This article by Brother John Carter completes his exposition of the above heading. In summary he has showed that the Sabbath was but a type of the Lord – “he is the real Sabbath, both now and in the future.” In this part miracles performed on the Sabbath and their relevance to him are reviewed. Finally he considers the teaching of the apostles, their warnings against needless adherence to the Law, and meetings on the first-day, the day of the Lord’s resurrection. Readers are again commended to carefully consider these articles because they throw light on an important aspect of our Lord’s role and teaching. (Ed)

1. Withered hand

The claims of Jesus must have sounded shocking in the ears of the Pharisees. It is not surprising that they posed a test without delay. Jesus went to the synagogue, a usual action, and one which they anticipated by placing in a conspicuous place a man with a withered hand. They put a direct question: Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day? Since the man was not in a critical condition, by their tradition it was wrong. The behaviour of Jesus suggested he would answer that it was lawful and they could then accuse him of being a lawbreaker. He avoided the snare by a counter-question: “What man shall there be among you that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it and lift it out? How much better is a man than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath day.”

Like all the sayings of Jesus this was pregnant with meaning. It is a parable the meaning of which must be sought on a higher plane. Man is like a sheep1: “all we like sheep have gone astray”. All are in a pit2 and as helpless in our sin and death-stricken state as a sheep is in a pit. Apart from a shepherd to seek and save us we are lost. Here, then, is a picture of his own work: and part of this picture is the fact that it was on a sabbath – because Jesus will bring healing and blessing on the world’s sabbath when in the prophet’s words he comes as the “Sun of righteousness with healing in his beams”.

In Luke’s record we are informed of another counter-question Jesus put forward. He asked, “Is it lawful on the sabbath day to do good or to do evil? to save life or to destroy it?” It posed a fatal contrast, for they were plotting his death – a sad commentary on their view of the sabbath: to him the sabbath pointed to healing and salvation.

Matthew’s gospel links the sabbath dispute with a saying of Jesus which should be noticed. Jesus spoke of the great intimacy between himself, the Son, and the Father, an association which, however, was open for men to share if the Son and his message were accepted. In gracious words he invited men, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (11:28–30). Did his hearers observe that he had repeated in his own name the invitation of God through Jeremiah, when he said: “Ye shall find rest for your souls”? (6:16). In these promises of rest we have the essential feature of the sabbath; “God did rest” on the seventh day. But man’s work has been marred by sin and his life is one of sorrow and toil, burdened by guilt of sin and fear of death. The Jew toiled to obtain favour with God by works of law and multiplied rules of tithing and fasting, various washings and ritual observances. Such was a vain labour, a burden, Peter said, which they were not able to bear.

Salvation is of God’s grace in Christ, by the forgiveness of sins; and when a man has faith in Christ he “ceases from his own works” and accepts God’s grace. The basic difficulties of life are solved in Jesus and there is a sabbath rest for the spiritual man. In all these ways Jesus is the real sabbath – the reality foreshadowed by the sabbath enactment. The life of the believer is thus one continual sabbath now, leading on to the life which will never end when Christ, the Messiah, raises him up at the last day – an idiomatic phrase denoting the millennial day of Israel’s Messiah, promised by the prophets.

2. An afflicted woman Luke 13:11–17

On this occasion Jesus cured a woman who had suffered for 18 years. The synagogue ruler, not daring to rebuke Jesus, berated the people for seeking Jesus to be healed on a sabbath. Again, Jesus used as an illustration the need for attending to cattle on a sabbath: so should this woman be loosed of Satan on the sabbath. Jesus defined the issue as between himself and Satan, here used as a symbol for sin and its effects3. He imposes a restraint on sin in overcoming sickness which in general is one of the effects of sin. But this again forms a prophecy of the millennial reign of Jesus when sin will be restrained through the wise and powerful rule of Jesus. In the Lord’s own Revelation the figure of Satan with this meaning reappears (Rev 20:2,3).

3. A man with dropsy Luke 14:1–6

This incident presents parallels with that recorded in Matthew 12, although the circumstances are different. Jesus repeats his parable of an ox or an ass fallen into a pit and its recovery on the sabbath day. By these repetitions Jesus pressed home his lesson.

4. A man infirm 38 years John 5:1–22

The fourth gospel has two miracles pointedly mentioned as being performed on the sabbath. An infirm man was healed; and Jesus said to him, “Thou art made whole: sin no more”, thus connecting sin and the evil in the flesh. The miracle foreshadowed that wholeness which Jesus as millennial ruler will give to his people, whose sins will have been forgiven. Jesus described the miracle as a continuation of his Father’s work on His sabbath (Gen 2:2,3). God has carried on His redemptive work and Jesus joined in that work. His adversaries saw that by his teaching, besides claiming divine Sonship, he broke, or more literally, annulled the sabbath. They determined that Jesus must die. But were his claims true? If Jesus is the one to bring God’s rest for mankind, he could annul that which foreshadowed it.

5. Man born blind John 9

A blind man was healed by Jesus, who mixed clay and spittle and anointed the eyes of the blind man, and then sent him to wash in Siloam. The discussion which followed showed the meaning of the miracle. Men are spiritually blind and Jesus can either make it permanent or remove it. The whole episode is full of significance: in pointing out that Siloam means sent and also that Jesus was sent, John links in some way Jesus and Siloam, and turns the student back to Isaiah 8:6, where the prophet uses the same stream as a figure of the Messiah.

But literal and spiritual blindness will all pass away when the visions of the prophets are fulfilled in the reign of Jesus: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened”; and men will hear a voice saying, “This is the way, walk ye in it” (Isa 35:5; 30:21).

The true rest

To sum up: the sabbath miracles were evidently designed to establish the claim of Jesus that he was Lord of the Sabbath because he will be Lord when that time comes which the Sabbath foreshadowed. Matthew, in fact, as we have seen, places the first sabbath miracle in connection with the invitation of Jesus that men should come unto him and find rest. Rest is the essential feature of the sabbath: and the reality is rest from the toil of sin and its attendant sorrows. The millennial age is the sabbath of God, when all men will find in the knowledge and service of God rest from sin, cleansing of conscience, and life in harmony with God. In that time the blind will see, the deaf hear, the lame walk: Jesus returned will reign for God, strong, wise, sympathetic, firm for right, stern towards wrong (Isa 35).

This conclusion is in keeping with the lesson drawn in the letter to the Hebrews. It is pointed out that the inheritance under Joshua was not the goal of God’s purpose, for God in the Psalms still invites men to enter “His rest” – an invitation without meaning if the rest were already existing. Paul calls the “rest” of God’s kingdom “a keeping of a sabbath”, which remains for the people of God; God’s kingdom to come will be the true sabbath (Heb 4).

Such an interpretation was current among the Jewish teachers. Psalm 92 is “a song for the Sabbath day”, and introduces a series of Psalms which foretell God’s coming kingdom on earth. In these Psalms occur the words which Paul cites in Hebrews which we have just quoted. The rabbis interpreted this group of Psalms as prophetic of Messiah’s reign which would be indeed a true sabbath day.

If then Jesus showed that the sabbath was only a type, he classed it with all the other ritual of the Law which Paul says was a shadow of good things to come. That ritual was prophetic of him – the shadow had given place to the substance. This was the attitude taken by the apostles, who while allowing for Jewish Christians in Palestine still to observe the current customs, expressly resisted any attempt to impose the practices of the Law of Moses upon Gentile Christians. Together with circumcision and sacrificial offerings, the sabbath ceased to be binding upon Christians.