First Day Sabbath - Sign of the Kingdom

Introduction - the resurrection was the beginning of all things being made new

Today is resurrection day on the church calendars. But the Puritans would point out that every Sunday is resurrection day. In fact, the very change of the Sabbath from the seventh day to the first day is a powerful testimony to the fact that the Messiah has come and that He is making all things new. Every Sunday we point back to the resurrection of Jesus.

And before we even look at the sabbath as a sign of the New Covenant, I want to introduce the need for that sign by showing the radical changes that Christ's resurrection introduced. Sometimes we emphasize the continuities between Old Testament and New Testament so much that we forget about all the things that are new. 1 Corinthians 15 makes a big point of stating that this was the beginning of the New Covenant kingdom that had been anticipated for the previous four thousand years. His resurrection was called a firstfruits - a guarantee that all things would be made new.

Even heaven was a new thing for humans. You may not have realized that, but no one went to heaven in the Old Testament. I have a little paper that goes through every verse of the afterlife to show that. Even Elijah, who was caught up into the sky and taken away to a private place to be buried, did not have his soul go to heaven. Previous to Christ's resurrection, saints went down to paradise in the heart of the earth. Luke 16 describes the two compartments in the heart of the earth, with the lower section being the place of torment and the upper place being paradise. But both compartments were in the heart of the earth and Lazarus and the rich man could talk to each other.

So in the Old Testament, paradise was a provisional place of joy before God prepared heaven for us. But Jesus emptied out Sheol at the time of His resurrection and took the saints to heaven. Prior to His death, Jesus dogmatically affirmed, "No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven" (John 3:13). Prior to Christ's resurrection, no one had ever ascended to heaven. But Jesus said that all this was soon to change. He told His disciples, "I go to prepare a place for you." Now paradise is in heaven. That is a profound change that happened as a result of Christ's resurrection.

So there is a new home. But believers also have a new center for worship - no longer in the earthly temple, but now our focus is on the heavenly temple. The Old Jerusalem has been traded in for the New Jerusalem (Rev. 3:12). The resurrection ushered in a new priesthood, new covenant, new worship, and new mediator. The church has been made a "new man" formed of both Jew and Gentile (Eph. 2:15). Unlike the Old Testament (where very few had spiritual gifts), every believer has new spiritual gifts because we now live in the age of the Spirit - the age of the Messiah. In fact, Scripture affirms that Christ is progressively making all things new in the New Covenant. Why? Because His death and resurrection purchased and guaranteed a new heavens and new earth. That is the trajectory that planet earth is headed towards.

Even the unchangeable things have something new about them. Let me illustrate. Though God's moral law is unchangeable and is said to endure forever, there is something new about it. Jesus said, "A new commandment I give to you that you love one another as I have loved you." John explains that Jesus did not mean that the commandments themselves have changed. 1 John 2:7 says that the new commandment is really the "old commandment which you have had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you heard from the beginning." Well, if that is the case, what is the newness about it? It is that for the first time in human history we have a new human model who has perfectly kept God's commandments - Jesus. And Jesus lives His laws through us. So even the unchangeable law has a newness to it. Jesus modeled it for us, empowers us to live it, writes it on our hearts, and actually lives that law from within us. Jesus said, "Behold I am making all things new" (Rev. 21:5). So the resurrection of Jesus is not a peripheral doctrine. It is the hinge on the door that is progressively closing out the old creation and opening up the new creation. It is the beginning of His kingdom.

One of the new things is the new covenant Sabbath (1 Cor. 16:1-2 in context)

And what I want to talk about today is how the change of the Sabbath from the seventh day to the first day is a sign that all of this is true. Sometimes people wonder why we don't worship on the seventh day of the week. Didn't the Old Testament command us to worship on the seventh day of the week? Yes it did - and for a very specific reason, which we will get to. But the Bible also commands all New Covenant believers to worship on the first day of the week - again, for a very specific reason, which we will get to.

And by the end of this sermon, I hope you begin to have a holy excitement and enthusiasm for the privilege of living in the era that we live in. The Sunday Sabbath showcases the major transition that the resurrection of Jesus brought into human history. This is why the Puritans said that Easter celebration downplays the significance of the fact that every Sunday is resurrection day. You don't have to agree with them about whether it is lawful to have the yearly celebration to appreciate the fact that there is something incredibly special about a Sunday Sabbath.

And by the way, the connection of these verses to the chapter before is not accidental. 1 Corinthians chapter 15 is the largest exposition upon the resurrection of Jesus that we have in the Bible. It carefully lays out the reality and implications of that resurrection. But now, verses 1-2 of chapter 16 give the change in the sign of the covenant - the first day Sabbath. The Sabbath has always been the sign of the covenant. In Exodus 31:13 it is called an everlasting sign. In Ezekiel 20 it is called the sign of the everlasting covenant. Any way you slice it, the sabbath endures forever. And Paul now shows how Sunday worship is the sign that Jesus has begun to make all things new.

Where Colossians 2:15-19 absolutely prohibits Old Covenant day-keeping...

And I think it is important to realize that this day-keeping that is commanded in our chapter is in stark contrast to the day-keeping that is prohibited in Colossians 2 and other passages. Colossians 2 is quite clear that while keeping Old Covenant days for educational purposes is quite OK (and that is why Paul continued to celebrate Pentecost, for example), no Old Covenant days are binding any longer. So Paul says, "Let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ" (vv. 16-17). To no longer be judged by whether or not you keep those Old Covenant days indicates that they are optional and not binding. Paul enjoyed keeping Pentecost, but not as a mandate. The moment you impose a day-keeping that is Old Covenant, Paul says that you are at that moment denying the reality of Christ's resurrection. His resurrection changed everything, including day-keeping. So keeping the Sabbath on Sunday is not a peripheral issue. It is a central sign of the New Covenant Kingdom.

Now some Reformed people have gone overboard and said that Colossians is doing away with all day-keeping, and there should be no requirements to attend church. They have said that there is no Sabbath in the New Covenant. But that is absurd since Paul commanded day-keeping in this passage. Something has to happen on the first day of the week, and not on any other day of the week. Paul is not going to contradict himself. Colossians is only prohibiting Old Covenant day-keeping. Judaism is the whole context of Colossians 2.

And besides, there are many passages stating that people will be keeping the Sabbath until the last day of history. For example, Isaiah 66 prophesies that even though Jesus will make all things new in the New Covenant (including the Sabbath), there will still be Sabbath observance of some sort until the last day of history. It predicts, "'And it shall come to pass that from ... one Sabbath to another, all flesh shall come to worship before Me,' says the LORD" (Is. 66:23). That chapter clearly indicates that the church will observe the Sabbath until the last day of history. And Gentiles will observe it; all flesh will observe it. So Colossians is not against all day-keeping. What Paul is doing in Colossians 2 is doing away with the mandate of every Old Covenant day.

1 Corinthians 16:1-2 mandates a New Covenant day-keeping.

And this passage is one of several New Testament passages that mandate some form of New Covenant day-keeping. The text I read earlier is more literally translated this way:

Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day Sabbath let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.

The phrase, "first day of the week" is literally "first day Sabbath" in the Greek. It is a clear declaration that Sunday is the New Covenant Sabbath. The Greek is Κατὰ μίαν σαββάτων - first day sabbath. To understand how this is even possible, I have put two key concepts into your outlines that you need to understand.

Key concept: the Sabbath is both a moral law (Neh. 9:14; 13:17; Is. 56:2; Mark 3:4) and a ceremonial "sign" of the covenant (Ezek. 20:12,20; Is. 55:3 with 56:1-8; Exodus 31:16-17). As a moral law it is forever (Ex. 31:16-17; Is. 66:22-23), but as a "sign" it can change (Rom. 14; 1 Cor. 16:1-2; Col. 2:16; with Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1; John 20:1; etc.)

The first key concept is that the Sabbath is both a moral law and a ceremonial law. Some people have emphasized the ceremonial aspect of the Sabbath and have said that the Sabbath is completely done away with. But even if they were right in saying that it was only a ceremonial sign, they still cannot say that it is abolished because it was one of the few signs that was said to be everlasting. Passover was one of the other everlasting signs. It got changed, but it did not get done away with. The blood sacrifice was removed, but the rest of the meal remained, and is now called the Lord's Supper. There are changes to the sign, but the central meaning of that ceremony continues. And in the same way, even if the Sabbath were only a ceremonial sign, it would still be eternal. But I believe it is more accurate to say that the command has both moral and ceremonial aspects.

I've given you some sample verses that show the sabbath to be a moral law. If breaking it is called a sin and evil during New Testament times, it is a moral law. Isaiah 56:1-8 speaks of a time in history when the Old Covenant ceremonial laws are no longer binding and when a eunuch (like the Ethiopian eunuch) can be in His house and within the walls of His temple and when foreigners will be able to occupy God's temple. In the Mosaic law, eunuchs could not enter the temple and foreigners could not go beyond the outer courts. Commentators point out that by reversing those two things, this passage is clearly describing New Covenant era realities. None of the things in Isaiah 56:1-8 could take place in the Old Covenant. So there is absolutely no question about the fact that Isaiah 56:1-8 is dealing with our New Covenant times.

Yet in verse 2 God blesses those in the New Covenant who keep His Sabbath and says that such keeping is not only avoiding evil, but is keeping justice and righteousness. By declaring Sabbath breaking in New Covenant times as being evil and by declaring Sabbath-keeping as being justice and righteousness, He is clearly placing the Sabbath in the realm of the moral law. That's why I say that it isn't just ceremonial, but also has moral dimensions.

Thus it is no surprise to find Nehemiah telling Gentile unbelievers that they are engaged in evil when they violated the Sabbath in the book of Nehemiah. If it was purely ceremonial, it would not have been binding on the Gentiles, and would not have been called evil by Nehemiah. So even the book of Nehemiah shows that the Sabbath transcends Israel and is binding on all Gentiles. This is because Genesis 2:1-3 made the Sabbath a creation ordinance binding on all mankind.

And as another "by the way," before the fall, Adam and Eve began their week with God's seventh day Sabbath. God ends His week with a Sabbath, but mankind is to begin his week with a Sabbath just like New Covenant people are supposed to. Adam and Eve’s first evening-morning sequence was the Sabbath. The fall into sin changed that and God put man's sabbath at the end of the week to look forward to the coming Messiah who would come at the end of the Old Covenant to be a Perfect Adam. But in any case, the Sabbath as a moral law endures forever.

But I mentioned that the Sabbath is also a ceremonial law. It is called a "sign" in the law and it is called an everlasting sign of the everlasting covenant in Ezekiel. A sign is an aspect of ceremonial law. And the reason there is a ceremonial law right in the middle of the ten commandments is because the ten commandments constitute a mini-covenant. And all covenants have a sign of the covenant. So if the Sabbath is a sign, it means that it has some ceremonial dimension and at least the ceremonial dimension can change. Moral laws can't change, but ceremonial laws can.

And this whole sermon will look at the changes to the Sabbath that God's law authorized. What do signs do? They point to something. When you have a road sign, it is pointing this direction to Lincoln. And Hebrews tells us that the Sabbath pointed to our rest being found in Jesus. And since Jesus had not yet come as their Messiah in the Old Testament times, the Sabbath was kept at the end of the week to symbolize the fact that Jesus would come at the end of the Old Covenant age.

Key concept: While there must be a change of every ceremonial law (Heb. 7:12), there can be no change to the moral law (Psalm 111:7,8; 119:89-92,152,160; Matt. 5:18,19).

The second key concept in your outlines says, "While there must be a change of every ceremonial law (Heb. 7:12), there can be no change to the moral law (Psalm 111:7,8; 119:89-92,152,160; Matt. 5:18,19)," and I give the verses to show that. For example, I already mentioned that Passover was a ceremonial law that changed to the Lord's Table. Circumcision was a ceremonial law that changed to baptism. The food laws changed three times. The food laws are not moral laws; they are ceremonial laws. And though the Sabbath has moral principles that will never change, it also has ceremonial dimensions that did change.

But before I get to that change, let me prove this point. Speaking of the ceremonial law, Hebrews 7:12 says, "The priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law." Ceremonial law must change when temple, priest and sacrifices were fulfilled in Christ. But notice even with the ceremonial law that it does not say, "abrogate." Ceremonial laws continues to instruct us, even though it has been changed from a time of anticipation to a time of fulfillment. So Hebrews 7:12 says, "The priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law."

In contrast, the second set of verses in your outline indicate that the moral law cannot change in any detail. Psalm 119:160 says, "every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever." And I have given several other similar Scriptures. Christ said that till heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or one tittle of the moral law would pass away, and that those who broke the least of these commandments (a reference to the case law in Deuteronomy 22:6-7), and taught others to do so would be called least in the kingdom of heaven. Many verses declare that God's moral law does not change in any jot or tittle.

And this distinction between moral and ceremonial is upheld throughout Scripture. The food laws for example were ceremonial laws intended to teach the Israelites their duties to separate from sin. But food laws changed three times. Before Noah, no one was allowed to eat meat. But after the flood, Noah was permitted to eat anything that moved (Gen. 9:3), which would include pork. Later Moses was given laws that restricted diet to clean animals. In the New Testament period God relaxed the food laws in many passages (Mark 7:19; Acts 10:15; 1 Tim. 4:4,5), though blood was still forbidden (Acts 15:29). So there are still food laws (you can't eat blood), but they are changed. So that is all by way of background for the distinction between moral and ceremonial law.

So which part of the Sabbath is ceremonial and has been changed and which part is moral and continues forever? Hebrews 4:9 says that there still remains a sabbath-keeping for the people of God. Sabbath-keeping itself has not been done away with.

Here's how I explain it. The sabbath is a sign on a tall pole that gives people directions as to where to find Jesus. The sign is still on the pole of God's kingdom, but rather than pointing forward to a coming Messiah by being at the end of the week, it now has swung around and the sign points backward to Messiah who began the age by rising on the first day of the week. I believe that the only change that has happened to the sabbath lies in which direction the sign points. How we keep it is the same before the fall, after the fall, and after the resurrection. But the day that we keep it on has changed. That was the ceremonial part.

Note the moral imperative of Sabbath keeping in 1 Cor. 16:1-2

And I think 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 shows that the moral aspect of the Sabbath continues. Let me show you three things that indicate that this was a command; that this is moral law.

In verse 1 Paul says, "as I have given orders..." We will see in a moment that Paul's orders coincide with the law and coincide with prophecy. He could prove that his orders are rooted in the Old Testament. But the point is that this day-keeping is not optional. Paul by inspiration and writing on behalf of God gives orders. This clearly places New Covenant day-keeping within the realm of ethics.

And in case you didn't catch the point with the word “orders,” Paul adds the words, "you must do..." There is a "must" to this New Covenant day-keeping. Colossians 2 says that there are Old Covenant days that you must not keep, and here there is a day that we must keep. The word "must" indicates that it is not an option. As Paul had given orders to the Galatian churches, so too Corinth must do. This is a church wide mandate.

Third, the Greek of verse 2 is in the imperative mood. Imperative is the mood of command in Greek grammar. He says, "On the first day Sabbath let each of you lay something aside..." In the Old Covenant, offerings were collected on the seventh day, but now that we are in the New Covenant, that is no longer an option. Offerings must be collected on the first day Sabbath. In the Old Covenant, the saints gathered together for worship and fellowship and church on the seventh day, but now that we are in the New Covenant, that is not an option. So there must be something of major significance for Paul to make this a mandate. And we will look at those reasons in a bit.

But I just wanted to make it clear that there are three proofs in these two verses that First-Day-Sabbath-Keeping is a moral law that we are all ethically bound to obey. To be a Seventh Day Adventist or Seventh Day Messianic congregation is to disobey the direct orders of Almighty God and to be in sin. To keep on meeting on the seventh day Sabbath rather than the first day Sabbath is an implied denial that the Messiah has come.

This was prophesied to happen in the Old Testament

But since all ethics is rooted in the Pentateuch, Paul could not be giving this command unless he could find the basis for it in the Old Testament. And he could. In Acts 26:22 Paul said, "to this day I stand, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come..." So somewhere in the Scriptures of Moses and in the Scriptures of the prophets there must be evidence that a Sunday Sabbath would eventually come, and once Messiah came it would a sin to revert to a seventh day Sabbath.

Do you see the logic of where I am going? Acts 26:22 says that Paul based 100% of his teaching on the Old Testament and even the new things that He was teaching he was able to root in the Old Testament. That's why in Acts 17 Paul praised the Bereans for searching the Old Testament Scriptures to check the truthfulness of everything Paul was saying. What the Bereans were doing would have been a pointless exercise if Paul was only a New Testament Christian and if he ignored the Old Testament. But he praises them for checking everything against the Old Testament. So that's what I am going to do right now.

I'm going to skip over the first day Sabbath that Adam and Eve celebrated and why it was changed after the fall. I won't have time to get into all that.

The prophetic festivals show a transition in the Sabbath

All the festivals pointing to Christ's finished work of redemption have a 7th day sabbath.

Weekly Sabbaths (Lev. 23:1-3)

But turn to Leviticus 23. I want to show how the Festivals of Israel were ceremonial prophecies of the coming of Christ, the end of the Old Covenant, the beginning of the New Covenant, and the change of the Sabbath. Taken together, these seven festivals clearly prophesied a change from seventh day to first day sabbath that would be mandated. God made Israel celebrate both kinds of Sabbath so that they would always anticipate that change. They were looking forward to that change that would happen as a result of Christ's resurrection. God constantly kept before there eyes that Saturday was not the final form of the Sabbath.

The first festival in Leviticus 23 is the weekly Sabbath. It's included with all of the other festivals to not only show the joyous nature of true sabbath celebration (it should be festival-like), but to also show that it was a sign pointing to something like all of the other festivals were. Verses 1-3 show that the weekly sabbath was celebrated at the end of the week as a prophetic symbolism that Christ's redemption was yet future. It would happen at the end of the Old Covenant.

Passover/Unleavened bread (Lev. 23:4-8)

The next festival is Passover. And actually, Passover and Unleavened Bread are grouped together. Those two days pointed to the death and burial of Jesus. The first day of the feast and the seventh day of the feast are both called Sabbaths because Christ's death and burial not only formed the basis for the New Covenant, but also legally ended the Old Covenant. So here there is both a first and a seventh.

Firstfruits (Lev. 23:9-14)

Firstfruits was a day in which people symbolically cut down sheaves of green barley, symbolically carried it to the tabernacle or temple, and symbolically threshed it. It was a work day that symbolized Christ's finished work of redemption in His resurrection. Keep that in mind when we get to the New Testament passages that call resurrection day a "Sabbath." That would have immediately made Jews stop and think, "What's going on here?" Firstfruits had never been a Sabbath in the Old Testament. It was a day of working and reaping and threshing to foreshadow Christ's finished work of redemption. So when God over and over in the Gospels and Acts calls the day Jesus rose a Sabbath, they would remember that God had promised to create a new day (a new Sabbath) when Jesus rose.

But here is the important point in these festivals - there are no more seventh day Sabbaths after firstfruits (in other words, after the resurrection of Jesus). There are none. Even the two festivals that prophesy the destruction of Israel and temple (where you might expect to have such a Sabbath) has no seventh day Sabbath. There is a clear-cut change from seventh day to first day after the resurrection.

The festival pointing to the Holy Spirit has a first day Sabbath

Pentecost (Lev. 23:15-22)

The first redemptive historical event after Christ's resurrection was the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and that is symbolized by the Festival of Pentecost in verses 15-22. And there are two things that are significant about that festival.

The first is that Pentecost is structured like a mini-Jubilee. It didn't point to the death of Jesus. It was a prophecy of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. All of these festivals show sequence in redemptive history. So it is the first festival that occurs after the New Covenant has started. And the reason I call it a mini-Jubilee is that Pentecost occurred exactly fifty days after the last Old Covenant sabbath just like the Jubilee year occurred exactly 50 years after the a yearly Sabbath. Seven weekly Sabbaths would be 49 days. The fiftieth day, symbolizing the liberty of the New Kingdom, was on a Sunday. And of that Sunday verse 21 says,

And you shall proclaim on the same day that it is a holy convocation to you. You shall do no customary work on it. It shall be a statute forever in all your dwellings throughout your generations.

That is a description of the New Covenant Sabbath. Whenever Jews celebrated Pentecost, they celebrated a Sunday Sabbath. Why? Because the festival anticipating Christ’s resurrection has already happened and this festival was prophetic of what would be mandated after the resurrection and during the age of the Spirit.

The festivals pointing to the Destruction of the temple in AD 70

Trumpets (Lev. 23:23-25)

But let's move on to Trumpets. From AD 30 (when Pentecost happened) to AD 70 there was a forty-year transition period when Old Covenant and New Covenant operated side-by-side. Many scholars point out that there is an overlap. Hebrews said that the Old Covenant was growing old and was about ready to pass away. And I have put a diagram at the top of your outlines to illustrate that. We have seen in our studies of the Festivals during the Revelation series that the next two Festivals prophesy the end of Israel and the temple. And we saw that God providentially lined up these festivals to land precisely on corresponding days in covenant history.

The festival of trumpets landed on the day that Rome's armies invaded Israel. It was in the seventh month to symbolize the end of time for Israel, but there is no seventh day sabbath. The sabbath lands on the first day of the month pointing to the newness of the New Covenant forever replacing the old. But there is no seventh day Sabbath because Israel can no longer have any rest once they reject their Messiah. It would have spoiled the symbolism to include a seventh day Sabbath in this feast.

Atonement (Lev. 23:26-32; with 16:1-34)

The day of atonement (which is actually a fast; a day of mourning) pointed prophetically to the destruction of the temple so that no sacrifices could compete with Christ's finished sacrifice. It was a sabbath holy day on the tenth day - with ten being the symbol of completion. But again, there is no seventh day Sabbath because there was no longer any provisional rest for those who rejected the atonement of Jesus.

The only post-70 AD festival has only first and eighth day Sabbaths

Tabernacles (Lev. 23:33-44; Numb. 29:12-38) was the only festival that was pointing 100% to post AD 70 history.

The last festival was tabernacles. It was the only festival that pointed to ongoing history after AD 70 - in other words, after the Old Covenant people, temple, priests, sacrifices, etc were forever done away with. And over and over the Old Testament uses Tabernacles to prophetically point to the New Testament growth of the church among the Gentiles. Tabernacles is par excellence the symbol of the kingdom going to the Gentiles after AD 70. Zechariah 14 is one of the more famous passages describing New Covenant Gentiles in terms of the Festival of Tabernacles. And if you read Leviticus 23 and Numbers 29, you will see that there were 70 bulls sacrificed for the seventy nations of the world on Tabernacles. They also lived in temporary sheds made out of branches, which emphasized the scattering of the Jews around the world.

But more to our point, the only Sabbaths on the Festival of Tabernacles were the first and eighth day Sabbaths. The first day sabbath emphasized the newness of the new creation that Jesus was bringing in. It symbolized the beginning of the kingdom and the eighth day Sabbath symbolized the completion of the kingdom on the last day of history, but both first and eighth day Sabbaths were Sunday Sabbaths. The festivals show that as you move through history, the only Sabbath that will be celebrated in the New Covenant times is a Sunday Sabbath.

And the Hebrew of verse 39 is literally, "you shall keep the feast to the LORD for seven days..." So there is still a cycle of seven days. But rather than saying that the first and seventh day are Sabbaths, as you might expect, it says, "...on the first day sabbath and on the eighth day sabbath." You will notice that there are italicized words added in the New King James, which means they are not in the Hebrew, and they shouldn't actually be in the English. But since the feast was only seven days, to have a first and an eighth day Sabbath indicates that Sunday started the feast, and even after the feast was finished there would still be a Sunday to celebrate - a Sunday Sabbath. So the first phrase indicates that the seven day cycle continues in the New Covenant, but there is absolutely no seventh day Sabbath. Both first and eighth days land on Sunday.

What all of these festivals are showing is that everything leading up to Christ's death and resurrection would be foreshadowed by a sabbath at the end of the week. Why? Because Jesus will die and be raised at the end of the Old Covenant. And everything after Christ's death and resurrection would be foreshadowed by a sabbath at the beginning of the week. Why? Because God wanted the Jews to realize that future New Covenant people would look back at Christ's work that would be finished at the beginning of the Kingdom. And because it is a moral law, He made people celebrate the Sunday Sabbath even in the Old Testament by way of anticipation. It is beautiful symbolism, and it is built right into the law of God. Both seventh day and first day Sabbaths were practiced in the Old Testament, but only the first day sabbath survives into the New Testament times.

The Jubilee year is a the year after the seventh sabbath year, i.e., first year sabbath (Lev. 25:8-55)

And what was true of the weeks of days was also true of the weeks of years. In the Old Covenant, every seventh year was to be a Sabbath year where the people let the land rest. But the 50th year was also a sabbath. Year 49 and 50 were back to back Sabbath years symbolizing that everything after Jubilee looks back to Christ's finished work and everything before Jubilee looks forward to Christ's finished work. In Luke 4:19, Jesus declared Himself to be the fulfillment of the Jubilee. So the fiftieth year was a Sunday Sabbath year (so to speak) just like Pentecost was a mini-Jubilee Sunday Sabbath after 49 days.

So Paul's Sunday Sabbath is indeed rooted in Moses. But you also find hints of it in the prophets.

Isaiah 65-66 prophecies that as a result of Christ's incarnation, death, and resurrection, He would make all things new. The new things include a new Jerusalem (65:18), more extensive blessings than Deuteronomy 28 (65:20-25), new worship (66:1-4,22-23), a new people (66:8-9), a new universal peace (66:12-13), new church government that includes Gentiles (66:18-21), and in some way the Sabbath will be new as well (66:22-23)

I've already looked at how Isaiah 56:1-8 prophesies a time in the New Covenant after the ceremonial laws have been changed when a Sabbath will be kept by eunuchs and Gentiles better than Israel kept the Sabbath. Hopefully you all keep the Sabbath better than the Jews did, because Isaiah 56 prophesies that this will be the case in the New Covenant.

But Isaiah 65-66 says that this Sabbath will be part of the "all things" that Jesus makes new. It says that what flows out of Christ's incarnation, death, and resurrection is a whole slew of new things. Isaiah speaks of new blessings, a new Jerusalem, a new people, a new universal peace, new worship, and new church government. The new church government mentioned is that Gentiles would take the place of Levites as pastors in the churches. So there is continuity, but there is something new about church government.

And you can study those references on your own sometimes. But part of this newness is the Sabbath is the Sabbath itself , which will be celebrated by the Gentiles until the last day of history, which is the last verse of Isaiah. And because I already read that earlier, I will skip it now.

Psalm 118:24 in context

But I want to give one more Old Testament passage. Psalm 118 identifies this new Sabbath day as "the day that the Lord has made." One commentary pointed out that this could be rendered, "this is the day that the Lord has sanctified."1 And several commentators have pointed out that this language is identical to the language that set apart the Sunday Sabbaths on the Feast of Tabernacles. I think that is really significant. But what is especially important to note is that that verse is describing the day Jesus rose from the grave. When Jesus would rise from the dead, God would set apart that day for His people to rejoice in.

The first part of verse 22 refers to Christ's rejection and crucifixion on Passover and the second part of that verse refers to the resurrection of Jesus. It says that the stone which the builders rejected had in the resurrection been declared to be God's chief cornerstone. And both the chief cornerstone and the next phrase, "We will rejoice and be glad in it" are used in Isaiah's chapter on the New Creation work of Jesus.2 So again, commentaries point out that New Creation is tied in with Sunday Sabbath. We don't have time to get into all that theology.

But in light of these facts, several ancient and modern commentators have taken this verse to be a reference to God setting apart a brand new day that had never before been a Sabbath to now be a Sabbath. It's Sabbath language - the identical language used for Tabernacles Sabbaths.

I especially love the devotional remarks of Matthew Henry on how this calls us to take great delight in the New Covenant Sabbath and to use it to express our devotion to the Lord who rose for our salvation on the Festival of Firstfruits.3 Barnes points out that this verse clearly makes the New Covenant Sabbath to be a perpetual reminder of Christ's resurrection.4 And that seems to fit Peter's exposition of this Psalm in Acts 4:10-12.

So we have seen that both Moses and the prophets prophesied that in the New Covenant there would be a change in the day that the Sabbath would be celebrated on, and that this change would pivot on Christ's death and resurrection. No wonder Paul could say with absolute sincerity, "to this day I stand, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come..." (Acts 26:22). Moses and the prophets anticipated the mandate for a first day Sabbath and Paul teaches that mandate in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2.

It is declared a first day sabbath in the New Testament

But let's quickly look at how the Gospels clearly call Sunday a Sabbath day. Turn to Matthew 28:1. This is the first time that Sunday was called a Sabbath in the New Testament.

Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.

Though you can't see it in the New King James, the Sabbath appears two times in the Greek as well as in many older versions. Let me read it again, but translating literally each time the word "Sabbath" occurs in the Greek. It says, "Now after the Sabbath, as the first [day] Sabbath began to dawn." There is one Sabbath that has passed and another Sabbath that began to dawn in God's program. And Jesus rose on that second Sabbath.

Now turn to Mark 16:1. This verse literally says, "Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices, that they might anoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first day Sabbath, they came to the tomb..." And look down at verse 9, where the word "Sabbath" occurs one more time. "Now when He rose early on the first day Sabbath, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene..." etc.

One scholar by the name of Parker commented on those three verses saying,

In these words the evangelist says the (Jewish) Sabbath "was past," and he uses the verb διαγίνομαι in the Second Aorist, signifying that the action was complete. The preposition δια in composition gives intensity to the verb to show that the transition of time was entirely finished through to the very end, that the (Jewish) Sabbath had transpired before the Sabbath commenced which is mentioned in the second verse. In Mark 16:9 the evangelist tells us Jesus rose very early on the first day of the week (Ἀναστὰς δὲ πρωῒ πρώτῃ σαββάτου) which gives us divine authority for observing the Sabbath on Sunday, the first day of the week.5

Each of the Gospels ends with similar words, and you see similar words in the book of Acts. One Sabbath had definitively passed away as part of the Old Covenant, never to be observed again. And a brand new Sabbath day emerged. It was a day that God had to create, since the Festival of Firstfruits had previously never been a Sabbath. These Gospels are not speaking of an Old Covenant Sabbath. They are speaking of something God created ex nihilo so as to transfer the Sabbath of the Old Creation to the Sabbath day of the New Creation - the day of the resurrection. I won't go over any more theology on this subject since there is a booklet in the back that adequately covers that. And actually, Ray has written a summary paper on the Sabbath that is helpful as well, and you might ask him for that.

Additional applications

But I do want to end with three applications.

The first is that Sunday is now what Revelation 1:10 calls "the Lord's day." It belongs to God. It is God's special day. And you need to look to God's law for how you should keep the Sabbath. In my opinion some of you regularly break the Sabbath. You treat it as if it is your day to do with as you please. But this is God's day. Revelation 1:10 calls it "the Lord's day." And in Mark Jesus said He is Lord of the Sabbath. You ask the Lord how He wants His day kept, you don't just come up with your own ideas. So that is my first application, you must look to God's law for the way to keep the moral dimensions of His Sabbath because it is His day. And if you want some guidance, read the New Covenant sabbath passage in Isaiah 56.

Second, Psalm 118:24 calls us to rejoice and to be glad in this day. Don't buck against it. Rejoice in it. After all that Jesus has done for you, it is the least you can do to celebrate His resurrection and to give the day to him. Sometimes we need to learn how to rejoice in it and how to be glad in it. The Pharisees added all kinds of man-made rules that robbed the day of any joy. So don't be asking me if you can do this, or that, or the other thing; look to God's law. You are in this not to be please me, but to please God. And once you have a cross centered focus and a God-glorifying attitude, it will be much easier to rejoice in this day. I think the Puritans took some of the joy out of the day by insisting that the entire day was to be devoted to public and private worship. Well, public and private worship is an important part of Sabbath keeping, but Jesus did many things besides worship - including feasting. That is Biblical! It is after all the first feast day of Leviticus 23. It was intended to be joyful and fun. Nehemiah told the people to stop mourning on the Sabbath but to eat the fat and drink the sweet give portions of food to those who do not have any. This is to be a day of feasting, blessing, celebration, and joy. It is God's pledge of victory to us. It is His pledge that He is making all things new. It is His time to meet with us in a special way. Genesis 2 says that God blessed this day. We have every reason to say, "This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it."

The last application is that this was the day for giving to God. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 highlights that facet of the Sabbath - giving money to the Lord through offerings. If the previous point shows the joy God has in giving blessing to His people, this application shows the joy we have in giving blessing to God. God doesn't need anything, but He finds delight in the offerings we give to Him. He finds delight in the loud singing that we give to Him. He finds delight in the bold praying before His throne and the offerings we put in the offering box in the back. We give to God on the Sabbath. We give Him time by carving out time for reading and prayer. We give Him service by engaging in hospitality. We give Him visual honor by the way we dress. It is a day of giving.

So the three applications are: 1) Keep the Sabbath. 2) Rejoice in the Sabbath by avoiding legalism, by being cross-centered, and by looking to please God rather than man. 3) And use this opportunity to give God your time, devotion, worship, money, and blessing. Keep. Rejoice. Give. And may God richly bless you as you do.


  1. "LORD’S DAY, with respect to these words, Ps. 118:24, “This is the day which Thou hast made.” The words might have been translated, “This is the day which Thou hast sanctified,” or “consecrated.” The Hebrew word is so used, as in 1 Sam. 12:6, “It is the Lord that advanced Moses and Aaron”; Gnasha (“made,” “sanctified,” or “consecrated” Moses and Aaron), the same word that is used here." Jonathan Edwards, The “Miscellanies”: (Entry Nos. 1153–1360), ed. Douglas A. Sweeney and Harry S. Stout, vol. 23, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2004), 381.

  2. "LORD’S DAY. The expression that is used in Ps. 118, with respect to the day whereon God wrought that great work which is spoken of as so marvelous in the eyes of God’s people—making “the stone which the builders rejected to become the head of the corner” [v. 22]—even that expression, “Let us be glad and rejoice” [v. 24], is elsewhere used to signify the commemoration of a work of creation. Thus in Is. 65:[17], where the Spirit of God signifies that in the days of the gospel God’s people should no more remember or commemorate the first creation, but should forever commemorate the new creation, ’tis expressed thus, “The former shall no more be remembered, nor come into mind. But be you glad and rejoice forever in that which I create: [for behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.]” ’Tis implied that we should not keep the sabbath appointed in commemoration of the redemption out of Egypt, in that Is. 43:18, with the context." Jonathan Edwards, The Miscellanies: (Entry Nos. 833–1152), ed. Harry S. Stout, Amy Plantinga Pauw, and Perry Miller, vol. 20, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2002), 392.

  3. "...understood of the Christian sabbath, which we sanctify in remembrance of Christ’s resurrection, when the rejected stone began to be exalted; and so, (1.) Here is the doctrine of the Christian sabbath: It is the day which the Lord has made, has made remarkable, made holy, has distinguished from other days; he has made it for man: it is therefore called the Lord’s day, for it bears his image and superscription. (2.) The duty of the sabbath, the work of the day that is to be done in his day: We will rejoice and be glad in it, not only in the institution of the day, that there is such a day appointed, but in the occasion of it, Christ’s becoming the head of the corner. This we ought to rejoice in both as his honour and our advantage. Sabbath days must be rejoicing days, and then they are to us as the days of heaven. See what a good Master we serve, who, having instituted a day for his service, appoints it to be spent in holy joy." Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 913.

  4. "24. This is the day which the LORD hath made. As if it were a new day, made for this very occasion; a day which the writer of the psalm did not expect to see, and which seemed therefore to have been created out of the ordinary course, and added to the other days. He was in danger of death; his days were likely to be cut off and ended, so that he should see no more. But God had spared him, and added this joyous day to his life; and it was meet that for this he should be praised. It was so full of joy, so unexpected, so bright, so cheerful, that it appeared to be a new day coming fresh from the hand of the Almighty, unlike the other days of the year. So the Sabbath—the day that commemorates the resurrection of the Redeemer—is God’s day. He claims it. He seems to have made it anew for man. Amidst, the other days of the week,—in a world where the ordinary days are filled up with so much of earth, so much toil, trouble, care, vexation, vanity, wickedness,—it seems like one of the days that God made when he first made the world; before sin and sorrow entered; when all was calm, serene, happy. The Sabbath is so calm, so bright, so cheerful, so benign in its influence; it is so full of pleasant and holy associations and reminiscences, that it seems to be a day fresh from the hand of God, unlike the other days of the week, and made especially, as if by a new act of creation, for the good of mankind. So when a man is raised up from sickness—from the borders of the grave—it seems to be a new life given to him. Each day, week, month, year that he may live, is so much added to his life, as if it were created anew for this very purpose. He should, therefore, regard it not as his own, but as so much given to him by the special mercy and providence of God,—as if added on to his life. Comp. Isa. 38:5." Albert Barnes, Notes on the Old Testament: Psalms, vol. 3 (London: Blackie & Son, 1870–1872), 173–174.

  5. Johns Dempster Parker, The Sabbath Transferred (East Orange, NJ: Johns D. Parker and Company, 1902), p. 42.

First Day Sabbath - Sign of the Kingdom is part of the Palm Sunday series published on April 21, 2019

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