“Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain. And the Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” But He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him: how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?” And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” Mar 2:23-28
Although an excellent case can be made that the Pharisees’ first premise was wrong, that in fact the disciples were not violating the Sabbath by plucking the heads of grain to eat, Jesus did not refute their complaint with that argument. Instead, He used an example from Scripture, when David seemed to violate Torah by eating the showbread in the Temple (Lev 24:5-9, 1 Sam 21:1-6), to show that something greater was being shown since no judgment fell upon David for this act.
Now it was not that David, as king, was immune from violations of Torah. God judged David more than once when he truly broke Torah, as he did in the matter with Uriah and Bathsheba (2 Sam 11-12), and also the census taking (1 Chr 21). But He refrained from judging him in the instance Jesus refers to. Why? It must be because Torah was not truly broken.
It is prophesied of Messiah that He will serve as king (Psa 2), prophet (Deu 18:15-19), and priest (Psa 110). He will fulfill in one person, all roles of authority designated by Torah (Deu 16:18-18:22). Some scholars believe this is why Saul was rejected from being king over Israel, because he was king, and prophet (1 Sam 10:1-13), but when he took the role of priest upon himself, he was rejected (1 Sam 13:8-14), for by that act he was assuming the mantle of Messiah.
But David is a type of Messiah. He was a shepherd who was called to shepherd God’s people Israel. He delivered them from giants and the Philistines, and all their enemies. He established righteous rule from one end of the kingdom to the other. He served as king, and as prophet, for his psalms are Thus saith the Lord, and many are prophetic of the Messiah. But then when David ate the showbread, reserved only for the priests, he was not rejected. I believe Jesus brought out this point to show to the Pharisees that it was because David was foreshadowing Messiah (I.e. it is lawful for Messiah to act as priest), that he was not rejected.
Combined with the dispute over whether Sabbath was really being broken or not, Jesus paints a powerful truth. And that is, that Messiah, who is the Living Torah (the Word of God made flesh, Joh 1:14), knows how to rightly apply Torah in every situation and not be in violation of it, because His heart is right before God. Thus the Son of Man, His own Messianic title for Himself, is the Lord of the Sabbath.
We who have been raised with an anti- Torah bias, read that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, and think automatically that by that phrase He must mean that He can now disregard Sabbath at will, since He is Lord of it. But does being Lord of something mean that you can now disregard it?
The biblical principle of rulership, is to care for, protect, and bless what is under your authority. To uphold what is under your authority! It is man’s way of thinking that says that a ruler disregards what is under him; in God’s way of thinking, a ruler upholds what is under him. We see this is the case, in that God Himself obeys His own Torah! His Torah is His Word, and His Word is Himself, breathed from His Spirit, and He cannot be faithless to Himself (Rom 3:4).
Jesus lived this understanding that to be Lord of something means to uphold it. For He fulfilled Torah perfectly, not transgressing it in any point, while He lived on earth. He did not break Torah cavalierly because He was Lord of it, showing that the sense of being Lord of it could not be to disregard it.
Jesus also taught us something important about Sabbath observance here: Sabbath is was made to serve man. Man was not made to be enslaved by Sabbath. So let’s be clear: this understanding is not license to disregard Sabbath. Sabbath is God’s holiest of moedim (appointed times or feast days), and He commanded us not to pursue our livings on this day, so that we could rest and have a day to worship and pursue Him. Obviously, plucking a few heads of grain because you are hungry, on Sabbath, is not the same as harvesting your grain for your livelihood on Sabbath. So let us honor the Sabbath day, because we honor the Lord whose day it is, without being wrongly enslaved to it.