According to the Bible, the Sabbath day is the day we call Saturday. Ask any Jewish person about that if you don’t believe me. Technically, the Jews observe the Sabbath from sundown Friday evening to sundown Saturday evening. That goes back to the seven days of the creation week. The Bible describes each of those days as running from evening to evening, not morning to morning. It also goes back to Leviticus 23:32, where God defines the Sabbath as running from evening to evening.
Some people call Sunday “the Christian Sabbath,” but that just confuses the issue. If the Bible gives Sunday any name, that name is “the Lord’s day.” That comes from Revelation 1:10, where the apostle John, who was living as an imprisoned exile on the island of Patmos, says, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.”
But what about the people (professing Christians, I might add) who say that Christians should meet for worship on Saturday rather than Sunday? Where do they get that idea? They get it from the famous 10 Commandments which are found in Exodus chapter 20. These people say, “Since the fourth commandment says, ‘Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy,’ shouldn’t Christians meet for worship on Saturday?”
So, the question on the table is: Why do most professing Christians meet on Sunday rather than on Saturday (the Sabbath day) anyway? For that answer let’s start at the creation week and bring things up to today. To do this we’ll look at several different passages of scripture.
We’ll begin in Genesis chapter 1, where we find the account of the six days of the creation week. There we’re told that God finished the work of creation on day six of that week. Then we get 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. (N.K.J.V.)
When God went to work on creation, day one of the creation week was Sunday. That means that day seven, the day upon which God rested from His work, was Saturday. Even though the word “Sabbath” isn’t actually used in Genesis 2:1-3, God does call Saturday the “Sabbath” in the book of Exodus. The word “Sabbath” means “rest.”
However, the interesting thing about God blessing and sanctifying Saturday is the fact that for thousands of years He didn’t tell anyone that He had done it. If you read through the book of Genesis and into the early part of Exodus, you won’t find any place where anybody observed Saturday as a Sabbath day. Do you know who the first person was that God told about the Sabbath? It was Moses.
Not coincidently, it was Moses who wrote the book of Genesis, with its story of creation. That’s why Genesis 2:1-3 says that God rested on the seventh day of the creation week and that He blessed that day and sanctified it. Moses could write that because God had revealed it to him.
The story of God first commanding anybody to keep any type of Sabbath day is found in Exodus chapter 16. God told the Israelites to gather twice as much daily manna on the sixth day of the week (Friday) as they normally did. By doing that they could take Saturday as a day of rest..
That brings us to Exodus 20:8-11. After God had instructed the Israelites to keep the Sabbath day, He made the keeping of the Sabbath day a part of Israelite law. You see, as we read Exodus 20:8-11, we are breaking into the listing of that law’s so-called “10 Commandments.” These 10 Commandments were not only the beginning of that law but also served as what we might call the moral heart of it. And the fourth commandment was the command for the people of Israel to keep a weekly Sabbath. As Exodus 20:8-11 says:
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. (N.K.J.V.)
With these words, God made the keeping of the Sabbath day law to the Israelites. And do you know what the penalty was for breaking the law of the Sabbath? It was death. In Exodus 31:14-15, we read:
You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. Every one who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.
Those who believe that Christians should keep the Sabbath by meeting for worship on Saturday dance around this part about capital punishment. They say, “Oh, we don’t have to obey the ceremonial parts of the law; we only have to obey the moral parts of it.” But the problem with that interpretation is that the Old Testament law doesn’t work that way. You can’t just take some parts of it and ignore other parts of it, and distinctions aren’t made between the so-called moral parts of the law and the so-called ceremonial parts. In James 2:10, the Bible actually says that if you miss the mark in keeping even one part of that law you are guilty of breaking the whole law. So, if you are going to say, “We ought to keep the Sabbath,” you must also say, “and if we don’t we should be put to death.”
Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about that. Do you know why? Be warned, the answer might surprise you. It’s because the 10 Commandments, as famous as they are, are actually a part of Old Testament/Jewish law, and Christians don’t live under that law. But before you label me a heretic, let me quickly point out that you will find nine of the famous 10 Commandments repeated in some form to Christians in the New Testament. That brings Christians under those nine. Guess which one of the 10 is not in some form given to Christians in the New Testament. It is the command to keep the Sabbath.
Now let me explain why that particular commandment shouldn’t be and isn’t given to Christians in the New Testament. Exodus 31:12-13 is a very important passage in regards to this whole topic. Those verses say:
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak also to the children of Israel, saying, ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you. (N.K.J.V.)
Yes, you read that right. The keeping of the Sabbath has always been a sign between God and the Israelites (the Jews). It is not a sign between God and the church (Christians). Just in case we miss this clear teaching in verses 12 and 13, God repeats it in verse 17:
It (the keeping of the Sabbath) is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed. (N.K.J.V.)
So, the keeping of the Sabbath has always been and will always be a sign between God and Israel (the Jews), not a sign between God and the church. This explains three misunderstood points of the Bible. Let’s take them one at a time.
First, it explains why God did not require people from the time period of the book of Genesis to keep the Sabbath. The book of Genesis, you see, is only about the beginnings of the Jewish people. Adam wasn’t a Jew. Seth wasn’t a Jew. Enoch wasn’t a Jew. Noah wasn’t a Jew. The first Jew was Abraham, and his story doesn’t begin until the end of Genesis chapter 11. Truth be told, his descendants didn’t actually become a full-fledged nation until the events of the book of Exodus. As the book of Genesis closes, they are still just a family. Not surprisingly then, it is in the book of Exodus that God first commands them to keep the Sabbath.
Second, the Sabbath being a sign between God and the Jews explains why the commandment to keep it isn’t repeated for Christians in the New Testament. In the New Testament, God takes the focus off the nation of Israel and places it onto the church. At that time, even the Jewish Christians were allowed to stop keeping the Sabbath.
Third, the Sabbath being a sign between God and the Jews explains why the keeping of the Sabbath is mentioned in certain Bible passages which describe Christ’s millennial reign upon this earth. The passages are Ezekiel chapters 44-48. Those chapters mention the keeping of the Sabbath as being a part of those future days. Why is that? It’s because the 1,000 years of Christ’s millennial reign are actually the fulfillment of a promise that God made to the Jews about a glorious Messianic age. Just to be clear, Gentile believers will have a place in that kingdom age. First and foremost, though, the 1,000 years are God keeping a promise that He made to Israel. That’s why the keeping of the Sabbath will be a part of those days. It is only right that the Sabbath will be a part of that age because the keeping of the Sabbath is a sign between God and Israel forever.
Now let me work something else in here, too. Those who believe that Christians ought to keep the Sabbath by meeting for worship on Saturday like to point out that Jesus kept the Sabbath. They say, “Christians are supposed to follow in Christ’s footsteps, and He kept the Sabbath.” Well, there is an amazingly simple explanation for why Jesus kept the Sabbath. He kept it because He was a devout Jew who lived his life under Old Testament/Jewish law.
Taking things even further, Christ’s keeping of the Sabbath was a part of His perfect observance of the law. The fact is that Jesus was only qualified to die for everyone else’s sins because He lived out the law perfectly without sinning even once. That’s why He could accurately say, “Don’t think that I have come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I have not come to destroy, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). Christ’s perfection in keeping the entirety of that body of law qualified Him to be worthy to die for the sins of all mankind. That’s why He had to keep Israel’s weekly Sabbath. But Christ’s keeping of the Sabbath doesn’t mean that Christians should also keep it.
But now let’s talk about what happened after Christ’s death and resurrection. It was then that the church age began, and it was then that the Christians (including Jewish Christians) began to make the transition from worshiping on Saturday to worshiping on Sunday. Okay, so why did they make that transition?
Here’s the answer. First, Jesus arose on a Sunday, the first day of the week. Second, Jesus, in His resurrected body, made appearances to some of His followers not only on resurrection Sunday morning and evening but also on the Sunday that followed. Third, Acts chapter 2’s day of Pentecost, which was the day the Holy Spirit began to indwell Christ’s followers, was on a Sunday.
It was because of these three facts that the early Christians began to pick up on the idea that God was doing some new stuff on Sundays. That’s why they began to meet together on Sundays. As evidence that they made the transition, Acts 20:7 says:
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. (N.K.J.V.)
The phrase “to break bread” most likely refers to the meal the early Christians ate in conjuncture with the Lord’s Supper. This means that Acts 20:7 is referring to a New Testament church service. The service is even complete with a lengthy teaching from Paul! And what day was this worship service held on? Sunday. As verse 7 says, it was the first day of the week.
To see this same thing in another passage, let’s consult 1 Corinthians 16:1-2. The apostle Paul, as he traveled around, took up a love offering from the churches he visited. That love offering was for the Christians in Jerusalem, who were in need in those days. Listen now to what he says to the Corinthian church about that love offering:
Now concerning the collection for the saints (that love offering for the Christians of Jerusalem), as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also. On the first day of the week (Sunday) let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. (N.K.J.V.)
The question is: Why would Paul single out Sunday as the time to collect that love offering? It was because that was the day upon which those Christians of Corinth, like all other Christians, met for worship. They met each Sunday as a weekly celebration of the fact that Jesus resurrected on a Sunday, and God would surely have rebuked them and chastised them if they had been wrong to do that.
Now let’s finish up by looking at what we might call the icing on this cake. In Colossians 2:16-17, Paul speaks to the Christians of Colosse and says something interesting about Sabbath days. He says:
So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is Christ. (N.K.J.V.)
When Paul lists “food,” “drink,” “a festival,” “a new moon,” and “sabbaths,” he is referring to matters that pertained to that Old Testament body of law. The law prescribed certain dietary restrictions, feast days, and (as we’ve been talking about) Sabbath days. Notice, though, that Paul calls the keeping of the Sabbath “a shadow of things to come” and says that Jesus is the substance that formed that shadow. In other words, the keeping of the Sabbath was meant to give the people of Israel a weekly taste of the eternal rest that their coming Messiah would ultimately give them.
The gist of Paul’s argument is this: Why should New Testament Christians try to keep an Old Testament/Jewish law that only gave a shadow when we now personally know as our Savior the one who was casting the shadow in the first place? Mark it down, Christian, your rest is a person (Christ), not a day (Saturday). What was it that Jesus said? He said, “Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, N.K.J.V.). This helps us understand why Paul says to Christians, “Don’t let anybody judge you (falsely accuse you, criticize you) over the fact that you don’t keep the Sabbath.”
Therefore, Christian, if someone ever says to you, “You have church on the wrong day; you are breaking the fourth commandment,” just take comfort in the fact that Paul said, “Don’t let anybody judge you over not keeping the Sabbath.” Yes, we are right to worship on Sunday. Christians have been doing that since the earliest days of Christianity, and it is exactly what the Lord wants us to continue to do. So, with all this understood, I guess the only thing left to say is, see you in church this Sunday.
You write “Yes, we are right to worship on Sunday. Christians have been doing that since the earliest days of Christianity, and it is exactly what the Lord wants us to continue to do.” but at the beginning of the growing Body of Christ or the (Christian) Church, the followers of Christ came together in the synagogues and temple on Friday night for the main, i.e. Sabbath service and on other days for the study and discussion of the Scriptures and daily prayer. As soon more goyim or non-Jews became part of the Jewish sect The Way they were not wanted anymore in the temple and synagogues, so they started having their meetings and breaking of the bread on other days. They had no such specific day as the Sunday in the first two centuries of our common era.Any day was good to come together for prayer and is still good to come together for prayer.
Of course any day is good for Christians to come together for prayer, fellowship, and Bible study. But don’t downplay the priority of Sunday, which the apostle John himself (circa approximately 95 A.D.) called “The Lord’s Day.” Jesus didn’t resurrect on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, or Saturday; He arose on Sunday. That’s why John and the other early Christians called that day “The Lord’s Day.” and that’s what they sought to honor by worshiping on that day.