In over one hundred languages throughout the world the seventh day is called ‘sabbath’ or its equivalent. Thus the seventh day is not just a day of rest for the Jews, but a day of rest for all peoples. This idea is confirmed for us in both the old testament and new testament of the scriptures. In Isaiah 56 the Lord declares through His prophet: “Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold upon it: that keepeth the Sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil. Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the Lord speak, saying, the Lord hath utterly separated me from his people; neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. For thus saith the Lord unto the eunuchs that keep my Sabbaths and choose the things that please me and take hold of my covenant; even unto them will I give in my house and within my walls a place and a name better than the of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. Also the sons of the stranger that join themselves to the Lord, to serve Him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be His servants, every one that keepeth the Sabbath from polluting it and taketh hold of my covenant; even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer.” Isaiah 56:2-7
And in the NT Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for man. Man in that context was a generic term meaning mankind. And in Paul’s letter to the Hebrews he declares that there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, the same rest that God established at creation. It was an invitation to join with God and rest with Him, in peaceful and joyful fellowship as God did with our first parents in the beginning.
The Jewish people were blessed with something unique and very special. It was something which God intended they share with gentiles, for God always intended that all peoples should know Him. The pagan nations around Israel had their fertility rites, their initiations, their icons, their statues and idols. But Israel had a day. This day set them apart. But rather than share the Sabbath with others, Israel repeatedly ignored, neglected, or polluted it by introducing pagan practices into their religion. By the time of Christ they had moved to the other extreme and burdened the Sabbath with so many added laws and regulations the day had become a curse rather than a blessing. Jesus came to reveal how the Sabbath was intended to be kept and to free it from the encumbrances of legalism. To heal on the Sabbath was scandalous to the rabbis. They accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath, and because Jesus had such huge support and influence, it was partly through fear that the whole nation would begin ‘desecrating’ the Sabbath and of the subsequent judgments of God that the leaders of the nation sought to kill Him, “But a certain one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all nor do ye take account that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.” John 11:49,50, and that finally led to His crucifixion.
Jesus had numerous opportunities to speak of how the Sabbath was going to be changed or done away with. But rather than do this, all His debates and arguments with the rabbis were focused on how the Sabbath was to be kept. He defied the human traditions and yes, Jesus did break the Sabbath, He broke it free from the rigid guidelines that made it a burden, and a rigid formality.
The early Christians saw the Christian faith as a progression, not a new religion. Calvary gave the Sabbath new significance, but did not annul it. Christians were worshiping alongside Jews in the synagogues every Sabbath, but over a period of time Jews became less tolerant of this arrangement and the rabbis actually devised prayers that were to be said which exposed the Christians within the community. This made it very uncomfortable for Christians to continue meeting in the synagogues, but they did not forsake the Sabbath. They began to meet in their houses and in places like the riversides as Paul found in Thyatira. Eventually, Christians found it impossible to worship in the synagogues and about that same time found themselves questioning their connections to the Jews, and with good reason. Much conflict around the early second century between the Jews and Rome began to impact the church. Not wanting to be recognized by Rome as being sympathetic or in any way involved with the Jews, some Christians began to abandon the Sabbath in favour of Sunday, which became an attractive alternative.
At this time also Sun worship increased in popularity with Rome. Mithra was particularly popular with the military, and Sunday became increasingly significant throughout the empire. Constantine established the first Sunday law in 321ad, and the church of Rome adopted that day as its own. As late as the 5th century however there were still a majority of Christian churches that were still observing the Sabbath. The church leaders in Rome strongly encouraged resting on Sunday in accordance to the law, while at the same time imposing fasts and other strictures on the Sabbath. Councils such as that of Laodicea in the mid 4th century recognized the continuing popularity of the Sabbath observance, and instituted canons to further enforce Sunday and demote the Sabbath. Churches that abandioned the Sabbath altogether however were very much in the minority, as attested to by Socrates scholasticus when he wrote in the 4th century “ For although almost all churches throughout the world celebrate the sacred mysteries on the Sabbath every week, yet the Christians of Alexandria and Rome, on account of some ancient tradition, have ceased to do this.”
Despite theological arguments, anti-jewish prejudice, and empirical decrees, the Sabbath was still honoured well into the 5th century. It was not dead. In fact, the Sabbath issue became a greatly heated debate between popes and patriarchs throughout the ensuing centuries, and became a test of authority. Sunday became the sign of submission to papal authority, and was a major cause of the great rift within the Christian faith that remained for 900 years.
With that history in mind, let us forever lay to rest the idea that Jesus or the apostles, or the scriptures themselves for that matter, had anything to do with any change or annulment of the seventh day Sabbath. Let us, at least in this matter, agree with the Church of Rome that responsibility for such a change can be laid squarely upon her shoulders. For it was the leaders, the popes, cardinals and bishops of that church who down through the ages from the 3rd century to the present day deliberately exalted Sunday and erroneously named that day the Lord’s Day; meanwhile persecuting Sabbath keepers, labeling them, among other things as Judaisers and heretics, and have trampled upon the true Lord’s day and cast it aside.
It remains for the Christian today to “choose this day whom ye will serve”. It is for you friend to decide upon whose authority your faith is surrendered to. The Creator of the “heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and all that in them is”, or the prelates and lawmakers of the Catholic church, the foster parents of the counterfeit day of rest and worship, the day of the Sun.