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Jesus: the Ultimate Sabbath Observance

      The most prolific mention of the Sabbath in the gospels is during the passion week. But our focus is often not on the Sabbath, but upon the resurrection the following day. We fail to notice that in staying in the grave until the Sabbath is over, Jesus is keeping the Sabbath to the greatest extent possible. This is like those events of healing which Jesus chose to leave until after the Sabbath (Mk. 1:32). Unfortunately, later Christians have turned Jesus' ultimate affirmation of the Sabbath into a replacement holy day to commemorate his resurrection.

      It's interesting to consider the time when the resurrection may have occurred. All four of the gospels give accounts of events surrounding it, but most of them are results of the resurrection, which could have happened a day or two later. Only Matthew, with his testimony about an earthquake, seems to allude to the very moment of resurrection. So it is to him that we turn for information about the time when it happened.

      In Matthew 28:1, the verse that sets the stage in terms of time, most translations say something like, "After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week..." There are two Greek words in this verse that are routinely mistranslated because of the translators prior bias about the time of the resurrection. The first word in the verse, opse, is translated everywhere else with the word "late", meaning late in the day, i.e. evening. Any Greek lexicon will confirm this. The only other New Testament occurrences are in Mark 11:11, 19; 13:35. In these places it specifically means evening. Since the Sabbath ends at sundown, it would be correct to translate it as "late on the Sabbath" or "on Sabbath evening".

      The other word at issue is the word epiphosko, which literally means something like "shine upon". Because of this, translators have typically rendered it "as it began to dawn" or something similar. What they don't realize is that this is an idiom which means to "draw near". The only other time it is used in the New Testament is in Luke 23:54. In this passage the context clearly indicates that it is Friday evening and the Sabbath (beginning at sunset) is "drawing near". There is no reason (other than translator bias) to translate it differently in Matthew 28:1. A consistent translation of this verse would read, "Late on Sabbath (or "On Sabbath evening") as the first day of the week was drawing near," referring clearly to the time just before sunset on Saturday evening.

      It is apparently in these waning moments of the Sabbath that the women leave the house to visit the tomb, intending to get a jump and travel as far as they lawfully can on the Sabbath. The moment the sun goes down and the Sabbath is over, there is an earthquake. The implication is that this is the moment that Jesus rose from the dead. The ensuing events, including the travel back and forth to the residences of disciples, spanned the night and the following morning and are related in the other three gospels. But the resurrection itself happened, according to Matthew, at sunset on Saturday night. As soon as it was lawful to do so, Jesus burst forth from the tomb.

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I remember your ancient laws, O LORD, and I find comfort in them.
Psalm 119 :52