The Lord's Day and the Lord of the Sabbath

Some Bible students have supposed that the expression "the Lord's day" in Revelation 1:10 means the judgment day the great day of the Lord, in which He will judge the world and reward every man according to his works. During the period from the eighth to the fifth centuries before Christ, the prophets Amos, Isaiah, Joel, Obadiah, Zephaniah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, and Malachi spoke of the coming of "the day of the Lord" as a time of judgment and the visitation of His wrath upon the impenitent.

I. Revelation 1:10

THE apostle John, in telling of the revelation God gave him on the Isle of Patmos, says: "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day and heard behind me a great voice" (Rev. 1:10).

That statement had been cited often as evidence that Christians observed Sunday as a sacred day in apostolic time. This is a mere assumption, for the passage itself does not say what day of the week John had in mind in speaking of "the Lord's day."

Some Bible students have supposed that the expression "the Lord's day" in Revelation 1:10 means the judgment day the great day of the Lord, in which He will judge the world and reward every man according to his works. During the period from the eighth to the fifth centuries before Christ, the prophets Amos, Isaiah, Joel, Obadiah, Zephaniah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, and Malachi spoke of the coming of "the day of the Lord" as a time of judgment and the visitation of His wrath upon the impenitent.

Jesus spoke of the time of His second advent as "his day" (Luke 17:24). After ward Paul spoke of it as "the day of the Lord" (1 Thess. 5:2) and "the day of Christ" (1 Cor. 1:8; 5:5; 2 Cor. 1:14; Phil. 1:6, 10; 2:16; 2 Thess. 2:2). And Peter calls it "the day of the Lord" (2 Peter 3:10) and "the day of God" (verse 12).

In his opening statement, John says that the revelation was given to him by God "to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass" (Rev. 1:1), and in the closing chapter he says that God had sent His angel "to shew unto his servants the things which must shortly be done" (chap. 22:6). In fact, he heard Christ say three times, "Behold, I come quickly" (chap. 3:11; 22:7, 12). Also: "Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him" (chap. 1:7).

Is there then any reason for not accepting the view that by saying, "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day" (verse 10), John meant that when he received the vision it caused him to feel that he was witnessing the scenes of the future day of the Lord, or great judgment day spoken of by the prophets and apostles?

The Revelation opens with a vision of John's resurrected Saviour visiting the exiled prophet on the lonely Isle of Patmos, remote from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the world. John does not feel arraigned before the judgment seat of Christ, and. he hears from the lips of his Lord words of comfort, counsel, warning, and prophecy for the churches, with assurances of Christ's love for His followers. They are exhorted to faithful obedience, even at the cost of their lives, during suffering and martyrdom in persecution that would be their lot in the future. The careless and dis obedient were invited to repent. This shows that John was well aware of the fact that the day of grace and probation for sinners had not yet ended, and that the great day of God had not come.

In fact, the prophecies of the Revelation traced the history of the Christian church and that of the world from John's time down to our own, and even beyond a thou sand-year period still future, at the end of which the wicked will be judged and subsequently consumed in the lake of fire ( chap. 20). After that the earth would be made new and become the abode of the re deemed (chaps. 21 and 22).

In John's visions, "the great day of his (God's) wrath" (chap. 6:17) and "that great day of God Almighty" (chap. 16:14) are referred to only in speaking of the closing events of this present world's history.

It is made very clear, too, that the second advent of our Lord to reap the earth's harvest of the good and the bad (chap. 14:14- 20) would follow a final proclamation of "the everlasting gospel," accompanied by special messages of admonition for man kind living in the last days (verses 6-12).

We must not assume, therefore, that when Jesus was heard to say, "Behold, I come quickly," His second advent occurred immediately while John was on Patmos. Christ Himself (Matt. 24; Mark 13; and Luke 17 and 21), as well as Paul (Acts 20:28-30; 2 Thess. 2:1-12), prophesied that many things would happen in the church and the world during a long span of time before the return of our Lord in glory. The fact that nearly nineteen centuries have passed since the revelation was given to John and that the Lord's second coming is still future, testifies that such was the prospect. The obvious meaning of the words, "Behold, I come quickly," is that when the time comes for the Second Coming to occur, it will take place speedily and suddenly (Matt. 24:36-42; 1 Thess. 5:1-9), and we need to live and to be, by His grace, ever ready for it.

Another view held by a few is that the expression "the Lord's day" means the Roman emperor's birthday, because he was generally regarded as the lord or ruler of the Roman world in which John lived and labored. But according to John, the Lord Jesus Christ is "the prince of the kings of the earth" (Rev. 1:5). "He is Lord of lords, and King of kings" (chap. 17:14), upon whose vesture was written the name "KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS" (chap. 19:16).

What, then, is meant by the expression "the Lord's day" in Revelation 1:10? The apostle states in the first chapter who gave him the revelation (verses 1, 5-8, 10-18), how it was given to him (verses 1, 10), why it was given to him (verses 1, 9), for whom it was given (verses 1, 3, 4, 11), where it was given (verse 9), and when it was given (verse 10).

The vast majority of Christian Bible students hold that "the Lord's day" in Revelation 1:10 refers to the day of the week which Christians generally, and John in particular, regarded as Christ's sacred day.

Although John does not tell us specifically which day of the week he designates as "the Lord's day," we are not necessarily left in the dark concerning that matter. Two methods of deduction have been used in attempting to show which day of the week is designated as "the Lord's day" in Revelation 1:10. They are as follows:

First: One method appeals to usage in vogue long after John's day, in supposition that he was referring to Sunday as "the Lord's day." The earliest Christian writer known to have called Sunday "the Lord's day" was Clement of Alexandria. In his Stromata, or Miscellanies, written near A.D. 200 to recommend Christianity to learned pagans, he uses the expression "the Lord's day" twice in specific reference to the first day of the week. The first instance of his doing this is as follows:

And the Lord's day Plato prophetically speaks of in the tenth book of the Republic, in these words: "And when seven days have passed to each of them in the meadow, on the eighth they are to set out and arrive in four days." By the meadow is to be understood the fixed sphere [of stars], as being a mild and genial spot, and the locality of the pious; and by the seven days [is represented] each motion of the seven planets, and the whole practical art which speeds to the end of rest. But after the wandering orbs the journey leads to heaven, that is, to the eighth motion and day. Stromata, or Miscellanies, book 7, chap. 12, in ANF, vol. 2, p. 469; MPG, vol. 9, col. 161.

We know of no modern Bible student who concurs with Clement's view that the pagan Greek philosopher Plato (427P-347 B.C.), in his Republic, book 10, was prophesying concerning Sunday, the first day of the week, when he wrote that statement. The context reveals that the heathen writer was depicting the supposed ascent of man's soul, after his death, through what the Greeks believed to be the seven planetary heavens, till it reached the eighth heaven of the fixed stars, as its final abode.

In the other instance Clement says of the Christian:

He, in fulfillment of the precept, according to the Gospel, keeps the Lord's day, when he abandons an evil disposition, and assumes that of the Gnostic, glorifying the Lord's resurrection in himself---Stromata, or Miscellanies, book 7, chap. 12, in ANF, vol. 2, p. 545.

This is the first known instance in which an ecclesiastical writer advocates the idea that Sunday-keeping would be acceptable to God as the fulfillment of the fourth precept of His law. Although he says that this could be done "according to the Gospel," Clement cites no New Testament scripture whatever in support of his allegation.

There is extant a literary fragment in Greek from a parchment codex believed to have been written during the period from the eighth to the twelfth centuries, and which is said to be a portion of the lost, spurious Gospel According to Peter mentioned by early church writers. It was dis covered in Egypt in 1866. It calls the first day of the week "the Lord's day" twice in speaking of Christ's resurrection (sections 9 and 12, and ANF, vol. 9, p. 8).

Serapion, bishop of Antioch (A.D. 190- 203), is the earliest writer known to mention The Gospel According to Peter. He penned a letter "to refute the falsehoods which that Gospel contained, on account of some in the parish of Rhossus who had been led astray by it into heterodox notions" (Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History, book 6, chap. 12, in NPNF, second series, vol. 1, p. 258. Origen says it was used by some men in the third century to support a certain doctrine (Commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew, book 10, chap. 17, in ANF, vol. 9, p. 424). Eusebius, the church historian, wrote that it was "cited by heretics," and it was so completely out of accord with true orthodoxy as "to be cast aside as absurd and impious." He says also that it and the other spurious works circulated then under Peter's name "we know have not been universally accepted, because no ecclesiastical writer, ancient or modern, has made use of testimonies drawn from them" (Ecclesiastical History, book 3, chap. 3, in NPNF, second series, vol. 1, pp. 133, 134).

If the currently published fragment is a part of The Gospel According to Peter that Serapion, Origen, and Eusebius have mentioned, then it is the earliest known professedly Christian work in which Sunday is called "the Lord's day." This fragment is said to contain twenty-nine additions to the facts recorded in the four authentic Gospels in the New Testament scriptures, and in some instances these additions strikingly contradict what is said in the four genuine Gospels. We know of no modern Christian scholar who accepts it as a genuine work of Peter or who cites it as proof that Sunday observance was instituted by Christ and His apostles.

Furthermore, we know of no instance in which Revelation 1:10 is cited by any Christian writer of the first centuries in support of Sunday-keeping.

Second: The other method appeals to New Testament testimony penned in John's time and prior to his writing the Revelation. As mentioned above, John's Lord, who appeared to him on that "Lord's day" while he was in exile on the Isle of Patmos, was the Lord Jesus Christ, the One whom the apostle specifically refers to as "Lord of lords" (Rev. 17:14; 19:16).

John was one of those disciples whom the Pharisees accused of Sabbath-breaking, and whom Jesus had defended against the charge. He had heard his Saviour declare that "the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day" (Matt. 12:8; Mark 2: 28; Luke 6:5). When he wrote the Revelation he must have known that this statement had already been recorded in the Synoptic Gospels. He had been associated with the Lord of the Sabbath in His minis try on the Sabbath day (Luke 4:16, 31, 32; Mark 1:21, 22). He had heard Jesus tell them what to do when Jerusalem should be besieged by the armies of Rome: "Pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day" (Matt. 24:20).

John, who personally witnessed the Lord's crucifixion (John 19:25-27), must have known that when His followers had buried Him late on that sad Friday after noon of so long ago, "they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment" (Luke 23:56). He surely knew also that according to that same commandment, "the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God" (Ex. 20:10; Deut. 5:14). He wrote that "In the beginning was the Word," that "the Word was God," that "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us" (John 1:1, 14). He recorded this fact too: "All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made" (verse 3). And he added that "the world was made by him" (verse 10).

Thus John knew that as Creator the Lord Jesus had instituted the Sabbath in the beginning by resting on the seventh day of the week, by blessing and hallowing it (Gen. 2:2, 3; Ex. 20:11). He knew that the Lord had called the seventh-day Sabbath "my sabbaths" (Ex. 31:13; Lev. 19:3; Isa. 56:4; Eze. 20:12, 13, 16, 20, 21, 24; 22: 8, 26; 23:38; 44:24), _ and "my holy day" (Isa. 58:13); that in his prayer to the Lord, Nehemiah referred to it as "thy holy sabbath" (Neh. 9:14); and that it had been written that in the better world of the future "from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord" (Isa. 66:23).

Therefore, it would follow that Revelation 1:10 refers to the same day.

(To be continued)

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March 1970

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