The Lord’s Day

by Mark Swarbrick

What is the Lord’s Day?

In Revelation 1:10 the Apostle John wrote, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day..” What day was this? John does not elaborate so we must closely analyze Scripture and study Church history to find out.

John 20:1 tells us that Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week of the Jewish Calendar. That is the day we call Sunday. Here is what Scripture records.

“Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.” 

Sunday was also the first day that Jesus appeared, appearing first to Mary Magdalene, saying to her  “Woman, why are you weeping? (Verse 15)

The Resurrection of Christ is the most notable and important event of Christianity. That occurrence was proof of Jesus’ divinity. It established the veracity of all His claims. It is through faith in the resurrection that we are born again and have new life. Belief in that event is necessary for salvation. (Romans 10:9) Resurrection Day was on a Sunday. Could the early disciples have recognized this day as special? Did they call that day the Lord’s Day?

From the Law to the Resurrection

Archeologists have discovered that Jewish houses of worship in Jerusalem in the first century were always constructed with the front of the gathering area, what we might call the chancel, facing the temple in Jerusalem. This was to signify the Jewish reverence for the Mosaic Law.

An interesting and significant difference was that first century Christian houses of worship in Jerusalem were constructed with the chancel not facing the temple, but facing the location of the empty tomb of Jesus. The difference is significant. The Jews who came to Christ understood that their emphasis was not to be upon the law, but upon the risen Savior.

It was not only the location of the resurrection that became important to early Christians, but the day it happened on became significant. We see in Scripture that Jesus  rose on Sunday, but also He appeared to his disciples on Sunday. His first appearance was on resurrection Sunday, but his next appearance came a week later, on Sunday again. Here is the first appearance of the Lord, on the evening of Resurrection Day (Sunday)”

The Lord Appears and is Worshipped on Two Sundays

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”  (John 20:19)

Then the Lord appears again the following Sunday:

“A week later[1] his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

Thus, Sunday became significant to early Christians for several reasons: One, it was Resurrection Day, and two, the Lord first appeared to people on Sunday, not once, but twice. The Lord appearing two weeks in a row on Sunday was noted by the disciples.

By time that John wrote Revelation around 90 AD, the Christian practice of gathering to worship on Sunday had been so well established that it became known as “The Lord’s Day. This is well documented in early church writings, as we shall see. In spite of this wide-spread tendency to worship on Sunday, not once did any of the apostles ever write against it or command Saturday observance. If observing Sunday as a holy day was the mark of the beast, as the Seventh Day Adventist prophetess maintained, then why did Jesus rise on that day and repeatedly appear on that day? Thomas worshipfully declared on Sunday to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” Why don’t Adventists say that Thomas took on the mark of the beast for worshipping Jesus on Sunday?

The Biblical Record of Sunday Worship

Pentecost Sunday

The day of Pentecost falls on the first day of the week, Sunday. God chose Sunday to give the Holy Spirit to the Church. In Acts 2:1- 4 we read,

“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”

This attracted a crowd. Peter preached a powerful sermon and three thousand people got saved. This was the church service of all church services, and it happened on Sunday.

Paul Holds a Service on Sunday

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. (Acts 20:7)

This plainly says that the believers gathered to break bread (have communion) on the first day of the week, Sunday. This was a communion service. 1 Co 10:16 says, “The bread which we break, is it not the Communion of the Body of Christ?”  So this was clearly a church service, along with communion and a sermon by the Apostle Paul. And it happened on Sunday! If Adventists were consistent with their theory of the mark, then they should hold that the Apostle Paul had the mark of the beast for worshipping on Sunday. Of course, they know that won’t fly, so they ignore this text.

Adventists try to get around the difficulty of this passage by claiming they gathered on Saturday and then at sundown the day changed to Sunday, by Jewish reckoning. There are four problems with this attempted evasion of biblical truth. First of all, the text plainly says they gathered on the first day of the week. It doesn’t say they gathered on Saturday and then it became Sunday, it says they gathered on the first day, Sunday.

Secondly, if having church on Sunday was so wicked, as Adventists maintain, and if they had really gathered on Saturday (even though the text says they didn’t) then surely Paul would have stopped his preaching before sundown on Saturday, for at sundown it would be Sunday, and according to Ellen G White, if you worship on Sunday, you have the mark of the beast. But Paul didn’t stop. He preached until midnight.

Third, they are not in Israel. They are in Troas. I’ve been there. It is far from Israel, being located in present day Turkey. It was a Roman trade city populated mostly by gentiles. They would not have been reckoning days from sunset to sunset as the Jews did.

Four, the writers of Scripture did not speak of an evening as the next day. Although the Jews observed the Sabbath from sundown to sundown, they did not speak of days in that terminology. Here are some examples which prove this.

“When therefore it was evening on that day, the first day of the week…” (John 20 :19)

This verse, which the context says is Resurrection Sunday, clearly tells us that the day in question is the first day of the week,  It also plainly says it is evening and refers to the evening as part of that day. Now if what the Sabbatarians say is true – that the day changes at sunset – then why doesn’t John call it “the second day of the week?”

Here is another example:

“Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark…”

So the sun had not risen yet. Technically speaking this was still the period during which the Jews observed as the Sabbath. But notice that John does not call it the seventh day. He calls it the first day of the week.

This is conclusive, irrefutable proof that the Jews spoke of the evening after a day as the same day, or the evening of that day. Likewise if it was still early, just before dawn, they spoke of it as the day that was dawning, not the previous day, just as we do now. This establishes plainly that the writers did not speak of “evening” as the following day, as Adventists try to say about Acts 20:7. Thus, Acts 20:7 is another scriptural precedent for Christians coming together on Sunday, the first day of the week.

So are we have seen that Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday, repeatedly appeared to his disciples on Sunday, God sent the Holy Spirit and began the Church on Sunday, and finally, we have seen that the Apostle Paul held a church service on Sunday.

Collection Sunday

“On the first day of the week let each one of you put aside and save as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come.”  (1Co 16:2)

Here we have an account of a collection being taken up and set aside on Sunday. Since the Gentiles came together on Sunday to honor Christ, Paul gave them instructions for offering collections for the poor in Jerusalem, to be taken up on Sundays. This policy among Christians followed that of the Jews, who brought their alms to the synagogue on the Sabbath day.

This passage does not refer to a collection at home, but refers to a collection at church on Sunday. Paul wrote that he desired that “no collection be made when I come.” But a laying aside at home would then require a collection when Paul came. He did not want that.  Why would Paul specify a certain day to lay aside money at home? They would all have to do that at various times, depending upon when each of them got paid. He wanted this money set aside at every Sunday service. Paul appointed the first day of the week for a collection because the Christian Church during the time of the apostles observed Sunday to come together for worship.

Adventist Excuses

A theory set forth by the Sabbatarians is that the collection was fruit, and not money. This is totally ridiculous, as we shall see. In an attempt to prove Paul was talking about fruit, they appeal to Romans 15:28, which says:

“Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain.”

It is precisely this type of farfetched interpretation and poor scholarship which makes the Sabbatarians entire position so flimsy and untenable. How someone could actually convince themselves that this verse implies the collection in 1 Corinthians 16:2 was actually literal fruit is quite a stretch.

It is obvious that Paul did not mean the gift was literal fruit. He was speaking metaphorically, using a figure of speech. The reference to fruit is a metonym. Paul calls their gift of money “fruit” because the gift of money shows that the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22, love and kindness) was present in their lives and evidenced by this gift. Thus, Paul says that the gift of money is fruit because the collection grew out of their love for others. The idea that the gift was actual fruit is indefensible, for several reasons:

  1. Not every Christian owned an orchard, therefore all the Christians would not have been able to partake in -the giving.
  2. The fruit would have spoiled quickly – notice the time factor:
    A. It had to be picked and stored.
    B. Paul had to journey hundreds of miles to put his seal on it.
    C. It had to be transported over 1,000 miles to Jerusalem.
    D. After being delivered to Jerusalem, it would have to be stored until consumed.
  3. Poor people need much more than just fruit for their daily needs.
  4. If they truly did have an overabundance of fruit (which they didn’t), it would have been wiser to sell the fruit locally and send the money to the saints in Jerusalem, and thus save shipping expense across the Mediterranean sea.
  5. The fact that Paul desires to put his “seal” on the gift, that more than one person is sent to carry the gift (1 Corinthians 16:3), that written communication is sent with the gift, all of these facts point to one thing – the gift was money. Paul wanted, along with others, to count the money, record the amount, and wisely entrust the large sum to no less than two people. Paul wanted to make sure that no dissentions would arise from false accusations of embezzlement. This would have been in accord with Paul’s own words in 2 Corinthians 8:20, “Taking precaution that no one should discredit us in our administration of this generous gift.”

Why Adventists go to such length to prove it was fruit and not money is a puzzle, for it makes no difference. It doesn’t change the fact that the collection was made on Sunday, regardless of whether it was fruit or money. The bottom line is that this is one more passage of Scripture referring to gentile Christians gathering for service on Sunday.

The Lord’s Day

The next reference to the first day is found in Revelation 1:10.

“I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet…” (Revelation 1:10)

Yes, I know, this passage doesn’t say directly what day was the Lord’s Day. So when was the Lord’s Day? Which day was that? There is no other reference in Scripture to tell us. The fact that Scripture shows us that God had blessed Sunday by making it Resurrection Day and also the birthday of the Church, when the Holy Spirit was given is telling. So also does Peter and Paul holding church services on Sunday. That alone is enough to cause us to suspect strongly that the Lord’s Day that John speaks of is Sunday. But we have even more proof than that. But first, let’s establish what the Lord’s Day is not.

Adventist claim that Lord’s Day spoken of in Revelatoin should be translated as “Day of the Lord.” The phrase, “Day of the Lord” appears no less than thirty-one times in Scripture. It refers to the coming Great Tribulation that Jesus and the prophets warned shall come at the end of the age. Not one time does Scripture refer to the Day of the Lord as  “the Lord’s Day.” Thus there is no precedent for the Sabbatarian’s assertion that this phrase in Rev 1:10 refers to the Tribulation.

In Revelation, the Tribulation does not begin until chapter four, verse one, where it is recorded, “After these things I looked, and behold a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice said, ‘come up here, and I will show you what. must take place after these things.’ (after the church age) Immediately I was in the spirit, and behold…” (parenthesis mine).

It is then that John beheld the Day of the Lord or the Tribulation. Before chapter four, John is in the here and now, just as he says in verse 9 and 10 of chapter one: “I…was on the island called Patmos…on the Lord’s Day.” If John meant to say that he was actually transported ahead into time to the Day of the Lord he would have then immediately described those things which occur in chapter four and thereafter. The fact that he first beholds Jesus, who dictates seven letters to seven actual churches in existence during John’s time, is conclusive proof that John was still in the present, mentally and physically. When the terminology, language, and style of Rev 1:9-10 is compared to that of Rev 4:1 it is easily apparent that the events of Chapter one happened on the island called Patmos, in John’s time, and the events of chapter four refer to future events in heaven and on earth during the Tribulation.

To interpret the Lord’s Day as a reference to the Day of the Lord is to ignore the plain sense of the grammatical structure of the sentence. John simply says that on a particular day, which he calls the Lord’s Day, he was in deep prayer. John was referring to a specific day of the week.

When the preceding argument of the Sabbatarians has failed, they have a backup ready. When forced to concede that the Lord’s Day refers to a day of the week, they claim that the Sabbath (Saturday) is the Lord’s Day. They use Mark 2:27-28:

“And he was saying to them, the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath. consequently, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Actually, this verse in no way supports their contention that the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday) is the Lord’s day. Jesus was not making a possessive statement about the Sabbath. He was not saying that the Sabbath was His day, but that He was Lord over it, since the institution of the Sabbath principle was for man, not man for the Sabbath.

Therefore, Jesus could do as He wished on the Sabbath. He was Lord over  the Sabbath, the Sabbath was not Lord over Him, or any man for that matter. The Bible says that we have been given the right to become sons of God (John 1:12). If the Son of Man is Lord over the Sabbath, so are the sons of God. Jesus’ rebuttal of the legalistic Jews was not based upon the fact that since He was God He could do as He pleased. It was based upon the principle that man is lord over the Sabbath, therefore man is not restricted by the Sabbath.

So, what really was the Lord’s Day? The Lord’s Day was that special day wherein He defeated death and the devil by rising from the dead: Sunday. How do we know this? We know it from church history. We have already seen that the apostles had no problem with Christians gathering and having service on Sunday. We have also noted that not once do the New Testament writers tell us to be sure to observe Saturday as the Sabbath. Now let us look at what church history tells us about the Lord’s Day.

The Lord’s Day in History

We shall now see that history has firmly established that the term “Lord’s Day” in apostolic times referred to Sunday. We have many authentic documents from apostolic times, from which I shall quote.

Some of these manuscripts predate the oldest manuscripts of the Greek New Testament. No reputable scholar discounts their historical authenticity. We shall now see what the early church writers had to say about the Lord’s Day, the Sabbath, and Sunday. Thus, it shall be proven once and for all that the Catholic Church, sun worshipers, or Constantine had no part in supposedly “changing the Sabbath” as Adventists claim. The following excerpts are not inspired writings like the Bible, but they do tell us what early Christians believed.

IGNATIUS:

Ignatius lived at the time of the apostles, 30 to 107 AD. Ignatius, like Polycarp, was a disciple of the Apostle John and therefore one who would know apostolic tradition and practice among the early Christians concerning the Sabbath.

Bear in mind as you read these words that Ignatius was a Christian who studied at the feet of John and received his instruction directly from the apostle. He writes:

“And after the observance of the Sabbath that the Jews kept, let every friend of Christ keep the Lord’s Day as a festival, the resurrection day, the queen and chief of all days of the week on which our life sprang up again, and victory over death was obtained in Christ…it is absurd to speak of Jesus Christ with the tongue, and to cherish in the mind a Judaism which has come to an end.”

“If then, those who walk in the ancient practices attain to newness of hope, no longer observing the sabbath, but fashioning their lives after the Lord’s Day on which our life also arose through him, that we may be found disciples of Jesus Christ, our only teacher.”

So here we have a contemporary of the apostles, a believer mentored by the Apostle John,  saying that the phrase “The Lord’s Day” does not refer to the Jewish Sabbath, but is the same day that Christ rose, which we know from Scripture is the first day of the week, Sunday. We could stop right here, for this demolishes Sabbath keeping. But there is more.

THE TEACHING OF THE TWELVE APOSTLES

This manuscript was written about 80 AD. In it we read:

“But every Lord’s Day, Sunday, do ye gather yourselves together, and break bread and give thanksgiving.”

THE TEACHING OF THE APOSTLES

This manuscript was written in 105 AD. In it we read:

“The apostles therefore appointed…on the first day of the week let there be service and reading of the holy scriptures, and the oblation, the Lord’s Supper, because on the first day of the week our Lord arose upon the world, and ascended to heaven.”

JUSTIN MARTYR

His manuscript was written in 110 AD. In it we read:

“And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together in one place, and the memoirs of the apostles are read…but Sunday is the day on which we 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 fr0m the dead.”

“The gentiles who have believed in him, and who have repented of their sins…shall receive the inheritance along with the patriarchs…even although they neither keep the Sabbath, nor are circumcised, nor observe the feasts…Christ is useless to those who observe the law…the Sabbath and sacrifices and offerings and feasts have come to an end in him who was born of a virgin…but if some, through weak-mindedness, wish to observe such institutions as were given to Moses…along with their hope in Christ…they shall probably be saved.”

TERTULLIAN

Written about 145 AD

“Christians have a festive day every eighth day…others suppose that the sun is the god of the Christians…because we make Sunday a day of festivity…you who reproach us with the sun and Sunday should consider your own proximity to us. We are not far off from your Saturn and your days of rest…it follows accordingly that the old law is demonstrated as having been consummated…so also the observance of the Sabbath is demonstrated to have been temporary.”

THE CONSTITUTION OF THE HOLY APOSTLES

Written in the 2nd century

Break your fast…the first day of the week, which is the Lord’s Day…after eight days…let there be another feast observed with honor, the eighth day itself.”

IRENAEUS

Written 178 AD

“The mystery of the Lord’s resurrection may not be celebrated on any other day than the Lord’s Day and on this alone should we observe the breaking of the paschal feast…Pentecost fell on the first day of the week and was therefore associated with the Lord’s day.”

CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA

Written about 174 AD

“The old seventh day has become nothing more than a working day.”

THEOPHILUS, PASTOR OF ANTIOCH

Written around 162 AD

“Both custom and reason challenge us that we should honor the Lord’s Day, seeing on that day it was that our Lord completed His resurrection from the dead.”

 ORIGEN

Written around 200 AD

“John the Baptist was born to make ready a people for the lord, a people for him at the end of the covenant now grown old, which is the end of the Sabbath…it is one of the marks of a perfect Christian to keep the Lord’s Day .”

VICTORIANUS

Written approximately 300 AD

“On the Lord’s Day we go forth to our bread and giving of thanks, lest we should appear to observe any Sabbath with the Jews, which Christ himself, the Lord of the Sabbath, in his body abolished. “

EUSEBIUS

3rd and 4th Century

Eusebius is known as the father of Church history. He made a history of the church from the time between the birth of Christ and Constantine. He lived 265 to 340 AD.

“From the beginning Christians assembled on the first day of the week, called by them the Lord’s Day, for the purpose of religious worship, to read the scriptures, to preach and to celebrate the Lord’s Supper…the first day of the week on which the Savior obtained the victory over death…therefore, it has the pre-eminence, first in rank, and is more honorable than the Jewish Sabbath.”

Therefore we can conclude with reasonable confidence, that when John was in the spirit on the Lord’s Day, it was a Sunday.

Conclusion

In these writings we have conclusive and overwhelming proof that the Lord’s Day of Rev 1:10 was the first day of the week. We also see that the Church, from the time of the apostles, kept the first day. Sunday observance was not instituted in 321 AD for the purpose of sun worship. As we have seen, Sunday observance was in honor of the Lord’s resurrection, and was appointed and sanctioned by the apostles. Constantine was a Roman emperor under whose administration Christians received favored treatment. He further honored them by declaring Sunday a legal holiday so that Christians who worked for unsaved employers would not be hindered in their church going.

Constantine himself became a Christian and was baptized shortly before he died. The Sabbatarians contend that Sunday observance came about because of pagan influence. All such talk is purely fabrication. It has no basis in history. We should base our beliefs on historical facts, not fanciful myths.

We have just recounted some of the historical sources which prove that Sunday observance is a true apostolic tradition. Any teaching which willfully ignores such clear and authentic historical facts should not be considered worthy of an audience.  The objection may be made: “But these are not scriptures and you are using an extra-biblical source.” To that I say, it is true that some of my facts come from church history, but much comes from Scripture itself. Furthermore, if these quotes of the Church fathers aren’t allowable, then neither is a Jewish calendar, and certainly not the writings of Ellen G White. If anyone wants to discount everything that is not Scripture, so much the better. Try to prove Saturday observance from the Scripture alone without an outside source – it can’t be done!

All reputable scholars and historians accept the foregoing as historical fact. Those who refuse to are making themselves oblivious to the truth. Rather than depart from their own opinions they cling to the doctrines of men instead of embracing historical truth and knowledge. History does not tell us that sun worshipers began Christian Sunday observance, conquered the Church, and kept it in chains of darkness for nearly 2000 years. That is nothing but heresy cooked up in the mind of Ellen G White, the prophetess of Adventism.

The Encyclopedia Britannica under “Sabbath” and “Sunday” says this:

“In the early Christian church Jewish Christians continued to keep the Sabbath, like other points of the law. on the other hand, Paul from the first days of gentile Christianity, laid it down definitely that the Jewish Sabbath was not binding on Christians, controversy with Judaizes led in process of time to direct condemnation of those who still kept the Jewish day. In 321 AD Constantine affirmed that the Christian sabbath was Sunday, the rest day for the Roman Empire, but it was observed by Christians for nearly 300 years before it became a law by Constantine.”

Thus we see, Constantine did not “change the Sabbath” as Adventists insist. All Constantine did was make it so that employers could not force their employees to work on the Lord’s Day. Sunday was the Christian sabbath from the beginning of Christianity, when Christ rose from the dead on that day, appeared on that day, and sent the Holy Spirit on that day, causing the apostles and the gentile Church to observe it as the Lord’s Day.

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Footnotes

[1] Some versions say “eight days later.” This was a known Jesus idiom for “a week.” Jews counted from the day it was, whereas today we count from the next day

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