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Could it be that Easter traditions leave something missing in the story of Jesus Christ?
Source: Martin Poole/Photodisc/Thinkstock
There are Christians who believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior who do not observe any Easter traditions. I happen to be one of them. Let me explain why.
I’ve learned that Easter doesn’t tell you the whole story about Christ’s life, death and resurrection. If something is missing—and there is—then it changes the entire story. What’s missing and why is crucial for you to understand!
What do Easter customs have to do with Jesus Christ?Did you know that Easter as a celebration has nothing to do with Jesus Christ?
The name itself doesn’t mean Jesus’ resurrection, as some might assume. The word Easter actually comes from the name of an ancient Babylonian fertility goddess worshipped long before Jesus was born!
A quick Internet search will reveal the origins of Easter bunnies, colored eggs, hot cross buns and the sunrise service. You’ll find that these traditions associated with Easter for the most part come from ancient, idolatrous, pre-Christian fertility celebrations. They were part of religious rites a long time before the time of Christ, and they have nothing to do with what the Bible instructs or the practice of the early Church.
Perhaps none of this matters to you. Maybe you believe Easter customs are fun as part of your worship of Christ or family traditions. If that’s the case, let me show you from God’s Word why it should matter.
Exchanging truth for liesThe Church Jesus founded had a very clear understanding of who He was and how to worship Him. But over many decades things changed. Early Christians became confused and then lost the plain biblical teaching about God the Father and Jesus Christ.
How could people who believed in God possibly let that happen? One reason is that we all have a natural tendency to forget the things we learn. The early Church learned the true faith by the teachings of Christ and the apostles. But we can tell from the very early writings of the New Testament that heresy was beginning to spread in the Church. False teachings were beginning to gain ground.
The apostle Paul warned that some were already flirting with a false gospel (Galatians:1:6). The apostle Peter warned that “there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them” (2 Peter:2:1).
In the years after the death of the original apostles, other false teachings began creeping into the Church. Among them was a distortion of the truth about the death and resurrection of Jesus.
As we just read, Peter warned that there was a danger of “denying the Lord who bought them”—that is, replacing the clear truth about Jesus Christ and His teachings on salvation and eternal life with pagan myths and falsehood. Yet despite Peter’s clear warning, many bought into the denial.
Pagan myths at the heart of EasterEaster evolved from a story about an ancient god named Tammuz. The story of Tammuz is at the heart of the pagan world—and at the heart of Easter. It’s a story of a never-ending annual cycle without meaning, direction or purpose. In this myth, Tammuz died every year at the beginning of winter and was “resurrected” in the spring by a goddess named Ishtar.
Did you notice that name— Ishtar? Does it sound familiar?
That’s because the word Easter ultimately comes from the name of this ancient false goddess, Ishtar. So much of what people do today to celebrate Easter is nothing more than customs that come directly from the way ancient people worshipped their goddess Ishtar. Why and how did this happen? People had embraced the Ishtar and Tammuz myths and related stories for centuries. In the decades following Jesus and the apostles, as Christianity spread across the world, people started blending these myths into the true story of Christ.
Eventually the fake stories replaced the true one. For the corrupted church leadership taking control at the time, it was convenient to blend pagan myths into biblical truth to attract more people to the church—the more to hold power over. It’s a recurring story told often in the Bible.
But the life of Tammuz and other pagan gods is meaningless when it comes to salvation and what God is really doing with human life. Only God coming to live in the flesh could open the door of salvation for the human creation. Borrowing from false pagan myths to create a “Christian” story doesn’t work. It’s nothing more than empty, meaningless tradition.
But is it ever popular! Every year there are parades and Easter sunrise services. In America, Easter egg rolling takes place annually on the White House lawn.
People dress in their finest, and for many this is the one of perhaps two or three times a year they actually attend a church service. Easter services, even for casual believers, ease their conscience. Coupled with Good Friday, Easter observance becomes a long weekend of leisure and worship tradition.
Easter non-existent in the record of the early ChurchAbout now you may be thinking, “All of this really doesn’t matter because I do it to honor God.” But it does matter. Something is missing in this story. What’s missing is truth!
What’s missing is understanding of the way to eternal life through Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus came in the flesh and showed us, through His death and resurrection, the way into the Kingdom of God. He made possible the most awesome reality—the potential for you and me to become the very children of God in the family of God, entering eternity crowned with infinite glory and honor.
You may be surprised to learn that Easter is nowhere found in the story of Jesus and His followers. The book of Acts, which tells the story of the apostles and the Church in its first decades, has no account at all of Easter. The apostles constantly preached the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But they put this in the context of the true biblical festivals they already knew and observed.
These festivals were central to the life of the Church of God in the first century. As recorded in Acts:2:1, the Church was gathered and given the Holy Spirit on the biblical feast of Pentecost. Later, in Acts:20:6, Luke referred to key events taking place during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Another festival, the Day of Atonement, is also mentioned in Acts:27:9. The weekly Sabbath, another Holy Day of the Bible, is featured several times as the apostle Paul taught both Jews and gentiles (non-Israelites) alike on that day (Acts:13:14, Acts:13:27, Acts:13:42, Acts:13:44; Acts:16:13; Acts:17:2; Acts:18:4).
On another occasion, Paul told the gentile Christians in the city of Corinth to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread (1 Corinthians:5:8). He told them to keep these days “with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth”—that is, bearing in mind the underlying spiritual reality these days represent.
Resurrection taught, but no EasterEaster celebrations were nowhere in the picture during the early days of the Church. But Jesus Christ’s resurrection as found in the Bible was.
Notice the first sermon that Peter gave on the feast of Pentecost. Speaking of the prophecies about the Messiah that King David gave, Peter said: “He, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades [the grave], nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus God has raised up of which we are all witnesses”(Acts:2:31-32, emphasis added throughout).
When he was called to task for healing a lame man, Peter was “filled with the Holy Spirit” and said, “Let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole” (Acts:4:8-10).
Paul preached to a city in Greece for three straight Sabbaths “that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying ‘This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ’” (Acts:17:2-3). Again, throughout the New Testament, it’s the resurrection of Jesus Christ that was taught. But it is never found in connection with an Easter service.
Christ’s death and resurrection are clearly connected with the Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread. Jesus was killed as “our Passover” (1 Corinthians:5:7). He was buried just as the Days of Unleavened Bread began in that year. Three days and three nights later He was resurrected during this seven-day festival. And He appeared to the disciples the morning after His resurrection on the same day that He was accepted by the Father.
All this was clearly understood by the Church. It was part of the apostles’ doctrine or teaching in the early days. Celebrating Easter was not part of the story. When it did come, it introduced doctrinal error!
Easter enters the picture long after the apostles. The story of how it became inserted into the teachings about the resurrection is preserved for us in history.
Decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection, as the apostles began to pass from the scene, the Christian faith began changing. Before long it was transformed into something they wouldn’t have recognized. The false teachers that Peter warned about introduced false teaching about Christ’s death and resurrection, with some elements taken from pagan myths, and a great uproar resulted.
This is known in history as the Quartodecimen Controversy. That’s a big word, but the name really means the 14th day of the month, referring to the day the Passover was observed. Some were beginning to keep an Easter tradition borrowed from pagan myths instead of the biblical feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread.
The controversy became so intense that some church leaders excommunicated others who wouldn’t go along with them and the newer teaching about Easter. History records what happened next.
A powerful defense of God’s truthA bishop of Rome named Victor, who was advocating for Easter, got so bold as to put out of the church another minister named Polycrates, who was standing up for the biblical teaching regarding Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Polycrates gave one of the most spirited and inspiring defenses of truth ever recorded. He was not about to abandon his conscience or faith for a pagan myth. At great cost, he rose in defense of the faith. His words are recorded for us:
“We, therefore, observe the genuine day [of Passover]; neither adding thereto nor taking therefrom. For in Asia great lights have fallen asleep, which shall rise again in the day of the Lord’s appearing, in which he will come with glory from heaven, and will raise up all the saints . . .”The great lights in Asia that he was talking about were members and leaders of the first-century Church who first received the truth and kept it. They died in the faith and they await the resurrection. Among those Polycrates mentioned were the apostle John and other early men and women.
Polycrates went on to say this:
“All these observed the fourteenth day of the Passover according to the gospel, deviating in no respect, but following the rule of faith. Moreover, I, Polycrates, who am the least of all of you, according to the tradition of my relatives, some of whom I have followed. For there were seven, my relatives [who were] bishops, and I am the eighth; and my relatives always observed the day when the people threw away the leaven.”Here Polycrates mentions the Feast of Unleavened Bread. He was the eighth generation of his family to keep these biblical feasts, and he wasn’t about to abandon what he knew to be biblical truth. Notice how he concludes:
“I, therefore, brethren, am now sixty-five years in the Lord, who having conferred with the brethren throughout the world, and having studied the whole of the sacred Scriptures, am not at all alarmed at those things with which I am threatened, to intimidate me. For they who are greater than I, have said, ‘we ought to obey God rather than men.’”This is an inspiring but little-known story about how one man stood up against the Easter traditions that crept into the Church of God and overturned the true faith.
Does it matter to God?But what does this matter? So many times on these issues we encounter the reasoning, “But if we have turned a pagan idea into a Christian idea, isn’t that acceptable to God?” And sometimes we hear: “Christ conquers paganism.” People reason around the issue, and as ideas are repeated again and again, they eventually become accepted.
But this doesn’t square with God’s instructions, which are actually crystal-clear: “Do not be trapped into following their [the pagan nations’] example in worshiping their gods. Do not say, ‘How do these nations worship their gods? I want to follow their example.’ You must not do this to the Lord your God. These nations have committed many detestable acts that the Lord hates, all in the name of their gods. Carefully obey all the commands I give you. Do not add to them or subtract from them” (Deuteronomy:12:30-32, New Living Translation, 1996).
It’s hard to get plainer than that. God says He hates the mixing in of pagan practices to worship Him!
Easter obscures important truthsWhat Easter doesn’t tell you is that you are missing out on the wonderful meaning of Passover and reconciliation through the death of Jesus—as Easter focuses only on part of the story and then mixes it with error.
What do you need to know? You need to know that Christ died according to the Scripture as our Passover Lamb, in fulfillment of the many prophecies that foretold His coming, His suffering, His death and His resurrection.
You need to know that the Passover observance, as instituted by Christ the night before He died, fills this need.
You need to know that the Feast of Unleavened Bread shows the life of the resurrected Christ, the true Bread of Life of which we are to partake, and His power today. Because He was resurrected, we have the power to live a life of hope and meaning with the power of God in you. It is that spiritual power, God’s Holy Spirit, that can fill the emptiness in your life, giving you meaning and understanding in the midst of a confusing world.
It is this festival that Paul taught the gentile world to observe. This Festival of Unleavened Bread is what you can observe today to realize the full meaning of the life, death and resurrection of Christ.
You need to know that Easter misses all of these vitally important truths about Jesus Christ!
No room for errorPaul said in 1 Corinthians:15:19 that without Christ’s resurrection, we are of all people most pitiable. The truth of the resurrection must be told, sticking to what the Bible actually reveals. There is no room for error and myth in this most important event.
Look at what you know, or what you think you know about the resurrection. The truth about the resurrection is a key to opening a relationship with Christ and the Father based on fact and truth. (Be sure to read “ Saved by His Life ,” “ Christ’s Resurrection: Key to Our Salvation ” ).
Paul said, “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians:15:20).
Because Christ was resurrected from the dead and lives today, you have assurance that you, too, can enter eternal life. No humanly devised holiday can teach you what God reveals through His Holy Days. You need to educate yourself with the full story!