The Sabbath is a vastly important subject, tying together Old and New Testaments. The Sabbath was the pride of the Jew. It was ordained of God (Exodus 20:10) in his merciful consideration for man’s blessing (Mark 2:27). God knew man’s heart, that it was so driven by greed that man would work his family, his livestock, and his land to death to make a buck. A period of rest was commanded, one day out of seven, and one year out of seven. God having rested on the seventh day after the work of creation as the basis of the institution. He could rest with regard to his creation on that seventh day. That rest was broken when man sinned (Rom. 5:12). It will not be fully restored until the new heavens and earth (Rev. 21:1-8); however, Christ risen from the dead is the head of the new creation (Rev. 3:14), and so God can find all his rest and satisfaction in the person and work of His Beloved Son!
The Sabbath had a peculiar place in relation to Israel (Lev. 23). The Sabbath is connected with Jehovah’s great intention to bring His people into a national “rest”, a purpose that was demonstrated by delivering Israel out of the slavery of Egypt, therefore God commanded them to keep the Sabbath (Deut. 5:15). As a symbol of God’s intention for the nation, the Sabbath became the sign of God’s covenant with them (see Exodus 31:13-17; Ezek. 20:12-20). Because of Israel’s sin of unbelief, “God sware in His wrath that they should not enter into His rest” (Psa. 95:11). Hebrews 4 takes up this subject. Joshua led the people into Canaan, but David wrote after Joshua’s lifetime of the rest of God… therefore, the true rest of God is future! Israel will enter their national rest in the Millennial reign of Christ, but God will not fully rest until the eternal state.
Sin entered, and so the Father and Son (John 5:17) could not rest. God can’t have sin in His presence, so He dwelt in thick darkness, at a distance from creature man. But still, separated from sin, He could not “sit still” with sin in His creation. He must either destroy it out of His sight, as He did with the flood (Gen 6:7) and promised not to do again (Gen. 8:21; 9:11), or He must work in grace to redeem man from sin. His love, of course, cause Him to work. The very first recorded action of God after the sixth day of creation was that He “made” coats of skin for Adam and Eve… it was work. He sent prophets and judges to deliver His people, He gave them a perfect law, and He fenced them in from their enemies around. The Son of God came to complete that work (Ruth 3:18). He came “not to judge the world, but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:17)! Faith alone acknowledges this, and does not seek for rest in the wilderness.
Meanwhile, the Jew was to keep the Sabbath day in faith that one day the nation would be brought into God’s rest. The Pharisees were keeping a perverted Sabbath, in a legal way, down to a “t”. For instance, they had developed 39 categories of prohibited work, but they were missing the whole point. The Jewish teachers had twisted many of the commandments by interpreting them more loosely than they were intended. The Lord rectified their twisted views when He was here; e.g. in His Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5). But when it came to the Sabbath commandment, the Pharisees erred in the other extreme, and interpreted it too strictly. It is a common thing, for those with loose morals to think they can atone for looseness in one area with strictness in another. But those who add to the words of this book, as well as those who subtract from it, are subject to a curse (Rev. 22:16). The Jews knew that God Himself didn’t keep the Sabbath, because of sin. They wouldn’t lift a finger to help a poor suffering person on the Sabbath, but would have compassion on an injured animal (Matt. 12:9-14). If God could not rest, how vain was a religious observance of the Sabbath while the heart was a million miles away? The Lord was totally different. he would never work on the Sabbath day to enrich himself in earthly goods, but – as God who could not rest with sin in His creation – He would heal a poor cripple in need of deliverance. In Mark 2:28 the Lord explains that the Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath. As the object of God’s heart in the creation of man from the very beginning, and as the Sabbath was instituted for man’s blessing, the Son of man has the authority to do with the Sabbath as He wishes.
Why does the Sabbath controversy come up over and over in the ministry of our Lord? Israel was in a sad state. In bondage to the Romans, they were stripped of much of their identity as the people of Jehovah. The Sabbath was the sign of Jehovah’s covenant with Israel, and they still had that… or so they thought. They hung, connected as it were, to Jehovah by a thin string. That string was the Sabbath; and the Lord was here with a pocket knife, slicing away, thread by thread, until… SNAP; the connection is severed, figuratively in Matthew 12. This is why the Pharisees pursued Him so doggedly on this issue. Notice, when He healed the impotent man by the pool, He says, “Take up thy bed.” When He healed the blind man, His word would have been enough, but He chose to “make clay”, an act of service. Jehovah was on earth, practically tearing up the seal of His covenant with Israel. They were feeling the pressure.
Gen. 2:1-3; Ex. 20:10; Ex. 31:13-17; Lev. 23; Deut. 5:15; Ezek. 20:12-20; Matt. 12:1-12; Mark 2:23-28; John 5:9-10, 16-17; John 5:1-17; Col. 2:16; Heb. 4; Rev. 21:1-8