Why do we worship corporately on Sunday instead of Saturday? I’ve been asked this a number of times.
With Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, a transition took place between the Old and New Covenants. Both covenants were instituted with blood. The Old with the blood of an animal and the New with the blood of Christ. Consider the parallelism between these verses describing the instituting of both covenants:
- Exodus 24:8 Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words.”
- Luke 22:20 Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.
With the institution of the New Covenant, a transition took place. From the seventh day of the week to the first. From Saturday to Sunday. Primarily this happened in honor of Christ’s resurrection.
Sunday is Emphasized in the New Testament
The phrase “first day of the week” occurs eight times in the New Testament. Six times it occurs in the Gospels when discussing Jesus’ resurrection: Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:2, 9, Luke 24:1, John 20:1, 19.
Once in Acts identifying the day the early church met:
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.Acts 20:7
Once when Paul encourages believers to set aside something to give financially:
1 Corinthians 16:1-2 Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: 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.1 Corinthians 16:1-2
More than likely Paul told them to set their collections aside on the first day of the week, because that’s when they gathered for worship.
If all we had was Acts 20:7 saying the early church met on the first day of the week, that alone would be enough to encourage corporate worship on Sundays:
The writings of the early church Fathers confirm the church continued to meet on Sunday after the close of the NT period.MacArthur Bible Commentary, p. 1477
The first day of the week is to be observed by all the disciples of Christ; and it is a sign between Christ and them.Matthew Henry’s Commentary: In One Volume, p. 1716
The Sabbath Is not Emphasized in the New Testament
But there’s also the de-emphasizing of the seventh day in the rest of the New Testament. “First day of the week” occurs eight times in the New Testament, but “seventh day of the week” never occurs.
Understandably we’d expect the seventh day to be called “Sabbath,” but consider:
- The Sabbath is mentioned in the Gospels, because the transition to the first day had not yet taken place.
- When the Sabbath is mentioned in Acts it’s associated with the practice of Jews who have not yet embraced Christ, but it’s never associated with the practice or worship of the church.
After Acts, there’s only one mention of the Sabbath:
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.Colossians 2:16-17
This is the only time the Sabbath is mentioned – say nothing about commanded – after Acts. This fact alone would be unimaginable if believers were expected to keep the Sabbath. The epistles are the letters of instruction to the church. Wouldn’t there be at least one command for Christians?
Instead, the one verse mentioning the Sabbath identifies it as a shadow pointing to Christ, while making the point you can’t judge people based on their view of it. Consider the absence of a verse saying, “Let no one judge you regarding forgiveness…love…prayer…service.” Why don’t we see verses like that? Because forgiveness, love, prayer, and service are commanded. The Sabbath is not.
Paul also downplays keeping the Sabbath in Romans:
One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it.Romans 14:5-6b
If Paul thought the Sabbath should be observed, two things are inconceivable:
- That he would write these verses in Romans and Colossians.
- That there would be no verses mentioning the Sabbath elsewhere in the NT. Contrast the amount of instruction on prayer, love, forgiveness, serving, with the silence regarding keeping the Sabbath.
Gather Corporately on the Lord’s Day
Why is Sunday known as “the Lord’s Day”?
- In Revelation 1:10 John said, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.” He’s probably referring to the first day of the week, which is why Sunday gained this title.
- The more obvious reason is this is the day of the Lord’s Resurrection.
The early church met “on the first day of the week…to break bread” (Acts 20:7). The words “break bread” refer to communion as opposed to fellowship together. You can see the that “breaking bread” is not the same as fellowship in that the two are distinguished from each other:
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.Acts 2:42
As much as communion looks back to Christ’s death, it also looks forward to His return:
For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.1 Corinthians 11:26
Why would they celebrate communion on the seventh day of the week when Christ was resurrected on the first day of the week? They wouldn’t. This is one other reason for meeting on the first day of the week.
With the transition from the Old to New Covenant, the Sabbath was fulfilled in Christ. The same with other ceremonial portions of the Law, i.e. sacrifices, circumcision, festivals. The early church gathered on the first day of the week in honor of Christ’s resurrection, and we should too!
- When you worship on the Lord’s Day, are you reminded of the Lord’s Resurrection?
- Do you have any questions about the Sunday worship, the Sabbath, or a believer’s relationship to the Law?