Millions all over the world claim to observe the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter. But does this holiday truly honor the Son of God? You need to know the truth.
What do celebrations surrounding Easter have to do with the biblical account of Jesus’ death and resurrection? Truthfully, little to nothing at all.
Let us begin with the name. As many secular sources explain, the name Easter derives from the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre. This deity is widely known as the goddess of fertility and the Queen of Heaven, and her name is spelled differently in different cultures. Easter is connected to Ishtar and Istra, just to give a few of the different spellings of her name found in various languages. The Melkite Greek Catholic Church says this about the origin of the name Easter: “Our modern English word ‘Easter’ comes from Old English, and referred originally to the Norse goddess of fertility, Istra – who was symbolized by a rabbit” (“Great Lent and Holy Week,” Melkite.org).
The connection of the name and many Easter customs to paganism is an indisputable matter of historical record. This ought to elicit questions from anyone with an active mind. Does it not seem strange to stamp the name of a pagan goddess on what is considered the most sacred holiday of professing Christianity? Why would leaders allow or do such a thing, when Scripture explicitly prohibits borrowing heathen practices? (See Deuteronomy 12:29–32; Jeremiah 10:2.) Why do leaders of mainstream Christianity not speak out about this?
Furthermore, blatant paganism surrounding the celebration of Easter does not stop with the name. Would not a curious person want to know what eggs, bunnies, hot cross buns, and Easter lilies have to do with the resurrection of Christ? The truth is, these too were borrowed from heathen customs. This is easily discovered by a little research, which the average person can conduct. Strange, isn’t it? Why would Christianity embrace customs that are common in the worship of a foreign deity?
Few Sunday morning churchgoers are familiar with the history of their religious practices. That is because they never question handed-down traditions, and at one time, neither did I. Why should we? We trusted that our parents would never lie to us, at least not intentionally. Or would they? Why is it that when it comes to religion, it appears to be okay to lie to children? Consider Santa Claus. Not only do parents lie to their children, but so do priests and ministers. As did our parents, we—at least at one time—viewed religious figures as trusted sources of information. They are supposed to be the experts on the Bible. They went to seminary to study the Scriptures, and each week they stand up to tell us what the Bible teaches. At least that is the common conception of their role in our lives—but are they the experts? Sadly, that is not the case. The lies they tell us are not always discovered as routinely as the truth about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. When tradition meets truth, tradition more often wins out. Truth will always win in the end, but the end can be a long way off.
These facts about Easter’s origins are not unknown to everyone. Some people are quite familiar with Easter’s checkered history, but ask, “What difference does it make?”
The name Easter, along with its associated heathen customs, is not all that is wrong with Easter. There are far more serious problems, and these are not so widely known. Specifically, the commonly accepted days of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection are wrong. He was not crucified on a Friday and He was not resurrected Sunday morning. That may be shocking, but it is provable. How can that be? And what difference does it make?
When this truth is shown in the Scriptures, defenses are raised, but they fall in the face of facts. The key passage, and the reason why this whole question is important, is found in Matthew 12:38–40: “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, ‘Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.’ But He answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.’”
Note carefully: This is the only sign that Jesus said would prove that He was who He claimed to be, the Son of God. No matter how you try, you cannot count three days and three nights between late Friday afternoon and early Sunday morning. Try it yourself. Even if you count a few minutes of Friday afternoon when He was put in the tomb right before sunset, and a few minutes of Sunday morning, you only have three days and two nights. And that is being generous by counting very small parts of days at the beginning and end.
The Abingdon Bible Commentary bluntly tells us Jesus was mistaken: “The statement made is inaccurate, for Jesus was in the grave only from Friday evening to Sunday dawn.” That is a very serious charge! Was Jesus mistaken when He described the only sign that He was the Messiah?
Most commentators do not accept His statement to be literal, as this contradicts tradition. Instead, they allege that a combined day and night simply means a single 24-hour day. They also claim that the first and third days only need to be a portion of a day each. However, there are serious problems with this reckoning. As seen from the commentary above, at least one authority does not buy this argument, and simply asserts, “The statement made is inaccurate….”
Even if we accept that the Greek expression means parts of three days (and that is far from certain), we must remember that Matthew 12:40 is not dependent on the Greek alone. Jesus points us back to Jonah, and that account is written in Hebrew. “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” So how long was Jonah in the belly of the fish? “And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17).
The Book of Jonah was written in the Hebrew language and we must also consider that language and its common usage to understand this expression. Appendix 144 in The Companion Bible explores the meaning of three days and three nights in Hebrew usage. After giving a technical explanation, it states definitively that “when it says that ‘Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights’ (Jonah 1:17) it means exactly what it says,” pointing out that “this can be the only meaning of the expression….”
The Good Friday/Easter Sunday tradition is further complicated by the timeline found in the gospel accounts. The biblical record is the only source that records the timeline of the crucifixion and resurrection, so why is it that most assume that Jesus was crucified on a Friday? The truth is that many have no idea but stand by the tradition they were taught. Those who know a little more about the Bible understand that Jesus died and was buried on a preparation day, a day leading up to a Sabbath. Upon His death, “This man [Joseph of Arimathea] went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a tomb that was hewn out of the rock, where no one had ever lain before. That day was the Preparation, and the Sabbath drew near” (Luke 23:52–54).
The weekly biblical Sabbath begins at sunset on Friday and ends at sunset on Saturday. Without investigating any further, then, it would appear that Jesus was crucified on Friday morning at about 9:00, died around 3:00 p.m., and was put in the grave very late Friday afternoon. But is this what the Bible says? Many errors result from careless assumptions, and this is just such an error. There is no doubt that Jesus was crucified on a preparation day for a Sabbath, but which Sabbath was this? People carelessly assume it was the weekly Sabbath. But the annual Holy Days are also Sabbaths of rest, and each one has a preparation day that precedes it. Was this a weekly Sabbath or an annual Sabbath?
Jesus kept the Passover with His disciples at the beginning of the Passover day (shortly after sunset on Nisan 14). This is made clear by all three Synoptic Gospels. Here is what Luke records:
Then came the Day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover must be killed. And He sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat.” So they said to Him, “Where do You want us to prepare?” And He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him into the house which he enters. Then you shall say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, “Where is the guest room where I may eat the Passover with My disciples?”’”… So they went and found it just as He had said to them, and they prepared the Passover. When the hour had come, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him. Then He said to them, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:7–11, 13–15).
The so-called “last supper” was, in fact, the Passover, as Mark and Luke also confirm.
It is important to remember that God measures each day from sunset to sunset, and this was the practice of the Jews in Christ’s day. Therefore, when Jesus sat down with His disciples at the beginning of the Passover day, it was evening, shortly after sunset. Most Bible students are familiar with the fact that He was arrested later that night and crucified during the daylight portion of the same sunset-to-sunset Passover day. He died around 3:00 p.m., and was put into the tomb just before sunset. All this occurred during the 24 hours of the Passover day.
Few Sunday-morning churchgoers realize that Jesus, His Apostles, and first-century Christianity observed days very different from those many celebrate today. If they followed Christ’s example of observing the biblical Holy Days, they would realize that the day after the Passover is an annual Sabbath day—the first Day of Unleavened Bread, Nisan 15 (Leviticus 23:5–7).
“So what?” you might ask. Yet this little-understood fact solves what would otherwise be a major contradiction among the gospel accounts.
The Apostle John clarifies that the preparation day was not for the weekly Sabbath, but for an annual high-day Sabbath, the day that follows the Passover. “Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away” (John 19:31).
If Jesus was crucified on the 14th of Nisan, on the biblical Passover, which we have seen in Scripture, then it follows that the next day was an annual high-day Sabbath. And in fact, the 15th of Nisan is always a high day. With this in mind, let us notice two passages that demonstrate that there were two Sabbath days that week—the annual high-day Sabbath and the weekly seventh day Sabbath, with a day in between: “Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him” (Mark 16:1). But Luke tells us they prepared spices prior to resting on the Sabbath. “That day was the Preparation, and the Sabbath drew near. And the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment” (Luke 23:54–56).
You cannot prepare spices before you buy them! Mark tells us that they did not buy the spices until after the annual Sabbath. Luke tells us they prepared the spices and then rested on the weekly Sabbath. These two passages give incontrovertible proof that the women rested on the high day (the annual Sabbath), then bought and prepared the spices on an ordinary day, before resting on the weekly Sabbath. This is the only way to harmonize these verses. Either there were two Sabbaths, with an ordinary day in between, or the Bible contradicts itself.
We can now construct the timeline given in Scripture as follows: Jesus kept the Passover after sunset on Tuesday. He was crucified and died during the day on Wednesday, and was put into the tomb just before sundown. Sunset that evening began the annual high-day Sabbath, which lasted through the daylight portion of Thursday. Friday was an ordinary day before the seventh-day Sabbath on Saturday. So, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights give us three nights. The daylight portions of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday give us three days—three days and three nights, just as Jesus said. He was resurrected late Saturday afternoon just before sunset, and when the women came to the tomb Sunday morning, He was gone.
There are some remaining unanswered questions so far, such as why Mark 16:9 appears on the surface to say that Jesus rose on the first day of the week (Sunday). This is easily explained by the fact that there was no punctuation in the original Greek. Translators supply all punctuation, sometimes according to their preconceived doctrinal biases. Most of the time they do a good job of making the text clear, but not in this case. The New King James Version and several other translations read, “Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene….” A comma is placed after “week.” Since there is no punctuation in the original, this is an arbitrary decision, and the comma could just as easily be placed as in these translations:
As one can see, the phrase “early on the first day of the week” refers to when He appeared to Mary, not to when He was resurrected—that is, the appearance was “after He had risen.” This is consistent with Jesus’ own words about being in the grave three days and three nights, and with the biblical timeline showing there were two Sabbaths the week of His crucifixion.
So we ask again, “What difference does all this make?” Quite simply, the Good Friday/Sunday morning resurrection tradition denies the only sign Jesus said He would give that He is our Savior. The implications are paramount! Is Jesus our Savior or not? Was He mistaken about the only sign He gave, as The Abingdon Bible Commentary concludes? Or is the entirety of the Easter narrative, with all its pagan practices, a counterfeit of the truth?
God instructed ancient Israel against borrowing customs from heathen peoples around them, and we will do well to pay attention to this warning: “… take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow [the nations], after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’ You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way.… Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it” (Deuteronomy 12:30–32). Has God changed His mind about this? After all, it is the Old Testament—which many people think was “done away.” Such reasoning is part of the problem.
When Paul wrote to Timothy, he reminded him “that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). The only scriptures Timothy knew while growing up were those of the so-called Old Testament. Remember also that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). The Apostle Paul tells us that Jesus was the One who, prior to His human birth, spoke the warning in Deuteronomy 12. “For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4). Perhaps this is why Paul instructed the young evangelist Timothy that the Holy Scriptures were able to make him wise unto salvation, and that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…” (2 Timothy 3:16).
Instead of keeping a fraudulent, counterfeit observance, Jesus commanded His disciples on the night in which He was betrayed to continue observing the Passover, but with different symbols. No longer do we eat a physical lamb with bitter herbs, but unleavened bread with a small amount of wine. After introducing these new symbols, Jesus said, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). This is the sober observance that has been replaced by a counterfeit observance.
We live today in the information age and often suffer under “information overload.” Yet at the same time, God said of this age, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children” (Hosea 4:6). The knowledge the prophet is referring to is not technological, but spiritual, moral, and biblical in nature. People do not know what God intends for them. They don’t know His purpose for man and how to fulfil that purpose.
Facts are not the problem here. History tells us Easter is steeped in pagan traditions. The Bible reveals a different timeline from the Good Friday/Sunday Morning tradition. The problem is that people do not take seriously the origins of their religious celebrations. “What difference does it make?” some may ask. “Let’s not get fanatical about these things.” Some reading this may be offended by the truth. Others remain unmoved, as they already knew the celebrations surrounding the so-called Easter story are derived from heathen practices. Most who read this will go on to another article, or to some other pursuit, and be totally unaffected by it. Only a precious few will seriously question why they do the things they do. Only a few will have the courage to lay aside practices condemned by the Bible. Only these will be able to understand more fully God’s purpose and plan for mankind. Will you continue in man-made traditions, or do you have the courage to put God first?