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Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.
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EASTER: Fact or Fiction?
In Defense of the Faith
Tuesday, April 11, 2017
Brittney Gunter

A trip through any big box store will alert you that the Easter season is quickly approaching.  Stuffed bunnies, egg-shaped chocolates, and all things pastel have taken over prime real-estate in the retail business.

Easter is the pinnacle event of the Christian faith.  The crucifixion, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is so critically important to Christian doctrine that if its basis is not found in historical fact, then all hope is lost.  Salvation does not exist.  Sins are not forgiven.  And the dead return to the dust from which they came with no one to rescue.  As the Apostle Paul put it, in 1 Corinthians 15:16-19, “For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins,” and we are a people to be most pitied.

So true, Paul. So true.

For skeptics and atheists, the Easter holiday is such an easy point to pick on and dismantle.  Didn't Jesus say he would be dead for three days and three nights?  Don’t Christians believe Christ died on Good Friday and rose from the dead on Sunday morning?  Can’t they do math?  There is no way to account for three days and three nights in the 39-hour time frame if we are to believe the scriptures.  This idea is so preposterous that many will then discount the authority and authenticity of the entire biblical revelation as myth and hoax. It even has some theologians scrambling to redefine days and times to make the biblical account fit into a 72-hour time frame.

Easter: the great Christian myth perpetuated by a sect of discontent Jewish men which has its origins in pagan mythology.  Sound likely?

Not so fast.

The forethought of the events that occurred during Christ’s crucifixion were, in fact, ordained by our Divine Creator from the beginning.  More simply stated: God knew what day and time Christ would die when He spun the earth in motion. It is God who formed the universe, placed the planets in their orbits, fixed the sun and other stars in their places, and determined the moon’s rotation.  It is God who determined that evening would occur before morning in all the days of creation (see Genesis chapter 1). It is God who uses His universe as both His blueprint and His timepiece to make Himself known to mankind. Careful and systematic examination of the scriptures reveal this divine forethought to us.  In order to gain a full understanding of the wisdom of God from creation to Christ, we don’t have to look much further than the Jewish calendar.

The Jewish Calendar is, in fact, God’s calendar.  It is not some predictable invention of mankind based on the lunar cycle with randomly placed events that have no true significance. God chose to reveal His timing to the prophet Moses.  He does this when He directs Moses to go back to Egypt and to demand the Pharaoh release the Hebrew slaves.  You know the story…there’s a famous Charlton Heston movie about it. Take a closer look at Exodus 12:2 where God tells Moses, before sending him back into Egypt, ‘This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year.”

That month was the Jewish Month of Nisan, the first month in Israel’s religious calendar year.  It is the month that the first Passover would occur, where God would pass over the firstborns of Israel if they smeared their doorposts with the blood of the lamb.  It is the month that Christ would be handed over to the Romans to be crucified.  And it is the month that we will be focused on to determine if the contemporary Easter timeline has any basis in fact.

This month of Nisan was to begin with a new moon.  On the 10th day of the month, that is Nisan 10, the Israelites were to choose their lamb for slaughter.  However, they were not to kill the lamb until the 14th day of the month, or Nisan 14.  Then they were to smear the lamb’s blood on the doorpost, eat the lamb for dinner, and wait.  God had made a promise to them that death was coming to the firstborns in all the land, but if anyone did these things then he and his entire household would be spared.  So the nation of Israel obeyed and waited.  But Egypt did not believe and obey, and at midnight, the Lord struck down the firstborns of Egypt. Neither person nor animal was spared, all households experienced a loss.  Then, in the middle of the night, Pharaoh summons Moses and sends them and the whole nation out of Egypt. The full account is found in Exodus Chapter 12.

So the first Passover was a great success and God gave instructions to His people that they were to celebrate the Passover in the same manner every year so as not to forget the great work the Lord had done on their behalf. Nisan was to start the new calendar year.  On the 10th day of the month they were to pick a lamb.  They were to slaughter the lamb on the 14th day and eat it for supper.  Then on the 15th day of Nisan they were to hold a feast week, a 7-day festival called the Festival of Unleavened Bread.  They were also to hold a sacred assembly and do no ordinary work on the first and last days, or the 15th day and the 21st day of this holy week (like bookend sabbath days).  For a review of the laws of the Passover, take a look at Leviticus chapter 23.

Fast forward to the last week of Jesus’ life.  The events line up perfectly with the Passover observance.  Mark 14:12 says, “And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?”  That day was Nisan 14.  Jesus is alive on the day the Passover lambs are slaughtered.  That evening Jesus would have the Last Supper with his disciples.  Remember the original Passover in Exodus chapter 12? It wasn’t enough that the lamb was slaughtered, but it also had to be eaten.  It was eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.   It was during this Last Supper that Jesus would symbolically offer the bread and the wine of the New Covenant, which represented his body and his blood being offered for our sake.

After evening comes, Jesus and his disciples proceed to the garden where he will be betrayed and arrested. Since Jewish days begin with evening (because God’s days begin with evening…remember Genesis?), the night Jesus was arrested began the calendar day of Nisan 15. He is taken to the Jewish Council to be be tried and condemned, although, the appropriate number of witnesses cannot be found and soon it is morning. That particular morning begins the Festival of Unleavened bread and there is a large Jewish crowd gathered for the sacred assembly. This poses a problem for the Jewish leaders who want to kill Jesus. To do so on a sacred holy day would break the law of Moses and leave them ceremonially unclean (see John 18:28).  Therefore, they craft a different plan and offer Jesus up to Pilate as one who is claiming to be King of the Jews. This charge would imply treason against Rome, a crime punishable by death.

Scripture indicates this day is also the preparation of day for the “high Sabbath” (see John 19:31).   Preparation days occurred on Fridays before the weekly Saturday sabbath. In Jewish tradition, a regular Saturday Sabbath would be certain to fall somewhere during the 7-day festival of Unleavened Bread.  When the Saturday Sabbath fell on an intermediate festival day, that is between the two bookend sabbath days of sacred assembly, it is called Pesach Chol ha-Moed Shabbat.  It would be a most holy day. Nisan 16 accounted for this day.  So when Jesus dies during the sacred assembly of Nisan 15, his body is quickly taken down before evening so it doesn't remain on the cross during the Nisan 16 Sabbath.

This brings us to our last Jewish calendar day of Nisan 17.  All four gospel accounts agree that Jesus rose on the first day of the week.  This gives us some very valuable information!  The first day of the week in the Jewish calendar is Sunday.  Jewish people are allowed to work for six days, but on the 7th day they must rest.  This 7th day has historically and consistently been observed on Saturday.  Therefore, Jesus definitely rose from the dead on a Sunday morning, the first day of a new week.

If we were to put these events on a timeline, the last days of Jesus’ life would look like this:

  • Thursday, Nisan 14 (lamb slaughtered and eaten): Jesus has Passover Meal with disciples
  • Friday, Nisan 15 (sacred assembly of festival): Jesus is crucified in view of the crowd
  • Saturday, Nisan 16: Jesus’ body lays in the tomb
  • Sunday, Nisan 17: Jesus is risen

But, wait…that still doesn’t account for three days and three nights, does it?

“For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” -Matthew 12:40

Actually it does.

See, Jesus didn’t die for just Jerusalem.  He didn't even die for just those in Israel.  The often quoted John 3:16 tells us exactly for whom Jesus came to die, “for God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Jesus died for the world.  The whole world.  For all of time.  So that, whoever believes in him should not perish but will have eternal life.  Whoever.  That’s a very powerful and inclusive statement!  And if Jesus died for the whole world, when it was about 3pm in Jerusalem on Friday Nisan 15, then what day and time was it in the rest of the world?

Simply put, when Jesus gave up his life on the cross, it was the evening and the morning of Nisan 15 for the entire earth.  And there was evening and there was morning, the first day… Does that sound like a familiar verse?  It’s from Genesis chapter one.

When Jesus lay in the grave on Saturday, the entire earth experienced God’s calendar day of Nisan 16. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day…

When Jesus rose on Sunday morning, the entire earth experienced God’s calendar day of Nisan 17.  And there was evening and there was morning, the third day…

Jesus died and rose from the grave after 3 days and 3 nights, just as he said he would.  The problem with our understanding is simply our perspective.  We want to examine the events of Jesus’ crucifixion from man’s perspective, counting the hours and days that pass from the location of Jerusalem, but God’s ways are higher than our ways.  When we look at the events from God’s perspective, taking into account the days and nights the entire earth experienced during this time, the wisdom of God is revealed.

Of course, there will always be those who doubt.  Let’s remember, your very salvation is dependent upon your faith.  “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” Ephesians 2:8.  If there were not an opportunity to have faith, then who could receive the gift of grace?  None.

But, for arguments sake, let’s just entertain for a moment that the story of Jesus is a hoax…. If so, then we have the mother of all conspiracy theories ever known to mankind!  The significance of that is so mind-blowing that it is impossible to believe. If the story of Jesus is a fairy tale, that would indicate that a sect of uneducated Jewish men rebelled against the Jewish religious establishment of the day.  This establishment was comprised of well-educated men who spent years and years studying and examining the scriptures.  Then, these ordinary men were able to concoct such an intricate storyline that it fulfilled God’s timing all the way back to the book of Genesis.  It fulfilled Jewish law to the letter, right down to the events that occurred day by day. They would have had to understand the Jewish calendar, the Jewish law, the significance of each event, the symbolism…the list goes on and on.

You can’t simply write-in Jesus, as the Hebrew Torah and its laws have been so closely guarded by the Jewish people for thousands of years (who by the way, still reject Jesus). If the Hebrew Torah was re-written by unhappy Jews and pagan Greeks to incorporate a fake Jesus, then the Hebrew Torah should reveal an inconsistency in the fulfillment of its laws by the Christ.

The truth is that Jesus is real.  He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5:17. The reality is that the Hebrew Torah is our greatest witness to the work of Christ.

The cross of Christ was a predetermined event ordained by God from the very creation of the world. When God suspended the earth on its axis He knew the exact calendar day and time He would give His Son up for our sins.  He ordained feasts and holy days and events to foreshadow this coming.  Then, He gave all this knowledge to a people who wouldn’t even believe it.  About them, Jesus says this, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” Luke 16:31.

So, dear Christian, go your way and celebrate your Easter with passion and thankfulness. Your faith has healed you.  Let the mockers mock and the scoffers scoff, but do not be discouraged!  And when you have the chance to share the hope that is in you, do so with grace, kindness and great patience.  “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” 1 Corinthians 1:25

Pray fervently that all people will come to a knowledge of the truth of salvation. They don’t even understand what they don’t understand.

*Brittney Gunter is a long time friend of our Wendy Wippel.  Brittney is a freelance artist in Mississippi and spends much of her time helping in her community and abroad.  She and her husband are very serious Christians and wonderful parents to their children.



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