The Lord's Day
"It was the Lord's Day...worshiping" (Rev. 1.7). "Upon this first day of the week...today is the third day since these things were done" (Luke 24.1,21) not the Sabbath.
"On the first day of the week, we gathered to observe the Lord's Supper. Paul was preaching; and since he was leaving the next day, he talked until midnight" (Acts 20.7). It was the "the Lord's day" John worshiped in the spirit (Rev. 1.10), not the Sabbath (Rev. 1.10), a Sunday (a convenient day for gathering). Demanding the Sabbath, or even Sunday, be kept is a sin. The children of God can meet any day of the week as it fits within their work schedule. Some of God's children, unavoidably, have to work on Sundays. Let us be respectful to them and not falsely judge.
"Now upon the first day of the week . . . And, behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was from Jerusalem about threescore furlongs. . . . Jesus himself drew near ... But their eyes were holden that they should not know him. And the one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answering said unto him, ... 'our chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death, and have crucified him. But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, today is the third day since these things were done'" (Luke 24.1,13,21).
Note: The "first day of the week" is called "the third day". That would make His death on Friday (AD 33) according to the Jewish calendar, not on Wednesday (30 AD), because according to Daniel with certain reasonable calculations, 444 BC takes us to 33 AD, not 30 AD. Further proof is shown here: Triangulating When Jesus was Born, Quirinius, 3 Days and 3 Nights.
The Freshness of the Lord and the Oldness of the Law - The Old Covenant Sabbath
A Table in the Wilderness, Page 170, Watchman Nee
Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time . . . but I say to you . . . Matthew 5.21f.
Bondage to the law may be defined as a rigid adherence to a bygone code of life that leaves us unready to follow the Lord's speaking in the present. We see the law as a standard of living, but it is a fixed standard. When we were youngsters at school our gymnastic teacher lowered or raised the rope of the high jump according to our age and ability. The standard was subject to adjustment, and left us scope for development. But the law's standard is rigid. It leaves no room for advancement beyond a given point.
"But I say unto you..." These words contain a principle for all time. I have heard people dispose of an argument with "Oh, that matter was settled in Calvin's (Or Wesley's, or Darby's) day!" But their days are "old time," and so are your yesterday and mine. If I do what I did a month ago because today the Lord leads me to do it, that is life; but if I do it because he led me a month ago, that is law. The law can be a week old or centuries old, but the leading of the Spirit can never be twenty-four hours old. The vital question is, do we know the freshness of today's walk with him?
KKH, CFP, 126, Watchman Nee
The Question of the Sabbath
KKH, CFP, 121-125, Watchman Nee
Matthew Chapter 12 is a transitional passage. What is said in it begins to decide the fate of the Jews. It occupies a most important place in the line of dispensation. We will be strangers to God’s word if we fail to recognize the change in the Lord’s relationship told of in this section. Before the time of this chapter the Lord is clearly for the Jews, and only in a hidden way is He shown to be for the Gentiles. But after the time of chapter 12 He is clearly for the Gentiles, thus intimating that the Jews have been rejected. In view of the fact that this chapter is transitional, the one thing which typifies the old relationship must be overturned. Since men have sinned, there can be no sabbath rest in actuality. Even God cannot rest. And if God has no rest, then men can have no rest either; for where there is sin, there can be no rest. This thought will become clearer as we take up the question of the sabbath below.
[see page 121-122 for the matter of the ordering of Matthew doctrinally].
Of the Ten Commandments nine are moral, but only one is ceremonial—the keeping of the sabbath. If the observance of the sabbath is set aside, it must indicate a change in dispensation: that somehow God’s special relationship with the nation of Israel has been temporarily broken off.
In the Old Testament, the sabbath possessed special meanings: (1) that the keeping of the sabbath was to remember God’s rest, (2) that according to Ezekiel 20.12 the sabbath was a sign of God’s covenant with the children of Israel, and (3) that according to Deuteronomy 5.15 the observing of the sabbath by the Jewish people was to remember how they were redeemed.
For these reasons the Jews placed great emphasis on the sabbath. They regarded it as the sign of God’s covenant with them as well as the remembrance of God’s rest and redemption. If this were shaken, all would be lost.
To the Jewish tradition it was all right to pluck ears of grain out in the fields, but attention must be paid to the time of doing so; for no work was ever to be done on the sabbath. The plucking of ears was work to the Jewish mind, and therefore working on the sabbath was sin. And so, because the disciples of Jesus were found plucking ears of grain on the sabbath, they were guilty of violating the sabbath rule. Yet here we find the Lord declaring that the disciples were guiltless in working on the sabbath: He defends them by saying that even if they have violated the sabbath they are nonetheless guiltless (see 12.7).
In the section on the healing of a man having a withered hand, the Lord argues that healing does not violate the sabbath; and in the section on plucking ears of grain, He asserts that even one who does violate the sabbath is still guiltless.
vv.3-4 Christ has not said that eating while hungry is necessarily a pardonable act. The question He means to address himself to is whether or not the sabbath should be kept, not whether there is a special allowance for the sabbath. If the Lord should maintain that because David was hungry it was all right for him to eat the shewbread, where would this leave the law? Christ could never support such a conclusion. What, then, is He really saying in this section? He is simply intimating here that what was originally given to the priest to eat can now be eaten by the king also. But this is a change of dispensation. Let us understand that the communication of God with the children of Israel in the Old Testament time underwent three different periods: first through the priests, then through the kings, and finally through the prophets. David represented the nation of Israel. Though he was God’s anointed, he at that time was rejected (he had to flee for his life). Yet God communicated with the children of Israel through David, thus putting aside the priests.
In former days, political persons such as Joshua were required to stand before the priest (see Num. 27.21-22), for that was the period of the priests. But later, according to 1 Samuel 2.35-36, the priest must walk before the anointed of the Lord. Hence the king becomes the first in order, while the priest now stands second.
The fact of David’s eating the shewbread indicates how the priests and their functions had been downgraded. It was not at all an exception. David had not sinned. He could eat not only on that day but on every other day; for the time had changed. On the occasion when David had eaten the shewbread, it was at the time of his rejection. Likewise, the fact that here in Matthew 12.1 we see that the disciples of Jesus had plucked ears of grain to eat also suggests the rejection of the Lord. Moreover, the Lord mentions not only David but also his followers (“and they that were with him”), and thus the Lord is including His own disciples in His rejection as well.
Thus, verses 3 and 4 relate how the king profaned the sabbath, and so indicate a change in dispensation.
[see page 123-124 for notes on v.5]
v.6 “One greater than the temple is here”—The Lord himself is the place wherein the glory of God fills the most: for no matter what He does for the glory of God, He cannot be considered guilty. Thus the Lord is greater than the temple as well as the priests. Being as David, He reveals His person; being as the priest and the temple, He unveils the nature of His work. For the sabbath therefore, He substitutes His person and work. He sets the sabbath completely aside. If the problem of sin is not solved there can be no rest. As long as the Lord is rejected and people are still in sin, there is not going to be the sabbath. As long as He is as David and the temple, then what the Lord says here is that His disciples may profane the sabbath and yet be guiltless.
Division Seven 12.1-50
Interpreting Matthew, CFP, Watchman Nee
Chapter 12 [Matthew] is another division. It deals with the matter of the sabbath.
12.1-8 “At that season Jesus went on the sabbath day through the grainfields; and his disciples were hungry and began to pluck ears and to eat” (v.1). This plucking of ears in grain-fields was allowed in the Old Testament period (see Deut. 23.25). But on this particular day a problem arises, for as the disciples were conducting themselves this way, along came the Pharisees. I think if the disciples were hungry that day, our Lord must have been even hungrier. Yet He did not eat. He would not even do the things that were permitted.
“But the Pharisees, when they saw it, said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which it is not lawful to do upon the sabbath” (v.2). Was it true that there could be no eating on the sabbath? There was no rule among the Pharisees against eating on the sabbath; there was not even any sanction by the Pharisees against plucking the grain ears, which might have been considered by some people to be work on the sabbath day. No, what the Pharisees objected to was the rubbing of the grain ears together on the sabbath—for this they viewed as work! So that the Pharisees had established a regulation against such activity being done on the sabbath day in order to preserve the sanctity of the day. Yet no such restriction had been part of the law of God as delivered to the Israelites through Moses. It had been “tacked on” by the tradition of the Jewish Fathers and upheld by these Pharisees of a later day. And hence these Pharisees spoke to the Lord according to their own decision on this point.
“But he said unto them . . . (vv.3-8). In answering, the Lord did not point out to them that these were their traditions and not those commanded by God. Instead, He used other ways to answer them. He actually responded to the attack of the Pharisees with four points.
What is the sabbath? God gave the sabbath to the children of Israel as a sign of His covenant with them (see Ez. 20.12,20; Ex. 20.8, 34.21). The Ten Commandments were the covenant God made with the children of Israel, and the sabbath was the sign of that covenant. Hence this article from the Decalogue is different from its other nine articles. The other nine of the Ten Commandments are moral in nature; this one commandment—the Fourth—is an order. Sin is intrinsic to the nine commandments, but not to this one. According to this Fourth of the Ten Commandments, work is forbidden on the sabbath. If the Sabbath is violated, it is not because sin is intrinsically involved, but because it is the effect of forbiddance. Consequently, there are two kinds of command inherent within the Ten Commandments. One is forbidden for the sake of God, which is the sabbath. The other is the kind where sin is intrinsically involved—as it was surely involved in these other commandments of the Ten. The sabbath spoken of in the Fourth Commandment represents the government of God, the other nine represent the nature or character of God himself. When God covenanted with Israel He took the sabbath as a sign or pledge. In annulling His covenant with the children of Israel He could only remove one commandment out of the Ten, that which touches upon His government. If He should remove any of the other nine commandments He would touch upon His own nature and also man’s morality. Only in the case of the commandment concerning the sabbath would such removal not affect His own nature or man’s moral responsibility. Hence, the change or removal of this one commandment proves the setting aside of Israel. God could not set aside any of the other nine commandments; but He could do so with respect to this one. For this Fourth Commandment was governmental in nature. It had nothing to do with intrinsic sin.
“Have ye not read what David did ... ?” (v.3) The Lord cited the instance of David entering the house of God and eating the showbread. This also happened on the sabbath day, for the showbread which David had been given to eat by the priest had just then on the sabbath day been removed from before the Lord in order to put hot bread in its place when the old showbread was taken away (see 1 Sam. 21.6). This event in David’s life had to have taken place on the sabbath, for according to Leviticus: “Every sabbath day he shall set it [the showbread] in order before Jehovah continually” (24.8). How thoroughly acquainted was our Lord with the Scriptures. It was God’s decision that the showbread was given to the priests to eat. David was not a priest, yet he ate it, and ate it on the sabbath day. Why could he eat it? Because David had already been anointed king. He is a type of the Christ (Anointed One of God) whom God has established. In ordinary times, David had no need to eat showbread. Due to persecution, however, he became hungry, and his followers were also hungry. So they ate the showbread on the sabbath. Likewise, our Lord was also rejected, and his followers were hungry. Their plucking the ears and eating them was no different from David’s eating the showbread. According to Darby’s version, there is in 1 Samuel 21.5 this clause: “and the bread is in a manner common.” Since David was not on the throne, all bread was common. Therefore, he and his followers could eat. This bread could not be judged by the covenant which God had originally made with the children of Israel. This was an extraordinary time. For at that very moment the ark was not in the house of God. The priests served in an empty house, and David was not on the throne. When David became king, there was a great change in dispensation. When the Lord shall come, there will be an even more thorough and drastic change.
Read Numbers 27.21 and 1 Samuel 2.35-37. “He shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire for him by the judgment of the Urim before Jehovah: at his word shall they go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he, and all the children of Israel with him, even all the congregation” (Num. 27.21). The “him” and “he” all refer to Joshua. Joshua represented government as political leader. Eleazar was the priest. From Moses onward, the authority of the priest had stood higher than the authority of the political person. “And I will raise me up a faithful priest, that shall do according to that which is in my heart and in my mind: and I will build him a sure house; and he shall walk before mine anointed for ever” (1 Sam. 2.35). Here was a fundamental difference. The anointed was to be David, and the priest was to be Samuel. This was a complete turnabout. Here, the priest must now hearken to the word of the political leader or king. This indicated a change of dispensation. From Moses to David, the priest was head and the leader was subordinate. But from David onward, the political leader who by this time was a king became head, and the priest became subordinate.
In the incident before us from Matthew 12 we find the Lord telling the Pharisees that the priest was no longer the head, that the King of all kings was now head. The history of the Jews was to undergo another and even more radical change—this time with respect to the sabbath. The rejection of the Lord by the Jews was the cause for the change of position with regard to the sabbath day. This change did not affect the other nine commandments, but it greatly influenced the commandment concerning the sabbath .*
* Unfortunately, as explained elsewhere, the notes end here.—Translator
THE LORD’S DAY
Assembling Together, CFP, 69-86, Watchman Nee
I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet . . .
This is the day which Jehovah hath made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.
And upon the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul discoursed with them, intending to depart on the morrow; and prolonged his speech until midnight.
Upon the first day of the week let each one of you lay by him in store, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come.
1 Cor. 16:2
God’s Creation and Rest
God measured each day by the evening and the morning. He repaired the earth in six days, and on the seventh day He rested. About two thousand five hundred years later, He gave the ten commandments in which He charged men to remember the Sabbath. All the other commandments are “shall” and “shall not”; only the fourth commandment calls us to remember God’s work. In other words, this remembrance points back to the creation of the world. It is to recall how God restored the world in six days and how He then rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the seventh day is God’s Sabbath. After more than two thousand years from the creation, God gave His Sabbath to men with the charge that they should rest on that day.
When God first gave the seventh day, the Sabbath, to men, He desired them to rest physically. Since God Himself rested on the seventh day and ceased from all His labor, He also desired men to work for six days and rest on the seventh day. The Sabbath was originally God’s day of rest but He gave it to men, especially to the people of Israel in order that they too might cease from all works and thus might rest. The thought of rest on the Sabbath is quite clear in the Old Testament.
Man’s First Day—The Original Seventh Day
The things in the Old Testament are but shadows of things in the New Testament. The Sabbath which God gave to men, like all other Old Testament types, has also a spiritual significance. God’s seventh day was actually man’s first day. God had just created man on the sixth day. So it became man’s first day of life on the earth. Furthermore, as soon as he was created, he entered into God’s rest. God worked for six days and then rested on the seventh day. But man first rested for one day before he started to work for six days. This is quite obvious.
The fulfillment of the meaning of the Sabbath comes by entering into God’s rest. But to enter into God’s rest, we must accept His work. God works, so we work; God rests, so we rest. We do not enter into God’s rest on our seventh day, for we never worked six days before resting. As a matter of fact, we rest before we work. This is a very basic principle to us, a principle basic to the gospel. Rest before work, rest preceding work—this is the gospel. God shows that in first providing us rest, He also enables us to work afterward. Praise God, having rested we are able to work.
For this reason, it was a great sin for anyone to violate the Sabbath. God gave this day for people to rest. How could men consider it as nothing if they worked on that day? Violation of the Sabbath was as sinful as Moses’ striking the rock with the rod (see Num. 20). God commanded Moses to speak to the rock that it might give forth water; He did not charge him to strike the rock with the rod. This was because the rock had been struck once and so should not be smitten again. Moses needed only to give a command and the rock would flow forth with living water. When he struck it the second time, he destroyed the work of God. As a consequence, Moses never entered the land of Canaan. On the same principle, how can anyone say that it does not matter if he violates the Sabbath? Judging from God’s truth, it matters a great deal. Man ought to enjoy God’s rest before he ventures to work. He needs to have entered into the value of the gospel before he starts to work. First, he enters God’s rest; then he can do God’s work. If he violates the Sabbath, he destroys what it typifies. Hence, the Sabbath has a very prominent place in the Old Testament.
During the Old Testament days, if anyone went out to the field on the Sabbath and gathered sticks for burning, he was to be stoned to death. This was because he had violated the Sabbath. By his actions he seemed to claim that he was capable of working and conducting himself well without having to enter first into God’s rest. God rested on the Sabbath because He was satisfied with His work. If we are satisfied with God’s work, we too should rest on the Sabbath as an expression of our acceptance of His work. For this reason, God commanded at the very outset that “the seventh day is a sabbath unto Jehovah thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates” (Ex. 20:10). Everyone in the house must cease working. This is the picture given us in the Old Testament.
The Sabbath in the New Testament
When it came to New Testament days, conditions were somewhat changed. It seems as if the Sabbath day became more positive in the New Testament. Whereas in the Old Testament there was the emphasis on not doing any work, in the New Testament the Lord Jesus read the law and the prophets in the synagogue on the Sabbath. That which was originally intended for physical rest had by then become a day for spiritual pursuit. This element is not found in the Old Testament. So there is progression in the New Testament: to physical rest has been added the hearing of the law and the prophets. The principle of setting apart one day out of seven for God is implied.
It is indeed marvelous to see the Sabbath in the New Testament turned into something more positive. On the Sabbath, people attended the synagogue to listen to the law and to the prophets. The Lord Jesus preached in the synagogue on the Sabbath; the apostles, including Paul himself, also preached and reasoned in the synagogue on the Sabbath. The Sabbath became not only a day of rest but also a day of positive use. Special emphasis was now laid on the spiritual side.
The Change of Position of the Sabbath
In studying the Bible, we must pay attention to the spirit of the Word. If we have a teachable spirit, we will notice how frequently there are shifts of position in the Bible. This is what we mean by finding facts. For in these facts, light is hidden. When the facts change, light also changes. Such, we find, is the case with the Sabbath. In the very beginning, the seventh day was the Sabbath. If anyone did not rest, he was punished by being stoned to death.
The four gospels show us that the Lord Jesus was raised on the first day of the week. He manifested Himself afterward five different times on that same first day of the week. The book of Acts records that the day of Pentecost also fell on the first day of the week since the fiftieth day was actually the first day of another week. The first day of the week is the eighth day. Nowhere in the Bible are we told that God ordered the Lord’s day to be substituted for the Sabbath. No, God simply made the change seen in the facts.
In reading the Old Testament, it seems as if each seven days forms a period which ends with the seventh day. According to typology, the first seven days speak of the old creation. God worked for six days and then He rested on the seventh day. This is the story of the old creation, concluded with the seventh day. God did not divide the days into months and years only; He especially divided them into weeks.
If the resurrection of the Lord Jesus had taken place at the end of the week, then the Old and the New Testaments would have been confused forever, for we then would have had the new creation and the old creation in the same week. But the Lord Jesus rose on the first day of the week, thereby marking a new beginning—that of the new creation. We desire that new believers would remember this principle in the Bible, that one day out of each seven days is set apart for spiritual purposes. On that day, no secular work should be done so that one may devote the time to spiritual affairs. The church in the New Testament has been quite naturally led by the Holy Spirit into having this day on the first day of the week, the resurrection day of the Lord Jesus. Unlike those living in Old Testament days, we are not charged as to what we cannot do. No, in the New Covenant there is no Sabbath, only the Lord’s day. God does not forbid the doing of certain things on the Lord’s day as He formerly had done for the Sabbath.
The Sabbath in the Old Testament is but a type. With the coming of the reality, the type has passed away. The Sabbath, like the sacrifice of bullocks and sheep, has passed away. The gospel has come. Man has entered into rest through the gospel. He is now able to serve God. This is the reality of the Sabbath.
So, under the New Covenant we have nothing to do with the Sabbath. This is not as simple as it may seem. If our interpretation of Revelation chapters 2 and 3 is correct, the legalistic party found in Christianity will be on the increase. New believers, therefore, must know the difference being presented here.
The principle of the Sabbath is as much a part of the gospel as our Lord’s sacrifice on the cross. All the Old Testament cattle and sheep point to the Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus. When He came, the cattle and sheep were no longer effectual. Should anyone today offer a bullock or a sheep as a sacrifice, he blasphemes our Lord. The Lord has become the sacrifice, so how can a bullock or sheep be offered again? In the same manner, now that the gospel has come, people can rest in God. God has finished all the work of redemption in the cross of His Son. We who listen to God’s Word enter into rest, not into work. Through the gospel we are enabled to rest before God. Only after entering into this rest can we rise up to serve. Since the rest of the gospel has come, naturally the Sabbath day has passed away. For us believers, the Sabbath has passed away just as much as has the sacrifice of cattle and sheep. Just as there are now no more cattle and sheep to be offered, so there is no longer a Sabbath day.
Let us be very careful in the use of the Word. Nowhere in the Bible can we find a Christian Sabbath day, for these two are contradictory. If we are Christians, then there is no Sabbath. If there is a Sabbath, then we are not Christians. The Sabbath belongs to the Old Testament. In the New Testament it has passed away.
The Lord’s Day in the New Testament
The New Covenant, however, does have its own day, based not on the Sabbath, but on one day out of every seven days. The Sabbath day has not been changed to become the Lord’s day; another day entirely has been chosen. Under the Old Covenant God chose the seventh day, but in the New Covenant He chose the first day of the week.
The fourth commandment says, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy . . . but the seventh day is a sabbath unto Jehovah thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work . . .” (Ex. 20:8, 10a). But under the New Covenant, when God selected another day, He did not prohibit anything. Nothing negative was ever mentioned. He never stated what may not be done on the Lord’s day; He only told us what should and can be done. The prime characteristic of the Lord’s day lies in its positiveness.
There is a very clear distinction between the Old and the New Covenants. So far as God’s appointed days are concerned, one came at the end of the week while the other came at the beginning of the week. The Old Covenant terminated with the seventh day; the New Covenant commenced with the first day of the week. The first week belonged exclusively to the old creation, but beginning on the first day of the next week there was only the new creation. There is absolutely no confusion, no mixing of the old and new within the same week. The Lord Jesus rose on the first day of the week; the church was born on the day of Pentecost, also the first day of the week.
Consequently, should anyone desire to go back and keep the seventh day, he confuses the New and the Old Covenants. There is absolutely no basis in the Bible for doing so. In reading Scripture, is it not surprising to find that seven days after the resurrection of the Lord, the disciples were found assembled together again on the first day of the second week? We do not know why they did not meet on the Sabbath day, but we do know that they did meet on the first day of the second week.
Scriptural Basis for the Lord’s Day
We think the following passages are of great importance: “The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner. This is Jehovah’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes. This is the day which Jehovah hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps. 118:22-24).
“Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even in him doth this man stand here before you whole. He is the stone which was set at nought of you the builders, which was made the head of the corner” (Acts 4:10-11).
Here the phrase is found “the stone rejected by the builders.” Who decides whether a stone is usable or not? It is the builders. If the mason says that a certain stone is unfit to build the house, you do not need to ask anybody else. Whatever the builder decides is final. But a strange thing happened. The stone which the builders rejected became the head of the corner. God put upon it the most important responsibility. What the builders considered useless, God made the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing. It is marvelous in our eyes. It is indeed marvelous. Verse 24, however, gives us an added marvel related to the Lord’s day. “This is the day which Jehovah hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” The day which the Lord has appointed is the day when the stone rejected by the builders became the chief cornerstone.
It is a day when we will rejoice and be glad. All should fear God and rejoice in His presence. Let us, then, find out what day it was when the stone rejected by the builders became the head of the corner. This we discover in Acts 4:10-11. Verse 10 says, “Whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead.” Verse 11 continues, “He is the stone which was set at nought of you the builders, which was made the head of the corner.” In other words, this is the day of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. God, not man, determined the day when He who was rejected by men was to be raised from the dead. Let there be no confusion. The Bible puts it very clearly that this is the day the Lord has made. What day is it? It is the day of resurrection. So let all the children of God gather in the name of God’s Son on that day and be glad.
Do you see the difference between the Lord’s day in the New Testament and the Sabbath day in the Old Testament? The latter is negative, full of “shalt not’s” and the threat of the punishment of death; the former, though, is a day of great rejoicing.
Things to Be Done on the Lord’s Day
In regard to the first day of the week, three things receive special attention in the Bible:
1. REJOICE—THE PROPER ATTITUDE
The first thing concerns our attitude. As we have just read, all the children of God should rejoice and be glad on the first day of the week, for this is the day our Lord was raised from the dead. There was no need to tell Peter and the other apostles to rejoice. During the days when their Lord was laid in the tomb, they experienced great disappointment and sadness. Then they found that the tomb was empty! They could not but rejoice and be glad.
This is the day the Lord has made. Let us maintain an attitude of rejoicing. There is no other day as marvelous as this day, for this is the day of the resurrection of our Lord. On the first day of the week, the Lord came to gather with the apostles; He came again on the first day of the second week. He must have appeared to them at least five times on the first day of the week. Later on, the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles and those gathered together on the first day of the week. It was at that time that Peter’s eyes were opened to see how the stone rejected by the builders had become the head of the corner as prophesied in Psalm 118. In His crucifixion He was rejected by the builders but by His resurrection He became the head of the corner. The Holy Spirit gave Peter this understanding. Who but the Holy Spirit could point out the Lord Jesus in this psalm? He was rejected by the builders, but in His resurrection, He became the head of the corner. This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad. It is the natural consequence of such a day.
2. ASSEMBLE TO BREAK BREAD
“And upon the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread” (Acts 20:7a). Notice the grammatical structure here. The second clause is in apposition to the preceding phrase, meaning that the first day of the week is the time when they gathered to break bread. It does not point to any specific first day of the week, but simply refers to every first day of the week. So naturally this has become the day when all the churches gather to break bread in remembrance of the Lord. What day is more excellent than this, the first day of the week?
We today are people of the New Covenant. One of its characteristics is that we meet the Lord on the first day of the week. This is the day of His resurrection, a day in which we rejoice and are glad. We break bread to testify that our Lord has already died for us; we break bread to attest to the oneness of the church. Other than this one thing that we must do, there also are other things that can be done on this day.
The breaking of bread has two meanings in Scripture: one is to remember the Lord and the other is to fellowship with all the children of God. One shows our communion with God and His Christ; the other discloses our fellowship with the body of Christ which is the church. When we break the bread, we commune with our Lord, for the bread represents the Lord. But also when we break the bread, we fellowship with all the saints, because this same bread represents the church—we, being many, are one bread. For this reason, the Lord’s day is the best time for us to fellowship with all of God’s children as well as to commune with the Lord.
It is literally impossible for me to give the right hand of fellowship to every one of God’s children on earth. Yet on each Lord’s day, all the children of God touch the one bread. Wherever they may be, they touch the same bread as I. In this way I touch all the children of God. Here I meet all my brothers and sisters as well as my Lord. I not only have fellowship with those who break the bread with me in the meeting but also with all whose hands touch the bread throughout the world. We, being many, are one bread. As I break bread with them, I also fellowship with them.
New believers should learn to maintain an unclouded relationship with all God’s children. They ought to learn love and forgiveness from the very outset. Who is it that the Bible teaches should not touch the Lord’s table? It is he who is unforgiving. If he does not forgive, he is unfit to touch the bread. By not forgiving another’s fault, he will have something between him and that other child of God We must neither be jealous of anyone nor refuse to fellowship with anyone. Nothing should be allowed to come between the brethren. Other than those who have been excommunicated for reasons of conduct or truth, we must not refuse fellowship to anybody. All God’s children everywhere should be in fellowship. Hence, there is a very real need for forgiveness and love. May our hearts go out toward all of God’s children.
“And upon the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread”—this is the way distinctly laid before us in the Bible. It has nothing to do with the Sabbath. The one and only similarity is that both were chosen out of the week for a specific purpose. The Bible never sanctions any attempt to change the Sabbath into the Lord’s day. Under the New Covenant God chose another day for us to remember our Lord.
“Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I gave order to the churches of Galatia, so also do ye. Upon the first day of the week let each one of you lay by him in store, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come” (1 Cor. 16:1-2). Here we find the second thing which should be done on the first day of the week. Paul repeated an order to the churches in Achaia that he formerly had given to the churches in Galatia. On each Lord’s day there was something to be done. It is quite evident that during the apostolic time, the first day of the week was a special day.
If Paul wanted to find the Jews, he looked for them on the Sabbath; but if he wanted to find the Christians, he had to do it on the first day of the week. This was not only true of the churches in Achaia and in Galatia but also true of the churches everywhere, for the first day of the week is a very special day to Christians. On that day we break bread to remember the Lord. On that day we give as the Lord has prospered us. Is it not surprising to find that giving is to be done once a week, not once a month? Many wait until the end of the month and some even wait until the end of the year; but Paul tells us, we must balance our accounts before God on the first day of each week. We should lay aside our contribution to the Lord as He has prospered us each week.
I work throughout the week, so then I put aside a certain amount out of that with which the Lord has prospered me during that week and give it to Him. I always feel this is an excellent thing. We break bread on the one hand and give on the other hand. We remember how the Lord has given Himself to us; now we also give something to the Lord.
Remember that he who receives more from God ought to give more. Among all the praises and thanks to the Lord, giving is also reckoned as a sacrifice of praise (see Heb. 13:16). It is a sacrifice which we must offer. At the breaking of bread, we remember what the Lord has done for us. After the bread is broken, we lay before the Lord a token of that with which He has prospered us. We merely put into the Lord’s hand that which He has first given us. To me, this is most beautiful. It is indeed an excellent thing to give on the Lord’s day.
If you will pardon me, I would like to speak very frankly to new believers. According to the New Testament, there are only two things which we must definitely do. The Lord has not said, “What if a lamb falls into a pit?” or “What if there is a paralytic?” There is not the slightest hint of the old Sabbath, for it has already passed away. It has been fulfilled so far as its spiritual significance is concerned. We have arrived at its reality in the gospel. The type gives way to the antitype. The Old Testament dispensation is over. In the church, the Lord has chosen another day. On the Lord’s day, the church should break bread and give offerings.
My brothers and sisters, do not come to meetings and give thoughtlessly. This is entirely wrong. You must carefully consider it before the Lord and have your offering ready as you come. Your coming to remember the Lord is not accidental; likewise, your giving should be planned and prearranged. On each Lord’s day, set aside a portion of what the Lord has prospered you with and bring it to the Lord. Let each one decide his own percentage. Give more if you are given more; less if you have less. The important thing is that you give your portion joyfully.
It looks ugly for anyone to fish out some money from his pocket and cast it carelessly into the offering box. It is almost unbearable to see such an action. Before you come to the meeting, you should have your offering ready. An offering is as serious as the breaking of bread. The breaking of bread signifies what God has given me, while the offering represents that which I present to God as a sacrifice. Do remember that an offering is a sacrifice. I must prepare my heart, set aside a portion, and bring it to God.
I often think (I wonder if you have thought of this too?) how at His return the Lord will settle accounts with His servants—the servant with the one talent, the one with the two talents, and the one with the five talents. Each Lord’s day is the time when we settle our accounts with the Lord, but one day the Lord will come and make a reckoning with us. He will examine how we have used the money and how much we have earned. Now, though, on the first day of each week, we make a reckoning with the Lord, saying, “Oh, Lord, I take out a portion of what I have earned during this week and offer it to you.” If we do this every week, we will have no fear at the judgment seat. Nothing unexpected will happen to us for our accounts will have been in order week after week.
The first day of the week is different from the Sabbath of the Old Testament. It is not a day of judgment, nor is it merely a day for physical rest. The cessation of all work is not required. Neither is judgment pronounced on those who do work. This day rather points out what two things we especially ought to do: one is to come to the Lord in order to receive grace, and the other is to offer our gift to the Lord. It is a day for us to rejoice and be glad. It is the Lord’s day.
We hope that new believers will enjoy the Lord’s grace and serve Him well on His day. God has chosen this day of the week for us. The Bible calls it the Lord’s day (see Rev. 1:10). Do not confuse the Lord’s day with the day of the Lord.
In reading the writings of the so-called church fathers, we find many of them verify that the Lord’s day points to the first day of the week. Many writings of the second and the third centuries attest to this fact. The day which the church gathered together during the second and the third centuries was the first day of the week, not the Sabbath. It is not true to say that the day was originally on the Sabbath but was changed to the first day of the week during the fourth century. At least twenty to thirty church fathers, starting with the disciples of the apostle John and continuing through the second, third, and fourth centuries, all agree that it was the first day of the week.
The Lord’s Day—the First Day of the Week
Why do we deal with this subject? What is the practical value of it? The application involved is most significant. The Lord has set apart one day in the week and called it the Lord’s day. If you ask me whether you can travel or buy things on this day, I frankly acknowledge that I do not know. But one thing I do know, and that is, this day is the Lord’s day, a day which belongs to Him. So you can do on this day whatever the Lord does and you cannot do what He does not do.
Throughout my life, I should set aside the Lord’s day as a very special day. If I live till seventy years of age (see Ps. 90:10), I can bow my head and say that out of these seventy years, I have taken ten years wholly for the Lord. It is very exact indeed. I set aside the first day of each week for the Lord. The day is not mine, but the Lord’s. Its hours do not belong to me, but to the Lord. If I rest, I rest for the Lord; if I work, I work for the Lord. Whether I do a thing or do not do a thing, it is all unto the Lord. There is no flavor of the Sabbath, no hint of punishment in it. I just simply offer the day completely to the Lord.
I think the apostle John spoke well when he wrote, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” (Rev. 1:10). As he waited upon the Lord, he came into the Spirit. Many can testify that they are moved by the Holy Spirit on the Lord’s day. May this day be the day when the Holy Spirit moves the church. May this be a day of blessing to us. It is well to say, “I am in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.” I hope all new believers will see what the Lord’s day is and thus offer it to Him saying, “Lord, this is your day.” It will be a great blessing to the church if many will begin from their youth to offer this day to the Lord. “O Lord, on this day I joyfully break the bread in remembrance of You; I also bring what I have and offer it to You. All my time throughout this day is to be spent for You.” If this is true, the blessing of God will be poured down abundantly upon the church.
Take Heed, CFP, 89-108
I know thy tribulation, and thy poverty (but thou art rich), and the blasphemy of them that say they are Jews, and they are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. (Rev. 2.9)
Behold, I give of the synagogue of Satan, of them that say they are Jews, and they are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. (Rev. 3.9)
In both the letter to the church at Smyrna and the letter to the church at Philadelphia, our Lord shows us how the Jews disturbed both churches. How seriously has Christianity been tampered with by Judaism. A slight carelessness will bring in Judaism. The priests of the Old Testament become our pastors today. Law regulates our behavior. Festivals are made mandatory of us. All this began at Smyrna and was practiced in Philadelphia. In the nineteenth century a group of people in the Church rose up and overcame the Judaizers. But up to the present, there yet remain the works of the Judaizers in the Church. The Protestant Church succeeded the Roman Church, but neither have their communicants been freed from the bondage of Judaism either. Let us therefore spend time to show new believers how to deal with this influence. In this message today we will deal with the Judaizers in the Church from the perspective of their attitude towards the law.
Of the Ten Commandments, the fourth one concerns the Sabbath day, which is Saturday. It is a mistake, say certain Judaizers, to observe it on the Lord’s Day. Let us see if this notion is in accordance with the teaching of the Scriptures, as is claimed by its adherents.
First of all, what do the Scriptures teach about the law? God never gave it to the Gentiles. He gave it to the nation of Israel: “He showeth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his ordinances unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation: and as for his ordinances, they have not known them. Praise ye Jehovah” (Ps. 147.19-20). It is the explicit teaching of the Bible that the Gentiles do not have the law: “When Gentiles that have not the law do by nature the things of the law, these, not having the law, are the law unto themselves” (Rom. 2.14).
(1) How about the Gentiles after they are saved? Acts 15.5 reads: “there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees who believed, saying, It is needful to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the law of Moses.” Nevertheless, the decision of the council at Jerusalem was: “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you [Gentile believers] no greater burden than these necessary things; that ye abstain from things sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication; from which if ye keep yourselves, it shall be well with you” (Acts 15.28-29). The Gentiles do not have the law before they are saved, and they are not required to keep the law after they are saved. For God has not given the law to the Gentiles.
(2) How about the Jews? The law was given to the Jews. They are born under the law. “Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law, till all things be accomplished” (Matt. 5.18). The Lord has no intention of destroying the law among the Jews, for they are under the law. “To fulfil” (5.17) means to fill it to the full. For example, formerly it was: “Thou shalt not kill”; today, says Jesus, it is: Thou shalt not hate. This is to fill the law to the full.
(3) Many Jews have believed in the Lord. How about their relationship to the law? When the Jews become Christians, they belong to the Church in which there is neither Jew nor Gentile (see Col. 3.11). Paul illustrates it this way: “are ye ignorant, brethren (for I speak to men who know the law), that the law hath dominion over a man for so long time as he liveth? For the woman that hath a husband is bound by law to the husband while he liveth; but if the husband die, she is discharged from the law of the husband. So then if, while the husband liveth, she be joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if the husband die, she is free from the law, so that she is no adulteress, though she be joined to another man. Wherefore, my brethren, ye also were made dead to the law through the body of Christ; that ye should be joined to another, even to him who was raised from the dead, that we might bring forth fruit unto God” (Rom. 7.1-4).
For a Jew to believe in the Lord is like a woman getting married. How can she be freed from the former husband, the law? There is only one way—if the husband dies. But here is a problem: As we have read already, heaven and earth may pass away, but one jot or one tittle of the law shall not pass away till all things be accomplished. What can be done if the law never dies? Well, even if the law does not die, you can die. How? “Ye also were made dead to the law through the body of Christ.” So the teaching of Romans 7.1-4 is that though the law cannot die, God has caused us to die with Christ, and thus we are freed from the law. Through the death of Christ we are set free from the law. We are raised from the dead with Christ and then married to Him. This death is real death. Hence, in being joined to Christ, we are no adulteress. God uses the death of Christ to include our death. How assured this is. And resurrection is also sure.
Hence, a man (even a Jew) who has formerly been under the law has died and been raised in Christ to receive new life. He is not under law anymore since he has already died. “Sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under law, but under grace” (Rom. 6.14). Furthermore, “now we have been discharged from the law, having died to that wherein we were held; so that we serve in newness of the spirit, and not in oldness of the letter” (Rom. 7.6). In believing in the Lord, one is discharged from the law. The position of a Christian is that he has died. It is a position of death, he having been crucified with Christ. The law has no relationship with him, it having only a relationship with the old man.
(4) We must show new believers why God gave the law. There is a good reason for it, made clear in the Scriptures. “Now this I say: A covenant confirmed beforehand by God, the law, which came four hundred and thirty years after, doth not disannul, so as to make the promise of none effect…. What then is the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise hath been made; and it was ordained through angels by the hand of a mediator…. Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could make alive, verily righteousness would have been of the law…. But now that faith is come, we are no longer under a tutor” (Gal. 3.17,19,21,25).
These words explain why the law was given and how we are delivered from the law. Four hundred and thirty years before God gave the law He had already promised to Abraham that “in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12.3b). Abraham believed God and was thus reckoned to be righteous. His descendants also shall be saved through faith, for the promise of God is according to the gospel of grace. Before the gospel of grace is accomplished, there is first the promise. Yet to receive grace, there must also be transgressions. For if men have no need, they cannot accept grace. Yet in the sight of God all are sinners. But men themselves do not know that they are sinners. They need to sin before they know themselves to be sinners. How can they know they have sinned? By giving them the law. With the coming of the law comes also a knowledge of transgression. For example, there has been coveting, but to man it is not known to be sin. But after God says, “Thou shalt not covet” (Ex. 20.17a), coveting transgresses the law, thus becoming sin. The use of the law is to expose to man the sin of man. “Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image . . . ; thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them” (Ex. 20.4a-5a). Man’s making a hundred golden calves as images is not known to be sin, not till the law was proclaimed by God to the people from the heavens (see Ex. 20.1-6, 20-23).
Abraham was reckoned by God as righteous because of his faith. This too was the covenant of the Lord, the Abrahamic Covenant. Yet, as Paul has said, how untrustworthy were men. Accordingly, four hundred and thirty years after that covenant was made, God gave men the law. The law was to be kept, and yet it did not disannul the covenant God had made with Abraham and his descendants. Then what is the use of the law? “What then is the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise hath been made” (Gal. 3.19). With the law added, there comes transgression. Thus God is able to put His covenant into effect. Sin was originally present, but the sinner could not receive the grace of God because he had no knowledge of his sin. Now, though, he has sinned against the law; and so, he is able to receive grace. The law will continue on till the Lord Jesus shall come. “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John” (Matt 11.13). The function of the law is to fulfill the promise. The end is grace, and the means is law. The law must be used to bring people into grace.
Do law and grace oppose each other? No. Wrote the apostle Paul: “before faith came, we were kept in ward under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. So that the law is become our tutor to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3.23-24). The law is God’s servant, leading us to Christ. Once we touch Christ, we are no longer under the tutor anymore, that is, under the law. Hereafter we do not live under law, nor do we follow it any longer. For the more we keep the law, the more hopeless we are. Nevertheless, it has led us to Christ. The law, therefore, is not to be considered a hindrance.
(5) Some argue that even though we are saved by Christ and not by the law, we still need to keep the law after we are saved. Let us again look into the Letter to the Galatians and discover how it deals with such people. The apostle Paul maintains that as it was useless for man to keep the law for justification, so it is equally needless for man to keep the law after being justified through faith in Christ. Some Judaizers had urged the Galatian believers to keep the law. “I marvel,” said the apostle Paul, “that ye are so quickly removing from him that called you in the grace of Christ unto a different gospel; which is not another gospel: only there are some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ” (Gal. 1.6-7). If you were not able to keep the law before, you are still unable to keep it now. Paul went further by saying, “If any man preacheth unto you any gospel other than that which ye received, let him be anathema” (v.9). “Anathema” means “accursed.”
“If I build up again those things which I destroyed, I prove myself a transgressor” (2.18). Whoever is to preach a gospel of another kind is to be cursed. If I build up this other and false gospel, I am a transgressor. For Christ has died to the law so that I might live unto Him. “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me” (v.20a). Only one who is living can again be put under the law. Since I have died with Christ, who will possibly be put under the law save Christ who lives in me? It is absolutely impossible. So I who now live unto Christ can never again be put under the law. The law speaks to the natural man; it cannot speak to the man who is dead.
“O foolish Galatians, who did bewitch you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was openly set forth crucified? . . . Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now perfected in the flesh?” (3.1,3) The law has its demand upon the flesh, but you are in the Spirit. It would be going backward if you try to be perfected by keeping the law.
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law” (5.22-23). “Against such there is no law” may also be interpreted as “against which there is no control of the law.” For the fruit of the Spirit is not under the control of the law. That which violates the law is the flesh; that which keeps the law is also the flesh. The fruit of the Spirit is beyond the reach of the law. If you try to keep the law, it is your flesh that attempts it. As the law enters in, the Holy Spirit ceases to be active. The moment you think of keeping the law, immediately the flesh comes forth. It is far better if you do not try to keep the law, for the object of the law is the flesh. So this is Christianity.
Since the law cannot give us justification, how can we who have been justified in Christ return again to the law? If we are not careful, we may easily be Judaized. People who do not understand God’s plan and arrangement of salvation always attach themselves to the law. When God gave the law to men, His purpose was not for them to keep the law for the law’s sake. It did not say that keeping the law would satisfy His heart. The reason for asking them to keep the law was to obtain the righteousness according to the law. To not covet, to honor father and mother, and to not worship idols—all these are reckoned as righteousness. So the keeping of the law is not for the sake of honoring the law, but rather for the purpose of attaining to the righteousness according to the law.
Here we have (i) the keeping of the law, (ii) the righteousness according to the law, and (iii) the receiving of life before God. The righteousness according to the law comes through the keeping of the law, but who is able to keep the law? Now through Christ we have received life. After we have received life the Judaizers would tell us we must still keep the law. Yet this is recalling the old man back to life. We are saved because God has put us into the death of Christ. We are reckoned righteous through the blood of our Lord. In Him we receive a new life which is not subject to the keeping of the law. In order to again keep the law the flesh must be revived to keep it. For this new life has no need of keeping the law. When we receive life, the righteous requirement of the law is already fulfilled in us. There is no need for us to keep it. “That the ordinance [mgn: “requirement”] of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8.4). “Do not covet” is the law. “Not coveting” is righteousness. We today refrain from coveting because of the righteousness which comes from the life of Christ. We do not need to keep the law, and yet we have the righteous requirement of the law. This is the gospel. Christians do not covet—yet this does not come from the law that says: “Do not covet”; it comes from the righteousness of the Holy Spirit. This truly is the gospel!
The law does not end in itself. It ends in righteousness. But now apart from the law, God has used another means to produce righteousness. We are not justified by keeping the law; therefore, once being justified we have no obligation to keep the law. Now because life does not come from keeping the law, so it is useless for us to keep the law after we have been saved and received new life. We have been crucified with Christ. We are not justified by keeping the law. The righteousness of God comes to us through faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. Having begun in the Holy Spirit, we now must be perfected in the same Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who works in us that righteousness.
“But now that ye have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how turn ye back again to the weak and beggarly rudiments, whereunto ye desire to be in bondage over again?” (Gal. 4.9) “For freedom did Christ set us free: stand fast therefore, and be not entangled again in a yoke of bondage” (5.1). “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also were made dead to the law through the body of Christ; that ye should be joined to another, even to him who was raised from the dead, that we might bring forth fruit unto God” (Rom. 7.4). Everyone who has received life is joined to Christ. Through the death of Christ a Christian is raised from the dead that he might be joined to Christ. He not merely receives life; he actually is joined to the life of Christ. So a saved person is one who has been raised from the dead and is joined to Christ. He is married to Him. Whoever tempts him to go back to law makes him an adulteress. This is to be accursed.
In the latter part of Romans 7.4 it says: “that ye should be joined to another, even to him who was raised from the dead, that we might bring forth fruit unto God.” It does not say, do not worship idols. It says that we bear or bring forth the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and one of the fruits is not worshiping idols. We are not to produce the righteousness according to the law by keeping the law, but to fulfill the righteousness of the law through the fruit of the Holy Spirit. There is the righteousness of the law without the need of keeping the law.
Now concerning the keeping of the Sabbath, we have seen in the days of the local church at Smyrna that the Judaizers came in. Later, during the ascendancy of the Roman Church, Judaism and Christianity became deeply intertwined. For over a thousand years the Lord’s Day was called the Christian Sabbath. Furthermore, a century ago the Judaizers came into the Church again and commanded people to keep the Sabbath. They even hung the text of the Ten Commandments in church buildings. They considered the Sabbath, which is Saturday, to be the Lord’s Day. Yet Saturday is the Sabbath of the Jews, while Sunday is the Lord’s Day of the Christians. The Christians do not keep the Sabbath day of the Fourth Commandment. It is highly improper to change the Sabbath, which is the seventh day of the Jewish week, to the first day of the week. The real issue, however, does not lie in which day of the week it is. It rests in the fact that Christians do not keep the Sabbath, for we believers are not under the law.
Let us see what the Scriptures teach about the Sabbath: (1) The first mention of it is found in Genesis 2.3: “God blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it; because that in it he rested from all his work which God had created and made.” From that time, for the next two thousand five hundred years nothing further was heard about the Sabbath. (2) After leading the children of Israel out of Egypt, God gave the Sabbath to them in the wilderness: “See, for that Jehovah hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day” (Ex. 16.29). (3) The Sabbath became law: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is a sabbath unto Jehovah thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days Jehovah made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore Jehovah blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it” (Ex. 20.8-11). (4) You as the people of God must keep My Sabbath day for this is a sign between you and Me throughout the generations. So instructs the word of God in the Old Testament: “Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily ye shall keep my sabbaths: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am Jehovah who sanctifieth you. . . . It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days Jehovah made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed” (Ex. 31.13,17)—“Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am Jehovah that sanctifieth them” (Eze. 20.12). (5) To keep the Sabbath is the salvation of the Jews. It is quite evident that the Sabbath is given to the Jews as a sign.
What does Paul teach concerning the Sabbath? He maintains that the Sabbath is a thing that has passed away: “having blotted out the bond written in ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us: and he hath taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross . . . Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a feast day or a new moon or a sabbath day: which are a shadow of the things to come; but the body is Christ’s” (Col. 2.14,16-17). “The bond written in ordinances” refers to the entire law. On the cross our Lord has blotted out the entire law. This is because the law attacks us and demands us to be holy. But we are sinful. So the Lord was crucified for us. The Judaizers argue that what has been blotted out is the ceremonial law, but that the moral law was not taken away. Feast days, new moons and Sabbath days are not classified by them as being under ceremonial law. Therefore, they must be kept, even as the moral law under the Ten Commandments.
However, the Scriptures do not make such a distinction. All the ceremonial laws are for moral purposes. To offer sacrifice is for a moral reason. Colossians shows us that what has been blotted out is not merely the ceremonial law. “The bond written in ordinances” refers to the total contract God made with Israel. It is the same as when we sign a contract today. In Exodus 19.5 we read: “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be mine own possession from among all peoples: for all the earth is mine.” And in verse 8: “all the people answered together, and said, All that Jehovah hath spoken we will do.” There is the bond written in ordinances. It refers to moral and not only to ceremonial law. So let us cause new believers to see that for us Christians it has already been nailed to the cross.
In Romans 7.7 we see the presence of the law: “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Howbeit, I had not known sin, except through the law: for I had not known coveting, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” But in Colossians 2.14 we see that the law has been taken out of the way, having been nailed to the cross. Verse 16 follows verse 14. Because the law has been taken out of the way, therefore meat or drink or feast day or new moon or sabbath day have all passed away. According to Exodus 19.8, there is no reason to divide the law into ceremonial and moral law. Christians therefore are not subject to these laws.
The Judaizers immediately retort that the Sabbath day mentioned in Colossians 2.16 is not a regular Sabbath day. It is the Sabbath day of a feast. But the Greek original shows the number to be plural here: “sabbaths.” It therefore includes the Sabbath days of the weeks as well as the Sabbath days of the feasts; otherwise, why should the Sabbath be mentioned after citing the feast, which already includes its Sabbath day? Accordingly, no one has the authority to say that the Sabbath day of the week is excluded from the meaning of Colossians 2.16.
Furthermore, the Judaizers in Colosse were not as interested in the Sabbath days of the feasts as they were concerned with the Sabbath days of the weeks. That is why Paul wrote the letter to the Colossians in order to show them that all these things had passed away. Only in modern days have people tried to separate the Sabbath days of the weeks from the Sabbath days of the feasts.
In the same verse (2.16) the apostle declares, “Let no man therefore judge you . . .” In other words, these things are not worthy to be judged; for these things are “a shadow of the things to come; but the body is Christ’s” (v.17).
“Wherefore, my brethren, ye also were made dead to the law through the body of Christ; that ye should be joined to another, even to him who was raised from the dead, that we might bring forth fruit unto God” (Rom. 7.4). As Christians we have been discharged from the law of the former husband. The Judaizers, however, debate the point and remonstrate that the law here refers only to ceremonial law. How absurd is their reasoning. In verse 7 Paul notes this: “I had not known coveting, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” This is one of the Ten Commandments. It is moral, not ceremonial. So “if the husband die, she is discharged from the law of the husband” (Rom. 7.2b). “The law of the husband” is the law of the Ten Commandments.
“For if the ministration of condemnation hath glory, much rather doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. . . . For if that which passeth away was with glory, much more that which remaineth is in glory. . . . And [we] are not as Moses, who put a veil upon his face, that the children of Israel should not look stedfastly on the end of that which was passing away ... But if the ministration of death, written, and engraven on stones, came with glory, so that the children of Israel could not look stedfastly upon the face of Moses for the glory of his face; which glory was passing away: how shall not rather the ministration of the spirit be with glory?” (2 Cor. 3.9,11,13,7-8)
Here we see the difference between the ministration of the law and the ministration of the Spirit, the difference between the ministry of Moses and the ministry of Christ. The law condemns, brings in death, and is passing away. This distinctively points to the law written and engraved on stones. The Judaizers again use their sole argument, they saying that the law that ministers death refers to ceremonial law. But we all know that what were inscribed on the stones (the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments) were moral laws. Today the law of the Spirit is written upon our hearts. In verse 3 we only see the contrast between the tables of stone and hearts of flesh. Thus have we been absolutely freed from the law. God has made Christ our righteousness through the Holy Spirit. There is no need for us to keep the law. Therefore the question of the Sabbath is a thing of the past.
“One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let each man be fully assured in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that eateth, eateth unto the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, unto the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks” (Rom. 14.5-6). Here, two matters are being dealt with: (a) keeping or not keeping a day, and (b) eating or not eating meat. Some people eat vegetables and not meat. Paul says that this person is one who is weak in faith.
Likewise, there are people whose conscience bothers them if they do not keep a day. These, again, are weak in faith (see v.1).
In the Old Testament time, a person who did not keep the Sabbath day was to be stoned to death. In the New Testament time, the Jews wanted to kill the Lord for His not keeping the Sabbath. They were not able to carry out their plan because miracles through Jesus were definitely being performed. In the days of Paul, the apostle maintained that “every day [was] alike.” Here must have been a change in dispensation. The Sabbath day is a shadow of things to come. There is in the law a portion which serves as type. In the Old Testament, commands to keep the Sabbath day are frequently given. Even in the millennial kingdom the Jews will still offer sacrifices. Yet in the New Testament writings of Paul he did not exhort people to keep the Sabbath day, not even once. It would really be strange if the Sabbath day was to be kept and yet was not mentioned at all. Thus we realize that the dispensation has changed.
According to Acts 15.22, at the council in Jerusalem the apostles and elders were all present. If the Sabbath day was important, surely it would have been taken up and decided on by the council. But this was not addressed. For the law and the prophets prophesied until John. Christ is now the sum of the law. Hence in the New Testament there is no command that we need to keep the Sabbath day. In Colossians we are told that the Sabbath day has passed away. Paul also maintained—in Romans 14—that to keep or esteem a day or not is something optional.
Finally, nothing in the New Covenant needs to be completed with the help of the Old Covenant. The Roman Church teaches that keeping the Lord’s Day is keeping the Sabbath day of Christianity. Yet this is to blend together Judaism and Christianity. Here come the Judaizers who try to bring the entire system of Judaism into Christianity. Yet if we must keep the Sabbath day, then we are no longer Christians. By accepting the Jewish system, we drop the status of being Christians and turn into pure Jews—even as the apostle Paul declared: “Ye observe days, and months, and seasons, and years. I am afraid of you, lest by any means I have bestowed labor upon you in vain” (Gal. 4.10-11).
The Book of Acts is a continuation of the history of Christ as presented in the Gospels. Yet Acts gives facts but no explanations. It is only history and not teaching as well. The completion of the establishment of Christianity came in about 96 A.D. (the date of the writing of the Book of Revelation), that is to say, by the end of the first century. Then was fulfilled what the Lord had predicted: “Howbeit, when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he shall guide you into all the truth” (John 16.13a). All these Jewish influences of which we have been speaking gradually dropped off, Christianity evolved step by step, so that in the Epistles we finally have Christianity in its more complete form. It is important for us to know and to recognize the progress of Christianity. In the Jerusalem council told about in Acts 15 James and the others did not argue over the matter of keeping the Sabbath day. In fact, it never came up. They discussed circumcision. Paul himself had entered the Jerusalem temple to declare the fulfillment of the days of purification. There is nothing surprising for a Jew to be circumcised. However, we hope the brethren today will see the progress and completion of Christian teachings. Then we shall know what Christianity truly and fully is.
When our Lord was on earth He kept the Sabbath day and received circumcision. But the Letter to the Galatians puts an end to this matter of the Sabbath. The same is true with circumcision. Only after 70 A.D. (the Roman destruction of Jerusalem’s Temple) could the letters of Paul stand on the pure ground of Christianity. Before that time the Temple and the priests were still present. It was easy to sit on the fence and enjoy both the lamb and the Lamb of God. For this reason we were given the Letter to the Hebrews. The following verse therein points to this changing time: “There remaineth no more a sacrifice for sins” (10.26). Thereafter, people could no longer straddle the fence. Furthermore, Christianity has developed to the point where a word of God resolves all the problems of the past.
If the Jewish Temple existed today we would still have difficulties, for these Judaizers would bring forth such midway things as have been discussed. A fundamental principle to be recognized is that nothing in the Scriptures can be decided midway. These matters of the Sabbath day and the law are both midway things. They cannot be resolved without going to the Epistles. The final word on the teaching concerning the Sabbath is found in Colossians 2.14, which declares: God has “blotted out the bond written in ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us; and he hath taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross.”