The Lord’s day
I. The Lord’s day being different from the Sabbath day
God completed the creation of all things in six days and rested from all His work on the seventh day. Twenty-five hundred years later, He gave the Ten Commandments (Exo. 20:1-17). The fourth commandment reminds man to remember the Sabbath. In other words, it reminds man to remember God’s work. This remembrance reminds man that God spent six days to restore the earth and then rested on the seventh day. The seventh day was originally God’s day of rest. Twenty-five hundred years later, God gave the seventh day to man as the Sabbath day and told man to rest on this day.
Everything in the Old Testament is a shadow of the coming good things (Heb. 10:1). Like all other types in the Old Testament, the Sabbath which God gave man has its spiritual significance. God created man on the sixth day and rested on the seventh day. As soon as man was created, he did not enter into work but into God’s rest. God worked six days and then rested one day. But when man came, there were not six days followed by one day, but one day followed by six days. Man rested first and then worked. This is the principle of the gospel. The Sabbath is a type of the gospel. Salvation comes first; work comes later. First we have life; then we have the walk. Rest comes before the work and the walk. This is the gospel. God shows us that He has already prepared the rest of redemption. After we enter into it, we work. Thank God, we work because we first have rested.
The significance of the Sabbath is that man stops his work and enters into God’s rest. For man to enter God’s rest means that man does not do his own work but instead accepts God’s work. Therefore, it is a great sin to break the Sabbath. If you work when God asks you not to work, you have rejected God’s rest.
Breaking the Sabbath is like Moses smiting the rock with the rod. God commanded Moses to “speak to the rock before their eyes that it may yield its water” (Num. 20:8). God did not ask him to smite the rock with the rod. The rock should not have been smitten a second time; it had already been smitten once (Exo. 17:1-6). The work had already been done, and he should not have tried to do it again. Doing anything again means to overthrow the accomplished work. Moses should have obeyed God’s word and commanded the rock to yield the water. Smiting the rock a second time meant that he was denying God’s first work. Moses disobeyed God’s command. As a result, he could not enter the land of Canaan (Num. 20:7-12).
To man, breaking the Sabbath does not seem to be a great matter. But in God’s truth, it is a great matter. Man should enjoy God’s rest first and then work. He should receive the gospel first and then have the walk. Man should only do God’s work after he has enjoyed God’s rest. If he breaks the Sabbath, he is violating the divinely ordained principle. This is why the Sabbath occupies such an important place in the Old Testament. The Old Testament records the story of a person who collected firewood on the Sabbath. When this was discovered, the whole congregation took him outside the camp and stoned him to death. This person had broken God’s Sabbath (Num. 15:32-36). A man who does not rest is one who thinks that he can work and act by himself; he thinks that he does not need God’s work. God, however, is satisfied with His work. Keeping the Sabbath means that man is also satisfied with God’s work. Keeping the Sabbath means that man rests in God’s rest and accepts His work. This is why God commanded in the Old Testament that no work be done on the Sabbath. This is what the Old Testament shows us.
However, the situation is different in the New Testament. On the Sabbath the Lord Jesus went to the synagogue and read the Scripture (Luke 4:16); He went to the synagogue and taught people (Mark 1:21). The apostles also went to the synagogue to reason about the Scriptures on the Sabbath (Acts 17:1-3; 18:4). This shows us that there was not only a passive rest on the Sabbath but also an active work on this day. Originally it was a day of physical rest, but in the New Testament it becomes a day of spiritual pursuit. This is an improvement from the Old Testament.
If we read the Bible carefully, we will see that God’s revelation in the Bible is progressive. In the message on “Reading the Bible” in chapter nine, we said that we need to learn the facts when we read the Bible because there is light in the facts. Once the facts change, it means there is new light. This is what happens in the case of the Sabbath. Initially the Scripture said, “God blessed the seventh day” (Gen. 2:3), but the Scripture calls the day the Lord Jesus resurrected from the dead “the first day of the week” (Matt. 28:1). It does not say that the Lord Jesus resurrected on the seventh day but that He resurrected on the first day of the week. All the four Gospels show us that the Lord Jesus resurrected on the first day of the week. At least five of Jesus’ appearances after His resurrection were on the first day of the week (John 20:1, 11-19; Matt. 28:1-9; Luke 24:1, 13-15, 34, 36). In Acts the outpouring of the Holy Spirit took place on the day of Pentecost, which was the day following the Sabbath (Lev. 23:15-16), the first day of the week. The first day of the week is the Lord’s Day. We will speak more about it later. Of course, this does not mean that God wants to replace the Sabbath with the Lord’s Day. But the Bible clearly shows us that God is turning our attention to the first day of the week.
We mentioned earlier that the Sabbath is a type of the gospel. The type of the gospel goes away when the reality of the gospel comes. The gospel is the principle behind the Sabbath, just as the cross is the principle behind the sacrifice. In the Old Testament the sacrificial bull and lamb are types of the Lamb of God — the Lord Jesus. The bull and the lamb are not needed now that the Lord Jesus has come. Today if a man still brings a bull or a lamb to sacrifice to God, he is ignorant of the cross. How can a man offer up a bull or a lamb when the Lord has already become the offering? Likewise, the gospel has already come. Man can now rest in God through the gospel. God has accomplished all His work through His Son’s redemption on the cross. Therefore, He does not charge us to work first but to rest. We should rest in the work of His Son. We do not come to God to do any work; we come to Him to rest. The gospel ushers us into rest in God. We serve only after we rest. After the gospel, rest is brought in, and the Sabbath is spontaneously annulled for the believers just as the sacrifice of bulls and lambs was annulled. The Sabbath is over for us just as the sacrifice of bulls and lambs is over. The Sabbath is a type in the Old Testament; this type has already been fulfilled in the New Testament.
II. The basis of the Lord’s day
In the Old Testament God chose one day out of seven, the seventh day, to be the Holy Sabbath. In the New Testament the principle of choosing one day out of seven still continues. Of course, the seventh day which was kept in the Old Testament is over. But the New Testament has its own day. The Sabbath day has not become the Lord’s Day. In the Old Testament God chose the seventh day of the week. In the New Testament He chose the first day of the week. He did not call the seventh day the first day. He chose another day. This day is altogether different from the Sabbath day in the Old Testament.
Psalm 118:22-24 is a very crucial portion of the Word. It says, “The stone which the builders rejected / Has become the head of the corner. / This is from Jehovah, / And it is wonderful in our sight. / This is the day that Jehovah has made; / Let us exult and rejoice in it.” Here we see the phrase the stone which the builders rejected. A builder decides whether or not a stone is useful. If the builder says that a stone cannot be used, it is discarded. But here is a wonderful thing: God has made Him — “the stone which the builders rejected” — “the head of the corner,” that is, the foundation. God has placed the most important duty upon Him. “This is from Jehovah, / And it is wonderful in our sight.” This is indeed wonderful. Verse 24 tells us something more wonderful: “This is the day that Jehovah has made; / Let us exult and rejoice in it.” This means that the day that Jehovah has made is the very day in which the stone, rejected by the builders, became the head of the corner. Although the builders rejected the stone, Jehovah did a wonderful thing on that day. He caused the stone to become the head of the corner. This then is the day that Jehovah has made.
We need to know what day is the day that Jehovah has made. What is the actual day that the stone rejected by the builders became the head of the corner? What day is this day? Acts 4:10-11 says, “Let it be known to you all and to all the people of Israel that in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified and whom God has raised from the dead, in this name this man stands before you in good health. This is the stone which was considered as nothing by you, the builders, which has become the head of the corner.” Verse 10 says, “Whom you crucified and whom God has raised from the dead.” Verse 11 says, “The stone which was considered as nothing by you, the builders, which has become the head of the corner.” In other words, the stone became the cornerstone at the very time of the Lord Jesus’ resurrection. The time of the builders’ rejection was the time that the Lord Jesus was crucified on the cross, while the time of His being made the cornerstone was the time that God raised Him from among the dead. Therefore, “the day that Jehovah has made” is the day of the Lord Jesus’ resurrection. The One rejected by man has been raised up by God. This resurrection is “from Jehovah.” The day of the Lord Jesus’ resurrection is the day that Jehovah has made. It is wonderful in our sight because this day was not made by man but by Jehovah. What is the day that Jehovah has made? It is the day the Lord Jesus resurrected.
Here we see that our Lord’s Day is totally different from the Sabbath of the Old Testament. On the Old Testament Sabbath day, one could not do this or that; everything was negative. If a man broke the Sabbath, he would be put to death. This is a very heavy punishment. But we do not have this stigma today. God prophesied that He would choose another day in the New Testament age. God did not say what could or could not be done on that day. Rather, He told us what should be done. God wants us to exult and rejoice on the day that He has made. Therefore, the special characteristic of the Lord’s Day is that there is only a positive charge; there are no negative commandments.
We would like to consider this day a little more. God groups the days not only into months and years but also into weeks. Every seven days is one unit, ending on the seventh day. Earlier we have said that the Sabbath is a type and that it belongs to the old creation. The new creation began when the Lord resurrected. The old creation ended on the seventh of seven days. This clearly completes the week. The beginning of the new creation was on the first of the seven days, which clearly and plainly signifies a new beginning. The first week was completely old, and the second week is completely new. There is a clear and definite separation between the old creation and the new creation. The week is not divided into two parts, with one part old and the other part new. One week is completely of the old creation, and the next week is completely of the new creation. We do not have a partial week, only a complete week. The Lord Jesus resurrected on the first day of the week, and that whole week completely belongs to the new creation. The church on earth came into being on the day of Pentecost, which also fell on the first day of the week. This also signifies something brand new. If the Lord Jesus had not resurrected on the first day of the week but instead on the seventh day or any other day, there would have been a new creation for part of the week and an old creation for part of the week; the division would not have been that clear-cut. The Lord’s resurrection was on the first day of the week, which was the beginning of a new week. One week belongs to the old creation, and the other week belongs to the new creation. The things of the old creation stopped on the last day of the week, the seventh day. The new creation began on the first day of another week. Consequently, the new creation has been clearly separated from the old creation.
God purposely picks one day out of seven and calls it by a special name. Revelation 1:10 calls it the Lord’s Day. Some say that “the Lord’s Day” is “the day of the Lord” spoken of elsewhere in the Bible. But this is wrong. In the original text “the Lord’s Day” and “the day of the Lord” are two completely different things. “The Lord’s Day” is the first day of the week, while “the day of the Lord” is the day of the Lord’s coming (1 Thes. 5:2; 2 Thes. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:10). These two are completely different. The writings of the early church fathers give us ample proof that “the Lord’s Day” refers to the first day of the week. This is also the day for the church to meet. Some say that Christians in the second and third centuries met on the Sabbath day and only changed to the Lord’s Day in the fourth century. This is not according to fact. There are many examples in the writings of the early church fathers which prove that the meetings were always held on the first day of the week. This was true from the time of the disciples of John until the fourth century. (Please refer to the appendix at the end of this chapter.)
III. What we should do on the Lord’s day
The Bible emphasizes three things that we should do on the first day of the week:
First, Psalm 118:24 speaks of the attitude that all God’s children should have on the first day of the week. It is to exult and rejoice. Our Lord has risen from the dead. This is the day that Jehovah has made, and we must exult and rejoice on this day. We must maintain this attitude. This day is the day on which our Lord resurrected. There is no other day similar to this day. The Lord appeared to the disciples and met with them on the first day of the week. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost also occurred on the first day of the week. The rejecting of the stone by the builders and its becoming the cornerstone refer to the Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection. The rejection of the Jews was the rejection of the builders, and the Lord’s resurrection was His becoming the cornerstone. This is the day which Jehovah has made, and we should exult and rejoice in it. This should be our spontaneous reaction.
Second, Acts 20:7 says, “And on the first day of the week, when we gathered together to break bread…” According to the original text, the first day of the week here does not refer to the first day of a certain particular week. It means that they met to break bread on the first day of every week. At that time all the churches spontaneously gathered together to break bread in remembrance of the Lord on the first day of the week. Is there any other day better than the first day of the week? The first day of the week is the day our Lord rose from the dead. The first day of the week is also the day we meet our Lord. One thing we must do on the first day of the week is remember the Lord. This is the day that the Lord has chosen. The first thing we should do on the first day of the week is go to the Lord. The Lord’s Day is the first day of the week. Monday is the second day of the week. We need to meet the Lord on the first day of the week.
The breaking of bread signifies two things in the Bible: the remembrance of the Lord and the declaration of our fellowship with all the children of God. First, it is the declaration of our fellowship with God, our fellowship with the Lord, and second, it is the declaration of our fellowship with the Body, that is, our fellowship with the church. The bread represents the Lord as well as the church. The Lord’s Day is the best day for us to have fellowship with the Lord. It is also the best day for us to have fellowship with all the children of God. Although on earth we are limited by time and space from fellowshipping with every child of God and from shaking hands with all of them, every Lord’s Day every child of God puts his hand on this bread, regardless of where he is. Every child of God touches this bread. When we touch this bread, we have fellowship with all the children of God. We meet not only the Lord but also all our brothers and sisters. In the meeting we fellowship not only with the brothers and sisters who break bread together with us but also with all those who are touching this bread. On this day, thousands and millions of believers in the whole world are touching this bread. “We who are many are one Body; for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor. 10:17). We break the bread together, and we have fellowship in this bread.
As a new believer you must learn to remove all barriers between yourself and other children of God. You need to learn to love and to forgive right from the beginning. You cannot touch this bread if you do not learn to love and forgive. You should not hate any of the children of God. There should not be any barrier between you and them; none of God’s children should be excluded. Other than those who are removed because of problems in conduct (1 Cor. 5:11) or truth (2 John 7-11), no child of God should be excluded. All normal children of God need fellowship one with another. As we remember our Lord and touch Him, we touch all the people who belong to Him. The Lord loves us so much that He gave Himself for us. We cannot refrain from remembering Him, and we cannot refrain from loving those whom He loves. We cannot refrain from forgiving those whom He forgave, and we cannot refrain from remembering those whom He remembers. No other day is better than the first day of the week because this is the day which the Lord has made. This is the day of our Lord’s resurrection. On this day it is a most spontaneous thing for us to remember all those who have become the new creation together with us.
Third, 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 says, “Now concerning the collection for the saints, just as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also do. On the first day of the week each one of you should lay aside in store to himself whatever he may have been prospered, that no collections be made when I come.” Here we see the third thing to do on the first day of the week. Paul directed both the churches of Galatia and the church in Corinth to do the same thing. This clearly shows us that the first day of the week was a very special day during the apostles’ time. There was bread-breaking to remember the Lord, and there was the collection for the saints on the first day of the week. On the first day of every week, every one should offer to the Lord according to his income. This is a good practice. On the one hand, we have the bread-breaking, and on the other hand, there is the offering. On the one hand, we remember how the Lord gave Himself for us, and on the other hand, we also have to give to the Lord on this day. The more a person receives from the Lord, the more he should give. A thanksgiving offering in the form of material goods should be included in the thanksgiving and praise which we offer to Him (Heb. 13:16). This is well pleasing to God. Offering material goods to the Lord on His day is something that we should start practicing the moment we believe.
We should not drop our money mindlessly into the offering box. We should count, prepare, and wrap up our money in a godly way while we are still at home. Then when we come, we should put the money into the offering box. Paul shows us that material giving should be done consciously and regularly. On the first day of every week, we should lay aside according to our income and tell the Lord, “Lord, You have given to me richly. Lord, I bring to You what I have gained and offer it to You.” You have to fix the amount that you will set aside. If you have much, you should offer more. If you have less, you can offer less. The breaking of bread is a serious matter, and the offering of material goods is also a serious matter.
The Lord has purposely set aside one day out of the week and has called it the Lord’s Day. We hope that the brothers and sisters will enjoy the Lord’s grace abundantly and serve Him properly on this day. Our Lord’s Day is different from the Sabbath in the Old Testament. The Sabbath emphasized what one should not do. The Jews were angry at the Lord Jesus when He healed the sick and cast out demons on the Sabbath. However, the Lord’s Day is not for the rest of the body; neither is it the time for us to stop our work. The Lord’s Day and the Sabbath are basically two different matters. The concept of working or not working on the Lord’s Day does not exist for us. Whatever we do on other days, we can do on the Lord’s Day. Whatever we do not do on other days, we should not do on the Lord’s Day. The Bible does not tell us whether we can walk, shop, do this, or do that on the Lord’s Day. It does not tell us whether we should keep the Lord’s Day the same way men kept the Sabbath. But the Bible does tell us to exult and rejoice on the Lord’s Day; it tells us to come to the Lord in singleness of heart to receive grace from Him, to remember Him, to serve Him, and to consecrate ourselves to Him. We have to mark out the Lord’s Day as a special day in our life. At least the first day of the week is marked out for the Lord. This day is not our day; this day is the Lord’s day. This time is not ours; this time is the Lord’s. Our business is for the Lord. Our rest is also for the Lord. Whether or not we do this or that, we are for the Lord. There is no flavor of the Sabbath here. This is the day that we consecrate to the Lord. This is the meaning of the Lord’s Day.
John put it well when he said, “I was in spirit on the Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10). We hope many of us can say, “I was in spirit on the Lord’s Day.” We hope that this is the day that the church is in spirit and the day that we are blessed. We hope that new brothers and sisters will pay attention to the Lord’s Day from the very beginning. Consecrate the first day of the week to the Lord and say to Him, “This is Your day.” If we do this from our youth, we will be able to say after seventy years that we have given ten years fully to the Lord. This is a great blessing to the church. “O Lord! I consecrate all my time on this day to You. I come to break the bread with gladness and joy in remembrance of You. I bring all that I have before You and I consecrate it all to You.” If we do this, we will see God’s blessing being showered abundantly upon the church.
Appendix — ancient writings of the church concerning the Lord’s day
In The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (one of the first books of the church in addition to the Bible, written between approximately A.D. 75 and A.D. 90, the same era as the book of Revelation), it says, “But every Lord’s day do ye gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure” (Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979. Vol. VII, p. 381). This clearly shows us that believers met together on the Lord’s Day as early as the end of the first century.
The apostle John had a disciple called Ignatius who was born in A.D. 30 and martyred in A.D. 107. In A.D. 100 he wrote an epistle to the Magnesians. In chapter nine of this epistle, he stated clearly, “If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things [referring to those in Judaism] have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death…” (ibid., Vol. I, p. 62). This clearly shows us that the early church did not keep the Sabbath but kept the Lord’s Day instead.
In about A.D. 120, Barnabas (not the Barnabas in the Bible) wrote an epistle. In chapter fifteen there was a phrase, “Wherefore, also, we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead” (ibid., Vol. I, p. 147).
Another well-known church father was Justin Martyr. He was born in A.D. 100 and was martyred in A.D. 165. In A.D. 138, he wrote a book called The First Apology. In that book he said, “And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows, and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds, and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration” (ibid., Vol. I, p. 186). In another place he wrote, “We are circumcised from deceit and iniquity through Him who rose from the dead on the first day after the Sabbath, [namely through] our Lord Jesus Christ. For the first day after the Sabbath, remaining the first of all the days, is called, however, the eighth, according to the number of all the days of the cycle, and [yet] remains the first” (ibid., Vol. I, p. 215).
In A.D. 170, there was a church father in the church in Sardis named Mileto. In his writings is this sentence, “Today we have passed the Lord’s Resurrection day. During this time, we read many epistles” (source unknown).
There was a famous church father called Clement in the city of Alexandria in A.D. 194. He said, “Today, the seventh day, has become a day of work, which is also a common working day.” Following this, he said, “We should keep the Lord’s Day” (ibid., Vol. II, p. 545).
In A.D. 200, the church father Tertullian said, “On the Lord’s Day we are especially joyful. We keep this day which is the day of our Lord’s resurrection. There is no hindrance and no worry.” At that time, some had already criticized keeping the Lord’s Day as a worshipping of the sun. So Tertullian replied saying, “We rejoice on the Lord’s Day. We do not worship the sun. We are different from those who are lazy and feasting on Saturday” (ibid., Vol. III, p. 123).
Origen was another famous person among the church fathers. He was a famous theologian in Alexandria. He said, “To keep the Lord’s Day is a mark of a complete Christian” (ibid., Vol. IV, p. 647).
Some have said that the ancient believers kept the Sabbath, and that Constantine changed it to the keeping of the first day of the week in the fourth century. This is not according to the facts. Constantine did not change this day at all. He only recognized this practice; the church had been keeping the Lord’s Day for a long time already. Before A.D. 313 the Christians were persecuted. After A.D. 313 Constantine ruled over Rome and issued an edict in Milan to stop the persecution of Christians. In A.D. 321 Constantine issued a second edict in which he wrote, “On the Lord’s Day, officers and common people, those who live in the city, should rest and all work should be stopped” (Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979. Vol. I, pp. 644-5). Constantine did not mention the Sabbath at all in this edict. He only recognized the first day of the week as the church’s day.
We see from the above sources that the keeping of the Lord’s Day began from the time of the apostles and the church fathers. This has been the practice throughout the ages.