“Easter” Or “Passover”?
We all know that the early church did not celebrate Easter with jelly beans, chocolate bunnies and marshmallow chickens. Their children never went on Easter egg hunts. Of course, the death and resurrection of Jesus stood above all the cultural trappings, but it was Passover not Easter, that the early Christians honored.
The word Easter actually comes from the Anglo Saxon Eastre, the goddess of spring. As Christianity spread, it became church policy not to undo pagan holidays, but instead inject Christian meaning into the celebrations. Although I enjoy eating chocolate bunnies, I recognize that the colored eggs, rabbits and chickens were originally symbols through which the locals paid homage to the “gods” that governed sexual fertility.
Although most Christians, myself included, still refer to the season of Christ’s resurrection as “Easter,” in my heart I look past secular traditions and into the reality of spiritual truth. Indeed, even when I am with one who celebrates Easter with eggs, etc., I overlook these cultural traditions and call everyone’s attention to the great miracle: the resurrection of Christ.
Church Celebrated Passover
While we can forgive and cover unbiblical traditions in love, it remains important that we steadfastly pursue the truth of God’s Word. Thus, we should recognize that the early church did not celebrate Easter as we do in modern times. They celebrated the Feast of Passover. This annual tradition was not only commemorative; it was also prophetic in nature. Additionally, we would expect that the Jewish disciples would celebrate Passover, but so also did the Gentile believers. We see this clearly in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. He wrote, “…Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the feast” (1 Cor. 5:7-8).
These Gentile Corinthians were urged by Paul to celebrate the Hebrew Feast of Passover. True, they did not celebrate the Old Testament ritual as did the Jews with unleavened bread, etc. Rather, they approached the feast from its spiritual perspective, focusing on “the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (v. 8). Indeed, the Christian Church kept the Passover, not in remembrance of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, but in remembrance of what Christ—their Passover—fulfilled in delivering mankind from the penalty of sin and judgment.
Listen again to the Lord’s statement to His disciples. He said, “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” (Luke 22:15-16).
Jesus desired to eat the Passover, not looking back, but looking forward in prophetic anticipation of Passover being fulfilled on a whole new level in the Kingdom of God. Through Christ’s sacrifice, a new Passover would be established far greater than that of Israel’s deliverance from Pharaoh. This Passover would affect the entire world. While it would still be a type of Passover, it would be kept “in remembrance of [Jesus]” (v. 19).
Hebrew Passover Versus Christian Passover
The Old Testament Passover, for all its powerful intrinsic and literal value, was actually a shadow of what Christ would fulfill on behalf of the world. Therefore, let’s look at this first Passover.
The Hebrew Passover occurred in ancient Egypt when the Israelites were slaves. We are familiar with the story: God had sent Moses to bring deliverance to His people. Each time Pharaoh refused, divine judgments fell upon Egypt; the last and most decisive judgment occurred the night before the Israelites left Egypt. The Lord commanded the Hebrews to kill a lamb and put its blood on the doorposts and lintels of each house. That night, as the angel of death went forth and killed every first-born male in Egypt, he “passed over” every home whose exterior door was covered by the blood of the lamb. From this “passing over” comes the term “Passover.”
Yet, the Israelites were required to do more than put lamb’s blood upon their doorposts. They also had to roast the lamb they’d slain and then eat it entirely; any remains were to be burnt. It was to be eaten with bitter herbs, and eaten in haste with their loins girded and a walking staff ready. They also had to remove all leaven from their dwellings and bake unleavened bread for their journey into the wilderness. The next morning the entire nation of Israel along with their sheep and cattle were victoriously delivered from their time of bondage. Every year from then on the Israelites were required to commemorate God’s great deliverance. This commemoration was also known as the “Feast of Unleavened Bread.” It lasted for eight days and was considered a mandatory feast for all of Israel.
When Christ came, one of His singular purposes was to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 5:17). This mission to bring fulfillment included Israel’s feasts; in a profound way, the Passover would become central. Remember also, the feasts were shadows of something greater than themselves. Paul said their “substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:17). It is absolutely remarkable that, of all days in the calendar year, Christ, the Lamb of God, died on Passover. As the high priest was offering a lamb for the sins of the Jews, on that day God was offering His Son for the sins of the world! It is Christ’s blood that protects us today in the same way the blood on the doorposts symbolized God’s protection for Israel in Egypt.
But let’s take the Passover further into its great, end-time fulfillment. During this last Passover celebrated by Jesus, I believe He not only had the forgiveness of the world on His mind, but also the great, end-time fulfillment of Passover – an event which is yet to come. Thus, as He ate that last Passover with His disciples, He said, “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” (Luke 22: 15-16).
Jesus said that the Passover will have yet another great fulfillment when He eats it with us “in the kingdom of God.” After that last supper Jesus did not again celebrate Passover. His statement refers to something yet to come, something that will unfold at the end of the age. When Jesus speaks about the Passover being fulfilled in the kingdom, He is saying that there will be yet another fulfillment to the Feast of Passover, a time when those who are truly Christ’s, who have “eaten” the Lamb’s flesh and partaken of His blood covenant, are divinely protected during the time of the end. So regardless of whether you believe in a pre-, mid- or post-tribulation rapture, God has not destined us for wrath. The Kingdom Passover, fulfilled by the Lamb of God, positions us in the eternal protection of the Almighty.
In whatever manner Jesus’ words shall be fulfilled, let us require of ourselves to partake of the whole Lamb and not merely nibble at the comforting verses. Let us diligently apply the Lamb’s blood over the doorways to our hearts, as well as over our families and loved ones. And even as the world around us continues its rush toward sin and judgment, let us instead press into God’s kingdom. For during these very days of shaking, we shall receive a “kingdom which cannot be shaken” (Heb. 12:28).
Beloved, let us live in holy expectation of that day when Christ shall return and we shall eat the Passover with Him in the Kingdom of God.