Today the church around the world is celebrating Easter. There are sunrise services, choral productions, special messages, and many visitors who only go to church on Easter. I once heard Pat Robertson say, "Easter is the church's most holy day". It that true? Is Easter a special holy day for the church?
Colossians 2:16-17 (NKJV) So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.
Christianity is not about the observance of special days; it's about Jesus Christ!
What is Christian about Easter? Well, it's not the name. The name "Easter" originated with the names of an ancient Goddess and God. The Venerable Bede (672-735 CE.), a Christian scholar, first asserted in his book De Ratione Temporum that Easter was named after Eostre (a.k.a. Eastre). She was the Great Mother Goddess of the Saxon people in Northern Europe. Her name was derived from the ancient word for spring: "eastre."Larry Boemler, Asherah and Easter, Biblical Archaeology Review, Vol. 18, Number 3.
Is there something special about the date? Prior to A.D. 325, Easter was variously celebrated on different days of the week, including Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. In that year, the Council of Nicaea was convened by emperor Constantine. It issued the Easter Rule which states that Easter shall be celebrated on the first Sunday that occurs after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox. The ecclesiastical "vernal equinox" is always on March 21. Therefore, Easter must be celebrated on a Sunday between the dates of March 22 and April 25. Constantine took all of the pagan holidays and made them Christian holidays.
Does the rabbit have some spiritual significance? The Easter Bunny is not a modern invention. The symbol originated with the pagan festival of Eastre. The goddess, Eastre, was worshiped by the Anglo-Saxons through her earthly symbol, the rabbit.
The Germans brought the symbol of the Easter rabbit to America. It was widely ignored by other Christians until shortly after the Civil War. In fact, Easter itself was not widely celebrated in America until after that time.
So How much of Easter is Christian? None of it! None of it is Biblical; none of it is commanded by the Lord; none of it was apostolic; none of it was ever observed by the early church!
Romans 14:5 (NKJV) One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.
This passage teaches us that it is the weak in faith that regard one day above another. Christians are inclined to think of Easter as a special day; a day to be observed above all other days. You will not find one place in the New Testament commanding us to observe Easter. Notice what Paul said in:
Galatians 4:9-11 (NKJV) But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years. 11 I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain.
Days like Christmas and Easter are no more spiritually significant than any other day.
One thing that is connected with Easter that is very special is the resurrection of Christ! And I don't think that we should confuse it with bunnies, colored eggs, and a bunch of other non significant things. Look with me at the Biblical narration of the resurrection:
Mark 16:1-8 (NKJV) Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. 2 Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. 3 And they said among themselves, "Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?" 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away; for it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, "Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. 7 "But go, tell His disciples; and Peter; that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you." 8 So they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
The single most significant event in the history of the human race took place on the Sunday after Passover in about the year 30 A.D. It's the day that Christ rose from the dead.
Why is it the most important day in history? Because without the resurrection the church never would have come into existence. Without the resurrection, the name of Jesus Christ would be about as recognizable as the name Theudas. Who, you may ask, is Theudas? That's my point. He lived in Israel several years before Jesus. He was, in his time, a popular prophet and teacher. He attracted hundreds of followers, and when he offended the wrong people, he was put to death. Sound familiar? Then why haven't we ever heard of him? Because after his death his followers scattered and went on to other things, and the world soon forgot about Theudas. When Jesus died, it looked like the same thing would happen - before he was even dead, the overwhelming majority of his followers had deserted him. In fact, do you remember what Peter did? He was one of Jesus' key disciples. But when Jesus was facing death, he deserted him, he denied ever having anything to do with him, and he disappeared - he went back to his fishing boat. When Jesus died, it appeared that his cause would die with Him, and that He would become as obscure as Theudas.
But, it didn't happen that way. The followers of Jesus didn't fade into oblivion. In fact, they all came back bolder and more courageous than ever before. What happened? What made the difference? Christ's Resurrection, that's what made the difference. When they saw Jesus die on Friday, they were plunged into indescribable disparagement and agony. Jesus was dead, they put him in a tomb, and everyone assumed that that was that. Then, he came back to life. Seeing firsthand His resurrection from the dead changed his followers' perspective on life, and everything related to it.
Seeing the risen Lord changed the disciples from disparagement and agony to boldness and joy. What else can explain the great change in their attitudes? Did they all say, "Let's pretend he's alive, let's say that he rose from the dead"? Then they all went out and laid down their lives for a lie? The majority of them were persecuted unto death. Some of them were thrown into boiling caldrons of oil, some of them are burned at the stake, some of them are crucified - all for a known lie? That is psychologically impossible! They sealed their testimony with their blood, because they had seen the risen Lord.
The resurrection affirms for us that Jesus is who he said he was. Jesus claimed to be God, and he proved it. He did what Theudas couldn't do; he overcame death.
You have probably heard people say something like, "Jesus was a great moral teacher, like Buddha, or Confucius, or Mohammed." You can't really say that, and here's why: Buddha and Confucius claimed to be moral teachers, and nothing more. Mohammed claimed to be a prophet of God, but he never claimed that he was more than just a man. Jesus made claims about Himself that Buddha, Confucius, or Mohammed never made about themselves. Jesus claimed to be God. He claimed that He had always existed, that He would always exist, and that this world and everything in it belonged to Him and would someday be ruled by Him. Jesus told the Jews that he existed before Abraham:
John 8:58 (NKJV) Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM."
A literal translation would read: "Before Abraham was brought into being, I existed." The statement, therefore, is not that Christ came into existence before Abraham did, but that he already existed before Abraham was brought into being; in other words, Christ existed before creation, or eternally. In that sense, the Jews plainly understood Him, for they wanted to stone Him for blasphemy:
John 8:59 (NKJV) Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.
Jesus said he would some day rule the world:
Matthew 25:31 (NKJV) "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.
Now, if I made those claims - If I stood before you this morning and said, "Folks, I am God and someday I'll rule the world" - would you leave here today thinking, "What a good moral teacher David is!"? Of course not. You would think, "That man is lying, he's crazy, and he's dangerous." And, of course, if I made those claims, you would be correct in thinking that. But when Jesus made those claims, He wasn't lying, He wasn't crazy, and He wasn't dangerous - he was telling the truth. Repeatedly, Jesus claimed to be God, and it drove his enemies crazy.
John 5:18 (NKJV) Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.
Jesus claimed to be God, and He proved His claim by conquering death. Do you know what that means? It means that we have to take seriously everything He said. For example, He said that He is the only way to heaven,
John 14:6 (NKJV) Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
This means we have to abandon the notion that "all religions lead to the same place," and "it doesn't matter what you believe, as long as you're sincere." Jesus said specifically:
John 10:9 (NKJV) "I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.
By the "door", He is saying He is the only way to heaven. And apart from trusting in Christ, you will spend eternity in Hell.
John 11:25-27 (NKJV) Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 "And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?" 27 She said to Him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world."
In verse 26, Jesus asks, "Do you believe this?" What is this? It is the statement about Jesus himself that He gives in verse 25. He tells Mary that He is the resurrection and life. But that's not all He asks her to believe. Jesus is saying, "I guarantee eternal life to everyone who believes in Me." To believe that Jesus is the Christ is in essence to believe that He is the guarantor of eternal life to everyone who trusts in Him.
Because of the resurrection, these words carry weight they never would have carried otherwise. If He had remained in the grave, the question of whether or not He is the only way to heaven would be a matter of debate. However, the resurrection answers the question and ends the argument once and for all. Is Jesus really the son of God? Well, He has power over death, so I guess that means He is everything He claimed to be.
To deny the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is to destroy the entire basis of the Christian faith. The Christian faith is not based primarily on the teachings of Jesus, the life of Jesus, the miracles of Jesus, or the death of Jesus. The Christian faith is based on all of these, culminating in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. If there is no resurrection, all of these other factors are valueless.
Does a person have to believe in the resurrection of Christ to be a Christian? Yes! If you do not believe that he rose from the dead, you are saying He is a liar:
Romans 10:9-10 (NKJV) that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
Eternal life is predicated on belief in the resurrection. You must believe: "that God has raised Him from the dead". Why is belief in the resurrection so important? The resurrection proved that Christ was all that He said He was. Jesus was not just a great teacher, great prophet, or a good example. He is Lord! What you believe about Jesus will determine where you spend eternity.
Hopefully, you can see the importance in the resurrection. If you dismiss the resurrection, you pull the very heart out of Christianity.
Alright, so we know that Christ was physically resurrected just as He said He would be, but what about us, will believers be resurrected some day? No!
I know what you're thinking, "NO! Are you nuts? Believers are promised a resurrection!" Really, where? What text would you use to prove that you will someday be resurrected? You might choose:
John 5:28-29 (NKJV) "Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice 29 "and come forth; those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.
Acts 24:15 (NKJV) "I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust.
Paul uses the Greek word "mello" here which means: "about to be". What Paul said here is that there is "about to be a resurrection". When did Paul say this? In the first century! When was the resurrection to take place? When Paul spoke this it was about to happen. Are WE (twenty first century believers) promised a resurrection? In order to answer that question, we need to understand what exactly the resurrection is:
The traditional view of resurrection says: "When a believer dies, their body goes into the grave and their spirit goes to heaven to be with the Lord. They are in a disembodied state awaiting the resurrection at the end of time. Then at the end of time, the Lord returns, resurrects all the decayed bodies of the dead saints, puts them back together, then changes the physically resurrected bodies into spiritual immortal bodies like Christ's." Does that sound like what you have been taught?
It is interesting to note that the Bible never uses the terms "resurrected body," "resurrection of the body," or "physical resurrection." Does that surprise you? The church uses those term quite often, but the Bible never does. The phrases that the Bible does use are: "the resurrection of the dead" and "the resurrection from the dead."
So, in order to understand "resurrection", we must understand death. Resurrection is "resurrection from the dead." To understand death, we need to go back to the book of beginnings, Genesis. In the book of Genesis we see God creating man:
Genesis 2:7-8 (NKJV) And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. 8 The LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed.
After creating man, God placed him in the garden of Eden and gave him a command:
Genesis 2:15-17 (NKJV) Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17 "but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."
God warned Adam regarding the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, "The day that you eat of it you shall surely die." Adam disobeyed God and ate of the tree:
Genesis 3:6 (NKJV) So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.
Did Adam die that day? Not physically! Adam lived at least 800 years beyond the day he ate the fruit. But, God said he would die the day he ate, and we know that God cannot lie. Adam did not die physically that day, but he did die spiritually. He died spiritually the moment he disobeyed. Spiritual death is separation from God:
Isaiah 59:1-2 (NKJV) Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, That it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, That it cannot hear. 2 But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear.
Ephesians 2:1-5 (NKJV) And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
Because of his sin, man was separated from God. He was dead in trespasses and sins. The focus of God's plan of redemption is to restore, through Jesus Christ, what man had lost in Adam.
Romans 5:18-19 (NKJV) Therefore, as through one man's (Adam) offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man's (Jesus) righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. 19 For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man's obedience many will be made righteous.
1 Corinthians 15:21 (NKJV) For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.
Because of Adam's sin, we are all born dead, separated from God. But through Jesus Christ came the resurrection from the dead. Jesus Christ came to destroy the works of the devil:
1 John 3:8 (NKJV) He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.
What were the works of the devil? They were to separate man from God. Jesus Christ came to redeem man from death, to resurrect man back into the presence of God. The Bible is God's book, about His plan to restore the spiritual union of His creation. Resurrection is not about bringing physical bodies out of the graves, it is about restoring man into the presence of God.
Do you understand that prior to Jesus' messianic work, no one went to Heaven:
John 3:13 (NKJV) "No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.
If prior to Jesus' messianic work, no one went to Heaven-- where did people go when they died? They went to a holding place of the dead and waited for the atoning work of Christ and the resurrection from the dead.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for where they were prior to the resurrection is Sheol. In the New Testament the Greek word is Hades. What this place amounted to was a waiting area for disembodied spirits.
The Old Testament uses the word "Sheol" to refer to a place in the depths of the earth. The expressions, "go down" or "brought down" are used twenty times in connection with Sheol. The "depths of Sheol" are mentioned six times (Deut. 32:22; Ps. 86:13; Prov. 9:18; 15:24; Isa. 7:11; 14:15). Four times Sheol is described as the farthest point from heaven (Job 11:8; Ps. 139:8; Isa. 7:11; Amos 9:2). Often Sheol is parallel with the "pit" (Job 17:13-14; 33:18; Ps. 30:3; 88:3-4; Prov. 1:12; Isa. 14:15; 38:18; Ezek. 31:14-17). Nine times it is parallel with death (2 Sam. 22:6; Ps. 18:4-5; 49:14; 89:48; 116:3; Prov. 5:5; Isa. 28:15,18; Hos. 13:14; Hab. 2:5). Sheol is described in terms of overwhelming floods, water, or waves (Jonah 2:2-6). Sometimes, Sheol is pictured as a hunter setting snares for its victim, binding them with cords, snatching them from the land of the living (2 Sam 22:6; Job 24:19; Ps. 116:3). Sheol is a prison with bars, a place of no return (Job 7:9; 10:21; 16:22; 21:13; Ps. 49:14; Isa. 38:10). People could go to Sheol alive (Num. 16:30,33; Ps. 55:15; Prov. 1:12).
To be taken out of Sheol and brought into the presence of the Lord is what the Bible calls "resurrection". Daniel spoke of this in:
Daniel 12:2 (NASB) "And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.
Daniel 12:13 (NASB) "But as for you, go your way to the end; then you will enter into rest and rise again for your allotted portion at the end of the age."
According to the Bible, when was the resurrection to take place? The Scriptures testify that the time of the resurrection was to be at the end of the Old Covenant age. We know this to have happened in AD 70 with the destruction of the Jewish Temple. The disciples knew that the fall of the temple and the destruction of the city meant the end of the Old Covenant age and the inauguration of a new age.
We see from Jesus' discussion with Martha that Martha had no doubt as to when the resurrection would be:
John 11:23-24 (NKJV) Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." 24 Martha said to Him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."
Jesus taught that the resurrection would happen on the last day:
John 6:39-40 (NKJV) "This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. 40 "And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day."
John 6:44 (NKJV) "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.
John 6:54 (NKJV) "Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
When is the last day? To the Jews, time was divided into two great periods, the Mosaic Age and the Messianic Age. The Messiah was viewed as one who would bring in a new world. The period of the Messiah was, therefore, correctly characterized by the Synagogue as "the world to come." All through the New Testament, we see two ages in contrast: "This age" and the "age to come." The resurrection took place at the end of the Old Covenant age.
Since the resurrection is past, what happens to believers when they die? Good question, I'm glad you asked. Their physical body goes back to dust from which it came:
Ecclesiastes 3:20 (NKJV) All go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to dust.
And their spirit is united to their spiritual body and goes to be with the Lord:
1 Corinthians 15:35-38 (NKJV) But someone will say, "How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?" 36 Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. 37 And what you sow, YOU DO NOT SOW THAT BODY THAT SHALL BE, but mere grain; perhaps wheat or some other grain. 38 But GOD GIVES IT A BODY as He pleases, and to each seed its own body.
We get the same kind of body Christ has, but we do not get it the same way He got His, nor do we get our same physical body back like Christ did. We get a new spiritual body which arises out of the inner man. God gives us a spiritual body!
1 Corinthians 15:44-46 (NKJV) It is sown a natural body, it is RAISED A SPIRITUAL BODY. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. 45 And so it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being." The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual.
This affirms two different kinds of bodies. Our natural body dies, and we receive a spiritual body. Paul says, "IT IS RAISED A SPIRITUAL BODY."
Those of us who have trusted Christ in the New Covenant age, have life and do not need to be resurrected:
John 11:25-26 (NKJV) Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 "And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?"
Jesus is saying, "He who believes in me shall live (spiritually), even if he dies (physically), and everyone who lives (physically) and believes in Me shall never die (spiritually)."
Two categories of believers are discussed: those who would die before the resurrection and those who would not. For those who died under the Old Covenant, He was the Resurrection, but for those who lived into the days of the New Covenant, He is the Life.
Under the New Covenant, there is no death, spiritually speaking:
1 Corinthians 15:54-57 (NKJV) So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." 55 "O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?" 56 The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Revelation 21:4 (NKJV) "And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; THERE SHALL BE NO MORE DEATH, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away."
Where there is no death, there is no need of a resurrection. We have eternal life and can never die spiritually. Therefore, we don't need a resurrection. At death, we go immediately to heaven in our spiritual body.
The resurrection was a one time event in which the Old Testament saints were brought out of Hades and finally overcame death to be with the Lord. We have put on immortality and will put on our immortal body when we die physically. As believers, we live in the presence of God, and in physical death, we simply drop the flesh and dwell only in the spiritual realm.
The resurrection was not a promise made to us (New Covenant believers), it was a promise made to Old Covenant believers! The promise made to us is that we will never die! Jesus rose from the dead and He is Lord. And the promise that He makes us is that if we believe in Him, we will never die! That is an incredible promise - eternal life!