Easter Examined

True Christians take this time to remember the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, very important events . The gospel is what we know as the Easter Story.

“Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and He appeared…”

The Gospel is the word that saves us if we hold fast – literally, take possession of it – so, just like a seed, it produces life within. It is of foremost importance and clearly as Christ at the centre not me.

Four Basic Elements

Death of Christ


It is according to the Scriptures and has already been shown in the Old Testament; for instance, Abraham offering Isaac, Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53. Without shedding of blood, no forgiveness for sin. Christ is unique in this aspect of His death. Without death there is no new covenant. Christ is unique in this aspect of His death.

It is the means by which the punishment and penalty of sin has been taken away; it truly is finished, John 19:30.

This all shows that there is no salvation unless the individual is aware of the reality of the death of Christ and accepts that He alone can give forgiveness of sin.

Burial of Christ

The first time the word ‘bury’ is used in Scripture is in Genesis 23:4 and has the significant meaning of ‘put out of sight’.

As we shall see, Matthew 12:40, sign as Jonah is a clear prophecy fulfilled by the burial of Christ.

John 12:24 shows us that unless a seed falls in the ground it will not multiply and 1 Corinthians 15:42 that it is sown one kind of body and raised another. This all shows that there is no salvation unless the individual is aware of the reality of the burial of Christ and accepts that He is the only One to fulfil the prophecy of removing the power of sin.

Resurrection of Christ

This is the confirmation that Satan and his realm were defeated. See Acts 2:31, death could not hold Him. Also see 1 John 3:18, Satan’s works are ‘brought to nought’.

This makes the Gospel of Christ unique from other ‘gospels’. Other leaders had died and were buried but Christ’s resurrection declared who He is, Romans 1:4 and John 11:25

For a third time we see that there is no salvation unless the individual is aware of the reality of the resurrection of Christ and accepts the uniqueness of new life in Him.

Appearance of Christ

Acts 1:3 tells us that He showed Himself alive by many convincing proofs. Christ is living today in His heavenly ministry, Hebrews 7:25.

What is therefore clear is that it is not pagan to remember these events and indeed Satan would rather we did not think about them and come to know the reality within our lives. The problems come when, instead of just spending the time meditating on what is happening we get tied up with pagan thinking and activities. It is also a problem if our declaring that Easter is pagan leads us to belittle the events that are remembered at this time.

Passover

We have a Jewish festival, Passover that would be better to celebrate, however we should be aware how Paul dealt with these issues set in context of Lord’s Table.

“If one of the unbelievers invites you and you want to go, eat anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience’ sake. But if anyone says to you, “This is meat sacrificed to idols,” do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake; I mean not your own conscience, but the other man’s; for why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks? Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved.”

(1 Corinthians 10:27-33)

Whatever you do, do to the glory of God and not to the offence of man!

Order

John 6:47-58, shows that the proper partaking of Christ’s body and blood is essential to eternal life. The same order, body first, is found in 1 Corinthians 11:23-29 as elsewhere; for example, Matthew 26:26-30 and Mark 14:22-26.

However, Luke 22:13-20, appears to show a cup, the bread, and then another cup. Is this the proper order for the New Testament Passover? To understand this, one must understand the order of service (Hebrew, seder) of the Passover meal. Within the Passover Meal today there are 4 cups of wine.

“Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out (Cup 1) from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you (Cup 2) from their bondage. I will also redeem you (Cup 3) with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. ‘Then I will take you for My people, (Cup 4) and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.

( Exodus 6:6-7)

However, only two are mentioned in the New Testament, see.

“When the hour had come, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. And He said to them, ‘I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ And when He had taken a cup (Cup 1) and given thanks, He said, ‘Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.’ And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ And in the same way He took the cup (Cup 3) after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.'”

(Luke 22:14-12)

Early Jewish tradition says these, 1 and 3, were the most important; the first consecrated the entire Passover service that followed. The third cup was the most important of all; it was called the “cup of blessing” or the “cup of redemption”, because it represented the blood of the Slain Lamb. This third cup became the symbol of the shed blood of the Saviour, the blood of the New Testament, the Christian “cup of blessing,” see 1 Corinthians 10:16.

It is interesting that there is no mention of the fourth cup in New Testament times – “I will take you for My people”. Could this be the cup that He drinks when “the Kingdom of God comes”?

When Did it Happen?

The traditional belief that Jesus died on Good Friday and rose on Easter Sunday has problems with regard to Scripture; the key problem being what Jesus said specifically about His death:

“But He answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

(Matthew 12:39, 40)

He would be like Jonah, three days and three nights in the grave. The traditional way of measuring the days, even taken the Jewish way of counting, does not fit in with this clear statement. Many Christians would argue that, according to the Jews, before 6 p.m. Friday would be one day, Saturday would be two days and Sunday is the third. This might work if Jesus had just said three days but he adds and three nights; you can only get two nights maximum from this calculation. So was Jesus correct? Before we answer that please also note these verses in Matthew:

“Now on the next day, the day after the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate, and said, ‘Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, “After three days I am to rise again.” ‘Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, otherwise His disciples may come and steal Him away and say to the people, “He has risen from the dead,” and the last deception will be worse than the first.'” 

(Matthew 27:62-64)

These events took place the day after the crucifixion and are described as, “the day after the preparation”. This day of preparation is Nisan 14, when, according to Exodus 14, any leavened bread was removed from the home and food was readied for the Passover meal. This means that the grave of Jesus was not sealed until Nisan 15. John 19 tells us that the body of Jesus needed to be removed from the cross because of the Sabbath and verse 31 tells us that it was a ‘high day’.

“Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.”

Does this mean the weekly Sabbath (Saturday) in which case the Good Friday idea might be right? The added words in John don’t seem to indicate a regular Sabbath and so what could it be? These significant Old Testament Scriptures tells us:

“‘In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight is the LORD’S Passover. Then on the fifteenth day of the same month there is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not do any laborious work. But for seven days you shall present an offering by fire to the LORD. On the seventh day is a holy convocation; you shall not do any laborious work.'”

(Leviticus 23:5-8)

This is talking about the Passover when Jesus was crucified – the 14th day of the first month – Nisan 14. Notice that the above verses show that on Nisan 15 there is a Sabbath – the start of Unleavened Bread. Therefore this could well be the high day Sabbath referred to in John 19 and shows that it is not necessary for Jesus to have died on Friday, the day before the weekly Sabbath.

Various Calendars

The exact correlation between dates in the Jewish and the Gregorian calendar, prior to its full acceptance in the sixteenth century, is difficult; this makes the exact pinpointing of the day, Wednesday or Thursday difficult and I have seen good scholarship for both. It is also complicated by the fact that the Jewish day runs from sunset to sunset and not midnight to midnight as ours do. What is clear is that Friday is impossible but both Wednesday and Thursday are possible.

Below I list the dates using the Jewish days for the month Nisan and, if my understanding is correct 10 Nisan must be the weekly Sabbath, sunset Friday to sunset Saturday.

Nisan 10 – Jesus makes His triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Luke 19:28-44). Interestingly, it was on this 10th day that Exodus 12:3-6 tells us that the lamb was first taken from the flock and set aside for the sacrifice 4 days later. John 12:23-33 shows that this was clearly the aim of Jesus and these were the final days of His ministry on earth.

Nisan 11 – 13 – Jesus continues His teaching (Matthew 21:10ff) during the last days of His ministry. Before sunset the preparation for the Passover meal went on.

Nisan 14 – Here again we run into a problem as to exactly when the Passover meal was celebrated. Was it at the beginning of Nisan 14 – after sunset or towards the end of the day? There is a problem here and it is the same whether you look for Jesus to be crucified Wednesday, Thursday or Friday.

Scripture shows that the body of Jesus had to be removed from the Cross before the start of the Sabbath, which would have started at sunset on Nisan 14. In other words by the end of Nisan 14 Jesus would have completed His work on the Cross. It is therefore impossible for the Passover meal to have been celebrated late in the afternoon of Nisan 14 and must have been celebrated at the beginning of the day after sunset of Nisan 13.

Jesus and His disciples appear to have celebrated the meal a day early in order for Jesus to fulfil the clear Old Testament picture and actually die at the same time as the Passover Lamb was being slain – the ninth hour (3 p.m.) Nisan 14. That it was a day early can be seen from John 18:28 where the Jews would not enter the Praetorium because they wanted to eat (future) the Passover.

Having celebrated the meal which was clearly at night (John 13:30) Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane where He is betrayed and His trials begin. His interrogation would last until He was placed on the Cross around noon of Nisan 14 and died at 3 p.m.

John 19:31 indicates that the Sabbath approaching was a special one and gives clear evidence for the fact that it was Nisan 15 the first day of Unleavened Bread. Therefore Jesus’ body was removed from the Cross and placed in the tomb.

Nisan 15 – the ‘High Sabbath’ is the first day and night that Jesus spends in the tomb.

Nisan 16 – was not the weekly Sabbath but Friday and so at this point the women bought the spices and prepared them (Mark 16:1). Some feel that they bought the spices and went straight to the tomb however I feel this could not happen for two reasons. First, Mark 16:2 says that it was very early on the first day of the week that they went to the tomb. It is unlikely that they had time to buy the spices prepare them and get there all in the same day. Second, is once again the problem of Jesus being in the tomb 3 days and 3 nights.

This would be the second night and day that Jesus spent in the tomb.

Nisan 17 – The weekly Sabbath and the third night and day Jesus spent in the tomb.

Nisan 18 – The first day of the week the woman come to the tomb (Mark 16:2) and Jesus has risen.

Whether you accept this version or not, please be aware that we must not just accept the traditions of man and must check the relevance of Scripture. Please be aware that for the first three centuries of the church Christians did not celebrate the death of Christ on Friday. They celebrated it on the Jewish Passover which of course meant different days of the week. It was Emperor Constantine that fixed the Easter Sunday on the first full moon of spring; church leaders then made the mistake of assuming the death of Christ was on Friday, the day before the weekly Sabbath.

Easter Symbols

Although Easter is now a time that the Christian Church celebrates the resurrection of Jesus, the origins of this festival are pagan and we must be careful not to get reality mixed up with myth. The name Easter is derived from the Saxon, Eostre, a goddess of spring and the deity who measured time. In pagan times an annual spring festival was held in her honour. Some Easter customs have come from this and indeed other pre-Christian spring festivals.

Does this mean we should not celebrate Easter? Some may want to take that action but the relevant point is not which day we use to celebrate but at that day we choose we celebrate properly and clearly centre on the Lord of Glory and have nothing to do with pagan deities or man-made myths.

If the Easter egg hunt and other symbols (even religious ones) become more important than developing my relationship with and understanding of Jesus then something has gone wrong. If you feel able to enjoy the eggs etc but still are centred on Christ that must be a decision you make before the Lord; however, it might help to be aware of the origins of some of these things.

The Easter Bunny

The earliest recorded use of a rabbit as a symbol of Easter appears to have been in Germany in the 1500s; although it was probably a much earlier folk tradition.

In the 1700s the Pennsylvania Dutch brought the Easter Bunny to America and children eagerly awaited Oschter Haws and his gifts.

We should be aware that to many other cultures and religions, especially in the Far East, the rabbit had a ‘sacred’ message and it is likely that these traditions spread to the West. I think it is impossible to see the Easter Bunny as Christian and, my conclusion is, we should not use this symbol.

Easter Eggs

The egg, by its very nature and purpose has long been a symbol of fertility, but this neither makes it good nor evil, it is what it is! The decorating of eggs is a long established practice in many countries and they make a beautiful table decoration.

The first chocolate Easter eggs appeared in Germany and France in the early 1800s and soon spread to the rest of Europe and beyond. By the 19th Century mass manufacturing was made possible by new manufacturing methods.

Nobody seems to know exactly when the Easter egg hunt was started but some claim it goes back to the 4th century. The traditional hunt is not for chocolate eggs but for the coloured variety.

With the Easter egg there seems to me to be no reason why Christians should not hunt them or eat them providing it is in the right balance with the Lord and the true meaning of Easter

There are other symbols and traditions of Easter. For instance the cross and the lily, both Christian symbols relating to the religious significance of the season and the renewal of faith. There is nothing wrong with such outward symbols providing they demonstrate what has happened inwardly. If we trust simply in the outward and revere the symbol we have missed the reality of the teaching of Christ.

Another more recent custom is the Easter bonnet and the wearing of new clothes on Easter Sunday. Being smartly dressed is to be encouraged but again if the ‘Sunday best’ is simply outward show it is of no profit.

What Should We Do?

Does all this mean that we should not celebrate Easter; that I believe is up to each individual believer; however what we must do is concentrate on the real meaning of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus and not just outward traditions to which we have no reality in our lives. One thing we must not do is allow pagan symbols have any place within our lives.

I would suggest that in this case, because of its close vicinity, the Passover is celebrated not Easter, but, of course, with the understanding of its fulfilment.

Categories: Apologetics

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