By Tim Sullivan


As is the case for all "Christian" or "church" holidays, the roots of Easter are both holy and profane. The name Easter comes from "Eostre," the Saxons' goddess of springtime and fertility. The annual festival of Eostre was celebrated in April, as the deadness of winter gave way to the new life of spring.

With the Christianizing of the Gentile nations, Eostre was "converted" into a Church holy day. The pagan rites of spring were synthesized with the Hebrew Passover. At least among Christians, the Passover became less about the Hebrews' exodus from Egypt and more about the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (Interestingly, the one occurrence of the word "Easter" in the King James Bible in Acts 12:4 is the only place the royal translators chose not to use the word "Passover" for the corresponding Aramaic word.) In the Western Church, the celebration of Easter was held on Sunday, "the first day of the week" (Matt. 28:1) which was the day of the Lord's Resurrection. Now, instead of the resurrection of spring, we celebrate the resurrection of Christ.

Some Christians object to calling this day Easter Sunday on the grounds of fraternizing with the enemy. I believe Paul has the best answer to this point of view: Better pack your bags for a long trip ahead.

1 Corinthians 5:9-10:
I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:
10 Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.

Paul's admonition comes very conveniently on the tail of his instructions to the Corinthians on the keeping of the Passover. Please note that the church at Corinth was by and large a congregation of converted Gentiles.

1 Corinthians 5:7-8:
Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:
8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Writing to these Gentile converts, Paul wrote of Christ OUR Passover. This is nothing less than astounding. Never before had Passover been spoken of as anything but a Hebrew memorial. In the Old Testament, the Passover did not commemorate what God did for the people of the world, but what God did for the Children of Israel.

Deuteronomy 16:1:
Observe the month of Abib, and keep the passover unto the LORD thy God: for in the month of Abib the LORD thy God brought thee forth out of Egypt by night.

God brought his people Israel out of the land of bondage. This feast was for them.

Numbers 9:2:
Let the children of Israel also keep the passover at his appointed season.

The Law of Moses forbade strangers to partake in the Passover meal.

Exodus 12:43:
And the LORD said unto Moses and Aaron, This is the ordinance of the passover: There shall no stranger eat thereof:

Today, we use the word "stranger" to describe someone who is not well known to us. This was not the meaning to the children of Israel. A stranger was anyone who was not Hebrew. By definition, to be an Israelite was to be born of the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Someone who was not Hebrew born - even if he were a convert to Judaism and spent his entire life amongst the Children of Israel - was always considered a stranger.

Exodus 12:48:
And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land: for no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof.

A convert to Judaism became "one that is born in the land" in that certain privileges were extended to him. However, a Gentile who accepted the tenets of the Hebrew faith did not become a Jew; he became a proselyte. This is true throughout the Bible as shown in the continual distinction made between Jews and proselytes.

Acts 13:43:
Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.

Even though he was amalgamated into the customs and practices of the Hebrews in every other way, a man who was not born of the lineage of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was a stranger to the commonwealth of Israel. He enjoyed many of the privileges, but not all of the rights. A parallel can be seen in the United States today. A person born on foreign soil may, with due process, become a "naturalized" citizen of the United States. However, he may never become the President. (Sorry, Gov. Schwarzenegger!)

Once circumcised, a proselyte was allowed to partake of the Passover meal. Circumcision was instituted by God as a token of His everlasting covenant with Abraham and his seed.

Genesis 17:10-11:
This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee;
11 Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.

According to Galatians 3:17, the Law came four hundred and thirty years after Abraham. With the coming of the Law, circumcision served also to remind the Israelites' of their obligation to keep all the Law.

Galatians 5:3:
For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.

The outer circumcision was a sign of the inner circumcision of the heart.

Deuteronomy 30:6:
And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.

It was after the Babylonian captivity that the Hebrews began to be called "Jews." Paul reiterated the heart of the Old Testament when he wrote that the true Jew - the Israel of God (Gal. 6:16) - was the Jew who was not only circumcised outwardly, but inwardly.

Romans 2:28-29:
For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:
29 But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.

Romans 9:6b:
... For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel:

As we have seen, a "stranger" was able to partake of the Passover only after he been circumcised, indicating his pledge to honor the God of Moses and his Law. Under no other circumstance was he allowed to partake of the sacred meal.

Exodus 12:48:
And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land: for no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof.

Faith in the Passover was unto the salvation of the Hebrews, ultimately pointing the way to Jesus the Messiah. However, Gentiles who had not converted to Judaism had no part in the Passover or in any of God's covenants with the Hebrews.

Romans 9:4:
Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises;

As Paul wrote, it was to the Israelites alone that God made promises concerning the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises. God adopted one nation to be his children and bear his name:

Numbers 6:27:
And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them.

God's glory was made manifest to this people alone.

Leviticus 9:23:
And Moses and Aaron went into the tabernacle of the congregation, and came out, and blessed the people: and the glory of the LORD appeared unto all the people.

God made four "everlasting covenants" with his people. These covenants were unconditional and therefore irrevocable. Generally they are known as the "Abrahamic" covenant, the "Palestinian" covenant, the "Davidic" covenant and the "New" covenant. The "Abrahamic" Covenant was the promise of a nation:

Genesis 17:7:
And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.

The "Palestinian" Covenant was a promise of land:

Deuteronomy 26:9:
And he hath brought us into this place, and hath given us this land, even a land that floweth with milk and honey.

The "Davidic" promised Israel a king forever:

1 Chronicles 22:10:
He shall build an house for my name; and he shall be my son, and I will be his father; and I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel for ever.

The "New" Covenant foretells the final restoration of all Israel. In the words of Paul, "And so all Israel shall be saved" (Rom. 11:26a).

Jeremiah 31:31, 33:
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah...

33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.

The new covenant is the "better testament" of Hebrews 7:22 and the "better covenant" of Hebrews 8:6.

The "giving of the law" and "the service of God," (not only the Ten Commandments, but all 613 moral, civil and ceremonial mandates of the Mosaic Law), were not given to the world, but to the Children of Israel:

Deuteronomy 4:44-45:
And this is the law which Moses set before the children of Israel:
45 These are the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments, which Moses spake unto the children of Israel, after they came forth out of Egypt,

And finally, "the promises" were made to the fathers:

Romans 15:8:
Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers:

God's blessing upon the Gentile nations was conditioned upon their treatment of Israel.

Genesis 12:3:
And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.

In all other ways, the Gentiles were left out in the cold. This was our desperate situation, as Paul reminded the church at Ephesus:

Ephesians 2:11-12:
Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;
12 That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:

We were without Christ. Even in the days of his earthly ministry, Jesus said, "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt. 15:24). We were "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel" without lineage to the house of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We were "strangers from the covenants of promise" for those promises were made to the Patriarchs. Truly, we were without hope and God. How was our situation remedied?

John 12:32-33:
And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.
33 This he said, signifying what death he should die.

When Jesus was crucified, he drew all men to him, Jew and Gentile. On that special day, the children of Israel's passover became OUR Passover. Up to that time, what Peter said of Simon the sorcerer could well have been said of us: "Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter" (Acts 8:21a). "BUT NOW..." begins Ephesians 2:13...

Ephesians 2:13-15:
But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.
14 For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;
15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;

The Law of Moses, written to and for Jews, was "the middle wall of partition" that separated Jew and Gentile. Remember the ordinance concerning the Passover - "no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof" (Ex. 12:48). But when Jesus died on the Cross, he broke down that wall, abolishing it once and forever.

Jesus, the Lamb of Israel became Christ OUR Passover as well. What a glorious truth it is! "NOW..." we read...

Ephesians 2:19:
Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;

Ephesians 3:6:
That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:

Now we are not strangers and foreigners. We are fellowcitizens. We are fellowheirs. Before we had no part, but now. Now we are partakers with the Children of Israel, "partakers of their spiritual things" (Rom. 15:27); "partakers of that one bread" (1 Cor. 10:17); "partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel" (Eph. 3:6); "partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light" (Col. 1:12); "partakers of the heavenly calling" (Heb. 3:1); "partakers of the Holy Ghost" (Heb. 6:4); "partakers of his holiness" (Heb. 12:10); and "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Pet. 1:4).

How is this so? "For even Christ OUR Passover is sacrificed for US" (1 Cor. 5:7b)!! Let us show our appreciation for what he did in the way we live our lives. "Let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Cor. 5:8). Amen.



From the April 2004 issue of The Vine & Branches