One of the scriptures that people who seek to argue for the replacement of the biblically ordained Sabbath with the Lord’s Day is Revelation 1:10. This passage is worth reading because it reveals a larger issue of prophecy and demonstrates how a lack of biblical literacy and a desire to make a dubious point combine to lead to a drastic misinterpretation of scripture. In order to understand this passage, we will first present the passage in its immediate context and then present its larger scriptural context, both looking at the scriptural context that is claimed and that which is actually present, demonstrating that the two do not agree because translators and commentators have sought to see the verse through their own practice rather than judging their own practices through the lens of biblical understanding. As is often the case when examining what look to be difficult scriptures, it is worthwhile to note the larger biblical context that helps explain them and not introduce our own fallacious ad hoc explanations that twist a scripture and make it serve other interests.
Revelation 1:10 is a small part of a larger passage where the Apostle John introduces himself in Revelation 1:9-11, which reads: “I, John, both 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 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, saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,” and “What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.” After this there follows a visual description of John’s encounter with the resurrected form of Jesus Christ in its glorious form that is not of immediate relevance here. In the larger sense, this passage is part of the introduction of Revelation and serves to explain the subject matter and intended audience of the book, namely the brethren of the seven churches, whether those seven churches are defined as their first century congregations in Asia minor, seven attitudes or spirits present throughout Christianity, or seven eras of church history beginning with the early Church of God and continuing until the return of Jesus Christ.
What is the subject matter of the book, though? It is clear that this passage, and the book that it belongs to, is a book of prophecy. Many commentators, including the implicit judgment of those Bibles, which, like one of the New King James Versions I have, link Revelation 1:10 with Acts 20:7, view the reference to “the Lord’s Day” as a reference to the first day of the week. After all, Acts 20:7 reads: “Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.” Yet the reference in Revelation has no other sort of time marker to mark it as a travelogue like the Book of Acts. Furthermore, in the Book of Acts, the context is easy to understand with a knowledge of biblical time. After the Sabbath ended at sunset, Paul, being a long-winded sort of person who liked to keep talking regardless of what day it was, broke bread with the brethren, having dinner, and then continuing to talk on what we would call Saturday evening until midnight. Rather than demonstrating a change in worship from the Sabbath to Sunday, this event described in Acts 20 represents Paul preaching on the Sabbath and then continuing to preach when the Sabbath was done into the night, as has been done from time to time by some people in my own personal acquaintance.
Acts 20, therefore, does not represent part of the larger context of Revelation 1:10. We would do better, than trying to read the expression fallaciously translated as “The Lord’s Day” as the first day of the week, for the Lord’s day is the Sabbath, as we have previously examined, as instead a reference to the obvious prophetic context of the events of Revelation that take place on the Day of the Lord. And it is by correctly rendering this expression that we understand its true context. This can be easily understood by a cursory examination of scriptures that strongly parallel Revelation 1:9-11 from other prophetic writers, namely some of the minor prophets of the Hebrew scriptures. In examining the genuine context of Revelation 1:9-11 within prophecy, rather than being an unusual and stray reference to an imaginary change of worship practice from Sabbath to the first day of the week that only corresponds to the wishes of people who seek to justify themselves rather than understand the Bible on its own terms, we can learn a great deal about the purpose of Revelation and its overall standing with the prophets.
Rather than simply stating this comparison, it is worthwhile to quote some examples. Witness, for example, Joel 2:1-2, which reads as follows: “Blow the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the earth tremble; for the day of the Lord is coming, for it is at hand: a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, like the morning clouds spread over the mountains. A people come, great and strong, the like of whom has never been; nor will there ever be any such after them, even for many successive generations.” Here we see a clear parallel between the prophet Joel and the visions seen by the apostle John in Revelation—dark and gloomy visions of destruction, culminating in the promised Day of the Lord, visions of such terror as to leave those who witness them trembling, as is the case also in Revelation 1 and elsewhere. Amos 5:18-20 continues this general point, reading: “Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! For what good is the day of the Lord to you? It will be darkness, and not light. It will be as though a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him! Or as though he went into the house, leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him! Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light? Is it not very dark, with no brightness in it?”
Here we see some fairly obvious examples of the same sort of prophetic material as is contained in the book of Revelation, a reminder that the Day of the Lord is not a day anyone should look forward to, for it represents the judgment of God upon a rebellious society or a rebellious world. When we properly understand the place of Revelation 1:10 in the larger context of the Bible, we understand that the reference to the “Day of the Lord” in Revelation 1:10 connects the revelation given to the apostle John with the similarly grim and bleak visions given to the prophets of God who appear in the Hebrew scriptures. Not only does this proper identification remove any fallacious identification with a day of the week, but it also serves as a rebuke to prophetic enthusiasts who revel in the prospect of divine judgment because they imagine that they will escape any sort of suffering from it, rather than recognizing their own share in the evil and rebellion against God that is to be judged. It is this proper understanding of the place of prophecy, including the Book of Revelation, as a call to repentance rather than a club to use against those we deem as sinners worthy of judgment, that comes from a proper understanding of Revelation 1:10, and the context in which it exists. Ironically enough, a proper regard for God’s Sabbath, and for the grace and mercy it brings, is one of the main ways that a society may live so as to avoid or at least delay that judgment.