The topic of the Sabbath is among the most contentious among Christians today, with different factions and denominations holding on to different beliefs. Even the Jews in his day had many debates about it, particularly the Pharisees, who criticized Jesus repeatedly for what he was doing on the Sabbath. There are many misconceptions about it as well, which brings up the question: what did Jesus teach about the Sabbath?
Jesus taught that the Sabbath was meant to enhance all people’s lives, lead them closer to God, and encourage an attitude of worship. This was different from the approach of the Pharisees, who insisted on taking its joy away by instituting rules that left human beings to neglect themselves and the needs of others around them.
This article clarifies plenty of misconceptions about the Sabbath and what Jesus emphasized about it. In many instances, Jesus talked about what God intended the Sabbath to be – a day that one sets aside intentionally to receive wisdom and life from him and to live a life pleasing to him.
How did Jesus define the Sabbath?
In the Hebrew language, Sabbath (or Shabbat) has uncertain origins, but the word means ‘to keep,’ ‘to cease,’ or ‘to stop.’ It was mostly used to describe the seventh day of the week, with the first instance appearing in Genesis 2:3. This resting day was not because God was tired from his work, but to set an example for all human beings to follow – and showing the importance of rest and dwelling with his people.
So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it, God rested from all the work he had done in creation. Gen. 2:3
Therefore, the definition that Jesus abided by concerning the Sabbath was the day to rest in God’s presence and maintain a mindset of glorifying God. He always stressed that the Sabbath was also created for man and emphasized that the Sabbath was initially meant for the physical and spiritual benefit of all people.
What constitutes an activity on a Sabbath according to the Bible?
According to Levitical laws, no person was supposed to do work on the Sabbath – and the scribes interpreted this as “no person was to carry any burdens.” This raised the question of what a burden was – and that included very strict interpretations of things that included picking grain and assisting other people to carry their physical burdens from one place to another, all of which missed the point of the Sabbath.
However, the Bible does not state what work is and isn’t, only stating it as “temporal” or “ordinary” work. This meant that all ordinary jobs could be done on six days of the week – such as collecting rations of food (like in Exodus 16), but the seventh was to be set aside to honor God and as a day of worship, as stated in the fourth commandment:
Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God… Exodus 20:8-10
Where in the Bible does Jesus talk about the Sabbath day?
Jesus talks about the Sabbath several times in the Gospel accounts, particularly when referring to himself as the Lord of the Sabbath and correcting the common misconceptions among the people.
Among the most prominent passages relating to this is in Luke 13, when Jesus heals a crippled woman on the Sabbath. While the Pharisees were angry and rebuked the woman and Jesus, stating that she should have sought healing on the other days of the week, Jesus tells them that they were wrong in verse 16:
And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan has bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day? Luke 13:16
Bible verses about Christ and the Sabbath
These are some scriptures that directly relate to Jesus Christ and the Sabbath:
And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27. This was one incidence when Jesus redefined Sabbath. He loosened the Levitical interpretation of the activities of the day.
Therefore, let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or concerning a festival or a new moon, or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Colossians 2:16-17. The Bible tells Christians to avoid overemphasizing the activities that are carried out on earth but to be vigilant about the Kingdom of God that was yet to be manifested.
So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath. Mark 2:28. This verse shows that Jesus was above the Sabbath, and He was allowed to make exceptions, like healing, amidst strict Sabbath laws.
Who did Jesus say the Sabbath was made for?
Jesus was clear that the Sabbath was always meant to help people instead of creating burdens on them. Jesus repeatedly gives them reminders of this in Mark 3:1-6 by stating that he was the creator of the Law, and he has the authority to enforce it in its original intention.
This was different from the Pharisees’ interpretation, which elevated the Sabbath and its rules above the needs of people and the desire to worship God with a sincere heart. This is why Jesus told them that “the Sabbath was created for man, not man being created for the Sabbath.”
Did Jesus break the Sabbath laws?
No, Jesus did not break Sabbath law – at least, not in the sense of how God intended it to be. What he did was break the extra interpretations that the religious leaders imposed on people as to what they could or could not do on the Sabbath.
The Bible also supports this view by stating repeatedly that Jesus was without sin, such as in Hebrews 4:15. Therefore, he did not break any laws of the Old Testament, as James 2:10 states: For whoever keeps the whole Law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. Since the Bible clearly states that Jesus was perfect, he did not break this Law.
What did Jesus say about healing on Sabbath day?
Jesus did heal on Sabbath days, and there are several instances he did so – and in all cases, he got into conflicts with the religious leaders of the day. He did not do this out of ignorance of Sabbath laws. However – he did it to show them that their interpretation of work was wrong and that the rules they placed were a burden to others.
Jesus healed on the Sabbath to also challenge the rabbis that their understanding of good and evil on the Sabbath was wrong, as he asks them in Mark 3:4:
And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” Mark 3:4
Since they did not answer him, the healing he did was the answer to this question: that it was good to save lives and help others, even if it was on the Sabbath. In other words, one must not do evil or selfish deeds on the Sabbath, as this contradicts God’s Law.
What does it mean that Jesus is our Sabbath rest?
From the beginning of creation, God established the Sabbath as a sign of the coming of the Messiah, who was always prophesied to bring rest to his people permanently. Because of the entry of sin and the introduction of the Ten Commandments, the Israelites were constantly offering sacrifices for the atonement of their sin. Still, this coming Messiah would bring permanent peace to his people and help them rest from their labor.
Additionally, Jesus is also a symbol of the Sabbath rest because God made the day holy, and Christ is the holy Son of God who purifies all people who choose to believe in him. The sanctification of the day is the same way God sanctified his Son to be the perfect atonement for all, according to 2 Corinthians 5:21:
For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Cor. 5:21
Since the Son of God is also Lord of the Sabbath, his status as God allows him to state what the Sabbath truly means and also that the salvation and wellbeing of people are more important than following rules of what is and isn’t work. Because only he could fully satisfy the Law’s requirements, he is also the only one that can help human beings rest in Him and cease their labor, as he stated in Matthew 11:28:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matt. 11:28
As a devout Christian, I have always been passionate about the Christian faith. This inspired me to pursue a degree in Religious studies and a Masters in Theology in college. I have also been privileged to teach 4 Christian courses in a college and university. Since I am dedicated to spreading the word of God, I am actively involved in the Church. Additionally, I share his word online and cover diverse topics on the Christian faith through my platform. You can read more about me on the about us page.