Jesus and the Sabbath

Jon English Lee
| September 30, 2013

*This post is the latest in a series looking at the Sabbath. Previous posts include: The Sabbath and the Decalogue in the OT, a look at God’s Rest as Prescriptive, and an examination of the Sabbath as a Creation Ordinance.

Jesus and the Sabbath

There exists a lot of interpretive controversy around the Sabbath claims in the New Testament. Much of that controversy is centered upon a select number of texts that could indicate the abrogation of the Sabbath command. Therefore the next few posts will look at how Jesus and Paul handled the Sabbath, and how the Sabbath plays a role in biblical typology.

Several comments can be made regarding the way Jesus handled the Sabbath in Mk 2:27-28. First, it is noteworthy that Jesus takes the Sabbath back to creation, not to Sinai;[1] this is another evidence of the Sabbath as a creation ordinance. Second, Jesus’ claim of Lordship over the Sabbath gives us an expectation that the Sabbath will continue in the New Covenant. John Murray explains:

What the Lord is affirming is that the Sabbath has its place within the sphere of his messianic lordship and that he exercises lordship over the Sabbath because the Sabbath was made for man. Since he is Lord of the Sabbath it is his to guard it against those distortions and perversions with which Pharisaism had surrounded it and by which its truly beneficent purpose has been defeated. But he is also its Lord to guard and vindicate its permanent place within that messianic lordship which he exercises over all things- he is Lord of the Sabbath, too. And he is Lord of it, not for the purpose of depriving men of that inestimable benefit which the Sabbath bestows, but for the purpose of bringing to the fullest realization on behalf of men that beneficent design for which the Sabbath was instituted. If the Sabbath was made for man, and if Jesus is the Son of man to save man, surely the lordship which he exercises to that end is not to deprive man of that which was made for his good, but to seal to man of that which the Sabbath institution involves. Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath- we dare not tamper with his authority and we dare not misconstrue the intent of his words.[2]

Jesus is not abrogating the Sabbath when he claims his authority over it. Rather, by giving a divine interpretation of the Sabbath command, Jesus displays His own authority over His creation. Regarding our Lord’s authority over the Sabbath, Warfield comments, “It is in the power of no man to unmake the Sabbath, or to remake it—diverting it from, or, as we might fondly hope, adjusting it better to, its divinely appointed function.”[3]

Similarly, Jesus in Matthew 12:1-14 did not abrogate the Sabbath, and He certainly did not break any Sabbath command. Rather, Jesus gives the proper interpretation of the Sabbath command, over and against the interpretation of the Pharisees: He advocated works of necessity (Matt 12:1-8; Mk 2:23-28; Lk 6:1-5), mercy (Matt 12:9-14; Lk 4:31-41; 6:6-11; 13:10-17; 14:1-6; Jn 5:8-10; 7:23; 9:13-16), and piety (Matt 12:9; Mk 6:2; Lk 4:16; 6:6; Jn 7:22-23). Christ never explains or intimates that the Sabbath would not be ongoing. Rather, by him claiming Lordship over the Sabbath, Christ not only demonstrates the Sabbath was currently under his reign, but that also, “as Son of man at the Father’s right hand he retains that same lordship. And Jesus’ lordship was shown in his declaring the full meaning and intent of the Sabbath—not in abrogating it.”[4]

The coming posts will examine how Paul viewed the Sabbath, the nature of Sabbath typology, and practical implications for the Sabbath and ecclesiology.

Jon English Lee


[1] Both the Sabbath and Man are singular and articular. Barcellos argues, “Jesus did not say ‘The Sabbath was made for the Jews’ or ‘the Sabbaths were made for the Jews.’ He said ‘the Sabbath’ was made for ‘the man.’ ‘The man’ refers either to Adam as the head of the human race or, more likely, to mankind. Either way, Christ goes back to the creation account and sees both man and the Sabbath as being made then.”Barcellos, The Old Testament Theology of the Sabbath, RBTR, Vol 3, No 2, 33.

[2] John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1976), 1:208.

[3] B.B. Warfield, The Foundations of the Sabbath in the Word of God, http://www.the-highway.com/Sabbath_Warfield.html. (Accessed 4/30/2013).

[4] “Report of the Committee on Sabbath Matters,” Minutes of the Fortieth General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (1973), available at http://www.opc.org/GA/sabbath.html (Accessed 5/2/2013).