by O. Palmer Robertson
This question can be embarrassing, canʼt it? Why do you worship on Sunday? Doesnʼt the Holy Bible say that the seventh day is the time God consecrated for His people? Where does the Holy Bible say that Christians should sanctify the first day of the week, rather than the seventh day?
Itʼs a good question, you will have to admit. Itʼs also a question that needs an answer. So what can be said?
Creation and Redemption
Begin by considering the evidence of the Old Testament. The Sabbath in the Old Testament was not merely a special day that was to be recognized once a week. It had much richer significance. It pointed forward to the future “rest” of redemption that God would accomplish for his people. The Sabbath was not only a reminder of the rest that came after the six days of creation. It also was celebrated because God had delivered his people from slavery in Egypt.
God repeated the law for Moses after Israel had wandered in the wilderness for forty years, just before they entered the land of promise. When God repeated the law that had been given at Sinai, the Ten Commandments were the same. Not one of the original Ten Commandments had been changed. But another reason for observing the Sabbath was given. At Sinai, Godʼs people had been told to keep the Sabbath because God had rested after the six days of creation (Exodus 20:11; Genesis 2:3). But in Trans-Jordan, God told Israel to keep the Sabbath in view of their redemption from Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:15). Not only because of creation, but also because of redemption, the people of God were to rest one day in seven.
We know that Israelʼs deliverance from slavery in Egypt by the Passover lamb was only a shadow, a prophecy, of the deliverance that would come through the sacrificial death and powerful resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Old Testament saints were looking forward to the coming rest from the burdens of sin, just as each week they looked forward to their rest from work on the Sabbath day.
The Promised Land
So when Israel entered the land of their “rest” under Joshua, they marched around Jericho for seven days. Then on the seventh day they marched around the city walls seven times. When they had completed the march around Jericho the seventh time on the seventh day, the walls came tumbling down, and the people of God began to enter their rest in Canaan. The taking of Jericho was a picture of Godʼs people entering into their Sabbath-rest.
In a similar way, the seventy years of Israelʼs captivity pointed toward the “rest” of the redemption that was to come to the Promised Land. For the seventy years of Israelʼs captivity in Babylon, the land “was enjoying its Sabbath rests” (2 Chronicles 36:21).
These Old Testament experiences showed that Godʼs people were looking forward to the rest, the redemption that would be accomplished by Godʼs Messiah one day in the future. They worked six days in the week, looking forward to the rest that they would experience in the future. They looked to the land of promise as the place where they would enter into their rest from all the burdens of life.
A New Perspective
But now redemption has been accomplished. The Lord Jesus has come as the fulfilment of prophecy. By His death and resurrection, He has brought His people into their redemptive rest. We look back to the salvation that has been completed through Christ. “It is finished” was His cry from the cross, and so we know that everything has been done for our deliverance from sin, death, and all other evils in this world.
So now the Christian has a new perspective on the “rest” of redemption. For the resurrection of Christ is an event as significant as the creation of the world. By his resurrection, a new order of the universe came into being. A new way of life for man came into existence. The stone was rolled back from the door of the Lord Jesusʼ tomb to let the disciples in, not to let the Lord Jesus out! Because of His new form of existence in His resurrection body, He could pass through stone walls and locked doors without needing to open them.
The Resurrection of Christ
So it should not be surprising to find the disciples following a new pattern of worship and work. They began their week assembling with the resurrected Christ. Consider carefully the following evidence that the redemption accomplished through Christʼs resurrection determined the day for Christian worship:
The Lordʼs Day
The apostle John, now aged and perhaps the only living member of the original twelve apostles, had been banished to the island of Patmos. In this circumstance, he could not assemble for worship with the people of God. But the apostle informs us that “on the Lordʼs Day” he was “in the Spirit” (Revelation 1:10). The significance of his being “in the Spirit” seems quite clear. He had entered into the presence of the Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit, and was offering his adoration to Him.
But what is the meaning of the phrase “on the Lordʼs Day”? In one sense, it may be said that every day of the week belongs to the Lord, and so might be called the “Lordʼs day.” But John is referring to something more specific. He does not speak merely of “a” day that has been consecrated to the Lord. Instead he speaks of “the” Lordʼs Day.
That one day that may be called “the Lordʼs Day” was the day in which he proved to the world that he was Lord. On one particular day, the Lord Jesus made the universe understand that He was Lord of all. That day was the day of His resurrection. On that day, He conquered the last of the sinnerʼs enemies, which is death. On the first day of the week, He showed that His power could overcome all enemies, even death itself. That day is “the Lordʼs Day.”
So by the end of the lifetime of the first apostles, Christians knew about one day of the week that was called “the Lordʼs Day.” On that day, they celebrated the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. That day became the time for their assembly as they rejoiced in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
So it is the same today. The original commandment to honour God by worship one day in seven still holds, since this requirement was a part of the Ten Words laying down the moral standards of God for men. One day in seven must be consecrated for worship and service to him. Both creation and redemption show that God must be honoured in this way.
From the creation of the world until the coming of Christ, that day was the last day of the week. People in the days of the Old Testament were looking forward to the rest that the Saviour would bring.
But now Christ has come. He has risen victoriously over all His enemies. This victory He won on the first day of the week. On this day He meets with His disciples as they assemble to commune with Him.
So we are to celebrate the rest He has won for us. We are to taste and anticipate His rest by offering our worship on the first day of the week. For it is the only pattern demonstrated in the Holy Scriptures of the new covenant for the worship of Godʼs people today.