It is confusing to me, and there seems to be an inconsistency that keeping the Sabbath was not mentioned in the New Testament after the gospels, but Jesus and His disciples kept the Sabbath. Since Jesus knew that we would not be keeping the Sabbath many years after His death, why are we worshipping on Sunday?
Are we to worship on Sunday? The fourth command in the list of the Ten Commandments calls us to keep the Sabbath day. The Sabbath Day was to be a day of rest from all work and a day to worship God.
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work . . . Exodus 20:8-10 (NASB)
The Sabbath day occurs on the seventh day of the week which is Saturday. During Jesus’ ministry here on earth, the religious leaders had imposed many religious rules and regulations upon the people. Their rules made life difficult for the people. The extra rules were initially added with good intentions. They were supposed to prevent the people from violating God’s rules. Instead, with time the rules became excessive and a burden. The Sabbath Day involved the obedience to a list of a very long list of rules. The Mishnah includes a long list of these rules.
Purpose of the Sabbath
After one difficult encounter with the Pharisees and Sadducees who were offended that Jesus was not keeping their rules, Jesus commented that the Sabbath was made for people and not people for the Sabbath. The Sabbath was supposed to be a blessing, but the religious leaders had turned the day into a list of rules to be kept. The Sabbath had become a burden. This is an important starting point because it tells us that God’s purpose for the Sabbath was not intended to be a burden. It was designed to help us.
Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Mark 2:27 (NASB)
In Colossians God tells us that the Sabbath was a shadow of future things to come. It was a shadow or symbol of Jesus.
Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day – things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Colossians 2:16-17 (NASB)
The verse refers to things the Mosaic ceremonial laws and feasts which figuratively referred to Jesus. They were examples of typology. Some day these things would be replaced. The Jewish legal system was replaced upon Jesus’ death. That was predicted by the prophet Jeremiah, and the explanation of Jeremiah’s prophecy is given in Hebrews 8:7-9:1. Yet the pages of scripture never record that Jesus said anything about this. There is no record that Jesus warned them that the sacrificial system including the priests, temple worship, or sacrifices would stop. In the gospels we do not see any record of Jesus saying many things.
Day of Worship Changed After Resurrection
So after Jesus’ death, return to life, and return to heaven we should not be surprised if the day of worship was changed too! And it was. It was moved from the Sabbath (Saturday) to the Lord’s day (Sunday), the day on which Jesus’ body returned to life (Matt. 28:1). As a result, the followers of Jesus gathered together on the first day of the week to worship Jesus Christ (Acts 20:7).
On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight. Acts 20:7 (NASB)
The early church fathers also confirm this fact. An early Christian book (AD 120) titled The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles or the Didache records these words,
But every Lord’s day do ye gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions . . . (Didache, Chap 14)
The Epistle of Barnabas (AD 107-120) reads as follows:
Wherefore, also, we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead. And when He had manifested Himself, He ascended into the heavens. (Epistle of Barnabas, Chap. 15)
Justin Martyr (AD 100-165) commented,
And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. (The First Apology of Justin. Chap. 67)
And the great church historian, Eusebius (AD 315), states,
But it was not the custom of the churches in the rest of the world to end it at this time, as they observed the practice which, from apostolic tradition, has prevailed to the present time, of terminating the fast on no other day than on that of the resurrection of our Savior. Synods and assemblies of bishops were held on this account, and all, with one consent, through mutual correspondence drew up an ecclesiastical decree, that the mystery of the resurrection of the Lord should be celebrated on no other but the Lord’s day . . . (The Church History of Eusebius. Book 5, Chap. 23).
Reason Jesus Worshipped on The Sabbath
The fact that Jesus regularly attended the synagogue on the Sabbath does not affect the change in day of worship from the Sabbath to the first day of the week.
And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. Luke 4:16 (NASB)
Jesus attended the Sabbath for at least three reasons. The first reason is that there was nothing wrong with worshipping God on the Sabbath or any other day.
The second and best reason was that Jesus had not died yet and therefore the adoption of the first day of the week as the day of worship had not occurred yet. The Sabbath Day was the day that God directed; but after Jesus’ return to life Jesus’ apostles, who were responsible for establishing the church, made the change. Colossians 2:16-17 reminds us that the Sabbath was a shadow or picture of Jesus. After Jesus’ body returned to life on the first day of the week, the followers of Jesus stopped worshipping on the Sabbath. There was nothing wrong with Jesus worshipping on the Sabbath.
The third reason that Jesus usually attended the synagogues, it appears, was to teach. The synagogues gave significant “rabbis” the opportunity to teach when they visited. Jesus used this privilege to correct the teachings of the religious leaders and to tell others about Himself. Jesus obeyed the Ten Commandments since He had not yet died.
But we must remember that not everything is recorded in the Bible that Jesus or other people said. Jesus never told us how to organize and run a church, what to do in the services, and how to elect spiritual leaders. It appears that He left that up to the apostles (Eph. 2:20). Did Jesus talk to them about changing the day of worship from the Sabbath to the first day of the week on another occasion? He may have done that. But the most important issue is that He left many decisions up to the apostles. The New Testament and the witness of the early church fathers tell us that the apostles changed the day of worship to Sunday. Finally, all of the Ten Commandments are repeated in the New Testament but not the command to keep the Sabbath.
Suggested Links:When should we rest and worship God? Is there a special day?
Do we have to keep the ten commandments given in the Old Testament?
Rejection In Nazareth
Which Old Testament laws can we ignore?