The Lord's Day
Nov 30, 2015
Revelation 1:8 says,
8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
If we consider this to be a Greek way of expressing Hebrew thought, we can exchange the Greek letters of the alphabet (alpha and omega) with the Hebrew letters, alef and tav. Both are meant to express the idea that God is the beginning and end—or, as we see plainly, “who is and who was and who is to come.” However, these are three positions, not two. “Who was” corresponds to the alpha or alef. “Who is to come” corresponds to the omega or tav. But what about “who is”?
The Hebrew word for Truth is amet, which is spelled alef-mem-tav. Truth knows the beginning, the end, and everything in the middle. It knows the origin or cause, the end or result, and all of the “water” (mem) connecting the two. When Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), He was saying that Truth was a Person—Himself—which means He claimed to be the Creator of all, the Sustainer of all, and the Receiver of all at the end of time.
Paul put it this way in Romans 11:36: “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.”
John also calls Him in Revelation 1:8, “the Lord God.” This is the Septuagint way of translating Yahweh Elohim (Gen. 2:4, 5, 7, 8, 9, etc.), using the Greek term kurios ho theos.
John uses a final term, Pantokrator, “the Almighty.” The term is derived from pas, “all,” and krator, “power, strength, might.” Pantokrator is the Septuagint Greek term used most often in Job and Jeremiah. Jeremiah 5:14 reads, “Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of hosts” (NASB). The Septuagint translates it kurios ho theos, “the Lord our God.” In other words, “the Lord God” in Revelation 1:8 seems to be the equivalent of “The Almighty.”
John’s Context in Writing the Book
John has three introductions in the first chapter of Revelation. The first is Revelation 1:1-3. The second is Revelation 1:4-8. The third begins in Revelation 1:9,
9 I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos, because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.
John was on Patmos when he received this message to the seven churches (vs. 11). Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons (120-202 A.D.), tells us that John was exiled to Patmos toward the end of the reign of Domitian, who ruled Rome from 81-96 A.D. (Against Heresies, V, xxx, 3). He returned to Ephesus after Domitian died in 96. Nerva then ruled Rome for two years (96-98), and then Trajan succeeded him and ruled from 98-117.
John “remained among them up to the times of Trajan” (Against Heresies, XXII, 5). Hence, John probably died about the year 99 or 100 A.D. His book, however, was written during his exile on Patmos, that is, no later than 96 A.D.
Revelation 1:10, 11 says,
10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, 11 saying, “Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”
There are differing opinions on the meaning of “the Lord’s day.” Some argue that it is the equivalent of Isaiah 13:6, 9,
6 Wail, for the day of the Lord is near! It will come as destruction from the Almighty.
9 Behold, the day of the Lord is coming, cruel, with fury and burning anger, to make the land a desolation, and He will exterminate its sinners from it.
Joel 1:15 echoes the same dire warning:
15 Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near, and it will come as destruction from the Almighty.
However, the same terminology is used of the Sabbath day in Isaiah 58:13,
13 If because of the Sabbath, you turn your foot from doing your own pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and shall honor it, desisting from your own ways, from seeking your own pleasure, and speaking your own words.
The question is how John was using the term in Revelation 1:10. Was John really caught up in the Spirit to a position in the future where he saw the destructive events at the end of the age? Or was John “in the Spirit” in the sense of being moved and inspired by the Holy Spirit in hearing a particular message on a day commonly called “The Lord’s day”?
John does not explain himself, and the details he gives are insufficient to lay claim to his meaning. Either view above has Hebrew roots, so we cannot claim that evidence to prove either way. It really comes down to seeing this term in the context of what John was writing at the time. He received this revelatory message to the seven churches on the Lord’s day. The actual message is recorded in Revelation 2 and 3.
This message has nothing to do with the “day of the Lord” in which we see “destruction” (Isaiah 13:6). It has nothing to do with the desolation of the land (Isaiah 13:9). It has nothing to do with the nations being gathered for judgment in “the valley of decision” (Joel 3:14). There is no darkness and gloom as we see in Amos 5:20.
It seems more likely that “the Lord’s day” is to be associated with the Sabbath in Isaiah 58:13. More specifically, it is the true Sabbath, which (Isaiah says) is about doing only what we see our Father do and speaking what we hear our Father say. It is about not doing our own works, but God’s works only. This is God’s rest.
Hebrews 4:9, 10 comments on Isaiah 58:13 by saying,
9 There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God. 10 For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.
Furthermore, the New Testament speaks of “the day of the Lord” differently from “the Lord’s day.” Paul writes often of “the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:2). Luke speaks of it in Acts 2:20. Peter mentions it in 2 Peter 3:10. In every case, it is a reference to the same “day of the Lord” (hemera tou Kuriou) as found in Isaiah, Joel, and the other prophets. In every case the New Testament authors set forth the destruction and judgment of the nations as we see in the Old Testament prophecies.
But when John mentions “the Lord’s day,” the word order is different, and the message is completely different. It is not a warning to the nations, but a report card to the seven churches. Within a generation of John’s publication of the book of Revelation, the churches were using his terminology, applying “the Lord’s day” to their new Sabbath, that is, Sunday, or “the first day of the week.”
Ignatius of Antioch, for example, who outlived John by only about a decade, wrote a letter to the Magnesians, saying,
“Let us therefore no longer keep the Sabbath after the Jewish manner, and rejoice in days of idleness… But let every one of you keep the Sabbath after a spiritual manner, rejoicing in meditation on the law…. And after the observance of the Sabbath, let every friend of Christ keep the Lord’s Day as a festival, the resurrection-day, the queen and chief of all the days [of the week].” (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, pp. 62, 63)
Again, he writes to the Trallians,
“On the day of the preparation, then, at the third hour, He received the sentence of death from Pilate, the Father permitting that to happen; at the sixth hour He was crucified; at the ninth hour He gave up the ghost; and before sunset He was buried. During the Sabbath He continued under the earth in the tomb in which Joseph of Arimathea had laid Him. At the dawning of the Lord’s Day He arose from the dead, according to what was spoken by Himself… The day of the preparation, then, comprises the passion; the Sabbath embraces the burial; the Lord’s Day contains the resurrection.” (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 70)
Ignatius was a child of about three years of age when he was one of the 500 witnesses of Christ’s resurrection. He knew John personally for many decades, for he and Polycarp were disciples of John. It is highly unlikely, then, that Ignatius would have defined “the Lord’s day” differently from John in Revelation 1:10.
My conclusion, then, is that “the day of the Lord” is not the same as “the Lord’s day.” While the words are similar, their usage is totally different.
In Acts 20:7 Paul gathered to “break bread” with the believers “on the first day of the week.” It suggests that this was the normal day on which they partook of communion. In 1 Corinthians 16:2 Paul told the church to set aside contributions on the first day of the week. Some argue that this means nothing, but it does support the idea that believers met on that day and that offerings were collected as well. At any rate, Paul never mentions the second or third day of the week.
By the middle of the second century, Justin Martyr wrote about church practice as if it was normal for the church to meet on Sunday:
“And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits.” (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 186)
Again, he writes,
“But 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, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which have submitted to you also for your consideration.” (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 186)
One may argue, of course, that Ignatius, Justin, and all the other church leaders who wrote during this time period were wrong in their view about meeting on Sunday. Some even present their writings as evidence of apostasy or idolatry. However, it does not seem likely that Ignatius would be wrong, since he was a long-time disciple of John. Neither does John chide any of the seven churches for meeting on Sunday, but rather he tells us that he was in the Spirit “on the Lord’s day.” In writing this, he used the term that was commonly being used in his day regarding Sunday, or the first day of the week.
There are many such references in the writings of the early church, and there are no writings which denounce their practice. Hence, when the Roman Church claims to have changed the day from Saturday to Sunday, they do not mean that a fourth-century pope made the change. They mean that the apostles changed the day, claiming Peter as their first Pope.
Others claim that the Roman Emperor Constantine changed the day in 313. However, his edict changed nothing. It only legalized the day on which the church had been meeting for centuries. So the claim that Constantine forced the Christians to worship on Sunday is without foundation. There are plenty of early church writings—as early as the first decade of the second century (in the case of Ignatius)—to show that they met on Sunday, which they called “the Lord’s day.”
This is part 10 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Revelation." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones