Question: "What does it mean that Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath?"
Answer: The phrase “the Lord of the Sabbath” is found in Matthew 12:8, Mark 2:28, and Luke 6:5. In all three instances Jesus is referring to Himself as the Lord of the Sabbath or, as Mark records it, “The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28). In these verses, Jesus is proclaiming that He is the One who exercises authority even over the rules and regulations that govern the Sabbath day.
As such, Jesus was proclaiming to the world, especially to the legalistic Pharisees, that He was greater than the Law and above the laws of the Mosaic Covenant because, as God in flesh, He is the Author of those laws. Unable to keep the Law, however, the Pharisees had instituted a complex and confusing system of Sabbath laws of their own that was oppressive and legalistic. They had set up strict laws regarding how to observe the Sabbath, which included 39 categories of forbidden activities. In essence, these religious leaders had made themselves lords of the Sabbath, thus making themselves lords over the people.
As Creator, Christ was the original Lord of the Sabbath (John 1:3; Hebrews 1:10). He had the authority to overrule the Pharisees’ traditions and regulations because He had created the Sabbath—and the Creator is always greater than the creation. Furthermore, Jesus claimed the authority to correctly interpret the meaning of the Sabbath and all the laws pertaining to it. Because Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, He is free to do on it and with it whatever He pleases.
As Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus had the right, power, and authority to dispense it in any way He pleased. The Lord of the Sabbath had come, and with His death and resurrection He became the fulfillment of our “Sabbath rest.” The salvation we have in Christ has made the old law of the Sabbath no longer needed or binding. When Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27), Jesus was attesting to the fact that, just as the Sabbath day was originally instituted to give man rest from his labors, so did He come to provide us rest from laboring to achieve our own salvation by our works. Because of His sacrifice on the cross, we can now forever cease laboring to attain God’s favor and rest in His mercy and grace.