Have you ever considered answering these questions in your mind:
WHY do some Christians meet for study on Saturday, while others do so on Sunday?
WHY did Sunday become a legal day of rest?
WHY do we even need a “sabbath day” at all?
You have come to the right post for some answers to these questions and by God’s grace,
Let us share the Truth about God’s Truth!
Exodus 20:8-11 gives the fourth of ten commandments. This fourth commandment is about the Sabbath day that God commanded Israel to observe, when he gave Israel His law through Moses, at Mount Sinai.
The fourth commandment does not say to cease from ordinary work and engage in religious work, as many of its advocates seem to suppose. On the contrary, it prohibits all kinds of work—even picking up sticks for kindling a fire (Exodus 35:3, Numbers 15:32-36). Often Sunday is as busy a day as any. How many who claim to keep this commandment do more work in the way of cooking, etc., than on other days?
If that law is now in force and has by any means extended beyond the Israelites (on whom alone it was put), so as to cover Christians, then every Christian violates it repeatedly, and is under jeopardy for “they that violated Moses’ Law died without mercy” (Hebrews 10:20).
But though our views on this subject differ widely from those of many Christian people, we are glad that one day of each week is set apart for rest from business, without regard to which of the seven days is thus observed, or by what law or lawgiver it was originally appointed. We greatly enjoy the day, and think it not only a blessing to those who use it for worship and study, but also for those who use it merely as a day of rest and recreation from toil, to enjoy the beauties of nature, or to visit with their friends and families as they cannot do on other days. And we are specially pleased that the day set apart by the government under which we live is Sunday—the First Day of the week—because of the same blessed memories and associations which gave that day a special sacredness to the Church in the days of the apostles.
But for two reasons we dissent from the idea of the Sabbath common to the majority of Christian people. First, if their claim that we are under the Law (of which the Sabbath day observance was a part), be true, the day they keep as a Sabbath is not the day mentioned in that command. They observe the first day of the week, while the command designated the seventh day. If the Fourth Commandment be binding at all, it is binding as stated, and cannot be changed.
Second, if bound to the Law, the keeping of the Sabbath in any other than the strict way in which its keeping was prescribed is inconsistent. If the command be binding upon us, the manner of its observance, in its details, is no less binding. If the strict significance of it has passed away, surely whatever set aside its strict requirements, has set aside the command entirely. Therefore, if observed at all, it should be observed with all its former strictness.
The only proper reason for the less strict observance of the day, or for the substituting of some other day than the one originally designated, would be an order from God himself to that effect. Men have no right to alter or amend God’s laws. Not even an angel from heaven could sanction the change. But God did not change that Law. It stands exactly as it was given, but it applied only to those to whom it was given—Israelites. If it was altered in any degree, or made applicable to any other people than Israelites, the evidence should be no less clear and positive than its original giving at Mt. Sinai. But no such evidence of change exists.
Those who are Gentiles by nature were not under the Law, for it was not given to them. Therefore the Sabbath ordinance does not apply to them. Those who are Jewish, and have come into Christ, have been freed from the Law, so that they also are no longer subject to the laws of the Sabbath day.
The apostle Paul explains in Romans 7:4 that having come into Christ, Jewish Christians have died to the Law and received a new commitment to God through Jesus. “My brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.”
The apostle Paul also wrote to the Colossians about the ordinances of the Law. He said that Jesus “took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross … Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days” (Colossians 2:14-17).
What Work Did the Apostles Do On Sundays?
The apostles used the seventh day as a time for preaching Christ, as they used every day in the week, and especially because on that day the Jews, their most hopeful hearers, met for worship and study. But the Apostles nowhere recognized the seventh-day Sabbath as a day of rest, as the Jewish Law Covenant had enforced it. On the contrary, they taught (Romans 14:5-8) that any and all days are acceptable for good works done in the service of God and for the benefit of fellow men (Matthew 12:10,12).
“5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:5-8).
“9 He went on from there and entered their synagogue. 10 And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’—so that they might accuse him. 11 He said to them, ‘Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.’ 13 Then he said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him” (Matthew 12:10-14).
Some claim that Sunday gathering and worship was introduced by an edict of one of the popes. But this is a mistake: it had its start in the fact that it was on the first day of the week that our Lord arose from the dead; and that upon that day and evening he met with his disciples, and expounded unto them the Scriptures, until their hearts burned within them.
Christ’s faithful disciple, Luke (the only non-Jewish Gospel writer) recalled the blessing after the Lord Jesus appeared to two disciples (Cleopas and an unnamed companion) on the way to Emmaus, saying: “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked with us by the way and opened unto us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32)
This occurred on the same Sunday that Jesus was raised. He had appeared to the women leaving the tomb (Matthew 28:1-9), then Mary Magdalene after her second visit to the tomb (John 20:1,16), then to Simon (Luke 24:34), and subsequently to the apostles (except Thomas, John 20:24) and others gathered together that evening (Luke 24:33, 36).
They waited another week (John 20:26) for further manifestations from the risen Master, when again he appeared to the Eleven, this time including Thomas. When the holy Spirit came at Pentecost that year, this also was on a Sunday (May 22, AD 33). From these experiences, it is not surprising that without any command from the Lord, the early Church fell into the custom of meeting together on the first day of the week as a commemoration of the joys begotten in them by our Lord’s resurrection and as a reminder, also, of how their hearts burned within them as he on that day of the week had opened unto them the Scriptures (Luke 24:45-49).
Acts 20:7 says that “upon the first day of the week … the disciples came together to break bread.” 1 Corinthians 16:2 says that “upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him,” as a donation for some of the poorer brethren in Jerusalem. This text also indicates that the first day of the week became a common day for gathering and Christian worship. Revelation 1:10 says that John was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day,” on the isle of Patmos, evidently after the custom of special worship on the day of the week that Jesus had been raised from the dead.
As gradually the Church became free from close association with Judaism, and particularly after the destruction of Jerusalem and the general disruption of the Jewish system, the influence of the seventh‑day Sabbath waned, and more or less became attached to the first day of the week and the spiritual rest and refreshment of the New Creation, dating from our Lord’s resurrection in glory, honor and immortality.
For a time both days, Saturdays and Sundays, were observed by Christians. Saturday, the seventh day from Jewish custom (and because it furnished the best opportunity for reaching devout Hebrews, the class most likely to be interested in the gospel). Sunday, the first day, in commemoration of our Lord’s resurrection.
Ignatius, AD 75 (a student of the Apostle John, an Elder of the Church of Antioch, and a Christian Martyr,) in his writings mentions some approvingly as “no longer Sabbathizing, but living in observance of the Lord’s day, on which also our life sprang up again.”
When Did Sunday Become a Legal Day of Rest From Work?
The earliest record found in Scripture of the use of the name “Lord’s day” for the first day of the week is in Revelation 1:10 (AD 96), “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet.”
The Encyclopaedia Britannica says: “By that name it is almost invariably referred to by all writers of the century immediately succeeding apostolic times….The first writer who mentions the name of Sunday is Justin Martyr: this designation of the first day of the week, which is of heathen origin, had come into general use in the Roman world shortly before Justin wrote. [Second century AD]…As long as the Jewish-Christian element continued to have any prominence or influence in the Church a tendency more or less strong to observe Sabbath as well as Sunday would of course prevail….The earliest recognition of the observance of Sunday as a legal duty is a Constitution of Constantine, AD 321, enacting that all courts of justice, inhabitants of towns and workshops were to be at rest on Sunday, with an exception in favor of those engaged in agricultural labor.”
Not a Papal Mandate
It is, therefore, a misstatement to say that Pope Gregory or any other Pope first by decree instituted Sunday or the Lord’s day as taking the place of the Jewish seventh day Sabbath. The Decretals of Gregory do enjoin Sunday-keeping, saying, “We decree that all Sundays be observed, from vespers to vespers, and that all unlawful work be abstained from, so that in them trading or legal proceedings be not carried on.” But Constantine’s decree was in AD 321, while Gregory did not become a Pope until AD 590. Also Gregory refers to the fact that the work prohibited was already unlawful. Hence his decree is merely confirmatory of the laws of Constantine and other civil rulers preceding him.
The Roman Catholic church does not now, and, so far as we know, never did insist upon a strict observance of Sunday. In Catholic countries today both priests and people attend service in the morning, and give up the afternoon to various forms of pleasure—social recreational activity, etc
What Should True Christians Consider As Their Sabbath Day?
We rejoice that under divine providence the first day of the week, Sunday, is generally observed throughout the civilized world because the Lord’s consecrated few have special advantages and privileges of which they might be deprived were the observance of the day less general. The New Creation in Christ everywhere may surely rejoice greatly that they have the opportunity of setting apart one day in seven specially for worship, spiritual fellowship, etc. May all who are the Lord’s, not only use the day reverently, soberly and in spiritual exercise and pleasure, but, additionally, cast their influence in favor of its observance. To seek that by no word or act of theirs its observance be slacked amongst people in general.
But as some are deluded into thinking that the seventh day of the Jewish Covenant extended to all men as a bondage, so others have come under a similar bondage to the first day, laboring under the delusion that by divine appointment it became clothed with the outward sanctity accorded the seventh day among the Jews under their Law Covenant as a “house of servants,” “under the Law” and not under Grace.
Indeed many, not too religious themselves—professing no consecration—set great store by such observances, and would lose respect for professed children of God who neglected in any measure to utilize the first day of the week for worship and praise, or used it, on the contrary, for secular business.
We advise, for all the above reasons, that those who most clearly discern the liberty wherewith Christ makes free shall not misuse their liberty so as to stumble others; but use it rather as unto God and each other, for opportunities to grow in grace, knowledge, and all the fruits of the Spirit. We advise that within all reasonable bounds the Lord’s consecrated people, and, so far as their influence extends, their families—not only the minor children, but the adult members also—should keep Sunday faithfully. All should be instructed respecting the appropriateness of such a day of worship and praise, and respecting also the necessity of a day of rest from physical toil, not only for the Church, but for the world.
A Practical Good Benefit From The Fourth Commandment
While entirely free from the Jewish Law through Christ’s sacrifice (Colossians 2:14), we may, nevertheless, realize that since its provisions came from the Lord there is every probability that in addition to the typical significance of Israel’s ordinances there was also a practical good connected with them.
For instance, we may see a typical significance in the designation of certain animal foods as clean and fit for food, and of others as unclean and unfit for food; and although we may not understand just how or why some of these foods are unsanitary, unhealthful, we have every reason to believe that this is the case—for instance, swine, rabbits, eels, etc. We violate no law in eating these things, because we are not Jews; nevertheless, we should be rather suspicious of them, and rather on the alert to notice to what degree they are healthful or unhealthful; because we are bound to observe all laws of health, so far as we are able to discern them.
It is generally admitted, even by those who ignore the divine Word entirely, that a rest every seven days is advantageous, not only to the humankind, but also to the beasts of burden.
In France, following the Commune and its period of infidelity, it was determined to obliterate the Sabbath period of the Bible, one day in seven, and instead to have one day in ten as a rest day; but this was found to work unsatisfactorily, and however much the French desired to count on the metrical system they soon discovered that nature had a way of its own, and that nature stamps the number 7 with its approval in some unaccountable manner.
The New Creation needs no special advice respecting the proper use of the day, realizing that their lives as a whole have been consecrated, devoted to the Lord and to his service. Walking not after the flesh but after the Spirit, they will be seeking specially to use such a favorable opportunity to glorify God in their bodies and spirits, which are his. Praise, thanksgiving, meditations, and exhortations in accord with the divine Word and plan, will be in order.
Nor do we urge that the Lord’s Day, or Sunday, must be used exclusively for religious worship. God has not so commanded, and no one else has the right to do so. However, where our heart is, where our sympathies and love are, there we will delight to be, and we may safely conclude that every member of the New Creation will find his/her chiefest joy, his/her chiefest pleasure, in fellowship and communion with the Lord and with the brethren, and that, consequently, he/she will very rarely forget to assemble himself/herself with them, as the Scriptures exhort (Hebrews 10:25).
What we do voluntarily as unto the Lord, without being commanded, is all the more an evidence of our love and loyalty to him and his, and, undoubtedly, will be appreciated by him accordingly.
Israel’s Sabbath Typical
The Sabbath obligation of the Jewish Law announced at Sinai was given to no other nation than Israel, and consequently was obligatory upon no other people than the Jews. In giving the command of a seventh day rest to Israel, God identified their keeping of a 24-hour period with his own rest on a larger and higher scale. This leads us to infer that, aside from whatever blessing Israel obtained from a weekly rest, there was, additionally, a typical lesson in it for the New Creation; as indeed we find typical lessons in connection with every feature of that people and their Law.
The first mention of a Sabbath day in Scripture is in Exodus 16:23, to the Israelites, a month after the Exodus (see Exodus 16:1,2). This occasion was before the Israelites reached Mount Sinai and received the 10 Commandments.
Genesis 2:2,3 does mention the days of creation, and that “On the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.” However, nothing in Genesis indicates that God mentioned the Sabbath to Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob.
The seventh day, the seventh month, and the seventh year were all prominent under the Law. The seventh day was a period of cessation from toil, a period of physical rest. The seventh month was the month in which the atonement for sin, thus rest from sin, was effected. The seventh year was for a release from bondage, servitude.
In addition, the seventh year multiplied by itself (7 x 7 equals 49) led up to the fiftieth or Jubilee Year, in which all mortgages, liens and judgments against persons and lands were canceled, and every family was permitted to return to its own estate—relieved from all the burdens of the previous errors, wrongdoings, etc.
The Antitypical Seventh Day
The antitype of Israel’s Jubilee year will be the Millennial Kingdom, and its general “times of restitution of all things which God hath spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets,” the antitype being immensely larger than the type, and applicable to mankind in general.
To explain the antitypical meaning of the “seventh day” in Bible chronology, here is an extract from an article titled “Coming Blessings” by Bro. David Rice:
“In Israel it was customary to labor for six days and rest on the Sabbath. That day was set aside from mundane labor, both in order to focus on spiritual values and worship, and for rest and refreshment of the physical frame from the burdens of daily life. “Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings” (Leviticus 23:3).
This is a picture of the experience of mankind laboring for six days, six millennia, [The 6 epoch periods are listed in the following Post: https://biblestudentsdaily.com/2017/08/16/epoch-periods-in-gods-plan/] under the burden of sin and death, but resting from these burdens on the seventh millennium, a day for holiness and worship of God. The prophet Ezekiel mentions the same concept in the lengthy nine-chapter prophecy about the Millennial Kingdom that closes his book. “Thus saith the Lord Jehovah; The gate of the inner court that looketh toward the east shall be shut the six working days; but on the sabbath it shall be opened” (Ezekiel 46:1). For six thousand years the world remains outside the gate of access to God. But during the Millennium they will come to Him with praise, worship, and for instruction.”
We Have a Sabbath Rest by Faith
The Apostle Paul says in Hebrews 4:1-11, ” 1 Let us, therefore, fear lest a promise having been left us of entering into his rest [Sabbath] any of you should seem to come short of it…. 3 For we which have believed do enter into rest [the keeping of the Sabbath]…. 6 Seeing, therefore, it remaineth that some must enter therein, and that they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief… 9 there remaineth, therefore, a rest to the people of God. 10 For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. 11 Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.”
Here the Apostle sets before us a double lesson:
(1) That it is our privilege, at the present time, to enter into rest—a perpetual rest of heart, of mind, of faith in the Son of God. As a matter of fact, all who have truly accepted the Lord, and are properly resting and trusting in him, are thus enjoying the antitypical Sabbath, or rest, at the present time.
(2) He also points us to the fact that in order to maintain this present rest, and to insure entrance into the eternal Sabbath “rest that remains for the people of God,” the heavenly Kingdom, it will be necessary for us to abide in the Lord’s favor—continually to exercise toward Him faith, as well as obedience (to the extent of ability in thought, word and deed,) trusting in the Heavenly Father—who is both able and willing to bring us off “more than conquerors“ (Romans 8:37) and grant us a share in the great work of the antitypical Jubilee—when the grand rest will come at the end—to all those who shall finish their course faithfully with joy.
Our Sabbath rest starts with our full acceptance of the Lord Jesus as the High Priest who made the sacrifice, by which our sins were covered by the imputed merit of the Redeemer, the Messiah. It increases as we recognized Christ as the Head of the New Creation, and heir of the Abrahamic promise, and ourselves as being called of God to be Christ’s joint-heirs in that Kingdom of blessing. By submitting our all to God and accepting gratefully and joyfully His divine mercy and promised guidance through a “narrow way” to the Kingdom, we can rest from our own works, that is, rest from all effort to justify ourselves; we confessed ourselves imperfect and unworthy of divine grace, and unable to make ourselves worthy.
The disciples entered this Sabbath rest on the day of Pentecost, day 50, which follows 7 x 7 days from Passover season. God there fulfilled His gracious promise, and granted that those who had accepted Jesus should enter into his rest—the keeping of the higher Sabbath of the New Creation.
References and Acknowledgment
Br. Charles Taze Russell— R1726-7 (Reprints of the Original Watchtower and Herald of Christ’s Presence) and Studies In the Scriptures, Volume 6 – “The New Creation”— https://biblestudentsdaily.com/2017/02/11/5-study-in-the-scriptures-the-six-volumes/
Suggested Further Reading
“Psalm 90 — Coming Blessings” by Br. David Rice. The Herald of Christ’s Kingdom, Sept.-Oct. 2012 issue.http://www.heraldmag.org/2012/12so_9.htm
Epoch Periods In God’s Plan. BIBLE Students DAILY.https://biblestudentsdaily.com/2017/08/16/epoch-periods-in-gods-plan/
The Believers’ Perpetual Sabbath. The Herald of Christ’s Kingdom Magazine. http://www.heraldmag.org/archives/1929_2.htm#_Toc517697924
Our Great High Priest. The Dawn – A Herald of Christ’s Presence.
God’s Covenants. The Dawn – A Herald of Christ’s Presence.
Sabbath Observation. The Dawn – A Herald of Christ’s Presence.http://www.dawnbible.com/2017/1709ib17.htm
The Lord’s Day. The Dawn – A Herald of Christ’s Presence.http://www.dawnbible.com/2015/1512ib06.htm
1 CORINTHIANS 15:45 – How Long Until the Millennium Reign of the “Last Adam” ?
Acts 3:19-21 – The Restitution of All Things
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