Is there a biblical command to commemorate the day of Jesus’ resurrection?
This lesson plan in the manual is an overview of the atonement of Jesus Christ. Because we will be studying the details of the atonement in future lessons – today I’m going to take a slight departure from the outline to focus on why Christ’s resurrection is referred to as Easter – as in the title of this lesson.
There is a lot of confusion regarding what Easter Sunday is all about. For some, Easter Sunday is about the Easter Bunny, colorfully decorated Easter eggs and baskets full of jelly beans and peeps. Most people understand that Easter Sunday has something to do with the resurrection of Jesus but are confused as to how the resurrection is related to the Easter bunny and eggs. Biblically speaking, there is absolutely no connection between the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the common modern traditions related to Easter Sunday. Essentially, what occurred is that in order to make Christianity more attractive to non-Christians, the ancient Roman Catholic Church mixed the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection with the pagan celebrations that involved spring fertility rituals. These spring fertility rituals are the source of the egg and the bunny traditions. Easter has nothing to do with Jesus’ resurrection on a Sunday. As a result, many Christians feel strongly that the day on which we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection should not be referred to as “Easter Sunday.” Rather, something like “Resurrection Sunday” would be far more appropriate and biblical. For the Christian, it is absurd that we should allow Easter eggs and bunnies to be the focus of the day instead of Jesus’ resurrection.
What does the Bible say about Easter? If one were to search the word “Easter” you could find it is once mentioned and only in the King James Bible Acts 12:1-4 “Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.) And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.”
I think the KJV translators got this one wrong. It may be one of the worst word-translations in the entire Kings James Bible. But we all use words despite their pagan origins. All the days of the week draw their names from paganism. “Resurrection Sunday,” then is just as guilty of pagan associations as “Easter” is, because “Sun-day” originates from sun worship.
When we look at the history of, Easter we find that the word Easter was substituted for the word translated as Passover. “Easter” is based on the Latin and Greek word “Pascha” meaning Passover. For centuries, Passover foreshadowed the death of Jesus. Easter mentioned here in Acts 12 had nothing to do with Sunday. Passover is actually tied to a calendar day in the year, not a specific day of the week. Much like one’s birthday or Fourth of July – you celebrate the date, not the day. Independence Day is not held on Thursdays every year even though it was a Thursday in 1776. Got it?!
Throughout the New Testament – after the resurrection – Sunday was simply called the “First day of the week.” It was not referred to as the “day of the Resurrection.” You see, the Jews did not have a ceremony for remembering the future resurrection of Jesus. The focus was on the great sacrifice God would make on that particular Passover day in the future. Not only that, there is also no Biblical command to commemorate the day of His resurrection.
Regardless of where the name Easter came from, Easter itself is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus is a critical doctrine of the Christian faith stating definitely that Jesus conquered death and the grave and proved to be the world’s Savior from sin and death.
Let’s look at the Bible to find the meaning of Easter and how it relates to the resurrections of Jesus. The Apostle Paul in his epistle to the Romans shows us that BAPTISM instead of Easter was given as a symbol of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. Romans 6:3-5 says, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized unto his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.”
What we see is that the true meaning is more than just a memorial for the resurrection one day a year with a church service. We can even celebrate the resurrection every day of our lives as we allow Christ’s resurrection to become a reality in our lives. Let’s continue where we left off in Romans 6 and read 6-11 “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Through the grace of God and the sacrifice of His Son, we can become free from sin in our lives. Jesus paid for our sins on the cross. When we accept Him as our Savior, our Redeemer, our old man of sin is crucified with Him. And we become a new creature – alive in Christ! Paul also states in 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
The Bible makes it clear that Jesus was crucified in conjunction with the Jewish Passover. The four Gospels make it clear that Jesus was raised from the dead three days later, on the first day of the week. Biblically speaking, then, Christ’s resurrection should be celebrated on the first Sunday after the Jewish Passover meal. However, this is not the case. Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox – March 21st – which is the first day of Spring. This method of determining the date of Easter often results in Easter being before Passover or after Passover. Easter can potentially be observed anywhere between March 22 and April 25.
Dating Easter in conjunction with the vernal equinox and full moon had nothing to do with the Biblical account of Christ’s resurrection or the Passover. It was pagan practices, such as the spring fertility goddess rituals that the Catholic Church attempted to Christianize, that resulted in Easter’s being linked to the vernal equinox and the full moon. The only thing that is biblical regarding when Easter is now observed is the fact that Easter is always on Sunday. The Bible does not instruct Christians to set aside a day to celebrate Christ’s resurrection. At the same time, the resurrection is most worthy of celebrating. Celebration of Christ’s resurrection, then, is a matter of Christian freedom. Since it is a matter of Christian freedom and not a biblical command, there is also freedom as to precisely when the Christ’s resurrection is observed. Just as with Christmas, the exact date is not important. It is the fact that Christ was resurrected that is important.
The legend of the Easter bunny bringing eggs appears to have been brought to the United States by settlers from Germany in the 1700s. Over the past 200 years, the Easter bunny has become the most commercially recognized symbol of Easter in the United States. In legend, the Easter bunny brings baskets filled with colored eggs, candy, and sometimes toys to the homes of children on the night before Easter, in much the same way as Santa Clause is said to deliver presents on Christmas Eve. Obviously, none of this comes from the Bible. Should Christian parents allow their children to participate in traditional activities that refer to the Easter bunny? This is a question parents often struggle with. There is nothing essentially evil about the Easter bunny. What is important is our focus. If our focus is on Christ, our children will understand that, like Santa Clause, the Easter bunny is merely a symbol. Easter should be a time to reflect upon and celebrate the resurrection of Christ.
Speaking to a gathering at Corinth who disputed the Resurrection, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how 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: And that, he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.”
Paul then explains that upon Christ’s resurrection hangs the importance of the Gospel 1 Corinthians 15:13-18 “But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching in vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” Jesus’ claims to be God – of coming from above – being born of a virgin – His teachings – His miracles – His suffering – His death on the cross – mean nothing if He did not over come the grave. Paul summarizes it by saying in verse 19 “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” The Apostles were called specifically to bear witness of His resurrection. If there is no resurrection, Paul says they – the apostles – are of all most men miserable. 1 Corinthians 15:15 says it well “Yea, and we (meaning the Apostles) are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not, if so be that the dead rise not.” Paul says here in his argument, if there was no resurrection then all of their trials, sufferings, sicknesses, poverties, injustices, imprisonments, and martyrdoms were for NOTHING. And, so Paul writes, if the resurrection is not a reality, then we, the apostles, are of all men most miserable. But guess what? These men were not the most miserable, and even rejoiced in their sufferings – because they had witnessed the resurrected Christ! And because He was, in fact, resurrected, we all have hope – here – and in the eternities. For this I praise God not just every Spring, but daily. It is by our faith in this conviction that we are able, to not only live life more abundantly here – but forever more into the eternities.
In conclusion: Whether we call it “Easter” or “Resurrection Sunday,” what is important is the reason for our celebration, which is that Christ is alive, making it possible for us to have eternal life. There is nothing essentially evil about painting and hiding eggs and having children search for them. What IS important is our focus. If our focus is on Christ, our children and grandchildren, can be taught to understand that hiding eggs are just a fun game. Children should know the true meaning of the day, and parents and the church have a responsibility to teach the true meaning.
And, that concludes our review of Easter.
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