The Sabbath Issue

Chapter 7: The Perpetuity of the Sabbath

There are 3 Arguments used to say that the Sabbath Law is forever.

1. The 10 Commandments were written in stone by God’s Finger! Surely means that they are permanent, not temporary in nature.

2. The Sabbath is described by such terms as: 
“throughout your generations”, “forever” and “perpetual.”

3. Matthew 5:17-18 teaches that Jesus did not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfil it.

We will consider each of these arguments in turn.

*1. The 10 Commandments were written by God’s hand in stone
The fact that the 10 Commandments were written in stone does not make them more inspired or perpetual than the rest of the Law of Moses! The whole Old Covenant Law was inspired by God, and stands forever as a revelation of God, but that does not mean that it will not ultimately be replaced by a new and better Covenant, that will last forever. As the New Testament points out (especially in Hebrews), the Old Testament itself, by its very nature and structure (being rich in repetitive shadow ceremonies and animal sacrifices) was only temporary. It was unable to bring anything to perfection. It pointed to and prepared the way for a New and better Covenant, 

that would bring things to perfection and be permanent (everlasting). The Old Covenant contained prophecies of a New Covenant that would replace it, and do for man what the Old Covenant could not: 

Jeremiah 31:31-34: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a NEW COVENANT with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not according to the (Old) Covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My Covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. But this is the Covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My Law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

God did not write the 10 Commandments in stone to make them more permanent than the rest of the Covenant, but as a good Teacher, He was highlighting these 10 Commandments to Israel for special emphasis, so they would give them their special attention. 

*2. Terminology applied to the Sabbath speaks of its permanence

The Perpetuity of the Sabbath is stated in Exodus 31:13,16,17
“Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it (the Sabbath) is a Sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you... Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual Covenant. It is a Sign between Me and the children of Israel forever.” 


These 3 terms: “throughout your generations”, “for a perpetual Covenant”, “a sign forever”, all seem to indicate that the Sabbath is a permananent and everlasting Law.

However, in the original Hebrew, these terms do not carry the English meaning of infinite unending time, but just of long duration until the end of a period of time, which is to be determined by the context (e.g. a man’s lifetime or a dispensation). It is simple to prove this, for these very same terms were applied to the Kindling of the Lampstands, the Service of the Showbread, the Service of the Laver, the Levitical Priesthood, the Sacrificial System and the Yom Kippur Sacrifice. God applied these same terms to the Ceremonies of the Old Covenant and we all agree that God did not intend them 

to last forever, and that that they have now passed away and are no longer operative. Therefore, God used these terms to mean that these Ceremonies are to be practised for a long time, but not forever - only as long as the Old Covenant was in force. The very same terms were applied to the Sabbath in the very same way: the Sabbath will be in force for a long time, as long as the Old Covenant is in force. But at the Cross, the Old Covenant of Moses was fulfilled and ended, so all these Ceremonies, including the Sabbath Law, no longer apply to us today. If you insist on the basis of these phrases that the Sabbath must still be in force, then on the same basis, you must also insist that all these other Ceremonies from the Law of Moses are also still in force, but that is absurd! 

*‘Forever’ (Olam) = long duration, until the end of a period of time (determined by context, e.g. lifetime, age, dispensation)
Often (1) it is used for a man’s lifetime (Exodus 21:6: “serve him forever”, Deuteronomy 15:17, 1Samuel 1:22, 1Chronicles 28:4, Exodus 14:13, Leviticus 25:46, 1Samuel 20:23, 27:12), or 
(2) the lifetime of Solomon’s Temple: 1Kings 9:3, 2Chronicles 7:16)
or (3) a time of 10 generations (Deuteronomy 23:3). 

Even more decisively the same term was applied to kindling of Lampstands (Exodus 27:21, Leviticus 24:3), the Service of the Showbread (Leviticus 24:8) and laver (Exodus 30:21), the Levitical 

Priesthood (Exodus 28:43, 40:15, Leviticus 10:9, Numbers 10:8, 18:23, 25:13, 1Chronicles 15:2, 23:13), the Sacrificial System (Exodus 29:28, Leviticus 7:34,36, 10:15, Numbers 15:15, 18:8,11,19, 19:10) and the Yom Kippur sacrifice (Leviticus 16:34).

*The same is true for ‘Perpetual’ used of the Showbread (Leviticus 24:9, and ‘throughout your generations’ for a man’s lifetime (Leviticus 25:30), the Levitical Priesthood (Exodus 40:15, Leviticus 10:9, Numbers 10:8, 18:23), the Lampstands Ceremony (Exodus 27:21, Leviticus 24:3), the Brazen Laver (Exodus 30:21), and the Sacrificial System (Leviticus 7:36, Numbers 15:15).

If these phrases meant that the Sabbath must still be in force, it would follow that all these other things must also so be in force,
but they clearly are not, so these phrases generally mean: 
“for a long time, as long as the Mosaic Covenant is still in force.” 

Their meaning, when applied in context to the Sabbath (which is the Sign of the Covenant) is that the Sabbath will continue as long as the Covenant is in force, but then will discontinue when it ends. 
Thus the Sabbath was only in force as long as the Law of Moses was, that is, until the Cross. This implies that the Sabbath is no longer in force and does not apply to us today, especially as it is not reinstituted as part of the New Covenant.

*3. Matthew 5:17-18: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law (of Moses) or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the Law (of Moses), till ALL (the whole Law) is fulfilled.” 

Those who believe the Law still applies (but only in part) have to face up to what Matthew 5:17-18 teaches as much as those who say the whole Law of Moses is done away with, because Jesus is upholding the whole Law here! Before we turn to the correct interpretation of this Passage, let us first point out that those who use this to say we are still under the Law of Moses or the 10 Commandments are never consistent, because actually they all believe in the doing away of many (if not most) of the 613 laws, such as the civil and ceremonial (especially sacrificial) laws. They have to admit that many of these laws no longer apply as originally written. But this contradicts Matthew 5:17,18, according to the way they interpret it. They are saying that these verses mean that the Law of Moses is still in force today, but if that is the meaning, then it is referring to the WHOLE LAW! Trying to say it only applies to the 10 Commandments or the Moral part is contradicted by v18: “not one jot or tittle will pass from the Law”, and v19 where Jesus upholds even: 
“the least of these Commandments.” 

Whatever He is saying about the Law, He is saying about the whole Law! The one interpretation that is immediately disallowed is that part of the Law still applies today. He upholds the Law as a single indivisible unit. It either all applies today, or not at all. 

So in what way is Jesus upholding the Law? He is answering the accusation of His critics who claimed He was rejecting (destroying) the Writings of Moses, which would be grounds for rejecting Him as a false prophet. He was saying: “I am not rejecting them, I am fulfilling them. They are the Words of God that spoke of Me and I am bringing them to fulfilment.”He was referring to and upholding the Divine Origin and Inspiration of the whole Law of Moses of 613 Commandments. As the inspired Word of God it stands forever as a revelation of God, but not necessarily that it would be in force forever. In fact, He was clearly not saying that, as the Old Covenant itself pointed to a New and better Covenant that would one day replace it, so that part of upholding the truth of the Law was to accept it would one day be superceded by a New Covenant in the Messiah. Moreover, Jesus knew that He would soon bring in that change of Covenant through His death and resurrection (fulfilling the Old-Covenant in His life and death, and bringing in the New-Covenant in His resurrection), so He certainly was not saying the Old Covenant would be in force forever! 

In His life, He lived under the Law and fulfilled it in every detail commanded by Moses. But even while alive, He implied the future doing away of it, such as in Mark 7:19: “This He said making all meats clean” - a clear reference to the doing away of the dietary commandments. So He taught that at least this part of the Law would soon be done away (which would imply the same for the whole Law, because the Law is a Unit). Moreover all have to agree that great parts of the Law no longer apply, so are done away with. 

*The key to Matthew 5:17,18 is understanding the word: FULFIL.
Matthew 5:17-18: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy, but to FULFIL. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the Law, till ALL is FULFILLED.” This word is used consistently in Matthew for prophecy being FULFILLED in Christ, and thus brought to an end. Once fully fulfilled in Christ, there is no further fulfillment to come!

For example Matthew 1:21-23 says: “she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. So all this was done that it might be FULFILLED which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet (Isaiah 7:14), saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with 

child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Now that Jesus has been born of a Virgin, this part of the Law and the Prophets has been FUFILLED and no further fulfilment is necessary or possible. The prophecy is now fulfilled (accomplished), so nothing else in the future will fulfil it. Likewise the Law has been fulfilled in the Life and Death of Christ. To ‘Destroy’ or ‘Abolish’ the Law is to reject it as the Word of God, and to fail to fulfil it.

Jesus fulfilled the Law (established it completely): 
(1) by upholding it perfectly as the inspired Word of God, 
(2) by explaining it perfectly in His teaching, recovering it from rabbinic error (misinterpretations that came through their traditions).
(3) by His Life of perfect obedience and His Death on the Cross. 

Thus in Matthew 5:17-18, He was not making the Law operative today and forever as a rule of life, but teaching the inerrancy of Scripture down to the last jot and tittle, and upholding the whole Law of Moses as inspired by God. He is claiming to build on that foundation of truth, that what He was teaching is in perfect harmony with and fulfils the Old Testament. The Law of Moses was good, it was of God, and it is now fulfilled in Christ and cannot be further fulfilled. Christ brought in a New Covenant in Himself that fulfilled all the hopes and expectations of the Old.

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