The Lord's Day
Tomorrow is the second Lord’s day that we will not gather due to the coronavirus pandemic. No doubt this alteration of our routine has us all out of whack. But this enforced ban on meeting also provides an opportunity to reflect on what the Lord’s day means to us. Why do we give it so prominent a place in our schedules?
First, it may surprise you to learn that the term “Lord’s day” occurs only once in Scripture: Rev 1:10. Though a particular day of the week is not specified, it is typically thought that John refers to Sunday. Why is this so?
In Koine Greek, the days of the week were not named but numbered: the first day, the second day and so on. In the New Testament, the only ordinal number referring to a day is “the first day”:
* It is the day of Jesus’ resurrection – Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:2, 9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1, 19.
* It is the day when the disciples in Troas gathered to “break bread” – Acts 20:7.
* It is the day that Paul stipulated laying aside funds for the saints in Jerusalem – I Cor. 16:1-2.
Those are the only three references to the first day of the week; there are no references to the second, third or any other ordinal day. The Jewish Sabbath is mentioned 57 times in the New Testament, mostly in reference to controversy over Jesus’ Sabbath “violations” and Paul’s attempts to teach Jews in their synagogues. Matt. 28:1 clearly distinguishes the first day of the week from the seventh, the Sabbath: “Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn.”
Thus Jesus died on Friday, the day before the Sabbath: “Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath” (John 19:31). The women from Galilee “observed the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath. ... Now on the first day of the week ... they ... came to the tomb” (Luke 23:55-24:1).
As no other ordinal days of the week are mentioned in the New Testament, and as Jesus was raised from the dead on the first day of the week, it seems necessarily implied that John received his revelation on Sunday. To postulate any other day has no scriptural support.
We must avoid ascribing characteristics of the Jewish Sabbath to the first day of the week. Scripture nowhere does this. The Sabbath had peculiar significance to the Jews (“It is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations” – Ex. 31:13, 17; cf. Neh. 9:13-14). It was a commemoration of the exodus (Deut. 5:15). It was an enforced day of rest from their labor; violation was punished by death (Ex. 31:15). Thus it is not wrong to work or enjoy recreation on Sunday, but we must take care to give both God and His saints their due on this day of assembly.
As noted yesterday, let us not allow this crisis to become the new normal, to strip the Lord’s day of its spiritual significance. May we continue to lament not being together, and may we long for the day, not too terribly distant, when we can reconvene for worship, study and fellowship.