Jesus said that “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (Matt. 12:1-14; Mark 2:23-3:6; Luke 6:1-11; Deut. 23:25). But have we misunderstood His point entirely? Please, allow us to explain.

One Sabbath, a group of hungry disciples were walking through a Judean field, picking heads of grain to eat (cereal grains are the world’s single best source of energy). The Pharisaic Jews, however, construed this action as a form of harvesting, a task forbidden on the Sabbath.

Jesus responded that King David himself ate food the showbread in God’s Temple – food that was forbidden to non-priests. He further reminded the Pharisees that, “On the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate (treat something ‘holy’ as ‘common’) the day and yet are innocent.”

In other words, David’s eating the Temple showbread proved that the needs of the children of God (humanity) rank higher than the ordinances of Israel’s temple. Likewise, the priests doing things otherwise forbidden on the Sabbath, showed that the Temple activities ranked higher than the Sabbath itself.

In other words, if the Temple ordinance ranks higher than the Sabbath, and the suffering of the sons of man (humanity) ranks higher than the Temple ordinance, then it must logically follow than human need ranks higher than the Sabbath!

By saying that, “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath,” Rabbi Jesus was not overriding Torah’s clear prohibition regarding harvesting on the Sabbath day. On the contrary, He sought to uphold the ultimate authority of God’s Word (Torah) by arguing that the needs of the humanity ranked even higher than either the temple ordinance or the Sabbath!

By Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg and Jared Seltzer

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93 COMMENTS

  1. As a someone raised in the Seventh-day Adventist faith, I was taught that the Sabbath was too holy to be infringed on. Every seventh day of the week was a day devoted to God and His Word. Secular labor was abstained from, sports and recreational activities refrained from as well. Shopping or doing business transactions was also prohibited.
    I first understood Yeshua's words as meaning that He alone is Lord of the Sabbath since He created it and made it holy. It was until I read the context of Mark 2, that I got the full picture of what Yeshua really meant.
    That human need overrides the sanctity of the Sabbath.
    The Jews believe even to this day, that it is acceptable to break God's commandments when emergencies arises. When the Pharisees confronted Yeshua on how He and His disciples observe Sabbath, their view of Sabbath observance was too sanctimonious and had to be addressed by Yeshua to set the record straight. Whether they accepted what He said or not, they did accused Yeshua of breaking the Sabbath command when in fact He was exemplifying the correct relationship between the Sabbath and satisfying one's own need. In a sense, each person is lord of the Sabbath day.
    • I don't know if I can respond to James N. Benko, but I would like to ask you, James, if you are still a Seventh-Day Adventist. I was raised as one too. And do you still keep the 7th day or did you change to Sunday? Hope you don't mind asking you.
    • Jesus also said that to worship God, the true worshippers would worship in spirit as God Is In Spirit. That one day would not be better then another. SO the worship of God, is every day in the spirit, but we gather together on 1 day to seek & learn.
  2. Thank you for reaffirming my thoughts on what Lord of the Sabbath means. I note you call the Torah God's Word. (It is holy scripture). Is this a looking back through the lens of Christian thought and calling it so, or is this a pre-Christ Jewish understanding of the Torah - that is calling it the Word of God? I guess I question whether calling the Bible the Word of God is actually wrong. One, because it, the bible is given divine status and thus is a form of idolatry. Two, I cannot see it anywhere in the First covenant writings it is ever suggested the writings were God's Word. Three, if it is not to be called God's Word, then are we overlooking what preaching the Word really means? Curious to know.
    • Thanks for joining the discussion, Thomas. The word Torah means instructions, and instructions are always given by an instructor. God spoke to and instructed Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and dozens of other people in the Bible. It was recorded and collected into various books and then translated which ultimately became our modern Bibles. So, yes, the Torah is God's word. There are certainly challenges in scribal errors and translation, but they are still God's instructions to be holy and cherished. But if they replace God, only then would it become idolatry.
  3. Dr Eli, humanity's greatest need is to receive and believe in Jesus as our Lord & Saviour. This need overrides all the religions and philosophies. The New Covenant is far superior to the old because it is centred on Jesus alone -- and Jesus is much greater than Moses.
  4. Surely that's what is meant in Hbr 4 when Paul said.."Let us fear..lest we do Not enter His Rest..they heard the Word..but it did not profit them..not being mixed with faith..But for those who believe..we Do enter that rest"..it's a bit like Sitting Down in His Rest..it is Done..so no sweat..hence the linen garments..
    I Believe His Rest is Within Each Believer..
    Not a Day as such..a State of Being..?
  5. We use (incorrectly) the words works and rest. Were the Pharisaic Jews accusing the disciples of works (harvesting)? Your article has me wondering about the meaning of the word rest. Is rest associated with eating (a need of humanity). I think we associated rest with NT (Jesus) and works with OT (law).
    • Hi Kat, The Sabbath commandment is to work six days and rest on the seventh. The question, though, is to what extent. The Pharisees like modern Judaism would have defined work (generally) as any actions required during the construction of the tabernacle. Since the tabernacle housed bread, and since grain must be harvested for that bread, ergo picking grain fit their definition of work, and so it was prohibited on Sabbath. Jesus did not contradict this opinion, rather he demonstrated that human need was a higher priority than the temple or the Sabbath!

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  6. I find that after reading Mark chpt. 2. and comparing it with what i thought the sabbath meant. It does make sense. Growing up Baptist, I was'nt taught to study the old testment with the new testament. It makes more sense to me now.
  7. Why other Christians do not attend function like weddings, funerals in particular using the verses "keep the Sabbath," from Exodus 20?
  8. Hello from the USA I like to know what day is the day jews go to church...I have always gone on Sundays but a friend i know he go to church on Saterdays...So what day is the Sabbath for the Jews? Then i will know the true day to go to church ..My friend says from sun down Friday to sun down on Saterday you dont do any work at all on a job or at home....So what can you tell me about this ? Thank You God Bless You Beverly White PS I LOVE TO TAKE YOUR STUDYIES BUT DONT HAVE THE MONEY TO PAY AND MY DREAM IF I COME INTO MONEY ON A LAW SUIT IM IN MY DREAM IS TO COME TO THE HOLDLAND
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