A Question I Was Asked:

Why Did Jesus Warn to Avoid Fleeing on the Sabbath?

The Question:

I have this question for you: Jesus Christ predicted in Matthew 24: 20, "Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or in the Sabbath." My question is: if we know that the requirement of keeping the Sabbath is not for Christians anymore (since we are now under the new covenant), why does He mention the Sabbath for the end time maybe affecting the flight of Christians? Churches that keep the Sabbath nowadays always say and claim that Christians must keep the Sabbath now and in the future of the end time, partly because of this prophecy of Jesus. Thanks a lot for your advice and help; you have helped me much in the past.

UK Apologetics Reply:

Well, I seem to have answered this question more than once, nevertheless, it is a good and fair question. Let us have a look at it.

In Matthew 24, Jesus was mainly talking about the fleeing which would be necessary back in AD70 when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans! Although He was addressing new Christians (well, mainly the disciples), many of them were Jewish, of course, and many Jews did, in fact, go on keeping the Sabbath for a few more years until they fully understood that Jesus fulfilled the Sabbath. Within about 150 years however, most all Christians were assembling on the Lord's Day (Sunday) - Jewish background or not. This article explains more.

So most of Matthew 24 (with the possible exception of just a very few verses), refers to AD70 - not to the final Second Coming, or Parousia. In fact, this is confirmed for us by Matthew 24:34:

Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.

Jesus spoke around AD30-33 (I don't intend getting into arguments about precise dates here), Jerusalem was destroyed in AD70. AD30 to AD 70 is forty years - a generation! (by the way, it appears that a large portion of Jerusalem-worshipping Christians successfully fled to Pella in AD69). So Jesus was obviously talking to mainly Jewish Christians based in and around Jerusalem. At that time, Sabbath observance controlled rather a lot of Jewish life, so even if the Jewish Christians were beginning to understand that Jesus would very soon fulfil the meaning of the Sabbath upon the cross (although undoubtedly most would not yet have understood this point), living within a Jewish community would make it hard to flee upon the Sabbath; Jesus was mindful of this.

For Jewish Christians - some of those things would not truly 'sink in' for a generation. This is largely why the Book of Hebrews was later written, that is, to explain to Jewish Christians that it was time to put aside some of these matters of the old covenant and to trust fully in Christ. Indeed, the writer of Hebrews explains really well that the Sabbath should now be understood as referring to Jesus, and to Heaven. Carefully go through Hebrews 3:18-4:11.

But it is important to see the difference between what Jesus said - and what He did not say! He warned that fleeing upon the Sabbath would be difficult, as would fleeing in the winter. He did not say: ensure you do not flee upon the Sabbath because that is holy time! (as the Pharisees might well have said). Indeed, Jesus had often shocked the Jewish religious leaders of His day by being prepared to be in the company of "sinners" on this day, as well as healing the sick on this day. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27).

So Matthew 24:20 can hardly be used as an argument to back up present-day Seventh Day Sabbath observance (although I have no doubt that many will continue to make that connection).

Robin A. Brace. August 7th, 2013.