Walk into almost any Christian church of our land today and you will learn that Sunday is now the Christian Sabbath. A superficial study will tell you that the God of the Old Testament changed His mind concerning the Sabbath day. In any of these churches you will learn that He sent His son Jesus to be crucified and to rise again on Sunday morning, thus authorizing the first day of the week as the new Christian Sabbath. Some churches will tell you that one day in seven is what counts, so, pick your own day, any day. Why do these churches also invariably worship on Sunday? Which day then, if any, is the genuine Sabbath of the New Covenant?
by Jerry Gentry
"For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day" (Matt. 12:8).
Drive down the main boulevard of any city or town in America and you will pass by church after church displaying signs out front announcing "Sunday morning worship" times and sermon subjects. Seldom will you ever see the word "Sabbath," but it is implied that all the sanctity of the Bible Sabbath has been transferred to Sunday. Preachers preach it. Christians accept it. Few believers question that the Christian Sabbath is found on Sunday, especially Sunday morning. After all, the very resurrection of our Savior took place early Sunday morning, giving us the example of keeping the first day of the week, the Lord's day (Rev. 1:10). Later in Acts, "upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight" (Acts 20:7). Still later Paul records: "Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come" (1Cor. 16:2). These basic verses are customarily used in support of the so called Christian Sabbath switch to Sunday.
However, a deeper look into the Holy Bible reveals that the matter of transferring the sanctity of the seventh day Sabbath to Sunday is a giant theological leap into uncharted space, undergirded by a paltry lack of scriptural back up. An even deeper study reveals the true source of this transfer&emdash;a source which most protestants and independent fundamentalists reject with a passion.
Doubters, read on, and learn the incredible truth about the origin of the Christian Sabbath.
Throughout the scripture, in both Old and New Testaments, the words "sabbath/s," appear some 146 times, 55 times in the New Testament (!) alone, indicating that this day was commonly known and understood by all readers of both Old and New Testaments alike. Without exception no Bible scholar of merit will dispute that the Bible Sabbath day is one and the same with the seventh day of the week. Only a fool will argue that somehow the days of the week have been lost, which would negate the whole concept of the cyclical seven day week ending with the Sabbath day. Can you imagine the whole world rising some morning, having forgotten which day it is? Preposterous! To understand the switch from the seventh day Sabbath to Sunday, one must find this change by example and inference, certainly not direct command from the Bible, if at all.
Every preacher and Bible scholar knows that "God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made" (Gen 2:2). They know that "God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made" (v. 3). Sabbath [Heb. shabbath] is synonymous with intermission, repose or rest.
Though the Sabbath day was kept by the patriarchs from the creation of Adam forward, the seventh day is first called the Sabbath by Moses, some 1500 years after Adam was originally placed in the Garden. On the way out of Egypt, Moses instructed the children of Israel. He did not call these men "Jews," (which, if we include 18 year old males and up, composed the original million man march. "Jews" did not appear in the Bible as a word for another 850 years! Moses told these Israelites of every tribe: "Tomorrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the LORD" (Exo. 16:23). For the first 2300 years of human history, the Biblical Sabbath was never called a "Jewish" day, but a day of rest "unto the LORD," always. In fact, nowhere in the Bible is the Sabbath referred to as a Jewish day. Check it out.
It is noteworthy that the children of Israel, having obviously lost personal contact with the LORD while sojourning in the land of Egypt for 430 years, were tested first among all the commandments on the matter of keeping the Sabbath day holy:
"Six days ye shall gather it [manna]; but on the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none" (v. 26).
The Israelites responded with doubts, and were orally rebuked by the LORD:
"And it came to pass, that there went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none. And the LORD said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws?" (v. 27-28).
Modern men of God know that Moses came down from the mount with the two tablets containing the ten commandments written by the finger of God. These commandments included the fourth: "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Exo 20:8), which echoed God's previous instructions to Moses concerning the gathering of manna. Any of these preachers and scholars will verify without hesitation that when the words "sabbath day" appear in the Bible, it always means the seventh day of the week. They will tell you that under the Old Covenant, breaking the Sabbath day was a crime of the same order as murder, rape, and other capital offenses, punishable by death, as in the following example:
"And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day . . . And the LORD said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp. And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the LORD commanded Moses" (Num 15:33-36).
To the Christian mind, it seems harsh indeed that Sabbath breaking was punishable by death under the Old Covenant. However, the death penalty for Sabbath breaking is an undeniable fact of scripture. Such a reality should make New Covenant theologians and teachers hear and fear, before they rush headlong into a switch of this day without clear Bible proof. Can you imagine theologians arguing for a major change of one of the other Big Ten, such as honoring father and mother; murder; stealing; etc? How preposterous! They should rather fight than switch!
Such rational thinking has not followed the history of the Sabbath day, however. The Bible and history tell us clearly that the seventh day was in full force and effect for at least the first two centuries and somewhat into the third and fourth centuries of our Christian era, with few notable exceptions. What this means is that if you were a Christian living in Jerusalem, or either of the Antiochs or elsewhere all the way to the Isles during the period from John the Baptist through the ministry of Jesus Christ, and afterwards throughout Peter's ministry, as well as that of the Apostle Paul, even through John the revelator's vision, the Sabbath day was still known and carefully observed by Christians who upheld Biblical standards!
First we will look at the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus, which overlapped to a large extent. No one in their right mind will even suggest that John the Baptist kept a Sabbath other than the seventh day. After all, he was thoroughly grounded in the Old Covenant. His mission was to announce the good news of the New Covenant gospel of the kingdom and Jesus, the long prophesied Savior and King, who would follow him:
"In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea" (Matt. 3:1). Notice that John the Baptist's ministry was quite localized.
John the Baptist was no droning toady of a preacher. He shouted an alarming message, a wilderness call that stirred the hearts of his fellow Israelites, mostly descended from the former Southern Kingdom inhabitants having long since returned from their Babylonian captivity and made of up mostly of descendants of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi. He announced Jesus Christ's first advent, "saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 3:2). John the Baptist thoroughly knew and kept the Old Covenant law including a strict seventh day Sabbath. He did not "Judaize" the Sabbath day, as did the Pharisees, with their many traditions, "teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Matt. 15:9). There was no other lawful day available for him to keep and the resurrection had not yet taken place.
It was prophesied of Jesus that "he will magnify the law, and make it honourable" (Isa. 42:21). There is no debate at all concerning the fact that Jesus Christ kept all the commandments to their fullest physical application and spiritual intent, thus fulfilling the law (Matt. 5:18). It is obvious from a cursory look at Jesus lifestyle that He was a seventh day Sabbath keeper, when "straightway on the sabbath day he entered into the synagogue, and taught" (Mark 1:21), throughout his earthy ministry. Remember, Jesus is speaking to Jews, that is, to Judaeans who were descended primarily from the Israelite tribes which returned from the Babylonian captivity during Ezra's and Nehemiah's day.
Illustrating how accustomed Jesus' disciples were to keeping the Sabbath day holy, even the anointing of Jesus body after the crucifixion was delayed slightly, in honor of the holy Sabbath: "And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him" (Mark 16:1).
It was not at all uncommon to have a remnant of visiting Israelite "strangers" from the other "lost tribes" present on holy days and at other times, as is witnessed on that great day of Pentecost just fifty days after Sunday morning resurrection. On that notable first Pentecost Sunday morning, Peter addressed a multinational crowd of: "Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians (Act 2:10 ), addressing all these nationalities twice as "Ye men of Israel" (Acts 2:22; Acts 3:12). Peter knew very well who he was speaking to, notwithstanding modern preachers who failingly attempt to make this a multiracial crowd! Peter preached the first Pentecost sermon only to Old Covenant Israelites, most of whom already knew and kept the weekly Sabbath day holy, as well as the annual Holy Days. How else would this polyglot of Israelites have been gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost, except they were already personally acquainted with and were keeping the annual Holy Days?
Throughout the book of Acts, Paul, the apostle to the gentiles, openly met and taught on the Sabbath day. In the gentile city of "Antioch in Pisidia," (present day Turkey) Paul and his entourage "went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and sat down" (Acts 13:14), as he did on numerous other occasions throughout the book of Acts.
Many years after the crucifixion and Sunday morning resurrection were past, Paul the apostle to the gentiles, missed a great opportunity to introduce the gentiles to the new Sunday Sabbath:
"And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath" (Acts 13:42).
"Paul, why did you not preach to these "Gentiles" the very next day? Why did you not announce a Sunday church service? Paul, why did you wait a whole week to bring the gospel to these heathen Gentiles? Were these gentiles already saved? If not, what a dangerous delay, a serious error on your part, Paul, in case someone present might die before the week was out!"
And if they were already saved, surely they were ready for the introduction of the New Christian Sabbath called Sunday, especially since these heathen Gentiles there were unaccustomed to keeping the seventh day Sabbath! Obviously, many years after the great historic Sunday morning resurrection and first New Covenant Sunday Pentecost, the Apostle Paul held to the weekly seventh day Sabbath as a valid New Covenant teaching!
The fact is, the New Covenant Sabbath is one and the same as the Old Covenant Sabbath, shocking as that may sound to Christian ears. Yes. There has never been a change of God's word as to which day is the Sabbath. The LORD will at times repent, as in; "And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people" (Exo 32:14). He will never change His word. God's law is spiritual, immutable. "For we know that the law is spiritual" (Rom. 7:14), Paul tells us. "Jesus Christ [is] the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever" (Hebr. 13:8). His word is truth. How could the truth of the Sabbath change? Impossible! The Christian virtues of patience and faith themselves teach: "Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus" (Rev. 14:12). Certainly this "patience" and "faith" must include the Bible Sabbath which Jesus kept.
Of God, scripture says: "For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed" (Mal. 3:6). We are warned "My son, fear thou the LORD and the king: and meddle not with them that are given to change" (Prov. 24:21).
Daniel the prophet warned against men who "think to change times and laws" (Dan. 7:25). Times and laws? Hmmmm? Now, think with me for a moment. Which one of the ten commandments concerns itself with both the matter of "times" and with "laws?" Only one, for sure! And that is the fourth commandment, which has been changed, not by the unchangeable God of the Bible, but by erring men who "think to change times and laws."
You see, friend, the God of the Bible speaks an unchangeable Word for all time and "Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled" (Matt. 5:18). "For thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name" (Ps. 138:2).
Now if God were to change His word at all, even on matters of the Sabbath, how can we his children and subjects be sure He might not change his word again sometime about something else, say, something as important as salvation itself? Perfect consistency is a cornerstone truth of God and His Word. How else can we put our full trust in Him? It is as impossible for God's word to change as it "is impossible for God to lie" (Hebr. 6:18), which is precisely what is necessary if we are to believe that Old Covenant Sabbath of the seventh day and its sanctity have been transferred to Sunday, the first day of the week.
"What then is the explanation and significance of the Sunday morning resurrection, and its overwhelming sanctity? Are Christians to observe Sunday morning in honor of the resurrection," you ask?
The answer is a resounding YES!
Now before you draw any conclusions from this apparent contradiction, please look at some very important scriptures. Jesus' own witness of Himself states: And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me" (Luke 24:44).
Much is written in the law of Moses concerning Christ. One such important yet little known fact written in the law of Moses concerning Christ, which is overlooked by most Christian ministers and theologians, is the law of the wave sheaf.
In a nutshell, this law states: "And he [the priest] shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the sabbath the priest shall wave it" (Lev. 23:11). "On the morrow after the sabbath" always falls on the first day of the week, or Sunday morning! The wave sheaf offering is a firstfruits offering, taken from the early Spring harvest which always precedes the great Fall harvest.
Now the Apostle Paul tells us most clearly to "consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus" (Hebr. 3:1). We are also told: "But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept" (1Cor. 15:20).
Here we have a great New Covenant lesson. Jesus Christ is not only our High Priest. He Himself is also the firstfruits offering! Technically, He is the first of the firstfruits to follow Him (Exo 23:19). The ancient Israelite priest was told to "wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted for you" (Lev. 23:11). The wave sheaf had to be accepted of the LORD. After Jesus' resurrection, before his ascension, he warned Mary Magdalene while standing in the garden: "Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God" (John 20:17). Mary was not at all astonished at Jesus command not to touch him yet, when He said, "Touch me not. . . I ascend unto my Father."
Later that same day, He walked casually with two disciples to Emmaus and later "he sat at meat with them" (Luk 24:30), then vanished. Those same two disciples "rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them" (v. 33), where "Afterward he [Jesus] appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat" (Mar 16:14), saying "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have" (Luk 24:39). The only possible conclusion to be drawn from these verses is that Jesus rose from the dead, appeared briefly to some few in the garden, allowing no one to touch him then. He then ascended briefly to his Father, and was accepted, then returned to earth and appeared at various times and to various disciples who only then were commanded to touch and handle him during a period of 40 days.
The ancient Israelite priest offered a firstfruits offering, and it was accepted of the LORD, thus making the entire harvest to come touchable and acceptable to be eaten. Jesus Christ himself ascended on resurrection Sunday, and was accepted by the Father, then returned to walk the road to Emmaus with certain disciples. Only after his ascension and acceptance by the Father could He command: "Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing" (John 20:27).
Most Christian ministers fail to teach the full meaning of the resurrection and ascension/acceptance of Jesus Christ. This blessed day is celebrated by Christians on Sunday morning, once every year. Just as the ancient Israelite priest offered up the wave sheaf once every year on the "morrow after the sabbath" (Lev 23:11), which occurred on a Sunday morning during the festival of Unleavened Bread in the spring, so Jesus fulfilled the law of the wave sheaf once and for all after his resurrection, with His brief ascension that same day to the Father, who accepted Him as the ultimate wave sheaf. Only then, did Christians have full access to the Father, that we too may "be not faithless, but believing" (John 20:27).
This ascension fulfilled a great prophecy of Isaiah: "Thus saith the LORD, In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee" (Isa 49:8). The Apostle Paul echoed this same prophecy: "For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2Co 6:2). When is this "accepted time" for you and me, the "now. . . of our salvation," which we are commanded to work out, as in "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12)?
Christian pastors and ministers, and lay people alike, you have a great basis for working out your salvation on Sunday morning&emdash;once every year&emdash;celebrating the resurrection and ascension/acceptance of Christ, in fulfillment of the wave sheaf offering foreshadowed from Israelite antiquity. Once every year is the "accepted time," the "now" concerning resurrection Sunday. And, again, once every year is the "accepted time," the "now" concerning Pentecost Sunday. However, you have absolutely no Bible authority to take the great truth of resurrection Sunday and the wave sheaf ascension/acceptance of Christ or Pentecost Sunday and overlay these truths on top of the weekly Sabbath, thereby causing one set of Bible truths to negate another. What rubbish! What intellectual dishonesty! The Bible sabbath will never be displaced, because it is founded, not just in God's thoughts, which you think He might change, but in His word, which can never change, hallelujah! Ministers would better teach both truths in parallel, thereby bringing congregations into a deeper relationship with the LORD. The building blocks for regular weekly Sunday morning church services are simply not found anywhere in the New Testament!
Christian, build your life today, as of old, around the weekly Seventh day Sabbath. Honor God by setting this seventh day aside for rest and worship, just as the Creator God did in the beginning, as in Genesis 2: 2-3, when "he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And. . . blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made."