By Mike Willis
In Rev. 1:10 John wrote, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day . . . .” By the time the book of Revelation was written, one day had already come to be designated as the “Lord’s Day.” Which day was it? Sabbatarians tell us that the Lord’s day is the seventh day of the week and teach that the early church worshiped on the Sabbath day. They further charge that either the pope or Constantine changed the day of worship of the New Testament church and that those of us who worship on the first day of the week have departed from New Testament Christianity. Let us find out just what John meant when he spoke of the “Lord’s day” to see if the first or the seventh day of the week is the Lord’s day.
Sabbath Observance Was Abolished
The observance of the Sabbath day was instituted shortly after God led Israel out of Egyptian bondage. The commandment to “remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy” was given to the nation Israel in conjunction with the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20; Deut. 5). God specifically stipulated how the Sabbath was to be observed. Here are some of the ordinances required for proper observance of the Sabbath day, according to the Mosaical law: (a) do no work (Ex. 31:15); (b) kindle no fire (Ex. 35:3); (c) gather no sticks (Num. 15:32); (d) offer burnt offerings (Num. 29:9-10); (e) buy no goods (Neh. 10:31; 28:9-10); (f) bear no burden (Jer. 17:21); (g) prepare shewbread (1 Chron. 9:32); (h) stay in one’s place (Ex. 16:29; Acts 1:12). Anyone who disobeyed these commandments was to be punished by being put to death (Ex. 31:14; Num. 15:32-36).
Though many religious people say that they observe the Sabbath day, I have never yet met anyone who observed it according to the Scriptures. Though they might do no work and buy no goods, I know of no Sabbatarian who prepares shewbread and offers burnt offerings on the Sabbath day as the Mosaical law requires. Neither have I ever met the man who believes that all those who do not observe the Sabbath day should be put to death. Even those who believe in worshiping on the Sabbath day do not believe in observing it as the Bible dictates.
However, when the law of Christ was given, the Mosaical law was abolished or abrogated (Heb. 8:13; 7:12; Eph. 2:14-16; etc.). Consequently, Paul could write, “And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having cancelled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him. Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to ,food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day – things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:13-17). Hence, Sabbath observance was abolished when the rest of the ordinances of the Mosaical law were abolished. Men do not observe the Sabbath, not because the pope or Constantine said not to observe it, but because of a divine decree which set aside the Sabbath day.
Scriptural Evidence For The First Day of the Week
The first day of the week is the Lord’s day. It is the only day in the week which can properly be called the “Lord’s day.” When one remembers some of the important things which transpired on that day, he can see why the day came to be called the “Lord’s day.” On the first day of the week, Jesus arose from the dead (Mk. 16:1-9). On that day, he appeared to Mary Magdalene (Mk. 16:9); to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-35); to the apostles with Thomas absent (Jn. 20:19-25); to the apostles with Thomas present (Jn. 20:26-29); etc. Inasmuch as Pentecost always fell on the first day of the week (Lev. 23:15), these important events with reference to the early church occurred on the first day of the week: the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4), the first gospel sermon and the obedience of three thousand whom the Lord added to the church. Hence, the first day of the week was an important day for the early church.
The early church met habitually on the first day of the week to worship the Lord. Let me give scriptural evidence that this is so. There is sufficient scriptural evidence to prove that the early church assembled regularly. Paul wrote, “But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse . . . . Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s supper” (1 Cor. 11:17, 20). Notice that these passages show that the church customarily assembled. The instructions in 1 Cor. 14 presuppose an assembly of the church. Then, too, Heb. 10:25 (“not forsaking our own assembling together”) shows that the early church customarily assembled together for worship.
That this assembly occurred on the first day of the week is evident from the Scriptures as well. In 1 Cor. 16:1-2, Paul wrote, “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. On the first day of every week let each one of you put aside and save, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come.” Notice several things from this verse. The instructions were given to a number of churches; these were not limited to Corinth. The instructions enjoined were to be observed on the first day of every week. Too, the instructions are not “come together to give” but “give while you are come together.” Hence, this passage is conclusive evidence that the early church worshiped on Sunday, the first day of the week, which day came to be known as the Lord’s day.
Furthermore, Acts 20:7 shows that the early church worshiped regularly on the first day of the week. Paul was on his way to Jerusalem on an urgent trip to take funds gathered for benevolent purposes for the saints in Jerusalem. However, he wanted to worship with the saints at Troas. Apparently, he arrived on Monday for he tarried seven days (Acts 20:6) to await the assembling of the saints. The Scriptures say, “And on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to depart the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.” Notice, that Paul expected the church to assemble on the first day of the week and, for that reason, waited seven days to meet with them. Too, the early church usually met on that day to “break bread,” to observe the Lord’s supper. Hence, this passage further confirms what I have said, namely, that the early church regularly worshiped on the first day of the week.
Therefore, when we read that John was in the Spirit on the “Lord’s day,” we should properly understand that this was the first day of the week, the day set aside to worship and adore God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. The Scriptural evidence is quite clear that the early church worshiped on the first day of the week. The change in the days of worship from the seventh day of the week to the first day of the week occurred by divine decree.
Lest someone still is unconvinced that the early church worshiped on the first day of the week, I would like to cite the extra-biblical evidences which confirm what I have already proven from the Scriptures. McClintock and Strong cited a number of post-biblical evidences that the early church worshiped on the first day of the week; here are part of them:
“The epistle ascribed to St. Barnabas, which, though certainly not written by that apostle, was in existence in the earlier part of the 2nd century, has (c. 15) the following words: `We celebrate the eighth day with joy, on which, too, Jesus rose from the dead.’
“A pagan document now comes into view. It is the well-known letter of Pliny to Trajan written (about A.D. 100) while he presided ova Pontus and Bithynia. `The Christians (says he) affirm the whole of their guilt or error to be that they were accustomed to meet together on a stated day (stato die), before it was light, and to sing hymns to Christ as a god, and to bind themselves by a sacramentum, not for any wicked purpose, but never to commit fraud, theft, or adultery; never to break their word, or to refuse, when called upon, to deliver up any trust; after which it was their custom to separate, and to assemble again to take a meal, but a general one, and without guilty purpose’ (Epist. x, 97).”
“A thoroughly Christian authority, Justin Martyr, who flourished A.D. 140, stands next on the list. He writes thus: `On the day called Sunday (te ton heliou legomene hemers) is an assembly of all who live either in the cities or in the rural districts, and the memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read . . . . He afterwards assigns the reasons which Christians had for meeting on Sunday. There are, `because it is the First Day, on which God dispelled the darkness (to skotos) and the original state of things (ten hulen), and formed the world, and because Jesus Christ our Savior rose from the dead upon it’ (Apol. i, 67)” (“The Lord’s Day,” Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature, Vol. V, p. 507).
After citing these evidences and several more McClintock and Strong gave their summation of the evidence:
“The results of our examination of the principal writers of the two centuries after the death of St. John may be thus summed up. The Lord’s day (a name which has now come out more prominently, and is connected more explicitly with our Lord’s resurrection than before) existed during these two centuries as a part and parcel of apostolical, and so of scriptural Christianity. It was never defended, for it was never impugned, or, at least, only impugned as other things received from the apostles were. It was never confounded with the Sabbath, but carefully distinguished from it . . . .” (Ibid., p. 508).
Hence, both biblical and extra-biblical evidences confirm that the early church worshiped on the first day of the week, a day which they called the Lord’s day.
Why, then, does the Lord’s church worship on the first day of the week? The answer is simple: because the Scriptures authorize it. The first day of the week, therefore, is the day of worship of the New Testament church. On that day, worship according to the divine pattern must be offered. Do you observe the Lord’s day?
Questions – Lesson III
- What day of the week is the Sabbath day?
- Is Sunday the “Christian Sabbath”?
- How was the Sabbath day observed in Israel? What was the punishment for failing to observe the Sabbath?
- Do churches which worship on Saturday observe the Sabbath, according to the law of Moses?
- Why was Sunday called “the Lord’s Day”?
- What biblical evidences show that the early church worshiped on the first day of the week?
- Check other secular historians (such as your encyclopedia) to see what they say about the day of worship for the church.
- How would you answer the charge that the Catholics changed the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday?
Truth Magazine XXIII: 43, pp. 695-696
November 1, 1979