Did Jesus teach that it is OK to break the Sabbath?
Matthew 12 is often used as a proof text to demonstrate that Yeshua (Jesus) taught that it is ok to break the Sabbath because He is “lord of the Sabbath”.
Let’s take a look together at the text. We will see that Yeshua did not abolish the Sabbath, but actually defended it and perfectly exemplified it.
“1At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”
If you look through Torah you will find NO command stating that it is unlawful to simply pick and eat grain on the Sabbath. The Pharisees were referring to their Oral Laws, which was their OPINIONS on the Torah. Yeshua was CORRECTING their opinions and demonstrating what the law ACTUALLY teaches.
3He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests.
Yeshua answers their question not by simply giving His OPINION but by demonstrating FROM the Torah, what the true intent of the Sabbath is. He draws from another text to demonstrate that there are GREATER and LESSER instructions. In other words, there are levels of priority and importance. For example, in our laws it is illegal to cross double yellow lines, drive on the shoulder or the road, or use an interstate median to turn around, yet no one would condemn a person for breaking these instructions in order to save someone’s life. No one would attempt to arrest a police officer for speeding if his intent was to prevent a murder. Yeshua is making a comparison to what the Pharisees (and others) have constructed as the “law” to what the Torah ACTUALLY teaches.
5Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? 6I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’a you would not have condemned the innocent. 8For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
Here Yeshua says that the priests are innocent AND his disciples were INNOCENT. He does NOT say that they broke the Torah, but it’s ok because He’s lord of the Sabbath. He says they were innocent and did NOT transgress the Torah. According to Oral Law, priests would be doing things not normally permitted… such as picking up animals or “carrying a load”. Yeshua is teaching what the intent of the Sabbath is.
9Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”
11He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
Yeshua doesn’t say “it is unlawful to help the sheep, but do it anyway because I’m lord of the Sabbath”. No, He says it is LAWFUL to do good.
Furthermore, note that Yeshua said that something greater than the temple is here, namely, Himself! Yeshua is the great high priest after the order of Melchizedek. King David was also a priest according to this order and was the master over the Levitical priesthood, even conducting the worship services and making sacrifices and offerings. A quick read-through of 2 Samuel 6 and 1 Chronicles 15 demonstrates David’s priestly role. He made sacrifices before the Ark, wore a linen ephod, made burnt and peace offerings, served as the coordinator of Israel’s corporate worship, and acted as master over the Levitical priesthood.
So we see that Yeshua completely upheld and defended the sanctity of the Sabbath. More so, He fully taught the nature of the Sabbath. Thus the perfect example of Sabbath keeping was fulfilled in Messiah Yeshua.