Passover or Easter?
Some believe that God has replaced Passover with the observance of Easter as a celebration of Christ’s resurrection. But is that correct?
Easter and Passover were celebrated on the same calendar day until the 4th century A.D. Although the early church focused on the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, salvation through Christ was always associated with the deliverance of the Jewish people out of Egypt. However, this aspect changed over time.
In the 4th century the Roman Emperor Constantine and the Medieval Church decided that it was offensive for Christians to celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ at the same time as the “Jewish” feast of Passover or Pesach. It was decided to set Easter on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring equinox. This was also the day that the Romans honored their fertility goddess. Even then, people gave eggs as a symbol of fertility.
The mixing of biblical feasts with pagan ones was quite a common practice in those times.
Of course, today Christians understand that eggs, Easter bunnies and candy don’t actually belong with Easter, but the media and shops overwhelm us with all of these items. We don’t want to focus on these things in this article. We would like to address the question of whether Passover and the two following feasts, Unleavened Bread and First Fruits, are indeed solely Jewish or do they, in fact, contain New Covenant meaning and should Christians be involved with them.
In Leviticus, God established several feasts as His holy convocations. In Hebrew, we can read about holy rehearsals (mikrah), or as Paul put it, shadows of future events. Although the early church quickly erased these feasts from the church calendar saying that they were “Jewish,” it seems that they reveal God’s calendar for salvation in an extraordinary way.
The first three Spring Feasts are:
- Unleavened Bread
When we put these feasts back onto our calendar and connect them to the original feasts, we can see that significant events regarding the suffering of Christ happened precisely on these specific calendar days. The only answer to questions as to how these events could happen in such synchronicity with these feasts is that Jesus Christ came to show us. He has always been the central theme of these feasts, even during the Old Covenant period. God had already incorporated His pattern for salvation into these feasts and Christ was always present. Until the time of His suffering and death, the contours of Christ were visible in the spring feasts, but now, His reality can be clearly seen.
The Time Before Passover
Four days before Passover, the lamb for the nations was brought to the temple through the Sheep Gate. Each family had a lamb which they inspected for four days. On exactly this day, Nisan 10, Jesus entered Jerusalem and, parallel with the shadow, was “investigated” by the Pharisees, High Priests, and Herod for four days, until He was crucified.
Even on the Cross, one of the criminals confirmed that Jesus had done nothing wrong. This lamb was truly without blemish. The last supper was also not just any last supper, but a Seder meal in remembrance of the deliverance and exodus from Egypt. At this meal, on this specific day, Jesus initiated the New Covenant in His blood. He explained how the Seder meal should now be done in the context of the New Covenant, as He knew the reality of Passover would be fulfilled the next day. Since this meal was just in anticipation of the Seder meal that thousands of Jews would be celebrating the next day, one could see this meal as an instruction how to celebrate the Seder meal from then on….in a new Covenant way.
In this way He connected the shadow – the passing over of judgment and death by applying the blood of the lamb to the doorposts – with the reality of His Own blood delivering us from our personal Egypt. Jesus fulfilled this feast with such precise timing that He was able to connect it with the Nisan 14 Passover rituals of the temple.
At 9 a.m. the high priest bound the Passover lamb to the horns of the altar of burnt offering. It’s no coincidence that the Bible tells us that Jesus was bound to the wood of the Cross on Golgotha at exactly this same time in the early morning.
Golgotha, now the sacrificial altar for the entire world, is a hill just outside the city walls, a few hundred meters from the Temple Square. The rituals of the shadow feast of rehearsal and the Passion Week events all took place within a stone’s throw of each other. But at that time, who understood the reality of Christ?
When the regular afternoon sacrifice was brought at around 3 p.m., the trumpet would sound and the high priest would sacrifice the Passover lamb for the nation. The blood from all the lambs (of all the people) was poured out at the foot of the altar, signifying the blood that had been applied to all the doorposts in Egypt. The day He was crucified, at exactly this same time, and most likely within Jesus’s hearing, the trumpet sounded and this was the moment Jesus laid down His life voluntarily. He fulfilled the Passover Feast which had historically represented the exodus from Egypt and the victory over death. Now we can see the connection between the shadow and the reality of the Passover Feast in Jesus Christ and therefore, we can also better understand how and why we may still celebrate this feast annually. Simply because it has true New Covenant meaning.
Although Emperor Constantine may have shifted and disguised the date and meaning of the Passover Feast for Christians, we can still recover its original intent and meaning. This feast has deep significance for our lives and faith. The Hebrews were unable to wrestle free from the power of Pharaoh on their own. In parallel, we are freed from the bondage of sin and death by the blood of the Passover Lamb and God’s Own intervention into our situation of slavery and sin. Humanity cannot free itself from the slavery of sin and bondage to the spiritual “pharaoh” of this world. It is God Who takes us out of that “Egypt.”
No Legs Broken
It was not permitted to break the legs of the Passover lamb. The Israelites must have wondered why this was. They didn’t receive a clear answer though. Only much later, when Jesus’s bones were not broken on the Cross, can we fully see the connection between the shadow and the reality. His bones didn’t need to be broken because He laid down His life willingly. The Psalmist prophesied this and the apostle John tells us that this concept was chronicled in the Old Testament “so that we would believe.” Old and New Testament are continually brought together.
We have created our own story of the passion week of Christ and people often don’t want to let that go, even though it differs from the actual events in many ways. The passion week occurred at the time of year that all the men were required to come to the temple in Jerusalem, which meant the city was much busier and more crowded that usual. Historian Flavius Josephus, wrote that each year on the 14th of Nisan, some 275,000 lambs were slaughtered on the square  and their blood flowed from the foot of the altar, mixing with water, into the Hinnom Valley outside Jerusalem. This valley was where the city’s waste was burned, and centuries earlier, the place where child sacrifices were made to the pagan god Moloch. The Hebrew word “Hinnom” translates as “Gehenna” in Greek and as “Hell” in English. The Bible makes a clear connection here between the water and blood of the Passover lambs and the water and blood that flowed from Jesus’s side when He died. His innocent Blood saves those who are repentant and takes their punishment (death) upon Himself.
The Tearing of the Mantle
When Caiaphas asked Jesus if He was the Messiah and Jesus didn’t deny it, the earthly high priest tore his own mantle. It was strictly forbidden for high priests to tear their clothing. Because of this, God would no longer accept the Passover sacrifice of earthly high priests, but instead, that year, He had a better Lamb Who gave His life for the salvation of all. Today, He is the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek in Heaven’s Temple. This is also why Jesus wore a priest’s garment which remained in one piece, not torn by the Roman soldiers. The Scriptures had to be fulfilled on this point as well. Some 1,600 years earlier, also on Nisan 14, the Hebrew people applied blood to their door posts in Egypt. According to Jewish tradition, this was also the very same day that Abraham bound Isaac to the altar, in faith that God would provide a lamb. That lamb was stuck in the thorn bushes. Could this have been a sign pointing towards the Lamb that would wear a crown of thorns on this same day, so many years later? All of these events taking place on Nisan 14 show a clear foreshadowing of the reality which is revealed in Jesus Christ.
God has done extraordinary things on specific and special calendar days to show us that His eternal plan has always been in effect since before the world was created. He wants to reveal these things in the Bible.
We don’t have to choose between Old Testament Passover and Easter if we keep the shadow and reality in mind. Christ fulfilled Passover when He took the judgment and death meant for us upon Himself, “passing us over.” He was our deliverance from Egypt. This is the reason we celebrate Good Friday, not because Christ died, but because through His death, judgment passes over us. The blood on the door posts is associated with the Blood on the Cross. Jesus specifically showed us that His Blood is the sign of the restored Covenant. By the way: It was a Good Thursday. More on that in Wake Up!
How Should We Celebrate Passover and Easter?
The Jewish people celebrate with an extensive ritual during the Seder meal. We often get the question of whether Christians should also celebrate this meal with the Passover Halacha. Doing so can certainly help us to understand the meaning behind the feast, as long as we remember to keep the focus on our deliverance in Christ rather than the historical tradition of remembering the flight out of Egypt. The rituals don’t replace the meaning; they are not goals in themselves, but they do point towards the real meaning. These differences shouldn’t confuse us. It’s not the ritual itself, but the deeper meaning of Passover, that is of eternal value. This is why we can also celebrate Pesach with freedom regarding how we do that. The real celebration comes in how we choose to let all the meanings of the feasts penetrate our hearts, minds, and lives.
After all it is much better to celebrate Passover while emphasizing the Christological aspects for Christians, rather than celebrating Easter and allowing all kinds of pagan elements.
The Feast of Unleavened Bread begins the day after Passover. Historically, the Hebrew people had to leave Egypt hastily. They had no time to pack and take all their possessions with them. The only priority was to leave and to leave quickly. This also meant that there was no time to let their bread rise, so for seven days they ate unleavened bread. This event is another shadow that can be related to the reality in Christ. When we truly realize that we are no longer under judgment and the gates of our Egypt are open wide, there is only one thing left to do: Flee our state of slavery! The Feast of Unleavened Bread is our reply to Passover — we remove sin from our lives in gratitude for our deliverance. Paul tells us to celebrate this feast by being unleavened bread. And until this state of being is actually achieved, the time for “cleaning” is not merely limited to the Spring. Jesus also did such cleaning, an example being the time He drove the merchants out of the temple square, out of His Father’s house. Later He would go into Hades, on the day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and defeat death, showing it had no grip on Him as He was the One without sin, or the true Unleavened Bread.
How Do We Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread?
Should we celebrate this feast by thoroughly cleaning our houses and eating unleavened bread for seven days? Honestly, doing these literal things can help us to reflect on their spiritual meanings. But, the ritual can also merely be an outward show without any significance in heart or mind. It’s not about the matzos, but what these symbolize. Being liberated also means being free from the power of sin in our lives. We are also reminded of this when we take communion with unleavened bread. Another way we can do this is to regularly ask ourselves which areas of our lives are still in bondage to sin. This is why the says Bible we should continually examine ourselves. As with communion, we can continually confess and acknowledge how God has delivered us.
The Feast of First Fruits
The morning that Jesus rose from the dead was also the morning of the Feast of Firstfruits. Coincidence? Not at all! His resurrection brought new Life. He fulfilled the feast by becoming the First fruit, the Wave Offering brought before the Heavenly Father at precisely the same time that the earthly priests were waving the barley in the temple. Sixteen centuries earlier, on the other side of the Red Sea, the Hebrew people were given newness of life, set free from the the power of pharaoh. Without the resurrection of Christ, we would have no access to new life and would forever have to remain under the power of the “pharaoh of this world.”
Unleavened Bread and Firstfruits are inseparable. One can only resurrect in newness of Life (Firstfruits), if buried with Him into death, leaving the old and sinful life behind (Unleavened Bread).
It’s clear that we have many reasons to celebrate Passover and it is a very Christian feast, when celebrated in the New Covenant way. Not only can we tell each other that Christ has truly risen from the dead, but we ourselves are partakers; In Him, we too are resurrected to newness of life, after we give up our lives to Him. Paul says that with Christ, we have died to the spirits in this world. Real redemption from slavery means that these spirits no longer have any grip on us. This is also what many people celebrate when they choose to be baptized as adults by immersion. Passover is a time when there are many baptism services, as baptism is strongly connected with the shadow of the trek through the Red Sea. It bears witness to our deliverance and salvation.
As you may have noticed we – as Christians – don’t really like using the word Easter, since it has quite some pagan roots. Nevertheless, we realize that most Christians celebrate Easter in Christ centered way.
We can now say that Passover is the exuberant celebration of our resurrection in Christ and our crossing over to the “good side” of the Red Sea. We are free from the power of sin and ready to make the trek up the mountain of the covenant (as unleavened breads). Freedom is an empty concept when viewed out of context. We contextualize and give it meaning by looking at God’s instructions and applying them in our lives. But this is the subject for Pentecost, which will take place 50 days from First Fruits!
Emile-Andre Vanbeckevoort & Arno Lamm
Known variously as Ostare, Ostara, Ostern, Eostra, Eostre, Eostur, Eastra, Eastur, Austron and Ausos
See a.o., L’Eglise Messianique se lève, R. Heidler, ed. EPP, p. 58
Psalms 34:21 and John 19:35-36
The Jewish Wars, Flavius Josephus, Book 6, Chapter 9, Section 3
 See Wake Up!, Chapter 3