If you think I’m about to say that the resurrection is a myth, forget it! The resurrection of Jesus is central to my life and theology. I’d have no reason to exist without it. This is about “other stuff.”
Myth: The resurrection occurred on Easter Sunday. This won’t come as a shock. We all know that Easter is a Christian commemoration of the event, not a celebration of the exact day of the year. But why do we do it that way? In the early centuries of Christianity, many churches in the Roman Empire began to object to celebration on the traditional date, considering it to be a “humiliating subjection to the Synagogue.” During the 2nd Century, many of those churches had begun celebrating Easter on a Sunday, regardless of the Biblical calendar. For a clue to the mindset, there’s this ancient text: “Sunday commemorates the resurrection of the lord, the victory over the Jews.”
In AD 325, Emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea to discuss two major issues in the church. One of those was “the Passover Controversy”, the disagreement between churches that commemorated the resurrection on the Jewish feast day and those that did not. Constantine’s view, of course, won out. He wrote,
It seemed to every one a most unworthy thing that we should follow the custom of the Jews in the celebration of this most holy solemnity, who, polluted wretches! Having stained their hands with a nefarious crime, are justly blinded in their minds.”
It is fit, therefore, that, rejecting the practice of this people, we should perpetuate to all future ages the celebration of this rite, in a more legitimate order, which we have kept from the first day of our Lord’s passion even to the present times. Let us then have nothing in common with the most hostile rabble of the Jews. … In pursuing this course with a unanimous consent, let us withdraw ourselves, my much honored brethren, from that most odious fellowship. … [I urge you] to use every means, that the purity of your minds may not be affected by a conformity in any thing with the customs of the vilest of mankind. … As it is necessary that this fault should be so amended that we may have nothing in common with the usage of these parricides and murderers of our Lord.
The date for Jewish celebration of the Passover season Feasts is tied by Divine Ordinance to specific dates on the Hebrew calendar (see Leviticus 23). Non-Jews are released from such ordinances, so I don’t care on what day we celebrate the Resurrection. But you should be aware that the name, “Easter”, and most of the secular traditions tied to the holiday are pagan in origin, and that Nicene Council separated it from Passover for blatantly anti-Semitic reasons.
Myth: The crucifixion occurred on Passover, Nisan 14. Well, yes and no. The crucifixion happened on Nisan 15, after the sacrifices and after the official Passover as specified in Torah. It became customary, even in the New Testament, to refer to the three spring feasts together as “Passover.” Technically, Passover is just the short period of twilight between Nisan 14 and 15, on the Jewish calendar (see Part 2 of this series). Immediately after Passover, the 7-day Feast of Unleavened Bread begins on Nisan 15. And in the middle of this period, there is the Feast of Early Firstfruits. Jesus’ Last Supper was a Passover Seder. That meal always begins during that twilight period, true Passover, and ends around midnight on Nisan 15, when celebrants adjourn to the streets and rooftops to sing the Hallel Psalms together. The crucifixion, therefore, occurred on Nisan 15, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Myth: Jesus died at the very instant that the High Priest plunged his knife into the heart of the Passover Lamb. I’ve heard this one even from Ray Vander Laan, a man I consider to be an expert on Israel and its customs. But it’s wrong on so many levels! First, the sacrifices occurred during the day before the Seder, on Nisan 14; the crucifixion was the next day, Nisan 15. Second, there wasn’t just one lamb; there was a lamb for approximately every ten people celebrating. Perhaps 100,000 lambs, killed over a period of hours! Which one are they talking about? Third, the High Priest killed only his own lamb, and that much earlier in the day, before the Temple gates were opened. All the other lambs had to be killed by their owners, not by a priest. Fourth, each lamb was killed by a quick slash of its throat, as specified by scripture. A knife to its heart would be considered cruelty, and in the context of the Feast, could get one stoned. Sometimes, the melodrama in the pulpit is just crazy!
For a complete series on the Principle Jewish Feasts, as specified in Leviticus 23, please see The Jewish Feasts–The Back of My Mind.