Question: Does the term "the Lord's day" in Revelation 1:10 mean Sunday or the Sabbath day—or something else?
To best answer this question we will need to look at the history of the post-apostolic church as well as the Scripture. Only the Bible gives us our authoritative guide for faith and Christian living, but the history of the early church gives us insight into how the generation following the apostles used the term.
First, “the Lord’s day” in Revelation 1:10 is the only use of the term in the Bible. There are a couple of things we can learn from this:
1) One verse is not sufficient to determine the meaning of the phrase, especially where the context does not give any clues.
2) We have to see what light the teaching of the apostles and practice of the New Testament church might give us.
3) We need to see if historical evidence sheds any light on the use of the term.
Christian Practice in the NT:
Acts 20:7 On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.
1 Cor. 16:1-2 Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.
Christian Practice Post-NT
1) Ignatius of Antioch (110 AD): We have seen how former adherents of the ancient customs have since attained to a new hope, so that they have given up keeping the Sabbath, and now order their lives by the Lord's Day instead the day when life first dawned for us, thanks to Him and His death.
2) Pliny the Younger (112 AD) reporting to Emperor Trajan on his attempts to stop the growth of Christianity: “They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang an anthem to Christ as God, and bound themselves by a solemn oath not to commit any wicked deed, but to abstain from all fraud, theft, and adultery, never to break their word, or deny a trust when called on to honor it; after which it was their custom to separate, and then meet again to partake of food, but food of an ordinary and innocent kind."
Note: While the first day of the week is not specified, singing a hymn to Jesus at dawn would make the most sense as a celebration of the resurrection, as the quote above indicates.
3) Eusebius of Caesarea, Bishop of Palestine, (263 – 339 AD): "From the beginning, Christians assembled on the first day of the week. It was called the Lord's Day by John in the Apocalypse. They met on the Lord's Day for the purpose of religious worship, to read the Scriptures, to preach and to celebrate the Lord's Supper."Next week, Part 2 will focus on other Scriptures related to this topic. Part 3 will tie everything together and present a conclusion.