If the Sabbath is the seventh day of the week, why do we keep the first day?
This is a very good question. We wish to be faithful and obedient to God, and if God has said in the Ten Commandments that we are to keep the seventh day holy, why do Christians generally keep the first day (Sunday) rather than the seventh day (Saturday)?
A good place to start is with what Paul wrote to the Colossians. Paul said that the people who were trying to force the Gentiles to keep the yearly festivals, and the monthly festivals, and the weekly festivals (the Sabbath) were wrong. He said, “Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink [i.e., the Levitical kosher laws], or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.” And then he explains why, “These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:16-17). The elements of the Jewish Sabbath (like the other ritual laws of the OT) are no longer binding, except in so far as Jesus has brought them forward into what we call the Lord’s Day, which we observe on Sunday.
Now what is the basis for this? Let me preface my remarks by saying this: Those who think we must have an explicit passage of the Bible for everything we believe or practice, are not going to be convinced by what I say. But then again, those who think they must have an explicit passage of the Bible for everything are already being inconsistent if they believe in the doctrine of the Trinity, because there is no explicit passage that teaches it. The doctrine of the Trinity is a conclusion arrived at by way of harmonizing all the different passages that speak of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Those who believe they must have an explicit passage are also being inconsistent if they believe women should come to the Lord’s Table and receive communion, because there is no explicit passage that teaches it. When Jesus instituted the Supper there were only men present. And there is no subsequent (explicit) mention of women receiving it. But what do we do? We reason from what the Scriptures teach concerning the status of women in the church and conclude (properly) that women should be admitted to the Lord’s Table.
The church has done the same sort of thing with regard to the Sabbath. There is no explicit passage in the NT where either Jesus or one of the apostles said, “Now keep the first day of the week instead of the seventh.” Instead, what we have are a number of examples of apostolic practice and some theological reflection.
Consider the following:
1.) Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to the disciples on the first day of the week, that is, on Sunday (Matt. 28:1f; Mk. 16:1, 2f; Lk. 24:1f; Jn. 20:1f).
2.) Jesus’ second appearance to the gathered apostles was on the following Sunday (Jn. 20:26). It would seem that Jesus intended to hallow (sanctify) the first day of week, and to foreshadow his continuing presence in the corporate gatherings of the church.
3.) In 1 Cor. 16:2, Paul says, “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.” This comes as close to a command that we get. “Do this,” Paul said, “take up the offering on the first day of the week.” How could they do this unless they were meeting on the first day?
4.) In Acts 20:7 we find the church gathered on the first day (Sunday). It had already reached a place of normalcy. It was their regular practice.
5.) In Rev. 1:10 John speaks of being in the Spirit “on the Lord’s Day.” We should take note of this phrase, “the Lord’s day.” We are not told in Scripture what day of the week this is, but we do know from Church history that this phrase was used to designate Sunday. This suggests that this is how the word is to be understood here. But what is the purpose of calling Sunday “the Lord’s day,” unless Sunday was regarded as a special day among Christians. And why would Sunday be regarded as special among Christians unless it was because it was the day set aside for worship?
When it’s all said and done, what we find is that the old Sabbath, the seventh day, which was given to commemorate the creation of the old world, is replaced by the new Sabbath, or the Lord’s Day, to commemorate the new creation--the new world order that was ushered in by the resurrection of Christ. The ritual elements of the old Sabbath are shorn away and they are replaced by the celebration of the victory of Jesus Christ over sin and death.