The Lord’s Day

In his ‘Revelation’ in which John set out his vision of how through Christ the Lord God will totally defeat all his enemies, after having greeted the seven churches of Asia Minor who were the initial recipients of this vision, John stated:

I am John, your brother, and as a follower of Jesus, I am your partner in patiently enduring the suffering that comes to those who belong to his Kingdom. I was put on the island of Patmos because I had proclaimed God’s word and the truth that Jesus revealed. On the Lord’s day the Spirit took control of me. (Rev 1.9, 10 GNB)

I am fascinated by the term ‘the Lord’s day’. John here is referring to the day we call Sunday. For the Jews Sunday was the first day of the week, the day following the Sabbath. The Sabbath according to the first creation account in the Bible (Gen 1.1-2.3) was the seventh day when God finished the work he had done and “rested” on the seventh day. “So God blessed the seven day and  hallowed it” (Gen 2.3). However, it was the day following the Sabbath that some women went to the tomb and found it empty, and as result Christians, instead of commemorating God resting, celebrated God’s action of raising his Son from the dead. ‘Sunday’, the first day of the week, became ‘the Lord’s Day’.

Significantly this is the first known instance in history of the term ‘the Lord’s Day’. However, we know from Ignatius’ Letter to the Magnesians that by the mid-second century it was used to distinguish Christian from Jewish devotion. The only possible explanation for this phenomenon of calling Sunday the Lord’s Day was that by then Christians had begun to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead on the first day of the week.

Interestingly, the English possessive noun “the Lord’s” is a translation of a Greek adjective, kuriakos. It is the only instance of this term in the New Testament. As with the related expression “the Lord’s Supper” found in 1 Cor 11.20, it means ‘belonging to the Lord’ (kurios). The Lord in question was, of course, Jesus – not Caesar.

Significantly, in Asia Minor where the seven churches were to be found, the first day of the month was effectively known as ‘the Lord’s Day’. I say effectively, for it was actually called Sebaste’s Day: i.e. the Day of Emperor Augustus. It was on that day that people celebrated Caesar’s accession to the throne. Almost certainly, John and his fellow Christians by using the term ‘the Lord’s day’ were implicitly protesting against Caesar’s Day. Jesus, not  Caesar, is Lord. Jesus is Lord. He shares the very throne of God himself (see Rev 5.13).

From a Christian perspective Sunday remains the Lord’s Day. It is not just on the annual occasion of Ascension Day that Christians celebrate the accession of Jesus the Lord to the right hand of God, but also every Sunday that we celebrate God’s raising of Jesus to his right hand.

‘Jesus is Lord’. This is the primal confession of the Christian faith. It was with these words on their lips that the first Christians were baptized, and later with these words on their lips that many Christians were martyred for their faith. As the Apostle Paul said to the church at Rome: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10.9: see also 1 Cor 12.3). The expression “Jesus is Lord” was not created by Paul – rather it was almost certainly the earliest Christian confession of faith.

“Jesus is Lord” is a confession which needs to be at the centre of our worship today. As Christians gather Sunday by Sunday, we confess his lordship not only over the world, but also over his church, and indeed over the lives of each one of his followers. As I wrote in The Message of the Resurrection (IVP 2000):

Sunday is a day for comprehension – for gaining a deeper understanding of God’s purposes for our lives and for the life of the world. For John and his readers, such comprehension was gained through a series of visions. For us such comprehension comes as we encounter the risen Lord in worship and in the exposition of the Word of God. Sunday is a day when we see life in true perspective – when we see life in the light of the risen Lord.

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