While being considered a sect of Judaism had served to protect and shelter the early Christian religion, it was undesirable to be associated with the Jews after the events of that year. In short, most Christians actively sought ways to differentiate and separate themselves from the Jewish religion thereafter. Although many people were willing to suffer persecution for the name of Christ, there weren’t many folks interested in suffering alongside of the Jews.
After circumcision, the observance of the weekly Sabbath was probably the most distinctive mark or sign that one was Jewish. Hence, it would be logical to suppose that this would be an area of attention for Christians seeking to separate themselves from Judaism, and the historical evidence confirms such a conclusion. However, before we explore some of the secular history associated with this topic, we have to ask ourselves: Why did Christians gravitate to Sunday as their day of worship?
Although many have pointed out the inconsistency between Christ spending three days and nights in the tomb when compared to a Good Friday crucifixion and Easter Sunday resurrection (compare Matthew 27:57-66, Mark 15:42-17, Luke 23:50-56 and John 19:31 & 38-42), most of the people who do so have also arrived at some erroneous conclusions of their own. While it is correct to underscore the fact that Jesus was crucified at the time of the Jewish Passover and just prior to the first Sabbath of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (a Wednesday that year), it is inaccurate to assume that he arose from the grave on the regular weekly Sabbath day!
When the scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign that he was the Messiah, he said: “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:39-40) Notice that Christ was to be in the tomb for three days and three nights. Hence, the clock did not start on that period at the time of his death. The clock started after Christ was placed in the tomb.
Thus we read that: “When the EVEN was come, there came a rich man of Arimathea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple: He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered. And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher, and departed.” (Matthew 27:57-60 and notice Mark 15:42-46) Notice that this happened at even – close to the time for sundown.
We also are told in the Gospel of Luke that “the Sabbath drew on” (Luke 23:54). In other words, he had to hurry because sundown was fast approaching. Likewise, we learn from the Gospel of John that Joseph chose his own tomb in which to place Christ’s body because it was “nigh at hand.” (John 19:42) Joseph barely got Christ’s body into the tomb and sealed in time for sundown. Indeed, we are also told that there had not been enough time to properly prepare the body for burial, and that is why the women were on their way to the tomb Sunday morning! (Mark 16:1 and Luke 23:55-56, 24:1)
It is important at this juncture to also remind ourselves that God and the Jews measured time differently from the Gentiles of that era (and from us today). Their days were measured from sundown to sundown. That is why we read in the book of Genesis that “the evening and the morning were the first day,” and “the evening and the morning were the second day,” etc. (Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31). God’s days began with one period of dark night, followed by one period of daylight. God’s days did not begin and end at midnight the way that our days do. Hence, three full days between Christ’s burial and resurrection would take us to sundown on the weekly Sabbath – the day that we refer to as Saturday.
As theologian Ronald Dart has pointed out in his book The Thread: God’s Appointments with History (and we have already demonstrated from the book of Hebrews), all of the festivals outlined in the Mosaic Law were intimately associated with Christ’s ministry as a human. He was crucified at the same time that the Passover lamb was being slaughtered by the Jews. Likewise, it is very likely that he was resurrected just after sundown had ended the weekly Sabbath – as the priest was cutting the Wave Sheaf Offering to be presented the following morning. Thus, the way that God and the Jews reckoned time the resurrection and presentation of Jesus Christ to God the Father would have occurred on the first day of the week (the day that we call Sunday and begin at midnight). The fact that Christ’s disciples associated the first day of the week with his resurrection cannot be denied. (Matthew 28:1-8, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-12 and John 20:1-10)
Moreover, Scripture makes it very clear that this event was of paramount significance to Christ’s followers. The disciples regarded the resurrection of the Messiah as a crucial element of their message to the world. (Acts 1:22, 2:31, 4:2 and 33) Paul wrote about the importance of Christ’s resurrection to believers. (Romans 1:4 and 6:5) Peter talked about the centrality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ to the Christian religion. (I Peter 1:3 and 3:21) It is, therefore, logical to conclude that the first day of the week would have assumed a special place in the hearts of Christ’s followers after his ascension to heaven.
Such a conclusion is further reinforced by the historical records available to us. In his Epistle to the Magnesians (written about 110 A.D.), Ignatius wrote: “If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord's Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death--whom some deny, by which mystery we have obtained faith, and therefore endure, that we may be found the disciples of Jesus Christ, our only Master--how shall we be able to live apart from Him, whose disciples the prophets themselves in the Spirit did wait for Him as their Teacher? And therefore He whom they rightly waited for, being come, raised them from the dead.” (From The Epistle of Ignatius of Antioch to the Magnesians - http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/ignatius-magnesians-roberts.html)
Likewise, we have this testimony from Justin Martyr written in the middle of the Second Century: “The wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen…But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.” (From The First Apology of Justin Martyr - http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/justinmartyr-firstapology.html)
Hence, it is clear that Sunday observance was well established within the Christian Church by the Second Century. This clearly contradicts some of the history put out in their various media presentations by Sabbath-keepers to enhance their claims that Sunday observance started much later and for nefarious reasons (often cited as conspiratorial deception). Indeed, the Scriptural and historical evidence provided here proves that neither the Roman Catholic Church (which was constituted into the organization that we think of today in the Fourth Century) nor the Emperor Constantine (who promulgated his famous Sunday law in 321 A.D.) were responsible for changing the day of worship for Christians from the Sabbath to Sunday. Sunday observance had literally been extant within the Church for over two hundred and fifty years by the time the church and the emperor of Rome were in a position to make their declarations about which day(s) Christians should use for worship.