Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Revelation 1:10: "The Lord's Day," Part 3

Biblegems #73

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.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Revelation 1:10: "The Lord's Day," Part 2

Biblegems #72

Question: Does the term "the Lord's day" in Revelation 1:10 mean Sunday or the Sabbath day—or something else?

As was mentioned in Part 1 of this series, Rev. 1:10 is the only occurrence of the phrase “the Lord’s Day in Scripture. It does appear, however, in early Christian writings after the close of the New Testament, and always in reference to Sunday, the first day of the week, as a celebration of the resurrection. The appearance of the phrase in Revelation, which was composed around 96 AD, shows that the phrase was coming into use among Christians at the close of the apostolic period, yet was common enough even then that John did not have to explain its meaning.

NT Teaching:
As people who live under the New Covenant, Christians are free from the obligations of the Law, which was imposed upon the Jewish people, including the observance of the Sabbath:
Col. 2:16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.

In fact, when Jewish Christians in the early church insisted that male Gentile believers be circumcised, or else they could not be saved, the apostles in Jerusalem responded that new believers should not be encumbered with any of the Old Covenant regulations:
         Acts 15:28-29 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.
         Even the “requirements” they did stipulate were not matters of a new Law or conditions of salvation.

For a more complete look at the teaching of the New Testament on this, I encourage the reader to go to Biblegems #68, “Old Testament Sacrifices Under The New Covenant.”

NT Terminology
“The Lord’s day” in Rev. 1:10 is translated from te keriake hemera, where “keriake,” a possessive adjective, means “belonging to the Lord.” Similar phrasing in the New Testament is used of  “the Lord’s supper” (1 Cor. 11:20), where “the Lord’s” clearly refers to Jesus.
While it is true there are numerous times when the phrase “my Sabbaths” is used by God to describe the Sabbath day (Ezek. 23:38; Is. 56:4; etc.), that does not mean that the Sabbath day and the Lord’s Day are one and the same. It was the first day of the week (Sunday) on which Jesus rose from the dead (Lk. 24:13-49; Jn. 20:1-25), and the following Sunday when He appeared to His disciples (Jn. 20:26). This is why the early church set aside the first day of the week for worship, the Lord’s Supper, the preaching of the Word and giving to the needy (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1-2).
The Sabbath celebrates the original creation; the Lord’s Day celebrates the resurrection and the new creation in Christ. The Sabbath is God’s holy day set apart for the Jewish people under the Law of Moses; the Lord’s Day affirms that:
Rom. 3:21 …a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Revelation 1:10: "The Lord's Day," Part 1

Biblegems #71

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.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Revelation's 1,260 Days

Biblegems #70

Question: Revelation 11:3 speaks of the two prophets and the 1,260 days that they will be prophesying, and Rev. 12:6, 14 speaks of the woman having the child and after giving birth God sends her to the desert for 1,260 days. Does the 1,260 days refer to both events taking place at the same time?

It is likely that both passages refer to events happening during the last 31/2 years of the Antichrist’s reign. 1,260 days equals 31/2 years, according to the Jewish calendar of NT times, which contained twelve months of thirty days each. Let’s begin with Revelation 11:3.

The context tells us that the two witnesses of verse 3 carry out their ministry after the temple has been rebuilt in Jerusalem (v. 1), and specifically after the Gentiles have taken over the temple (v. 2). According to Daniel 9:27, this refers to the Antichrist outlawing the Jewish sacrifices and setting up a statue of himself in the temple to be worshiped. Jesus refers to Daniel’s prophecy:
When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains (Mark 13:14; see also Dan. 11:31; 12:11; Matt. 24:15).

The two witnesses of Revelation 11:3 are most likely Moses and Elijah. The miracles they perform (Rev. 11:6) are identical to those performed through Moses and Elijah in the OT. Elijah is mentioned in this regard by the prophet Malachi:
See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers… (Mal. 4:5-6).

Malachi’s prophecy places Elijah in Jerusalem, just before the Day of the Lord (Mal. 4:5), which means at the end of the last 31/2 years of the Antichrist’s reign.

In a preview of His Second Coming, when Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John, appearing with Him were Moses and Elijah (Mk. 9:1-4).

Turning to Revelation12: 6, 14, and 13:4-18, we see Israel under the control of the Antichrist, yet protected from annihilation (12:6), during the last 31/2 years of his reign. Indeed, the influence of the Antichrist will be world-wide:
         All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world (Rev. 13:8).

This is the period Jesus calls the Great Tribulation (“Great Distress,” NIV, Matt. 24:15-29). As we saw earlier from Daniel 9:27, The Antichrist will have established an agreement with the nations, an agreement he will break halfway into his 7 year reign:
         He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing [of the temple] he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him (Dan. 9:27).

Though the reign of the Antichrist will last seven years, the Great Tribulation will be cut short as far as the persecuted church of Jesus Christ is concerned when Jesus returns to for His Church and pours out the wrath of God upon the Antichrist and an unbelieving world:
         For then there will be great distress [Tribulation], unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened (Matt. 24:21-22). And—
         Immediately after the distress [Tribulation] of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other (Matt. 24:29-31).

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

God's Book Of Deeds

Biblegems #69
Question: Referring to Revelation 20:11-15, if we are assured of eternal life, then why will we be judged according to our works, and depending on those works, our names may not be written in the book of life, and therefore we would be cast into the lake of fire?

This passage in Revelation refers to what is typically called the Great White Throne Judgment. In interpreting the meaning of the Book of Deeds (v. 12-13) it is important to keep in view the order of events described in Revelation 20.

The chapter opens (vv. 1-3) with the beginning of Christ’s reign over the earth and the casting of Satan into the Abyss for a thousand years (the Millennium). Verses 4-6 describe those who have been raised from the dead and given authority to judge (4), to serve as priests (6) and to reign with Christ during the Millennium (6).

Who are these people? They are the faithful followers of Jesus Christ:
“Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!” — Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth (1 Cor. 6:3).
“You [Jesus] have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth,” declares Rev. 5:9-10, speaking of all those who have been saved by the blood of Jesus.
And again…
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light (1 Pet. 2:9).

We who have given our lives to Jesus in this life will reign with Him during the Millennium and sit with Him at the Great White Throne Judgment. As Rev. 20:12 clearly states, it will be the dead, [not resurrected believers] great and small, standing before the throne” when the Book of Deeds is opened. The Book of Life is opened as well, revealing that their names are not recorded there. The dead at this time will be resurrected for judgment, judged according to the evidence compiled against them during their earthly lives (v. 13).

The Book of Deeds will reveal all the opportunities these people had to live for Jesus instead of refusing Him. No one will be able to say that God was not fair, or that He had not given ample opportunity to receive His saving grace through Jesus Christ. They will be cast into hell by God’s judgment, but also by their own history of life choices. They who said “No” to Jesus in their earthly life will hear “No” from God at the threshold of eternal life. Hell is the only alternative for those whose names are not recorded in the Book of Life (20:15), and their actions (deeds) in this life will prove where their loyalties truly lay.

So, in answer to the question “why will we be judged according to our works…?” — Revelation 20:12 does not refer to believers in Jesus. Judgment for our sins has already been paid for at the cross (1 Pet. 2:24).

Once again, context is the key to correct interpretation!