From Sabbath to Lord’s Day: Part III~The Sabbath in the New Testament


As we saw earlier, the Old Testament Sabbath was a sign. We saw that many of the Old Testaments signs were transformed in the New Testament. Is this the case with Sabbath? Or does the New Testament teach that we are to celebrate the Sabbath exactly as it is in the Old Covenant? We will look at two passages to help us understand this, Hebrews 4 and Colossians 2:16.

             In Hebrews 4 the author is comparing the present generation of Christians with the generation that refused to enter the Promise land. Throughout the passage, we are told to not be like the Israelites who did not believe and did not obey (See 3:19 and 4:6).  Instead we are to exercise our faith and enter into the promised rest. The word for “rest” in Hebrews 4:9 is sabbitismos, which means “keeping the Sabbath.”  4:9 can be translated, “There is still a Sabbath-keeping for the people of God.” At first glance, this might appear to be a good case for the continuation of the Sabbath in the New Covenant. However, this passage has nothing to do with worshiping on a specific day or keeping the Old Testament Sabbath regulations. It has to do with faith in Christ. We are told to enter “his rest.” (4:1). Who are the ones who enter the rest? Those who have believed. (4:3) What day is the day to enter God’s rest?  Today. (4:6-7) What happens to those who enter that rest?  They come boldly to the throne of grace. (4:11-16) So here we have the Old Testament Sabbath fulfilled in those who believe upon Christ, rest from their works and obey his commands.  This passage does not teach that we should continue observing the Old Testament Sabbath. In fact, it points us to the reality that the Sabbath was but a shadow of, Jesus Christ.

            Colossians 2:16-17 also shows that the Old Testament Sabbath has been transformed by Christ.  Here are those verses: “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.”
            The phrase, “festival, new moon or Sabbaths” was a common way of referring to the various Jewish holy days. The exact same phrase is used in Ezekiel 45:17 and Hosea 2:11.  They go in descending order from yearly celebrations (festivals) to monthly celebrations (new moon) to weekly celebrations (Sabbaths).  
            Paul says two important things about these holy days. First, no one should be judged as to whether they keep or observe these days. Observance of these holy days is no longer required.  Second, these days belong to the shadow, the Old Covenant ways, which have been fulfilled in Christ.  The shadows are gone. The reality is here.  That is why we no longer celebrate the feast days from the Old Testament. These days can teach us about Christ and his work. But they have been transformed by Christ. Our feast days, Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Pentecost and Ascension Day revolve around Christ and his work and are not mandatory.  There are obvious parallels with the Old Testament feasts, but we do not celebrate the shadows. We celebrate the reality. 

            Both Hebrews 4 and Colossians 2:16-17 teach that the Old Testament Sabbath has been fulfilled and transformed with coming of Christ.  So from the teaching in the Old Testament and the New Testament we see that the Sabbath was a sign. Like other signs, the outward form (Saturday) was done away with, but the central meaning of rest was not lost.
Lack of Sabbath Observance in the New Testament
            I wanted to add one more point.  This point by itself is not strong.  But when combined with the previous sections it provides additional weight to the idea that the Old Covenant Sabbath has been transformed.

            Despite the great theological weight the Old Testament places on the Sabbath, observance of the Old Testament Sabbath is insignificant for Christians in the New Testament. Following the resurrection of Christ, there is no reference to Christians observing the Sabbath. There are no commands to keep the Sabbath. Paul has numerous lists of sins (See Ephesians 4:17-32, I Timothy 1:8-11, II Timothy 3:1-5).  Sabbath breaking is never mentioned. The Sabbath simply evaporates from the Christian record, except as a day to evangelize the Jews. (See Acts 13:14, 16:13 and 18:4) It is hard to explain this other than that the New Testament Christians knew that the Resurrection of Christ changed the day of worship. 

From Sabbath to Lord’s Day: Part II-Three Reasons from the Old Testament for the Transition

The Sabbath holds a crucial position in Old Testament theology. In Exodus 20:11, God tells Israel to observe the Sabbath because He rested on the seventh day. The Sabbath is rooted in creation.  In Deuteronomy 5:15, God tells Israel to observe the Sabbath because He brought them out of Egypt.  The Sabbath is rooted in redemption.  The Sabbath is called a perpetual sign to Israel in Exodus 31:13-17 and Ezekiel 20:12. Israel is exhorted throughout her history to keep the Sabbath properly. (See Exodus 35:2-3, Amos 8:5, Nehemiah 13:15-22) Even in Isaiah’s section on the New Covenant, which runs from chapters 40-66, there are sections exhorting God’s people to keep the Sabbath. (Isaiah 56:2, 8 and 58:13-14)  All of these passages seem to indicate that the Sabbath will continue on forever. So why has the Church rejected the Saturday Sabbath in favor of a Sunday Lord’s Day? Has the Church left God’s Word or was there a good reason to change the day? Did the prophets see a day when the Sabbath would be changed? The answer to that is found in that the Sabbath is a sign, the promise of a new exodus, and the promise of a new creation.  Let’s look at these three reasons for the transition from Sabbath to Lord’s Day.
Sabbath as a Sign
            First, the Sabbath is a sign. (Again see Exodus 31:13-17 and Ezekiel 20:12) It is fundamentally different from the other nine commandments. The other nine commandments are not called signs.  To change these commandments would be to violate the law of God in a fundamental way.  For example, if we decided that it was okay to worship idols or murder this would not be a transformation of the command. It would be a doing away of the command. This is not the case with a sign. The outward form a sign takes can change without losing its fundamental meaning.  Much of the Old Testament law was signs.  Only eating certain types of food and not wearing clothing of different material were all part of this Old Testament law. These signs were set up by God to illustrate his character and tell his people who they are and how they are to live, but the form the signs take is not so intrinsic to God’s character that they cannot change. The forms these signs take are done away with in the New Testament. (See Acts 10) However, the meaning of the signs, do not be like the nations, is not done away with. (I Corinthians 5:13)
            We know from the New Testament that most of the Old Testament signs are transformed in the New Testament. The clearest of these is circumcision, which has been transformed into the New Covenant sign of baptism. (I Corinthians 7:9, Colossians 2:11-15). It is worth noting that circumcision was called an everlasting sign in Genesis 17:13. We know this does not mean that the outward form of the sign lasted forever.  We also have the Passover transformed into the Lord’s Supper. (I Corinthians 5:7-8)   The temple and priesthood are not destroyed in the New Testament, but transformed.  (I Corinthians 3:16, I Corinthians 6:19, Ephesians 2:21) The same goes for sacrifices. (Romans 12:1, Philippians 4:18, Hebrews 13:15)  In other words, the New Testament teaches that most of the signs from the Old Covenant age have been transformed in the New Covenant because in the New Covenant the reality has arrived.
            However, the meaning of the sign was not lost, just the outward form it took.  For example, the Passover was originally about the lamb killed to protect Israel from the Angel of Death in Exodus 12.  We no longer put blood on our doorposts or eat bitter herbs.  But the point is still the same. We need the blood of the Lamb to deliver us from the wrath of God. This blood is now represented in the wine and bread given at Communion. It is the same way with other signs as well.
            In the New Testament Jesus is the one who completely fulfills each sign. His baptism was the true baptism. He is the true temple. He is the Passover. He is the priest who intercedes for us. His body was the true sacrifice.  He is the true Sabbath rest. (Matthew 11:28-30 and Hebrews 4)
            Therefore it should not surprise us that the Sabbath as a sign has been transformed in the New Testament.    
The Promise of a Coming New Exodus
            Second, the prophets taught that with coming of the Messiah there would be a new exodus so great that the old exodus would be forgotten. This is important because the Sabbath was to commemorate the exodus out of Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:15). Isaiah predicts this new exodus in 43:14-21 (see especially verses 16-17) and in 51:10-11. There are other passages in Isaiah that allude to the exodus event (See 63:11-12). Isaiah chapters 40-66 point forward to the ministry of Jesus Christ. From Isaiah 40:3,which is quoted in Matthew 3:3 to Isaiah 66:24, which is quoted in Mark 9:44-48, the New Testament authors take great pains to show that Isaiah’s prophecies were fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  When Jesus came the last great exodus out of Egypt began. Jeremiah is as emphatic about this coming redemption as Isaiah. God promises in Jeremiah 16:14-15 this new exodus will be so great that the old exodus will be forgotten. Isaiah gives a similar promise in 43:18-19, which is right after the verse about the new exodus.  A similar promise is found in Jeremiah 3:16 where God says even the Ark of the Covenant will be forgotten. With the coming of the Messiah, the entire old covenant would be transformed. The transformation would be so great that the greatest events and articles, such as the exodus and the Ark of the Covenant, would be shadowy memories eclipsed by the greater reality.
            What does this have to do with the Sabbath?  If the Old Testament Sabbath pointed back to the redemption out of Egypt, why wouldn’t the New Testament Sabbath point back to our redemption out of sin?  It seems both biblical and logical that this new day should correspond with the resurrection day when all our enemies were overcome.
The Promise of a Coming New Creation
            Third, and finally we have the promise in the prophets that with the coming of the Messiah there would be a new creation.   Isaiah promises this in 65:17-18 and in 66:22.  Isaiah uses very similar language in Isaiah 51:16.  While we know that these promises are ultimately fulfilled in eternity, they began with Christ’s coming. He began to recreate the fallen world with his life, death and resurrection.  Like a seed planted the Kingdom began to grow when Christ came. (Mark 4:26-29) Therefore those who belong to Christ are part of this new creation. (II Corinthians 5:17)

            Again, what does this have to do with the Sabbath?  If the Old Covenant Sabbath was linked to the creation of the world, why shouldn’t the New Covenant Lord’s Day be linked to the day the world began to be remade, the resurrection of Christ.

From Sabbath to Lord’s Day: Part I~Jesus Rose on Sunday

I often get the question, “Why do we worship on Sunday instead of Saturday?” Given the high view of the Sabbath in the Old Testament, one can see why people worry. The Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments. You were punished for breaking it. So why all of the sudden it seems have we switched to Sunday? Was it some conspiracy by the early church? Was it a compromise with the ancient pagan religions? In a series of blog posts where I am going to try to map out why we worship on Sunday instead of Saturday. There are numerous questions that I need to be asked and answered as we study this topic. But my first post is pretty simple. I want to show that Jesus rose on Sunday and that the NT saints worshiped on Sunday. This may seem like an odd place to start. Why not start with the Sabbath itself? We will get into the Sabbath more in some subsequent blog posts. But most Christians understand the Old Testament teaching on the Sabbath. The bigger question is how did we get to where Sunday was the accepted day of worship.

            The Bible does not give a specific passage showing the transition from Saturday to Sunday as the day of worship. However, several verses show why this transition was made in the New Testament. The primary evidence is that Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday thus marking a new age in God’s covenant working with his people.  Here are the verses that show this:
Matthew 28:1
            Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.
Mark 16:1-2
             Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him.  Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen.
Luke 23:56-24:1
            Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment.  Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared.
John 20:1
            Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.
            The phrase translated “the first day of the week,” in the Greek means, “The first of (or from) the Sabbaths.”  The Jews did not have names for the days of the week. The only days they named were Saturday, which they called the “Sabbath” and Friday, which they called “Preparation Day.”  Because they had no name for the days of the week, they used a number to describe how far a day was from the Sabbath. So Sunday was the first day from the Sabbath, Monday was the second day from the Sabbath and so on.
            It is clear from the passages above, especially Luke 23:56-24:1, that Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday. The greatest event in the history of the world occurred on a Sunday.
            This same phrase “the first day of the week” is used a couple of other times in the Scriptures.  There is no reason to assume that these three verses are referring to anything other than Sunday. Here are those verses:
John 20:19
            Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.
Acts 20:7
            Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.
I Corinthians 16:2
            On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.
            The last two passages show that Sunday was the day the Christians gathered to celebrate the Lord’s Supper (break bread), to hear preaching, and to collect money for the poor. Why meet on Sunday instead of Saturday? Why was Paul telling them to collect money on the first day of the week instead of the last? I think part of the answer is that the Resurrection took place on Sunday, thus marking off that day as unique and special. 
Here are two more passages that could indicate that the NT Christians worshiped on Sunday.
Acts 2:1
            When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
            Pentecost was fifty days after the Sabbath following Passover.  So it was always on a Sunday.
Revelation 1:10
             I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet,

            The word “Lord’s” is a rare word, used only two times in the New Testament, here and in I Corinthians 11:20 where it refers to the Lord’s Supper.  It is hard to imagine that John had anything else in mind other than Sunday.  He uses the phrase assuming that his readers know what he means.  The Sabbath is not referred to as the Lord’s Day. It is called the Sabbath.  It is possible that this phrase refers to the Sabbath, but not likely. 

None of this evidence makes a water tight case for the transition from Sabbath to Lord’s Day, but it gets us leaning a certain direction. In my next post I will look at the Old Testament teaching on the Sabbath.