Jesus kept the Sabbath. Shouldn't we follow his example?

Jesus was a Jew, born under the law (Galatians 4:4), and he did many Jewish things:

  • Attended synagogues (Luke 4:16).
  • Observed Hanukkah (John 10:22).
  • Told people to obey ritual laws (Matthew 8:4).
  • Went to Jerusalem for the festivals (Luke 2:41).
  • Gave money to support the temple (Matthew 17:27).

As a law-observant Jew, Jesus would have kept many additional customs required under the old covenant:

  • Had a sukkah booth each year.
  • Killed a Passover lamb each year.
  • Wore tassels on his garments.

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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™  Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

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This article was written by in 1995 and updated in 2014. Copyright by the author. All rights reserved. If you'd like to learn more about the Bible, check out Grace Communion Seminary. It's accredited, affordable, and all online.

Jesus did these things, so should we follow his example in these things, too? No. We do not imitate Jesus in every detail. We don’t have to follow him like that.

Why should we follow him in one respect but not the others? We do not have to keep the Sabbath “just because Jesus kept it,” unless we find other biblical evidence that this command applies to Christians.

We should follow Jesus in his attitude of obedience. We want to obey God, but to obey the instructions he has given us, not the rules he gave someone else. We do not have to keep old covenant laws unless they also happen to apply in the new covenant age.

In other words, the example of Jesus carries no weight on its own. As the above examples show, other biblical evidence is needed to see whether his example is something we should follow, whether it is commanded for us today.

The Gospels do not preserve any example of Jesus “keeping” the Sabbath or “resting” on the Sabbath. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John apparently did not believe they needed to preserve such an example. Instead, the Gospels show Jesus breaking traditions about the Sabbath, and never teaching any restrictions. Jesus set an example of activity, not of avoiding work. Indeed, he pointed out that God himself is working (John 5:17). God himself does not keep the weekly Sabbath; it is not part of his character, and therefore not part of the eternal and universal law.

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