Sabbath Series, Part 3 – Which Day is the Christian Sabbath?

13 08 2008

Westminster Shorter Catechism

Question 59 – Which day of the seven hath God appointed to be the weekly sabbath?

Answer – From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly sabbath; and the first day of the week ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian sabbath.

In this lesson we will be discussing the change in Sabbath observance from the seventh day to the first day of the week and examining the biblical evidence for this change.

There are some who deny that this change is legitimate; arguing that the Sabbath should remain on the seventh day and that there is no basis for changing it to the first.

1. The seventh day was the original Sabbath.

Genesis 2:1-3 Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.

Exodus 20:8-11 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

It is certainly true that God originally established the seventh day as His holy Sabbath. This is clear from the pattern of His creative work as seen in Genesis 2:1-3, as well as in the words of the 4th commandment. The pattern that was set was one of six days of labor and one day of rest, to be observed by all men while the world lasts.

We have seen that the weekly Sabbath was not part of the ceremonial law of Israel, but is a creation ordinance, built into the very fabric of the world that God made. Later, the Sabbath was written by the finger of God on tablets of stone as part of the unchanging moral law, along with such other unchangeable commands as “You shall not kill,” “You shall not steal,” and “You shall have no other gods before Me.”

The inclusion of the Sabbath commandment in the decalogue (Ten Commandments) is a strong argument for its permanency. Yet, as we will see, there was to be a change: not in the general pattern of setting apart one day in seven for rest and worship, but in the specific pattern of which day was to be set aside under Christ.

2. The Old Testament anticipates a change to the first day.

Those who favor retaining the seventh day as the Sabbath under Christ argue that there is no indication in the Scriptures of a change to the first day of the week. Yet a careful reading of the Old Testament shows that the anticipation of this change was built into the appointed ceremonies of Israel all along. One place that this anticipation is seen is in the ninth chapter of Leviticus.

Read Leviticus 9:1-24

As the first High Priest in Israel, Aaron was a type of Christ in His High Priestly work. It is therefore highly significant that the consecration of Aaron to his priestly office was performed, not on the seventh day, but on the eighth (that is, the first day of the week). On that day, not only was Aaron consecrated, but he presented the people’s offering. Then, on that same holy day, he turned and blessed the people, pronouncing peace upon them. Fire from the Lord came down that day and consumed the burnt offering and the people were declared clean.

All of this points to the finished work of Christ, who would be exalted as the Great High Priest, securing true peace for His people. He would be received up as an acceptable sacrifice to God in the place of His elect, and would send His Spirit to cleanse them from their sins.

A careful reading of the Old Testament reveals that many other significant typological events took place on the eighth day…

Circumcision was performed on the eighth day.

The offering of newborn animals as burnt offering occurred on the eighth day (Lev. 22:27, Ex. 22:30)

The dedication of Solomon’s Temple, according to 2 Chron. 7:9, took place during a sacred assembly on the eighth day. (The Temple of the Lord, the dwelling place of God in the Old Covenant system, was dedicated on Sunday)

Ezekiel’s Temple, a picture of the Church, was consecrated on the eighth day. “And when these days are expired, it shall be, that upon the eighth day, and so forward, the priests shall make your burnt offerings upon the altar, and your peace offerings; and I will accept you, saith the Lord God.” (Ezek. 43:27)

The Feast of Tabernacles, according to Leviticus 23:39, is marked off by two Sundays in a row, both called Sabbaths. “You shall keep a feast unto the Lord seven days: on the first day shall be a sabbath, and on the eighth day shall be a sabbath.”

The sacrifices of the Feast of Tabernacles described in Numbers 29:12-40, provide a clear picture of this anticipation under the Old Covenant. On the first day there are 13 bulls presented, along with several other sacrifices. Each day all the other sacrifices stay the same, but each day the number of bulls decreases by one. On the seventh day, seven bulls (the number of completion/fulfillment) are sacrificed. And then we read, “On the eighth day you shall have a solemn assembly; you shall do no servile work therein; But you shall offer a burnt offering, a sacrifice made by fire, of a sweet savor unto the Lord: One bull…(Num. 29:35-36). A single bull becomes a sufficient sacrifice on Sunday… Hmmmmmmmm….

The Feast of Firstfruits is also on Sunday. The sheaf is waved before the Lord and is accepted on behalf of the people (Lev. 23:11). Christ is the firstfruits of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20,23; Rom. 11:16) and is accepted on our behalf. Fifty days later (counted from the sabbath preceding the Feast of Firstfruits) another important feast occurs. This is the Feast of Weeks, later known as Pentecost. “And you shall proclaim on the selfsame day, that it may be a holy convocation unto you; you shall do no servile work therein; it shall be a statute forever in all your dwellings throughout your generations.” (Lev. 23:21)

Jesus is raised from the dead on the first day, the eighth day.

He appears to His disciples a second time on that day. (John 20:26)

He sends His Holy Spirit on the first day.

The practice of the Church, as we shall see, almost immediately is to meet on that day.

3. Christ established the New Covenant Sabbath.

Psalm 118:14-24 The LORD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation. The voice of rejoicing and salvation Is in the tents of the righteous; The right hand of the LORD does valiantly. The right hand of the LORD is exalted; The right hand of the LORD does valiantly. I shall not die, but live, And declare the works of the LORD. The LORD has chastened me severely, But He has not given me over to death. Open to me the gates of righteousness; I will go through them, And I will praise the LORD. This is the gate of the LORD, Through which the righteous shall enter. I will praise You, For You have answered me, And have become my salvation. The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the LORD has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.

Acts 4:10-11 …let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’

The words of Psalm 118 are a prophecy of the work of Christ as the Deliverer and Savior of His people. As such, they anticipate a certain day, which would be known as “the day of salvation.” In Acts 4:10-11, Peter refers to that day as having been fulfilled by Jesus Christ, who rose for our salvation on the first day of the week. The “day that the Lord has made” is nothing less than the resurrection day of our Lord Jesus.

It is this day, which God has made for us in Christ, that is to be set apart as a day of rejoicing and gladness by those who are the recipients of the benefits of His redemptive work. This is the day to be remembered and celebrated as the fulfillment of deliverance from bondage and rest from our labors under the law. Sunday is the Lord’s Day, consecrated by the authority of Jesus Himself, who is Lord of the Sabbath.

Just as the seventh day Sabbath of the Old Covenant was rooted in God’s work of creation, so the first day Sabbath of the New Covenant is rooted in Christ’s work of re-creation. The first day of the week, identified by the resurrection of Christ, marked the creation of the new heavens and new earth spoken of in Isaiah 65:17. This is why Psalm 118:24 refers to the day “which the Lord has made.” Francis Nigel Lee states, “God instituted both the Edenic sabbath and the New Testament sabbath for man at the time of creation and re-creation respectively, by His own specific example.”

4. The apostles and the early church recognized the change.

Mark 16:2 Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen.

John 20:19-26 Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!”

Acts 20:7 Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.

1 Cor. 16:1-2 Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.

Given the Old Testament anticipation, and the redemptive significance of the first day of the week, it is not surprising to find in the New Testament Scriptures that the apostles and the early church immediately began to gather together for worship, fellowship, and works of mercy on the first day of the week.

In John 20:19-26 we find that the disciples met together on the first two Sundays after the resurrection.

We are told in Acts 20:7 that the disciples regularly “gathered together” on the first day of the week. This was not a casual or incidental meeting, but a formal assembly with a specific purpose. The reason stated in the text for their assembling is “to break bread,” which refers to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper which Christ commanded them to observe in remembrance of Him.

Then, in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, the apostle gives instructions for the collection of money for the saints in need. Here again, Paul assumes that there would be a regular gathering of the church on the first day of the week. Lenski, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians 16:2, notes “The first day of the week is Sunday, and kata is distributive so that we may translate: ‘Sunday by Sunday let each of you lay something aside…’ It is a fair inference that Sunday was the day which was set aside for the public worship of the Corinthian congregation, and that this custom was also followed in Galatia and in the other churches that had been founded by Paul.”

5. The first day is the Lord’s Day to the end of the world.

Revelation 1:10 “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet”

We have seen that the disciples of Jesus began to gather together on the first day of the week immediately after the resurrection. As the church grew and became established, the identity of the first day of the week as the Christian Sabbath became more and more defined. By the time that John, the last living apostle, wrote the book of Revelation, this understanding was so firm that he even used a formal term that he knew would be immediately understood by his readers: the Lord’s Day. This was none other than the day that was particularly sanctified by the Lord, namely, the first day of the week, or the resurrection day.

In John’s vision, Jesus identifies Himself as the “Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.” The vision presents an awesome picture of Christ as the Lord of His Church. In verse 18, Christ says, “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore.”

The resurrection of Christ is the foundation of our faith. The entire Old Testament looks forward to it. The New Testament proclaims its fulfillment. And the Lord’s Day is given to the Church as the lasting commemoration of it until He returns.