Chapter 17: ~ “Pray that your flight will not take place…”

 Part II

Obviously, how I finished the last chapter leads us to the other side of this whole question: the Biblical support, or lack of it, for the belief that God has changed the Sabbath from Saturday, the seventh day of the week, to Sunday, the first. (I realize that very many Sunday keeping Christians don’t believe that God has changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, but instead believe that He’s done away with the Sabbath and in its place chosen Sunday, not as a new Sabbath that we’re required to strictly observe in the way God’s people were required to observe it in the Old Testament, but simply as the day for His people to meet together and worship Him. To you I’ll re-word my statement slightly: now we’ll examine the Biblical support, or lack of it, for the belief that Sunday, the first day of the week, is now the day on which God’s people are to meet together and worship Him.) And because it’s become such a major stronghold of Sunday keeping, I want to do something else at the same time: consider “the Lord’s Day” along with it.

Before we start I’d like to ask what I think are some pretty basic, and at the same time hopefully thought provoking, questions: If you believe that the Lord’s Day is Sunday, why do you believe that? Off the top of your head, can you think of even one passage that supports that belief? And my last question: if you become convinced that there’s not a single passage in the Bible connecting the Lord’s Day with Sunday will that cause you some concern as to why it’s become such a universal belief that it is Sunday?

The obvious place to begin is: Is the term “the Lord’s Day” even in the Bible, and if so, where? That’s an easy one. It is in the Bible, but only once, in the book of Revelation:

“It was the Lord’s Day, and I was worshiping in the Spirit.”  {Revelation 1:10 NLT}

If you take the time to read the rest of the verse, and all the surrounding verses, you’ll find that there’s nothing in them that gives us any indication as to what particular day of the week John was referring to there, which means that if we want some kind of Biblical answer as to what day the Lord’s Day is we need to look somewhere else in the Bible to find it; which of course is what we’re going to do. We’ll begin by looking at a couple passages from the Old Testament, and then we’ll turn to the New. (I’m going to do something here that I usually try to stay away from doing—highlighting certain words.)

“You may work for six days each week, but on the seventh day all work must come to a complete stop. It is the LORD’s Sabbath day.”  {Leviticus 23:3 NLT}

“Keep the Sabbath day holy. Don’t pursue your own interests on that day, but enjoy the Sabbath and speak of it with delight as the LORD’s holy day.”  {Isaiah 58:13 NLT}

To me, in the light of just those two verses, it seems like it would be a bit difficult to deny that in Old Testament times the Sabbath was the Lord’s Day. But… even if one does deny that, I would still make the assertion that it would not only be difficult, but downright impossible to try to make the argument that in Old Testament times Sunday was the Lord’s Day.

Having tried to make that last point as forceful as possible, hopefully you agree with me that if God did indeed, at some point in time, establish Sunday as the Lord’s Day, He would have communicated that fact to His people? Let me go a step further: In the light of all that we’ve considered so far—not the least of which are those two passages we just looked at—don’t you think that if God has indeed made Sunday the Lord’s Day, He would not only have communicated that fact to His people, but He would have done it in so clear a manner that there would be no legitimate reason for confusion or uncertainty concerning it?

Having said that, let’s turn to the New Testament and see what we find. First off, except for a few translations that are more of a paraphrase, the word Sunday isn’t found in the New Testament. But the phrase, “the first day of the week” is. And it’s found a total of eight times: six times in the Gospels, once in the book of Acts, and once in 1 Corinthians. And since this is so important, and since that’s such a small number of passages, I want to eventually share all eight of them with you so that you’ll have seen with your own eyes everything the New Testament has to say about “the first day of the week.” I’ll begin by sharing five of the six that are found in the Gospels. (We’ll look at the sixth one separately.)

“After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.”  {Matthew 28:1 NIV}

“After the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb.”  {Mark 16:1, 2 NIV}

“When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene.”  {Mark 16:9 NIV}

“The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment. On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.”  {Luke 23:55, 56; 24:1 NIV}

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb.”  {John 20:1 NIV}

I’d like to point out a few things concerning those five passages.

#1—All five of those passages that speak of “the first day of the week” are referring to one specific first day of the week—the day of the resurrection—which means that none of the four gospel writers makes a single mention of the first day of the week outside of its connection with that one very special day.

#2—In all five of those passages the first day of the week is mentioned only in connection with the women going to the tomb. (In the Mark 16:9 passage Mary was at the tomb when Jesus appeared to her.)

#3—Not one of the those five passages says a single thing concerning the first day of the week now being special, or now being sacred, or now being the day on which God wants His people to worship Him.

#4—Not one of those five passages says a single thing concerning the first day of the week now being the Lord’s Day, or in any way connecting it to the Lord’s Day.

#5—If the apostle John, who wrote both the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation, was indeed speaking of the first day of the week when he used that term, “the Lord’s Day,” in the book of Revelation, why didn’t he use that term again when speaking of the first day of the week in his gospel?

Now I’ll share with you the remaining passage from the Gospels that speaks of the first day of the week; and since it’s one that’s often cited as proof that the apostolic church was now worshipping on Sunday instead of the Sabbath I want to spend a few minutes examining it:

“Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message. That evening, on the first day of the week, the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. As he spoke, he held out his hands for them to see, and he showed them his side. They were filled with joy when they saw their Lord!”  {John 20:18-20 NLT}

So, what exactly does that passage tell us about this particular first day of the week? Well, I would say that one of the first things a person can’t help but notice is that this particular first day of the week was the day of the resurrection, which means it was the very same first day of the week that Matthew, Mark, and Luke all wrote about. But they all wrote about it only in the sense that the women had to wait until the Sabbath day was over to go to the tomb. Luke even tells us, “they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.” So, were they observing two religious days? The second thing one can’t help but notice is that it’s not Sunday morning, but Sunday evening, when this supposed church meeting takes place. Then what do we read? “The disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders.” You’ll notice that it doesn’t say “the believers” were meeting, but “the disciples” were meeting—“behind locked doors because they were afraid.” So far, what in that passage would give someone the idea that this was some kind of church service? The last thing we read is that Jesus appears to them and reveals Himself as the resurrected Savior.

Let me stop here and add an extremely important piece of information to that last detail: We’re told at the beginning of the passage that “Mary found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Mark, speaking of the same incident tells us, “She went and found the disciples… but when she told them that Jesus was alive and she had seen him, they didn’t believe her.” (Mark 16:10, 11 NLT) Luke tells the same story of unbelief: “They (Mary and the other women who had gone to the tomb) told the apostles what had happened, but the story sounded like nonsense, so they didn’t believe it.” (Luke 24:10, 11 NLT) So both Mark and Luke inform us that the disciples “didn’t believe” that Jesus had risen. That’s why John in our above passage tells us that when Jesus appeared to the disciples “he held out his hands for them to see, and he showed them his side”—to prove to them that it was really Him. Then we read, “They were filled with joy when they saw their Lord!” They were filled with joy because they finally realized that what Mary had told them was true, Jesus had in fact risen from the dead.

Can you see that all that causes a huge dilemma? The main argument put forth as to why Christians now keep Sunday is that it’s the day that Jesus was resurrected. Yet the disciples at the time this meeting was taking place didn’t yet believe that Jesus had been resurrected. So how could they have been having their first Sunday church service in honor of the resurrection when they didn’t even believe in the resurrection? The fact of the matter is: there’s not a single thing in that passage that supports the idea that that was some sort of church gathering. And I have to say: I think it speaks volumes that this passage is used to support the teaching that the early church kept Sunday instead of the Sabbath. If there was any real Biblical support for Sunday keeping people wouldn’t have to manufacture examples like that one.

Before we leave the Gospels: Considering the importance of this subject— Sunday in some way taking the place of one of the Ten Commandments— don’t you think the fact that not one of the four gospel writers says a single word telling us that Sunday has now taken the place of the Sabbath, or that Sunday is now a sacred day, says something? And remember, not one of them says a single word connecting the Lord’s Day to Sunday.

So now in all the rest of the New Testament we have a total of two passages left that speak of the first day of the week: one in the book of Acts and the other in 1 Corinthians. I’ll look at the one in the book of Acts next, but before I do I’d like to give you a few things to think about: The book of Acts covers approximately thirty years of early church history, which means there were over fifteen hundred Sundays during that time span; yet in all those thirty years with their fifteen hundred Sundays we only read of one religious meeting ever taking place on that day. And what I think is even more significant is that there’s not a word in the account of this one particular incident telling us that Sunday has taken the place of the Sabbath, or that Sunday is now to be regarded sacred because it was the day on which Jesus was resurrected, nor anything else along those lines. Again, considering the position the Sabbath had held for hundreds and hundreds of years, and that it’s one of the Ten Commandments, doesn’t that seem a bit peculiar? One more thing: Do you know what else this passage doesn’t do? It doesn’t say a single word about the Lord’s Day.

Okay, let’s take a look at it and see what we find:

“We sailed from Philippi after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and five days later joined the others at Troas, where we stayed seven days. On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.”  {Acts 20:6, 7 NIV}

The passage goes on to tell us about the incident of the young man who fell out of the window, died, and then Paul—through the power of God— bringing him back to life. The passage then ends by telling us: “Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left.” (vs. 8-11 NIV)

The passage doesn’t explicitly say so, but I do believe that was some kind of religious gathering that took place on the first day of the week. But does that, in and of itself, prove that God’s people were now worshipping on Sunday instead of Saturday and that this was their church service? Well, not necessarily. Remember, many Christians today, including myself, meet for religious meetings on Wednesday, but does that prove that Wednesday is now a holy day and that it’s the day that we now meet for church? Obviously not. So, is there anything else in this passage that might shed some more light on this question? There is. First, we’re told in the passage that Paul had been with these people for seven days and that “he intended to leave the next day.” Now, before I say what I want to say about that, let me share with you what we’re told later in this same chapter in regard to Paul leaving another group of people:

“I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom of God will ever see me again… They all wept sore, and fell on Paul’s neck, and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again.”  {Acts 20:25, 37, 38 NIV, KJV}

Now, admittedly we’re not told what, if anything, Paul told that first group of believers in regard to if, or when, he’d be returning. But even if he didn’t say anything to them in regard to that, both he and they knew that at best it would probably be a long time till they saw him again. Combine that with the fact that both he and they knew that Paul was getting pretty up there in years, and the fact that Paul’s life was constantly in peril, and the fact that Paul was without question one of the greatest workers for God that ever walked the earth, and you can be certain that all of them, both Paul and those people, wanted to make the most of those few precious days they had together. Knowing all that, and considering all that, does it surprise you that they would meet together and that Paul would speak to them on that final day they had with each other—no matter what day of the week that final day might happen to fall on? In my opinion it would be extremely surprising if they hadn’t have met together on that last day. And in my opinion: that factor, combined with the fact that in all the New Testament this is the only record we have of any kind of religious meeting ever taking place on Sunday, as well as the fact that the passage itself doesn’t say a single word about Sunday in any way taking the place of the Sabbath, or now being in any way sacred, takes away considerably from the argument that that meeting they held on that “first day of the week” is proof that Sunday is now the day God has set aside for His people to worship Him. Point #2 concerning that first day of the week meeting: We’re not only told that Paul “continued his speech until midnight,” but that they didn’t “break bread” until after midnight. Now either that was one mighty long church service, or that meeting didn’t begin until sometime in the evening, which means it would more fit the mold of Wednesday night prayer meeting than it does Sunday church service. Another thought in connection with that: Why is it that Wednesday night prayer meeting is held in the evening instead of in the morning? That’s right, because Wednesday being a typical working day most people couldn’t attend if it were held in the morning. I think the same thing needs to be considered in this case, because the fact is, there’s not a single thing in the New Testament telling us that Sunday was anything other than an ordinary working day.

This brings us down to our final passage:

“Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.”  {1 Corinthians 16:1, 2 NIV}

So, what does this passage tell us about the first day of the week? Before I say what it tells us, I have to say: the more I consider the passage, the more I realize that it really doesn’t tell us a whole lot. But what it does tell us is that on the first day of the week “each one of them” were to “set aside a sum of money,” and that they we’re to “save it up,” “so that when Paul came no collections would have to be made.” The big question obviously would have to be: Does that sound like something they would do at church or do at home? Maybe I’m biased, but in my mind that sounds like something they would have done at home. The passage doesn’t say that they were to “set aside a sum of money” as a group, or as a church, but that “each one of them” were to set aside a sum of money. Since, as I said, the passage really doesn’t tell us a whole lot more than that, I’ll stop there.

Having said what I’ve said about the passage, I would once again make  the same assertion I made concerning all those other “first day” passages in the New Testament: There’s not one word in that passage saying that Sunday was now some kind of holy day, or that they were now attending church on the first day of the week instead of the seventh. There’s not one word in it informing us that Sunday has now in any way replaced the Sabbath. And there’s not a single word in it about the Lord’s Day.

Since we’ve now looked at every single passage in the New Testament that speaks of “the first day of the week,” let me review what we’ve seen and then bring this to a close.

First, a few simple facts:

#1—None of the four Gospel writers says a single word even hinting that Sunday is now the day God has set aside for His people to worship Him.

#2—In thirty years of recorded church history we read of only one religious meeting ever being held on a Sunday, with the writer informing us that Paul was going to be leaving them on the following day.

#3—There’s not a single verse in all the New Testament that tells us that God’s people were now keeping Sunday holy, or that it was now the day of worship. (Remember: that’s no small thing since keeping Sunday holy would not only be taking the place of one of the Ten Commandments, but changing something very important they had done every single week of their lives.)

#4—In the light of all that we saw in the last chapter concerning how clearly the New Testament informs us that Christians no longer need to practice circumcision, can you really believe that God abolished one of the Ten Commandments and in its place established Sunday as the day for His people to meet together and worship Him, yet nowhere does He inform us of that?

#5—There’s not a single verse in all the New Testament that in any way connects “the Lord’s Day” with Sunday.

In regard to that last point, I’d like to remind you of the question I asked at the beginning of the chapter: If you become convinced that there’s nothing in the Bible connecting the Lord’s Day to Sunday will that cause you some concern as to why it’s become such a universal belief that it is Sunday? And before you answer that: because I think it’s so important, and because I’m fairly certain that the majority of you had never encountered those two passages before, I’d like to share them with you once again:

“You may work for six days each week, but on the seventh day all work must come to a complete stop. It is the Lord’s Sabbath day.”  {Leviticus 23:3 NLT}

“Keep the Sabbath day holy. Don’t pursue your own interests on that day, but enjoy the Sabbath and speak of it with delight as the Lord’s holy day.”  {Isaiah 58:13 NLT}

Now, as a preparation for the last thing I want to say, I’d like to once again share with you those verses that I said were two of the most important in all the Bible:

“Then as the LORD finished speaking with Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, written by the finger of God… These stone tablets were God’s work; the words on them were written by God himself.”  {Exodus 31:18; 32:16 NLT}

In the course of my life I have many times seen Christians acknowledge that the points I’ve tried to make in these last two chapters are indeed correct and Biblical. Unfortunately, at the same time I’ve also seen that for some reason the vast majority of those same Christians couldn’t see either the importance or the necessity of conforming their religious practices accordingly. Having said that, do you remember the context in which I originally quoted those last two verses? It was in relation to the question I had asked as to who decides what’s important and what’s not important; and that it’s God, not us, who decides that.

With that thought in mind, I now ask you to turn with me to our next chapter.