IS THE SABBATH PART OF THE NEW COVENANT?
By Juan Baixeras
The purpose of this paper is to examine the Sabbath and how it relates to Christians. We will not be concerned with whom it was intended for besides the Hebrews (i.e. aliens living in Israel), or the regulations concerning it. Our only concern will be with the question, "Is it still binding on Christians, or was the Sabbath law fulfilled in the teachings of Christ and we are no longer bound by it?"
This is an important question for many Christians. The reason being that according to Scripture, if you break one law you are just as guilty as if you broke all of the law. In the Old Testament the punishment for not keeping the Sabbath was being stoned to death. Holding to this idea, not keeping the Sabbath becomes an issue of salvation for some groups.
IS THE SABBATH INCLUDED IN THE OLD COVENANT?
We must first establish that the Sabbath is included in the Old Covenant. This can be easily done by turning to Exodus 34:10-11:
"Here, then, said the LORD, Is the covenant I will make But you, on your part must keep the commandments I am giving you today."
In this verse it is plain to see that covenant = commandments. Is the Sabbath one of these commandments? It sure is. The Sabbath command follows the verse above after a few other commandments. Exodus 34:21:
"For six days you may work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; on that day you must rest even during the seasons of plowing and harvesting."
It is interesting to see that in the same breath that the Sabbath command is given there is also given the command to keep the feast of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 34:18), and the feast of Weeks (Exodus 34:22). These are better known as Passover and Pentecost. If one keeps the Sabbath one should also keep these other two commandments which are also considered Sabbaths (Exodus 12:14-16 & Leviticus 23:15-21), and which were also given simultaneously. One cannot pick and choose which command one will follow and which one he will not.
Nehemiah 10:30: Take this oath to follow the law of God which was given through Moses, the servant of God, and to observe carefully all the commandments of the LORD, our Lord, his ordinances and his statues."
This verse is important because it dispels an argument by some that the Sabbath belongs to the laws of God while the Mosaic laws do not. As is evident in the verse above, the law of God was given by Moses (the Mosaic Law). It is also referred to as the commandments. Law of God = Mosaic Law = Commandments.
In verse 32 it speaks of the Sabbath as one of these commandments.
Exodus 34:28: "And he wrote on tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments."
Deuteronomy 4:13: "He proclaimed to you his covenant, which he commanded you to keep: the Ten Commandments."
You can clearly see in the two verses above that the Ten Commandments are included in the Old Covenant. It is not only the Ten Commandments that comprise the Old Covenant, but all of the commandments (Exodus 34:11 above).
Ten Commandments = Old Covenant.
One would really have to stretch interpretations to claim that the commandments are not included in the Mosaic Law. This is after all what the Mosaic Law is about, the commandments. 2 Corinthians 3:14-16 states it very clearly:
"The same veil remains unlifted when they read the old covenant, because through Christ it is taken away. To this day, in fact, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts, but whenever a person turns to the Lord the veil is removed."
In the verse above it is easy to see that to read Moses (Mosaic law) is equivalent to reading the Old Covenant. Mosaic Law = Old Covenant. The author uses the terms interchangingly. Deuteronomy 5:2 also testifies to this fact:
"The LORD, our God, made a covenant with us at Horeb."
Horeb, better known as Sanai, is the site where God gave His commandments (including the Ten Commandments) to the Israelites. The Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments that are a part of a great many commandments which were given at Horeb. Therefore, the Ten Commandments are included as part of the Old Covenant.
The conclusion is quite obvious. The Sabbath is part of the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant is comprised of the commandments. The Mosaic Laws is just another way of saying "the Old Covenant" because Moses was instrumental in its delivery.
Ten Commandments = Old Covenant = Mosaic Laws = Commandments.
Now that this fact is established, let us review the purpose of the law. Why did God give the law to the Israelites in the first place?
THE PURPOSE OF THE LAW
One reason for the law was to show the Jews just how sinful they really were. In other words, stealing is only wrong if there is a law that says that stealing is illegal. If there is no law, then there is no crime. Without the knowledge that one is sinful there is no repentance because there is no need for repentance. In our modern world there are still a few tribes that still practice cannibalism. It is not against their law to kill someone and eat them. When they do, they are not considered criminals. The reason that they are not considered criminals is that they do not have a law against that custom. Fortunately the rest of the world does. It is illegal in the rest of the world because there are laws that say that it is illegal to kill anyone, not just people in your own tribe.
At the same time that the law accomplishes this purpose it is also developing the people of God for the day when God will establish His kingdom on earth through His Messiah. It is similar to the development of a child. When a parent tells a young child not to steal because it is wrong, the child obeys because the parent tells the child of the consequences of stealing, i.e. you will be punished if you steal. The child does not understand that it is morally wrong to steal someone else's possessions, he just understands the consequences (I will be punished). Later in life as the child matures he will understand why it is morally wrong to steal and he will not need the threat of punishment in order for him not to steal. The idea that it is morally wrong to steal will be ingrained in his heart, in his mind.
The Mosaic Law is considered the law of the letter for this reason while in the New Covenant God's laws are within us, meaning we follow them because we truly believe them to be morally correct.
2 Corinthians 3:5-6: "Rather, our qualification comes from God, who has indeed qualified us as ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of spirit" (of the mind).
The Jews as a whole did not understand in their hearts the intent of the law. They did understand the consequences. Contrary to the Old Covenant, the New Covenant is supposed to be a law within our hearts, in our minds. It is supposed to be a part of our being. Jeremiah 31:31-33 states:
"The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers... I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts."
Paul in speaking of Jesus and his covenant echoes this verse in Hebrews 10:16:
"This is the covenant I will establish with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them upon their minds."
When we understand the intent of the law we bring the law to its fulfillment. This is what Jesus meant when he said:
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17).
To "fulfill" does not mean to "obey." Jesus means that he has come to bring the law to its original intent. An excellent example of this is in the fulfillment of the law of circumcision. God gave the Israelites the law of circumcision as a sign for the world to know that they were God's chosen people. The world recognized the Jews by this outward sign. So why is this law no longer binding on Christians today? It carried a penalty of death for anyone who disobeyed it. It is no longer binding because it was fulfilled by the sign of love. Paul states in Romans 13:10:
"Love is the fulfillment of the law."
Galatians 5:14 states:
"For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
Jesus in Mark 12:31 states love for your neighbor as the second greatest commandment:
"The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
The new sign to the world that we are God's chosen people (followers of Christ) is the sign of love. The sign of love fulfilled the sign of circumcision. Jesus is very clear on this matter in John13:35:
"This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
This is how Jesus fulfilled the law of circumcision. It was not abolished, it was brought to its original intent. This is why Paul says in Romans 2:28-29:
"One is not a Jew outwardly. True circumcision is not outwardly, in the flesh. Rather, one is a Jew inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart, in the spirit (the mind), not the letter."
Later on we will see how the Sabbath has been fulfilled. Paul calls the law in its present form a shadow of the things to come. In other words, the law is not fulfilled until you come to Christ and come under the rules of the New Covenant. Colossians 2:14,16-17:
"Obliterating the bond against us, with its legal claims, which was opposed to us, he also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross...Let no one pass judgment on you in matters of food and drink or with regard to a festival or new moon or sabbath. These are shadows of things to come; the reality belongs to Christ."
In this verse it is very clear that the Sabbath is included in the law. It is not a separate group of commandments that are not considered to be a part of the law. It is called a legal claim. Jesus removed these legal bonds by dying on the cross and inaugurating the New Covenant of faith. Hebrews 10:1 echoes this verse:
"Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of them."
Let us now try to understand God's intent for the Sabbath and how it was fulfilled in Christ.
THE ORIGINAL INTENT OF THE SABBATH
There are Scriptures which mention that the purpose of the Sabbath is for the Israelite to remember their exodus from Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:15) and also to remember how God created the universe and everything in it (Exodus 20:11). These reasons are true. But you can only do that when you are thinking about God, i.e. during worship, prayer, or studying His word. These things require that you be focused on God and not on anything else. If you are busy at work or at play you cannot do these things. This is why God prohibited work on the Sabbath. If you are working or playing you are following the desires of your will. You are concentrating on the things of your flesh and not on the will of God. The purpose of the Sabbath was for the Israelites to have at least one day out of seven in which to do nothing but the will of God. To concentrate on God and nothing else for one day. God had to actually force them to do this just like you have to force a child to study. Once the child reaches college he studies on his own. The Israelites had to be taught by the letter of the law to do the will of God, at least one day out of seven.
The Sabbath law has been fulfilled likewise by the law of love. Romans 13:10 states:
"Love is the fulfillment of the law."
When Jesus is asked which is the greatest commandment, he replies in Mark 12:30:
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength."
If we love God with all of our being, we do not need a special day to do his will. We do not have to be forced to do it on one specific day. We will want to do it every day. This is the true intent of the Sabbath, to do the will of God. This is what Jesus tried to teach the Pharisees, but they wanted nothing to do with him. They enjoyed their traditions over the will of God. The Jews had built these traditions around the Sabbath which considered just about everything work. They had rules tied to the Sabbath as elaborated as; "It is illegal to tie or untie knots on the Sabbath & It is illegal for a housewife to throw out dirty dishwater on the Sabbath." They were concerned with the external observance of the law and not with the performance of the will of God which underlay the law. This is why there was such controversy between Jesus and the Pharisees over the Sabbath. When Jesus heals a man with a withered hand in Luke 6:10 the Pharisees accuse him of breaking the Sabbath because healing was considered work to them. But Jesus understood the true meaning of the Sabbath. He understood that by healing someone he was in fact doing the will of God, which is the true intent of the Sabbath. In Luke 6:9 it states:
"Then Jesus said to them, I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?"
Jesus came to do the will of God. Hebrews 10:7 in speaking of Jesus states:
"Behold I came to do your will, O God."
Jesus did the will of God every day because he truly loved God to the point of death. We are told to have the same attitude as Christ:
1 Peter 3:8: "Finally, all of you, be of one mind."
Acts 4:32: "The community of believers was of one heart and mind."
Philippians 2:2: "Complete my joy by being of the same mind."
We are supposed to do the will of God everyday out of love for God like Jesus did and not for any other reason. The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible states the following on this topic:
"True Sabbath observance under the New Covenant is the keeping of a perpetual Sabbath which consists of turning from sin."
Turning from sin is the will of God. The law of love that Christ brought us fulfilled the law of the Sabbath. The law of the Sabbath was a shadow of what the reality would be. The shadow was to do the will of God one day out of seven mostly by force. The reality in Christ is to do the will of God every day out of love for God. Colossians 2:16-17:
"Let no one pass judgment on you in matters of food and drink or with regard to a festival or new moon or Sabbath. These are shadows of things to come; the reality belongs to Christ."
Let us now come to a solid conclusion about the New Covenant replacing the Old Covenant. Does the Bible state this fact? As was established before, the Sabbath is part of the law, but even if one disagrees with that statement there is no way to deny that the Sabbath is part of the Old Covenant. Let's see what the Bible says:
DOES THE NEW SUPERSEDE THE OLD?
Hebrews 4:13 has been used to imply that the Sabbath is still in effect for Christians today. Unfortunately for those that claim this, this verse has nothing to do with keeping the Sabbath. It states:
"Now if Joshua had given them rest, he would not have spoken afterwards of another day. Therefore, a Sabbath rest remains for the people of God. And whoever enters into Gods rest, rests from his own works as God did from his. Therefore, let us strive to enter into that rest, so that no one may fall after the same example of disobedience."
In this verse, "Sabbath rest" is not a reference to the Sabbath law but to the kingdom of God which is the topic. In the same chapter verse 1-3 it states:
"Therefore, let us be on guard while the promise of entering into his rest remains For in fact we received the good news just as they did...For we who believed enter into that rest, just as he has said."
"Therefore, since it remains that some will enter into it, and those who formerly received the good news did not enter because of disobedience, he once more set a day."
The good news is the same good news throughout the Bible, the good news of the kingdom of God. This is the promise that God made to Abraham (Romans 4:13). This is what the Bible consistently speaks about entering. It says in verse six that some will enter and that some will not because of their disobedience.
Verse 10 says, "Strive to enter into that rest." The literal Sabbath law will not fit the context of these verses.
Remember that the true meaning of the Sabbath is to do the will of God.
Hebrews 4:1-13 can be best summarized as follows:
"Do not make the same mistake as those who received the good news in the desert but because of their disobedience (following their own will) they will not enter into the kingdom of God (Gods rest). Remember the promise that God made to Abraham and strive to enter the kingdom of God by doing Gods will (this is why a Sabbath day still remains). You cannot enter the kingdom of God unless you do Gods will."
The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible states the following on Hebrews 4:13:
"He does not tell his readers to keep the Sabbath, but rather urges them to strive to enter that rest."
Paul in 2 Thessalonians 1:7 clears up this verse:
"For it is surely just on God's part to repay with afflictions those who are afflicting you, and to grant rest along with us to you who are undergoing afflictions, at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his mighty angels."
When are the afflicted given rest? At the return of Christ. As you can see, the afflicted are given rest at the return of Jesus, which is when he will establish the kingdom of God. This is the same theme that Paul presents in Hebrews 4:13.
Let us take a look at some other verses in Hebrews to compare if the author believes in keeping the Sabbath.
In Hebrews 8:7 it states:
"For if that first covenant had been faultless, no place would have been sought for a second one."
In Hebrews 8:8-12 the author is quoting Jeremiah 31:31-34 which speaks of the New Covenant that the LORD will establish with the house of Israel and Judah which will be of the heart and mind and not like the previous one which was of the letter. Then in Hebrews 8:13 it states:
"When he speaks of a "new" covenant, he declares the first one obsolete. And what has become obsolete and has grown old is close to disappearing."
People will argue that it says that it is "close to disappearing" and that this means that it has not yet disappeared. This idea is incorrect. The whole point of this chapter is to show that the Old Covenant has been declared obsolete by the New Covenant. When it says that it is close to disappearing it is from the perspective of Jeremiah in the Old Testament which the author is quoting. The New American Bible states has the following footnote on this verse:
Close to disappearing from the prophets perspective, not that of the author.
This verse is very clear that the New Covenant has made the Old obsolete. In speaking of other matters of the Old Covenant, Hebrews 9:9-10 states:
"This is a symbol of the present time, in which gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the worshipper in conscience but only in matters of food and drink and various washings: regulations concerning the flesh, imposed until the time of the new order."
"Regulations" include the Sabbath as is supported by Paul by comparing Colossians 1:16 to Colossians 1:20. It is clear that these laws were in effect until the coming of the new order (covenant). Hebrews 10:1 states:
"Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of them."
It is clear that Paul in Hebrews does not believe the Old Covenant to be anything but obsolete. We can also see this same view in his letters.
Galatians 4:9-10: "But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and destitute elemental powers? Do you want to be slaves to them all over again? You are observing days, months, seasons, and years. I am afraid on your account that perhaps I have labored for you in vain."
This is an extremely powerful statement about keeping the Sabbath. It calls the Mosaic Law weak and destitute. It calls the people who are observing them "slaves." Notice that it identifies turning back to the law (the Mosaic Law) with observance of the Sabbath. This is further evidence that the Sabbath is included in the law.
It then states one of the most conclusive statements about the Sabbath in the whole Bible. It says that if you are still observing the days (Sabbath, one day out of seven), months, seasons, and years (which were also included as Sabbaths) then I have labored in vain. In other words, Paul says:
"If they are still keeping the Sabbath, he has wasted his time."
Galatians 3:19: "Why then the law? It was added for transgressions, UNTIL the descendant came to whom the promise had been made."
This statement plainly says that the law was in effect until the arrival of Jesus to whom the promise (of the kingdom of God) had been made.
Galatians 3:10&12: "For all who depend on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, Cursed be everyone who does not persevere in doing all the things written in the book of the law But the law does not depend on faith."
You are cursed if you depend on the law for your salvation. If you hold to the law then you must do all of it. People that maintain the Sabbath just keep the one day out of seven. They do not follow all the other requirements of the Sabbath. All these dates are considered Sabbaths.
1. The Passover. (Exodus 12:1-20 & Levit 23:5)
2. The Feast of the First Fruits. (Levit 23:9-14)
3. The Feast of Pentecost. (Levit 23:15-21)
4. The Feast of Trumpets. (Levit 23-25)
5. the Day of Atonement (Levit 16 & Levit-23:26-32)
6. The Feast of Tabernacles. (Levit 23:33-36)
These "extra" Sabbaths were also legally binding on the Jews as a perpetual covenant. (Exodus 12:14; Levit 16:31 & 23:14 & 21 & 41)
If you do not observe all of them, it is as if you did not observe any of them. You then are also responsible for keeping all the dietary laws, circumcision and all the rest of the Old Covenant. Yet, groups that keep the Sabbath just keep the one day out of seven and think that it is enough. You cannot pick and choose. You either do all of them or none of them, because the consequences will be the same.
Galatians 2:16: "Who know that a person is not justified by works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ."
Galatians 3:1: "O stupid Galatians! Who has bewitched you?
Paul in speaking to the Galatians about the law, (apparently some had gone back to the law), calls them STUPID and bewitched.
Paul while speaking to Kephas (Peter) says to him in regards to the Gentiles and the law:
"If you, though a Jew, are living like a gentile (not observing the Mosaic Law), how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews (to observe the Mosaic laws)?"
Galatians 5:1-3,6: "For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery that he is bound to observe the entire law You are separated from Christ, you who are trying to be justified by law For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith through love."
Observing one law means that you are bound to observe the entire law. Observing the entire law that includes the Sabbath is compared to as being slaves and separated from Christ. Nothing of the Old Covenant counts except faith through the law of love.
2 Corinthians 3:14-16: "The same veil remains unlifted when they read the old covenant, because through Christ it is taken away. To this day, in fact, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts, but whenever a person turns to the Lord the veil is removed."
As you can see in this verse, reading Moses is equivalent to the Mosaic Law. The Mosaic Law is equivalent to the Old Covenant. The Sabbath is part of the law because the law is the Old Covenant. Notice also that through Christ the Old Covenant is taken away.
The last verses to cover that shed a great deal of light on this topic are in Acts chapter 15. Paul and Barnabas are in Antioch when some from Judea arrive in Antioch and start instructing the brothers that in order to be saved you must observe the Mosaic law (Acts 15:1&5). This created a conflict in the church of Antioch. The church of Antioch decided to send Paul, Barnabas, and some others to Jerusalem to bring back a final decision to this problem. The question was: Do the Gentiles have to follow the Old Covenant? This meeting is known as the Council of Jerusalem. The Jewish Christians argue in verse 15:5 that:
"It is necessary to circumcise them and direct them to observe the Mosaic Law."
Paul in verse 10 answers by saying:
"Why then are you placing on the shoulders of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?"
Their ancestors kept the Sabbath which is part of the Mosaic Law. This is the yoke that Peter is speaking about. After some deliberation they came to the following decision in Acts 15: 28-29:
"It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage. If you keep these, you will be doing what is right."
Notice that there is no mention of keeping the Sabbath or of any other Old Covenant law. It is logical to assume that if keeping the Sabbath or any other part of the law was a matter of salvation (as some groups today claim), then it should have been mentioned at this time to the Gentiles, because it is for this reason that Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem. But it is not. The absence of this evidence is alarming.
These rules that were given to Gentile believers are not to be understood as the only rules for Gentiles to keep. It does not mean that they can now murder, steal etc. The church of Antioch understood that they were under the law of love that Paul speaks about. When you are under the law of love you treat your neighbor as you would want him to treat you, as Jesus taught us in Mark 12:30. When you love your neighbor you automatically do not commit murder, steal, covet, etc. Nobody does these things to people they love. This is why Paul said that love is the fulfillment of the law.
These regulations were given to the Gentiles in order to facilitate relationships between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians in their social setting. In other words, "Gentiles must refrain from doing these things in order to get along with their Jewish Christian brothers." The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible in vol. 1 on pg. 993 states the following:
"The Council approved four prohibitions to be observed by all Gentile believers, which were designed, in part at least, to facilitate Jew-Gentile Christian social and church relationships, but all of which pertained to approved Christian deportment rather than requirements for salvation."
It further states on pg. 994:
"Actually they appear to have been but a restatement, in the main, of the Noachian precepts long required by the Jews of Gentiles who became proselytes (converts) to Judaism."
The Noachian precepts were rules that were given to converts to Judaism in order for them fit into the Jewish culture a little easier. This is why they were given to the Gentile converts to Christianity. Remember the Apostles were Jews, and the majority of the Christian Church at this time were Christian Jews. This is why these regulations were given to the Gentile converts, in order for them to fuse with the Jewish Christians as smoothly as possible. All four of these prohibitions are things that were especially obnoxious to the Jews. Violation of these regulations would have caused no limit of socio-religious difficulties within the Christian Church.
Another good indicator on the observance of the Sabbath is provide for us by Ignatius of Antioch. Ignatius of Antioch who is one of the Apostolic fathers (do not confuse Apostolic father with the church fathers who were very influenced by Greek philosophy) was a disciple of John the Apostle. He actually knew him. He writes in his letter to the Magnesians in chapter IX:
"If therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things that have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord's day, on which also our life has sprung up again by him and by his death."
Ignatius calls the Old Covenant the "ancient order of things." Then he says that those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but instead observing the Lord's day. Whether this is a reference to everyday being the Lord's day, or the fact that Christians gathered to worship on Sunday because it was the day that Jesus resurrected and not as a substitute for the Jewish Sabbath is not certain. But this is a very conclusive statement. At this time in history the early church as a whole had not yet been corrupted by the influence of Greek philosophy. It is very clear that in Ignatius' time (around 130 AD) the church was not keeping the Sabbath.
One argument in defense of the Sabbath is that the Sabbath is part of the Ten Commandments, and they are perpetual. That they are a separate group of commandments which are not included in the Mosaic Law.
As we have shown in the beginning of this paper, the Ten Commandments are definitely included in the Old Covenant. This idea is speculation on a grand scale at best. As we have shown earlier, the Sabbath is part of the Mosaic Law which is the Old Covenant. The Ten Commandments are not a special group of commandments that carry more weight than the other commandments. As a matter of fact, the Shema which Jesus calls the "greatest commandment" is not in the Ten Commandments. So why does there seem to be a difference between the Ten Commandments (in the sense that they have a name) and the rest of the commandments? Let's review the whole episode. We will start in Exodus 20:1. It states:
"Then God delivered all these commandments."
These commandments that this verse is talking about start with the Ten Commandments in chapter 20 and ends with many more other commandments in chapter 23. The problem is that there is a difference in how the Ten Commandments were delivered to the Israelites as opposed to the rest of the commandments. As we saw in chapter 20:1 above, God starts to deliver the commandments to the people. He gives them the first ten, and then the people become so terrified because of the thunder, lightning, trumpet blasts, and the smoking mountain that they move to a position much farther back. They then ask Moses to go and speak with God, and for Moses to relay the commandments to them. This Moses does, and returns with the rest of the commandments. This is why there is a difference, not because of the importance of any one of the Ten over any other commandment. Remember, if you brake one commandment it is the same as if you had broken all of them. Let's take a look at this episode. Exodus 20:18 is right after God has given them the first Ten Commandments:
"When the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the trumpet blasts and the mountain smoking, they all feared and trembled. So they took up a position much farther away and said to Moses, 'You speak to us and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we shall die.' Moses answered the people, 'Do not be afraid, for God has come to you only to test you and put his fear upon you, lest you should sin.' Still the people remained at a distance while Moses approached the cloud where God was. The LORD told Moses, 'Thus shall you speak to the Israelites."
Then come many more commandments including the Sabbath again among these other commandments in Exodus 23:12. Deuteronomy has the same episode with the same events in chapter 5. Verse 26 is after the first ten commandments have been given when the people tell Moses to go and hear all that the LORD has to say and to come back and tell them. Then Moses goes to God and God says to Moses in verse 30:
"Go tell them to return to their tents. Then you wait here near me and I will give you ALL the commandments, the statues and decrees you must teach them, that they may observe them in the land."
Chapter 6 starts with the rest of these commandments, and in verse 4 God gives us what Jesus refers to as the greatest commandment, the Shema.
The Difference between the Ten Commandments and the rest of the commandments is simply in their delivery. They are held in a greater esteem (not value), because they were delivered to the Jews personally by God. The rest of the commandments were relayed from God to the Jews by Moses.
The last step is to determine at what point in time the Old Covenant is superceded by the New Covenant.
We can obviously see that there are two covenants. The Mosaic Covenant which is referred to as the Old Covenant and the New Covenant inaugurated by Jesus. I have not found anybody that will contest this fact. The next step is to understand how a covenant was sealed according to Hebrew customs. In ancient societies it was customary to seal an important pact by the shedding of blood. This held true for the Hebrews. This does not mean that it was a pagan custom incorporated into the Jewish faith. Whether it was a Jewish custom that spread to other cultures or whether it was adopted by the Jews from other cultures is not certain nor is it relevant. All we need to know is that it was an established method of sealing a pact. This can be verified by the sealing of the Old Covenant by Moses in Exodus 24:8:
"Then he took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, saying, 'This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words of his."
With this act Moses sealed the Old Covenant and it became binding on the Israelites from that moment on. Many of the commandments were already kept by the Israelites before this episode. This act just made them officially binding on all the Israelites. It is as if you have been told by your parents not to steal. You don't steal because your parents told you not to. Maybe other people do steal. But suddenly the government declares a law saying that it is illegal to steal. They have not created a new idea, but they have made it official and binding on everyone with mandatory consequences if it is disobeyed.
The New Covenant was also sealed and inaugurated by blood. The blood of Jesus the Christ. Hebrews 10:29 states:
"Do you not think that a much worse punishment is due the one who has contempt for the Son of God, considers unclean the covenant-blood by which he was consecrated."
The New Covenant started at the moment that Jesus' blood was shed. It became official and binding at that moment and not before. This is why Jesus kept the law including the Sabbath until his death.
THE PROBLEM WITH KEEPING THE SABBATH
The problem that arises when someone keeps the Sabbath is not one of salvation, but one of a weaker faith in our Lord Jesus the Christ. The Bible is clear that we are saved not by works (the law) but by faith (faith in the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ). Ephesians 2:8:
"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not through you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works (the law), so no one may boast."
When we keep the Sabbath, in a sense we are saying that Jesus' sacrifice and our belief in what he taught us (the Kingdom of God message) is not enough to ensure our salvation. That we have to do something extra. This is referred to by Paul as a weaker faith. Paul elaborates this idea in Romans 14:1-6:
"As for the man who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not for disputes over opinions ....One man esteems one day as better than another, while another man esteems all days alike. Let every one be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord... while he who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God."
What is important to note here is that Paul says that whoever keeps one day as better than another (Sabbaths) is weaker in faith. He then goes on to say that even though one is considered weaker in faith, as long as he is convinced in his own mind and does it in honor of the Lord it is acceptable. He also says that whomever abstains from the Sabbath also abstains in honor of the Lord. The crucial point here is that for Paul, keeping the Sabbath is not a matter of salvation either way as some groups claim. He considers those who do of a weaker faith in Christ because they have not fully understood Jesus' New Covenant.
The second problem with groups that observe the Sabbath is in the way that they keep it. The Sabbath is not just the seventh day, it is a whole set of days and religious festivals which are described as Sabbaths, as we previously covered. In order to properly keep the Sabbaths one must keep all of them, not just one.
There is also the problem of what day should the Sabbath be kept. Most groups that I know of keep it on Saturday. But the Jewish week did not have a Saturday. They went by the first to the seventh day of the week. Saturday was a by-product of the Romans. The Jews started counting days on the "morrow after the Sabbath" which according to Jewish tradition was interpreted to mean the first day after Passover which always fell on a day of the full moon. From this point they started counting seven days. In other words, the Sabbath could fall on any day of the week much like your birthday does each year. The Sabbath could fall on the Roman day of Monday or Saturday or Sunday etc. Zondervans Biblical Encyclopedia in vol.1 pg 183 states the following on Leviticus 23:11&15:
"The Hebrews are commanded to begin the counting of the wave offering from the "morrow after the Sabbath," which, according to Jewish tradition, was interpreted to mean the morrow after the first day of the Passover, which always fell on a day of the full moon. The following considerations support the idea that there was some kind of relationship between the observance of the moon phases and the observance of the weekly Sabbath:
Ancient calendars were based on the movements of the moon.
The Jews celebrated the day of the new moon by sacrifice and feasting and probably by the suspension of everyday occupations (1 Samuel 20:18-34 & 2 Kings 4:23).
The Jews had certain fixed Sabbaths which fell on the new moon, namely the Passover, the feast of Tabernacles, and the feast of Purim."
Conclusion: The conclusion based on the facts presented in this paper lead me to believe that the Sabbath and the whole Mosaic law (the Old Covenant) has been fulfilled by the New Covenant ushered in by Jesus at his death. The law of love for God and your fellow man has fulfilled the law of the letter. For me it is summarized best by Paul in Romans 13:10:
"Love is the fulfillment of the law."