It shouldn’t surprise us that God infused Christianity with a supernatural Spiritual boost at the moment of its inception, that being on Pentecost Day, the fiftieth day after the Sabbath of Passover week. Pentecost day marked the beginning of a week-long religious observance of the Jewish people, known as the Feast of Pentecost, but also as the Feast of Weeks or Feast of Harvest. Such observances were times of gathering together for large numbers of inhabitants and pilgrim travelers. Jesus had returned to heaven, but on this Pentecost day the Holy Spirit that He had promised came miraculously upon His followers in Jerusalem. It began a wondrous time of many astounding supernatural occurrences which gave great hope to the oppressed.
Why would God send this miraculous infusion of the Holy Spirit? Well, perhaps because from as far back as the creation of the first man and woman, a great battle between good and evil has existed. Consequently, from its very beginning, Christianity was bound to be resisted, and often severely persecuted, by evil elements within the world.
The Christian evangelist Paul, who himself began as a staunch opponent and persecutor of Christians, but whom Christ transformed into one of Christianity’s most prolific missionaries, wrote in one of his letters to the churches: “…our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)
Paul was acknowledging that a struggle between good and evil perpetually exists in the world, a struggle which at its heart is not only physical and intellectual, but supernatural as well.
Suffice it to say that Christianity, from its very inception, has been under attack by the forces of evil in the world; and the attack has had an effect, as can be sadly evidenced by the many different factions, frauds, and fractures that dot the vast landscape of Church history.
But what were the practices of the earliest Christians concerning the seventh day, or Sabbath?
It is certainly true that Christianity, in a sense, was born out of the Hebrew legacy and, in particular, out of Judaism. Jesus Himself was a Jew, meaning that his lineage was of the tribe of Judah, and many or most of the very earliest Christians were converts from Judaism. But it goes without saying that not all Jews converted to Christianity.
In fact, the first persecution against the Christian faith began in Jerusalem, headquarters of the Jewish faith, the day on which a crowd of angry Jews stoned to death a Christian evangelist named Stephen.
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. (Acts 8:1-4)
So, these earliest converts to Christianity, these believers in and followers of Jesus the Christ, went about spreading the gospel, which means “good news,” everywhere they went. And it was only a matter of time before Gentiles – that is, non-Jews – began to show an interest in “the Way,” this revolutionary, spiritual movement replete with supernatural occurrences which infused hope among the common people of the Roman Empire, especially the poor and the oppressed.
Where did the early Christians worship? The NT seems to indicate that they continued to assemble for worship with the Jews in the Synagogues on the weekly Sabbath. The very first Christians were Jews, so that had been their lifelong practice. Christians – both Jewish and Gentile converts – met, huddled, and fellowshipped at other places and times as well, of course. But the Sabbath was still the Sabbath, still considered God’s Holy day of rest.
From the time of Paul’s miraculous conversion and throughout his Christian life, both before and after God appointed him to carry the “gospel” to the Gentiles, he observed the weekly Sabbath.
Examples of this are found throughout the NT.
In his Acts of the Apostles, Luke provides the following account:
When they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish Synagogue. As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,” he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women. (Acts 17:1-4)
Luke further relates in that same chapter, While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.
In Corinth, Luke reports concerning Paul, Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.
Not only was the Jewish synagogue a practical place to seek converts, Paul’s desire and practice then and throughout his life undoubtedly was to honor and observe God’s seventh day Sabbath.
Paul would later write in his treatise to the church at Rome: I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17)
There is no indication throughout the NT that the apostle Paul, his fellow apostles or early Christians in general within the communities where Paul evangelized abandoned the practice of observing the seventh day Sabbath. It is certainly implausible, given the absence of any statement by Jesus or his apostles dismissing the seventh day Sabbath, that such a revocation occurred or was ever intended.
Since the NT writings were not completed until near the beginning of the second century, that is, the year 100 A.D., we can assume that most if not all early Christians were still observing the seventh day Sabbath until then.
In our next segment, we will begin to investigate the events and circumstances that led to the unfortunate abandonment by many, and ultimately most Christians, of the observance of the seventh day Sabbath, God’s Holy day of rest.