“The Lord's Day”
"I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet"
Revelation 1:10 is the only verse in which the phrase "the Lord's day" occurs in the Bible. A similar phrase, "the day of the Lord" (which describes a great day of judgment) is used extensively by the biblical writers. However, even though the book of Revelation contains prophecies of judgment, the phrase "the Lord's day" does not refer to a day judgment. If "the Lord's day" is not synonymous with "the day of the Lord" then what is does it mean? I believe John is almost certainly referring to Sunday, "the first day of the week" (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2). Consider the evidence:
- Christians met together to worship the Lord on "the first day of the week" (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2). John and the early Christians probably starting calling Sunday "the Lord's day" late in the first century because that's when the weekly Christian assembly took place.
- Jesus was raised from the dead on "the first day of the week" (Jn. 20:1).
- Jesus appeared to the disciples on "the first day of the week" (Jn. 20:19-20).
- Jesus ascended into heaven and was enthroned as King on Pentecost (which was always on a Sunday, Acts 2:1; cf. Lev. 23:15).
- The church of the Lord was also established on Pentecost (Acts 2:37; cf. Mt. 16:18)
This practice of meeting on Sunday continued in the early church. Consider the words of Justin Martyr around AD 150: "...Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For he was crucified on the day before that of Saturn [Saturday]; and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun [Sunday], having appeared to his apostles and disciples, he taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration." (First apology of Justin, Weekly Worship of the Christians, ch.68).
Also from The Epistle of Barnabas, around AD 100: "Moreover God says to the Jews, ' Your new moons and Sabbaths I cannot endure.' You see how he says, 'The present Sabbaths are not acceptable to me, but the Sabbath which I have made in which, when I have rested from all things, I will make the beginning of the eighth day which is the beginning of another world.' Wherefore we Christians keep the eighth day for joy, on which Jesus arouse from the dead and when he appeared ascended into heaven." (15:8f, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, pg. 147).
In Revelation 1:10, John also used a special adjective ("Lord's") that occurs only one other time in the New Testament: in Paul's description of communion as "the Lord's Supper" (1 Cor. 11:20). In both cases, the possessive "Lord's" means 'pertaining to' or 'belonging to' the Lord. Just as the Lord's Supper is not a common supper but a special feast belonging to the Lord, so is the Lord's day not a common day but a special day belonging to the Lord. To John, Sunday was not just another day of the week, but a special day which belonged to Jesus when Christians would assemble to honor him in worship (see 1 Cor. 16:2; Acts 20:7).
The same Greek word ("Lord's") was used in other ancient texts as well. It was sometimes translated as "Imperial." Just as Caesar was called "Emperor" in the first century (1 Pet. 2:17), those things belonging to Caesar were "Imperial." There were the Imperial treasury, the Imperial service, and the Imperial army. These things belonged to the Empire of Rome and remained under the Emperor's authority. Since they belonged to the Emperor they were only to be used for that which the Emperor authorized. Both John and Paul borrowed this word from its secular context and applied it to things belonging to the true "Lord of Lords" (Rev. 19:16), Jesus Christ.
If "the Lord's day" belongs to Jesus, we must:
- Consecrate "the Lord's day" to Christ. Most early Christians had to work on Sundays because their first-century society did not share their theological convictions concerning "the first day of the week." To the Jews, it was a day to catch up on work after the Sabbath. To the Romans, it was just another day. Nevertheless, the early Christians showed great devotion to Jesus by prioritizing their time and effort to worship him collectively, sometimes at great personal risk (Heb. 10:24-25, 32ff). This meant they would have to either assemble very early in the morning before work or later in the day when their duties were finished (hence the command for Christians to "wait for another" in taking the Lord's Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:33).
Notice Pliny the Younger's words to Emperor Trajan concerning the practice of Christians around AD 100: "They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath not to (do) any wicked deeds, never to commit any fraud, theft, or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then to reassemble to partake of food - but food of an ordinary and innocent kind." (Pliny, Letters 10.96-97).
- Prepare for "the Lord's day" in advance. Since Sunday belongs to Jesus, disciples should prepare themselves mentally, physically, and spiritually to give him their best devotion during the assembly. We may prepare by praying for the right mindset, reading Scripture, or simply setting aside some quiet time prior to the assembly to meditate on the significance of the Lord's day.
- Engage in "the Lord's day" activities. We are given examples of Christians worshiping Jesus together on the Lord's day by singing, praying, teaching, giving, and observing the Lord's Supper. God has provided us with these examples as a pattern for us to worship him in ways that are both pleasing and acceptable to him and spiritually beneficial to us. Worship is not passive but active. We must engage, not only in these outward forms of worship, but engage our hearts in these special activites (Mt. 15:8; Eph. 5:19).
Everyday belongs to Jesus but only Sunday is "the Lord's day." This does not mean, of course, that Sunday is the only time when Christ can be honored by his church, but there is significance tied to the first day of the week that we must consider. Are we giving Christ what belongs to him?