Christian Distinctives of the Lord's Day

Featuring Worshipedia Posted on June 18, 2010

Although it borrowed important features from the Sabbath, the Lord’s Day was from the beginning a distinctively Christian institution. It was observed on the first day of the week because it was on this day that Jesus rose from the dead. All four Gospels indicate that the Resurrection was discovered early in the morning on the first day of the week (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1). Six of the eight appearances of Christ to his followers after the Resurrection took place on the first day: to Mary Magdalene (John 20:1–18), to the women bringing spices to anoint Jesus’ body (Matthew 28:7–10), to two disciples on the Emmaus road (Luke 24:13–33), to Simon Peter (Luke 24:34), to the ten disciples when Thomas was absent (John 20:19–23; cf. Luke 24:36–49), and possibly (although the text uses the phrase "after eight days") to the eleven disciples when Thomas was present (John 20:24–29). These appearances of Christ on the first day were sufficient to set it apart as a day of particular significance. If the crucifixion of Jesus took place on the sixth day of the week (Friday), as is traditionally held, then the day of Pentecost that year was also on the first day of the week, since it falls fifty days after Passover (which would have coincided with the Sabbath). If so, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the apostles also occurred on the Lord’s Day (Acts 2:1–4).

The resurrection of Jesus, which verified that he was the Christ, the Son of God, was denied by the church’s Jewish opponents. Since the Resurrection was foundational to the Christian movement, it is understandable that Christians "even those who were Jews by descent" would view a separate day of worship as something demanded by the contrast between Christianity and Judaism. In assembling on the first day of the week, the church continuously proclaimed the central fact of the gospel. In his first Apology (67) "a defense of the church addressed to the Roman Emperor" Justin Martyr (c. 100–165) explains that the church chose this day for worship because it was both the first day of Creation and the day of the resurrection of Christ. Thus the Lord’s Day contrasts with the Sabbath in a second respect closely related to the Resurrection. Whereas the Sabbath, or seventh day, marked God’s resting from his creative activity (Genesis 2:1–2), the Lord’s Day is a day of "new creation." By worshiping on the first day of the week, the Christian church is making a statement about the new beginning God has made in Jesus Christ and the people of the new covenant (2 Corinthians 5:17; Revelation 21:1–5).

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