This weekend is commonly known in the West as Easter, a significant commemoration in Christianity of the crucifixion, death and ultimate resurrection of Yeshua (Jesus) the jewish Messiah. Elsewhere, particularly in Greek (Orthodox) or Latin (Roman) liturgy and practice it is referred to as Pascha (Πάσχα) from which comes the reference to these events as the Passion of Christ. The origin of the term was the hebrew word Pesach, or Passover, as Yeshua was crucified during the Passover week.
In the West, in particular in the past few centuries, the Christian commemoration of the Passion has been blended and unfortunately eclipsed by the frenzy of chocolate eggs brought by a rabbit. Yet this was not always so… from ancient times the egg has been synonymous with fertility and life, and the use of eggs, painted red to symbolize the sacrifice of the Christ, was adopted by early Christians as a visible reminder of the empty tomb and life through the resurrection of Yeshua. Today the most famous of these eggs are the Ukrainian easter eggs, or pysanka (origin: Pascha).
As a disclaimer, this post will not wade into any of these controversies:
- that Christians were nowhere in scripture commanded to commemorate either the crucifixion (Good Friday) or resurrection (Sunday)
- that the anti-semitic early church as forced by the anti-semitic “christian” emperor Constantine, separated the commemoration of Pascha from the jewish Pesach
- that the new date corresponded to a pagan festival celebrating the Babylonian/Assyrian fertility goddess Ishtar from which the English word Easter is derived;
- that much later, the Passion commemoration aligned with the pagan spring celebration of Eostre (April) or Ostara named for the anglo-saxon goddess of the same name
- that the above reasons invalidate any christian commemoration of the Passion, because it is represents disobedience to God and amounts to pagan worship
These controversies, and more, rage around the internet, and elsewhere. Of these, the one that definitely is true, and confirmed by reputable scholars, is that anti-semitism grew in the early church, with long-lasting effects. Repentance is needed on this front.
The unfortunate result of these controversies and conspiracy theories is that any discussion of the significance of the Passion events – crucifixion, death and ultimate resurrection – get sidelined. We need to talk about and testify to these with our words and our very lives.
This post will instead focus on the more important significance of these Passion events…. and why we need to talk about them.
Prior to the first century, and not surprising for a people long under oppression and occupation, from Greek to Seleucid to Roman, hope for the promised for Messiah was heightened, and other messianic movements and would-be Messiahs had risen, most notably within the Maccabean period. These movements were routinely crushed and their leaders killed, thereby ending that particular messianic movement. Yet the yearning remained, and as the centuries passed under foreign rule, belief in the Messiah as a conquering hero to rescue ethnic and national Israel and throw out the goyim (non-jewish nation) invaders grew.
At the same time, in jewish eschatology (the Sadducees being an exception), the mainstream view was that at some future date there would be a corporate/mass resurrection in bodily form of Israelites who had died and would be raised at that future day.
Thus when Yeshua spoke of the kingdom of God, and in what we call the Lord’s prayer “your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”, his followers understood this to mean Yeshua as Messiah who would lead them into victory and a restoration of the promised land and the overthrow of the invader. Instead, he was betrayed, beaten, scourged, condemned and killed in the most brutal fashion possible, in collusion between jewish religious authorities and the occupying and hated Roman goyim. To the disciples, this represented the end. The hoped for Messiah, and his movement, and all of their hopes for the future, were now dead.
Yeshua had also spoken of his own pending death and resurrection, but his disciples again did not understand: “destroy this temple, and in 3 days I will raise it up”. Their understanding of the Messiah and of jewish eschatology simply had no room for a Messiah who would be beaten and killed, and no room for a Messiah who would rise back to life in bodily form before the expected corporate bodily resurrection of jews who had died waiting for the restoration. This explains the disciples’ reaction to the empty tomb, and why they did not recognize him in resurrected form. It was simply not expected.
This also explains why the disciples missed the reference “Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”. They did not understand (how could they?) that as the Messiah, he had to die, he came to die, and what his absolutely necessary death would accomplish.
Compare these beliefs in Messiah and resurrection – and the disciples’ disillusionment and despair at what they saw as the end and the repudiation of all they had believed in – with what resulted days and weeks later.
They testify, as seen in the Book of Acts, to an empty tomb and to a bodily resurrected Messiah Yeshua, whose bodily resurrection has preceded the expected future event of the corporate bodily resurrection of the departed. They testify to a kingdom already established, not in military or political terms to an ethnic national Israel, but as the beginning of heaven come to to earth, for all peoples and all nations.
This was a substantial paradigm shift for his followers, from believing in a dead jewish messiah whose death would have invalidated his movement and his teachings. Something real, a foundational transformation, had occurred between Yeshua’s condemnation and crucifixion and the discovery of the empty tomb.
Crucifixion and Death
Yeshua came in human flesh to fulfil messianic prophecy. Messianic prophecy also predicted the suffering and death of the Messiah, for the transgressions of his people. Yeshua came to die. He did not come merely as a good man, and as the tender, gentle figure (typified in movies) who was unjustly beaten and slain by hateful oppressors and colluding jewish authorities. He also was not hated and rejected by the entire jewish nation. He came to die. He came to be pierced for the transgressions of his people. He came to bring about a new relationship between God and man, between God and all of creation, which could be made possible only by his death.
In the early centuries of the church, this essential truth was misconstrued or forgotten, and anti-semitism took root, viewing the entire jewish nation, now scattered, to be guilty as “Christ-killers” – even though Roman authorities had colluded, even though he was executed using a Roman method, even though not everyone rejected him, and even though he came for that express purpose. This grew into efforts which cauterized jewishness out of the gospel and church practice, and into teaching that the church had somehow replaced Israel as God’s people. Others, misunderstanding the significance of Yeshua’s death and his resurrection, have preferred to see him as a good man who set an example for us to follow, who was unjustly and unfairly killed.
The truth is… He came to die. He did so willingly. He had to die. And here is why.
The existing relationship between God and mankind was broken. Sin and death had entered the world through the actions of mankind, identified in Genesis as Adam and Eve. Repeated temporary blood sacrifice, of lambs and goats without blemish, brought atonement for sin before God, yet the brokenness and the bondage remained. In essence, through sin, mankind had entered into a covenant of death with the Adversary (identified in scripture as Satan or Lucifer, a fallen archangel).
Yeshua’s death, as the perfect lamb of God, was the all-encompassing once-for-all blood sacrifice that replaced and did away with the temporary sacrificial system. His death, in exchange, freed mankind, those who choose to believe, from the power and bondage of sin and death. By taking this upon himself, our sin was paid for before God, and he in effect freed us from covenant with the Adversary and put himself into subjection, even unto death. We could now enter God’s presence, being reconciled to him, because of the blood sacrifice of Yeshua.
His death, understood in terms of sacrifice, atoned for sin. This was entirely consistent with first-century jewish thinking on atonement, blood sacrifice, covenant. What was completely unexpected, in first-century context, was that the Messiah would die and be this sacrifice.
Yet his death was not enough. As a result of his sacrifice, He was in death and bondage. Yet messianic hope, as confirmed by prophecy in Isaiah and Ezekiel and Zechariah and other places, was not just founded upon the suffering servant who took the transgressions of his people upon himself. It was also founded upon the establishment of Messiah’s rule over his kingdom. A dead messiah could not rule over anything.
To misunderstand or deny the significance of the death of Yeshua the Messiah is to miss the entire context of sin, separation, sacrifice, atonement, reconciliation and covenant. His death broke the power of sin and death over you and me.
Resurrection and New Life
Hence the essential requirement for the resurrected Messiah and the empty tomb. God the Father exerted his power and raised Messiah from the dead (impossible to do, if he wasn’t really dead), raising him back to life not just in spiritualized, disembodied, luminescent form, but in full bodily form, the firstborn from the dead. This was absolutely necessary as well. Yeshua’s death paid the sin sacrifice before God for all mankind, but with the Adversary, Yeshua exchanged himself for us, freeing us from the covenant of death and bondage to sin, and taking our place. After the crucifixion, he was in a covenant of death and had in essence become sin. We were freed, but he was not.
With his bodily resurrection, two things simultaneously occurred. The Adversary became a defeated foe, and the covenant of death and sin was irrevocably broken. God the Father had raised Yeshua to life and freedom from bondage. The second thing that occurred is that Yeshua the Messiah assumed his kingship, and his role as the mediator of the new covenant. His kingdom on earth was inaugurated in the very moment of resurrection, and began to be established on earth as it already was established in heaven. Its full consummation – the new heaven and the new earth, the new Jerusalem – awaits his final return, the full consummation on earth as it is already fully consummated in heaven.
He is Risen. Because of this, He has taken possession of His kingdom. It is established. Because of this, and by your faith in who He is and what He has done, you have now become a full-time servant and a full-time ambassador for the kingdom.
This is why it is essential that both his death and his resurrection occurred. This is why it matters, and why, no matter where or when or how we do it, that we commemorate the events of Passion, the Pascha, the Pesach, both the crucifixion and death, and the resurrection of the Messiah.
This is why these events come into powerful effect only for the one who believes when they believe. This is why on profession of faith the one who believes has to repent of and renounce their sinful state, symbolic of crucifixion and death, and why the one who believes has new life, not just in spiritual terms, (resurrection) and should have such joy and thanksgiving that they daily shout from the rooftops about their new life in covenant with the Messiah.
This is why the distinctive character of new covenant (“christian”) belief developed, with a bodily resurrected Messiah, king of an already established, but not yet fully consummated, kingdom here on earth and throughout all creation. This is why we are to live now, not for ourselves or to accumulate kingdom benefits for ourselves, but to go out and establish his kingdom now, to be fully established and consummated when he returns, with part of that future event including the fully bodily resurrection of all of the departed (waiting) saints.
For All of Us Now
It is essential for us to recognize, because of the crucifixion, death and resurrection of our Messiah Yeshua (Jesus), that our lives belong to Him. We are free from the covenant of death and bondage of sin, but we are not free. We are His.
Also, it will change our perspective on the role we now play as his covenant disciples and followers.
We are called to more than to just blend in with our culture. We are called to more than just be against things that we don’t like. We are called to more than to be afraid of “the world” around us, pulling back and abandoning a corrupt and dying place that many believe will destructively end and which we will escape from. We are called to be more than just passive bystanders.
Instead, we are called to be active participants in every facet of our own lives and in every facet of the world around us.
His kingdom was inaugurated on the day of His resurrection, here on earth. And we were charged, through His teachings such as the parables and what we call the Lord’s prayer, and through His commandments such as the great commission, to be His ambassadors of His kingdom sharing in His inheritance (the peoples of all nations and renewed creation itself).
As His kingdom representatives through the agency of the Holy Spirit, we are to establish his kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven as far as we are able, while we wait for His promised return and the full consummation of His kingdom here. We are to bring the attributes of heaven into every area of life where we have influence, to go change our world.
This is far more than just the spiritual saving of souls to be in personal relationship to a loving Saviour… it is a commitment to transformation inwardly (holiness – “be holy even as I am holy”), and to transformation outwardly (extend the kingdom of God, not through legislation or military might, but through kingdom living and Godly character – grace and lovingkindness and the fruit of the Spirit). “You will do greater things than I am doing”.
Today and Every Day
This weekend is the special time that we remember the Passion of Yeshua (the Christ).
Commemorate. Celebrate. Know who He is. Know who you are. Daily shout it from the rooftops. Live with visible evidence the attributes of heaven.
And go change your world!