Question: Does the term "the Lord's day" in Revelation 1:10 mean Sunday or the Sabbath day—or something else?
(Note: If you have not read parts 1 & 2 of this series on “the Lord’s Day,” I strongly encourage you to do so [Bible Gems #71 & #72]. You should also read Bible Gems #68, which is closely related.)
New Testament teaching and practice clearly indicate that the phrase “the Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10) refers to Sunday, not the Sabbath. The history of the post-apostolic church1 confirms that the phrase refers to Sunday as the traditional day of worship practiced among early Christians.
The early New Testament era church began to meet for worship regularly on Sunday, the first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:1-2; Acts 20:7). At first, this was in addition to the Sabbath and other Jewish holy days because the first Christians were predominantly Jews who had put their faith in Jesus as Messiah.
As more and more Gentiles came to faith in Jesus, the issue of observing Jewish laws and regulations or not became a source of serious contention. This question was formally settled by the apostles in Jerusalem (Acts 15:10-11, 28-29), who affirmed that no believer—Jew or Gentile—should be burdened with “a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear” (Acts 15:10).
The New Testament repeatedly warns against making the observation of a Sabbath Day or any other religious holiday a matter of spiritual value (Colossians 2:16). To do so is actually moving backward into a form of spiritual bondage:
Gal. 4:9-11 But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.
The Greater Question:
The apostle Paul fought tirelessly to impress upon Jewish and Gentile believers that the purpose of the Law was to bring us to saving faith in Jesus Christ:
Rom. 3:28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.
Believers are no longer bound to the Law. For a believer to put himself under its restrictions is tantamount to denying the grace that saved him:
Gal. 5:4 You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
For the Galatians the issue was one of circumcision more than observing the Sabbath. But regardless of which aspect of the Law some would insist we observe in order to please God, the greater question believers need to answer was asked by Paul:
Gal. 3:2-3 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?
To worship corporately on the Sabbath is not wrong, just as worshiping corporately on Sunday, the Lord’s Day, is neither right nor wrong. What is wrong is to think that observing one day over another is what pleases God. What is important is that we come together regularly as the body of Christ for worship (1 Cor. 11:18. 20, 33; 14:26).
That being said, the practice of the early church gathering for worship increasingly centered around celebrating the resurrection of Jesus on Sunday, which came to be called “the Lord’s Day,” as this 3-part series has demonstrated.
1 From the Didache (50-120 AD), an instructional manual circulated among the churches: “And on the Lord’s own day gather yourselves together and break bread and give thanks, first confessing your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure.” (Didache 14:1)
Also: “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 the observance of the Lord’s Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death…” (Ignatius to the Magnesians, CHAPTER IX.—LET US LIVE WITH CHRIST)
See also, Ignatius of Antioch (110 AD); Pliny the Younger (112 AD); Eusebius of Caesarea, Bishop of Palestine, (263 – 339 AD); et. al.