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How Does Jesus Want Us To Observe His Sabbath Day?


I. Sabbatical Symbolism of Redemption in the Old Testament


In Old Testament times the Sabbath served not only to provide personal rest and liberation from the hardship of work and social injustices, but it was also a shadow-picture for the Israelites for the hope of future Messianic peace, prosperity and spiritual redemption (couple Isaiah 35:1-10 to Isaiah 66:23 and Colossians 2:16-17).  At the creation of the Sabbath at the end of the “creation week” we see a picture of Messianic perfection and blessings of abundance exists (before Adam’s sin, of course).  i.e. the peace and harmony that existed between Adam and the animals, which we see prophetically will yet exist at the coming of the Messianic Age, as Isaiah 11:6 shows, “The wolf also shall dwell with the Lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and the little child shall lead them…” and verse 9, “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.”  Both are a picture of Sabbath rest, but the latter Messianic Sabbath being a picture of the restoration of the original Sabbath rest at Creation.  The incredible physical prosperity which existed at the time of the Creation Sabbath will be restored at the beginning of the Messianic Sabbatical Age.  As Amos 9:13-14, declares, “‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the LORD, ‘when the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; the mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.  I will bring back the captives of my people Israel; they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them.’” (see also Isaiah 4:2; 7:22; 30:23-25; Joel 4:19; Zephaniah 3:13; Jeremiah 30:19; 31:24 and Ezekiel 34:13 and 47:12.)  This is the Old Testament typological meaning of the Sabbath, portraying the Messianic Age to come as a future age of rest and prosperity.  The peace and prosperity and joy of the Edenic Sabbath before the fall of Adam and Eve is the opposing book-end of the Sabbatical (Jubilee) Messianic Age. The Old Testament idea of “rest” was taken also to represent the idea of a realization of a peaceful life in a land of prosperity, where its king would give the people “rest from all enemies,”  i.e. political rest.  This idea of political rest does not necessarily equate to the literal Sabbath rest---but the weekly Sabbath rest served “as a model” or type for this larger national aspiration for national and political rest.  (We find today, as in all ages, we need this “rest” from our own politicians!)  The author of Hebrews, it would seem, makes this connection (read Hebrews 4:4, 6, 8, and see also Psalm 92 and Isaiah 32:18).


An Interesting Jewish Custom, Based On Scripture


Also the Jewish tradition of kindling lights on the Sabbath has an interesting symbolic picture.  It is symbolically linked in their minds to the supernatural light they believed shone during the very first Sabbath upon Adam (from the LORD, obviously), as well as the extraordinary light of the Messianic Age (cf. Daniel 12:1-3; Revelation 1:13-16; Revelation chapter 4, God emitting an incredibly brilliant light, see also Zechariah 14:7), continuous supernatural light.  The Jews believe supernatural light ceased or disappeared at the close of the creation Sabbath as a result of Adam’s disobedience,  but will reappear at the beginning of the Messianic Age.  Their belief is well-founded, based on solid Bible prophecy, as well as their understanding of God’s Shekinah Glory. 


The Old Testament Theme of Liberation on the Sabbath


We see a repeat of the giving of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy chapter 5.  The Sabbath Command found within this repeat of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy chapter 5 introduces the idea of liberation from slavery, for the Israelites, from their past slavery to Egypt.  The apostle Paul in the New Testament equates slavery to the slavery of sin.  Our salvation through Jesus Christ and acceptance of his sacrifice is the spiritual counterpart to the Lord’s physical salvation of Israel from slavery in Egypt, as we all learn every year when we go through the Passover season.  God links this freedom from slavery theme directly to the Sabbath command in Deuteronomy 5:12-15, “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you.  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 your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you.  And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.”  The Jews use this rendering of the Ten Commandments to connect the Sabbath to Passover, and in a sense look upon the Sabbath as a type of mini Passover (and Day of Atonement).  All three of those days point to a redemption, the saving of mankind from his bondage and slavery to Satan, sin and this world. 

Sabbatical Years


In the Old Testament Law God had set up what you could call Sabbath or Sabbatical years of liberation, both from debt and bond-servitude, Exodus 21:1-2, “Now these are the judgments which you shall set before them:  If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years; and in the seventh he shall go out free and pay nothing.”  (Bond-servants, which were in reality bond-slaves, existed in Israel due to the debts they were unable to pay off, which they had incurred somehow).  Pastor Chuck Smith says something very interesting in his commentary of Exodus 21:2, “A man could only be a slave for a six year period, in the 7th year he had to be set free.  This is an interesting law in light of the total history of man.  Adam sold man into the bondage of sin, slavery, just about six thousand years ago.  If one day is with the Lord as a thousand years [2nd Peter 3:8], and if man [Biblically] can only be a slave for six years, and the seventh year, he has to be set free, I believe we are approaching that glorious day when God is going to establish His eternal Kingdom, and man will be set free from the slavery and the bondage of sin, and we will live in a world that is filled with peace, and righteousness will cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea.  I believe man’s time of bondage to sin is about over, and I am excited as we approach the beginning of the seven thousandth year of man’s history from the time of Adam.  I believe that God will carry the pattern through on a universal scale, even as he did in Israel.  Six years to serve; the seventh year, you go free” [The Word For Today Bible (NKJV) p. 109, commentary on Exodus 21:2].  Leviticus 25 also explains that this seventh year was to be a land Sabbath as well, where a farmer’s land was to rest, lie fallow for one whole year (cf. Leviticus 25:1-7), on the seventh year.  At the end of seven of these Sabbatical year cycles (49 years) on the 50th year, a “Jubilee” was declared, which was a kind of super-year of release from all debt, slavery-bond-servitude, and reclamation of all inherited lands which had been sold off by the original owners (cf. Leviticus 25:8-17).  To mark the beginning of the Jubilee year trumpets, shofars, were to be blown throughout the land of Israel (Leviticus 25:9).  These Sabbatical years of release paint a picture of the Messianic mission, both for the 1st coming and 2nd coming of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, where he inaugurated release and forgiveness from the bondage of sin for all who would call on him, those whom the Father would draw to him, the hurting, maimed, lame and downtrodden, and then for the whole surviving world at his 2nd coming.  This he started doing during the period of his 1st coming and thereafter through the Church he founded (cf. Acts 2).  At the time of his 2nd coming, as Pastor Chuck Smith explained, he will inaugurate this release from the bondage of sin for all of mankind.  This fits the rich imagery of the Jubilee year, a super-year of release, right down to the blowing of a loud trumpet at Christ’s return.  Let’s read the Scriptures that indicate this. 1st Corinthians 15:51-52, “Behold, I tell you a mystery:  We shall not all sleep [die], but we shall all be changed---in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” 1st Thessalonians 4:16, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first.” Matthew 24:31, “And he will send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” And now look at Leviticus 25:9, “Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land.  And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants.  It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family.”  The 7th yearly release and the Jubilee year were always begun on the Day of Atonement.  All this rich imagery is wrapped up in and pictured by God’s 7th day Sabbath. 


Sabbatical Structure of Time Found in Prophecy


This Sabbatical structure of time was specifically spelled out by God through Daniel and can be seen in Daniel 9 where two Sabbatical periods are given in his prophecies.  As Samuele Bacchiocchi said in his book “the classical place of Sabbatical Messianism is found in Daniel 9, where two Sabbatical periods are given.  The first refers to the 70 years of Jeremiah’s prophecy regarding the time to national restoration of the Jews (Daniel 9:3-19) and consists of 10 Sabbatical years (10 x 7).  The second period is of “seventy weeks (shabuim)---technically “seventy Sabbatical cycles”---which would lead to Messianic redemption (Daniel 9:24-27).”  Bacchiocchi concludes by saying, “This brief survey of Sabbatical typologies such as the Sabbath peace and prosperity, the Sabbath rest, the Sabbath liberation, and the Sabbatical structure of time, indicates that in Old Testament times the weekly and annual Sabbaths have not only served to provide physical rest and liberation from social injustices, but also to epitomize and nourish the hope of future Messianic redemption” [par. 1-3, p. 60, “The SABBATH in the NEW TESTAMENT” by Samuele Bacchiocchi]


II. Redemptive Symbolism of God’s Sabbath in the New Testament



How does this Old Testament redemptive symbolism of God’s Sabbath, both weekly and yearly Sabbaths, relate to Jesus Christ’s redemptive mission?  In the Gospel of Luke, we find Luke first mentioning that Jesus Christ is a ‘habitual’ Sabbath-keeper (cf. Luke 4:16).  We find Christ in this set of verses in Luke 4, first announcing his mission at the very beginning of his ministry, right in the middle of Sabbath services in the synagogue at Capernaum.  He is asked to read a passage out of the Tenach, the Hebrew Bible, and he reads this passage out of Isaiah, “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD” (Luke 4:18-19, quoting Isaiah 61:1-3).  Jesus Christ was using this quote from Isaiah to present himself to the Jews as the very fulfillment of all their long-awaited Messianic expectations which had been nourished by the imagery of the Sabbath and Sabbatical years.  Did Jesus Christ’s personal ministry back up this prophetic imagery of the Sabbath, and show us in essence how the literal Sabbath ought to be used?  The healing of the woman whom Luke said was literally double-bent over in the synagogue on the Sabbath is a prime example of Christ’s saving redemptive ministry.  It also clearly shows us the right way and the wrong way to observe the Sabbath!  The leader of the synagogue clearly demonstrated how observance of the Sabbath had been distorted by a bunch of Pharisaic legalistic restrictions which were preventing the redemptive and restorative purpose of the Sabbath---Christ’s ministry---from being fulfilled.  Whereas Jesus Christ clearly demonstrated (on the other hand) by his actions on this Sabbath and in this synagogue the true purpose of the Sabbath.  Let’s read it, Luke 13:10-17, “Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath.  And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over [the Greek term for this is “double bent over”, i.e. this poor woman had spent nearly 18 years with her face next to the ground, she was bent over so badly] and could in no way raise herself up.  But when Jesus saw her, he called her to him and said to her, ‘Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.  And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.  But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, and he said to the crowd, [this yahoo doesn’t even have the courage to address Jesus directly, but tries to humiliate Jesus publicly in front of the others] ‘There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.’  The Lord then answered him and said, ‘Hypocrites!  Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it to away to water it?  So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound---think of it---for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?’  And when he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame:  and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him.”  Jesus was acting against the prevailing Pharisaic misconceptions the religious leaders had built into their Sabbath observances.  The basic Sabbath commanded people not to do “servile work” or customary work on the Sabbath.  But as Christ will show, the Sabbath was created for a different kind of work, the work of redemption, healing, and freeing others from the bondage of sin.  Plainly, evangelism is within the central core of this “redemptive work.”  This fits Christ’s Messianic mission, a Sabbatical-Jubilee mission, “to proclaim release to the captives…to set at liberty those who are oppressed (cf. Luke 4:18-19).  This is the image of what Samuele Bacchiocchi calls “The Messianic Sabbath.”  Paul K. Jewett says “We have in Jesus’ healings on the Sabbath, not only acts of love, compassion, and mercy, but true ‘sabbatical acts,’ acts which show the Messianic Sabbath, the fulfillment of the Sabbath rest of the Old Testament, has broken into our world…”  The spiritual part or the redemptive ministry of Jesus Christ can be seen demonstrated in the fact that he healed two men on the Sabbath (read John 5:1-14 and 9:1-16, 35-38).  He then went out and looked for each of these two men whom he had healed, on the same day, and ministered to their spiritual needs.  In the latter case, this was a direct act of evangelism being performed by Jesus on the Sabbath, a spiritually redemptive act.  In almost every example of Jesus on the Sabbath, we see him acting against and opposing the restrictive misconceptions of the Pharisaic religious rulers in order to restore the Sabbath to its positive function. 


Our Target Audience for Evangelism, Who Should It Be?


The answer to that question lies in whom Jesus was able to work with and draw to himself.  It is defined in the opening statement of Jesus at the beginning of his ministry.  Luke 4:18-19, “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed [Hebrew: “downtrodden”]; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and this was a direct quote of Isaiah 61:1-3.  Who was Jesus healing and working with?  The poor, the  crippled, lame, maimed, sick and downtrodden, the refuse of Jewish society, the prostitutes, sinners and tax collectors---those who knew they were sick and in need of help, the help of the Great Physician.  Matthew 9:9-13, “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office.  And he said to him, ‘Follow me.’  So he arose and followed him.  Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples.  And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’  When Jesus heard that, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  But go and learn what this means:  ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’  For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.’”  The parable about the king who arranged a wedding for his son shows who Jesus’ target audience for evangelism is as well.  Matthew 22:1-10, “And Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables and said, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding [i.e. the Jewish nation]; and they were not willing to come.  Again, he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited.  ‘See I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready.  Come to the wedding.’  But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business.  And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them.  But when the king heard about it, he was furious.  And he sent out armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.  [This occurred in 70AD]  Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy.  Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’  So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good.  And the wedding hall was filled with guests.”  Paul gives the same indication about who the target audience is for evangelism during the Church Age before Jesus’ 2nd coming.  1st Corinthians 1:26-29, “For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.  But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.” 


The Type of Work Permitted on the Sabbath


Now back to this principle that there is a type or form of “work” which Jesus did perform on the Sabbath day, and yes that we ought to be performing on God’s Sabbath day.  Samuele Bacchiocchi said in his book “The Godhead “is working” for our salvation (John 5:17) but also “we must work” to extend it to others (John 9:4).”  i.e. the Sabbath is a time when we ought to be extending the blessings of salvation to others.  Samuele Bacchiocchi goes on to say, “A Day of Benevolent Service.  According to Matthew, Christ illustrated the principle of Sabbathkeeping as a time of benevolent service by adding a second question containing a concrete example:  “What man of you, if he has one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out?  Of how much more value is a man than a sheep!” (Matt 12:11-12).  Both by the question of principle and by its illustration, Christ reveals the original value of the Sabbath, as a day to honor God by showing concern and compassion for others.  Unfortunately, with the accumulation of restrictions (Mark 7:9), the observation of the day had been reduced to a legalistic religiosity rather than an opportunity to offer loving service to the Creator-Redeemer by serving needy fellow human beings.  The believer who on the Sabbath experiences the blessing of salvation will automatically be moved “to save” and not “to kill” others.”---some other Christian groups are way ahead of us Sabbath-keepers on this one---“Christ’s accusers, by failing to show concern for the physical and spiritual well-being of others on the Sabbath, revealed their defective understanding and experience of God’s Holy Day.  Rather than celebrating God’s goodness on the Sabbath by being involved in a saving ministry, they engaged in destructive efforts, looking for faults and devising methods to kill Christ (Mark 3:2-6).”  [The SABATH in the NEW TESTAMENT, answers to questions”, p. 93, par. 3-5]  Bacchiocchi continues explaining about proper Sabbath observance on the next page, “Is not Matthew’s understanding of the Sabbath as a day “to do good” (Matt 12:12) and to show “mercy” rather than religiosity (Matt 12:7) fully shared by the other three Gospels?  In both Mark and Luke, Christ is cited as saying the same thing by means of a rhetorical question, precisely that on the Sabbath it is lawful “to do good” and “to save” (Mark 3:4; Luke 6:9).  In Luke, Christ is reported as saying that the Sabbath is the day to loose human beings from physical and spiritual bonds (Luke 13:12,16).  In John, Christ invites His followers to share on the Sabbath in the divine redemptive activity (John 9:4; 5:17; 7:22-23)…A New Christian Understanding.  The new Christian understanding of the Sabbath as a time not of passive idleness, but of active, loving service to needy souls, represents a radical departure from contemporary Jewish Sabbathkeeping.  This is attested also in an early document, known as the Epistle to Diognetus (dates between A.D. 130-200), where the Jews are charged with “speaking falsely of God” because they claim that “He [God] forbade us to do what is good on the Sabbath days---how is not this impious?”  (Epistle to Diognetus, 4, 3, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids, 1973 reprint), vol. 1, p.26)…New Testament believers regarded Sabbathkeeping as a day to celebrate and experience the Messianic redemption-rest by showing “mercy” and doing “good” to those in need.  What this means to us Christians today is that on and through the Sabbath we celebrate Christ’s creative and redemptive accomplishments by acting redemptively toward others.” [Ibid. p.94, par. 3-5, and p. 95, par. 1b]  And this included evangelism---and dare I say inviting the lost, spiritually lost, into our services and evangelizing them.  How can we work to extend the blessings of salvation to others on God’s Sabbath Day? Inviting unconverted friends and relatives to Sabbath services should be encouraged and become a common occurrence.  Also the pastor should have an evangelical theme and message at the end of his sermons, just as Jesus did.  It’s teamwork, the congregation lures the fish, the pastor sets the hook, Jesus catches and cleans them (drawing them, and then bringing them into the life-long process of sanctification, all done through the Holy Spirit).  The apostle Paul spelled this principle out in  Romans 10:13-15, “For ‘whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.’  How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed?  And how shall they believe on Him of whom they have not heard?  And how shall they hear without a preacher?  And how shall they preach unless they are sent?  As it is written:  ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!’  Most of the apostle Paul’s evangelism was carried out on the Sabbath.  See for Biblical proof of this.  We need to take the German Shepherd guard-dogs away from the front door of our church congregations and replace them with Walmart greeters J.  Our church doors ought to be wide open to the public, the lost of this present evil world, those who are the hurting, lame, maimed by this world, both in the spiritual and physical sense.  Is the spirit of the scribes and Pharisees in your church, congregation, or is the Spirit of Christ operative in your congregation, church?  That is the question you need to be asking yourselves, pastors and lay-members alike.


III.  Questions & Answers About Sabbath Observance---let’s get personal


Samuele Bacchiocchi’s treatment of this subject is very good, balanced and follows the intent of Jesus Christ’s guidance toward Sabbath observance spelled out in his book as well as this article.  So what follows are a few direct quotes from the end of his book titled “Questions & Answers About the Sabbathkeeping Today”  [emphasis mine throughout quotes]




Which activities are appropriate or inappropriate on the Sabbath?  Should the Sabbath be viewed and observed primarily as a time of inactivity?




Special Activities.  It is hard for me to believe that God is especially pleased when He sees His children on the Sabbath in a motionless position.  What pleases God is not the action or inaction per se but the intention behind the action.  The Savior spent the Sabbath not in restful relaxation but in active service.  Thus the Sabbath should be viewed as the day of special activities rather than inactivity. 


No Standard Formula.  No standard formula can be given to determine which activities are appropriate or inappropriate on the Sabbath.  The reasons are at least two. First, the physical needs of people vary according to age and profession.  A teenager bubbling over with energy has different Sabbath needs than a middle aged bricklayer or a farmer who has spent much of his/her physical energy during the week.  Second, any attempt to classify or specify “legitimate” Sabbath activities engenders legalistic attitudes which stifle the spirit of freedom and creativity of the Sabbath.  Thus, rather than prescribing a standard formula, I will submit three simple guidelines that can help in determining suitable Sabbath recreational activities.


God-Centered.  Sabbath activities should be first of all God-centered rather than self-centered.  They should be a means of not doing our own pleasure but of taking “delight in the Lord” (Is 58:13-14).  This means that any recreational activity on the Sabbath should be viewed not as an end in itself, but as a means to express delight in the Lord.  It is possible to plan for a Sabbath afternoon hike to see who can endure the longest or to play a Bible game to see who can score the most points.  [But] When activities such as these are performed for the sake of competition rather than of communion, for the sake of scoring rather than of fellowshipping, then they do not fulfill the intent of the Sabbath which is to teach us how to honor God not by competing but by communing with one another.  The challenge then is not only to choose appropriate Sabbath activities, but also to engage in them in a way that will contribute to honoring the Lord, to celebrate His creative and redemptive love. 


Freedom and Joy.  A second guideline is that Sabbath activities should ensure the freedom and joy of everybody.  The Sabbath should be a time to celebrate the redemptive freedom offered by the Savior.  Sometimes the same activity can be an experience of freedom and joy for some and of restraint and pressure for others.  A Sabbath afternoon picnic with friends, for example, can be a joyful and free celebration of the goodness of God’s creation and recreation in Christ, if adequate preparations have been made before the beginning of the Sabbath.  On the contrary, if some persons have to spend many hours during the Sabbath preparing the food for the friends who are to come, then that picnic becomes inappropriate for the Sabbath, since it deprives some persons of the freedom and joy of the Sabbath.  [That’s why pot-lucking is so useful and fun on the Sabbath.]  On the basis of this principle any activity which deprives a person of the freedom and joy of the Sabbath, is inappropriate because it militates against the intended function of the commandment, which is to ensure freedom and joy for all.


Recreative.  A third guideline is that Sabbath activities should contribute to our mental, emotional, and physical renewal, restoration, and not exhaustion or dissipation.  The renewal experienced on the Sabbath foreshadows in a sense the fuller restoration to be experienced at Christ’s Second Coming.  It is important to remember that all our Sabbath recreational activities have a spiritual quality because they represent the restoration realized and yet to be realized by God in the life of his people.  Thus any Sabbath activity which leaves a person exhausted and with a “hangover” on the following day fails to conform to God’s intended use of the Sabbath, which is to renew us physically, mentally, and spiritually, in order to be better equipped to meet the demands of our week-days’ work. 

          Sports which require intense physical exertion may be good at other times but they are out of harmony with the Sabbath celebration.  First, because they destroy the spirit of worship and celebration which characterizes the Sabbath.  It is impossible to cultivate the awareness of God’s presence on the Sabbath while intent on scoring points and beating the other team.  Second, because they exhaust rather than renew the person.  Third, because the spirit of competition fostered by sports undermines the spirit of fellowship and communion of the Sabbath.  No single criterion is per se adequate for determining suitable Sabbath activities.  The combination of the three guidelines suggested above, namely, God-centered activities, Freedom and joy for all, and Recreative nature, should offer a safe guidance in selecting and in engaging in appropriate Sabbath activities. [I would like to give an example of how this advice would apply in a specific instance.  So, it would appear, by what Bacchiocchi is explaining here, and quite well I might add, is that competitive sports is out.  But that doesn’t mean a group of kids along with their parents can’t have an unofficial gave of whiffle-ball baseball out in the backyard, as our house-church did after services one afternoon.  This was carried out in the true spirit of Malachi 4:6, “And he [the LORD] will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.”  The spirit in which our whiffle-ball game was carried out was in the spirit of Malachi 4:6, so it was not wrong.  That is just one example of how to apply the principles the author is laying out here.  On the other hand, letting your kids perform in super-competitive sports events on the Sabbath goes in the opposite direction, and is not advised.  It’s not even about the games we allow or disallow, it’s the intent.  I hope everyone can see that.  In the old Worldwide Church of God swimming in a swimming pool was forbidden on a Sabbath or Holy Day.  That was a clear example of Pharisaism.  Use Godly wisdom and discernment, which Samuele Bacchiocchi is laying out here pretty well.] 




        How can a pastor “rest unto the Lord” on the Sabbath when his workload is greater on the Sabbath than on weekdays?




Special Role.  There is no question that for the pastor who ministers to his congregation, the Sabbath may be the most exhausting day of the week.  Thus in a sense pastors do not generally observe the “rest” aspect of the Sabbath commandment.  Jesus recognized this fact when He said that “on the sabbath the priests in the temple profane the sabbath” (Matt 12:5).  On the Sabbath the workload of the priests was intensified as additional sacrifices were prescribed for that day (Num 28:9-10; Lev 24:8-9).  Yet, though the priests worked more on the Sabbath, Christ said that they were “guiltless” (Matt 12:5).  The reason is not because they took a day off at another time during the week.  No such provision is contemplated in the Old Testament.  Rather, the reason is to be found in  the special redemptive role of the ministry performed by the priests on the Sabbath. 


Redemptive Work.  The intensification of the ministry of the priests at the temple on the Sabbath (four lambs were sacrificed instead of two---Num 28:8-9), pointed to the special provision of forgiveness and salvation which God offered through the priests to the people on that day.  Thus, through the Sabbath ministry of the priests the people could experience the rest of God’s forgiveness and salvation.  Like the priests of old, pastors today are called upon on the Sabbath to intensify their redemptive ministry on behalf of God’s people.  While this may deprive them of the physical relaxation provided by the Sabbath, it will refresh their souls with the restful satisfaction that comes from ministering to the spiritual and physical needs of others.


Rest of Service.  It is important to remember that the Savior spent the Sabbath not relaxing in splendid isolation, but actively involved in offering a living, loving service to human needs.  The teaching and the example of the Savior suggests that resting unto the Lord on the Sabbath is accomplished not only by resting physically but also by acting redemptively on behalf of others. The Sabbath is linked to creation (Ex 20:11) and redemption (Deut 5:15; Hebr 4:9).  By interrupting our secular activities we remember the Creator-God and by acting mercifully toward others we imitate the Redeemer-God who works redemptively on the Sabbath on behalf of His creatures (John 5:17).  The pastor is in a special sense called to work redemptively on the Sabbath.  This work may deprive him of physical rest (which he can have on other days), but will enrich and renew him with the restful satisfaction of having served God’s people.” [ibed. pp. 212-215, and 216 par. 1]


In Hebrews it states that we all, lay-member and pastors alike, are members of the order of the priesthood of Melchizedek, members of a higher priestly order than the Levites, and we all should be sharing in some of this “redemptive work,” the work of evangelism on the Sabbath.  It may also help to lighten your pastor’s actual “workload” on the Sabbath.  Everyone can contribute to pot-lucks held before and after services, where invited unconverted friends and relatives can partake of fellowship and a meal in church, even those who may come in the door of the church spontaneously.  Don’t expect your hardworking pastor to do all the work in the field of redemption and salvation.  You play an important part.


For a more in-depth study about the Sabbath, one going accurately and deep into the theology concerning the Sabbath, be sure to order and read Samuele Bacchiocchi’s book:


“The SABBATH in the NEW TESTAMENT answers to questions”

by Samuele Bacchiocchi, © 1985, 1990


Biblical Perspectives

4569 Lisa Lane

Berrien Springs, Michigan  49103, USA


Related links:


The apostle Paul’s evangelism on the Sabbath.  See:


The Sabbath & Hospitality.  See:


For a more complete synopsis of Jesus Christ’s Sabbath observances, log onto and scroll to Part IIa of:

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