Easter vs First Fruits
Christ was resurrected on Feast of First Fruits (3 days after Passover) and not on Easter. So why do we celebrate Easter as the day Christ arose? Believe it or not, it goes way back to the first century and a view of anti-Semitism! Shouldn’t Christians love everyone? Yes, but I think this is a reminder that we are all human and we have to be careful of our biases, and how we interpret Scripture.
So what happened to turn the tide? I feel it is important to remember that the first Christians were Jewish – all Jewish; there were no Gentile Christians at that time. Even in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit was given, those who were Gentiles and accepted Christ as their Savior were Jewish proselytes. There was no other reason for them to have been in Jerusalem at the time. They were there to celebrate Shavuot which was one of the three feasts that the Law required Jewish men to attend in person (Dt 16:16). It was not until the Jewish Christians began to be persecuted by the Jewish leaders that they began to scatter to nearby areas (Ac 8:1) and later throughout the Roman Empire as Gentiles began becoming Christians as well (Ac 10:45). Although there were always Jews that were Christians, the number of Gentiles who became Christians rapidly outnumbered the Jews. Unfortunately, people do not always leave their baggage behind when they become Christians, and many times the influence of a non-Christian world view creeps into Christian ways of thinking and interpreting scripture.
As early as the first century, there were those who began thinking that they should dissociate themselves from Jews because they were “Christ killers.” For some reason it did not click with them that the first Christians were also Jewish and if it wasn’t for the Jews no one would know about Christ anyway. Also, even though the Jewish leaders did work to get Christ crucified, it was Gentiles who actually had Christ placed on a cross. Can one side really blame the other? Also, ask yourself, if you were actually present yourself would you have been one in the crowd yelling, “Crucify Him!”? Would you have really known and accepted him for who He really was, and is? Also, if Christ had not been crucified we would still be in our sin, so it had to have been done and we all are responsible. At any rate, such people as the following began to teach that Jews were responsible for Christ’s crucifixion and that “true Christians” should separate themselves from the Jews.
Ignatius of Antioch (ca 50-117 AD) - Taught that those who partake of the Passover are partakers with those who killed Jesus.
Justin Martyr (100-165 AD) - Claimed God’s covenant with Israel was no longer valid and that the Gentiles had replaced the Jews.
Irenaeus (ca 130-202 AD) - Declared the Jews were disinherited from the grace of God.
Tertullian (ca 155-230 AD) - Blamed the Jews for the death of Jesus and argued they had been rejected by God.
Origen (185-254 AD) - He was responsible for much anti-Semitism, all of which was based on his assertion that the Jews were responsible for killing Jesus. Origen was also a big proponent of allegorical interpretation of scripture. Therefore, according to him, much of scripture was metaphorical and should not be interpreted literally. The danger to this is that one’s interpretation of a metaphor is just as good as anyone else’s. Therefore, he proclaimed that the Church is true Israel and that the promises to Israel, even in the Old Testament, were really about the Church. After all, if Christians are supposed to separate from Jews, how would the Old Testament even be relevant if these promises were for Israel and not the Church? One distortion always leads to another.
The Council of Nicea (325 AD in Turkey) - Changed the celebration of the Resurrection from the Jewish Feast of First Fruits to Easter in an attempt to disassociate it from Jewish feasts. The Council stated: “For it is unbecoming beyond measure that on this holiest of festivals we should follow the customs of the Jews. Henceforth let us have nothing in common with this odious people ...”
Wow! Those are some pretty strong words for people that are supposed to be Christians! As stated above, we all need to be on guard about our biases and how we interpret Scripture. We need to ask ourselves if our interpretation is really in line and in the spirit of how Christ taught. After all, Christ came for the Jews, so why would his second coming not be for them as well? Also, even if it were true that the promises in the Bible were really for the Church, why would we exclude Jews from becoming part of the Church?
So, what was Easter anyway? It is a celebration of Spring and the belief that with spring comes new life and new fertility. It has always been a pagan holiday and has its beginning probably all the way back to Nimrod in the Old Testament. This was usually celebrated with sexual rituals and many of the symbols we use today are remnants of this: the rabbit, the chick, and eggs are all fertility symbols. Different cultures had different rituals and different fertility emphases. However, when the Council of Nicea decided to switch the celebration of Christ’s resurrection from First Fruits to Easter, it accomplished a couple of things. One, is that it put a Christian perspective onto a pagan holiday. Not a bad thing in itself, but it really caused a blending rather than a replacement. It sort of fit the theme: Christ arose from the dead and the concept of Spring where nature is reborn can be considered similar. However, it really does dilute the real meaning of Christ’s resurrection. It is kind of sad that the Christian leaders of that day chose to blend with a pagan holiday rather than a Jewish holiday which tied much better into the true meaning of Christ’s resurrection. After all, Christ’s resurrection was the literal fulfillment of the Jewish holiday of First Fruits.
So, that then begs the question of should Christians celebrate Easter or should we go back to celebrating First Fruits? I feel it is important to understand the history of our celebration of Easter, but what is more important is that we identify with the meaning of Christ’s resurrection. The day it is celebrated is a moot point and one of personal preference. The real question is whether you have accepted Christ as your Savior by accepting the payment he did on the cross for your sins and then identify with Christ’s resurrection as a reminder that because he conquered death, you also will be resurrected with him in the future and spend an eternity with him. That is worth celebrating every day of the year!