Acts is clear to point out that Paul’s manner or custom was to attend the synagogue on Sabbath. Greeks also attended to hear the message – and many them believed. In fact, a larger number of Greeks believed in Jesus than the Jewish people (only some of them believed). The resurrection of Jesus was the main content of Paul’s message; the Sabbath remained unchanged.
If the resurrection had such an obvious and unmistakable impact on the Sabbath – so important that the whole world must know – then why wouldn’t the first disciples receive and spread that message? You would think that Jewish people would especially need to hear this, right? Keep in mind – there is not a single verse in the New Testament that applies the resurrection to a change to the Sabbath.
Since this content was not addressed at all in the New Testament, then the authors never intended to convey any change to Sabbath observance.
When we hear people give reasons why they think the Sabbath has been changed or is no longer relevant, none of their reasons are found in the New Testament.
When Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to earth, He honored the Sabbath. It was His routine observance. He chose this day, above all others, to fulfill the verses in Isaiah concerning the acceptable year of the Lord (Luke 14:17-21). Jesus also said the following:
“27…The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: 28 Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath” (Mark 2:27b-28, KJV).
In these two verses, Christ declared that the Sabbath was made for man – not for Jews or Israelites. It was established in Genesis 2:1-3 before God made any distinction of nations. He also proclaimed that He was Lord of the Sabbath. It is the only day of the week over which He proclaimed Himself Lord.
The resurrection had no impact on the Sabbath.
Kelly McDonald, Jr.
BSA President – www.biblesabbath.org