Q: Are Christians under the same covenant as Israel, and does that mean we are required to keep the Sabbath?
There are two points that I want to make in regards to the Law and specifically the Sabbath. And I will show you the evidence for each of them through the Scriptures.
1. God made a covenant with Israel that included Sabbath-keeping. That covenant is called "The Mosaic Covenant" and it was limited to God and Israel. The Mosaic Covenant was NOT made with the Church.
2. The meaning of the Sabbath was fulfilled in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.
Let’s take the first point. There is an assumption by many Christians that the covenant God made with Israel is fully binding on the Church — the Body of Christ. I say this is an “assumption” because it is NOT supported in the Word of God. The Scripture is clear that God made a covenant between Himself and Israel, and that Law is lined out for us in the Old Testament. Consider this passage regarding the Sabbath:
Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. Exodus 31:16 (ESV)
First, this passage tells us that ISRAEL is to keep the Sabbath. Secondly, it tells us that it is part of a lasting covenant. Again, that covenant is between God and Israel.
Is there biblical evidence that God has made a NEW covenant with the Church? Yes!! (By the way, this New Covenant was FIRST offered to Israel, and the Gentiles were to be included.) This was prophesied in Jeremiah 31. It goes like this:
"The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares the LORD. "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." Jeremiah 31:31-34
There are four things I want to bring out from this passage. Each point is highlighted with an underline above.
God promised a time when He would make a new covenant with His people.
He said it would NOT BE LIKE the old covenant made through Moses.
A key to this new covenant is that He would take His Law and write it on their hearts. (A very lovely reference to the indwelling Holy Spirit, which did NOT happen under the old covenant.)
The new covenant would be a covenant offering FORGIVENESS.
I want to emphasize one of the points here, and that is point 2: God specifically spoke through Jeremiah saying the NEW Covenant would NOT be like the OLD Covenant. They would NOT be the same.
Now, let’s ask the question: When was this New Covenant brought into play for God’s people?
The answer is that it was inaugurated through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Listen to His words at the Last Supper:
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” Luke 22:20 (ESV)
So, as Christians, we are under the New Covenant enacted by Jesus and established by His death on the cross. It is a “new covenant in [His] blood.”
This squares with the words of the Apostle Paul:
For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Romans 6:14-15 (ESV)
Twice in those two verses Paul declared that believers are “not under law.”
That means we are not bound to the Law as a means of being accepted by God. We are accepted BY FAITH, because “...without faith it is impossible to please God.” Hebrews 11:6 (ESV)
And “The righteous shall live by faith.” Habakkuk 2:4 (ESV)
Okay, let’s look at the second point:
The meaning of the Sabbath was fulfilled in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.
Do you remember what Jesus said about the Law? He said:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5:17 (ESV)
Jesus claimed that His coming was to “fulfill the Law.” Let’s look specifically at how He fulfilled the Sabbath.
Sabbath-keeping was all about RESTING. God commanded the nation of Israel to REST on the Sabbath, which meant to do no regular work. Obviously, you know the Jews took that simple command and they made it ridiculously complex and horribly legalistic. When Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath the Jewish Leaders were outraged and wanted to kill Jesus because of it. That’s how far they had fallen away from God’s original intent for the Sabbath. Jesus had to remind them: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27 (ESV)
The Sabbath was made FOR MAN TO REST. In the New Testament book of Hebrews, the idea of entering God’s rest takes a prominent place in chapter 4. And the author of Hebrews makes this amazing statement:
For we who have believed enter that rest… Hebrews 4:3 (ESV)
He goes on to explain his statement in the chapter:
So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. Hebrews 4:9-11 (ESV)
Notice the words I’ve underlined. The writer of Hebrews tells us that those who have “rested from his works” have, in fact, entered into God’s rest. We see from the context of Hebrews that the author is speaking of the work of Jesus on the cross. And that for those who BELIEVE and trust that the work of Jesus on the cross is ENOUGH, they have entered into God’s rest. Why? Because they are RESTING in the finished work of Jesus.
This resting is powerfully foretold in the substance of the Passover celebration. Do you recall it? When God was delivering Israel from their bondage to slavery in Egypt, He had Moses instruct the people of Israel to slaughter a young lamb and to mark the doorposts of their homes with its blood. They were told that during the night the Destroyer would go throughout Egypt bringing death, but wherever he saw the blood, he would “passover” that home and bring no death.
So what were the people doing? They were sheltering under the blood of the lamb. They were “resting” in God’s solution for their deliverance. There was nothing they could do except to TRUST that God’s Word was true and that the blood of the lamb would be enough.
This presents for us a New Testament picture of Sabbath-keeping. Rather than keeping a single day of the week, we are RESTING in the finished work of Jesus on the cross 7 days a week. And in this way, BY FAITH, we are “keeping” the Sabbath. As the writer of Hebrews said: For we who HAVE BELIEVED enter that rest… Hebrews 4:3 (ESV)
This is why the New Testament writers never told believers to “keep” the Sabbath in the Old Covenant way. (Remember, the New Covenant would NOT BE LIKE the old one.) NOT ONCE are believers in the New Testament told to keep a specific day. In fact, the OPPOSITE is true.
One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. Romans 14:5-6 (NIV)
If the Sabbath was required for us to reach heaven, why in the world would the Apostle Paul say what he did above??? And then, check out this passage:
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Colossians 2:16-17 (NIV)
Here Paul clearly says that Sabbath-keeping (as it was done under the Old Covenant) is a “shadow of thing...to come.” He tells us the reality of the Sabbath is found in Christ. He is the fulfillment of the Sabbath regulations through His death on the cross. When we rest in what He did for us, we keep the Sabbath.
Finally, listen to Paul’s words in Romans...
Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. Romans 3:31 (ESV)
Faith upholds the Law because our faith is in Jesus, who fulfilled the Law for us in every way.
I want to make one final point: The law was never intended as a means of salvation. In other words, God never promised that by keeping the Law people would obtain heaven. Salvation is offered one way: through faith in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross.
Jesus is ENOUGH!