The Lord’s Day
The Law of Moses, the system involving and peculiar to the Jewish Nation, had a day that was set apart from the other days (for the expression, "Law of Moses," see Luke 24: 44, Deut. 5: 1-3). This day was the Sabbath or seventh day of the week, our "Saturday" (Ex. 20: 8). The Sabbath was a day the Jew was to view in a special way as belonging to the Lord (Ex. 20: 10). There was also special regulation relative to the Sabbath, such as the cessation of labor, etc. (Ex. 20: 9). However, when we come to the New Testament and the Covenant of Jesus Christ, a system designed for all men, Jew and Gentile, we do not find Sabbath day significance. In fact, Paul set forth the comparative unimportance, as far as being spiritually binding, of the Jewish Sabbath when he wrote that Christians are not to be judged, having as the criteria certain "meat," "drink," "holyday," "new moon," or "Sabbath days," matters and events characteristic of the Law of Moses (Col. 2: 16). The New Testament abounds with warnings regarding not binding the Jewish Sabbath for salvation and that to so do is to forfeit salvation and make Christ of none effect (Gal. 5: 1-4, Acts 15).
When one considers the New Testament, one sees emphasis placed on another day, the Lord’s Day. John wrote:
"10: I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, 11: Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea" (Rev. 1).
The expression, "Lord’s day" is from the Greek, kuriake emera and certainly, to say the least, sets apart a certain day from other days. While the phrase, "Lord’s day" is only found in Revelation 1:10, as far as holy writ is concerned, one is made to think of Paul’s expression, "Lord’s supper" (kuriakon deipnon, I Cor. 11: 20). Just as the "supper" was associated, belonged to, and peculiar to the Lord, distinguished from all other "suppers," the Lord’s day is also unique and singular. The question is, which day peculiarly belongs to the Lord?
Before I share a quotation with you, consider the special reference in the scriptures to, "…the first day of the week." The historian wrote thus of the early Christians, indicating a special day, distinguished from the other days of the week:
"7: And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight" (Acts 20: 7).
It is evident from the context that Paul deliberately made it a point to meet on "the first day of the week" with the church at Troas (see vs. 5, 6). The reason they, the saints at Troas, came together on the first day was to "break bread." The "break bread" in this instance obviously refers to the Lord’s Supper, that great memorial in which Christians celebrate the death, resurrection, and return of Jesus (cp. I Cor. 11: 24ff.). We learn from Acts 2: 42 that they regularly broke bread (see addendum 1), and since each week has a "first day," it was on the first day of every week that they broke bread or observed the Lord’s Supper, the very hub, if you please, of Christianity. The expression, "…first day of the week" in Acts 20: 7 is from the Greek, mia ton sabbaton. Literally translated, mia ton sabbaton is rendered, "one or first (mia) of the (ton) Sabbaths (sabbaton). As you can see, mia ton sabbaton is idiomatic and thus rendered, appears awkward in English. Relevant verses to add in an understanding of mia ton sabbaton or "…first day of the week" are Matthew 28: 1; Mark 16: 2; Luke 24: 1; and John 20: 1. Matthew tells us that Mary Magdalene and the "other Mary" came to Jesus’ sepulcher, "In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week…." Mark mentioned it was early on the first day; Luke said on the first day, very early in the morning; and John described the time as early, still dark, on the first day of the week. Regarding Matthew’s time statement, commentator Albert Barnes thus comments:
"The word ‘end’ here means the same as ‘after’ the Sabbath – that is, after the Sabbath was fully completed or finished, and may be expressed in this manner: ‘In the night following the Sabbath, for the Sabbath closed at sunset, as it began to dawn’" (Barnes on the New Testament, Vol. 1, pg. 317).
The chronology of Jesus’ death and resurrection assist in determining the meaning of mia ton sabbaton. Jesus was crucified Friday afternoon, the day of preparation for the Sabbath (Luke 23: 54, see vs. 44-56). Jesus said that he would be resurrected on the third day (Matt. 16: 21). Hence, based on common computation, the involved chronology indicates to us that mia ton sabbaton simply is referring to the day following the Jewish Sabbath, the day we call Sunday or the "first day of the week" (see addendum 2). I belabor this point in view of some who teach that Jesus was raised on the Sabbath and that mia ton sabbaton means on a Sabbath or the Sabbath following a Sabbath. Some contend that mia ton sabbaton was a Jewish way for designating a special Sabbath in connection with the Passover. However, as we have seen, this is not the case.
In addition to the revealing Greek expression mia ton sabbaton, we also have the wording, kata mian sabbatou. Paul wrote thus to the Christians at Corinth:
"1: Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. 2: Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come" (I Cor. 16).
The expression kata mian sabbatou literally and rigidly means, "Every first of the Sabbath(s)." Again, this expression is also idiomatic (a Hebraism). Albert Barnes observes the following regarding, "Upon the first day of the week" in I Corinthians 16: 2:
"Upon the first day of the week. Greek, "On one of the Sabbaths." The Jews, however, used the word Sabbath to denote the week; the period of seven days, Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:9; Luke 18:12; 24:1 John 20:1,19. Comp. Leviticus 23:15; Deuteronomy 16:9. It is universally agreed that this here denotes the first day of the week, or the Lord's-day" (Barnes on the New Testament, Vol. 5).
A. T. Robertson noted regarding, "…first day of the week" in Acts 20: 7 thus: "Either the singular (Mark 16:9) sabbatou or the plural sabbaton as here was used for the week (sabbath to sabbath)…. In Revelation 1:10 the Lord's day seems to be the day of the week on which Jesus rose from the grave" (Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. 3). Regarding the expression, "first day of the week" in general, W. E. Vines remarks: Literally and idiomatically, ‘one of Sabbaths,’ signifying ‘the first day after the Sabbath…" (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, pg. 138).
As Greek grammarian Marvin R. Vincent notices, kata in kata mian sabbatou ("first day of the week") found in I Corinthians 16: 2 "…has a distributive force, every first day" (Word Studies in the New Testament, Vol. 3, pg. 288). Hence, Marshall in the Interlinear Greek-English New Testament has, "On the first day of every week…." I mention this to show that the first day of the week, not the Sabbath associated with the Jew and the Law of Moses, was a day regarding the early Christians that enjoyed special and regular recognition (see Addendum 3).
Notice that we are now seeing the correlation between the "…first day of the week" and "the Lord’s day." The "first day of the week" (our Sunday) and the "Lord’s day" are tantamount or one and the same. Consider the following regarding the Lord’s day:
Formerly it was supposed that the adjective kuriakos (translated ‘the Lord's’) was a purely Christian word, but recent discoveries have proved that it was in fairly common use in the Roman Empire before Christian influence had been felt. In secular use it signified ‘imperial,’ ‘belonging to the lord’--the emperor--and so its adoption by Christianity in the sense ‘belonging to the Lord’--to Christ--was perfectly easy. Indeed, there is reason to suppose that in the days of Domitian, when the issue had been sharply defined as ‘Who is Lord? Caesar or Christ?’ the use of the adjective by the church was a part of the protest against Caesar-worship (see LORD). And it is even possible that the full phrase, ‘the Lord's day,’ was coined as a contrast to the phrase, ‘the Augustean day’ he sebaste hemera), a term that seems to have been used in some parts of the Empire to denote days especially dedicated in honor of Caesar-worship.
'Lord's day' in the New Testament occurs only in Revelation 1:10, but in the post-apostolic literature we have the following references:
Ignatius, Ad Mag., ix.1 (ca. 90 A. D.), ‘No longer keeping the Sabbath but living according to the Lord's day, on which also our Light arose'; Ev. Pet., verse 35, ‘The Lord's day began to dawn’ (compare Matthew 28:1); verse 50, ‘early on the Lord's day’ (compare Luke 24:1); Barn 15 9, ‘We keep the eighth day with gladness, on which Jesus arose from the dead.’ I.e. Sunday, as the day of Christ's resurrection, was kept as a Christian feast and called ‘the Lord's day,’ a title fixed so definitely as to be introduced by the author of Ev. Pet. into phrases from the canonical Gospels. Its appropriateness in Revelation 1:10 is obvious, as John received his vision of the exalted Lord when all Christians had their minds directed toward His entrance into glory through the resurrection....
5. Sunday and the Sabbath:
Sunday, however, was sharply distinguished from the Sabbath....Uncircumcised Gentiles, however, were free from any obligation of Sabbath observance, and it is quite certain that in apostolic times no renewal of any Sabbath rules or transfer of them to Sunday was made for Gentile converts. No observance of a particular ‘day of rest’ is contained among the ‘necessary things’ of Acts 15: 28, 29, nor is any such precept found among all the varied moral directions given in the whole epistolary literature...." (The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pg. 1919).
The Lord’s Day is a very regal day, indeed. It is the day that the Lord of lords and King of kings was raised from the dead, never to again die and to become the "firstfruits of them that slept" (Rom. 1: 4; I Cor. 15: 20). If we are correct regarding our computation that the "Pentecost" of Acts 2: 1 fell on the first day of the week, Sunday, then the Lord’s Day is the day the Lord began his mediatorial reign at the right hand of the Father; the day the Spirit was dispatched to guild the apostles into all truth; the first time remission of sins was directly experienced based on Jesus’ shed blood; the beginning of the church; and the day upon which the gospel was first preached in its fullness (Acts 2: 31-36; John 14: 26, Acts 1: 8, chapter 2; Acts 2: 38; Acts 2: 14-47).
I repeat with hopefully more emphasis that the Lord’s Day is a peculiarly special day that is significantly associated with Jesus and Christianity. The Lord’s Day, the first day of the week, belongs to the Lord and should be respected and used accordingly. It is a day of great spiritual meaning, a day to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus, anticipating His return (Acts 20: 7, I Cor. 11: 23ff.).
Addendum 1: The language, "…when the disciples came together to break bread" (klasai arton) is illustrative of a practice. Acts 2: 42 shows continuation and Acts 20: 7 provides the day. Since each week has a "first day," it follows that on the first day of each week they met for the purpose of commemorating the Lord’s death. The Pulpit Commentary wrote regarding the statement resident in Acts 20: 7 the following: "This is an important evidence of the keeping of the Lord’s day by the Church as a day for their Church assemblies….‘To break bread.’ This is also an important example of weekly communion as the practice of the first Christians…." (comments on Acts 20: 7, Vol. 18, pg. 143).
It is argued by sabbatarians that Jesus was
crucified on Wednesday afternoon and resurrected on Saturday afternoon, thus a
literal 72 hours. This argument is built around the "three days and three nights"
of Matthew 12: 40. However, such a view is not biblically supported and
conflicts with what is expressly taught in the New Testament.
Jesus was crucified on what we call Friday or the sixth day of the week (Luke 23: 54). It is said that Friday afternoon through Sunday morning does not compose three days and three nights. Hence, various ones experience difficulty with the belief that Jesus was crucified on Friday and raised on Sunday.
To properly understand any passage, everything said on the subject must be considered. A failure to do this can lead to misunderstanding and may make it appear that the Bible is contradictory, which it is not.
Here is a compilation of what the Bible says about the day of Christ's resurrection: Eight passages quote Jesus as saying he would rise the third day, Matthew.16: 21; 17: 23; 20: 19; Luke 9: 22; 13: 32; 18: 33; 24: 7, 46. Once Peter said Jesus was raised the third day (Acts 10: 40). Once Paul said Jesus was raised the third day (1 Cor.15: 4). Once Cleopas and a companion said it was the third day (Luke. 24: 21). Three times it is said he would be raised in three days (Mt. 26: 61; John 2: 19-21; 10: 17-18. Four times it is said he would be raised after three days (Mt. 27: 63; Mark. 8: 31; 9: 9, 10, 31; 10: 34, American Standard Version).
According to 20th century understanding, it would be impossible to comprehend all of these literally. If Jesus was raised any time after a literal 72 hours, then he would be raised on the fourth day from his death.
Yet the fourth day is never mentioned.
The answer to the problem lies in the fact that Jews were not as exact in the counting time as we are today. "On the third day," "after three days," "in three days," and "three days and three nights," all meant the same thing. Luke 24 is the passage that shows conclusively that Jesus was raised on the first day of the week. Verse 1 tells of the women coming to the tomb on the first day of the week.
Addendum 3: "Again, 1 Corinthians 16:2 contains the command, 'Upon the first day of the week let each one of you lay by him in store,' where the force of the form of the imperative used (the present for repeated action) would be better represented in English by 'lay by on the successive Sundays'" (The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pg. 1919).