The Torah’s Best-Kept Secret: Sanctification of the Lord’s Day

(Guest article by Jonathan Miles – more about him below)

Ask any Christian familiar with the Hebraic roots of their faith: what day of the week is uniquely set apart by the Hebrew Scriptures? The Sabbath, of course. All other holy days, because they are fixed by the combined lunar-solar Hebrew calender, fall on a different day of the week each year. Or do they?

This week, as followers of Jesus remember his last Passover meal, arrest, and crucifixion, and celebrate his resurrection on the day after the Sabbath (now called in his honor the Lord’s Day), let’s look again at what the Torah actually says about the Feast of Firstfruits which falls during the Passover week:

Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I give to you, and reap its harvest, then you shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest. He shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted on your behalf; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.’ (Lev. 23:10-11)

Our hearts leap to realize that it was on this very day, the day after the Sabbath of Passover, that Jesus was raised from the dead, accepted on our behalf as “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” in Paul’s words. And the subsequent verses in the Leviticus passage make clear that this Torah holy day on the first day of the week begins the countdown to the next major holy day, the Feast of Weeks, when the Holy Spirit was outpoured:

And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the LORD.

So a second Torah holy day, the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost, also falls each year on the first day of the week, seven sevens or seven weeks following the resurrection on First Fruits! This is an unheard-of emphasis in the Hebrew scriptures themselves on a day of the week other than the Sabbath. The text is fairly shouting at us. Why, then, have we not heard of it?

While the intent of the text seems plain that these holy days fall on the first day of the week, rabbinic Judaism follows a tradition which claims that the “Sabbath” spoken of in Leviticus 23 actually refers to the first day of Passover, which falls on a different day each year. This is a forced and difficult reading of the text, and nowhere else in the Hebrew scriptures is “Sabbath” used in this sense.

And fascinatingly, until the time of Jesus there was no consensus on this tradition. The Sadducees, who controlled the Temple ritual, championed the straightforward reading of the text, meaning that in Jesus’ time Firstfruits and Weeks were in fact celebrated on the first day of the week. It was the Pharisees who argued against this special distinction for the first day of the week, and their view prevailed after they led the majority to reject belief in the resurrection of the Messiah on this day. Could their insistence on this point even have been part of the developing polemic against those Jews who did see Jesus’ resurrection as the fulfillment to which the Feast of Firstfruits pointed?

Notably, to this day the Karaite stream of Judaism, which rejects tradition and holds to a literal reading of the Torah, insists on celebrating the feasts of Firstfruits and Weeks on the first day of the week.

Food for thought, and praise, as we once again await the dawn of the Lord’s Day.

Jonathan Miles is the founder of Shevet Achim, a Christian ministry in Jerusalem that brings children from surrounding Muslim nations to Israel for lifesaving heart surgeries. When Jewish doctors and nurses save the lives of children from Gaza and Iraq, this obedience to Christ’s command to “love your enemies” has a powerful impact on the Muslim family and all who know them. (The photo is of their Iraqi guests visiting the Garden Tomb, a traditional location for where Jesus arose from the dead.)

Published in: on April 11, 2007 at 7:44 pm  Comments Off on The Torah’s Best-Kept Secret: Sanctification of the Lord’s Day  
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