THE SABBATH DAY & THE 'LORD'S DAY'
I have always been associated with conservative, evangelical churches where Sunday is the customary day of rest and worship, which in my circles has usually been referred to as the 'Lord's Day'. The Seventh Day Adventist church and a few other denominations maintain that Saturday, the biblical sabbath day, is the proper day of worship. I've discussed this with Adventists before but was not offered much biblical 'proof' for their stand on this matter. It is the intent of this study not to be argumentative but to honestly seek what the Bible has to say about this subject.
At least part of what disturbs the Adventists is that Jesus said, "If ye love me, keep my commandments." John 14:15. That's a hard one for us who worship on Sunday since the fourth commandment specifies the sabbath, Saturday, as the special day of rest and holiness unto the Lord.
Another objection, admittedly a good one, goes something like this: "You who worship on Sunday agree that we are supposed to keep the other nine commandments, so why not the fourth also?" I shall try to answer both questions in light of the Bible.
First, in this text, I'd like for us to have the ten commandments before us as given in the Old Testament and the two greatest commandments as given by Jesus in the New Testament:
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
5. Honour thy father and thy mother; that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
6. Thou shalt not kill.
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
8. Thou shalt not steal.
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor's.
"Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.'" Matthew 22:36-40.
This was Jesus' response to a lawyer's question about which was the greatest commandment. It indicates that Jesus wanted the man to understand a fuller essence of the first commandment, which is given in Exodus 20 as "Thou shalt have no other gods before me".
Here Jesus brought new and deeper clarity of the first commandment by indicating that the commandment hinges on LOVING GOD, not simply "having no other gods" before us. Jesus took a "NO" commandment and turned it into a "YES" commandment. This has far more positive appeal, which also gives insight of Jesus' broader teaching ministry and New Covenant He came to establish. Note that the original fourth and fifth commandments are the only two which have a positive note in them; that is, these two are not “thou shalt not” commandments.
Proverbs 9:10 tells us, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom...". Observe that it says fear is the BEGINNING of wisdom, not the totality of it. God's wisdom was continually revealed to us in the Holy Scriptures up to the final book of Revelation of Jesus Christ. Most of the commandments in Exodus have to do with establishing fear within those for whom the commandments were written. I'm not saying this wasn't the perfect way to begin a work on fallen man at the time God gave the original commandments to Moses and the Israelites. Indeed, it was obviously the right way, for God did it this way.
The commandments clearly reveal that we are sinners in need of forgiveness and reconciliation. But we are not to earn our righteousness during this dispensation by trying to keep the original ten commandments. Nor was the Holy Spirit sent to us simply to give us the power to keep the original ten commandments. With His two new commandments, Jesus was showing us that a heart full of love for God and his fellow man is a better way of maintaining the original ten commandments. That's why He said, "on these two commandments hang all the law...".
A FLOWER UNFOLDS
I see God’s Kingdom-building process like a rose bud which later blossoms into a flower. The Old Covenant represents the bud stage. The New Covenant represents the flower stage. The Old Covenant of the Law was good, but was also rigid and tight, like a bud. The New Covenant is manifestly open, loose and full of life like a wide open rose with its petals being able to move freely in the breeze. Jesus liberated believers from the rigid and tight, “bud-stage” Law. He made it possible for us to move freely under the inspiration of the Mighty “Wind” of God, the Holy Spirit. In the fully-opened flower stage, we can see the outward beauty of what was previously hidden. This parallels the love and liberty Christ was to bring:
"Think not that I am come to destroy the Law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” Matthew 5:17.
"If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." John 8:36.
Does this mean that I believe we are no longer responsible to the law at all? That we can now go out and do anything we want to? Break any of the commandments and not be accountable for it? Of course not. I'm saying that we will maintain the Law best by being filled with the love of Christ. By doing the “dos” in Jesus’ style will cause the “don’ts” to just wither on the vine.
One might ask then, "Well, if you believe the Spirit of Christ gives us the power to keep the commandments, why does it apply to nine of the commandments but not to the fourth?" To answer this, let's look at everything Jesus and all the New Testament authors had to say about the sabbath day. The following is a complete list of all those passages, beginning at Matthew and following chronologically completely through the whole New Testament. The main question to ask as we pursue this study is: "Did Jesus do anything or inspire any of the Bible's authors to make it clear that "born again" people are no longer bound literally by the fourth commandment?"
1. Matthew 12: 1-13.
"At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were hungry, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat.
But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day.
But he said unto them, 'Have ye not read what David did, when he was hungry, and they that were with him;
How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?'
'Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless?
But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple.
But if ye had known what this meaneth, ‘I will have mercy, and not sacrifice’, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.
For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day.
And when he was departed thence, he went into their synagogue:
And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him.
And he said unto them, 'What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?
How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.' Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other."
2. Matthew 24:20.
"But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day;"
3. Matthew 28:1.
"In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulcher."
4. Mark 1:21.
"And they went into Capernaum; and straightway on the sabbath day he entered into the synagogue, and taught."
5. Mark 2:23-28.
"And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn.
And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?
And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was hungry, he, and they that were with him?
How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him?
And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:
Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath."
6. Mark 3:2-4.
"And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him.
And he saith unto the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth.
And he saith unto them, 'Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill, But they held their peace."
7. Mark 6:2.
"And when the sabbath day was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished, saying, From whence hath this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands?"
8. Mark 15:42&43.
"And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath,
Joseph of Arimathaea, an honorable counselor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus."
9. Mark 16:1.
"And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him."
10. Luke 4:16.
"And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read."
11. Luke 4:31.
"And came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and taught them on the sabbath days."
12. Luke 6:1-9.
"And it came to pass on the second sabbath, after the first, that he went through the corn fields; and his disciples plucked the ears of corn, and did eat, rubbing them in their hands.
And certain of the Pharisees said unto them, 'Why do ye that which is not lawful to do on the sabbath days?'
And Jesus answering them said, 'Have ye not read so much as this, what David did, when himself was hungry, and they which were with him; How he went into the house of God, and did take and eat the shewbread, and gave also to them that were with him; which it is not lawful to eat but for the priests alone?'
And he said unto them, 'That the Son of Man is Lord also of the sabbath.'
And it came to pass also on another sabbath, that he entered into the synagogue, and taught and there was a man whose right hand was withered.
And the scribes and Pharisees watched him, whether he would heal on the sabbath day; that they might find an accusation against him.
But he knew their thoughts, and said to the man which had the withered hand, 'Rise up, and stand forth in the midst.' And he aroses and stood forth. Then said Jesus unto them, I will ask you one thing; 'Is it lawful on the sabbath days to do good, or to do evil. to save life, or to destroy it?'"
13. Luke 13: 10-17.
"And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath.
And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself.
And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, 'Woman, thou are loosed from thine infirmity.
And he laid his hands on her; and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.
And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day.
The Lord answered him, and said, 'Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead away to watering?
And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath?'
And when he had said these things, all his adversaries were ashamed; and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him."
14. Luke 14: 1-6.
"And it came to pass, as he went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the sabbath day, that they watched him.
And, behold, there was a certain man before him which had the dropsy.
And Jesus answering spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, 'Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day?'
And they held their peace. And he took him, and healed him, and let him go;
And answered them, saying, 'Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day?'
And they could not answer him again to these things."
15. Luke 23: 54-56.
"And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on.
And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid.
And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment."
16. John 5: 9-18.
"And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.
The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, 'It is the sabbath day; it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed.'
He answered them, 'He that made me whole, the same said unto me, 'Take up thy bed, and walk.'
Then asked they him, 'What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk?'
And he that was healed wist not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place.
Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, 'Behold, thou art made whole; sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.'
The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole.
And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.
But Jesus answered them, 'My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.'
Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God."
17. John 7:21-24.
"Jesus answered and said unto them, 'I have done one work, and ye all marvel.
Moses therefore gave unto you circumcision; (not because it is of Moses, but of the fathers;) and ye on the sabbath day circumcise a man.
If a man on the sabbath day receive circumcision, that the law of Moses should not be broken; are ye angry at me, because I have made a man every whit whole on the sabbath day?
Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.'"
18. John 9: 13-16.
"They brought to the Pharisees him that aforetime was blind.
And it was the sabbath day when Jesus made the clay, and opened his eyes.
Then again the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. He said unto them, 'He put clay upon mine eyes, and I washed, and do see.'
Therefore said some of the Pharisees, 'this man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day.' Others said, 'How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles?' And there was a division among them."
19. John 19:31.
"The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was a high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away."
20. Acts 1:12.
"Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day's journey."
21. Acts 13:14,27,42&44.
"But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down."
"For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him."
"And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath."
"And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God."
22. Acts 15:21.
"For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath."
23. Acts 16:13.
"And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither."
24. Acts 17:2&3.
"And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the Scriptures."
25. Acts 18:4.
"And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks."
26. Colossians 2:16&17.
"Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:"
Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ."
The above passages include all the Scriptures in the New Testament which speak of the sabbath day by name. It would be helpful to read the verses more than once to saturate your mind with what the Bible says before reading on in this commentary.
There are 87 verses quoted above which relate directly to the sabbath day. It will simplify the discussion by dividing them into the following five groups:
Group 1. Two of the verses don't really have any significance to the discussion because the sabbath day is merely used as a reference to a point of time.
Group 2. Eight of the verses relate to Jesus being in the tomb on the sabbath day.
Group 3. Thirteen verses have to do with Jesus or the disciples teaching on the sabbath day.
Group 4. Sixty two of the verses are related to Jesus indicating that He and the disciples were not bound to the law of the sabbath and that He (Jesus) is Lord over the sabbath.
Group 5. Two verses specifically indicate that Christians are not to be judged in respect of a holy day or sabbath days.
With regards to our topic, I believe the main point for us to grasp here is found in group 4. Jesus repeatedly emphasized that He was not bound by the fourth commandment. It is noteworthy that this fact is recorded in all four gospels, and that He emphasized it in several different ways. Thus, in sheer bulk of words (sixty-two verses), we must observe that the vast majority of references to the sabbath day was to show that Jesus and His disciples were not literally bound by the 4th commandment.
There's got to be a big reason Jesus gave so much attention to this point of understanding. I can think of at least one big reason. As we know, God the Father directed Jesus while He was on the earth. The Father knew that mankind, in general, would want to cling to some form of works for his personal salvation and righteousness, even if only in the observance of a day. Therefore, the Father directed Jesus to do certain things on the sabbath day, knowing well what the Jews reaction would be. This was necessary in order to show that Jesus was Lord over the sabbath and thus was not bound by it, which, according to Jesus, would also include all those who were part of His ministry (as depicted by the disciples in the corn field). Repeated appearances in the Scriptures of a particular concept is typical when God wants a point clearly understood, as is the case here.
Jesus did not single out any other commandment to challenge because it is very obvious they are to be kept. I cannot find a single verse of scripture in the New Testament where Jesus indicated (or any other writer) that any of the other nine commandments were set aside. They will be best maintained by keeping Jesus' two great commandments, expressing our love for God and relating our love for one another.
ACTS IS A LINK
The book of Acts sort of ties together the New Testament. It shows how the early church began and it does indeed indicate that teaching was done on the sabbath days. Well, this was how it had to be done. Still under the law, that's when the people in those days congregated together making it necessary for the disciples to be there on those days so that the good news might go forth. Paul explains this in 1 Cor. 9:20, "And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;".
You see, Paul was so full of the love of Christ that he would place himself into the law of those who were still bound by it, so that he might bring them to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Paul was willing to return to the “bud-stage” in order to show his hearers the way out to fuller freedom in Christ. He knew that he was no longer under the law as explained in 1 Cor. 9:19, "For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more." Oh, that we might all take on Paul’s attitude to love our fellow human beings where they are and try to show them the way out of their wilderness into the full light and freedom Christians have in Christ.
THE FINAL WORD
After the book of Acts, the sabbath day is mentioned only one more time! The Holy Spirit had inspired plenty of information up to this point to show that Christians are not literally bound by the fourth commandment. But, just to be sure it is clearly understood, the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write one final word about the sabbath in Col. 2:16&17:
"Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days; which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ."
That's plain talk, folks. How can it possibly be concluded that Christians are literally bound by the 4th commandment after reading this clear instruction?
A CHRISTIAN'S IDENTIFICATION WITH CHRIST
Since Jesus nor His disciples were bound by the fourth commandment, we need to answer this question: To what extent are believers today identified with Christ in order to partake of the same freedom Jesus and the apostles enjoyed? I’d like to suggest that the following two verses answer this crucial question:
"I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me."
"And he is the head of the body, the church; who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence."
These two verses tell me that I am completely identified with Christ, even a part of His body. It is this concept that convinces me that I not only enjoy the fulness and richness of His love and mercy, but also His FREEDOM! Praise God!
WHY SUNDAY THOUGH?
So, like Christ, if we're free of the sabbath day rule, then why choose Sunday as the day of worship? Wouldn't any other day do just as well? Technically, yes, as far as freedom from the law of keeping a particular day is concerned. However, for a special reason, I prefer Sunday in my place of liberty. Let me explain.
Jesus was removed from the cross just before the beginning of the sabbath day, which begins at 6:00 p.m. Friday. He was laid in the tomb by Joseph of Arimathaea. But, when Mary Magdalene came to the sepulchre early before daybreak on Sunday, Jesus had already risen. Therefore, the sabbath day was the only day Jesus could have remained in the tomb for an entire day. (I have written another article called “The Missing Night” to explain the mystery of the “three days and three nights” Jesus said He would be in the body of the earth.)
I see Jesus' lying in the tomb on the sabbath day as symbolizing the death of the power of the law, which was setting the stage for the power of resurrection life which was coming the next day. Remember, the law was but a schoolmaster, God's way at first of showing us the reality and the nature of our sin. But there was no power in the law to truly and lastingly save. If there was, then Jesus died in vain.
So, since the Bible teaches that Jesus was not bound by the law and that we who are in Christ (i.e., His body, the church), it seems it is our pleasure to choose what day to commemorate as a day of rest and worship. Please don't misunderstand me. I don't believe there's one ounce of righteousness in our keeping Sunday as a "holy" day any more than there isn't an ounce of righteousness imputed to us by maintaining the sabbath day. Personally, in terms of worship, I prefer to identify with the day of Christ's resurrection, which was Sunday, rather than the day He lay in the tomb, the sabbath day.
Paul agreed with this concept too in Romans 6:4:
"Therefore, we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in the newness of life."
My final statement concerning my conviction that we have been freed from the fourth commandment is the peace which God gives me by the Holy Spirit bearing witness with my spirit that it is a true conviction from Him. I have learned through many experiences that if the peace of God does not reside in your heart relative to your understanding of any subject in His holy word, then you probably don't have it right yet.
Even though abiding by the fourth commandment is only a small remnant of legalism to cling to, it is legalism, and therefore, holds one in a measure of bondage. If in reading this, you have a sense of belief in its correctness, and yet you are somewhat anxious about it, please remember that Satan is given the power to try to cause us not to enter into a greater fellowship with Christ to enjoy His more abundant freedom and grace. However, it is when we make the decision to follow the direction of the Holy Spirit's leading that Satan must step aside and flee from us, then God's peace will come and then you'll know that He has guided you closer to Him.
The "sabbath rest" we want to keep is Jesus Himself. This is beautifully pictured for us in Hebrews 4. (Read the whole chapter. Here I'll quote verses 9-11.)
"There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered his rest (i.e., Jesus' rest), he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief."
God bless you as you realize that all the fullness of salvation, and the freedom of when to worship God, exists in the accomplishments of Jesus Christ at Calvary, coupled with your belief in Who He was and what he did. Jesus is the Redeeming Savior. He paid the price God the Father required for us to be saved. He also removed the law from off our backs. He is our head. We are His body. We are free to worship Him on the sabbath or any other day. Don't let anyone judge you regarding your practice of this truth. You have the Bible’s clear permission to do this. I’ll close by once again quoting the verse which says this so clearly:
"Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:"
Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ."
Remember, the Holy Spirit chose this as the final word on the subject. The word “sabbath” never appears again in the Bible after this verse.
God bless you as you worship Him in Spirit and in truth.
Lance Johnson, O.D.