I grew up being taught that we went to church on Sunday because the fourth commandment instructs us to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Simply put, I thought that commandment meant, “Go to church.” I had never considered the true meaning of “Sabbath,” and it wasn’t until I had been a Christian for several years that I discovered some people observe the Sabbath on Saturday. And then I started attending a church that offered services on both Saturday and Sunday, and I became even more confused. Which day is it really? And does it even matter? Can I just “Sabbath” whenever I want to?
History and Practice
The overarching narrative of the Bible reveals God’s plan to send the Messiah to rescue and redeem people from sin. We catch the first glimpse of this plan in Genesis 3 and then watch it play out through the entire Old Testament. Every story, every detail, and every rule and consequence serves to help God’s people understand sin and its repercussions and to point people back to the Lord.
But before catching a glimpse of the rescue promised in Genesis 3, we actually catch a vision of how the story will end. The creation account is not only the story of how everything began, but it paints the picture of how things should be, and it gives us an understanding of the coming restoration and new creation.
In Genesis 1, we observe God creating everything and then resting on the seventh day. On this day He didn’t simply cease from work; He modeled resting (which we need!) and communing (as God, Himself, doesn’t exist in solitude, but harmoniously with Himself in three Persons—the Father, Son, and Spirit.) This rest and harmonious communion with and glorification of God—this shalom—is the entire point of remembering and observing the Sabbath. (And spoiler alert: This is part of what we get to look forward to in heaven!)
A strict interpretation of the Sabbath command contends for sabbathing on the seventh or last day of the week—Saturday. In other words, fulfilling the requirements of this command could only be done on Saturday. Interestingly, however, the New Testament describes Christian worship as not always happening in the Jewish way.
God’s people—the church—continued the one-in-seven rhythm of gathering, but verses like Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:2 mention gathering for worship, giving, and the breaking of bread on the first day—which we know to be Sunday.
POP QUIZ: What other significant New Testament event happened on the first day of the week?
Centered on the Resurrection
The one big story of Scripture centers on Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah God’s people had been waiting on since essentially the beginning of time. Jesus came for God’s people—the Jews—and for the Greeks, for the Gentiles, and for you and me. For God so loved the world, He sent Jesus (John 3:16). Through Jesus’s sinless life and His death and resurrection and by His atoning blood, a new covenant was established, ushering in a new creation and a new people—the church. And this new people gathered on a new day: Sunday; the first day of the week; the Lord’s Day (Rev. 1:10), observed in remembrance of the resurrection that ushered in this new covenant.
What This Means for Us
It all began with God. He is good, true, holy, just, and unchanging, and His ways are above all. The Bible tells us God created everything and rules over it. Everything He created was good, including people. People were made to know God and enjoy Him forever. And by God’s good design, everything He made existed together with one another and with Him in harmony.
Until something happened.
Though Adam and Eve—the first people—were not equal to God, God placed them as overseers and stewards of His creation, and God gave them the freedom to make decisions. One day, a tempter entered the garden where Adam and Eve lived. This tempter caused them to doubt God’s authority and goodness, and in response, the people chose to rebel against God. And so, sin entered the world.
The consequences were devastating and spread throughout all creation. Suffering and pain entered the world. Harmony was broken, and so were relationships—including the relationship between people and God. The Bible tells us sin separates us from God, and its consequence is death.
But God had a plan.
God promised to send a Rescuer.
Over centuries, God prepared the way for this Rescuer who would be the Savior of the world. As described in the Old Testament, systems and rituals of cleansing and sacrifice were instituted at the temple to teach people about sin, the death consequence, atonement, and forgiveness. More than six hundred laws were enforced to keep God’s people holy and set apart for Him. Cycles of judges and reigns of good and bad kings continued to teach people about sin, its consequences, repentance, and the need for salvation which, ultimately and permanently, could not be achieved by any human. And so, the prophets continued to not only warn the people of sin and judgment; they also foretold of the promised Messiah’s birth, life, and atoning death.
The people watched and waited. And they labored. They kept laws and broke them. They made sacrifice after sacrifice. They suffered sin’s consequences. They even endured four hundred years of silence from God until that silence was finally broken by a little baby’s cry one night in Bethlehem.
God sent Jesus, who not only fulfilled all the promises and prophecies in the Old Testament but also fulfilled the law. He lived a perfect life and enjoyed a perfect relationship with God the Father. He did what we never could—even with all the laws and rituals pointing the way for us.
And then, because of His great love, Jesus gave His life for us.
Jesus died on the cross to pay for sin once and for all, and He rose again on the third day, conquering death and welcoming us into God’s family and into God’s peaceful, eternal Sabbath rest.
By grace and through faith in Christ, alone, we can be forgiven of sin, have our relationship with God restored, and be freed from the futile labor of endlessly trying to achieve righteousness and earn salvation. Instead, Jesus offers His righteousness to us, and by His Spirit, He helps us live a life of repentance and faith, growing more and more in Christlikeness until our faith is made sight in the perfect, harmonious, peaceful, sinless new creation. And for us on this side of the cross, our one-in-seven pattern of remembrance and rest on the Lord’s Day serves to point us back to what Jesus accomplished, and it points us forward to heaven, where we will joyously live and Sabbath with Him every day, forever.
Bekah serves as content editor for Explore the Bible: Kids at Lifeway Christian Resources and she is passionate about teaching, learning, making disciples, and equipping others to do the same. She is a two-time graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (MAIS; MACE) and has contributed to several books and Bible studies including What Is A Christian? Answers for Kids; The Wonder of Advent; and the CSB’s Lifeway Women’s Bible and Explorer Bible for Kids. Bekah lives in Nashville, Tennessee and enjoys reading, rowing, and serving in the children’s ministry at her church.