Monday, March 08, 2010

Easter or Passover: Which Is Christian?

Easter or Passover: Which Is Christian?

Many believe that God's endorsement of Passover ended with Christ's death—and that He has since replaced it with the observance of Easter as a celebration of Christ's resurrection. But is that so?

by Jerold Aust

On April 4 of this year, a billion or more people who identify themselves as Christian will celebrate Easter. The week before, a far smaller number will observe Passover. How do these two scenarios compare? On the one hand, we have a fun-filled Easter egg hunt, Easter bunnies galore and an Easter Sunday sunrise service. On the other, a solemn Passover service that typically includes participants washing one another's feet and partaking of unleavened bread and wine.

Easter seems more fun, more joyous; Passover seems old-fashioned and more serious. These are some differences that are obvious on the surface. Many other differences aren't so obvious.

My own Easter story

My earliest recollections of Easter included searching for colored eggs that I helped paint and my mother hid. Since I loved hard-boiled eggs, finding and eating those colorfully decorated eggs was fun and quite a treat!
I never questioned the Easter season with its Easter eggs and Easter bunnies. This was supposed to be the most holy holiday of the year, but to me it was more about fun—just as merchants hoped it would be.

It wasn't until my early 20s that I learned about the so-called "Jewish" Passover. The ministers I'd known earlier had given me no hint that Passover was something for Christians.

I now found this curious, since my Bible clearly showed that Jesus, a Jew, observed the Passover with His closest followers and instructed them, and us, to continue to keep it until His return (Matthew 26:26-29). I was also surprised to read that the apostle Paul explicitly told Church members in the Greek port city of Corinth—most of whom were not and never had been Jewish—to observe the Passover as a reminder and memorial of Jesus Christ's death (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

And try as I might, I couldn't find anything in the Bible mentioning the apostles or early Church celebrating Easter. No eggs or rabbits anywhere. I even found that the one place where the word Easter is found in the Bible—Acts 12:4 in the King James Version—the original word there is actually Pascha, the Greek word for Passover!

I was at a loss to explain this. How was it that millions upon millions of people celebrated a holiday that clearly isn't found in the Bible, while dutifully ignoring a holy observance that is in the Scriptures?

A valid replacement?

Have you ever compared the meanings and symbols of Passover and Easter? Have you ever asked what God thinks of the two?

If you celebrate Easter with sincerity (and many millions do), you likely regard Easter as a religious holiday that superseded the archaic Old Testament Passover. After all, that's what most churches teach—that Easter has replaced the Passover. But is there more to the story than that?

Even the Catholic Encyclopedia acknowledges that Jesus and His apostles never celebrated Easter, observing instead the seventh-day Sabbath and the annual festivals of God, including the Passover, all listed in Leviticus 23 and mentioned in many other places in Scripture (New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, 1967, p. 867, "Early Christian Feasts").

You might have heard that Easter came from pagan origins but may have simply dismissed this as irrelevant. After all, God surely wouldn't mind if you celebrated this holiday to honor Him, would He? Yet He does mind. The Bible clearly states that God wants to be worshipped according to the way He instructs in the Scriptures (see Deuteronomy 12:29-32).

Has Easter, in fact, replaced Passover as a Christian obligation, sacred because so many people keep it and because it was sanctioned by the universal church? Additionally, does Passover keep the Jews (and those Christians who insist on observing it) in darkness, unable to receive the grace and life of Jesus Christ?

If those assumptions are true, then—end of story. But if they are not, then we'd better ask some serious questions. In fact, we'd better seriously question those assumptions either way.

Shining the light on Easter

Can Easter and Passover be compared and weighed in the balance? If so, could and would it have any effect on your life, your future?

Most Christians think that as long as a person celebrates Easter as honoring Christ's resurrection, God won't mind and we shouldn't care. But God does mind and we should care that He does.

Many sources are available that describe the origins, history and purpose of the Easter celebration. If you read them without checking what the Bible says about which religious festivals are acceptable to God, you could easily conclude that the writers and researchers know what they are writing about. Their analyses may seem well-grounded, even beyond questioning.

But question you must. If you follow human dogma that doesn't match Jesus' teachings, you're on religious quicksand without the lifeline of God's saving truth.

You can check in nearly any Bible help or encyclopedia to verify several fundamental facts:
• Easter cannot be found in Scripture.
• Easter was never instituted by God.
• Easter was never sanctioned by Jesus Christ.
• Easter was never taught by Christ's apostles.
• Easter was never observed by the early New Testament Church.

Easter sunrise vs. the book of John

You can also check your Bible and see for yourself that a fundamental part of the Easter celebration—that Jesus rose at sunrise on Sunday morning—is a fallacy disproved by the Bible. Easter cannot commemorate Jesus' resurrection on Easter Sunday morning because Jesus was already resurrected and gone from the tomb well before sunrise! Read it yourself!

John 20:1-2 tells us: "Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, 'They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him'" (emphasis added throughout).

Notice that when Mary Magdalene went to Jesus' tomb while it was still dark—before the sun had risen—she saw that the stone had already been rolled away from the tomb's entrance, revealing it to be empty. She immediately ran to Peter and John, excitedly complaining that someone had surreptitiously removed Jesus' body from the tomb.

Both Peter and John ran to Jesus' tomb; John arrived first (verses 3-4). He looked into the tomb but didn't enter until after Peter did. Both saw Jesus' burial linens and head covering lying there. Neither one of them had understood that Jesus would rise from the dead (verses 5-9).

Mary returned and shed tears that Jesus' body was no longer there. Reluctantly she took one last look into the tomb, and to her surprise, saw two angels in white sitting at the head and foot of where Jesus' body had been. The angels asked her why she was crying. She told them that someone had taken Jesus' body away. She then turned and saw a man whom she assumed to be the gardener. She asked him to tell her where Jesus' body was (verses 11-15).

In His unique way, Jesus addressed her by name. Immediately she recognized His voice and only then did she know who it was.

Remember, it was not daylight yet. There was no group of people waiting for the sun to rise in order to honor Jesus' resurrection from the dead. John's account—and remember, he and Peter were the first two apostles to come to the tomb—plainly shows that Jesus was not resurrected at sunrise on Sunday morning.

Easter sunrise vs. the book of Matthew

Matthew's account of Jesus' resurrection confirms that He was already risen from the dead well before the time of sunrise, the moment celebrated by modern Christians in Easter sunrise services. Both John and Matthew give minor details not covered in the other's account.

Matthew states: "Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb" where Jesus was laid. At that time there was a great earthquake, and an angel descended and rolled back the stone from the door (Matthew 28:1-2).

The guards, stationed there to prevent the stealing of Jesus' body, shook with fear and looked like dead men. The angel addressed the women: "Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold I have told you" (verses 4-7).

Matthew confirms at least two things about Jesus' resurrection: First, it was beginning to dawn when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to His tomb, yet still dark outside. Second, the angel told them that Christ had already risen, which meant that He rose sometime before this period, certainly not at sunrise on Sunday morning.

This makes good sense since Jesus told the religious leaders of His day that He would spend three days and three nights in the tomb. He called this the sign of the prophet Jonah, since Jonah had spent three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish that swallowed him (Matthew 12:39-40).

This statement from Jesus alone disproves another myth about Easter, that Jesus was crucified on Good Friday and resurrected on Easter Sunday. Try as you might, there is no way to fit three days and three nights between a hurried late Friday burial and a Sunday morning resurrection.

At most, this scenario only allows for a tiny part of two days (a few minutes each on Friday at sunset and Sunday at sunrise) and another full day (Saturday), plus Friday night and Saturday night—leaving us more than a day and a night short of what Jesus Himself foretold!

Jesus could not have been resurrected on Sunday morning at daybreak since the only sign He gave to His disciples that He truly was the Messiah was the sign of Jonah. Again, as Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights, so Jesus spent that same amount of time in the tomb or grave. You can see the detailed proof for yourself in our free booklets Jesus Christ: The Real Story and Holidays or Holy Days: Does It Matter Which Days We Observe?

Is it only harmless tradition?

Easter is not simply a harmless man-made religious tradition that supposedly replaces the Passover because a church or some group of clerics said it does. The fact remains that any religious tradition that does not agree with what Scripture reveals about Jesus' death or resurrection cannot represent Him.

But that's not the worst part. Easter's origins—and you can verify this yourself with a little research—actually long predate Christianity. Its strange symbols (what do eggs and rabbits have to do with Christ's death and resurrection?), its timing (in the spring of the year), its most notable custom (worshipping at sunrise) and even its name all go back to the worship of pagan fertility gods and goddesses.

God's Word is very clear as to how He views adapting pagan customs and practices to worshipping Him. He explicitly commands His people not to copy religious practices used to worship other gods (Deuteronomy 12:29-32). He calls such practices abominations and emphatically states, "You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way"!

When we weigh Easter in the balance, it is clearly found wanting. It isn't found in Scripture, the way it is celebrated conflicts with basic biblical facts, and it is directly traceable to ancient pre-Christian pagan practices.

In contrast, what can we learn about Passover?

Passover: A memorial of Jesus' death on our behalf

Every professing Christian believes that Jesus Christ died as the Savior of humankind, for our sins. But how many know why He died?

Much of modern Christianity tells people they have nothing more to do than give their hearts to Jesus and accept His blood for their sins. They reason that since human beings are imperfect sinners and Jesus' blood covers their sins, there's nothing more to do but simply accept these facts. Many professing Christians also assume that if a Christian believes he or she is required to strive to obey God in any way, then he or she is denying Jesus as Savior.

But does the Bible support this outlook?

The apostle Paul addresses this subject in Romans 6:1-2: "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" He goes on to say: "For he who has died has been freed from sin...Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts" (verses 7, 12).

Paul also explained that Jesus is our Passover who shed His sinless blood to cover the sins of humankind (1 Corinthians 5:7). He wrote that Jesus Himself explained the meaning of the Passover symbols of unleavened bread and wine—that they represent His body bruised and broken for us and His blood shed to pay the penalty for our sins.

"For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, 'Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.'

"In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.' For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes" (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

Paul's clear teaching is that Jesus' death is symbolized by the Passover, and we who accept His shed blood should no longer live in sin, giving in to the lusts of our selfish nature. We are most certainly saved by grace through faith, but we are also required to honor God by our works, based on God's Ten Commandments (Ephesians 2:8-10; Matthew 19:17). Faith must be accompanied by works, for faith without works is dead (James 2:14, 17, 24, 26).

The Passover has great meaning for Christians, being as current and relevant today as it was when Jesus instituted its symbols and told His followers, "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them" (John 13:17).

Summing up the comparisons

Finally, let's review how Easter and Passover compare and differ.

Jesus observed the Passover, not Easter, with His apostles, instructing them to continue to observe it and teach it to the Church and declaring that when He returns, He will observe it again with His true followers (Matthew 26:26-29).

Easter, even the very name, finds its origins in the worship of an ancient fertility goddess, Ishtar (or Ashtoreth as she was called in Israel during Bible times—1 Kings 11:5, 33; 2 Kings 23:13). She was worshipped in many ancient nations, which helps explain the origins of the Easter egg, a fertility symbol associated with this goddess (Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons, 1959, pp. 103, 109).

There was another church that emerged after the early New Testament Church, one that began as an alternative to the original Jewish-Christian church of Jerusalem. Over time it appeased, negotiated, reconciled and pacified the pagans into accepting a nominal form of Christianity; and by replacing the Bible's religious observances with popular idolatrous celebrations, it merged paganism and Christianity into a new religion (p. 105). You can learn more of the story in our free booklet The Church Jesus Built.

Regardless of how many well-meaning people celebrate Easter, they cannot legitimize a religious holiday that doesn't represent or belong to Christ. If a billion people do something wrong, it's still wrong.

Easter, the very name of which comes from an ancient goddess of fertility, denies the Savior it claims to honor. Jesus would never have sanctioned or observed it since doing so would have broken some of the very commands He inspired to be recorded in Scripture. And had Jesus sinned in this way, we would not have a Savior.

The command to observe Passover is one of the inexorable laws of God, given to human beings to commemorate the death of Jesus Christ, in spirit and truth (Matthew 26:17-29; John 4:23-24).

Passover entails God "passing over" human beings in meting out the justice of death for people's sins (Romans 3:23; 6:23; 1 Peter 1:18-19). God passed over Israel when He sent the death angel to kill all the firstborn of the land of Egypt (Exodus 12:27), which is a type of what He does for Christians today. Passing over Israel spared the lives of their firstborn; passing over Christians spares the "church of the firstborn" (Hebrews 12:23), ultimately freeing them from death.

Jesus then is our Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7). Christians keep Christ's Passover festival because it reminds them that if it weren't for the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we would surely die—forever. Jesus shed His blood for humanity, and those who accept His shed blood, while following God's holy and righteous law (Romans 7:12), are promised an abundant life now and everlasting life later.

With God, timing and meaning are important. God is always on time, and He does nothing without life-giving meaning. Easter does neither.

Easter is a widely known man-made tradition. It stands against the true Jesus Christ and His teachings. Such departure from what He taught came early in Church history. The apostle Paul wrote to certain Christians, lamenting, "For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!" (2 Corinthians 11:4). Many still do!

Remember that sin is the breaking of God's laws. The observance of Easter is contrary to God's laws (Deuteronomy 12:29-32); Passover observance is part of God's law (Leviticus 23:1-5).

Elijah demanded of the Israelites, "How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him" (1 Kings 18:21). Though God is patient, He commands all men everywhere to repent of their sins (Acts 17:30).

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Neither He nor God the Father replaced the Passover with Easter. When you honestly compare and contrast Easter with Passover, there should be no question as to which one God desires you to observe.

Either we obey God or we don't. He sanctioned the true Christian Passover and not the pre-Christian and man-made tradition called Easter. Are you willing to follow what He says?  GN

Related Resources

Would Jesus Christ Celebrate Easter?
For millions of people Easter Sunday is the most important religious holiday of the year. But if Jesus walked the dusty roads of Galilee today, would He observe Easter?

Good Friday—Easter Sunday: It Didn't Happen That Way!
Do you remember when you learned that Santa Claus wasn't real? Guess what? Good Friday and a Sunday resurrection aren't either. Discover the real story from the pages of the Bible itself!

Does Easter Really Commemorate Jesus Christ's Resurrection?
What do rabbits and eggs have to do with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Where did the name Easter originate? This holiday isn't even mentioned in the Bible—so where did it really come from?

Why Should Christians Keep the Passover?
Do you really know why Jesus had to suffer and die? What should the Passover mean for Christians today?

What Was the Purpose of Christ's Death?
Millions of Christians believe that Jesus Christ died for them. But do they really know why? Why was Jesus Christ's death really necessary?

Jesus Christ: Do We Have the Real Story?
Do we have the complete story of Jesus Christ's life and death? For centuries alternative ideas have circulated as to whether Jesus was who the Gospels say He was. The Da Vinci Code, a hugely popular best-selling book, dramatizes one of these stories. What is the truth? Can we know for sure?

Should You Keep the Festivals Jesus Observed?
Jesus observed the Passover, the Feast of Tabernacles and the other festivals that God gave to Israel. Should you follow His example? Are those sacred festivals still applicable for Christians?

The Biblical Festivals That Teach Us About Jesus Christ
Few people are aware of the seven festivals God reveals in the Bible. Even fewer are aware that they center around and teach us a great deal about Jesus Christ and His role in God's plan for all mankind.

The Biblical Festivals That Reveal Christ's Role in God's Plan
Jesus Christ celebrated seven festivals every year that most Christians today can't even name, yet they have His imprint all over them. He is the reason for each of these seasons, and they have great meaning for anyone who would like to follow Him better. What are these festivals, and what do they reveal about our Savior and King?


The Passover Memorial

The Plain Truth About Easter
Has it ever occurred to those stuffing their faces with Easter ham that Jesus would puke at the thought? Neither Jesus or Peter, James or John ever ate forbidden foods. They wouldn't feel too comfortable at plenty of people's dinner tables.

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