And as His custom was, [Jesus] went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read, Luke 4:16 (NKJV).
One of the websites I visited while researching this series based its whole evidence for the continued priority of the seventh-day Sabbath on the custom of Jesus to which Luke refers. The implication of this site is that since Jesus kept the Sabbath, so must we.
There was nothing else to be expected of our Lord. Galatians 4:4 reminds us that Jesus was born under the law, and as such was required to keep the Sabbath. Our last posts have seen that. But there was more to what our Lord did than just go to synagogue on Saturday. By the way, the Jewish Sabbath was, and is, from Friday evening through Saturday afternoon, not all day Saturday.
There are 50 references to the Sabbath in the Gospels. Their emphasis isn’t just on Jesus’ attendance in the synagogue on the Sabbath, but His attitude toward it and what He did during it. These 50 references tell of 12 separate incidents in the life and ministry of the Lord, although 6 of the references refer either to what happened immediately after His death or after His resurrection. Further, several of the incidents are recorded by more than one Gospel. Some of the parallel accounts don’t specifically mention the Sabbath. We usually haven’t included them in this post.
His attitude and His actions were what got the Lord Jesus in trouble with the religious leaders of the day, that and His claims about who He was. As we briefly look at these 12 incidents in the life of our Lord, in the order the first reference appears in the Gospels, we see this quite clearly.
1. Matthew 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-27; Luke 6:1-3: Picking grain to eat.
This is the record of Jesus and His disciples traveling through some fields of grain one Sabbath day. The disciples got hungry, picked some of the heads of wheat and ate them, cf. Deuteronomy 23:25. This upset the Pharisees, who labelled this as “harvesting,” that is, “work,” on the Sabbath. They claimed that what the disciples were doing wasn’t “lawful.”
By the example of David eating the showbread in the Tabernacle is a time of great need and by quoting Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” the Lord showed that sometimes “mercy” takes precedence over rigid legalism like the Pharisees practiced.
Then He made a couple of astonishing statements: “Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the Temple…. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath,” Matthew 12:6, 8. In other words, the Lord Jesus was claiming authority even over the Sabbath and didn’t need the “approval” of the religious authorities for what He did. I’m sure this didn’t go over well with the Pharisees.
2. Matthew 12:9-14; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:6-11: healing the man with a disabled hand.
This event seems to follow immediately after the first one, though Luke shows it differently. The Gospels often don’t follow what we would understand as chronology, but are concerned with connection. This was true of the literature of the ancient world. It is a mistake to expect ancient writings to follow modern ideas. Regardless, Jesus was in a synagogue where there was a disabled man. Continuing the argument about “legality,” the Pharisees asked Jesus if it were “lawful to heal on the Sabbath” …that they might accuse Him. The Pharisees never actually looked at what the Lord did, only that He violated what they thought was right and proper.
The Lord showed their hypocrisy in that they would rescue one of their animals from danger on the Sabbath; by implication, shouldn’t He rescue this man from his disability? To answer their question – “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
Instead of bringing them to repentance, this episode just deepened their rebellion. They resolved to figure out how to destroy Him.
3. Matthew 24:20: pray not to have to flee on the Sabbath.
Though Mark and Luke also record this discourse, Matthew is the only one who mentions the Sabbath. Jesus told His disciples to pray that they wouldn’t have to escape from Jerusalem on the Sabbath because the Sabbath was of primary importance to the Jews, and it would be unusually difficult to escape from the coming judgment on that day.
4. Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1,9: Christ rises on the first day of the week.
These are accounts of the women’s discovery of the empty tomb and the resurrection of the Lord. Both accounts mention that this happened the first day of the week, and Mark 16:9 specifically says that He arose early on the first day of the week. One could say that His body was indeed “resting” on the Sabbath. Thankfully, that’s not the end of the story. John 20:10 also mentions the first day of the week, though there is no mention of the Sabbath.
5. Mark 1:21; Luke 4:31: the Lord declares and demonstrates His authority.
This account of the early ministry of the Lord shows the difference between His teaching and that of the rabbis and scribes, an example of which we see in Matthew 5-7, with the same result, Matthew 7:28. It also shows His authority over the spirit world, as He casts out a demon. Both of these incidents, following each other closely, asserted and emphasized the authority, the uniqueness, of the Lord Jesus.
6. Mark 6:2; Luke 4:16: the Lord rejected in His hometown.
This seems to be the first Sabbath episode in our Lord’s “official” ministry in His hometown, though He’d ministered elsewhere, Luke 4:23. Luke gives more detail as to what happened. Growing up, He’d been in regular attendance with His parents and family, but this time was different. Perhaps He’d done the reading before, but this time He applied it to Himself. Pay attention in Luke 4:18, 19 where He stopped reading from Isaiah 61:1, 2. His teaching didn’t set well with those who knew Him, or thought they did, and they wound up trying to kill Him, Luke 4:28-30.
7. Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54, 56; John 19:31: Jesus buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb.
People assume that “the Sabbath” mentioned was the ordinary weekly Sabbath, so this means that Christ was crucified on Friday. It’s not our purpose to get into the discussion about where that’s true or not. However, the Sabbath to which the Gospels refer was the Passover, which, as we’ve seen, could happen any day of the week. John refers to that Sabbath as a high day, John 19:31,something which he probably wouldn’t have done if it were just another Saturday. And, as we’ve seen, Matthew 28:1 in the original language refers to “Sabbaths,” plural, as being over.
However, the real point of Mark, Luke and John was to verify that Jesus actually died, and not just fainted or faked it, as some falsely teach. Remember, Pilate was amazed that Jesus could have died so soon, victims of crucifixion often lingering for several days. So he asked a centurion, who was well-acquainted with death, if Jesus had indeed died. This centurion would have forfeited his own life, if he had lied about it, and knew when one was dead, no doubt having seen many dead bodies, in contrast to modern skeptics who may have never seen one dead body, let alone a crucifixion!
What one sees on TV programs as dead people don’t look like dead people. I had a fellow worker die on the job and he looked entirely different than what’s on TV. Besides, if you watch closely, those who “die” on TV catch themselves as they hit the floor or ground.
Jesus was dead.
8. Luke 13:10-16: healing of the woman with a spirit of infirmity.
We see again the contrast between the Pharisees and the Lord. The Pharisees complained that there were six other days to come and be healed, so don’t interrupt the service to do so. Our Lord again pointed out the hypocrisy as these complainers would have themselves untied their own animals to take them to water; why shouldn’t this daughter of Abraham be similarly untied and freed from her burden?
9. Luke 14:1-5: healing of the man with dropsy.
Though this happened in a house, it was still the Sabbath. Luke says, they watched Him closely because there was someone present who had an ailment. Our Lord asked them, as He had others, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” They wouldn’t answer, so the Lord healed the man. Then he asked another question: which of them having a child or an animal fall into a pit on the Sabbath wouldn’t rescue him, thus exposing their hypocrisy once again.
10. John 5: healing a man at the pool of Bethesda.
The healing itself isn’t the issue, at least to start with, but the fact that the man was carrying his bed on the Sabbath, v. 9. Notice a couple of things just in passing: the man had no “faith to be healed,” but began to point out difficulties when the Lord asked him if he wanted to be healed, v. 7. The Lord healed him, anyway. Further, there was a “great multitude” of folks waiting to be healed, but the Lord singled out this one man and healed him, when He saw HIM (emphasis added).
What really frosted the Pharisees, though, was the fact that Jesus claimed equality with God, vs. 16-18. There are many who say that Jesus never claimed to be God, but those who heard Him knew that was exactly what He was claiming on more than one occasion. It’s part of why they crucified Him, Matthew 27:43. See also John 8:58: The Jews understood full well what Jesus meant when He said, …before Abraham was, I AM.”
11. John 7: Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles.
Though you really need to read the whole chapter, we’re looking at vs. 21-23. Here the discussion once again centers around the fact that the priests themselves “violated” the Sabbath sometimes in circumcising an infant on the eighth day. What Jesus did was no different and no more a violation of the Sabbath than what they did.
12. John 9: healing of the man born blind.
Again, the whole chapter bears on this, and probably through 10:21, but 9:14-16 tells us it was on the Sabbath, which, as always, was what really upset the Pharisees, 9:16.
Thus, briefly, we’ve looked at the 12 incidents of confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees which happened because of His actions on and attitude toward the Sabbath. As we mentioned above, Jesus was born under the Law, and so was required with every other Jew to observe it. What got Him into trouble was the fact that He wouldn’t do it like He was supposed to.
What does the rest of the New Testament tell us about Sabbath-keeping? That’s our next post.