WHY DID JESUS CHRIST HEAL ON THE SABBATH DAYS?
by Shawn Brasseaux
The Law of Moses forbade Jews from working on the Saturday Sabbath, so, it is asked, why did the Lord Jesus Christ heal the sick and cast out devils on the Sabbath? Was it just to anger the Pharisees and the other hypocritical religious leaders of Israel? We will examine some of these Sabbath-day miracles in detail so as to understand why Jesus Christ behaved in such a unique manner. I believe that you will find the explanation quite fascinating. Let us search the Scriptures and see what they have to say about this often-misunderstood issue.
THE SABBATH DAY COMMANDMENT
It is common knowledge that the LORD told Israel in the Ten Commandments as given through Moses: “ Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:  But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:  For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it” (Exodus 20:8-11). This was repeated in Deuteronomy 5:13-15. The Jews were not to work on the Sabbath day at all. In fact, one who picked up sticks on the Sabbath was stoned to death, as God instructed (Numbers 15:32-36)!
CHRIST’S SABBATH-DAY HEALING MIRACLES
There is no Scriptural way to prove exactly how many Sabbath-day miracles Jesus Christ performed. The Bible only records details about some of these miracles; the others are mentioned in a general context, such as “great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all” (Matthew 12:15)—verse 1 says that this was the Sabbath day. Our goal is to highlight the Sabbath-day miracles about which the Bible provides specific information, and thus we will better understand why Jesus Christ did what He did on the Sabbath days.
In Matthew 12:10-15, Mark 3:1-6, and Luke 6:6-11, the Lord Jesus healed a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath day. Since it was the Sabbath day, this angered Israel’s religious leaders who worshipped the Sabbath, so the Pharisees “held a council against him, how they might destroy him” (Matthew 12:14; Mark 3:6; Luke 6:11). Again, in Luke 13:10-16, there is a humpback woman, crippled and unable to stand up straight. Jesus Christ heals her too on the Sabbath day. On another Sabbath day, as documented in Luke 14:1-4, Christ heals a man who suffers from dropsy (edema). We see yet another instance of Jesus Christ healing a lame man on the Sabbath day in John 5:1-16. Let us examine a few of these passages in detail in order to gain a better understanding of why Jesus Christ healed on the Sabbath.
According to Luke 13:10-16, the Lord Jesus Christ is teaching in the synagogues on the Sabbath days. On one Sabbath, He heals a humpback Jewess. Verse 14 says that the ruler of synagogue is angry because Jesus has healed her on the Sabbath day. Jesus Christ responds (verses 15-16): “ Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering?  And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on this sabbath day?”
Notice that Jesus refers specifically to Abraham’s children (the Jews, the nation Israel). Also, recognize that Satan has bound this Jewess, and Jesus Christ is the only one who can free her. Christ looses her from that spiritual bondage on the Sabbath day: remember, her physical illness symbolizes her spiritual illness (sin nature, captive to Satan).
Now, we look at John 5:1-16. In Jerusalem, there is a pool where the mute, the crippled, the blind, and other sick people go to be healed. An angel occasionally comes down and stirs the water. The first person to get into the water immediately after the angel comes, will be made whole (healed). One man sitting beside the pool has been unable to walk for 38 years (verse 5). The Lord Jesus Christ sees the crippled man waiting by the pool, so He asks the sick man if he wants to be healed. Jesus instantly heals the man (verse 9). This was on the Sabbath day, so Israel’s religious leaders are upset again (verses 9,16,18).
Let us briefly look at why God established the Sabbath day, and then we will come back to Christ’s earthly ministry.
THE SABBATH DAY ESTABLISHED
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. As we saw in some opening comments, 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 Adam and man, 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, some 6,000 years since creation, and a day beyond even our time!
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.
JESUS CHRIST, “THE SON OF MAN,” AND “LORD OF THE SABBATH DAY:” HIS SABBATH-DAY MIRACLE-MINISTRY EXPLAINED
On three occasions, Jesus Christ called Himself, “The Son of Man, Lord of the Sabbath Day” (Matthew 12:8; Mark 2:28; Luke 6:5). What did He mean? It meant that He ordained that first Sabbath day of Genesis 12:1-3: He knew the significance of the Sabbath, that it was established to glorify Him instead of merely provide Israel’s religious leaders with a nice law to observe and feel pious. He was saying that Israel’s religious leaders had no idea what Sabbath day-worship really was! Jesus Christ was the perfect Man, “the Son of Man,” as opposed to sinful Adam or sinful Israel, for He was the Man who would accomplish Father God’s original intention in creation. Jesus Christ was also the LORD God manifest in human flesh, the Person whom creation was to glorify (Colossians 1:16-20).
We thus understand why Jesus Christ healed on the Sabbath day. When Israel’s Messiah and King (Jesus) came, as documented in the Bible books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, there was a spike in the number of devil-possessed and sick Jews. As long as Israel was in spiritual darkness and satanic bondage, God could not use them in their kingdom to evangelize Gentiles. Do you remember the humpback woman in Luke 13:16, whom we briefly discussed earlier? “And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” That physically-crippled woman was spiritually-impotent Israel, firmly bound by Satan’s chains and spiritually blind! The Jews were to be released from that satanic bondage on the Sabbath, the Millennial (1000-Year) Reign of Christ, the period of “rest” that the Saturday Sabbath typified.
Notice what Mark 5:10 says: “And he [the unclean spirit] besought him [the Lord Jesus Christ] much that he would not send them away out of the country.” The devils do not want to be cast out of “the country.” They do not want to be cast out of the land of Israel! Furthermore, the devils rightly claim Jesus Christ has come to destroy them by setting up His kingdom and binding them.
The Lord Jesus Christ told the Jews whom He healed that their sins are forgiven (Matthew 9:2; Mark 2:5; Luke 5:20; Luke 7:48). Jesus is casting out devils and healing all manners of disease and sickness and preaching “the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 9:35; cf. Matthew 4:17). He also sends out His 12 apostles to heal and preach “the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 10:1-8). The Lord Jesus is demonstrating to Israel the healing, prosperity, and forgiveness that God would provide for the Jews during their earthly kingdom. The “binding of the strong man” is Jesus Christ casting Satan out of Israel’s midst (Matthew 12:24-32; Mark 3:22-30; Luke 11:15-26).
Notice Matthew 12:15, which occurred right after the healing of the man with the withered hand (recall that it was on the Sabbath). “But when Jesus knew it, he withdrew himself from thence: and great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all.” Here is an example of Jesus healing multitudes of people on the Sabbath. This healed multitude also symbolized Israel being healed in her earthly kingdom.
Jesus Christ is not only healing Israel physically, but spiritually as well. Every time Christ cast out a devil (unclean spirit), He was diminishing Satan’s influence over the nation Israel. Interestingly, the crippled man in John 5:5 had been handicapped for 38 years. Amazingly, Deuteronomy 2:14 said that Israel wandered in the wilderness for 38 years. During that period, the Jews were rebellious and spiritually crippled, unable to enter the Promised Land, the earthly kingdom of Jesus Christ.
When Jesus healed the man suffering from dropsy in Luke 14:1-4, recall that He healed him too on the Sabbath day. This sick man also symbolized Israel, spiritually impotent and under Satan’s control. Again, by healing the sick, especially on the Sabbath day, Jesus was demonstrating to the Jews that their earthly kingdom would bring spiritual and physical healing. The man whose withered hand was healed on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:10-15; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:6-11) also symbolized Israel’s physical and spiritual healing in her coming kingdom.
Another example of Israel being devil-possessed is the man indwelt by the unclean spirit in Mark 1:21-27 and Luke 4:31-36. Notice that the unclean spirit asked Jesus (Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34): “Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God.” The devil knew exactly what Christ was there to do! Christ was there to destroy Satan’s stronghold on the nation Israel. He was here to bring in the kingdom that the Sabbath day had shadowed for some 1,500 years!
In contrast to such wonderful news, that God was there to break Satan’s grip of Israel, deliver her from her sins and free her from satanic and Gentile oppressions, Israel did not have hearts willing to listen to the doctrine being communicated by Jesus Christ’s Sabbath-day miracles. The Pharisees and scribes had such a formalistic mindset that they completely missed the point of why Jesus Christ was healing on the Sabbath. Hence, they condemned Him as a “blasphemer” and a “law-breaker.” They were too preoccupied with keeping the Sabbath (vain religious tradition) that they had lost sight of why God had implemented Sabbath day keeping in the first place!
Additionally, they completely missed the point that by performing those miracles, Jesus was proving that He was their Messiah. However, these religious leaders had wicked hearts of unbelief, and they used anything to discredit Jesus Christ, and thus accused Him of Sabbath day breaking. They did not have hearts of faith or spiritual eyes to see the meaning of those Sabbath-day miracles of Christ. In their hypocrisy, these unbelievers had totally missed the fact that they broke the Sabbath when they circumcised a male Jew on the Sabbath when it was the eighth day (John 7:22-24). Even today, Bible critics complain that Jesus Christ broke the Sabbath day on many occasions—they too have no idea what the Sabbath day means, or they would not utter such rash comments!
While the Sabbath day was important, it was a ceremonial law. Sometimes, the Sabbath day needed to be broken (such as in the case of physical circumcision). Furthermore, Jesus Christ spoke of loosing or helping animals on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:11,12; Luke 14:5); Moses made provisions for such actions on the Sabbath (see Exodus 23:5; Deuteronomy 22:4). As to not infringe on other aspects of the Mosaic Law, the Sabbath day would need to be broken—these laws took preeminence above the Sabbath keeping because they were the right things to do. Yet, the religious leaders of Israel did not want to admit that Jesus healing on the Sabbath was good and acceptable. They were cold and heartless, as religionists as today. They would rather have sick people remain ill than disobey a church law!
When Jesus and His disciples were passing through a grain field, and His hungry disciples ate some of the crops, the Pharisees complained that they were working on the Sabbath. One of the questions Jesus asked the Pharisees is the following excerpt from Matthew chapter 12: “ Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless?  But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple.  But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.  For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day.” The Lord Jesus explained that certain activities had preeminence to Sabbath-day rest, and two of them were having compassion on the hungry (David and his men eating the shewbread; Matthew 12:3-4) and the priests of Israel having to offer sacrifices on the Sabbath. Even Israel’s priests had to break the Sabbath day. We saw earlier how they circumcised male Jewish babies on the Sabbath, but let us look at another example of how Israel’s priests were to work on the Sabbath.
In Numbers 28:3, JEHOVAH commanded Israel through Moses, “This is the offering made by fire which ye shall offer unto the Lord; two lambs of the first year without spot day by day, for a continual burnt offering.” Every day, no matter what day it was, these two lambs were to be offered—one lamb in the morning and the other lamb in the evening. Even on the Sabbath day, JEHOVAH said, the priests were to minister in the Tabernacle or Temple in this manner. The priests were to work in the Tabernacle or Temple on the Sabbath. Verses 9-10 discuss special offerings that were also to be offered on the Sabbath day: “ And on the sabbath day two lambs of the first year without spot, and two tenth deals of flour for a meat offering, mingled with oil, and the drink offering thereof:  This is the burnt offering of every sabbath, beside the continual burnt offering, and his drink offering.” In addition to their daily routine, the priests had two more burnt offerings to sacrifice on the Sabbath day. Notice how JEHOVAH gave Israel’s priesthood the permission to infringe upon Sabbath-day keeping: the priests could not rest on the Sabbath, otherwise they would disobey other commandments of JEHOVAH.
Why did Jesus heal on the Sabbath day? He 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 you know why the Lord Jesus Christ healed on the Sabbath.
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