Which Day is the Sabbath?

The concept of a weekly day of rest originates in the Genesis creation account. According to Scripture, God created the “heavens and the earth” in six days, and “on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made” (Genesis 1:31 and 2:2). “Sabbath” literally means “rest,” and the Bible says that God blessed and sanctified, or set apart as holy, this first Sabbath rest day as a memorial of His finished work of creation. This is why the fourth commandment begins with a call to remember the seventh-day Sabbath rest:

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy… For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.”

Exodus 20:8, 11

The blessings of the seventh-day Sabbath were not intended just for Israel. On the contrary, God’s purpose was that Israel would teach other peoples and nations about this memorial of God’s creation. Here is what the prophet Isaiah said about the Sabbath’s important for all people:

“Also the sons of the stranger [foreigner], that join themselves to the Lord, to serve him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the Sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant; Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer.”

Isaiah 56:6, 7

The book of Isaiah concludes with a promise that in the new earth, all people will worship God every Sabbath. “And 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, saith the Lord” (Isaiah 66:23).

Jesus made it clear that His death and resurrection would have no impact on the continuing authority of God’s holy Ten Commandment law upon humanity when He said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:17, 18). We intuitively know that this is true—it is no more lawful in God’s sight today to worship false gods, murder, lie, or commit adultery, than it was before the cross. Yet many Christians assume that God’s blessing and sanctification of the seventh day was removed or changed to another day following Christ’s resurrection. The famous preacher Dwight L. Moody recognized the irony of this position:

“The Sabbath was binding in Eden, and it has been in force ever since. This fourth commandment begins with the word ‘remember,’ showing that the Sabbath already existed when God wrote this law on the tables of stone at Sinai. How can men claim that this one commandment has been done away with when they will admit that the other nine are still binding?”

Dwight L. Moody, Weighed and Wanting (Chicago: Revell, 1898), pp. 46, 47.

During His earthly ministry, Jesus indicated the continuing validity and importance of the Sabbath, even after His death. Speaking to His disciples about the coming destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans (which didn’t happen until 70 A.D.), Jesus urged them to pray “that [their] flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day” (Matthew 24:20). The question, of course, is which day was Jesus referring to? Was it the seventh day or the first day of the week?

A survey of the New Testament quickly reveals no direct command from Jesus, the disciples, or the early church leaders authorizing a change of the day of worship from the seventh day to the first day of the week. In the early New Testament church, both Jewish and Gentile Christians worshipped on the Sabbath. “But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down…And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath” (Acts 13:14, 42). Notice that it was the Gentile believers that asked Paul to return and preach the next Sabbath. The New Testament mentions over 80 worship services conducted by the early church, and they all occurred on the seventh-day Sabbath (see Acts 13:14, 42; 16:12, 13; 17:1, 2; 18:1, 4, 11).

From a Biblical perspective, God’s holy Sabbath is still the seventh day of each week.

Most Christians today regard Sunday, the first day of the week, as the Sabbath. However, from a Biblical perspective, God’s holy Sabbath is still the seventh day of each week. This shouldn’t be surprising—seven is the Bible’s number of perfection and completion. It is the number in the Bible that repeatedly and consistently points to God and what God does. The seventh-day Sabbath has always served this function. It is a reminder of God’s work of creating this world and all life in it, and it is a reminder of God’s promise in the book of Revelation to someday re-create this world in its original perfection.

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