At Easter time each year, we usually think of the events of the cross and rightly so, but I often wonder if I fully comprehend everything that happened. You may, but I am still learning…
One of the problems I experience when preparing studies like this is not so much as how much to put in, but what to omit, for the sake of keeping the document small.
This topic is immense.
We could spend an eternity looking at it. John said that the entire planet would not be big enough to store all the books if they could record what Jesus did. See John 21:25.
There are the Gospel accounts that cover a wide range of topics from different perspectives, Paul’s teachings, the material in the book of Hebrews, the early accounts in the Book of Acts to consider and more. Matthew, for example said that when Jesus gave up the ghost, that many graves were opened and the dead saints rose after His resurrection and appeared in Jerusalem.
What happened to them?
I was raised in a Church of England environment where Easter was a solemn time with an assortment of ceremonies and observances and special days like Palm Sunday and Lent, but I never heard of such things.
Many People think of Easter holidays, Easter eggs, hot cross buns, the Easter bunny and so on and the full impact this life-changing, history shaping event is missed, even in the church.
The actual dates of Easter have been the subject of much controversy in Christian circles. Even its name has been fiercely debated.
The term Easter appears to have been derived from the Anglo-Saxon “Eostre,” the name of the goddess of spring to whom sacrifices were offered at the time of the vernal equinox (the time in Spring when the sun crosses the Equator and periods of day and night are equal).
Traditionally, Easter is preceded by the 40-day season of Lent, a time of penitence and preparation.
The early Church used the Lenten season as a time of preparation for baptism, administered at sunrise on Easter Sunday. None of these traditions seem to be in accordance with what the scriptures say.
The actual date has been the subject of much controversy from late in the 2nd century. Rome observed the first Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox.
Other Christian groups however related to the Jewish calendar.
Easter really celebrates the resurrection of Jesus, not His death.
It seems that most of the attention is given to the Passion of Jesus and that is where it is often left off, but what happened during the time He was in that tomb and the days He spent with His faithful followers after His resurrection are rarely mentioned.
We could say that what happened to Lazarus was not resurrection as in rising to a new eternal life, but revivification that was rising to a renewed old life. He was the same Lazarus and Salvation had not yet been provided.
Jesus’ resurrection is more than just that he was dead and now is alive, since this could be said of Lazarus and many others who were miraculously raised in the Bible. The significance of Jesus’ resurrection is that he will never die again.
These things are the focal point. If He was not raised from the dead, His death would have availed nothing and our hope is false. Paul spoke at length about this in 1 Corinthians chapter fifteen.
Why then is there so much controversy? I think the answer is simple. The devil does not want men and women to know the truth. If they did, they would be free and Passover spoke about freedom and liberty—the start of a new life.
According to classical Jewish sources, the Hebrew year 6000(from sunset of 29 September 2239 until nightfall of 16 September 2240 on the Gregorian calendar) marks the latest time for the initiation of the Messianic Age. The Talmud, Midrash, and the Kabbalistic work, the Zohar, state that the 'deadline' by which the Messiah must appear is 6,000 years from creation. According to tradition, the Hebrew calendar started at the time of Creation, placed at 3761 BC.
The Hebrew year 5781 is the equivalent year 2021.
Easter year falls on different dates in our calendar, but why is that so?
God told the Hebrews to observe the day on the 15th day of Nisan. By Jewish reckoning, the day starts at different times to ours. A day could start at sunset one day and finish at sunset the next day, so Passover could actually start on the 14th.
We must remember that this is a seasonal event that lasts for 7 or 8 days! Since 15 Nisan is based on the lunar calendar, it could come on Any Day of the week. There was no guarantee therefore that it would always occur on "Good Friday or Easter Sunday.
Much debate occurred about the date and in the year 325, the council of Nicaea determined that the Roman practice would prevail and that Easter comprised what we call Good Friday, Easter Saturday and Easter Sunday.
They maintained that Easter should always fall on the first Sunday after the full moon at Passover, which is believed to be the time the Last Supper, happened. This itself poses a problem in that according to tradition, Jesus was cricififed on Friday.
This is where it gets complex. The full moon falls on different days in different time zones, so this too poses problems.
It introduces questions like, “On what day was Jesus really crucified?”
Such debates seem to be contradictory to what scriptures tell us and in essence detracts from the real meaning of Easter and its total significance!
There were many other events that consisted the final week of Jesus’ life. There were a whole series of events involved and we often forget that the Sabbath was observed.
It is believed according to the Hebrew calculations that there may in fact have been Two Sabbaths when Jesus died. There is the regular weekly Shabbat and as this was a special event—Passover—a special Passover Sabbath was involved.
This brings me to the core of my message. Easter is not only about Jesus’ passion—His death, burial and resurrection; it is about the events after His resurrection.
We shall now see what happened in several incidents and then sum up with the most profound aspect of His ministry that is ongoing. It is something not often mentioned in traditional Easter messages.
He no longer the suffering Saviour—Our Lord is Prophet, Priest and King!
We know that Jesus is our great high priest but we need to look at the priesthood itself.
There are a few factors to consider.
God introduced the “formal” priesthood
Men functioned as priests before The Law
The priesthood was a type or a shadow of things to come and because Jesus fulfilled everything, the priesthood, as we understand it, is no longer required or valid. Does this imply that the priests with whom many of us are familiar, such as in the Catholic, the Anglican and other churches are no longer relevant or valid? This is food for thought.
Man has an inherent desire to reach out to the divine. Way back in Genesis 4:25-26 when Enos was born, men started to call on the Name of the Lord.
We are spirit beings who are created in the image and likeness of God with a capacity to communicate with God that few of us comprehend today. With this in mind, there are many examples of men being priests before The Law.
The first mention of the word Priest is in Genesis 14:8 that says- …Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God.
He brought forth an offering. It was bread and wine and these are the symbols of our faith today when we partake of communion.
This was not the first offering recorded in scripture however. Cain’s offering of the fruit of the ground in Genesis 3:3 is the first and as you know, God had no respect for it. He gave Abel’s offering respect however. Abel offered the first of his flock. This required blood sacrifice and as the life is in the blood, we know that without the shedding of blood, there is no remission for sin.
For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul. Leviticus 17:11
See also Ephesians 3:13; Hebrews 9:22; 10:8; 1 Peter 1:2; 1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5
This respect spoken of is the word shāʿâ that means to take a close look at something with interest and express approval.
God approved of Abel's sacrifice but did not approve of what Cain offered.
Abel’s sacrifice had a greater cost factor. Cain’s certainly involved labor and work, so there was a cost factor of sorts there, but he presented the work of his hands that we can liken to trying to earn our salvation today, which is impossible. Salvation cost God something, but it is a free gift. Religion does what Cain did. See Ephesians 2:1-10, particularly verses 8 to 10.
The second time we see the word priest was when Pharaoh gave Asenath, who was Potiphera’s daughter to Joseph as his wife. Potiphera was the priest of On.
Priests therefore are not necessarily Christian. People who go to church are not necessarily Christians. If we expand this further, this implies that all priests in churches are not necessarily Christians…saved; born again; blood washed people who have experienced spiritual regeneration according to the biblical pattern.
Moses’ father-in-law was the priest of Midian. The Midianites figured prominently only in the early history of Israel, in connection with Abraham (see Genesis 25:1–6) and with Joseph (in Genesis 37:25–36). In Numbers 22, Balaam is seen as it is with Gideon in Judges 6.
Midian was Isaac’s younger half-brother, the fourth of six sons born to Keturah, Abraham’s wife after Sarah died.
By calling Midian and his full brothers “the sons of Keturah” in Genesis 25:4 and 1 Chronicles 1:31- 33, the Bible carefully distinguishes them from Isaac, the son of Sarah.
He was the one through whom God’s promise to Abraham would be fulfilled.
Abraham and the Israelites regarded these other sons as having no more inheritance rights than a concubine’s sons. They were expelled from Abraham’s family for Isaac’s sake and became semi-nomadic people.
I share all that to illustrate how the lineage had to be absolutely pure and untainted, because Jesus came through these lines. Those often boring pages of genealogies in the bible are there not to fill up the book, but to show how meticulous God’s plans were, leading up to Jesus and the plan of salvation. Come with me now to Exodus where God instructs Moses to build the Tabernacle. This amazing construction is chock full of imagery of Jesus and the redemption story. It was all planned before the world was created. God’s instructions to Moses were very specific. He stressed the importance of building according to His pattern without any deviation.
… make me a sanctuary, so that I may live among them. You are to make it according to everything I show you—the design of the tabernacle and the design of its furnishings. This is how you are to make it. Exodus 25:8-9
The first item was the ark. The Hebrew word means a chest or a coffin. God commenced construction from the inside and worked outward. We build a house from the outside and work progressively inside.
The whole thing started from God’s perspective with the ark. We can liken Jesus to our ark.
Easter must be approached from God’s perspective!
The next few chapters describe the materials used and the construction of the Tabernacle. It was essentially a tent, thus temporary, but everything had to be according to God’s pattern without any deviation.
God also gave strict instructions as to the location of the tents of the people when they were encamped.
If you look at the Tabernacle, its furnishings, the various items in the outer court, the linen fence around it, the entry into the outer court and so on, there were very strict and precise means and ways to approach God. There was only one way inside. There is only one way to approach God and it is through Jesus.
There was a progressive order into the holiest place of all and it started form the outside—the natural and once inside the tent itself, one found nothing of the natural—no illumination other than that provided by the golden menorah on one side, that revealed the Table of Shewbread on the other and the Altar of Incense directly ahead and it stood in front of the veil! Our dealings with God are not natural but spiritual, or…supernatural.
A helicopter view of this tabernacle would reveal it was all cross-shaped!
We shall look at the Tabernacle more elsewhere.
Once a year, only the High Priest entered into the holiest place of all to sprinkle blood on the Ark. He made atonement for the sins of the people and did so only after performing strict preparations to ensure that he was qualified to perform his priestly duties.
In Exodus 28 and 29, God revealed how the priests were chosen and prepared for service.
No one else could function in the office of a priest.
This shows us that no man can take it upon himself to occupy any Godly office, yet many do, thinking it is a noble profession and that one must obtain certain academic qualifications to enter the ministry.
Leviticus 21 lists the stringent requirements a man had to possess to be a priest and they really do not include academic qualifications. These requirements are listed in Qualifications for priesthood. Click to view.
A priest had to be of the correct lineage to start with and above that, he had to possess precise attributes. They are found in Leviticus 21:17-21, one of which was the ability to produce an heir. This ensured that the priestly line continued. If he was not married and had no son, he was disqualified.
The books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy are very clear and transparent about God’s requirements.
If they were so stringent then, there have to be similar requirements for ministries in the Church today. Of course, there are no more priests, because Jesus changed everything and He is now building His Church and selecting suitably qualified people in offices today. The best example is seen in Ephesians chapter four. I, like Paul, implore people to walk in the light as He is in the light and to cast aside the petty differences we have. We are all different of course in various kinds of ways, but we all serve and love the same Lord of all (I hope) and hopefully have the same expectations.
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Ephesians 4:1-7
There is only one Jesus. There is only one Saviour and He is building His Church, but it sure does not seem like it. We argue and debate over issues, despite their scriptural clarity and Paul, speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said that Jesus gave us the ministry tools to get the job done and continue the work Jesus gave us to do. This list embraces everything. I’ve taught on this elsewhere, but it cannot be overemphasised. When Jesus ascended on high, He gave gifts that are ministry gifts to the Church.
(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth?
He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:9-16
There is no mention of priests…as such. This is because that priesthood was instituted by God to illustrate what Jesus would do. Once He fulfilled it all, that priesthood was in essence no longer valid. He made a once and for all time sacrifice for sin and need never return to the cross, shed another drop of blood or enter into the holy place to make atonement for sin, because it has been done!
Under the Old Testament conditions, the High Priest prepared himself for the annual visit into the very inner sanctum where the ark of God’s presence was manifest. He never went in there without blood that was sprinkled on the mercy seat (the lid or covering of the Ark) and made atonement for the sins of he people. 30 seconds after leaving there, they people were still in the bondage of sin, because this sacrifice merely covered sin. It did not deal with it.
When Jesus died, he was both the sacrifice and the priest. Under the Priesthood the preparations were meticulous by God’s command and you will find the following comparisons interesting.
Let us compare the Passover with Jesus.
According to Exodus 28 and 39:1-31, Aaron was the High Priest and came from the tribe of Levi. He was to be holy and separate himself from anything that would defile him, because he was the intermediary between the Lord and His people. Only Aaron’s sons were permitted to be priests.
The priests’ clothing was made to reflect beauty and holiness thus reveal God’s glory. Everything had special significance. A gold breastplate set with twelve precious gemstones that were carved with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel as worn over the priest’s heart as a memorial to the Lord. The Urim and Thummim were placed in the breastplate and were used to determine the Lord’s will. We are uncertain what they were and how they were used, but it is possible that they were two different stones, one white and one black and used in a manner like casting lots. We don’t need to do that today, because we have scriptures and the Holy Ghost to guide us.
As for service, the high priest made sacrifice of bulls and goats to atone for his own sins and then for the sins of the people. He placed their blood on the altar to atone (or pay) for sins and to receive forgiveness. The priest came to God to ask for decisions. He ministered to the Lord by taking care of the Tabernacle, keeping the wicks of the golden menorah trimmed, placing fresh bread on the altar and burning incense daily. He would inspect people and declare them clean or unclean as in the case of skin disease or by touching a dead body.
When Jesus came, He became the better High Priest. We see this in Hebrews 4:14-5:10; 6:19-10:22. What is listed there is quite comprehensive.
He did not come from the line of Aaron but from the order of Melchizedek.
Aaron died and passed his priesthood on to his sons, but Jesus died without doing that. He now abides forever. Aaron was only a priest, but Jesus is both priest and king.
The high priest had to make sacrifice for his own sins, before qualifying to sacrifice for the people’s sins.
Jesus however never sinned and so did not need to make atonement for His own sins. Those of us who follow Him can now approach God in the Holy Place with boldness. See Hebrews 10:16-23.
Jesus did not sacrifice animals, because the blood of animals does not take away sin. It merely made someone ceremonially cleansed. Jesus was the perfect lamb, who offered Himself as that one perfect sacrifice to take away sin for all time. It was the last sacrifice ever needed. Matthew, Mark and Luke all say that when He died, the veil of the Temple was rent from top to bottom. The meaning of rent (schizō) is much more than tearing a piece of cloth in two, but a total breaking apart. Its meanings include sever, break, divide, rend and open. That veil beyond which only one man could ever enter was destroyed and all men could now come straight into the presence of God, totally forgiven of sin.
…a different priest, who is like Melchizedek, has appeared. Jesus became a priest, not by meeting the physical requirement of belonging to the tribe of Levi, but by the power of a life that cannot be destroyed.
And the psalmist pointed this out when he prophesied, “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.”
Yes, the old requirement about the priesthood was set aside because it was weak and useless.
For the law never made anything perfect. But now we have confidence in a better hope, through which we draw near to God. This new system was established with a solemn oath. Aaron’s descendants became priests without such an oath, but there was an oath regarding Jesus. For God said to him, “The LORD has taken an oath and will not break his vow: ‘You are a priest forever.’”
Because of this oath, Jesus is the one who guarantees this better covenant with God.
There were many priests under the old system, for death prevented them from remaining in office.
But because Jesus lives forever, his priesthood lasts forever.
Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.
He is the kind of high priest we need because he is holy and blameless, unstained by sin.
He has been set apart from sinners and has been given the highest place of honor in heaven. Unlike those other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices every day. They did this for their own sins first and then for the sins of the people. But Jesus did this once for all when he offered himself as the sacrifice for the people’s sins.
The law appointed high priests who were limited by human weakness.
But after the law was given, Godappointed his Son with an oath, and his Son has been made the perfect High Priest forever. Hebrews 7:15-28
Everything about the Tabernacle... the tabernacle itself, the construction, worship ans sacrifices spoke in some way about Jesus. Not only is He our great High Priest, He is our Passover. Paul said- ...remove every trace of your “leaven” of compromise with sin so that you might become new and pure again. For indeed, you are clean because Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us. So now we can celebrate our continual feast, not with the old “leaven,” the yeast of wickedness or bitterness, but we will feast on the freshly baked bread of innocence and holiness.
1 Corinthians 5:7-8
This is the real meaning of Easter, but this too is incomplete without the events that followed.
Easter has to be linked with Pentecost—it must, because Jesus appeared in different ways to the disciples after His resurrection.
Luke states that two angels in bright apparel told the mourners who had come with prepared spices and ointments and administer the last rites to His body that He was not there. They asked them why they were looking for the living amongst the dead and said that the tomb was empty. Memorials are OK up to a point, but making shrines and “sacred places” of the supposed places these events occurred are tantamount to idolatry by definition.
Easter should not be looking into the grave, but looking up to Heaven.
There were the two on the road to Emmaeus, followed by the time He appeared in the midst of those present, asked them to touch Him and observe His hands and feet, then ate some food.
John shares how He gave them a fish breakfast after they had caught a miraculous haul of fish and concludes with a profound statement-
And there are also many other things which Jesus did. If they should be all recorded one by one [in detail], I suppose that even the world itself could not contain (have room for) the books that would be written. John 21:25
What were those things? We do not know and I will not try guessing games, but He spent forty days with them after His resurrection speaking about the Kingdom or Basileia of God. This refers to the Kingdom rule and foundation of power and not about heaven. Heaven is the place! The Kingdom of God is His dominion or rulership and the way He does things. Imagine spending 40 days with Him as He expounds truth and revelation to us. He did to them and possibly 500 people in all! See 1 Corinthians 15:6.
He then commanded them to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit and was then taken up and a cloud received Him out of their sight (Acts 1:9).
Pentecost is the final—but vital—link in the chain that moves us from a terrified, timid group of disciples before Jesus’ death to the powerful, confident proclaimers of good news throughout the whole world.
The contrast between the disciples before Jesus’ death and after Pentecost could not be greater.
Before Jesus’ death the disciples struggled to understand who Jesus really was, they failed to stay awake in the garden of Gethsemane when Jesus needed their company and, at his arrest when he needed them most, they ran away.
After Pentecost the disciples spread throughout the world proclaiming the good news of Jesus whatever the cost. They became inspiring and confident communicators, infused with joy and enthusiasm. It is easy to attribute this solely to the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, but to do so would be to misunderstand the chain of events that leads up to this point. Jesus’ death destroyed all the disciples’ expectations about who he was. The resurrection put these expectations back together again in a different order and helped them to understand who Jesus really was. The ascension opened up a space that required them to act and, finally, the coming of the Holy Spirit gave them the ability to do so. Pentecost was a vital link in the chain but not the only one in the disciples’ growth towards transformation.
We need to remind ourselves that Easter was actually at the Jewish feast time of Passover.
In like manner another Jewish festival called Pentecost followed. These two events have become the core of our Christian belief. We cannot have one without the other. The reason that there were so many people for Peter to speak to at Pentecost was because they were all in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost (Shavuot).
Shavuot was one of the great Jewish harvest festivals at which they also celebrated the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. It had to take place 50 days after the festival of Passover, and in certain ways our celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit reflects the original meaning of the feast. The feast of Passover recalled the people of God’s freedom from slavery and Shavuot/Pentecost the giving of the law, which shaped how they served God in that freedom.
Easter recalls our freedom from death and sin and Pentecost the giving of the Holy Spirit, which shapes how we serve God in that freedom. When the Holy Spirit arrived, they knew that Jesus had returned to heaven and were now to embark on the fulfillment of His great commission.
Easter is not only about the sufferings of the cross—it is about the all-embracing High Priesthood of Jesus.
In conclusion, if you turn with me to John chapter 20, you will see that because of the approaching Sabbath, Jesus had been hastily taken off the cross and placed in the tomb, not properly prepared for burial according to custom. On resurrection morning, Mary Magdalene arrived whilst it was still dark to minister to the Lord and found the stone taken away and ran back to tell Peter and John. They ran back to the sepulcher to find it empty. When Mary was standing outside crying, she saw two angels there. Were they the same two angels seen in Acts 1:10-11?
After that conversation with the angels, She saw Jesus but did not recognize Him. Thinking He was the gardener, she asked where He was and He said one word—one word only! It was “Mary.”
Suddenly she knew. She fell at His feet and wanted to grab hold of Him, but He would not allow her to touch Him, saying that He had not yet ascended to His Father and to His God.
This is very important, because He, as the Great High Priest, had to yet present His blood as the atonement for your sin and my sin. I believe that He prevented her from touching Him at that point to prevent contamination. The offering had to be absolutely pure and so it was. This was the final sacrifice of all and it avails for you and for me today.
His priestly ministry continues today, but in a different way. He stands before the Father making intercession for us. If and when we fail, we can feel the weight if it and guilt comes. What comes with that is condemnation. The devil tries to tell us we are no good, that we failed, that God could never love us, that He will not forgive us for our shortcomings and so on. The Lord also sent us the Holy Spirit to guide us, teach us and lead us in all the truth.
Jesus, our great High Priest then stands in front of the Throne and pleads our case. It is as if He reminds the Father that He shed His blood for us and made atonement for us and that our sin has been dealt with.
Jesus died, but He rose from the dead. Jesus rose from the dead and broke the power of the devil. He sprinkled His blood on the Mercy Seat and made a one-time offering for our sin that can never be repeated and prays for you and for me.
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