What if someone asked you, “Do you know the Lord?” If you are a Christian, you would likely answer yes.
But what if I changed the question slightly? What if I asked, “Do you know the Lord of the Sabbath?” How would you answer?
If you’re a Christian, your answer should be a resounding yes, because the Lord of the Sabbath is actually a title Jesus Christ gave to Himself in Mark 2:27-28: “And He [Jesus] said to them [the Pharisees], ‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.’”
Jesus has many titles that are commonly used, such as “the Christ,” “the Messiah,” “the Savior” and “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” But why do we almost never hear Him called the Lord of the Sabbath? Does this title imply that Christians should be keeping the Sabbath?
The big context: The Pharisees vs. Christ
First, let’s look at the context of Jesus’ statement in Mark 2. Earlier, Jesus had some direct confrontations with the Pharisees (Jewish religious leaders who held strictly to Jewish oral law). Jesus’ relationship with them was, to put it nicely, very tense. He had serious issues with them—and they disdained Him. They looked for any opportunity to discredit Him—especially in public.
They understood that Jesus was claiming to be the prophesied Messiah, and they also knew that there was grassroots support for Jesus among the Judean population. They saw that as a threat to their power and influence.
So they tried to catch Him in some kind of sin to make their case to the people that He was a fraud.
Of course, it was very hard for them to find anything to accuse Him of, because He didn’t sin. But they tried. Sometimes they accused Him of blasphemy (Luke 11:53)—but that accusation didn’t really stick.
So, here in Mark 2, they tried to manufacture another “sin”—breaking the Sabbath.
The immediate context: Jesus, the Pharisees and the Sabbath
Jesus and His disciples were having a leisurely walk on the Sabbath (the seventh day of the week, Saturday). At some point, they walked through some grain fields and were hungry, so they plucked a few heads of grain to eat as a snack. Imagine walking through the woods and picking some wild blackberries to eat as you walked along—
nothing you would consider strenuous or work!
That is when the Pharisees pounced!
They didn’t accuse Him of stealing the grain—they couldn’t because they were well versed in the law and knew Deuteronomy 23:24-25 permitted this.
So, they accused His disciples of breaking the Sabbath by harvesting grain on this day on which people were to refrain from work: “Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” (Mark 2:24).
They thought they had Him! Jesus was leading a group of Sabbath-breakers and, by extension, was a Sabbath-breaker Himself. They could take this to the people and make their case that He couldn’t possibly be the Messiah.