Why Did the Early Christians Switch from Sabbath to the Lord’s Day?

Author Robby Lashua Published on 05/03/2022

Death is coming. It is closer to you now than when you read the previous sentence. Time is steadily, methodically, and ruthlessly drawing us all closer and closer to our final breath.

What hope do we have in light of this threat? The only hope is in the one who already conquered death. If Jesus beat death by rising from the dead, then he is capable of beating death for us, too.

But did he rise? Surprisingly, something you do almost every week is powerful evidence that he did. Christians worldwide have worshiped on Sunday for two millennia. Why?

The earliest Christians were devout Jews who followed the Old Testament Law, including keeping Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Why would strict Jews abandon the legal Sabbath and make the first day of the week their day of worship?

After Jesus’ ascension, the disciples met together on Pentecost on the first day of the week (Acts 2:1, Lev. 23:15–16). Luke also tells us that “on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them” (Acts 20:7). It doesn’t say the last day of the week—Saturday, the Sabbath—but the first day of the week—Sunday.

Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians for collecting financial gifts also acknowledges they met on the first day of the week: “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come” (1 Cor. 16:1–2).

John adds an interesting detail: “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet” (Rev. 1:10). What’s the Lord’s day? John doesn’t say. Why? Because his readers already knew.

The Jews had many holidays such as Passover, the Feast of Booths, the Day of Atonement, and Hanukkah. All Jewish holidays have one thing in common. They’re celebrations of divine providence. Each holiday celebrates something God did in Israel’s history.

No Jewish holiday, however, commemorated a great Jewish person—no Abraham day, no Moses day, no Joshua day. Yet John describes a specific day that celebrates Jesus: the Lord’s day. And early Christians didn’t celebrate it once a year, but every seven days.

So here’s our question: What would compel devout Jews—John, Paul, and the entire early church—to exchange Saturday worship for Sunday worship to celebrate a person, the Lord Jesus?

This is a significant shift in Jewish thinking, and, oddly enough, not a single one of the New Testament writers defends or even explains the shift from Saturday to Sunday worship. Why?

Every Gospel writer records that Jesus rose on Sunday (Matt. 28:1, Mk. 16:1–2, Lk. 24:1, Jn. 20:1). Each also says Jesus appeared to different groups on the first day of the week: Mary Magdalene (Jn. 20:14–16), two disciples on the Road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:13–35), the disciples without Thomas (Jn. 20:19–25), and the disciples with Thomas (Jn. 20:26–29).

Sunday is significant because no other day would be associated in the minds of the disciples with Jesus’ triumph over death.

If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, his followers would have commemorated him on the day of his death—Friday. There is no reason strict Jews would arbitrarily abandon Sabbath for Sunday as the day of the week to remember their dead Rabbi.

The eyewitnesses say Jesus’ tomb was empty and that he appeared to them many times. The resurrection is the only adequate explanation for the first Christians worshiping the Lord on Sunday.

Ever since the first Easter morning, Christians have gathered on the first day of the week to worship Jesus as God, pray, hear God’s Word, and give gifts.

This Easter, you probably attended a service to celebrate Jesus’ defeat of Satan, sin, and death. Your attendance at church on Sunday testifies that something significant happened on the first day of the week 2,000 years ago. Your actions are a living testament to the fact that Jesus rose from the dead on that first Easter Sunday morning.

Death is coming, but we have a king who has beaten death and has promised to raise our dead bodies. It’s not an empty promise. We have a certain hope since our Savior has risen.

Be encouraged, Jesus is alive from the dead, and if you believe in him, you will rise again, too.