The Book of the Revelation is full of intriguing and mysterious images and passages. My interest, however, is in a seemingly incidental and obvious phrase in chapter one of Revelation. John records that he received his commission to write and his first vision “on the Lord's Day” (Rev. 1:10). What exactly does John mean by “the Lord's Day?” And how does this day relate to the worship of God?
The word “Lord's” in this text is a rather unusual one in the New Testament. In pagan literature it occurs more frequently and means “imperial,” that is something belonging to the emperor. In the New Testament it occurs only in I Corinthians 11:20 in addition to Revelation 1:10. In I Corinthians the word is used of the Lord's Supper, the unique meal among meals that belongs to the Lord in a special way as a sacrament of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. But is there a day in the New Covenant that belongs as uniquely to the Lord as the Lord's Supper does?
Many voices are heard in Christian churches today insisting that all days are alike under the New Covenant. They appeal to Paul's words in Romans 14:5, “One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind.” They also appeal to Galatians 4:10, 11, “You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain." But the context of Paul's words in both cases is the danger of Judaizing. In Romans 14 Paul is discussing foods as well as days. I believe that he is discussing the Jewish dietary laws and the Jewish calendar of holidays and saying that Christians are free either to observe or do away with such arrangements of the old covenant. Paul is not speaking abstractly about days. He is arguing that Christians are not bound to observe the special days of the old covenant. Paul's words are not a contradiction of John's teaching that there is a day that belongs in a special way to the Lord in the New Covenant.
Could this Lord's Day, then, be the seventh-day Sabbath of the Jews? Groups like the Seventh-Day Adventists answer in the affirmative. They rightly note - as the Reformed did before them - that the Sabbath is not just a Mosaic institution, but a creation ordinance and a picture of the consummation (Hebrews 4). May not the seventh-day Sabbath then be the Lord's Day? But this idea is clearly rejected by Paul. For Paul the seventh-day Sabbath is fulfilled in Christ. He wrote, “Therefore let no one 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).
If the “Lord's Day” of Rev. 1:10 shows us that there is a special day that belongs to the Lord in the New Covenant and if Paul tells us that the Sabbath is fulfilled in Christ, then what day is the Lord's Day? Some few have argued that it is Easter, that is, an annual commemoration of Christ's resurrection. But does such an idea have any support in the New Testament? No. There is no hint in the New Testament of any annual celebrations of any kind.
Are we then left to conclude that John's reference to the “Lord's Day” is simply unexplainable? Are there any other options left with biblical support? When we look carefully at the New Testament, we find that there is a day that is singled out for special attention: the first day of the week. In addition to the references to the resurrection of Jesus on the first day, there are references to meetings with Jesus and acts of worship on the first day in John 20:26, Acts 2:1, Acts 20:7 and I Corinthians 16:2. Since the first day of the week is the only day of the week, month or year that gets any special notice in the New Testament, it must be the Lord's Day. Only seeing Sunday as the Lord's Day brings all the pieces of New Testament revelation into harmony.
By this time you may be wondering, “Didn't we know that already?” Well, many of us believed it already. But in my experience, many of us have begun to waver, doubting whether the Bible really tells us that Sunday is the Lord's Day. Fifty or one hundred years ago the sanctity of the Lord's Day was an undoubted doctrine not only among Reformed people, but also among Methodists, Baptists, Episcopalians, Congregationalists and many others. But today when so many, even among Bible-believing evangelicals, insist that there is no special day in the New Covenant, we need to read our Bibles closely again and be renewed in our conviction that Sunday is the Lord's Day.
When we recognize that Sunday is the Lord's Day, we begin to see a beautiful element of God's redemptive work in human history. We see how the seventh-day Sabbath pointed forward to rest that would come at the end of work. The Lord's Day on the first day of the week points to rest won in Christ. The Lord's Day - the day that belongs in a unique way to Jesus - is a special day for worship and fellowship with Jesus. It is the weekly day to assemble together to encourage one another as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. It is the time for communal worship when through the person and work of Jesus, we enter the heavenly temple to enjoy the presence and blessing of God (Hebrews 10). It is the day to rest from ordinary activities to acknowledge God as the source and center of our lives.
There is a day that belongs to Jesus in a special way. Revelation 1:10 is a key to knowing that Sunday is the Lord's Day.
Previously published in The Outlook, March 1990 by Reformed Fellowship, Inc.
www.reformedfellowship.net. Used with permission.
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