On the First Day Sabbath
Since several folks have raised the issue of why Christians celebrate the Lord’s Day on the first day of the week, I thought I’d write briefly about that issue.
Our Catechism says, “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” (Westminster Shorter Catechism 59).
The Sabbath, which is a creation ordinance, affirmed in the Ten Commandments, is perpetual and binding on all believers in all times and places (Exodus 20:8-11). The day in which the Sabbath is celebrated was moved from the seventh day of the week to the first day of the week with the resurrection of Jesus on that day. The practice of the Christian church throughout its history has affirmed this position. That fact, of course, does not make the practice biblical, but it certainly should give us great confidence that the early church was on to something. What was it?
If one studies the biblical data, there is a strong case for a first day Sabbath. The OT anticipates the first day Sabbath in a number of ways. Several of the feasts involved celebrations on the eighth day. The eighth day is the first day of a new week. See Leviticus 23:15-16, 21, 36, 39; Leviticus 25:8-12; Numbers 29:35; Ezekiel 43:27; and Nehemiah 8:18. The feast of weeks (Pentecost) involved a celebration on the 50th day. Seven Sabbaths and then one day would be the first day. The Jubilee takes place in the 50th year – after seven times seven years. A magnificent display of God’s grace occurs on the year after the Sabbatical year. Jesus rose from the dead on the day after the Sabbath (the first day of the week), ushering in a new age of grace (Matthew 28:1). This is why He is called the firstfruits of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23. Here Paul makes an obvious connection to Leviticus 23:16-17 and the celebration of the firstfruits, which happened when? On the first day of the week.
This fits well with the data we have on the NT church. Jesus rose on the first day (Luke 24:1). The disciples were gathered together on the first day (John 20:19, 26). The Holy Spirit was poured out on the first day (Acts 2:1). The church gathered for worship on the first day (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2). John received the revelation from Jesus on the “Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:10). Since Jesus declared Himself to be the “Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8), it is a safe inference that John is speaking about the Christian (first day) Sabbath.
The first day Sabbath was not a creation of the church. It was part of God’s plan from the beginning. This truth was recognized by the early church. The beauty of it is that it highlights the grace of God in salvation. We rest in Him first and then we work six days. In my mind, continuing to observe a seventh day Sabbath misses the import of what God has done in Jesus.
“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins” (Mark 2:22)
Let us rejoice in the new wine of the gospel and celebrate the new week of Jesus’ grace!