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What is a high Sabbath?

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A “high Sabbath” is any one of the seven annual festivals commanded by God for the Israelites in the Old Testament books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Leviticus 23 explains the rules for the weekly Sabbath and then goes through the other days throughout the year that required a “sabbath rest” in which no customary work could be done.

Beginning in the spring, the seven high Sabbaths were Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Firstfruits, the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost), the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles. The Jewish feasts are closely related to Israel’s spring and fall harvests. They reminded the Israelites each year of God’s ongoing protection and provision, but, even more importantly, they foreshadowed the redemptive work of the Messiah. The high Sabbaths symbolize the complete story of salvation—that is, the work of Christ—beginning with His death on the cross as the Passover Lamb and ending with His second coming after which He will “tabernacle” or dwell with His people forever.

The Gospel of John says the day following Christ’s death and burial was a high Sabbath, or, as the NIV puts it, “a special Sabbath” (John 19:31). In this case, the high Sabbath was a regular Sabbath day that coincided with the Passover festival. It was a “double Sabbath,” so to speak, and considered “doubly holy”: to the weekly Sabbath, as normally observed, was added the first day of the Passover feast, Nissan 15, which also carried the solemnity of a Sabbath (see Leviticus 23:7–15).

So Jesus was crucified on the day before a high Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want Jerusalem desecrated on such a holy day as a high Sabbath, they petitioned the governor that the bodies of Jesus and those crucified with Him be taken down before evening (see Deuteronomy 21:22–23).

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022