“And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore (because of this) the LORD thy God commanded thee to keep the Sabbath day.” (Deuteronomy 5:15)
Scripture is clear that all of Jesus’ followers (Jews and Gentiles) kept observing the Sabbath and the yearly Festivals after His ascension back to heaven.
- The Sabbath: Acts 13:14,42,44; 16:13; 17:2; 18:4.
- The yearly Festivals: Acts 2:1; 12:2-3; 18:21; 20:6,16; 1 Cor. 5:6-8; 16:8.
To the believing Hebrews Paul wrote:
“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one having entered into His rest, he also rested from his works, as God did from the own. Therefore we should be diligent to enter into that rest, so that no one should fall by the same example of disobedience.” (Hebrews 4:9-11, Berean Literal Bible)
The act of converted Gentiles observing these things has always been God’s plan:
“Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to serve Him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be His servants, every one that keepeth the Sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of My covenant; Even them will I bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for Mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.” (Isaiah 56:6, 7)
Notice carefully that, when the Gentiles keep the Sabbath, they are NOT joining themselves to Judaism, but joining themselves “to the LORD.”
However, most teachers will refer to Deuteronomy 5:15 trying to prove that the Sabbath was only given to the Jews who were delivered from Egypt. This cannot be true due to the fact when God began speaking His Ten Commandment Law from on top of Mount Sinai He began by saying:
“I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” (Exodus 20:2, 3)
He then proceeds with the rest of the Ten. So, according to their false claim, the prohibitions against worshiping other gods, killing, adultery and stealing etc. must also only be for Jews, but not one teacher believes this.
God often reminded His people of their deliverance when He spoke of other Commands as well (see, Leviticus 22:31-33; Deuteronomy 24:17-18). In fact, if their interpretation of Deuteronomy 5:15 were correct, holiness could be obtained only by Jews according to Leviticus 11:45 which says, “For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”
What most misunderstand is Judah (whose descendants are Jews) was only one of the tribes present at Mount Sinai. The people as a whole were Israel, including the “mixed multitude” of Egyptians that came with them and accepted the God of Israel (Exodus 12:38; Leviticus 19:33-34; Numbers 15:15). Stephen calls them “the church in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38). Israel is the church made up of believers who have always kept “the Commandments of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.” (Micah 5:2-4, 7-8; Revelation 12:1-5, 17). The everlasting gospel was not only preached by Jesus and His disciples. Paul wrote, “For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.” (Hebrews 4:2).
So, the Sabbath cannot be for Jews only, it was given at Creation for all mankind (Genesis 2:1-3) and handed down to all Israel (the church) at Sinai, including the tribe of Ephraim who would become “a multitude of nations” literally meaning “the fullness of the Gentiles” (Genesis 48:17-19).
This applies to the annual Festivals as well. In Genesis 1:14 we read from the King James Version:
"And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years."
The word "seasons" in the Hebrew is מוֹעֵד (moéd or moédim for plural), which means "appointed times." Strong's Concordance defines it as "properly an appointment, that is, a fixed time or season; specifically a festival." In the Holman Christian Standard Bible, it is translated like this: “They will serve as signs for festivals and for days and years.” In the footnote it says, “Or for the appointed times.” Notice how Adam Clarke and John Gill describe it:
“[Seasons, Moédim] - For the determination of the times on which the sacred festivals should be held. In this sense the word frequently occurs; and it was right that at the very opening of his revelation God should inform man that there were certain festivals which should be annually celebrated to his glory.” (Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Whole Bible)
“The Targum of Jonathan [Aramaic translation] is, ‘and let them be for signs and the times of the feasts, and to reckon with them the number of days, and, sanctify the beginnings of the months, and the beginnings of the years, and the intercalations of months and years, the revolutions of the sun, and the new moons, and cycles.’ And so Jarchi [medieval French Rabbi, a.k.a. Rashi] interprets ‘seasons’ of the solemn festivals, that would hereafter be commanded the children of Israel; but those uses were not for a certain people, and for a certain time, but for all mankind, as long as the world should stand.” (John Gill's Exposition of the Bible)
So yes, even the annual Festivals were known and kept before sin entered this world and well before a "Jew" ever existed. Surely these Festivals were observed differently before sin than they were after. The incorporation of animal sacrifices being one main difference. It is God's plan to bring us back to the original purpose of these sacred assemblies as the plan of salvation continues.
The Sabbath is not Only Meant
for a Few Believers Living in Jerusalem
“Six days you may work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, a sacred assembly. You are not to do any work. It's a Sabbath to the LORD wherever you live.” (Leviticus 23:3, International Standard Version)
Concerning Abraham God said, “Abraham obeyed My voice, and kept My charge, My Commandments, My statutes, and My Laws.” (Genesis 26:5). Abraham did this even before God’s Commandments and Statutes were written down, and he was a Gentile from Babylon, which is modern-day Iraq (Genesis 11:31, 12:1-4). But did Abraham keep the Sabbath? Yes, for that is what a “Statute” is. God’s Statutes are related to His Festivals and Sabbaths (see, Leviticus 23:14, 21, 41).
In Exodus chapter 16 we read about the manna which fell from heaven. They were to collect this manna during the six working days, but to rest upon the Sabbath. God said:
“Then said the LORD unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in My Law, or no.” (Exodus 16:4)
Keep in mind this is still BEFORE Mount Sinai and the giving of the Law in written form. Many of the people disobeyed the instruction and went out on the Sabbath to collect the manna, but found none. To this God said:
“And the LORD said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep My Commandments and My Laws?” (Genesis 16:28)
So, earlier we saw that God spoke of Abraham as keeping His Commandments, Statutes and Laws, but here we see the people not keeping it. They broke His Law by breaking the Sabbath, therefore Abraham must have kept the Sabbath. Otherwise, God couldn’t have said that Abraham kept His Commandments and Laws.
There were other times God called non-Jews out of their land and they too began to guard and obey God's appointed times:
"The exiles observed the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month. The priests and the Levites had purified themselves, every last one, and they all were ceremonially pure. They sacrificed the Passover lamb for all the exiles, for their colleagues the priests, and for themselves. The Israelites who were returning from the exile ate it, along with all those who had joined them in separating themselves from the uncleanness of the nations [Gentiles] of the land to seek the Lord God of Israel. They observed the Feast of Unleavened Bread for seven days with joy, for the Lord had given them joy and had changed the opinion of the king of Assyria toward them, so that he assisted them in the work on the temple of God, the God of Israel." (Ezra 6:19-22, New English Translation)
Commenting on this passage, Adam Clarke and John Gill write:
"And all such as had separated themselves - These were the proselytes who had embraced the Jewish religion by having mingled with the Jews in their captivity. This proves that there the poor captives had so acted according to the principles of their religion, that the heathens saw it, and walked in the light of the Lord with them. A good example is very persuasive; and particularly so when founded on pure principles." (Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Whole Bible)
"And all such as had separated themselves unto them, from the filthiness of the Heathen of the land, to seek the Lord God of Israel, did eat; such of the Gentiles in the dominions of Babylon, and came with the Jews from thence, who were enlightened into the knowledge and worship of the true God, and not only renounced their idolatry, here called filthiness, but were circumcised, and embraced the religion of the Jews, and so were proselytes of righteousness, as they call them ..." (John Gill's Exposition of the Bible)
Referring to the “pilgrim festivals,” on page 140 in his book, New Testament History, F.F. Bruce writes:
“The three great pilgrim festivals were (i)… the Feast of Unleavened Bread … (ii) the feast of Pentecost … and (iii) the Feast of Tabernacles, or Booths... Jews from all parts of the Diaspora [outside of Israel] made an effort to come to Jerusalem for one or another of these festivals. With them would come proselytes and even God-fearing Gentiles …”
A brief glance at various mentionings of the Appointed Times also confirms that they were not exclusive to the natives, but also to the “strangers” or, “sojourners” as well:
- The Sabbath: "But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates." (Exodus 20:10)
- Passover: "And if a stranger shall sojourn among you, and will keep the Passover unto the LORD; according to the ordinance of the passover, and according to the manner thereof, so shall he do: ye shall have one ordinance, both for the stranger, and for him that was born in the land." (Numbers 9:14)
- Unleavened Bread: "Seven days shall there be no leaven found in your houses: for whosoever eateth that which is leavened, even that soul shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he be a stranger, or born in the land." (Exodus 12:19)
- Day of Atonement: "And this shall be a statute for ever unto you: that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether it be one of your own country, or a stranger that sojourneth among you: For on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the LORD." (Leviticus 16:29, 30)
Doesn't John Speak Specifically of
Jews Keeping the Feast Days and Sabbaths?
Many point to the fact that John specifically mentions, “… the Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem” (John 2:13); “And the Passover was near, the festival of the Jews” (John 6:4); “Now the Jews' feast of tabernacles was at hand” (John 7:2). They argue that John clearly calls these appointed times “Jewish” and are not for non-Jews. However, this is not why John chose to use this phrase at all. Every time he refers to the Feasts in connection with the Jews, he is always referring to a pilgrim Festival. These Festivals are instructed by God to be held specifically in Judah/Judea, and as we just learned, even God-fearing Gentiles observed these appointed times.
“The several festivals which John identifies as being 'of the Jews' … are specifically Judean festivals. Of course they are Jewish too; that goes without saying. But all the festivals that John names … are pilgrim festivals, that is festivals during which all Jews-by-religion were required by the Torah [the Law] to go up to Jerusalem in Judea …” (Jewish New Testament Commentary, p. 159)
In John 7:1 he writes, “And after this, Jesus was walking in Galilee, for He did not wish to walk in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill Him.” Is John saying all Jews were seeking to kill Him? Of course not! There were many Jews living in Galilee where Jesus chose to stay. John himself was a Jew. The frequent mentioning of “Jews” by John is referring more to the GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION (Judea) than to single out all Jews from the rest of mankind.
“John, who was a Galilean, often gives the title of Jews to those who were inhabitants of Jerusalem.” (Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible)
The term “the Jews” in these verses point only to the small minority of the religious LEADERS who sought to kill Jesus. Jesus delayed His journey to Jerusalam to observe “the Feast of Tabernacles” (John 7:2). Some point to this as “proof” that Jesus didn’t respect the “Jewish feast days.” However, in verse 8 He says, “I am not YET going up to this Festival, for My time has not yet been filled.” He was delaying His journey to save His life! Not that He was selfish and scared to die for His belief or that He disregarded the “Jewish feasts.” No, He said His “time has not yet been filled.”
When Jesus arrived at the Feast, “the Jews” began looking for Him to kill Him (verses 10,11). As “the Jews” sought to kill Him, “the crowd” was grumbling and were divided over His ministry (verse 12). Then in verse 13 we read, “However, no one spoke openly of Him for fear of the Jews.” But aren’t these people Jews as well? Were the people afraid of themselves? He’s using the term “the Jews” to specifically point out the religious leaders who were against Jesus and seeking to kill Him. Those who were afraid of “the Jews” (the leaders) were those people (the crowd, including a multitude of Jews) who accepted Jesus and believed on Him as the long-awaited Messiah.
“By 'the Jews' here, and almost always in this Gospel, is meant -- not the Jewish nation, as contrasted with the Gentiles, but 'the rulers' of the nation.'” (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary)
“The Jews. As usual in John, this means leaders of the nation.” (Wycliffe Bible Commentary)
“Often he [John] uses it [the phrase, 'the Jews'] of the Jewish leaders and rulers in particular who soon took a hostile attitude toward both John and Jesus …” (Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament)
What About the Jerusalem Council?
“Wherefore my (James) sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.” (Acts 15:20)
Many pastors and teachers point to Acts 15:20 where the Jerusalem council decided to help the newly converted Gentile believers by giving them four things they must be setting aside from their pagan customs. What these teachers miss is that these four instructions were only preliminary and not the only instructions for Gentile believers. Also, these four instructions come directly from the Law (the Torah) such as:
- Abstain “from pollution of idols” (Exodus 22:20).
- Abstain from “fornication” or “sexual immorality” (Leviticus 18; Numbers 25:1-3).
- Abstain from “things strangled” (which is an instruction concerning the proper way to slaughter a creature; Genesis 9:4).
- Abstain from consuming “blood” (Leviticus 17:10-15; which refers back to the dietary instructions of Law; Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14).
Of course, these are not all the things a believer is to forsake, but these instructions met the needs of these early Gentiles who were steeped in pagan customs. Of course killing, stealing, adultery, and coveting etc. are also forbidden. In fact, verse 21 of Acts 15 goes on to say that these Gentile believers will learn the way of God’s kingdom and come into a more intimate experience of God’s true character as they assemble together, reading and understanding the books of Moses (Genesis - Deuteronomy) “every Sabbath day”:
“For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath day.” (Acts 15:21).
Some argue and say, “Of course they were assembling upon the Sabbath, these references are all talking about ‘Jewish synagogues’ and Paul went there to preach to the non-believing Jews.” However, just because the word "synagogue" is used, it doesn't necessarily mean it was a non-Christian assembly. In James 2:2, James uses the Greek word συναγωγὴν (synagogue) referring to Christian places of worship. Most translators do a switcheroo and replace “synagogue” with “church”, or “assembly”, or “meeting” for this one verse. Most translators can’t seem to admit that James is talking about a New Testament Christian Synagogue! Here's how the Literal Standard Version translates verses 1-4:
"My brothers, do not hold the faith of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ in favor by appearance, for if there may come into your synagogue a man with gold ring, in radiant clothing, and there may also come in a poor man in vile clothing, and you may look on him bearing the radiant clothing, and may say to him, 'You—sit here well,' and may say to the poor man, 'You—stand there,' or, 'Sit here under my footstool,' you did not judge fully in yourselves, and became ill-reasoning judges."
Referring to James 2:2 in his Jewish New Testament Commentary, David H. Stern writes:
“This is a Messianic [Christian] synagogue, a congregation of believers in Jesus, predominantly Jewish, expressing their New Covenant faith in a way retaining most or all of the prayers, customs and style of non-Messianic synagogues … This [blatant mistranslation] reflects the translators' unwillingness to acknowledge the Jewishness of New Covenant faith and the overall antisemitic bias that has infected Christianity over the centuries.” (Words in brackets my own).
So right here we have a definite confirmation that both Jews and Gentiles were still observing and learning upon the Sabbath day in Christian synagogues.
“The primitive Christians did keep the Sabbath of the Jews; … therefore the Christians, for a long time together, did keep their conventions upon the Sabbath, in which some portions of the law were read ...” (The Whole Works of Jeremy Taylor, Vol. IX, p. 416 (R. Heber's Edition, Vol. XII, p. 416)
“The Gentile Christians observed also the Sabbath.” (Gieseler’s Church History, Vol. 1)
“The first Christians being mostly Jews, continued to celebrate the Passover in remembrance of the death of Christ, the true Passover; and this was continued among those who from among the Gentiles had turned to Christ.” (A.T. Jones, Great Empires of Prophecy, pp. 213)
“The ancient Christians were very careful in the observance of Saturday, or the seventh day … It is plain that all the Oriental churches, and the greatest part of the world, observed the Sabbath as a festival … Athanasius likewise tells us that they held religious assembles on the Sabbath, not because they were infected with Judaism, but to worship Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath, Epiphanius says the same.” (Antiquities of the Christian Church, Vol.2 Book XX, chap. 3, sec.1, 66. 1137,1138).
“The seventh-day Sabbath was … solemnized [sacredly observed] by Christ, the Apostles, and primitive Christians, till the Laodicean Council did in manner quite abolish the observations of it.” (Dissertation on the Lord's Day, pp. 33-34)