Do Christians Need to Keep the Sabbath Day?

If we are speaking of the Sabbath as it is defined by the law of the Torah, as part of the old covenant, given specifically and only to the people of Israel, no. That Sabbath day was one of many holy days and seasons in the Israelite calendar. Indeed, a strong argument can be made that the Sabbath was the foundation of that entire calendar. For example, the Sabbath year (every 7th year) was patterned after it, as was the Jubilee year (the 50th year after 7 “sabbaths” of years = 49 years). The Sabbath day of Israel required not only observance by individual Israelites, but also specific animal sacrifices that were offered on the altar of the sanctuary for the nation (Num. 28:9). Moreover, Sabbath observance necessitated punishment for those who broke this law, the penalty of which was death (Exod. 31:14-15).
Therefore, if one were to keep the Sabbath day, as it was defined and delineated in the Old Testament, not only would one need to refrain from work on the seventh day, but also ensure that animal sacrifices were offered, breakers of the Sabbath were punished, and one would (arguably) need to observe all other feasts and fasts of the Israelite calendar, for they, like the Sabbath, were holy days prescribed for Israel.
In other words, the Law of Moses never says, “Pick and choose which aspects of the Sabbath you still want to observe today.” The Law is a package deal, all or nothing.
The good news is that we, as Christians, are not Israelites who live under the law(s) of the old covenant. Christ is the end, the fulfillment, the completion of the law. He brought in the new covenant, thus bringing to an end the old one, with all its strictures on what to eat, what to wear, what to do on certain days, etc.
Hebrews 4 is the best chapter in the NT for understanding the fulfillment of the Sabbath in Jesus. After quoting from the creation account about the Sabbath (4:4) as well as a psalm that speaks of God giving the Israelites rest (4:3), he concludes that “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God” (4:9). This Sabbath rest is what Hebrews is all about: by faith in Jesus the Messiah, we have entered, and continue to enter, and will enter the rest that is in Jesus.
For the Christian, every day is “the Sabbath” for every day we who are weary and heavy laden come to Jesus, who is our rest and who gives us rest. In him we enter a Sabbath that will never end.

Written by Chad Bird, 1517 Scholar-in-Residence