What does it mean that Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath?
The Phrase “Lord of the Sabbath” is found in the following gospels, Matthew 12:8, Mark 2:28, Luke 6:5.
1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!”
3 But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: 4 how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? 5 Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? 6 Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. 7 But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
Jesus makes this statement while on a Sabbath day, as He went through the grain fields, His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain. Notice that during this period the belief of the Pharisees was that anyone took the grain from the stalk, they were guilty of reaping. When they worked the grain in their hands to separate the wheat from the chaff, they were guilty of threshing. When they blew in their hands to rid the wheat of the chaff, they were guilty of winnowing. When they put the grain in the mouth and swallowed it, they were guilty of storing it and probably when they chewed it, they were guilty of grinding it. This is what the disciples are being accused of by the Pharisees. It was such a standard with the Pharisaic law that, they would not even walk on grass on the Sabbath in fear of inadvertently separating grain from the stalk and be guilty of reaping.
The the law specified in the Old Testament as follows:
“Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work on it; it is the Sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings”
Jesus responds to this accusation proclaiming that He is the authority even over the rules and regulation that govern the Sabbath day. In doing so, Jesus was proclaiming to the Pharisees and to the whole world, that He was greater than the Law and above the laws of the Mosaic covenant, because He was God in flesh and the Author of those laws. Jesus also through His response as read in Mark 2:27 says “And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” There is even a deeper meaning to this and it is concerning the creation of the world. There is a direct correlation between the 10 commandments and the seven days of creation, because God Himself created the world in six days, and rested on the seventh. This divine order is reflected in the 10 commandments by requiring to observe the Sabbath day as a day of rest. God created mankind on the sixth day right before the beginning of the first Sabbath. We see that humankind was created on the eve of the Sabbath and the Sabbath was created for every human being, where God had ended His work which He had done and rested, blessing the seventh day and sanctifying it.
So continuing in His response to the Pharisees, we see the response was related to the Jewish oral teachings (legal commentary on how commandments are to be carried out). Jesus defends His more lenient position concerning the Sabbath rest by referring to a famous episode from the life of King David when he was trying to escape the death plot of King Saul. David and his men ate the shew-bread which according to Law was forbidden to eat. The Jewish oral traditions places great emphasis on preserving life. All commandments were to be suspended in order to save a life at any cost. The only exception to this rule was idolatry, incest and murder. So preserving a life takes precedence over the Sabbath observance. David and his men being pursued by Saul according to the Jewish traditional interpretation, shows that their lives were at risk, and so the commandments were suspended in order to save life, and they ate the shew-bread from the house of God.
So here Jesus refers to the Oral Law concerning the priests and the requirements for Sabbath and as it says in Matthew 12:5 “Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless?” This again is referring to Numbers 28:9 “‘And on the Sabbath day two lambs in their first year, without blemish, and two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour as a grain offering, mixed with oil, with its drink offering-..” and also we read in John 7:22 “Moses therefore gave you circumcision (not that it was from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath.” Jesus notes that the priests perform these tasks in the Temple on a Sabbath, even though their activities and would be forbidden without a proper interpretation of the Law.
The Pharisees were unable to keep the Law and so they instituted a complex and confusing system of the Sabbath laws of their own which was oppressive and legalistic, and included 39 categories of forbidden activities which were part of the Oral Law. In essence, these religious leaders had made themselves lords of the Sabbath, and lords over the people.
As we read in John 1:3 it says “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made”, this is saying that Christ was the original Lord of the Sabbath. Christ Himself had the authority to overrule the Pharisees’ traditions and regulations because He had created the Sabbath and the creator is always greater than the creation. Furthermore, Jesus correctly interpreted the meaning of the Sabbath and all the laws pertaining to it. Because Jesus Christ is Lord of the Sabbath, He is free to do on it and with it whatever he pleases.
Jesus as Lord of the Sabbath, has all power and authority that He could do with it as He pleases, even to abolish it and re-institute it as the Lord’s Day, a day of worship. Now that the Lord of the Sabbath had come, into the midst of the people, had now made the old law of the Sabbath no longer required or binding, when he said in Mark 2:27 “And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”
So Jesus as provided evidence here that the original intention of the Sabbath was to give man rest from all of his labors and in a similar manner Christ had now come into this world to provide us rest from laboring and trying to achieve our own salvation, by the fruits of our own works but because of His sacrifice on the cross, we can now stop trying to attain God’s favor and rest in His mercy and grace.