“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).
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.
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).
So right here we have a definite confirmation that the Gentiles were still observing and learning upon the Sabbath day.
“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 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).