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Should Christians celebrate Easter or Passover?

Easter may be the most important celebration for Christians, as Passover is for the Jewish community. Yet, many questions surround these two holidays. How are they connected? Where do they diverge? And ultimately, which, if not both, should Christians be celebrating? 

David Blease
By David Blease

Easter and Passover

Easter may be the most important celebration for Christians, as Passover is for the Jewish community. Yet, many questions surround these two holidays. How are they connected? Where do they diverge? And ultimately, which, if not both, should Christians be celebrating? 

Most Christians and Jewish people grew up with the understanding that Easter and Passover are entirely different holidays. Although that may be true in some sense, it wasn’t always so clear.

The Early Celebration of Passover 

The early Jesus-following communities celebrated Passover, but why wouldn’t they? Nearly all of Jesus’ early followers were Jewish. They never ceased to be Jewish or considered breaking from Jewish tradition or customs. They simply believed that the long-awaited Messiah of Israel had come to earth, died as a final sacrifice for their sins, was resurrected, and returned to the right hand of the Father.

The early community of Jesus’ followers would have celebrated the Passover feast with a new emphasis — the Messiah’s sacrificial death and resurrection — as a continuation and fulfillment of the Passover story of deliverance.

Jesus Fulfilling Passover

There are several stunning parallels between Jesus and Passover. We won’t mention all of them, but here are some significant connections. 

The Spotless, Sinless Lamb

  • Israel was freed from being slaves to Egypt by the sacrifice of a spotless lamb. (Exodus 12:5)
  • Jesus is called “Messiah, our Passover Lamb.” (1 Corinthians 5:7)
  • John the Baptist called Jesus, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)

The Blood

  • Israel is redeemed by the lamb’s blood placed on the door of every Hebrew home.
  • Jesus tells His followers during the Passover meal, “for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:28)

Feast of First Fruits

  • After Passover, Israel is instructed to celebrate the Feast of First Fruits on the day after the Sabbath (on Sunday) to honor God with the first of the harvest.
  • After Passover, Jesus was resurrected on the Feast of First Fruits, the day after the Sabbath (Sunday), to honor God. “But now Messiah (Jesus) has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:20)

Seder/Lord’s Supper

Finally, most people know that Jesus’ final meal with His disciples is often called the Last Supper. But many don’t realize that this meal was the traditional Passover Seder.

Jesus not only fulfilled Passover, but He also celebrated it with His followers, who were all Jewish. The early community of believers, who were also Jewish, without doubt celebrated Passover.

So just when did Easter come into the mix? 

When did Easter Break from Passover? 

Some claim Easter was a pagan holiday celebrating the goddess Ishtar, while others defend it as an old Saxon word that means “resurrection.” The truth is we don’t know. Cliff Sofield, a lexicographer for the Oxford English Dictionary, rightly states,

Easter is a very old word. It goes back to the earliest varieties of Old English. It’s hard to know the nitty-gritty details about how any word came to be, especially one people started uttering a millennium ago.”

What we do know is that after the Roman Emperor Constantine became a Christian in 312 CE, everything began to change. Many theologians and historians question whether his conversion was genuine or politically motivated. Though we may never know Constantine’s intentions about his faith, his intentions toward the Jewish community were very clear: he despised the Jewish people. 

Constantine transformed the entire Roman empire from polytheistic paganism to Christianity seemingly overnight, but this transformation was not void of tension. 

One of the significant frictions Constantine faced was that of the Jewish community. Christianity at that time was very much intertwined with Judaism. The central tenets of Christianity were to hold sacred a Hebrew book written by Jewish men and to place faith in a Jewish Messiah. 

Constantine, Nicaea, and Jewish Hatred

Constantine wanted to rid his faith of all Jewish reliance and foundation. In 325 CE, he called together bishops from all over the Roman Empire to attend the Council of Nicaea. We must remember that at this time, 120 Jewish bishops were serving under the Roman Empire. These were Jewish men who faithfully followed Jesus yet maintained Jewish identity. But Constantine didn’t invite a single one of these Jewish bishops to this council meeting. 

If we question whether Constantine’s refusal to invite the Jewish bishops was deliberate or unintentional, his words at the Council made it clear: 

“We are not, therefore, to have anything in common with the Jews… And consequently, in unanimously adopting this mode, we desire, dearest brethren, to separate ourselves from the detestable company of the Jews.”-Constantine. 

One primary reason for Constantine calling the Council of Nicaea was to uncouple the celebration of Easter from Passover. Remember, the Romans followed a solar calendar, but the Jewish/Hebriac calendar was lunar. Passover was (and is) determined by this lunar calendar. Therefore, if you were a Roman Gentile believer desiring to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus, you would be reliant on the Jewish community for the date. You would be celebrating alongside the Jewish people, and Constantine didn’t like that at all.

An official letter from the Council was sent out: 

“We further proclaim to you the good news of the agreement concerning the holy Easter… that all our brethren in the East who formerly followed the custom of the Jews are henceforth to celebrate the most sacred feast of Easter at the same time with the Romans and yourselves and all those who have observed Easter from the beginning..”

The concern of the Nicene Council was to end a situation where Christians followed “the custom of the Jews.” As Mark Kinzer states in Searching Her Own Mystery:

“The bishops rejected any sign that the Church was dependent on the Jewish people for its faith or way of life.”

Emperor Constantine drives the nail in the coffin when announcing the results of the Council: 

“It was declared to be particularly unworthy for this, the holiest of all festivals, to follow the custom [the calculation] of the Jews, who had soiled their hands with the most fearful of crimes, and whose minds were blinded…We ought not, therefore, to have anything in common with the Jews…and consequently, in unanimously adopting this mode, we desire, dearest brethren, to separate ourselves from the detestable company of the Jews…for it is truly shameful for us to hear them boast that without their direction we could not keep the feast.”

So, what should we celebrate as Christians?

Many are unaware of this history between Passover and Easter. When this truth is discovered, the knee-jerk reaction is often to cancel Easter and just celebrate Passover instead. We affirm that there is a deep richness from which to learn in honoring Passover and remembering God’s faithfulness to Israel and the world. We also affirm the validity of celebrating “Resurrection Sunday” (Easter) and the Church’s focus on honoring Jesus’ victory over the grave. 

Over the years, we have seen many well-meaning Christians demonize Easter and treat Passover as a more biblically accurate holiday than Easter. We must be careful not to let pride enter our hearts. 

We pray that your celebration of the resurrection honors God and focuses on the most fantastic news of all time: that Jesus has risen!

Final Thoughts

In his extraordinary paper on the One New Man, Dr. David Rudolph discusses the idea of Gentiles desiring to participate in Jewish Feasts, such as Passover.

Read the Paper >

“If a Gentile believer is drawn to live out Jewish-specific aspects of the Torah (e.g., celebrating Jewish festivals or keeping kosher), this should derive from their being led by the Spirit and not from a sense of covenantal responsibility, which is unique to the Jewish people. For the Gentile believer, it is a personal calling. Also, the individual should view this as something the Spirit is leading them to do and not something that God expects all Gentiles in the world to do (see Rom 14:5–6).

It is marvelous if you feel personally led to observe the Jewish feasts, but we must be careful not to put this conviction on all Gentile believers. 

In Conclusion

So, do you and your family want to celebrate a traditional Easter? Go ahead! As believers, we should do all we can to make the focus of this day Jesus and His resurrection.  

Are you choosing to celebrate the Jewish feast of Passover? Fantastic! This is a wonderful way for Gentile believers to enrich their spiritual journey as long as you don’t impose your conviction on others. We would also encourage you to celebrate Jewish feasts alongside and in partnership with Jewish people through a messianic synagogue or a relationship with Jewish members in your community.

Ultimately, it’s all about the miracle of our Messiah, Jesus, rising from the dead to defeat sin and death. Let’s celebrate THIS with joy and unity!

By David Blease

Teaching Pastor

Gateway Center for Israel

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