What day is the Sabbath?
The Sabbath day - when referred to in Scripture - is speaking of Saturday. Specifically sundown on Friday evening to sundown on Saturday evening.
"Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. " Exodus 31:15 (Also examine Exodus 16:23; Exodus 35:2; Leviticus 16:31; Leviticus 23:3; Leviticus 23:32; Leviticus 25:4; Deuteronomy 5:14)
The Sabbath is to be a holy memorial to God's act of creation, where He rested on the 7th day. There is no Scripture indicating that God ever replaced the Sabbath with observance of any other day.
Why do Many Christians Worship on Sunday?
In the early church, most Christians still gathered on the Sabbath. Yet, there is historical evidence of gatherings on Sundays as well in recognition of Jesus' resurrection. Around 150 AD, Justin Martyr states in his first Apology "Weekly Worship of the Christians":
"...we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place...But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought the change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead."
Even the Scriptures reference the apostles gathering on the first day of the week:
"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
However, this was not a weekly observance of the church initially and was not considered a replacement for the Sabbath.
A 5th century church historian named Socrates Scholasticus had the following to say:
"For although almost all churches throughout the world celebrate the sacred mysteries [the Lord's Supper] on the sabbath of every week, yet the Christians of Alexandria and at Rome, on account of some ancient tradition, have ceased to do this." (Ecclesiastical History, book 5, chap. 22)
This indicates that gathering on Saturdays was a worldwide Christian standard, but that by the 5th century, some ancient tradition had influenced the Greeks and Romans to cease doing this.
Several factors arose influencing a move to replace the Sabbath (Saturday) with what came to be referred to as the Lord's Day (Sunday). One was the tension between the Jewish and Christian communities. The Sabbath was clearly a Jewish tradition and some in the early church did not like the association.
Whether motivated by a desire not to be linked to Jewish persecution or whether there was anti-semetic sentiment involved, emphasis on Sunday worship presented an opportunity to create further distinction between the Jews and the Christians.
Rome Makes An Edict for Sunday Worship
Another prominent factor was a move by Rome to make Sunday the official day of rest. Rome had been a persecutor of Christians and Jews. Yet in spite of this, Christianity was flourishing, resulting in great discord in the Roman Empire.
This was the situation facing the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great when he came to power. Constantine eventually became a convert to Christianity, although it is debatable whether this was a true conversion or a political ploy. In 321 A.D., Constantine issued an edict declaring Sunday as the official day of rest for the Roman Empire:
"On the venerable day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed." (Codex Justinianus lib. 3, tit. 12, 3; trans. in Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 3, p. 380, note 1)
What was the "ancient tradition" Socrates referred to above which he said influenced Alexandria and Rome to worship on Sundays? Constantine tells us here: ancient Sun worship. Both the Greek and Roman cultures were steeped in pagan mythology.
Did this unilaterally change Christian worship from the Sabbath to Sunday? No, but it illustrates what was an ever-increasing trend to have Sunday designated as the "holy day" instead of the Sabbath. Taking advantage of anti-Jewish angst - and providing a platform by which to unite pagans and Christians under one "church" - Rome began to pass even more stringent edicts solidifying Sunday as the new Sabbath for the Christian church. By the 5th century, this had been mandated as the standard for all of the Roman Empire (which represented much of the known world at that time).
Is Sunday Worship A Pagan Act?
One could look at history and say, "See!! Sunday worship has its roots in paganism! We must go back to worshiping on Saturdays and move away from any participation in pagan worship."
Yet, that assertion is erroneous on several fronts.
- The early church did sometimes meet on Sundays prior to any edict from Rome.
- The church was not commanded by God to gather on the Sabbath.
- The observance of a specific "day" to keep the Sabbath was done away with in the passing of the Old Covenant.
- Christians are called to honor the Spirit of the Sabbath.
We know from Scripture and historical evidence that Christians did occasionally meet on Sundays as a way to celebrate Jesus' resurrection.
While God never ordained this as a replacement for the Sabbath - nor did the early church consider it to be - there is a precedence for Sunday worship that has nothing to do with paganism. Therefore, one cannot say that all Sunday worship represents paganism.
Sabbath Meeting Was Not Commanded by God
Although the early church gathered on the Sabbath, this was not by compulsion of law. The Gospel was preached to the Jew first, and then to the Greek. The Christian Church has its roots in the Jewish faith, for whom the Sabbath was already an established day of rest. It is natural that this practice would have continued, but it was NOT because they were required by God to do so.
When the Church got together to decide what would be required of the Gentile converts to the faith, Scripture records the following:
"But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter. And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.
Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them. And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.
Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave NO such commandment: It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth.
For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well." Acts 15:5-29
There was NO commandment for Christians to keep the law. Additionally, keeping the Sabbath day was not even one of the "necessary things" they decided to mandate for Christians.
This is why we cannot be judged about Sabbath days, because there is no longer a requirement to keep a "day" as the Sabbath.
"Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. 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: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ." Colossians 2:14
There was no commandment to keep the law (including the Sabbath day) because the church recognized that the old covenant (along with the letter of the law) had passed.
The Old Covenant Has Passed
Some assert that the passing of the "law" in the New Testament does not include the Ten Commandments, yet this is false. In the following text, God speaks specifically about the status of the old covenant.
"Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which IS Agar.
For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what saith the scripture? CAST OUT the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free." Galatians 4:21-31
These ARE the two covenants. In this allegory, Agar represents the old covenant which was given on Mt. Sinai (where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments). Notice that this woman/covenant has been "cast out".
Still, some say that references to the old covenant in that text does not refer to the Ten Commandments. However, examine how God talks about the Ten Commandments:
"And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables THE WORDS OF THE COVENANT, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses' hand." Exodus 34:28-29
"And if ye shall despise my statutes, or if your soul abhor my judgments, so that ye will not do all my commandments, but that ye break my covenant:" Leviticus 26:15
"And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone. " Deuteronomy 4:13
"At that time the LORD separated the tribe of Levi, to bear the ark of the covenant of the LORD, to stand before the LORD to minister unto him, and to bless in his name, unto this day." Deuteronomy 10:8
"There was nothing in the ark save the TWO TABLES OF STONE, which Moses put there at Horeb, when the LORD MADE A COVENANT with the children of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt." I Kings 8:9
"And in it have I put the ark, wherein IS THE COVENANT of the LORD, that he made with the children of Israel." II Chronicles 6:11
God continually and explicitly refers to the Ten Commandments as being representative of the old covenant. This continues in Galatians Chapter 4 by where He states that Mt. Sinai/Agar is the old covenant which has been cast out.
Like the rest of the law, the Ten Commandments has passed and no longer applies to those in Christ. As discussed in the series "The Spirit of the Law", the Old Testament law represents the letter of God's commands while the New Testament represents the Spirit of God's commands. The Christian is called to obey the Spirit behind the commands and no longer the letter, which was only a shadow of those things to come.
So, how is a Christian to obey the Law of the Spirit in honoring the Sabbath?
The Purpose of the Sabbath
Before we can understand what it means to obey the Spirit of the Sabbath, we must first know why God ordained the Sabbath.
A Sabbath or "shabath" in Hebrew is a "rest". So, when God gave man a Sabbath, He was literally giving man a rest. But what kind of rest? The Scriptures tell us.
"And 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. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made." Genesis 2:2-3
The seventh day was sanctified because it was at this time that God rested from all of His work.
"Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the LORD that doth sanctify you. Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed." Exodus 31:13-17
Israel ceased from their work for one day to keep the Sabbath, which is a perpetual covenant honoring God as the Creator of all.
"If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it." Isaiah 58:13-14
Israel acknowledged the Sabbath by setting aside a day where they would cease from 1) doing their own pleasure; 2) following their own ways; and 3) speaking their own mind, so that they could delight themselves in the Lord by putting Him first to be revered as holy.
The Sabbath is a perpetual and holy covenant honoring God as the Creator of all things in which we take time to rest from our own works and delight ourselves in Him.
Notice however, that although God gave the observance of the Sabbath "day" to Israel, this was not the fullness of the rest that He desired for them...it was only a "sign" of that rest.
"But with whom was he grieved forty years? Was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness? And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief." Hebrews 3:17-19
Examine this text carefully. Who is God speaking of here?
He is speaking of the Israelites whom He had led out of Egypt and kept for 40 years in the wilderness. These are individuals with whom He had made a covenant at Mt. Sinai. These are those who were keeping the letter of the Sabbath! How then is it possible for them not to have entered into God's rest when they were keeping the Sabbath "day"?
"Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it." Hebrews 4:1
Although there was a "day" of rest given as a memorial by God, there was yet still a promise of rest left beyond that "day".
"For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world." Hebrews 4:2-3
The promise of rest beyond the "day" is obtained through faith. Those who believe DO enter into His rest. Do they enter into this rest by believing and then observing the day? No. They enter into God's rest by believing alone.
"For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works. And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest. Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief: Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. For if Joshua had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day. There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God." Hebrews 4:4-9
There "remains" a rest for God's people beyond the day He designated as the Sabbath. Remember, the observance of the "day" was a sign.
"For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief." Hebrews 4:10-11
There we have it. Once we turn in faith to Jesus, we enter into His rest because we have ceased from our own works. This is the objective of the Sabbath: rest; and it is fulfilled through belief in Jesus.
"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." Galatians 2:20
What is the "rest" and "promise left" in which we must enter, for which the "day" was a "sign"? It is man turning in faith to Jesus Christ and being crucified in Him so that we have ceased from our works allowing Him to work through us.
"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls." Matthew 11:28-29
Again, Jesus is speaking above to them who keep the Sabbath "day". Yet, they still had not attained to the rest of which He was speaking, even while observing the "day".
The rest we find in Jesus Christ is the "rest" that remained, the promise that was left, that which could only be obtained through faith in the Lord of the Sabbath.
The Lord of the Sabbath
"At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, 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 an hungred, 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." Matthew 12:1-8
When looking at this text, people are often quick to point out that what the disciples did here was not in violation of the law (Deuteronomy 23:25). However, notice that Jesus compares their actions to the actions of David in eating the shewbread, which was against the law. He also compares it to the priests' work in the temple which He also says profanes the Sabbath. Why does Jesus make these comparisons? What is the point in comparing something that was against the law with something that was not?
He was trying to show that adherence to the letter of the law was never God's objective with mankind (remember, there was a rest that remained beyond the letter of the "day"). Jesus was holding up the Spirit of the law as being preeminent to the letter. God was not allowing or excusing a breaking of His law with David or the priests. These did not break the Sabbath (although they were not holding to the "letter" of the Sabbath) because they were fulfilling the Spirit of the Sabbath.
David partaking of the shewbread was symbolic of believers partaking in Jesus Christ - the bread of life. Leviticus 22:10-11 states that - while only the priests may eat of the holy things set aside for God in the temple - those individuals whom the priests themselves purchase may partake as well. Jesus Christ has purchased every believer by His own blood. This therefore (like with David) lifts the prohibition of the letter of the law calling for a "day" of rest. Not because the Sabbath is nullified, because it is fulfilled as we enter into the true rest God intends - faith in Jesus Christ (of which David's actions were a type).
Similarly, Jesus says the priests work to prepare the temple and thereby profane the Sabbath. Yet, they are blameless because they are doing the Lord's service. We read in Scripture that God makes us all priests in Him (I Peter 2:9). As such, our life (not just a day) is one of dedicated service to Jesus, one greater than the temple building. Against such there is no prohibition about a "day" because we are entering into the real rest, the promise left, that God intended: a ceasing from our work so that His work can be done.
Jesus was impressing upon the Pharsiees that His disciples were attaining to the spirit of rest, the promise left, the rest that remained by partaking of the bread of life and doing the Lord's will. In doing so, they are not held to the letter of a "day" of rest because they have entered into the true rest for which the "day" was a "sign".
The Pharisees were using the law to put a stranglehold on the people and put them in bondage to the letter, but God never intended it to be so. The law was a shadow of the fuller promise which was to come in the new covenant.
There is another retelling of this Scripture found in Mark.
"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 an hungred, 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." Mark 2:23-28
Jesus makes a very profound statement here: The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.
This statement is similar to the following: "Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man." I Corinthians 11:9
Can you see the parallels in those two texts? It is talking about the relationship that one has to the other.
Man doesn't serve the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was given to serve a purpose for man. What purpose? To instill upon us the need to enter into the rest of God, which could only be achieved through submission to the Lord of the Sabbath.
What is lawful to do on the Sabbath? Jesus says is perfectly, "Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days." (Matthew 12:12) It is lawful to do well, and we can only do well by entering into that promise of rest God has prepared for those who turn in faith to Jesus.
No. Sunday worship is not the mark of the beast. God is not looking for what day we worship Him in, but what spirit. We are called to worship God in Spirit and in Truth by ceasing from our own works, our own ways, our own words, so that Christ may live through as...and that every day.
The interesting thing about the mark of the beast is that the number of his name is 666. We also know that the number 6 is often a reference to man since God created man on the 6th day. As such, the number 666 denotes a person whose soul, spirit, and body are imprinted with a focus on man - spirit (6), soul (6), body (6). So the mark of the beast (666) speaks to the spiritual reprobation and selfishness that will be prominent in many at the end.
"This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves..." II Timothy 3:1-2a
The authority (name) of the beast has its power in the fallen nature of man, not in a day of worship. When people continue to look at the external as a means of pleasing God (what we do) they miss it by a mile. God is looking at who we are, not what we do, because who we are is the "root" of what we will do. Jesus said it this way:
"Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also." Matthew 23:24-26
Man, trapped by a carnal mind, is always trying to perform for God. You must rest on this day, you must not eat these foods, you must wear these clothes, taste not, touch not...these are all about outward conformity. Yet, God is looking at and dealing with the heart. As long as man thinks he is pleasing God by his actions, he will never understand the need to be made clean in the inward man because his own efforts produce self-righteousness.
"For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God." Romans 10:2-3
"And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith" Philippians 3:9
In the old covenant, we set aside the 7th day to honor God as the Creator of all by resting as He did.
In the new covenant, we walk in the spirit of 7th day by honoring the One who created all things (Colossians 1:16) every day through faith in His completed work (7 representing the number of completion), allowing us to be born again and cease from our own works so that the works of God may be done in us (John 6:28-29). We transition from living in the 6th day where man is the center of all (selfishness) to the 7th day where God becomes the focus of all, and thereby enter into God's rest.
The Sabbath "day" was a "sign" of the "rest" that God's people have in Him. Yet, there was a promise of "rest" that "remained" beyond observance of a "day" which could only be obtained through "faith" in Jesus Christ.
Those who argue about a day (whether Sunday, Saturday, or any other) are not appreciating or understanding the rest that God desires for man. It does not matter what day you worship God, cease from your works, and rest in Him because you are supposed to be doing these things every day. Your life is not your own. You have been bought with a price.
We honor the Sabbath by submitting to the Lord of the Sabbath, and in doing so we find our daily rest in Him.
"And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious." Isaiah 11:10
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