WHY DID JESUS HEAL ON THE SABBATH DAY?
Why did Jesus heal on the Sabbath? Because He could do it…. because He was Lord of the Sabbath… because it would expose the hypocrisy and the unreasonable conclusions of the Pharisees…because it would lead to fulfilment of prophecy… or because it would show He was sent from God. Jesus Himself clearly denied that He intended to change or abolish any part of God’s law. “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets,” He said. “I did not come to destroy but to fulfil” (Matthew 5:17). He also made it clear that “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18).
Of course, what He broke was not God’s Sabbath command, but the Pharisees’ restrictive regulations regarding what they thought was allowable on the Sabbath. He had earlier pronounced a curse on anyone who “Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least [by those] in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great [by those] in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19). Jesus, by explaining, expanding and exemplifying God’s law, fulfilled a prophecy of the Messiah found in Isaiah 42:21: “The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness’ sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honourable”. Jesus Christ restated the greatest commandment of the Old Testament (see Deuteronomy 6:4-5). Those who observe the biblical Sabbath strive to obey that commandment, putting God first in their lives and keeping His command to observe the Sabbath. They will also follow Jesus’ instruction: “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me” (John14:21).
2.0 PURPOSE OF THE SABBATH
The Bible first mentions the Sabbath day in Genesis 2:1-3 (by the way, the Sabbath is Saturday, never Sunday, in Scripture). Then, the Bible does not speak of the Sabbath day again until Moses, some 2,500 years later. In the Mosaic Law, the LORD demanded that Israel “keep the Sabbath holy.” The LORD commanded Israel not to do any work on the Sabbath—they were to rest on the Sabbath (Leviticus 23:3). Instead, every Jew was to spend the Sabbath day thinking about God’s purpose in creation and, thus, the nation Israel’s role in His plan for the earth (Exodus 31:13-18; Exodus 35:2-3).
So, what was God’s purpose in creation, when He rested on that first Sabbath back in Genesis chapter 2? Psalm 132:8 reads, “Arise, O LORD, into thy rest; thou, and the ark of thy strength.” Verses 13 and 14 tell us: “ For the LORD hath chosen Zion; he hath desired it for his habitation.  This is my rest for ever: here will I dwell; for I have desired it.” God’s purpose in creating the earth was to set up an earthly kingdom, which He had planned from the time He created the world (Matthew 25:34). Had sin not entered into creation with the fall of MAN [Adam and Eve], God would have come down and lived on planet earth the Sabbath that followed the first Sabbath of Genesis 2:1-3. This is why God referred to the Promised Land as His “rest” (see Hebrews 3:6-19 and Hebrews 4:1-11). God, in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, was to come and rest in Israel’s land, to enjoy His purpose and plan for creation, for all the work of creation was now finished.
However, we understand that sin interrupted God’s plan, and that earthly kingdom did not come about in Genesis. Instead, beginning with Abram (Abraham) in Genesis chapter 12, God started a new race of people, the nation Israel. God would make Israel His chosen people on earth. Once saved, the Jews would restore God’s authority in the earth (which had been lost when Adam fell, and man’s dominion on the earth was passed to Satan; cf. Genesis 1:28; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Galatians 1:4; Ephesians 2:2). To the nation Israel God would give that earthly kingdom that He planned backed with Adam and creation (Exodus 19:3-6). When the Jews kept the Sabbath holy every week, they were continually reminded of that earthly kingdom and their role in God’s purpose and plan for creating the earth.
Unfortunately, Satan polluted the nation Israel with pagan idolatry, false religion: also, he sent false prophets to mislead Israel, and his evil spirits seduced and possessed Jews (Deuteronomy 13:1-18; Jeremiah 6:13; Acts 8:7-24; Acts 13:6-8; 2 Peter 2:1-3; et al.). As long as Satan kept Israel in spiritual bondage, the Jews could not be the vessels that God had intended them to be. This continued throughout the Old Testament, whose prophets emphatically preached of Israel’s coming kingdom. Finally, Jesus Christ, Israel’s King-Redeemer was born, and He came to usher in their kingdom. However, that earthly kingdom was further postponed when the Jews rejected and crucified Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross. Had Israel accepted Jesus as her Messiah-King 2,000 years ago, that earthly kingdom would have been set up. But that kingdom will not be established until the Second Coming of Christ!
Israel had forgotten the meaning of the first Sabbath day. By the time Jesus Christ showed up in Matthew, Israel was worshipping the Sabbath instead of worshipping the God of the Sabbath. Israel had no idea what the Sabbath day was all about.
3.0 DID JESUS CHRIST BREAK THE SABBATH?
A careful reading of Scripture reveals that we are to cease and rest from common or profane work on the Sabbath, so that the time may be devoted to God’s holy purpose. But implicit in the Sabbath command is that we do the work necessary to fulfil the spiritual aim and meaning of the Sabbath. On the first Sabbath, God rested from His work of physical creation, but He did the work of creating the Sabbath, blessing and sanctifying it (Genesis 2:2-3; Mark 2:27). The weekly Sabbaths and the annual Sabbaths were proclaimed to be “holy convocations”—commanded assemblies for the purpose of gathering to hear God’s word taught, and for congregational worship (Leviticus 23:2, 4). This includes the “work” required to travel to the place of assembly, and to listen, learn and participate in the worship service. Those commissioned to teach did the work of reading and explaining God’s word. On such occasions, people customarily did the work of eating and drinking, sharing and rejoicing in the holy day and in the truth of God’s word (Nehemiah 8:1-12). Other work implicit in the command was done, too: even on the most solemn day of the year— the Day of Atonement—the priests did the work of slaying animals and offering sacrifices before God, according to the requirements of the law (Leviticus 16).
The work of honouring and worshiping God is not forbidden on the Sabbath. Indeed, it is the object of the Sabbath. That is why the priests could work on the Sabbath and not be guilty. Their work was a necessary part of the congregational Sabbath duty of honouring and serving God. It was, in that sense, not their work but God’s work that was being done. On a Sabbath day early in His ministry, Jesus announced in summary form the work He had been sent to perform. His work was preaching the gospel, healing [both physically and spiritually] and liberating from oppression (Luke 4:18-19). The works Jesus did were not His works, but God’s works, which He had been sent to perform (John 4:34; 9:4; 17:4). Healing was an integral part of Christ’s ministry. In perfect harmony with what the Sabbath rest pictures—and with the gospel message—Jesus’ healings typified the physical and spiritual healings that Christ will perform during the Millennium, when the Kingdom of God is established on the earth (see Isaiah 35:5-6, 57:16-20; Jeremiah 30:10, 17; Ezekiel 47:8-10).
When Jesus healed on the Sabbath, He was not breaking the Sabbath, but fulfilling it, because one is not at rest when afflicted, oppressed and bound by disease or infirmity. As many scriptures show, God delights in redeeming and restoring the afflicted, and giving them the rest exemplified by His Sabbath. God “hears the cry of the afflicted. When he gives quietness [rest], who then can make trouble?” (Job 34:28-29). Bound by their false traditions, the Pharisees did try to make trouble for the Messiah, condemning Him for giving those whom He healed rest from their afflictions.
Those who say Jesus did actually break the Sabbath are agreeing with Christ’s enemies—His accusers—that Jesus’ miraculous works of healing were a breach of the Sabbath law. They are agreeing with Jesus’ accusers that He was a Sabbath-breaker. To be consistent, they must also agree with the Pharisees when they said of Christ: “We know that this man is a sinner” (John 9: 24). The blind man who had been healed knew better than that, saying that “we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him” (John 9: 31).
When Jesus healed on the Sabbath, He was not violating the law of God. By His actions, He demonstrated the true application of God’s laws—rather than Pharisaic traditions—that “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:12). The “law” that Jesus violated was a man-made rule that was itself against the principles of God’s law.
We must remember, Had Jesus Christ actually broken the Sabbath, He would have been sinning. But the Scripture says that He “committed no sin” (1 Peter 2:22). Had He sinned, He could not be our Savior. But He, being undefiled and separate from sinners, offered Himself without spot and without blemish to God for our redemption (Hebrews 7:26; 9:14; 1 Peter 1:18-19). No, Jesus did not break the Sabbath. He spent the Sabbath preaching, teaching, healing, honouring God and doing the good work of His ministry—the work of God. The record of Scripture is that Jesus kept the Sabbath faithfully, as God intended it to be kept. In doing so, He set us an example. “He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:6).
Far from annulling the Sabbath, Jesus demonstrated that the Sabbath is an appropriate time to give aid and comfort to those in need. The Sabbath command didn’t instruct people on what they were to do on that day, just what they were not to do. Jesus clarified what was acceptable to God. “It is lawful [within God’s law] to do good on the Sabbath,” He declared (Matthew12:12). Jesus’ approach was that when an opportunity to relieve suffering presents itself, the opportunity should be taken. God’s Sabbath command was never intended to prohibit doing good on that day. Jesus well knew the heart and core of God’s law: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). Both James and Paul understood that love was the intent and fulfilment of God’s law (James 2:8; Galatians 5:14).
Moreover, Jesus did it to demonstrate “the powers of the world to come” (Hebrews 2:3-5; Hebrews 6:4-6). The Old Testament prophesied that when Israel’s God would come, the lame man would leap, the mute would sing, the blind would see, and the deaf would hear (Isaiah 35:4-6). When Israel’s Messiah would come, there would be no unclean spirits in Israel’s land (Zechariah 13:1-2). By performing the healing miracles, especially on the Sabbath, Jesus Christ was fulfilling what the Old Testament had predicted all the way back to the Creation Week! There will be no sickness or suffering in the kingdom when Christ returns to Earth at His Second Coming (Isaiah 11:6-9; Isaiah 33:23,24; Isaiah 35:3-6; James 5:14-16). God will cause the evil spirits to pass from the land of Israel (Zechariah 13:1-2)—during the Millennial Reign of Christ, Satan will be bound in the bottomless pit (Revelation 20:1-3,7). By performing those miracles, Christ was showing Israel the healing and forgiveness that would take place in His millennial kingdom! Moreover, the Jews needed signs and wonders before they would believe God, and Christ’s miracles taught Israel what He was going to do with them (Exodus 4:1-8; John 4:48; 1 Corinthians 1:22). Now we know why the Lord Jesus Christ healed on the Sabbath.