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Easter or Passover?
By David Hill

Easter has been described as the most important and significant festival of the Christian Church. It is a time when Christendom remembers the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is piously observed throughout the world by Protestants, Roman Catholics and the majority of Christian sects. One would expect that such a universally accepted institution would trace its origin to the Holy Scriptures. Indeed, it would be reasonable to assume that the Church's most important festival would have been inaugurated by divine decree.

But the Bible doesn't even mention the word Easter. The Lord Jesus Christ never asked his disciples to celebrate his resurrection, and the Apostles neither kept Easter nor commanded their fellow Christians to observe Easter.

Let's have a look at the history of this festival and we'll just see how far our present Easter celebration has digressed from the true celebration that Christ ordained. As stated previously, Christ never commanded his disciples to celebrate his resurrection. He did however ask them to celebrate his death.

1 COR 11: 25,26 ".... 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.''

The occasion was the Last Supper on the evening before the crucifixion. The disciples were gathered together to eat the Passover meal. On the evening of the fourteenth day of Nisan, the Israelites sacrificed a lamb and roasted it over the fire. They ate the lamb that night together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. It was instituted as a perpetual memorial of the night that the Lord passed over the houses of the Children of Israel in Egypt and delivered them from slavery.

EXODUS 12:14 And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever.

This was the setting on that celebrated night. Jesus knew that for hundreds of years the Passover ceremony had been kept in anticipation of this very day when the true Passover Lamb (John 1:29, 1 Cor. 5:7) would shed his blood for many for the remission of sin. But on that night the Lord didn't point out to his disciples that the sacrificed lamb was his "type". Instead, he substituted the unleavened bread as a symbol of his body and the wine as a symbol of his blood. By doing so he clearly indicated that the practice of animal sacrifice should cease, and that the Passover should continue, though not in the former way with the blood of a lamb to commemorate the deliverance from Egypt. Rather, the Passover was now to be held in the new way with the symbols of Christ's own blood commemorating his atoning death which has delivered us from sin and death. When Jesus asked his disciples to "do this in remembrance of me'' he wasn't afraid that the disciples would forget about his death. No. He wanted to shift the emphasis of the Passover celebration from the deliverance from Egypt to his own sacrificial death that delivers us from sin. (of which the deliverance from Egypt is a "type") Let's read again the events of that Passover night.

LUKE 22:15-20 And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come. And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.

Notice from Matthew's account that the Lord made a promise that he would share this new Passover again with his disciples in the Kingdom of God.

MATTHEW 26:29 But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.

Passover in the Early Church.

And so every year at the time of Passover the disciples met together and shared the wine and the unleavened bread in memory of Christ's death. This ceremony commemorates both his death and our redemption, and anticipates the coming Kingdom of God and his promised return in glory.

There is no doubt about the fact that the Last Supper was actually a Passover meal. And there is no doubt that we share the sacrament of Communion in obedience to Christ's commands at that Last Supper. Was it merely a coincidence that Christ chose the Passover to initiate this ceremony? Nothing that God does is coincidental. Paul tells us that Christ became our Passover Lamb. 1 Cor. 5:7,8 says,

".... For Christ our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth."

Now if Christ is our Passover Lamb then we must keep the feast of the Passover. And we must do that by partaking of the sacrifice, that is the body of the Lamb Jesus Christ. Jesus said in the Gospel of John 6:54,

"Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life;"

Since Christ is our Passover lamb, it makes sense that partaking of the body and blood of Jesus Christ saves us. His body sacrificed for our sin and his dying in our place redeems us. Just as the blood of the paschal lamb painted on the doorposts of the Israelite houses and the body of the lamb eaten within the house saved the Israelite firstborn, so the Blood of the Lamb and his Body saves us, his firstborn.

Therefore we agree that the bread and the wine of the Lord's Supper symbolize the body and blood of the Lord Jesus. We know also that the body and blood of the old Passover lamb symbolize the Body and Blood of our Passover Lamb, Christ Jesus. We know that we cannot have eternal life unless we "eat his flesh and drink his blood". Christians then are Passover keepers by virtue of the fact that we have a Passover lamb and a scriptural command to keep the feast.

There are at least two schools of thought as to the manner in which the Lord's Supper should be kept. The most common states that the Lord's Supper has little to do with Passover except that Christ happened to introduce it on a Passover night. The church is then free to observe the Lord's Supper as often as it wishes.

The Lord's Supper as the new Passover

The second school of thought acknowledges the fact that Christ is our Passover Lamb and as such is "partaken of'' by the bread and wine that Christ substituted to symbolize his body and blood upon the eve of his death. Just as the old Passover lamb and its blood were symbols pointing to His sacrificed body, so the bread and wine are also symbols of his body and blood. Therefore we should partake of the bread and wine once a year (on the 14th of Nisan) and in the same manner as the Israelites partook of the paschal lamb. That is to say, as commemorative symbols of Christ only not as the actual body and blood. The bread and wine are the substituted emblems in the Christian Passover that take the place of the animal sacrifice.

So why did Christ make this substitution? It was because he intended the Passover ceremony to be carried on until he comes again to share it with us in the Kingdom of God. Had he not made that substitution, the Passover ceremony would have ceased along with the other sacrifices.

Initially the early church did keep the Passover using the bread and the wine just as the Apostles had taught them. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians is believed to have been written shortly after the Passover around the time of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. (1 COR 16:8) This would certainly account for Paul's use of Passover imagery in Corinthians 5:7,8. It would also account for Paul's timely concern about the flippant manner in which the Lord's Supper was being kept. (1 Cor 11:17-30) Which he undoubtedly had knowledge of by recent reports. (1 Cor 1:11)

Passover changed by Rome's Decree

Ample historical evidence proves that for many centuries a large number of Christian churches kept the Lord's Supper on the date of Passover. These included the seven churches mentioned in the Revelation.

Soon after all the twelve disciples died, some churches including the church in Rome began to keep the Sunday after Passover as their day on which the Lord's Supper should be held each year. This came into being because it was the habit in those churches to fast before the Passover. It did not seem appropriate that they should end their fast on the anniversary of the eve of Christ's death as did the other churches.

They chose rather to hold the feast on Sunday which they believed to be more suited to the breaking of the fast. But Christ did not command us to fast before Passover. He commanded us to commemorate his death not his resurrection. Therefore the Church of Rome was in error. Let us remember Saul who, rather than fully obey the Lord's command, spared the best of the Amalekite's livestock to offer as a sacrifice to the Lord. Good intentions? Maybe but it cost him his throne. God said to him, "For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.'' 1 Samuel 15:23.

Those churches who kept Passover on the 14th of Nisan (Quartodecimani as they were known) were forced to comply with the practice of the church of Rome by the decree of the Council of Nicea 325 and by the authority of a letter written by the Roman Emperor Constantine.

The Lord's Supper's was thus removed from it's Old Testament origins. This was the deliberate intention of the Emperor Constantine who detested every association with the Jews. In a letter to the churches Constantine wrote, "Concerning the most holy day of Passover, it was decreed by common consent to be expedient, that this festival should be celebrated on the same day by all,......... Let us then have nothing in common with the most hostile rabble of the Jews.'' In the Britain during the 8th century, the name "Easter'' was adopted for the paschal season and its link with Passover was further obscured. "Eostur'' was the heathen festival of the goddess of spring which was traditionally celebrated at this time.

And so Easter came into being with all its pagan trappings. Eggs, Rabbits, Easter buns etc. are all derived from spring festivals and the worship of heathen dieties. Refer to any good encyclopedia and study for yourself the pagan origins of Easter festivities. Is this the way that the Lord would have us worship?

EZEKIEL 11:12 " And ye shall know that I am the LORD: for ye have not walked in my statutes, neither executed my judgments, but have done after the manners of the heathen that are round about you."

Written and Published by David Hill Box 7 Beerburrum Qld. Australia 4517

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