New Testament worship (Sabbath Present)
In the New Testament, there was no command stating for the nation of Israel to cease to observe the Sabbath. The Sabbath continued to be observed by most Orthodox Israelites who kept synagogue rituals. Jesus and Paul took advantage of the synagogue worship on the Sabbath. See the links between the Sabbath and the synagogue in this plethora of references: Matthew 12:9-10, Mark 1:21, Mark 3:1-2, Mark 6:2, Luke 4:16, Luke 4:31-33, Luke 13:10, Acts 13:14, 42, Acts 16:13 (not an official synagogue, but a Sabbath prayer gathering), Acts 17:1-3, Acts 18:4-5, Acts 18:19, Acts 19:8 (these last two references omit any mention of the Sabbath, but with the previous testimony linking the two together it seems obvious that these events occurred during Sabbath services). This also demonstrates that Jesus, the twelve, and later Paul did not seek to establish a separate synagogue (a new Israel), but to reach the true, spiritual remnant within the nation of Israel; and most relevant to our study, they did it on the Sabbath.
The command to gather on the first day of the week is located in one place in scripture, I Corinthians 16:1-2. The main focus seems to be on taking care of financial matters. But here Paul states that he has given similar instructions for the churches throughout the area of Galatia. Remember that Galatia was not a city, but a geographical area, a Roman province at the time. So either Paul is referring to repeated oral instructions, or to his letter to the Galatians, more on this later. We also have an instance where gathering on the first day of the week was an established tradition, Acts 20:6-7. The context is quite specific. The disciples were accustomed to gathering on the first day of the week to break bread. I believe this is a reference to the observance of the Lord’s supper. Acts 2:46 seems to distinguish between the breaking of bread and the eating of a meal. But most likely, when the disciples gathered, they observed the Lord’s supper, then had a regular meal together as well, so I’m not going to be too dogmatic about it.
The larger context of the passage in Acts 20:6-12 should not escape our gaze. Paul and company were waiting for Luke and company at Troas. After Luke’s party gets there, they wait seven days before anything notable happens. So they arrived on the second day of the week, no gathering occurs on the Sabbath, but on the first day of the week the disciples have a huge gathering for the purpose of observing the Lord’s supper, hearing the Word of God preached, and encouraging one another. Why did they NOT gather on the Sabbath, but instead gather on the first day of the week just as Paul was instructing Christians to do in his epistles? It seems that this was the established tradition even before the book of Acts comes to a conclusion. This gives us a very early date for church worship established on the first day of the week. I have two theories why.
#1- Since God still has a future plan for the nation of Israel which includes the observance of the Sabbath within a Messianic Kingdom, there was to be no confusion in thinking that the eschatological kingdom had fully come. Indeed, the Messiah had entered history giving irrefutable proof of a future kingdom, but the resurrection, the gathering of Israel, and the rewards of those who follow Messiah all remained yet future after His ascension, after Pentecost, and even after 70A.D. So forcing Gentile converts to observe the Sabbath during our present time would be premature. Many cultures in that day, and in our day, have a tradition of working on Saturdays. To say that this small Gentile remnant in the midst of an ungodly world must practice something that was meant to be a national observance is unfeasible. For a few Messianic Gentiles in the midst of an ungodly Gentile nation to demand that they not have to work on the Sabbath has no place in scripture. Once Messiah establishes His rule over Israel and the nations, to go against whatever is decreed will be akin to a rogue federal bank choosing to be open on a federal holiday.
So to avoid a mix-up, God established an alternate day of worship for the church instead of the Sabbath. In this way, Israelite believers would not have to choose whether to worship in the synagogue on the Sabbath and with the church at another location. They could observe the Sabbath like a good Israelite, then gather with a local church assembly on the first day of the week. There were no restrictions on this first day of the week assembly, such as not working. It seemed to be for the purpose of enjoying fellowship within the body of Messiah, not as a replacement for the Sabbath.
#2- The first day of the week is mentioned as being the day that Jesus rose from the dead. Every single one of the gospels mentions this fact. The resurrection was, and is, the cornerstone of hope for the church. It only made sense for believers to gather on this day to commemorate the resurrection of Messiah from the dead. This also symbolized that they were living in the resurrection power of Messiah awaiting a bodily resurrection at Messiah’s future coming. Sunday worship became commonplace, but this was not a replacement of the Sabbath. It was a day to enjoy fellowship within the body of Christ. A new day had dawned when Jesus rose from the dead, and each week there would be a recognition of that.
Must Gentiles presently observe the Sabbath? We are currently in the time of the salvation of the Gentiles as prophesied in the Old Testament, referred to by Paul as the fullness of the Gentiles, Romans 11:25. Instructions for the church at present contain no observance of the Sabbath. In fact, several passages indicate that it is acceptable to not observe the Sabbath if we so choose. Romans 14:5-6 clearly puts the decision in the hands of individuals to observe a day, or not observe a day. If a Christian decides to observe the Sabbath, he is doing it as unto the LORD. If a Christian decides that everyday is holy, they are not observing the Sabbath as unto the LORD. Colossians 2:16-17 is a divisive passage, but it seems quite simple to me. When Christ died upon the cross, He did not just take our sins there, but the entire demands of the law. We stand dead in relation to the demands of the law, including Sabbath observance. So no person can judge another (by the demands of the law) in relation to observing any holyday, new moon, or the Sabbath.
Perhaps the most blatant disregard for observance of the Sabbath is contained within Galatians. As I previously mentioned, Paul may very well be referring to his letter to the Galatians when giving instructions in I Corinthians 16:1-2. Paul states there that he wants the Corinthians to do just as he instructed the Galatians to do. What had Paul instructed the Galatians to do in his epistle regarding gathering on the first day? Nothing. But had he given instruction concerning the Sabbath? Yes. The entire theme of Galatians is the futility of obeying the Mosaic law for salvation. In Galatians 4:9-11 Paul rebukes them for trying to observe days, months, and various times in order to obtain salvation. They had enslaved themselves by obeying the law, which most likely included an observance of the Sabbath. So if Paul is referring to Galatians when giving instructions regarding gathering on the first day of the week, he could be saying something like this. "I instructed the Galatian churches that it is not necessary to observe the Sabbath. When functioning as the body of Christ, gather on the first day of the week instead."
This disregard for the Sabbath is what many Israelites just could not fathom. They saw the Sabbath as being one of the hingepoints for ushering in the Messianic Kingdom. They also saw no way for Gentiles to be saved except through Israel. So the conclusions they came to were that Gentiles must be circumcised, obey the law, and observe the Sabbath in order to be saved. This was the huge disagreement in Acts 15. To the contrary, God has ruled that any Israelite or Gentile anywhere can be saved by His grace through faith because of the blood of Israel’s Messiah. Israelites will one day will observe the Sabbath once the nation repents of its current rejection of Messiah, but this is not necessary for salvation since it is by God’s grace, not by works. Gentiles are saved as Gentiles, not by becoming Israelites. They are saved by God’s grace just like Israelites. God pours out the Holy Spirit upon any Gentile just as He pours out on any Israelite at their repentance and belief.
This should give us a taste for the substance yet to come. The Messianic Kingdom will be a kingdom of grace, not of law. It will be full of the substance of the Messiah since Messiah will be here personally. Messiah is the resurrection, so the resurrection will be present on the earth. The kingdom will be the establishment of grace between human relationships as well. There will be grace in government. The poor will receive equal treatment with the rich. There will be healing available on a national level. Formerly wild beasts will be tame. The earth will produce an abundance of food. The knowledge of the LORD will fill the earth like the ocean. It will not be the end of the earth, but the beginning. We are currently in the last days which began with the appearance of Messiah, Hebrews 1:1-2. We will soon enter the last of the last days, sort of like the end of the end. The establishment of the Messianic Kingdom will be the beginning, but it will be sort of like the beginning of the beginning. There will still remain a time when Satan will be released once more to deceive the nations one final time. There will remain a final judgement when all the wicked dead will be raised to give account of themselves. This will be like the end of the beginning leading into the true beginning, which is also the ending. It will be the beginning of eternal life, but the end of sin and death.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman