Easter history and meaning of Christianity’s holiest day

Even though Easter is firmly entrenched as a cultural tradition throughout the entire world, many questions concerning its meaning, significance, and origin remain. And some of those questions have stirred a significant amount of controversy.

What is the Meaning of Easter?

To understand the meaning of Easter, one must first understand Christianity, a monotheistic faith that holds Jesus of Nazareth, a first century Jewish teacher, to be the divine Son of God (John 3:16) sent to redeem the world from its sins (Romans 10:9-10).

The time of Easter coincides with the Jewish Passover. Christians regard this timing as particularly significant, since the Passover honored the time when Jewish families put sheep’s blood on their homes to spare them from the final divine plague against the Egyptian Empire.

When the Death Angel saw the blood, he passed over the Hebrew homes and did not take the lives of their firstborn sons. So devastating was this final plague on Egypt that Pharoah (briefly) relented and allowed the Hebrew slaves to leave Egypt.

When Jesus ate his last meal with his disciples, he did so in the context of honoring Passover, symbolically affirming his role as the “Lamb of God” who atones for the sins of the world. Though the entire world is accountable to God for its sins (and heading for judgment), Christians believe that those who accept the blood sacrifice of Jesus will be spared.

Shortly after this Passover meal (known as the “Last Supper”), Jesus was arrested and crucified at the hand of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor over Judea.

Following Jesus’ crucifixion, many of his followers claimed to have seen him alive (I Corinthians 15). These resurrection appearances fueled the rise and spread of Christianity.

Easter is the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, which the Apostle Paul taught was a validation of Jesus’ deity and a sign of his completed work in atoning for the sins of the world. According to Paul, the resurrection is so central to Christianity, that, without it, the entire Christian faith is empty (I Corinthians 15).

When Was Easter First Celebrated?

Jesus was crucified sometime between 26 and 36 A.D., with most scholars fixing the year at 30 or 33 A.D. Reports of Jesus’ resurrection spread within days of his crucifixion. By the end of the third decade of the first century (just a few years after Jesus’ death), a well-established church creed (at least a portion of which is apparently contained in I Corinthians 15) testified to hundreds of eyewitnesses who had seen the risen Jesus.

While critics and skeptics doubt the accuracy of the Gospel accounts, virtually all scholars (Christian and non-Christian alike) concede the authenticity of Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth (written between 53 and 57 A.D.) as well as his letter to the church at Galatia (written sometime between 48 and 57 AD).

Analysis of these letters shows that belief and celebration of Jesus’ resurrection then can be traced to the same time-frame of the event itself.

Though Jesus’ resurrection would be celebrated for years to come, the earliest evidence of fixing that celebration to the Easter season is a homily by second-century Christian Melito of Sardis.

The History of Easter Since the First Century

As the early church began to honor Easter with feasts and festivities, controversy surrounding the dating of Easter and the nature of the holy day erupted in the early second century and lasted through the third and fourth centuries.

Further complications arose with the rise of the Vatican and Bishop of Rome as the central authority for the Christian community, the changing of the calendar, and the incorporation of many pagan traditions into the celebration of Easter. Easter is now a “movable feast” connected with the observance of Passover, Lent, and the vernal equinox.

Though modern celebrations of Easter are two thousand years removed from the primary event it was originally intended to be a celebration. Christians today recognize that Easter Sunday is the most significant day on the calendar. For the event behind Easter, namely the resurrection of Jesus, is at the very heart of Christianity. As Paul wrote two thousand years ago: “If Christ be not risen, your faith is vain” (I Corinthians 15).

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10 Comments

  1. March 16, 2013

    Brian Tubbs has given us an accurate expanation for the celebration we call Easter. The “correct” date on the calendar is not important since there are reasons for some to differ. It became a custom early in the history of the church for Christians to celebrate the death and reurrection of Christ once a year during a particular week climaxing on a Sunday morning. They did this not because they had to. Neither Christ nor the apostles mandated such a yearly celebration. It was born rather out of a love for Christ. It grew from their appreciation for what Christ had accomplished on the cross. Probably, more than anything, it exploded out of the awesomeness of His resurrection. It seemed the right thing to do! As the gospel spread and pagans were converted unfortunately some of their heathen traditions and customs became part of the annual celebration in some places. However, those things have no meaning now for Christians who simply believe and follow the New Testament and celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ during Passion Week as they are portrayed in the scriptures. The gospel message is what Easter is all about. Paul said, “…I declare unto you the gospel… By which also ye are saved,… 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;” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) The stories of the resurrection in the four Gospels and Paul’s report in 1 Corinthians 15 were all written during the first century A.D. while most who had actually witnessed the events were still living! If these writings were not true they would certainly have come forth and publically denied them! This obviously did not happen. Not one written article contradicting Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, or Paul has come down to us. And certainly it would have been preserved because both the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman government wanted Jesus dead. They would have done anything to invalidate the reports of His resurrection! Christ prophesied His own death and resurrection. He also said in John 14:6 that He was the ONLY way to heaven. When He stepped out of that tomb He validated all His claims! Mr. Tubbs is right. We believe all who accept Christ’s blood sacrifice as the payment to God for their sins are saved. Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16) I invite you to visit my website http://www.livinghopeministries.ca and in the left margin click onto SERMONS. Then click onto my sermon MANY INFALLIBLE PROOFS. I will share with you evidence of the resurrection of Christ and actually give you the names of several lawyers who have said the evidence for His resurrection would stand up in a present day court of law. One of these lawyers was NOT a Christian when he began to research the resurrection story. The evidence he found converted him to Biblical Christianity! Sincerely, Rev. Donald Hill. Pentecostal Evangelist.

  2. Reason
    April 25, 2011

    I fully agree with ‘long fing’ when he/she states:

    “It is futile and misleading to deny that these Christian calender events set by European conquerors with pagan roots are more tied to religious than pagan roots. However I understand the need for religious propaganda and maintaining the status-quo”

    Christianity, like all other religions is constructed by cultures. A bit of this a bit of that, which is put together and then declared to be absolute ‘truth’. Easter, Christmas, Lent and the rest were dates and events tied to traditional pagan European feasts. To convert the pagans, the early Christians adapted their beliefs to match the feast days of the pagans.

    Remember Paul was the PR man for Christianity. He took a little following around a wayside philosopher called Jesus of Nazareth (who he never knew personally) and turned it into what eventually became, through conquest, colonisation and force, a worldwide movement.

    Now we are all totally brainwashed since “the fear of God” was drummed into us. But maybe its a good thing. It creates a ‘status quo’ and it makes some lawbreakers think twice and fear hell damnation and it thereby may help to maintain an orderly society. So like ‘long fing’ there may be a use for all the religious propaganda………. But dont forget to study your science to understand how the world REALLY works!

  3. just being me
    April 25, 2011

    Thanks for the explanation, but the paragraph says it best. that’s why it is now considered a pagan celebration. how can a christian-minded person celebrate the event that is at the heart of christianity with all that partying and carousing? Was that the way the apostles and other believers celebrate? Think about it and lets get back to the real thing.

    • just being me
      April 25, 2011

      I meant the paragraph before the last says it all.

  4. Lizavier4Jesus
    April 24, 2011

    Thank you Mr. Tubbs for this brief but significant information.

    I really believe that Jesus was crucified, died and was buried during the seven days called, Passover Week. But you have confirmed my suspicions that much pagan traditions has been introduced to the observance or regulations of the Passover Week.

    Jesus told the Jewish leaders who had asked Him to show them a sign, that He had authority to do the things which He did. At one time He told them that the only sign they would see was the sign of Jonah, who had spent 3 days and 3 nights in the belly of a large fish, because he had ran away from God’s commandment.

    The other time Jesus told the Jewish leaders to destroy the Temple and He would raise it up in 3 days. He spoke about His body as the temple of God Almighty–Eternal Spirit, Christ who lived in Him; but the leaders did not understand.

    So I believe that Jesus suffered, bled, died, and was buried, spending 3 days and 3 nights in the grave–the complete 72 hours, instead of the maybe 36 hours that some of today’s Christians observe–so there is indeed a resurrection morning–if Christians call it Easter Morning, so be it.

    Also, you said that “Christian believe that those who accept the blood sacrifice of Jesus will be spared”. I agree with you. But I say it in other words, that by faith, Christians believe that their sins have been blotted away, and the gowns made white–their heart has been sanctified–by the blood of Jesus Christ, so they will not be judged for sins.

    The only problem with that acceptance, is that most Christians believe that because they have received the “free gift” of salvation by their faith, they should just sit in their church houses once or twice a week and singing, praying, and listening to the church leader’s preaching, about their mansion above, as they are convinced, that is all it takes to be a Christian.

    However, Christians will be judged for their work of Love, which is the Life of Salvation–the a “free gift” from God Almighty, to them. That is why the apostle James commands us to show him our faith without works and he will shows us his faith by his works. Finally, he tells us, just as the body without the Spirit is dead, so is faith without works–the ways of God, in Love–dead also.

    It is one thing to call ourselves Christians, trying to follow all the rules and laws of religion–fashioned through the wisdom and philosopy of men; but it is another thing to show ourselves as the Light of the world, doing the things of Love, that people might see Jesus in us, the way we show that we are Christians.

    • FRANCIS FRANCIS CHICAGO
      April 26, 2011

      Well said amen to that.

    • March 17, 2013

      L4J: Your point is well made! Salvation is a “…gift…” It is received “…through faith…, Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) Christians do good works because they ARE saved, not to GET saved. In Martin luther’s day some imagined there was a contradiction between the teachings of Paul and James. This was not the case. Paul spoke FAITH which justifies us before GOD. James spoke of WORKS which justify us before MEN. Evangelical Christians today probably need to hear more from James. The kind of faith that saves is vibrant dynamic faith that produces works! Happy Easter! Sincerel, Rev. Donald Hill. Pentecostal Evangelst.

  5. long fing
    April 24, 2011

    I don’t dispute the significance of Easter for Christians. However the calendar timing regarding the passover is coincidental because the roots are in pagan culture of the celebration of the spring equinox. In Babylon 2400 BCE there was celebration of the moon & spring equinox. The Zoroastarians are one of the oldest celebrators of this time. In other cultures the celebration of fertility and rebirth. let us not forget the birth & rebirth of gods in paganism another celebration from this time of year.

    It is futile and misleading to deny that these Christian calender events set by European conquerors with pagan roots are more tied to religious than pagan roots. However I understand the need forreligious propaganda and maintaining the status-quo.

  6. Truth Seeker
    April 24, 2011

    Easter also called “Ishtar” was celebrated before the death of Jesus and was instituted by Babylon the center of false religion. It was always observed after the spring equinox on the 1st Sunday of the first full moon. It was observed to give homage to the Ishtar the goddess of fertility thus the egg as a symbol of new life. The pagans also used the rabbit as a symbol of fertility. The foundations of the easter ham, the rabbit, the eggs, the sunrise workshop and the cross were used in the celebration of Easter way before the death of Christ. The babylonians actually put a T symbol on the heads of everyone observing easter as a time to mediate on god of the sun thus this ceremony took place before sunrise. The origins of the pagan holiday Easter are available easily through an online search.

    Also look at your calendars Easter and the Passover are never on the same day. They sometimes occur in the same week but not on the same day. I urge ever one reading this to do their ow research and let the truth set you free. In summary, based on the research that is available Easter really has nothing to do with the resurrection of Jesus.

  7. Jaime Lewis
    April 24, 2011

    Our faith is built on the Easter message: that Jesus died, rose from the dead, and that we will also rise from the dead. What a powerful message; one that gives us hope; we are a joyful Alleluia people. He has risen from the dead; victorious over death and sin. In Him we live and move and have our being.

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