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The Sabbath or the Lord's Day

Updated: Sep 28, 2020

A disagreement among Christians centres on the day of worship. Should we worship on the Sabbath (Saturday) or the Lord’s Day (Sunday). Those who worship on Saturday say it is a creation ordinance. Others say it is no longer in force and we should worship on the Lord’s Day. Another minor controversy is whether we can call the Lord’s Day the Sabbath. In this article I will try to address these issues.

A Sabbath means rest. The Sabbath is based on God's rest at creation on the seventh day, which we call Saturday. Since God rested on that day He blessed it and made it a holy-day. God did not need to rest on the seventh day. He does not get tired (Is 40:28; Jh 5:17). Creation was done in six days to delineate the work week. The Sabbath was for man (Mk 2:27) to enjoy fellowship with God, his Creator.

When man fell, his fellowship with God was disturbed, his labour was cursed and his tiredness intensified (Gen 3:17-19; 5:29). His rest disappeared over time. We do not hear of the Sabbath again until the time of Moses. Nehemiah says clearly that God made the Sabbath known to Israel through Moses (Neh 9:14; cf Ex 16:23,25,29,30). The Sabbath had been forgotten and mankind had become slaves to their labour.

Matters changed as soon as God brought His people to Himself at Sinai. God reinstated the Sabbath in honour. He gave it to His people as a gift (Ex 16:29) and a command (20:8; 31:12-17; etc.). On it they could rest from their work and remember that God released them from slavery in Egypt. Therefore, they were to extend that rest to their slaves also (Ex 20:8; Deut 5:14,15).

The Lord, however, gave the Sabbath a very special place. It is not simply another commandment. God made it into the sign of the Mosaic covenant, a sign that said He made Israel holy (Ex 31:13). The sign is even identified with the covenant (Ex 31:16). It stands for it as circumcision does for the Abrahamic covenant.

B That tight connection means that the Sabbath as a sign of the Sinaitic covenant has to be affected by the end of that covenant. It terminated at the death and resurrection of Christ when the new covenant began (1 Cor 11:25). We hear from the Lord that He is the Lord of the Sabbath (Mat12:8). He can, therefore, abrogate it. The Apostle Paul in the Spirit also rejects the specific holy days of the Sinaitic covenant (Col 2:16,17; cf. Rom 14:5,6; Gal 4:10,11). Furthermore, the creation ordinance was also affected. Since the rest given at creation had been destroyed by sin (Rom 8:21,22,23) a new rest had to come. The Lord Jesus Christ brought the rest of the new creation into this age (Mat 11:28). He is the one of which all the OT Sabbaths are only the shadow (Col 2:16,17). He is the beginning of the new creation (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15; Col 1:15; Rev 3:14), the light of life created on the first day of the week (Jh 1:4,5).

Therefore, if the Sabbath is to continue in any way it must be reborn as a sign of the new covenant. For this to happen the same metamorphosis that circumcision underwent into baptism, Passover into the Lord’s Supper and the Feast of Weeks into Pentecost will also have to happen to the Sabbath, for if it does not then it does not belong in the NT. If it does, both the Abrahamic covenant and the Sinaitic covenant will have left traces of their main signs in the new covenant of grace.

C This change is already signalled in the fulfilment of the Feast of the Firstfruits and the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost). The Feast of the Firstfruits fell on the first day after the Sabbath of the Passover/Unleavened Bread feast. The Feast of Weeks was to be held fifty days later on the day after the seventh Sabbath from this date (Lev 23:11,15,16).

The resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ fulfilled the first-fruit offering to God after Passover (1 Cor 15:20, 23) and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit fulfilled the new grain offering of the Feast of Weeks (Lev 23:15-17; Acts 2:1). Both of these redemptive events happened on the first day of the week fulfilling the shadows (Lev 23:7,11,21).

The NT also supports the change to worshipping on the Lord’s Day. The Apostle John speaks of the Lord’s Day in Revelation 1:10 and it is difficult to find any other day than the day Of Christ’s resurrection that would be so called. On that day the Lord Jesus Christ revealed Himself to his servant, John specifically to give His messages of rebuke and encouragement to the seven churches. This is a continuing trend in Christ's appearances as recorded by the Apostle John. In his gospel account John tells us how the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to His disciples on the first day of the week two weeks running[1] (Jh 20:19,26). The Lord Jesus Christ wanted to have covenant fellowship with His disciples on the day of His resurrection and give them knowledge of Himself. Therefore, He laid claim to the day and came to them with the word, Peace be with you. The apostle John, therefore, in the Spirit, called the first day of the week the Lord's Day.

The day of the resurrection of the Lord quickly asserted itself as the day on which the church met among the Gentiles (Ac 20:7,11; 1 Cor 16:2). They differentiated themselves from the synagogue by using the day the Lord had indicated. The Lord’s Day is a new sign that speaks of rest in Christ. We worship on that day, because the life of the risen Christ is our light, created on the first day of the week. We worship in the Spirit who was given on that day of the week and so we draw near to God (Eph 2:18). We ought to worship especially on this day as the blood of Christ and the Holy Spirit sanctify us (1 Cor 6:11). We extend to others the grace we have received on that day as well. The Church is, therefore, justified to worship on the Lord’s Day, the Sunday as it recovers and completes the meaning of the Sabbath.

The fact that this day is called the Lord's Day by Holy Scripture means that the Lord has laid claim to this day. It is holy to Him, for on it He rose from the dead and entered His rest and on it He poured out His Spirit. The Lord indicated that He wanted this day to be the one that remembered Him, that sanctified Him. He has indicated that He desires fellowship with us on that day and that especially on that day He will be in our midst. It is a sign that He sanctifies us, that He has given us rest from sin and the curse on our labour. The sign is far richer than the OT Sabbath. It still speaks of rest from our daily labour for we still participate in the form of this world, but it speaks of it as a foretaste of the eternal rest we will enjoy in a new world where we will rest from our labours in Christ (1 Cor 15:58; Rev 14:13). We can call it the Sabbath because the Lord’s Day speaks of rest, but the rest is far greater than the rest the OT Sabbath gave and which it could only foreshadow.

All these things argue that we cannot simply transfer the OT Sabbath to the NT times as is and apply the OT rules for keeping it. We also cannot simply call the Lord's Day the Sabbath, for it is not the OT Sabbath, for the latter has come to an end like circumcision. However, it is a Sabbath, a day of rest, but we keep a new day, the Lord's Day, to which the Sabbath has provided some of the meaning. However, the Lord's Day surpasses it as far as eternal rest in Christ and in the new world is superior to physical rest from labour and the land of earthly rest. We must, however, remember that it is still not the eternal rest itself. It too is only a foreshadowing of the total rest we have in Christ.

Meanwhile, what the Lord said about the Sabbath also applies to the Lord's Day: the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. He is Lord of the Lord's Day as well (cf Mt 12:7-8; Mk 2:27). He wants to meet with us on that Day until that day when we are with Him eternally. Therefore, He has given it to us. That day is His joy and our joy. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

[1] The Greek original (and NKJV) has "after eight days". The NIV translates "a week later" and it can do that because this is an inclusive way of counting in which the day on which something happens is included in the count. This can be found in other cultures as well. In our way of counting Jesus appeared seven days later on the following Sunday.



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