The reality of Jesus Christ’s death and His resurrection three days and nights later is central to Christianity. Jesus shared this sign that He was the Messiah in Matthew 12:40: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth”.
Have you ever wondered about the Easter tradition which teaches Christ died on Good Friday and was resurrected on Sunday morning? It doesn’t fit the one sign Jesus said would prove that He is the prophesied Messiah! There’s simply no way to fit three days and three nights between a Good Friday burial and a Sunday morning resurrection.
The Gospels describe the death and resurrection of Jesus in detail. The rest of the New Testament records the story of His followers over the next 60 years or so. In all of these accounts there are no examples of any Christian congregation observing the Easter tradition.
But there is a festival period observed by the earliest Christians that commemorated Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. It’s two festivals next to one another that are commanded to be observed in the Bible. One of the places we find this festival period mentioned is in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.
The Corinthians were primarily Greeks who had converted to Christianity and in I Corinthians 5:6 Paul corrects them for their attitude towards immorality which had occurred in their congregation: ‘Your glorying is not good. Know you not that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?’
Here Paul used yeast in bread as an analogy of how pride and boasting can make us puffed up and full of vanity. Paul goes on in verse 7 to say: “Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (NIV).
The non-Jewish converts in Corinth knew a lot about the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) and Paul’s reference to Jesus being the Passover Lamb was understood as they were aware of the events surrounding ancient Israel’s Exodus from Egypt.
Paul then goes on to say: “Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:6-8, NIV).
In referring to yeast, unleavened bread and Jesus being sacrificed as the Passover Lamb, Paul is clearly talking about the biblical observances of Passover and the Festival Unleavened Bread given to ancient Israel by God and observed by Jesus and the Apostles.
These occasions are the correct, biblically-based festivals God wants Christians to keep -- not obscure Easter traditions based on the ancient worship of false gods.
However, this doesn’t mean the early Christians observed these festivals in the exact same manner as the Jews. As Paul’s words show, both Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were imbued with new spiritual understanding about Jesus Christ as our Saviour. Paul’s declaration of Jesus as God’s Passover Lamb sent to redeem people from death infused the Passover with a spiritual depth and understanding of God that transcends even the miraculous events of the Exodus.
The Festival of Unleavened Bread which follows the Passover observance involves the removal of yeast and foods containing leavening agents from the home and eating unleavened bread for seven days (Exodus 12:15-20; Leviticus 23:6). In 1 Corinthians we are given additional spiritual insight as to how this is symbolic of our spiritual life.
Paul tells the Corinthians that we will never be a true follower of Jesus Christ until we fully understand malice and wickedness and allow God to replace the sin in our lives with His “unleavened” ways of “sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:8).
Paul’s use of the symbols of the Festival of Unleavened Bread to teach His followers is profound. When you add yeast to dough, you can’t stop the process. You can’t deleaven leavened bread. Paul uses leavening as a symbol for sinful thoughts and behavior permeating our lives. And this is in the context of telling them, “Therefore let us keep the feast …” in 1 Corinthians 5:8.
Easter can feel like a wonderful tradition—a time of baskets filled with candy and colored eggs, a time for friends and family, a time to attend a special religious service. But it’s a non-biblical tradition that comes from the worship of the fertility goddess Ishtar (Ashtoreth in the Bible).
The Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread, on the other hand, are biblical observances ordained by God, observed by Jesus, taught to gentiles in the early Church and imbued with the Christian gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ. This festival period is the biblical alternative to Easter.
The Christian Passover and Festival of Unleavened Bread are filled with rich and meaningful symbols of Christ’s death, resurrection and present work to deleaven—to spiritually cleanse and heal—those who turn to God. It’s more than human tradition. It is God’s revelation to humanity!
The Good News magazine