In this last part of the series I would like to say a few words about the history of the Sabbath in the three centuries that followed the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is commonly believed that the church changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, in respect for the Lord’s resurrection. Today we find that about 99% of Christendom treats Sunday as their “Sabbath”. So-called “deviant members,” such as those who belong to the Seventh Day Adventist movement are looked upon with mild amusement. Those who wish to keep a Saturday fellowship are often looked upon with irritation by others because of the “inconvenience” they cause! So what are the historical facts? (incidentally, we ourselves belong to no ecclesiastical organisation. We meet in the homes of our family and fellowship and share together.)
Very little is available for study, but what can be found is sufficient to bring us to a satisfactory, but challenging solution. First of all, we must investigate the writings in the New Testament to see whether there is any confirmation for the “change of the Sabbath.” Those who stand by a Sunday Sabbath are many, including men of high rank in ecclesiastical settings, which makes this task more difficult because of an overwhelming academic pressure from every direction before even starting any investigation. However, truth seekers must disregard all such pressures, and act on what they find.
If God wanted to change the Sabbath day to Sunday, it would require a most definite legislative announcement from the highest authority. I say this because of the way in which the Sabbath was treated by the Lord in O.T. days. The Lord Jesus said that He was “the Lord of the Sabbath”. Was He no longer that after His resurrection? If the Sabbath was a type of the Millennial Kingdom, was the truth of that Kingdom dispensed with after the resurrection? When Jesus warned His people to watch out for the invading Roman army, and leave Jerusalem in a hurry, He said, “Pray that your journey be not in winter or on the Sabbath day.” This event happened in A.D.70, nearly 40 years later. So the Lord officially sanctioned the Sabbath until then, rather than initiating any change.
In the N.T. writings there are just a few occasions when it might seem, by a casual reading, that Sunday was kept instead of the Sabbath. I will mention the three that are usually put forward. First of all the occasion when Paul gathered his friends together for fellowship in Acts 20:6-14. They were at Troas, and remained there for seven days. “Upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached to them, ready to depart on the morrow, and continued his speech until midnight.” Was this a Sunday evening gathering? Only if we interpret everything from the standpoint of our own time-keeping. Our days start at midnight. But in Paul’s day they began at 6 p.m. The first day of the week began at 6 p.m. on our Saturday. This was when the disciples met together. It is crazy to imagine that people of those days had a two-day weekend of no work, such as many of us enjoy these days. They had their regular Sabbath rest day, and would then return to work on Sunday. But the evening of Saturday was for them a time when they could gather together, break bread, have fellowship, and remember our Lord’s resurrection. The record shows no evidence of a change of name. “The first day of the week” was the title given, not “the Lord’s day”, or “the Christian Sabbath”. The following morning Paul left, and walked a distance of nineteen miles across the peninsula to Assos. He would never have done that on a “Sabbath” type day.
The second reference is found in 1 Cor.16:1-2, where we find the following. “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do you. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God has prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.” Because of the present day habit of passing round the collection plate in church services on Sundays, it has been thought that Paul was referring to this custom. But a moment’s reflection will lead to a different conclusion. First of all, notice that Paul again refers to the day simply as “the first day of the week,” nothing special in the name. Next, he says that those who had businesses should make a tally of their earnings, a process that would never have been allowed on a Sabbath. To make up their books, and assess their profit margin from the previous week, was what Paul referred to. Having done so, they would have taken a tithe and “laid it in store” for Paul’s next visit, so that he could distribute the money amongst the poor.
The third and last reference is found in Rev.1:10, where we read, “I [John] was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet.” This is a famous reference, seeming to uphold the Sunday Sabbath, which people have long called “the Lord’s day.” But on reading the Gospels, together with the voluminous references in the O.T. to the Sabbath, which day would be described as “the Lord’s day”? Clearly the Sabbath day. God set it apart, sanctified it, and blessed it, and commanded people to honour it. The Lord Jesus was “the Lord of the Sabbath.” Was it not therefore HIS day? How come that suddenly the title is transferred to Sunday? In today’s climate of opinion, it is just accepted without query or question, because of the stranglehold of tradition. But anyone who prefers to study the Scriptures and walk in accordance with what he finds there, will disregard the power of tradition, and refute the error. John was “in the spirit” on what day? “The day of the Lord”, and in the O.T. the day of the Lord was an expression signifying the beginning of theMillennial Kingdom. The seventh millennial day is THE DAY OF THE LORD. The whole of the Book of Revelation depicts the setting up of the Kingdom, the great struggle between God and Satan, the overthrow of the satanic host, the imprisonment of Satan, the casting into the lake of fire of the beast and the false prophet, the downfall of Babylon, and from the positive side, the establishment of the New Jerusalem, and the setting up of the Kingdom of righteousness over all the earth. All these things are part of the Day of the Lord. It was this scene into which John was transported “in the spirit”, so that he could write the vision and revelation.
There is absolutely nothing in the N.T. that gives sanction to a change of the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. When Paul exhorts the Colossians not to allow anyone to judge them in respect of holy days, new moons, and Sabbaths, (2:16) he was not saying that Sabbaths had been dispensed with. A careful analysis of the Book of Acts shows that Paul kept the Sabbath on no less than 85 occasions.
And from Isaiah’s telescopic viewpoint, (66:23) “It shall come to pass that from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, says the Lord.” When shall this word come into force? “In the new heavens and new earth which I will make” says the Lord in Isa.66:22. If this is true, and who can doubt it, then the Sabbath will still be the Lord’s day in the new earth.
How come that in the dark ages after the first century A.D. this truth was either lost or exchanged for something different? On reading the literature of the Church Fathers it becomes clear that there was a very gradual change. This may be evidenced from the writings of Tertullian, (c.160 – 225 A.D.) who spoke of “offerings for the dead, Sunday observance, and using the sign of the cross on the forehead.” This is what he had to say about such customs. “If for these and other such rules you insist upon having positive Scripture injunction, you will find none. Tradition will be held forth to you as the originator of them, custom as their strengthener, and faith as their observer.”
And so we come down in history to the time of Constantine the Great, who, before he claimed conversion to Christianity, issued the following edict, “Let all the judges and town people, and the occupation of all trades, rest on the venerable day of the sun; but let those who are situated in the country, freely and at full liberty attend to the business of agriculture; because it often happens that no other day is so fit for sowing corn and planting vines; lest, the critical moment being let slip, men should lose the commodities granted by heaven.” This edict went into effect on 17th March A.D.321. Constantine was a worshipper of Apollo, the god of the sun. Gibbon had this to say, “The devotion of Constantine was more peculiarly directed to the genius of the sun, the Apollo of Greek and Roman mythology; and he was pleased to be represented with the symbols of the god of light and poetry . . . The altars of Apollo were crowned with the votive offerings of Constantine; and the credulous multitude were taught to believe that the emperor was permitted to behold with mortal eyes the visible majesty of their tutelar deity. . . . The sun was universally celebrated as the invincible guide and protector of Constantine.” (“Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” chapter 20, para 3.)
It was therefore in the days of Constantine that the synthesis of church and state became almost complete. Christianity emerged as the state religion, but not the Christianity of the Apostles, with purity of doctrine and practice. The state church was the beginning of that infamous organisation known as Roman Catholicism, which became the persecutor of all who sought to obey the Lord according to His precepts in the Gospels. One of the factors which enabled Constantine easy access amongst Christian people was his hatred of Jews. They had been a constant source of persecution and hatred of Christians from the resurrection onwards. Therefore Constantine wrote, “Let us then have nothing in common with the most hostile rabble of the Jews.” The eventual outcome of this, in the development of Christianity, meant that every ancient festival of the Old Testament was changed for something new. That is where the churches stand today, and it is shameful to behold.
It was a mere 40 years after Constantine’s edict that the Church Council of Laodicea met, and Canon 29 of their deliberations read as follows – “That Christians must not play Jews by ceasing work on the Sabbath, but that they work on that day and prefer the Lord’s day by ceasing work as Christians if they can.” When did these religious men start calling Sunday “the Lord’s day”? It was Pope Sylvester, by his apostolical authority. (See “Ecclesiastical History of Lucius” cent.4, cap.10, pp.739-740) And when was Sunday first called the Sabbath? Dr. Heylyn writes as follows – “The Saturday is called among them by no other name than that which formerly it had, the Sabbath. So that whenever for a thousand years and upwards, we meet with Sabbatum in any writer of what name soever, it must be understood of no day but Saturday. . . . . . The first who ever used it to denote the Lord’s day, [Heylyn was a defender of that title] the first that I have met with in all this search, is one Petrus Alfonsus – he lived about the time that Rupertus did [which was the beginning of the twelfth century] – who calls the Lord’s day by the name of Christian Sabbath.” (“History of the Sabbath” part 2, chapter 2, section 12, and chapter 5, section 13) [N.B. The Rupertus he mentions is not Saint Rupert of 7th century, but Rupert of Deutz, c.1075 – 1129]
From a practical point of view, we therefore advocate the remembrance of the Sabbath day, as it always was in ancient times. This causes mockery and irritation amongst professing Christians today, but since reaching the conclusions in these three articles, as we did back in 1988, we have sought to keep Saturday as a special day, not a day of legalistic bondage, but a day of delight in the Lord. It is fully appreciated that many today are completely unable to keep the Sabbath day, due to work schedules imposed upon them. We have a friend in that position, but as she has said, “I keep the Sabbath in my heart, and the Lord knows that.”
To conclude this article I would like to record two quotations. The first was a statement made by a Catholic priest to a large gathering in an auditorium in Hartford, Kansas, at the end of the 19th century.
“Christ gave to the church the power to make laws binding upon the conscience. Show me one sect that claims or possesses the power to do so save the Catholic Church. There is none, and yet all Christendom acknowledges the power of the church to do so, as I will prove to you, for example, the observance of Sunday. How can other denominations keep this day? The Bible commands you to keep the Sabbath day. Sunday is not the Sabbath day. No man dare assert that it is; for the Bible says as plainly as words can make it, that the seventh day is the Sabbath, i.e. Saturday; for we know Sunday to be the first day of the week. Besides, the Jews have been keeping the Sabbath day unto this present time. I am not a rich man, but I will give $1,OOO to any man who will prove by the Bible alone that Sunday is the day we are bound to keep. No, it cannot be done; it is impossible. The observance of Sunday is solely a law of the Catholic Church, and therefore is not binding upon others. The church changed the Sabbath to Sunday, and all the world bows down and worships upon that day in silent obedience to the mandates of the Catholic Church. Is this not a living miracle – that those who hate us so bitterly, obey and acknowledge our power every week, and DO NOT KNOW IT?”
The second is a prophetic word given to me on Saturday 25th March 1988.
The Sabbath Day is my special day, and I delight in it.
The Sabbath Day is a day set apart for my children to rejoice and be glad,
gather round my feet, and eat at my table.
I have commanded a blessing to reside upon all who honour my special day,
all who delight in it and make it a day of gladness of heart with thanksgiving.
See that you do not compass my day about with rules of your own making.
See that you do not spend your hours in fear of breaking your own rules.
See that you do not make my day into a day of bondage, imprisonment, and restriction,
whereby my children will be glad when it is over, for this causes men to hate the Sabbath.
I desire that men shall love my day, yearn for it, prepare for it, and enjoy it.
For I am the Lord of the Sabbath, and I will not be bound by man’s legalism and formality.
On the Sabbath day I ask that you will cease from your weekly labours,
lay aside your tools of trade, your business needs, and your academic studies.
By doing this you will find refreshment for your souls and your bodies.
It is my gift to you as a holiday from work, and as a holiday I want you to be free and happy.
But will you then rush off and expend yourselves on a dozen pursuits of your own making?
Will you forget that I have given you this holiday?
Will your minds be turned to many diversions of your own and not be stayed on me?
Will you rob me of the joy I desire to have with you on my Sabbath days?
Come aside my children and delight in the Lord your God, and He will delight in you.
Speak together of MY things rather than your own things.
Include me in your conversations. Praise me for the many benefits you receive at my hands.
Then you will find a rich reward, for I will hold at bay with a strong right hand the forces of darkness,
and I will command an angelic host to attend to your needs, and I shall sit in your midst and be satisfied,
yea, I shall pour out to you the blessings of heaven above and the earth beneath,
and you shall ride upon the high places in my Kingdom.
Are you perplexed about specific things? Are you confused in your minds about special events,
requirements of the day, even sudden happenings?
Present it all to me, my children, for I am the Lord of the Sabbath. I am no task-master.
I yearn for you with a strong love that seeks only your good.
Shall I not be glad to grant your requests, as long as they lie within the compass that I have set?
For when you have come to ask, you have already shown where your heart lies.
And I shall answer you. Do not rebel in your hearts. Come aside and learn of me,
and we shall walk together in the refreshing Sabbaths of the Lord your God.”