The Lord’s Day

Sabbath Study, Part 36

In the book of Revelation, we find one more reference to the Christian Sabbath (i.e., Sunday). The Apostle John authored Revelation while on the island of Patmos, having been exiled there for preaching the gospel. Halfway through the first chapter, John gives the occasion of the book’s origin.

I, John, your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet… (Revelation 1:9, 10)

On the Lord’s Day. Believers have typically put the Lord’s name on practices He instituted:

The Lord’s Prayer (which He taught us to pray; see Mt. 6:9-13).

The Lord’s Supper (which He commanded to be practiced in remembrance of Him; see Lk. 22:19, 20; 1 Cor. 11:20, 23-26).

The Lord’s Day (Sunday, which He evidently instructed His followers—probably during one of His first meetings with them after His resurrection—to observe as the continuation of the fourth commandment). This is not to be confused with “the day of the Lord.”

You will recall that in Mark 2, Jesus stated that He was “Lord of the Sabbath.” This statement may very well have been part of the inspiration for the early church opting to call the Christian Sabbath “the Lord’s Day.”

“In the earlier apostolic writings the day was called ‘the first day of the week’ [Ac 20:7 1Co 16:2], but by the close of the century it began to be called ‘the Lord's day,’ as here. Epistles of Barnabas, Ignatius and Dionysius, written near this time, so style it, and the name is of common occurrence from this time onward, and is confined to Sunday” (B. W. Johnson).

“Deissmann has proven (Bible Studies, p. 217f; Light, etc., p. 357ff) from inscriptions and papyri that the word kuriakov was in common use for the sense ‘imperial’ as imperial finance and imperial treasury and from papyri and ostraca that hmera sebasth (Augustus Day) was the first day of each month, Emperor’s Day on which money payments were made (cf. 1Co 16:1f). It was easy, therefore, for the Christians to take this term, already in use, and apply it to the first day of the week in honour of the Lord Jesus Christ’s resurrection on that day (Didache 14, Ignatius Magn. 9). In the N.T. the word occurs only here and 1Co 11:20 (kuriakon deipnon ye lord'v supper). It has no reference to hmera kuriou (the day of judgment, 2Pe 3:10)” (A. T. Robertson).

Albert Barnes comments on this passage at length and I want to quote him in his entirety. If you are not convinced that the phrase “the Lord’s Day” is a reference to the Christian Sabbath, follow the logical progression of Barnes’ thoughts. He makes a compelling argument.

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The word here rendered Lord's—kuriakh—occurs only in this place and in 1Co 11:20, where it is applied to the Lord’s Supper. It properly means pertaining to the Lord; and, so far as this word is concerned, it might mean a day pertaining to the Lord, in any sense, or for any reason—either because he claimed it as his own and had set it apart for his own service; or because it was designed to commemorate some important event pertaining to him; or because it was observed in honour of him. It is clear

(1) that this refers to some day which was distinguished from all other days of the week, and which would be sufficiently designated by the use of this term.

(2.) That it was a day which was for some reason regarded as peculiarly a day of the Lord, or peculiarly devoted to him.

(3.) It would further appear that this was a day particularly devoted to the Lord Jesus, for

(a) that is the natural meaning of the word Lord as used in the New Testament, (compare on Ac 1:24) and

(b) if the Jewish Sabbath were intended to be designated, the word Sabbath would have been used. The term was used generally by the early Christians to denote the first day of the week. It occurs twice in the Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians, (about A.D. 101) who calls the Lord’s day “the queen and prince of all days.” Chrysostom (on Psalms 119) says, “It was called the Lord’s day because the Lord rose from the dead on that day.” Later fathers make a marked distinction between the Sabbath and the Lord’s day; meaning by the former, the Jewish Sabbath, or the seventh day of the week, and by the latter, the first day of the week kept holy by Christians. So Theodoret, (Fab. Haeret. ii. 1,) speaking of the Ebionites, says, “They keep the Sabbath according to the Jewish law, and sanctify the Lord's day in like manner as we do.”—Professor Stuart. The strong probability is, that the name was given to this day in honour of the Lord Jesus, and because he rose on that day from the dead. No one can doubt that it was an appellation given to the first day of the week, and the passage therefore proves

(1) that that day was thus early distinguished in some peculiar manner, so that the mere mention of it would be sufficient to identify it in the minds of those to whom the apostle wrote;

(2) that it was in some sense regarded as devoted to the Lord Jesus, or was designed in some way to commemorate what he had done; and

(3) that if this book were written by the apostle John, the observance of that day has the apostolic sanction. He had manifestly, in accordance with a prevailing custom, set apart this day in honour of the Lord Jesus. Though alone, he was engaged on that day in acts of devotion. Though far away from the sanctuary, he enjoyed what all Christians hope to enjoy on such a day of rest, and what not a few do in fact enjoy in its observance. We may remark in view of this statement,

(a) that when away from the sanctuary, and deprived of its privileges, we should nevertheless not fail to observe the Christian Sabbath. If on a bed of sickness; if in a land of strangers; if on the deep; if in a foreign clime; if on a lonely island as John was, where we have none of the advantages of public worship, we should yet honour the Sabbath. We Should worship God alone if we have none to unite with us; we should show to those around us, if we are with strangers, by our dress and our conversation, by a serious and devout manner, by abstinence from labour, and by a resting from travel, that we devoutly regard this day as set apart for God.

(b) We may expect, in such circumstances, and with such a devout observance of the day, that God will meet with us and bless us. It was on a lonely island, far away from the sanctuary and from the society of Christian friends, that the Saviour met “the beloved disciple,” and we may trust it will be so with us. For on such a desert island; in a lonely forest; on the deep, or amid strangers in a foreign land, he can as easily meet us as in the sanctuary where we have been accustomed to worship, and when surrounded by all the privileges of a Christian land. No man—at home or abroad; among friends or strangers; enjoying the privileges of the sanctuary, or deprived of those privileges—ever kept the Christian Sabbath in a devout manner without profit to his own soul; and when deprived of the privileges of public worship, the visitations of the Saviour to the soul may be more than a compensation for all our privations. Who would not be willing to be banished to a lonely island like Patmos, if he might enjoy such a glorious vision of the Redeemer as John was favoured with there?

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As Barnes notes above, that John observed the Lord’s Day even though he had no other believer with which to commune. He knew that His communion was ultimately with the Lord Jesus Himself, who was (and is) not limited by time or space. Even when exiled from the rest of humanity, John still honored God on the Christian Sabbath and experienced communion with the Savior.


Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
People's New Testament Commentary, by B. W. Johnson
Word Pictures in the New Testament, by A.T. Robertson
Notes on the New Testament, by Albert Barnes

Comments