My family and I are observing the Feast of Unleavened Bread this week, but have you ever stopped to wonder why God instructed us to do this every single year? Not to demean the makers of Matzah, but the boxes of Matzah we’ve bought in the stores actually taste more like burnt toast; they are not what I would describe as being a “luxurious meal.” And yet God instructs us to do this, why?
A Note About Jesus’ Death
If we go back to the Scriptures, we learn that Jesus died on Passover (Matthew 26:2,17,19; Mark 14:12,16; Luke 22:1, 7-8, 13); in fact, this is so a well-established fact that Paul refers to Jesus in his epistle to the Corinthians as “Christ our Passover” (I Corinthians 5:7). But do we commemorate His death by observing Passover ourselves, a feast, I might add, that was created by God Himself? No. we’ve replaced God’s created feast with our own “Christian alternative” called “Good Friday.” The name is a bit ironic since although the results of what Jesus did was good for us, it sure wasn’t a good day for Jesus. I mean, have you ever watched the movie The Passion of the Christ? And I am sure by how the Bible describes the event in its prophecies, like Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, and other verses, Mel Gibson’s movie was probably tame in comparison.
A Note About Jesus’ Burial
But then He was taken down from the cross and buried in Joseph of Arimathaea’s family tomb (Matthew 27:57, 59-60; Mark 15: 43, 45-46; Luke 23:50-51, 53; John 19:38-42) during Unleavened Bread. Now get this, the “long linen cloth,” or His “burial shroud,” that was used to bury Him was actually a tablecloth. That’s right, a tablecloth and a napkin was placed over His face. During Passover, burial cloths would have been extremely hard to find, and they were in a hurry; whereas, tablecloths and napkins were readily available. If you think about it, it is not exactly the elegant burial we would expect for the King of kings?
But His whole life defied expectation. He was born in a manger, grew up in Nazareth, which was more or less just “some whole in a wall,” as the expression goes, and then grows up to minister among the poor and outcasts of society, and then ends up being crucified, the worst possible way to die, and then is taken down from the cross, and His body is buried in a tablecloth with a napkin placed over His face. Not exactly the rich, prosperous life we hear being preached by many of these televangelists for the past thirty years, is it?
But do we in the church commemorate this event by observing Unleavened Bread? No, we do not commemorate it at all; in fact, it just gets lumped together with His death on “Good Friday.”
A Note About Jesus’ Resurrection
Unleavened Bread is a feast that lasts for seven days, according to the Scriptures. But then just three days into this week-long feast is another feast, called “First Fruits,” which according to Leviticus 23 was to be observed on the day after the Sabbath:
Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When you come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then you shall bring a sheaf of the FIRSTFRUITS of your harvest unto the priest: And he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted for you: on the morrow [or day] after the sabbath the priest shall wave it….And you shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete:… (Leviticus 23:10-11, 15)
There are two points I want to highlight here. The first is that the priest would wave the Firstfruits of your harvest before God “to be accepted for you.” The idea here is that if God accepted your Firstfruits, then He will be faithful to bring in the rest of the harvest. And secondly, according to the passage, we begin the count towards Pentecost, beginning with this day. Therefore, by God raising Jesus from the dead on the Feast of Firstfruits, indicated that God had accepted Jesus’ sacrifice and, therefore, is our “sheaf” of the Firstfruits that has been “accepted for you” and me, but in accepting Him as our “sheaf of the Firstfruits,” then we have God’s promise that He will bring the rest of the harvest (us) in as well.
Now do we observe Firstfruits to honor Christ and the feast He rose to fulfill? No, we don’t. Like Passover, we have replaced God’s feast with one of our own making, “Easter.” And not only have we replaced it with “Easter,” but we chose a feast (Easter) that has pagan roots and associations. So in the same day that we are proclaiming to honor Christ and His resurrection, we connect the holy Son of God to a feast that has pagan roots and imagery. Therefore, rather than honoring Him, we profane Him.
How is this really any different than the ancient Israelites who brought pagan idols and things into God’s Holy Temple? They sought to bring paganism into their worship of God, just as we have traditionally brought paganism, in and through our celebrations, into our lives and into the church. And yet, for some reason, we think God is happy with what we are doing? But I can confidently tell you, He is not at all. I know this because He has told my wife, Karen, and I a multitude of times of how disgusted He is by our pagan celebrations; in fact, He says it makes Him want to vomit.
SHOULD A TRADITION REPLACE THE WORD OF GOD?
In the Gospels, when the Pharisees criticize Jesus’ disciples for not following “the traditions of the elders,” He comes down on them for replacing the Word of God with their man-made traditions:
But he answered and said to them, “And why do you yourselves transgress the
commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? (Matthew 15:3)
He then gives them and example of what He is talking about, and then says in just four more verses:
You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, ‘This people honors Me
with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men. (Matthew 15:7-9)
Obviously, Jesus has a huge problem when we practice our traditions, instead of doing what God told us to do. Interestingly, Jesus did not have a problem with all the traditions, since He made use or followed some of them. For example, the water pouring ceremony in John 7:37-39, and even the four cups and the Afikomen that are used during the Passover meal. Neither one of these are in God’s commandments, but did you know that the third cup of the Passover and the Afikomen, the bread eaten at the end of the Passover, is what we call “communion,” “the Lord’s Supper,” or “the Eucharist.” They come right out of the Passover, and Jesus used them, and we use that third cup and the Afikomen today.
But tell me, why do we think that Jesus is happy when we substitute our own man-made traditions for God’s Word when He wasn’t at all happy with the Pharisees when they did the same thing? We cannot replace the Word of God with tradition and think that God approves. If we do, we are only deceiving ourselves.
WHEN IS THE FEAST OF FIRSTFRUITS?
So then, with that being the case, when is Firstfruits? During the time period of the New Covenant, there was a dispute between the Pharisees and the Sadducees about what the phrase “the morrow after the sabbath” meant. The Pharisees contended that the sabbath being alluded to was Passover, but the Sadducees argued that it was the weekly Sabbath. Today, most mainstream forms of Judaism follows the argument of the Pharisees.
However, when I analyzed the chapter for myself, I discovered something rather interesting. In Leviticus 23, God never calls these feasts in His Word “the feasts of Israel” or “the Jewish feasts;” instead, He says that they are “the feasts of the LORD” (Leviticus 23:2, 4). So in observing them, we are not being “Jewish,” we are obeying God. We are observing His feasts.
Also, the first feast He discusses is the weekly sabbath (Leviticus 23:3), and then He discusses Passover (Leviticus 23:5), Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:6-8), and Firstfruits (Leviticus 23:9-15), and then the Feast of Weeks/Pentecost (Leviticus 23:16-22), and then He goes on to discuss the three fall feasts. But in discussing the four Spring feasts in this chapter, He never uses the word “sabbath” in His description of Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, or the Feast of Weeks/Pentecost, but a “holy convocation” (or assembly; see Leviticus 23: 4, 7, 21). He doesn’t use the word “sabbath” again until the Fall feasts. Why would God do this? I believe it is because He wants to be clear about which sabbath He is referencing since God is not “the author of confusion” (I Corinthians 14:33). Consequently, then, the conclusions that we can draw from Scripture are the following:
- Firstfruits is always the first day of the week after Passover.
- Jesus rose from the dead on the Feast of Firstfruits, the first day of the week after Passover.
- Just as Jesus died on Passover, Paul called Him “Christ our Passover” (I Corinthians 5:7) so in the same book, because Jesus rose bodily from the dead on Firstfruits, Paul refers to Him as our “first fruits” twice in the context of resurrection, and the second time, he specifically calls Him “Christ the First fruits”:
But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the FIRSTFRUITS of those who are asleep. (I Corinthians 15:20; Emphasis Mine)
And then again three verses later,
But each in his own order: CHRIST THE FIRST FRUITS, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming. (I Corinthians 15:23; Emphasis Mine).
So here we have two verses that specifically tie Jesus’ resurrection to the feast of Firstfruits, but no verses in the Bible that connect it to “Easter.” The word “Easter,” as it appears in the King James is the Greek word Pascha, or “Passover.” Consequently, then, “Easter” is not a Scriptural observance.
- And interestingly, the Syrian Christians, which included the church of Antioch, that was established by Paul and Barnabas and where the disciples were first called “Christians” (Acts 11:26), always celebrated Christ’s resurrection on the Sunday following the Jewish Passover, up until the Council of Nicea (325 A.D.) who changed it three hundred years after Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. (Herbert Thurston, “The Easter Controversy,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 5, 1909).
DOING OUR OWN THING, INSTEAD OF GOD’S – A SIN?
But what does God call it when we do our own thing, and we do not do what He has commanded us to do? He calls it “sin.”
And if any one of the common people sin through ignorance, which he does somewhat
against any of the commandments of the LORD concerning things which ought NOT to be done, and be guilty; or if his sin, which he has sinned, come to his knowledge: then he shall bring his offering.… (Leviticus 4:27-28; Emphasis Mine)
Is it sin to remember the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus? Absolutely not! But it is sin when through our tradition, we do not observe the feasts that God Himself has created and told us to observe, and that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again to fulfill. If we truly want to honor Jesus, the holy Son of God, “the Word made flesh” (John 1:14), and bring the Bible alive like never before in our churches, then instead of observing “Lent,” “Good Friday” and “Easter,” which all have pagan roots and associations, we should be observing Passover, Unleavened Bread, and the Feast of Firstfruits in obedience to the Word of God.
“But it is only a sin if I knew it was wrong,” I can imagine someone saying. However, that’s also a man-made teaching, it is not Scripture. Look at what God says in Leviticus 5:
And if a soul [individual] sin, and commit any of these things which are forbidden to be done by the commandments of the LORD; though he knew it not, yet he is guilty, and shall bear his iniquity. (Leviticus 5:17)
Here God comes right out and says that it doesn’t matter if you didn’t know it was wrong, you are still guilty of the offence, and that you will still bear the punishment for your sins. This means with God, “Ignorance of the Law is no excuse.” It’s like running a stop sign that you didn’t know was there and a policeman pulls you over. Whether you realized the stop sign was there or not, you still went through a stop sign without stopping, therefore violating the law. The same is true with God. Even though you don’t realize you’ve broken one or more of His laws, if you do it, you are still guilty of the crime.
GOD SETS THE STANDARD, HE IS KING
In other words, God sets the standard of what is right or wrong, not us. He decides what is or is not a sin, not us. We don’t get to be the ones who determines this, He does. After all, He is the King, not us. And in a Kingdom, all the laws are made and determined by the King, not the citizenry. Did you know in a Kingdom, there is no vote, or discussion about issues, or congressional meetings, before the King makes it into a law? The King makes the law because it is a law He wants for His Kingdom and His people. Because in a Kingdom, everything is supposed to reflect the character, nature and values of the King. The King does not represent the people, like in the United States, but the people are supposed to represent the King. Unfortunately, most American Christians approach God as if He is running a democracy, or a republic, like the United States, rather than a Kingdom (i.e., a monarchy).
“DIDN’T JESUS BRING THE LAW TO AN END?”
“But didn’t God bring the law to an end when Jesus died? The temple veil was rent from top to bottom, indicating the end of the Temple system.” Yes, I have heard this too numerous times. However, the biblical evidence does not support this interpretation. From Genesis on, even among Jews today, it is customary to tear the cloth over one’s heart when someone we love dies. The first example of this is when Jacob’s sons come with Joseph’s bloody robe to their father, and they tell him that Joseph is dead. And how does Jacob respond?
And Jacob rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his loins. and mourned for his son many days. (Genesis 37:34)
This is the first reference to someone tearing their clothes in mourning found in the Scriptures, but this same act is repeated over and over again. So when God witnessed the torture and death of His beloved Son, it hurt Him so badly that He did what any loving Jewish father would have done in that situation. He took the cloth that was over His heart – the Temple veil – and He rent it from top to bottom. (If you would more information about this, I did an extensive study on it in my article “Why Did God Tear the Temple Veil? Not for the Reason You Think.”)
Also, consider this. The tabernacle, and later Temple, is based upon the Temple that God has made in heaven. God tells Moses on Mt. Sinai,
And let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I am going to show you, as the PATTERN of the tabernacle and the PATTERN of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it. (Exodus 25:8-9; Emphasis Mine)
And see that you make them after the PATTERN for them, which was shown to you on the mountain. (Exodus 25:40)
Then you shall erect the tabernacle ACCORDING TO ITS PLAN which you have been shown in the mountain. (Exodus 26:30)
So since the tabernacle, and the later Temple system, was patterned after His heavenly model (or pattern), if He was going to bring the whole Temple system to an end, then He would have bring His own Temple system – the original pattern – to an end. But if you read Hebrews and Revelation, we still see God’s Temple system in operation. We don’t see His Temple system come to an end UNTIL the creation of the New Heavens and the New Earth (Revelation 21:1). When the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven, John tells us that there is no Temple in it and mentions this in Revelation 21.
And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. (Revelation 21:22)
The Temple down here again is just of replica of the Temple in heaven. So until the time of the New Heaven and the New Earth, God’s Temple system has not ended. Yes, right now, there is no Temple building down here, but everything else for the operation of the third Temple is ready to go. And is God against the rebuilding of the Temple? Why would He be, since His own Temple system in heaven is still very much in operation.
“BUT WHAT ABOUT GRACE?”
I can imagine someone asking. In a Kingdom, the King owns everything within His Kingdom. This is one of the major differences between a King and a president. Both may rule their countries, but only a King actually owns everything within His realm or domain, including the people. Therefore, what could you possibly give the King that He does not already own? Nothing, absolutely nothing. As a result, anything that the King does for you is an act of grace. You getting up this morning is an act of grace. You having a job is an act of grace, and God saving you is also an act of grace. Consequently, just as my obedience to the laws of the United States does not make me a citizen of this country, but instead, shows my love and allegiance to it, so our obedience to God’s laws do not make us citizens of His Kingdom, but they show our love and allegiance to Him and His Kingdom.
So what’s my overall point in all this is rather simple: Let’s our love and allegiance to God by obeying His laws, and let’s get rid the “leaven” from our personal lives and our churches. God is holy, and He has called us as His people to live holy lives. “Without holiness,” it says in Hebrews, “no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). Consequently, if we want to be a part of Christ’s coming Kingdom, then we need to repent and go back to what the early church was like, preaching Christ and living our lives in accordance to His laws, commandments, and teachings in all of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, and ditch our man-made celebrations and start observing the ones God Himself created and made for us to observe.