For most Christians, the Easter period is commemorative of Jesus’ death some 2000 years ago. Jesus’ life was marked by constant clashes with the Jewish religious leaders, as He challenged their hypocrisies and traditions. It eventually ended in persecution and His crucifixion. But Jesus, the Son of God, was always aware of His impending death—His mission on earth was to remind humanity of the God who loved them and to show them how to live, but ultimately, it was one of sacrifice. Jesus became human to die for our sins, but was resurrected as a demonstration of God’s triumph over the forces of evil. He was the Sacrifice, so that we can enjoy eternity with God. For a fuller understanding of the immediate events leading up to Jesus’ death and His resurrection, read Matthew 26–28 in the Bible.
During His trial, did Jesus claim to be God as accused?
“The high priest said to [Jesus], ‘I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.’ ‘You have said so,’ Jesus replied. ‘But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven’ ” (Matthew 26:63, 64).
Later, the Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate, asked Jesus a similar question:
‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ . . . Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place’ ” (John 18:33, 36).
Jesus claimed to be a king, not just of this world but of the entire universe. To a Jew, it meant He claimed to be the Lord, Jehovah God, in human flesh.
Is there any evidence that the tomb of Jesus was indeed empty?
Unlike many of the other great leaders of the past, Jesus staked His entire religion on the fact that He would come back to life and that His tomb would be empty (Mark 8:31). It is doubtful that He could have chosen any event more unlikely than a resurrection on which to stake the credibility of Christianity. After all, to discredit this new religion, all the opponents of Christianity had to do was exhume His body. Yet, even the chief priests, the very ones who arrested Jesus, knew His tomb was empty and were aware they were falsely accusing the disciples of stealing Jesus’ body (Matthew 28:12, 13).
Legends are often formed after the death of all those involved. But the story of Jesus’ resurrection was first written within about five years of the event, when both supporters and opponents were still alive to be interviewed for verification. One of these was Joseph of Arimathea, one of the wealthiest men in Jerusalem and a member of the Jewish religious elite, the Sanhedrin, and whom the Bible said was “himself waiting for the kingdom of God” (Mark 15:43). With so much at stake, Joseph could have vehemently denied his part in the story, but he did not.
If they were attempting to create a legend, the disciples would not have preached the resurrection in Jerusalem if there was a tomb just outside the city containing the body of Jesus. They would have gone to some distant part of the empire where the facts of the case could not be verified. But in Jerusalem they stayed and from Jerusalem, the movement of the early Christian church began (Acts 2).
On top of that, women were credited as the ones who first discovered Jesus’ empty tomb. Women were not qualified to serve as legal witnesses in the culture of the times. Had Jesus’ resurrection been fictional, the disciples would have used men as the primary witnesses since female ones would have been a source of embarrassment for the early church.
Should we condemn Easter because of its pagan origins?
Unlike when Jesus was born (Christmas), we know the exact date of Jesus’ death—the Jewish Passover (the fourteenth day of the month of Nisan in the Hebrew calendar). Dates for Easter are related to the lunar calendar and are not the actual days upon which Jesus was crucified and resurrected. However, Easter was originally a memorial to the Roman god Ishtar (pronounced Easter) that was adapted by the early Christian church.
Many Christians have chosen not to observe Easter because of its pagan origins, as is their right to do. But as the Bible points out, pagan origins don’t in and of themselves make something evil, although a real and present association with paganism does.
For example, we can look at the issue of meat offered to idols that was debated by the early church. Christians were told not to eat food offered to idols where there was a real and present association with paganism (Acts 15:20–29). Yet, it was fine to consume food offered to idols where there was no real and present association with paganism (see 1 Corinthians 8:4–13; 10:19–29).
“Food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do” (1 Corinthians 8:8). Pagan origins did not make the food pagan, but rather, the pagan association did.
And so, if we were to accept that a pagan origin made a day or an object pagan forever, much of our daily lives would be turned upside down. We could never use the days of the week that we presently have (in English) for they all originate from Norse paganism. Nor could we use the 12-hour day, 60-second minute, and the imperial (British) and standard (USA) system of measurement using feet and inches, because this was developed by the ancient pagans, who used a system based on sixes, dividing the day into four parts of six to celebrate the four elements of the universe: fire, water, wind and earth.
Noticeably, the rest of the world uses a metric system that was developed by the French during the French Revolution as a specific rejection of the imperial system because of its religious origins. The metric system was specifically developed as a celebration of atheism, along with a 10-day week.
So while we may feel uncomfortable with Easter, the reality is that our daily lives are immersed in practices that originate in paganism. Does that make these practices and objects evil in and of themselves? The answer is No, because like Easter, these practices and objects do not have a real and present association with paganism. Rather than focusing on its pagan past, Easter is a great opportunity for Christians to share the story of Jesus, one that can—and does—fill people with hope.