Despite what evolutionists claim, it is a fact that Jehovah created this world and universe in six literal days, and then rested on the seventh day. Centuries later, God blessed the seventh day and set it apart from the other days. The seventh day became known as “the Sabbath Day,” from the Hebrew word shabbath, meaning “to rest from labor.” In the Old Testament, the Sabbath was a day of rest after six days of work (Ex. 20:8-11; cf. Gen. 2:1-3). Jews measured their days from sunset to sunset, so the Sabbath was from Friday at sunset to Saturday at sunset. Thus, the Bible generally has the Sabbath referring to Saturdays.
Interestingly, after Genesis 2:1-3 the Sabbath is not mentioned again in the book of Genesis. From the days of Adam all the way to the days of Moses one does not read of it. All of the faithful people in Genesis — Adam, Abel, Enoch, Lot, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, Joseph — all of them pleased God but there is no mention of them observing the Sabbath as holy or a day of rest. It is not until Exodus 16:22-30 that one reads again of the seventh day being the Sabbath, a day of rest. God had instructed Israel concerning how to collect the manna He had rained down on them from heaven for their food while in the wilderness. This was shortly after they were delivered from Egyptian slavery and before they arrived at Mount Sinai where they would receive the law of Moses. Moses writes that they had to be specifically told not to gather the manna on the seventh day, twice (Ex. 16:23, 29). Yet they went out on the seventh day prepared to work to gather the manna anyway, thus showing how they weren’t used to taking the seventh day off from work (v. 27).
This is because, as Nehemiah would later point out, the Lord made known to Israel the holy Sabbath at Mount Sinai (Neh. 9:13-14). Since He made it known to them at Sinai, that means they did not know about it previously. That’s why they had to be told twice not to work gathering manna on the seventh day. Putting aside the seventh day as a day of rest was unknown to them.
When God gave the Ten Commandments to Israel at Sinai, the Sabbath became a part of the Law of Moses (Ex. 20:8-11). While giving the Sabbath commandment, God explained why He wanted them to keep the Sabbath holy (v. 11). He had created the world in six days and had rested on the seventh, a statement pretty much the same as recorded in Genesis 2:3. Exodus 31:13-17 would show that the Sabbath became a sign between God and Israel, not only because He rested from creation, but also to show they were His special people. Deuteronomy 5:15 would also show that the Sabbath was a weekly reminder of their deliverance from Egypt.
The Sabbath was never commanded to observed by non-Jews. All of the commands concerning the Sabbath were directed solely to Israel, with the only exception being “the stranger who is within your gates” (Ex. 20:10). God did not want Israel to be influenced by visiting Gentiles to disobey His laws concerning the Sabbath (cf. Neh. 13:15-21). He wanted the Sabbath to be something special only between Him and Israel while the Law of Moses was in effect (Ex. 20:12, 20; 31:13, 16-17). The Sabbath, like circumcision, was a sign between God and Israel.
So why is the Sabbath mentioned in Genesis 2:1-3 if it wasn’t until centuries later that God commanded it of Israel? Remember, Moses wrote Genesis while Israel wandered the wilderness for forty years after Sinai. The very first readers of Genesis would be the same Israelites to whom God had given the Sabbath commandment at Sinai. Thus, the Holy Spirit inspired Moses while writing about the seventh day of this world’s existence to give a reminder to the first readers of Genesis — Israel — as to why God made the seventh day a Sabbath of rest.
In the final years of the law of Moses during Jesus’ ministry, we read of Christ teaching in the synagogues on the Sabbath (cf. Mk. 1:21). He did other things on the Sabbath which were controversial, such as allowing His Jewish disciples to pluck grain for food and healing the sick (Matt. 12:1-2; Lk. 13:10-14). When His enemies objected, He showed their ignorance of the Old Testament while proclaiming Himself to be Lord of the Sabbath (Matt. 12:3-8). He also pointed out their hypocrisy (Lk. 13:14-16). As a Jew living under the Law of Moses, Jesus sinlessly observed the Sabbath. Yet there is no biblical data showing that He ever extended the Sabbath to Gentiles.
After Christ’s ascension, Paul utilized Sabbaths to teach in synagogues because he knew the Jews would be gathered there on those days (Acts 17:1-3). Yet he never taught that God wanted Christians to observe the Sabbath as the Jews did in the Old Testament. He taught that Jews had spiritually died to the Law of Moses when they became Christians (Rom. 7:4-7). He also taught that Jesus ended the Law of Moses with its commandments when He died (Eph. 2:13-16). This would include the commandments about the Sabbath (Col. 2:14, 16-17). He warned those who would seek justification by observing Moses’ laws that they had fallen from grace (Gal. 5:4). He wrote to Corinth about the new covenant replacing the old covenant, which he called “the ministry of death carved in letters on stone” (2 Cor. 3:6-11), a clear reference to the Ten Commandments, including the Sabbath commandment. The writer of Hebrews also wrote about the new, superior covenant which had replaced the Old Testament covenant which was the Law of Moses and which included the Ten Commandments, including the Sabbath commandment (Heb. 8:6-13). Thus, the apostles and prophets of the first century taught that observing the Sabbath was no longer necessary.
Obviously Jews who were not converted to Christ continued to observe the Sabbath. That’s why Jesus, in the midst of His prophecy about the destruction of the temple by the Romans in A.D. 70, charged the Jerusalem Christians of the first century to pray that they would not have to flee on a Sabbath (Matt. 24:20). This was possibly because the first-century Jews might have continued to observe Nehemiah’s tradition of shutting the gates of Jerusalem on Sabbaths (Neh. 13:19), thus making flight from Jerusalem an impossibility on those days. It’s also true that first century Jewish Christians continued to observe elements of Mosaic Law. Paul himself did so at times in order to not offend the Jews (Acts 21:20-26). Yet he and the other apostles made it clear that the Law of Moses could not be bound on Gentiles with the exception of its prohibitions against eating blood, food set apart for idolatry, and what has been strangled, in addition to the commands against fornication (Acts 15:1-2, 19-20, 28-29). Those Jewish Christians who would continue to force Gentiles to observe Mosaic law would be condemned as “false brothers” who were trying to get their Gentile brethren to submit to a spiritual form of slavery (Gal. 2:3-5; 5:1). Paul made it clear that observing the Law of Moses would not bring salvation (Gal. 5:4; Rom. 3:28). Yet he also allowed individual Christians to privately set days apart as holy as something between them and God if they so desired (Rom. 14:5-6, 22).
The only day set aside in the New Testament as a day of special significance for Christians is Sunday, the first day of the week, the day on which Jesus rose from the dead (Matt. 28:1ff). While instituting the Lord’s Supper, Jesus spoke of a day on which He would partake of the fruit of the vine with His disciples in His Father’s kingdom (Matt. 26:29; Mk. 14:25). It was when His kingdom came (Lk. 22:18). His kingdom — the church (Matt. 16:18-19) — came on the Jewish holy day of Pentecost, which always took place on a Sunday (Lev. 23:15-16). On that day, the first converts worshiped by hearing the apostles’ doctrine, contributing (fellowship — compare with Romans 15:26), praying together, and breaking bread together, a reference to the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:42; cf. 1 Cor. 10:16-17). This practice was shown to continue when we read that Paul and other Christians broke bread together (partook of communion) on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7), the day he also commanded Christians to give of their means (1 Cor. 16:1-2). Non-canonical writings from this time period confirm this, such as the Epistle of Barnabas and the writings of Justin Martyr, both of whom cite Sundays as the day when the early Christians came together to worship. Yet nowhere in the New Testament are Sundays referred to as a Sabbath day in any way. Thus, to call Sundays “the Sabbath” or “the Christian Sabbath” as some denominations do is to not “speak as the oracles of God” (1 Pet. 4:11).
The biblical Sabbath was always on the seventh day of the week, and it was designed by God to be a sign between Him and Israel alone until the Law of Moses ended. He said as much when He said that it would be a sign between Him and the Jews “forever” (Ex. 31:16-17). “Forever” comes from the Hebrew word olam, which literally means “long duration; long time; long, completed time.” While the word in some cases could refer to eternity, the context determines the proper definition. Since the same word is used to describe the amount of time circumcision and the Passover would be commanded by God for the Jews to observe (Gen. 17:13; Ex. 29:42), we know God did not have eternity in mind for the Sabbath since those rites of Judaism ended at the cross as well.
He did correlate the Sabbath (literally, rest) with eternity in one way, though (Heb. 4:1-11; see v. 9). If we want to enter that heavenly rest which was provided by Christ, we must have diligence and strive to find ourselves “without spot or blemish, and at peace” on the day when the Lord comes back and this world and universe end (2 Pet. 3:9-14). May each of you be found by Him in exactly that way.