The Fourth Commandment
The Fourth Commandment provides the structure for all prophecy. It is the basis of the entire Hebrew calendar, by which the entire plan of God is organized. It is the key to prophetic time cycles and organizes the way prophecy is fulfilled.
The Sabbath Law Forbids Absolute Slavery
The history of the earth is the history of slavery. Slaves of men are all victims of injustice. Slaves of God, however, are truly free.
The Sabbath laws establish the foundational laws against involuntary slavery. Among the nations, slaves were required to work every day with no rest day. The Sabbath laws give all Kingdom citizens a day of rest every seventh day, and even give the land a year-long rest period every seventh year. In addition to this, after seven Sabbath years came a Year of Jubilee, in which all debts were cancelled, ensuring that perpetual slavery through debt would never be tolerated in the Kingdom of God.
The only slavery allowed was by judicial decree on account of unpaid debt, incurred either by the inability to pay restitution for sin or by some kind of financial disaster. But even then slavery was strictly regulated, and slaves were not to be abused. All slavery came to an end when the Jubilee trumpet sounded.
The Purpose of the Sabbath Day
Deuteronomy 5:12-14 says,
5 Observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you, so that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you.
This law was first stated in Exodus 20:8-10 with no significant change. However, the purpose of the Sabbath changes between the first law and the second in Deut. 5:15. Compare these two verses:
“For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore [for this purpose] the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.”
“And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand, and by an outstretched arm; therefore [for this purpose] the Lord your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day.”
So in the first law, given shortly after Israel left Egypt, they were to keep the Sabbath as a remembrance of God's rest in Genesis 2:3, which says,
3 Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.
Holidays all commemorate some event from the past. Their purpose was to remember that specific event. In the Exodus law, the Sabbath day was given to remember God's rest after laboring six days to create all things. But in Deuteronomy, forty years later, we see that the purpose of keeping the Sabbath day had shifted from God's rest to Israel’s deliverance from Egypt.
What had occurred in the interim to cause this shift? It was the fact that Israel was not yet ready to enter God’s rest, so the time was lengthened and broken up into three successive stages.
God’s Rest is the Jubilee
One clue is found in Hebrews 3:17-19,
17 And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did He swear that they should not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 And so we see that they were not able to enter [God's rest] because of unbelief.
This is a reference to Israel's refusal to enter the Promised Land in Numbers 13 and 14 when the spies gave their report. Because of their unbelief (lack of faith), God swore that they would die in the wilderness. After laboring in Egypt for many years as slaves, they would not be allowed to enter God's rest in the Promised Land.
In other words, they would not be allowed to participate in God's rest (Sabbath), as given in Exodus 20:11. They were given a temporary, alternative Sabbath-rest, for we read in Heb. 4:9 and 10,
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.
Is there more than one Sabbath? Yes, of course. First, there was a Sabbath day, a Sabbath year, and a Jubilee, which prophesied of three levels or degrees of entering into God’s rest. These can be overlaid with the three main feast days, Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.
These three feasts can be applied personally as a measure of our own spiritual maturity, or they can be applied in a more long-term historic and prophetic setting. When applied on the personal level, they speak of our justification, sanctification, and glorification, which are the three main stages of salvation. When applied historically, we see a Passover Age from Moses to Christ, followed by a Pentecostal Age, followed by a Tabernacles Age (commonly called the Millennium or the Kingdom Age).
Each feast commemorated a different event in Israel’s history that was a model or pattern for long-term prophecy. Passover commemorated Israel’s salvation from bondage in Egypt. Pentecost commemorated God’s voice that was heard on the Mount as He gave the Ten Commandments. Tabernacles would have been the time of Israel’s entry into Canaan and the conquest of the land by the power of the Spirit, if the people had had the faith to fulfill it at that time.
Yet in this particular context, Joshua was unable to lead Israel into God’s rest, on account of their lack of faith and their refusal to enter the land at the appointed time. They simply were not ready, and for this reason God extended the time for thousands of years by dividing up each stage and turning them into three ages.
Israel’s Alternate Jubilee Calendar
If Israel had entered the land at the urging of Caleb and Joshua, they would have done so on the 50th Jubilee from Adam—or more specifically, 50 Jubilees from God's rest after He finished the work of creation. (For proof of this, see Secrets of Time, chapter 2.) This was a Jubilee of Jubilees, the year 2450 (50 x 49 years = 2450). Their historical entry into Canaan would have coincided with God's rest by the Creation Jubilee Calendar.
This was their appointed time to regain everything that Adam had lost. This was their time to enter God’s rest (Jubilee). However, they lacked faith, and so they were unable to enter into God's rest and overcome the problem that began with Adam. Instead, they remained another 38 years in the wilderness (Deut. 2:14) and entered Canaan, not at Tabernacles, but at Passover (Joshua 5:10).
In other words, they entered the Promised Land 38 years after the 50th Jubilee from Adam. This was not even on a seventh year Sabbath. Hence, when their Kingdom calendar began, wherein they began to count rest years and Jubilees from their Jordan crossing, their reference point did not coincide with the start of a Jubilee cycle on the Creation Jubilee Calendar.
Being out of sync with the Sabbath-Jubilee calendar system meant that they would be unable to fulfill the purposes of God until God would intervene and bring correction. In other words, the heart of the nation was out of sync with the mind and will of God, and this was then reflected in their calendar.
Land-rests began at the Jordan Crossing
While Israel remained in the wilderness, the land rests were not required, because the Israelites did not farm the land while wandering in the wilderness. Hence, the land needed no rest. But God had told Israel through Moses that when they came out of the wilderness and entered the Promised Land, they were to begin counting their rest years and Jubilees from that reference point. Leviticus 25 says,
2 Speak to the sons of Israel, and say to them, “When you come into the land which I shall give you, then the land shall have a Sabbath to the Lord. 3 Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall gather its crop, 4 but during the seventh year the land shall have a Sabbath rest, a Sabbath to the Lord… 8 You are also to count off seven Sabbaths of years, so that you have the time of the seven Sabbaths of years, namely, forty-nine years.
We see, then, that Israel’s Jubilee calendar was supposed to start when they entered the Promised Land and began to sow and reap in the land. Every seventh year was a land rest Sabbath, and at the end of 49 years they were to blow the trumpet of the Jubilee, sanctifying the 50th year as the Year of Jubilee.
Their reference point made a difference. If they had gone into the land at the appointed time in Numbers 14, their Jubilee calendar would have matched the overall Creation Jubilee Calendar, for they would have started counting rest years and Jubilees beginning with the 50th Jubilee from Adam. In other words, Israel’s first Jubilee in the land would have coincided with the 51st Jubilee since creation.
But in entering the land 38 years late, their Jubilee Calendar became an alternate Jubilee calendar that did not align with God’s calendar and purpose. This 38-year misalignment was a sign that it was impossible for the people to enter God’s rest until such time as historical events realigned them with God’s Calendar.
So after 14 Jubilee cycles in the land, the House of Israel was deported to Assyria and their capital city, Samaria, was destroyed in 721 B.C. The House of Judah continued to use that calendar until they were deported to Babylon over a century later.
Judah spent 70 years off the land (604-534 B.C.) and then returned under the decree of the Persian King Cyrus.
Their calendar was then revived, once they were back on the land of their forefathers. We know that it began in 534 B.C., because history records Sabbath years in 163-162 B.C., then in 37-36 B.C., and finally from 69-70 A.D. during the Roman siege of Jerusalem.
From these dates, we can show that the Judeans used 534 B.C. as their reference point, the start of their calendar. Because their calendar included Sabbath years from that point on, it is not possible for my reckoning to be a year off or perhaps two or three years off. Any mistake must be a full seven years. Hence, the only alternative dates for the start of Judea’s calendar after the captivity would be 541 B.C.—which is far too early—or 527 B.C.—which is far too late.
The 76-Year Cleansing Cycle
The Judeans had no way of knowing that God would require a 76-year cycle of cleansing after their return from Babylon. For this reason also, some prophecy teachers even just a century ago taught that Daniel’s Seventy Weeks began with the Edict of Cyrus. But to do this, they had to engage in some “creative history” to make Cyrus conquer Babylon much later than what actually happened. They based their claim on the idea that Cyrus the king was listed under many names, so when the Persian king list showed multiple kings, they were really just different names for Cyrus.
This view was disproven in the 1930’s when archeologists unearthed Persepolis, the capital of Persia and found separate tombs and palaces of all those kings. Thus, Cyrus did not set the people free in 458 BC, but in 534. The mistake, however, was perpetuated in Dr. Bullinger’s notes in The Companion Bible, which was published decades before archeology proved him wrong. For this reason, his chronology is inaccurate, though most of his other notes have value.
History shows, therefore, that while Cyrus allowed Judah to return to the old land in 534, the countdown of Daniel’s Seventy Weeks did not begin until the Edict of Artaxerxes in 458 BC. This was 76 years later, and it illustrates the principle of cleansing that has been discovered in more recent years. We are not told in Scripture the reason for this, but because it happened, we must yet account for it. The fact is, God required a 76-year period before His calendar would begin again. Daniel’s Seventy Weeks represented the re-start of Judah’s Sabbath-Jubilee Calendar, establishing a ten-Jubilee countdown toward the Messiah’s death on the cross, as Daniel prophesied in Daniel 9.24. I explained this more thoroughly in my book, Secrets of Time, chapter 8.
It is therefore quite confusing, because the Judeans began counting their Sabbath years from 534 B.C., but Daniel’s seventy weeks (of years) did not begin for another 76 years in 458 B.C. This was in the seventh year of Artaxerxes (Ezra 7:8). Seventy weeks (Sabbath) years later Jesus died on the cross in 33 A.D., ending that prophesied cycle.
Many have greatly misunderstood Daniel’s seventy weeks and have constructed a prophetic time structure upon those many misunderstandings. I addressed these questions more thoroughly in my book, Daniel’s Seventy Weeks, because there is no way to unravel the plan of prophecy without understanding God’s calendar and how the Sabbath years are counted.
The real question, however, is how Judah’s revived Jubilee Calendar aligned with the Creation Jubilee Calendar. By comparing the two, we find that the 70th Jubilee from Adam was the year 465-464 B.C., which was the first year of Artaxerxes. Hence, when Ezra arrived in Jerusalem to make sacrifice for Judah and for the king in 458, it was already seven years into that cycle.
So at that point the prophetic calendar was misaligned by only seven years, instead of the original 38 year discrepancy. This represented an improvement, but not yet a total fix. Seventy rest years later is ten Jubilees (10 x 7 years), and so the 80th Jubilee fell in the year 26 A.D., while the 70th week of Daniel did not end until 33 A.D. The interim was Daniel’s 70th week from 26-33 A.D. Part of the reason for its distinction and special treatment in Daniel 9 was due to it being the difference between the Creation Jubilee Calendar and Judah’s Jubilee calendar.
Because of this continued misalignment, it was clear that the Kingdom of God was not yet timed to begin with Christ’s first appearance, but would have to await a final seven-year correction near the time of the second coming of Christ.
The Pentecostal Age of the Church began in 33 A.D. and ended in 1993. This was a period of 40 Jubilee cycles. However, the seven-year discrepancy still existed, because the 120th Jubilee should have begun with the blowing of the trumpet in October of 1986.
No one in authority had the revelation in 1986 to declare the Jubilee in October of 1986. But God had already devised a plan whereby the Jubilee could be declared ten years later. The prophetic pattern was established in the days of King Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20:9-11. In Hezekiah’s day, God turned the clock back ten “degrees” (i.e., “steps” on the sun dial of Ahaz) in a manipulation of time. That story is too detailed for us here, but in short we were led to declare the Jubilee on the Day of Atonement in 1996, making it retroactive to 1986, thus turning the clock back ten years to cover the 7-year discrepancy. The result was that 1996 was really 1986 on God’s calendar, according to the Hezekiah Factor (as we now call it).
I believe, then, that in 1996 God fully realigned us with the Creation Jubilee Calendar, thus paving the way for the final preparation for the second coming. The year 1996-1997 also coincided with the 3000th anniversary of David’s coronation over all Israel in 1004-1003 B.C.
It is plain, then, that the subject of Sabbaths and Jubilees are quite complex and are not for the faint of heart. Nonetheless, one must have some comprehension of the fact that there are alternate Sabbath cycles on every level. It is too simplistic to say that there is only one true cycle, because God recognized Israel’s alternate Jubilee calendar that was established at their Jordan crossing, even though it was not the original “perfect” calendar.
So also the book of Hebrews recognized that the people did not enter into God’s rest, but that there yet remained a rest for the people of God that was greater than what they had experienced in the past. Even so, as individuals, we each enter into God’s rest on different levels and in different degrees. The stronger our faith is, and the more we understand the sovereignty of God, the more likely it is that we will be able to “rest” in a greater way.
There were three levels of Sabbath rests in the law: the Sabbath day, the Sabbath year, and the Jubilee. These give us three levels of entering into rest in the manner that God intended for us.
The first level of rest, as practiced in daily life, is to rest one day in seven. Our bodies need such rest. The second level is a Sabbath year, a land rest which few people today have put into practice, due to our Babylonian culture which makes it nearly impossible to follow this law. Thirdly, there is the Jubilee, something that has never been put into practice as a nation.
When we view these three levels in terms of our personal relationship with God and our spiritual growth, we can see them in terms of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. As we grow, we experience a greater rest, or Sabbath.
Spiritual maturity can thus be measured according to our ability to rest in God, regardless of the circumstances in life. When we are justified by faith, we experience Passover and enter into the first level of rest in God. We can rest in Him, knowing that our sins are covered. We no longer need to struggle with guilt and condemnation. We know that righteousness has been imputed to us by faith, and that God views us as perfect, calling what is not as though it were (Rom. 4:17).
When we proceed into the experience of Pentecost, receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit, we enter into rest on the second level, which is sanctification. It is here that we begin to learn to hear His voice in order that the law might be written on our hearts. We thus begin to be truly led by the Spirit and receive on-the-job training that will bring us to maturity and prepare us for that final Tabernacles rest.
The Jubilee is the preparation day for the feast of Tabernacles. This final feast brings us into the manifestation of the sons of God and the glorification of the body. It is only through this feast that we can fully enter into God's Rest. This is what Israel refused in Numbers 13 and 14, when the twelve spies gave their report on the 50th Jubilee from Adam. Yet this was part of God’s plan, because God had reserved that experience for a time after the Cross.
Even so, we are now at the end of the Pentecostal Age, and those who have prepared their hearts and have come into spiritual maturity are eligible, at the eleventh hour, to qualify as manifested sons of God at this historic window of opportunity.
Three Sabbaths Define Three Ages
The Passover Age began with Israel's departure from Egypt at Passover. The Israelite “church in the wilderness” had enough faith to leave Egypt, and hence they were justified by faith in the blood of the Passover lamb. However, they failed to proceed beyond Passover, because they rejected Pentecost in refusing to hear the voice of God (Ex. 20:18-21). Without the benefit of Pentecost, they were certain to have insufficient faith to enter Canaan at their appointed time. And so they refused to blow the trumpet of the Jubilee when the 12 spies gave their report and were denied entry into Canaan at Tabernacles.
The potential existed in Israel to have a very short Passover Age, followed by a very short Pentecostal Age before entering the Promised Land at Tabernacles. The time would have been about 490 days between God’s fiery descent upon Mount Sinai until the report of the twelve spies at Kadesh-barnea. It was God's will that they have this short time to achieve full spiritual maturity—but it was the plan of God that they fail in order to extend these ages to much longer time periods.
And so, Israel entered Canaan 38 years later at the time of Passover, showing that they had remained stuck in that first level of entering their Sabbath-rest. Theirs was a Passover-level Kingdom, and this lasted until the 1480th Passover when Jesus died on the cross in 33 A.D.
The numerical value of Christ in Greek is 1480. Thus, the 1480th Passover marked the time when the true Christ would become the Lamb of God, ending the Passover Age. His resurrection and presentation to the Father on the third hour of the day of the wave-sheaf offering began a seven-week countdown toward Pentecost. In each of those days, the people customarily counted out the grains of an omer of barley.
The Hebrew word omer is spelled ??? (ayin-mem-resh). The ayin means an eye, and it signifies seeing or watching. The mem means water. The resh means a head. Thus, when they counted the omer, they prophesied that during these seven weeks they were watching for water on the head. In other words, it was a countdown toward the outpouring of the Holy Spirit being poured out as rain.
Pentecost occurred seven weeks after the wave-sheaf offering. Hence, it was known in the Old Testament as the Feast of Weeks (Ex. 34:22), seven weeks to be exact. Lev. 23:15, 16 says,
15 You shall also count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day when you brought in the sheaf of the wave offering; there shall be seven complete Sabbaths. 16 You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall present a new grain offering to the Lord.
They were to count seven Sabbaths, using as their reference point the day of the wave-sheaf offering. That day, of course, was “the day after the Sabbath,” or what we would call today Sunday. In other words, this prophesied of a change in the Sabbath, a new way of counting Sabbaths based upon the new reference point. The seven weeks (i.e., “Sabbaths”), dating from the day after the Sabbath, established a new Sabbath that was associated with the Age of Pentecost, as distinct from the previous Age of Passover.
One purpose of the time spent “counting the omer” between the wave-sheaf offering and Pentecost was to prophesy of a new kind of Sabbath. Whereas the first was based upon Passover and the death of the Lamb, the upgrade was based upon the wave-sheaf offering, Pentecost, and the resurrection of Christ. The first seven weeks after Christ’s resurrection served to ingrain this pattern into the minds and hearts of the disciples, for Jesus seems to have eaten with them on the new eighth day Sabbath from then on.
Christ appeared to the disciples first on the day of His resurrection, which was the eighth day (i.e., the day after the Sabbath), as John 20:19 tells us. Then a week later He appeared to the disciples again on the eight day (John 20:26). His third appearance in John 21:14 is not dated; however, it is not hard to see the prophetic pattern being established here. It is the pattern of communion with Christ occurring on the eighth day (Sunday), apart from the synagogue, which continued to observe the original Sabbath without faith in Christ’s resurrection.
In fact, if we look more closely at Leviticus 23:15 and 16, which we quoted earlier, it is not difficult to see that the law ingeniously called these seven Sundays “Sabbaths.”
15 You shall also count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath [i.e. Sunday] … there shall be seven complete Sabbaths.
If I may paraphrase this passage, it reads this way: “Start counting from Sunday, the day of the wave-sheaf offering, and count seven complete Sabbaths using Sunday as your new reference point.”
Does this not prophesy of seven weekly Sabbath cycles beginning and ending with Sunday? Why else would God institute a seven-week cycle, built into Pentecost and based upon Sunday? The shift is obvious, in that it shifts the focus from the death of Christ to His resurrection life.
But to understand this shift, we must first go back to see how the first Sabbath system, established under Moses, was meant to commemorate Passover and the death of Christ. Only then can we see how the Pentecostal Sabbath contrasts with it by shifting the focus from death to life and resurrection.
The Passover Sabbath
The first mention of anyone other than God observing the Sabbath is found in Exodus 16. In that story the people ran out of food, and so they complained to Moses. God then promised to send them quail that evening and manna in the morning. They were to gather manna for six days and then receive no manna on the seventh day, because on the sixth day they were to gather twice as much to last them two days (Exodus 16:5).
And so they began to count six days of gathering manna, followed by a seventh day of rest. This is how God established their Sabbaths. If any man forgot what day of the week it was, they could always reset their calendar on the seventh day when they discovered no manna on the ground.
26 Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will be none.
The question, then, is when did this manna cycle begin, which became the Sabbath cycle? The first verse of Exodus 16 tells us that it was the 15th day of the second month. This was one month after their departure from Egypt. Recall that they killed the Passover lambs on the Preparation Day (14th day of the first month) and then departed Egypt on Passover, the 15th.
The 15th day of the second month came to be known as the day of the Second Passover, according to Numbers 9:11. Recall that when certain men buried their father just before the Passover, they were not eligible to keep the feast on account of being unclean. So Moses received a Supreme Court ruling from God on the matter. God said,
10 Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, “If any one of you or of your generations becomes unclean because of a dead person, or is on a distant journey, he may, however, observe the Passover to the Lord. 11 In the second month on the fourteenth day at twilight, they shall observe it….
For those who were unable to keep the normal Passover, there was second Passover they were to keep. They were to kill their Passover lambs on the 14th day of the second month to prepare for the actual Passover day which began that evening and extended to the next day, the 15th of the second month.
This ruling came one year after their departure from Egypt. In other words, it came after they had gone to Sinai and after they had been found worshiping the golden calf. It is significant that this revelation of the Second Passover was not given until after they had worshiped the golden calf, for that event is what removed the angel of His presence that was supposed to lead them into the Promised Land from the South (Kadesh-barnea).
When they lost the presence of that angel, as Isaiah 63:9, 10 tells us, God was preparing for the people’s lack of faith some months later when they believed the evil report of the ten spies. In other words, their failure at Sinai to continue hearing the voice of God, followed by their worship of the golden calf, ensured that they would lack the faith to enter the Promised Land at the appointed time.
The Sabbath Shift
Israel’s Jubilee Calendar was altered on account of their delay in entering the Promised Land. The shift was seen primarily in their Sabbath years and in their Jubilees. Their Sabbath days did not change at that time, but the stated purpose for those Sabbath days was altered. We can see this by comparing Exodus 20:11 with Deuteronomy 5:15, where the commemorative event shifted from God’s rest to Israel’s redemption from Egypt (i.e., Passover).
In His foreknowledge, God already built this shift into His plan, for even the start of their Sabbath cycles began on the day that came to be called the Second Passover. So their manna cycle of Sabbaths—from the beginning—commemorated Passover, albeit the Second Passover.
Cycles of time—in this case, the Sabbath cycles—when repeated, always commemorate the event on which the cycle began. It is no different when we celebrate presidential birthdays or the 4th of July each year. Each celebration is designed to remind us of some original event at the start of the cycle.
Hence, Israel’s Sabbaths from Moses to Christ reminded the people of the manna in the wilderness, which began on the Second Passover. The people may not have realized this at first. But at the end of 40 years in the wilderness, when Moses gave his final speeches, he told them to keep the Sabbath day to commemorate their redemption from Egypt, which was a Passover event. The seven-day pattern of creation was still retained, but the people were unable to enter God’s rest because of unbelief.
God’s rest was a Jubilee rest, the highest of the three levels of entering God’s rest. The people were capable only of entering the first-level rest, depicted by Passover. For this reason, this seven-day Sabbath/manna cycle was suitable for the Passover Age.
This ended when the church was able to move forward into Pentecost, experiencing a new level of relationship with God hitherto unknown. Whereas Israel had floundered at Horeb by refusing to hear His voice, the disciples in the upper room were willing to draw near to God as Moses had instructed (Deut. 5:5). Hence, they overcame where Israel had failed under Moses.
Meanwhile, Jesus had visited with the disciples on the eighth day Sabbaths since His resurrection. In each case, he ate with the disciples. For what purpose? He was establishing a precedent, whereby He would fellowship with the disciples on the new Sabbath that was prophesied by the Feast of Weeks. By fellowshipping and eating with the disciples weekly, dating from His resurrection, He was setting forth the pattern of communion in the church each Sunday.
For this reason also, Paul instructed in 1 Cor. 16:1 and 2,
1 Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. 2 On the first day of every week let each of you put aside and save, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come.
Paul did not mean to teach anything new here, so he mentions only in passing to gather financial help for the church in Jerusalem that was impoverished. Likewise, John writes in Revelation 1:10,
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.
Some insist that the Lord’s Day is the same as “the day of the Lord” in the Old Testament. However, all of the subsequent writings of the early church use the term in the common vernacular to mean Sunday. Some of them, such as Ignatius, were direct disciples of John and had known him and conversed with him for many decades. It is highly unlikely that they would have defined the term in a different way than their spiritual father.
The Early Church on the Sabbath
When studying the early church writings, we are struck first by the fact that after the time of Paul there seemed to be no disagreement among the majority of the believers as to which day to observe. No one wrote a treatise that was designed to establish the correct day of the week.
We know that there was sharp disagreement between Paul and the Jewish Christians in all of the changes necessitated by the New Covenant. Paul had to fight hard against the continuance of circumcision and the observance of festivals in the old manner. He says in Colossians 2:16 and 17,
16 Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— 17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.
In Romans 14 he tried to maintain peace between the Sabbath factions, saying in verses 4-6,
4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 5 One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.
The book of Hebrews was written specifically to break the strong link between the Jerusalem church and the temple. For the first 40 years of the church, they continued to worship in the temple, observe all the feasts in the Old Testament manner, and to offer sacrifice through the Levitical priesthood. It was not until God brought destruction upon the city and its temple that their argument against Paul’s viewpoint was discredited and abandoned.
The early church was always threatened by Jewish persecution and thus the Jewish believers in Jerusalem were more scrupulous in observing the Old Covenant practices than even their fellow Jews. But in the end, God intervened and destroyed that system altogether. The point is that one cannot hold up the Jerusalem church as the ideal model for Christianity today, as some try to do. It was a time of transition, and in the end Paul’s viewpoint prevailed by divine intervention. The destruction of the temple proved Paul’s view to be correct.
It appears that the church in Jerusalem and Judea met on Sunday among themselves, but continued also to keep the Sabbath with their contemporary Jews. Since the book of James is the only writing we have from that church, and he does not mention the Sabbath issue at all, we can only guess how much understanding they might have had on the subject.
But when Paul brought the gospel to the Greek world, we find that this invoked some heated debate over the manner of keeping the law in a New Covenant manner. The Sabbath was just one of those issues, as many Judeans attempted simply to add Jesus to their Judaism, as if He were the mediator of the Old Covenant.
Paul ministered nearly 20 years until his death in 67 A.D. The revolt against Rome began at Passover of 66, and that war consumed the attention of the church until its end in 73. The Jerusalem church had evacuated Jerusalem during a lull in the fighting—perhaps in 68-69 after Nero died and various generals tried to secure their position as Emperors.
In the aftermath of the war, both the church and Judaism itself found it necessary to rethink its fundamental religious practices. Both had lost their center of worship. The trauma affected Judaism in a greater way, because the Jewish Christians could turn to the recently-written book of Hebrews to find a new understanding of spiritual worship that did not depend on the old system.
Hence in the decades to come, we find the Christian Jewish point of view diminishing, not only because they had become few in number, but also because Jerusalem ceased to be the Mother Church. When Peter and Paul were martyred in 67, John emerged as the recognized leader until his death in 100. He was the one who brought peace to most of the factions, as his stature made him a kind of high priest of the Christians.
Philip Schaff tells us,
“But the theology of the second and third centuries evidently presupposes the writings of John and starts from his Christology rather than from Paul’s anthropology and soteriology, which were almost buried out of sight until Augustine, in Africa, revived them.” (History of the Christian Church, Vol. 1, page 426)
Hence, the influence of John can hardly be overestimated. And the fact that Ignatius of Antioch was John’s long-time mentor and spiritual father makes Ignatius’ writings of singular importance. He represents the transition from the Apostolic period to the next generation of church leaders.
There still remained an unbroken line of church bishops in Judea, though not in Jerusalem itself after the destruction of that city. However, their influence waned, mostly because they left no writings and were only mentioned by others.
Sabbath Teachings in the Next Generations
The Didache, or “Teaching of the Twelve Disciples,” is one of the earliest writings of the church other than the New Testament writings themselves. Most place it around 65-90 A.D. It says in chapter 14,
“On the Lord’s Day of the Lord gather together and break bread and give thanks, adding confession of your sins, that your sacrifice may be pure.”
The term, “the Lord’s Day of the Lord” probably is used to distinguish it from the Emperor’s “Day of the Lord.” The Roman calendar named all of their days according to various gods. Saturday was named for Saturn, and Sunday was named for the Sun. Sunday was also commonly called “The Lord’s Day,” which was to honor the Sun. The early Church found it necessary to use the common terms of the day in order to be understood by others, but the Didache registered this small attempt to object to the Roman reference to the Sun as Lord. Yet in the end the author(s) had to use the language of the day to be understood by all.
Another of the earliest writings of the church is an Epistle of Barnabas, which some believe was written by the Barnabas who was Paul’s companion on his first missionary journey in Acts 13:2. This Barnabas was also a Levite from Cyprus (Acts 4:36). He became the official scribe of the gospels, signing them with the Barnabas Cross (signature), as seen in Codex W that is currently on display in the Smithsonian Institute. A fuller account of these manuscripts is written in my book, Lessons in Church History, Vol. 1, chapter 24.
The point to be made here is that Barnabas was a known writer in the first century. Hence, it would have been unusual for him to write no letters himself. And so, while some believe that the Epistle of Barnabas was a pseudo-Barnabas written between 115 and 140 A.D., no one has solid evidence for this. But when we compare the knowledge of gematria in the marginal notes of Codex W with the use of gematria in the Epistle of Barnabas, we see that the style is the same. This lends credence to the idea that Barnabas himself was the author of the epistle bearing his name.
In this epistle, he writes in Barnabas 13:9, 10,
9 Lastly, he saith unto them, “Your new moons and your Sabbaths I cannot bear them.” Consider what he means by it; the Sabbaths, says he, which ye now keep are not acceptable unto me, but those which I had made; when resting from all things I shall begin the eighth day, that is, the beginning of the other world. 10 For which cause we observe the eighth day with gladness, in which Jesus rose from the dead; and having manifested himself to his disciples, ascended into heaven.
Neither the Didache nor Barnabas felt the need to prove the practice of Sunday observance, noting only that it commemorated the day Jesus rose from the dead—that is, the wave-sheaf offering and, by extension, the feast of Pentecost which occurred seven Sabbaths later. Both texts assume that all genuine believers observed Sunday and saw no need to defend their view.
Ignatius of Antioch, too, wrote about this change of Sabbath. He was the child that Jesus singled out in Matthew 18:2, about three years old at the time. He testifies that he was one of the 500 (1 Cor. 15:6) who saw Christ after His resurrection, and he remained a disciple of John for many decades. John died around 100 A.D., while Ignatius died a martyr in 113 A.D.
The Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians in chapter IX informs us of the timing of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection:
“On the day of the preparation, then, at the third hour, He received the sentence 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… The day of the preparation, then, comprises the passion; the Sabbath embraces the burial; the Lord’s Day contains the resurrection.”
This, then, gives us the framework for the change in the Sabbath, in accordance with the prophecy in Leviticus 23:15, as I have previously stated. Ignatius explicitly mentions the Sabbath issue in his Epistle to the Magnesians, saying,
“Be not deceived with strange doctrines, nor with old fables, which are unprofitable. For if we still live according to the Jewish law, we acknowledge that we have not received grace.” (ch. VIII)
“If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in observance of the Lord’s Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death….” (ch. IX)
Hence, Ignatius continues the practice of observing Sunday that is set forth in the Didache and in Barnabas. We have no reason to think that his view differed from John. It is plain that Ignatius no longer observed the Jewish Sabbath, but observed the Lord’s Day, which commemorated Christ’s resurrection.
In the generation after Ignatius, Justin, a Greek philosopher who found Christ and later died as a martyr around 165 A.D., echoes the same teaching as his predecessors, saying,
“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 … 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; 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 we have submitted to you also for your consideration.” [First Apology of Justin, LXVII]
Justin felt no need to convince anyone to observe Sunday, but treats it as a long-established practice that was universally accepted among all believers. He was simply informing his readers about the normal practice in the church in the mid-second century. Opponents see this as a mark of apostasy, but in fact it only reflects the view of every other leader of the Church up to that time. Neither do his contemporaries contradict or discredit him.
After Justin came Irenaeus of Lyons, Gaul, who enjoyed such stature that he was able to send a letter of correction to Victor, bishop of Rome. A later work, Quaes. Et Resp. ad Othod., referred to Irenaeus, quoting him loosely,
“This [custom] of not bending the knee upon Sunday, is a symbol of resurrection… Now this custom took its rise from apostolic times, as the blessed Irenaeus, the martyr and bishop of Lyons, declares in his treatise On Easter, in which he makes mention of Pentecost also; upon which [feast] we do not bend the knee, because it is of equal significance with the Lord’s day, for the reason already alleged concerning it.” (Fragment VII)
After him came Tertullian, the Roman lawyer, whose view was consistent with his predecessors. In answering certain pagan misconceptions about Christianity, He wrote,
“Others, again, certainly with more information and greater very-similitude, believe that the sun is our god… In the same way, if we devote Sunday to rejoicing, from a far different reason than Sun-worship, we have some resemblance to those of you who devote the day of Saturn to ease and luxury, though they too go far away from Jewish ways, of which indeed they are ignorant.” [Apology, XVI]
Again, he refuted the charge that some had made against Christians saying that they were worshiping the sun, writing,
“Others, with greater regard to good manners, it must be confessed, suppose that the sun is the god of the Christians, because it is a well-known fact that we pray towards the east, or because we make Sunday a day of festivity… It is you, at all events, who have even admitted the sun into the calendar of the week; and you have selected its day as the most suitable in the week for either an entire abstinence until the evening, or for taking rest and for banqueting… Wherefore, that I may return from this digression, you who reproach us with the sun and Sunday should consider your proximity to us. We are not far off from your Saturn and your days of rest.” [ad Nationes, XIII]
We might continue a host of other testimonies as well, which speak about the observance of Sunday, usually answering charges from the Jews who had continued to observe Saturday. Clement of Alexandria wrote of it about 190 A.D. Origen spoke of it shortly after 200 A.D., as did Bishop Cyprian about 250, along with more minor writers.
All of these testimonies come long before the birth of Constantine, the Roman emperor who is so often given credit for the change of Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. Constantine, a British prince, whose mother Helena of York, was a devout Christian and was favorably disposed toward Christians from his childhood, though his father was a pagan Roman general. When Constantine became emperor, he made the day on which the Christians had been worshiping for centuries a legal holiday, as a favor to the Christians. He did not change the day, but merely legalized it in 321 A.D. The law read:
“On the venerable day of the sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed. In the country, however, persons engaged in agriculture may freely and lawfully continue their pursuits.”
He did not forbid Jews to worship on Saturday, nor did he forbid anyone to follow the dictates of their conscience. He merely charged those living in the cities and market places to close shop on Sundays. There are hosts of irresponsible charges against Constantine in books today, which have no validity in light of all the early church writings showing that the vast majority of the Church observed Sunday in honor of Christ’s resurrection.
Likewise, some have argued that the Roman popes changed the day, on account of the teaching in catechism:
“Ques.—Which is the Sabbath day?
“Ans.—Saturday is the Sabbath day.
“Ques.—Why do we observe Sunday instead of Saturday?
“Ans.—We observe Sunday instead of Saturday because the Catholic Church, in the Council of Laodicea (A.D. 336) transferred the solemnity from Saturday to Sunday.”
The day was changed in 336? The statement is utterly ridiculous. Instead of refuting such a claim on plain historical grounds, men have believed this report and then rejected Sunday observance. They attempt to give the impression that Sunday observance was rare prior to the fourth century, when, in fact, it was the norm except for a few small Jewish-Christian groups that survived the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.
In the end, the Fourth Commandment commands neither Saturday nor Sunday, but only “the seventh day.” The seventh day must always be counted from the first day—the day wherein a past event has occurred that the observer is commemorating.
Under Moses, the seventh day was calculated from the start of the manna cycle in Exodus 17, and the reference point is the 15th day of the second month (the Second Passover). In later years, as the nation came into contact with Rome, that day happened to coincide with the day that the Romans called the Day of Saturn, or Saturday.
The law, however, commands a new reference point one day later in the weeks from the wave-sheaf offering to Pentecost. The Hebrew calendar had no specific name for that first day of the week, but the Romans called it Sunday. In the first few centuries, more than half of the Church leaders made some reference to Sunday—not to convince people to keep that day, nor to threaten people for not keeping it, but to state that this was the day that the churches had kept since the days of the apostles.
Their understanding seems to have been limited to the fact that this was the day of Christ’s resurrection. Our study of the law shows that Leviticus 23:15 and 16 prophesies of Christ’s resurrection on the day of the wave-sheaf offering, and that this day became a reference point for the next seven weeks called “Sabbaths.” The Feast of Weeks culminated on Pentecost Sunday, the seventh and final Sabbath of that prophetic time. Pentecost was celebrated specifically on the day after the old Sabbath (Lev. 23:16). It always fell on a Sunday, seven weeks after the wave-sheaf offering.
This is how God instituted the new seven-day cycles, sealing them with Christ’s presence and communion every seven days, but on the eighth day of the week, as John records. Hence, Sunday fulfills the law of the seventh day with a new reference point that points to the resurrection of Christ and the Age of Pentecost.
What about a Tabernacles Sabbath?
If there was a Passover Sabbath for the Passover Age and a Pentecostal Sabbath for the Pentecostal Age, then what might happen when we enter the Tabernacles Age? Will we see another change in the Sabbath to commemorate an even greater event in the progression of Kingdom history?
We cannot say for sure, because we have not yet seen the fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles. Our understanding is yet incomplete, but the law hints of a final change coming. Leviticus 23:39 says,
34 On exactly the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the crops of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the Lord for seven days, with a rest [“Sabbath”] on the first day and a rest [“Sabbath”] on the eighth day.
In other words, both the first and the eighth days of this feast were to be Sabbaths, or rest days. Yet because these days fell on fixed calendar dates (15th and 22nd days of the month), they fell on different days of the weekly calendar each year. Even so, they were called Sabbaths.
Whereas the Feast of Weeks enjoyed a seven-week sendoff, the Feast of Tabernacles only extends from one Sabbath to the next. It is too soon for us to know for sure, but it is possible that when the Sons of God are changed on the first day of Tabernacles and presented to God on the eighth day, that this will be the next commemorative event that will fix the Sabbath cycles for the Tabernacles Age.
If so, then the Sabbath calendar may shift again, as the Kingdom of God comes into full maturity. It is very possible that the progression of the Kingdom moves from a focus upon death to life to the manifestation of the Sons of God. I present this only as a possibility, however, for when the time comes, God will reveal His truth in a fuller manner.