Question: Since the Sabbath is the fourth commandment, and the Sabbath was abolished at the cross; this means all commandments were abolished, right? (Deuteronomy 12:32)
Answer: Greetings friend. I will be happy to respond to your question today. However, it contains a few false premises, so I cannot answer it as it stands. The first thing we will do is straighten them out, and then we can move on to the Sabbath issue…although I am not exactly sure what you are asking. Are you are asking me whether we can ignore the Ten Commandments altogether? Or are you looking for scriptural support for a Christian Saturday Sabbath? Even though I am not sure of your specific question, I am confident that a broad answer will cover the lot. So, let us begin with an overview of what did and did not happen at the cross.
Although many things were completed on the cross, nothing was abolished. For instance, the atonement for the sin of all mankind was completed there (Mat. 20:28; 1 John 2:2). However, sin itself was not abolished. Just look around…it’s everywhere! So, what exactly did Jesus mean when he said, “It is finished” (John 19:30)? What exactly was finished? The power of sin to condemn believers was finished (Rom 8:1)—but that is quite different from sin being abolished altogether. Sin continues to exist in the world, although this impacts different people in different ways. For non-believers, even the smallest sin continues to condemn them to hell. For believers, sin still wrecks everything. No, sin cannot send a believer to hell, but it still has the power to maim, kill and wreak emotional havoc by discouraging people and soiling reputations. As you can see, sin has not been abolished. For now, it has only been remedied. For now? Yes. Someday, sin will be abolished—along with Satan, death and hell—but today is not that day…and neither was that Good Friday many years ago. On a future day, a day of judgment, all forms of evil will be abolished (Rev. 20:10-15). But for now, take comfort in this: The sentencing date is on Jesus’ court calendar.
Another notion that requires a challenge is the thought that the Law goes away totally under grace. We contemporary Christians think too technically about the Law (especially when that would work to our advantage!) Yes, it is technically true that we do not have to keep the Law for salvation, but this does not mean that we do not have to respond to the Law at all. Jesus spoke very plainly that he was not abolishing it—he was fulfilling it. So, let me ask this: What part of Jesus’ fullness should we ignore? No part! In the following passage, Jesus is admonishing his hearers to continue teaching the Law in spite of his fulfilling it! Apparently, honoring the Law of God is not mutually exclusive with resting solely in Christ for salvation.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
(Matthew 5:17–20, ESV)
What is it with us Christians, putting these either/or demands upon the Law and grace every time they show up together? The Law condemned us, that is true, but Jesus fixed that. O Happy day! But just because Jesus satisfied the requirements of the Law for us, did the Law itself disappear? No. Did it turn somehow evil? Certainly not.
My third general concern is that the Law has two different aspects, and we should keep them separated in our minds and in our actions. For instance, we Christians do not have to keep holidays, make sacrifices or participate in rites as the Jews did to please God (Col. 2:16-17). These observances were very important for the Jews of that day, but since the primary purpose of such activities was to point to Christ, we should not continue in them. That would be as if Christ never made the ultimate sacrifice, and we would actually insult him by so doing (Heb. 6:6). Contrast this with the Ten Commandments. These were also important to the Jews of the day, but they are not particularly associated with feasts, sacrifices and the like, and here is the crux concerning Christians and the Law. God still wants us to love him (Commandment 1), and he still does not want us to kill (6) or to steal (8). Surely, it pleases God when we obey these! But it would displease him if we were to sacrifice a ram or some such, because that aspect of the Law was indeed completed at the cross. However, our continuing in good deeds (Eph. 2:10), although not required to become saved, will not be completed until our deaths and resurrections. With all that in place, let us consider the Sabbath.
Keeping the Sabbath (4) is the exception in the Ten Commandments. Whereas the other nine have no vital connection to the sacrificial system, this one does. And like the sacerdotal aspects of the Law that were fulfilled at the cross, so also was the Sabbath. As Jesus is the ultimate Lamb without spot—forever fulfilling the Passover. He is our Sabbath rest (Col. 2:16-17; Heb. chapters 3, 4). Therefore, a Saturday of required worship does Jesus the same disservice as would an animal sacrifice today.
Sunday worship is its own thing, and we should not confuse it with the Sabbath. Our Christian Sunday observances did not replace Saturday worship, in spite of Sunday often being called the Sabbath. Two thousand years ago, members of the Body of Christ, that brand new entity known as the Church, began meeting on Sunday—on the Lord’s resurrection day—and in this we see an essential difference between the two worships. The Jews looked forward to Christ by obeying God in keeping Saturday as a Sabbath of rest, whereas Christians look back to Christ and show their joy by celebrating his resurrection. That resurrection Sunday was not a day of rest for Jesus, nor should any of them be for us. Sunday is a day of Christian activity, and we should keep it well separated from any notions about the Law or the Sabbath.
In summary, nothing was abolished at the cross, although some things were fulfilled, but fulfillment does not make the good things disappear or become evil. Some elements of the Law did cease—and necessarily so—like animal sacrifices, but many of the written rules continue as moral behavioral codes for all time—even for Christians who are no longer under the Law. However, the fourth commandment is different from the other nine in that it has to do with worship practices under the Law, and it therefore no longer binds Christians.
As a final thought, remember that we should always take the long view of God’s program before we try to respond to its segments. So, let me state broadly that, although nothing evil shall last forever, nothing of God will ever go away. This means that all good things will find their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ—as should we.