Easter. This is the day when almost all of Christendom commemorates the resurrection of Jesus. Without doubt, the resurrection is one of, if not the most momentous event ever to have occurred in the history of earth. It is so important that we should spend time considering what the Bible actually teaches about it. But the first question I want to raise is “How much of this annual celebration is based on fact and how much is fiction?”
Factually speaking, much of what is popularly considered as defining Easter is based on pagan religion – particularly the ancient fertility cults – and not on divine revelation. “Eggs, like rabbits and hares, are fertility symbols of antiquity. Since birds lay eggs and rabbits and hares give birth to large litters in the early spring, these became symbols of the rising fertility of the earth at the Vernal Equinox.” (Wikipedia, “Easter Bunny”). These symbols have largely lost their pagan meaning and have been adopted into the “Christian” celebration of the resurrection of Jesus without having been given particularly Christian meaning.
“The name ‘Easter’ originated with the names of an ancient Goddess. The Venerable Bede, (672-735 CE.) a Christian scholar, first asserted in his book “De Ratione Temporum” that Easter was named after Eostre (a.k.a. Eastre). She was the Great Mother Goddess of the Saxon people in Northern Europe.” (http://www.religioustolerance.org/easter1.htm). The only time the word “Easter” appears in the Bible, and then only in the KJV (Acts 12:4), it is a mistranslation. The word correctly translated is “Passover.”
The date of Easter is also a purely human contrivance. The early so-called “church fathers” decided that they would fix the date to always follow the Jewish Passover. Since the Jews observe the lunar calendar (and not the Gregorian calendar the Western church adopted), this meant the date would be movable. Following a complicated table, the date of Easter can vary from March 21st to April 25th. This “official” ecclesiastical (church) calendar was not finalized until 1583a.d.
When we think about the resurrection of Jesus, there are a number of things that should come to mind instead of baskets, bunnies and bright new Spring clothes. The resurrection is, in fact, the one detail of the scriptures upon which rests the possibility of our present salvation and our hope of eternal life. Beyond salvation, our understanding of the present world and our place in it is based on our perception of His resurrection.
The apostle Paul states in Rom. 1:4 that the identity of Jesus as the Son of God is tied to the resurrection. Without the resurrection Jesus would have been an impostor and there would be no gospel and no salvation. Without the resurrection He would have been another forgotten claimant to being the hoped for Jewish Messiah, another disappointment in a long series of disappointments.
Paul says that the core message of the gospel is “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3). These facts, along with His ascension, were preached by Peter on the day of Pentecost with the conclusion being, “…that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2:36). Thus, our confidence in the Lordship of Jesus, the certainty of salvation and the hope of the world is based on the resurrection.
Similarly, our realization of present salvation and hope of eternal life are also based on this one great fact. Paul wrote to the Ephesian Christians telling them of his prayer for them that they might know the “working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead” (Eph. 1:19-20). The same divine power that raised Jesus up also raises us up in a way similar to the resurrection of Jesus. In Rom. 6:3-4, Paul speaks of our baptism as burial with Christ into His death from which we are raised to walk in newness of life. At baptism, we identify with His death, end one way of life – the life of sin and worldliness lived to the flesh – and begin another; a life lived by the power of the Holy Spirit. The life of the Christian is then the resurrection life, shared with the Lord who died and was resurrected for us.
While the pagan rites of Spring were in celebration of the annual renewal of nature, the resurrection of Jesus signaled the beginning of a “new creation!” Jesus is “the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence” (Col. 1:18). From the time of the resurrection Jesus has been declared as “Lord.” This was a revolutionary and dangerous declaration in the day when the Roman Caesars ruled supremely over the greater part of the civilized world. To say that “Jesus is Lord” is to say that a new world order – the kingdom of God – has been inaugurated. In first century terms it meant that “Jesus is the rightful ruler over all the earth and Caesar is not.”
Those who are “in Him” – those who have a relationship with Him – are a “new creation” where “…old things have passed away” and “all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation” (Gal. 6:15). The relationship of his disciples and their responsibility in the new creation is explained in Rev. 1:5-6 where Jesus is said to be “the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth.” We are seen as co-rulers with him. He “has made us kings and priests to His God and Father.” So the work of the disciples of Jesus is related to the resurrection. It is the work of the new creation begun when Jesus rose from the grave, triumphant not just over death, but by his resurrection he “disarmed principalities and powers,” and “made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it” (Col. 2:15).
Another truth evident from the resurrection is that those who have life in Jesus will also be raised from the dead at the last day. At that day the “trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Cor. 15:52) Our confidence in this is real, assured by such positive declarations as in 1 Cor. 15:20. “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Again, consider Paul’s reassurance to Christians; “ But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus” (1 Thess. 4:13-14).
Finally, His resurrection is a guarantee of the judgment of the world according to God’s righteousness. This is true “because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). If there is a God – and there is – and if he desires the salvation of the world – and He does – then it is appropriate for Him to judge the world when it rejects the greatest overture of love that has ever been known. The death of His only begotten Son is proof of God’s love and the resurrection is proof that Jesus is the Son of God (Rom. 1:4). Anyone who rejects God’s love with all the evidence available to us for something so momentous as the resurrection and the hope it offers us need not be surprised at the judgment when he condemned.
Today, Christians all over the world will remember, honor, and pledge their faithfulness anew to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. From very early, Christians have done this, not just on Easter Sunday, but on every day of every week by living and serving in a resurrection kind of life with Jesus as Lord and King.
Co-authored with Bill Van Dyke, Ph.D, Give Me Liberty: Restoring the Spirit of Jubilee examines the mission of Christ as viewed from the fulfillment of Jubilee and how legalism robs the church community of the joy Jubilee brings.
A Better Way is an exploration and critique of the traditional method of determining Bible authority and suggestions for a better approach to understanding the Bible.