The Easter Bunny definitely isn't Jewish! And what could be more Goyish than colored Easter eggs, a big Easter ham, and an Easter basket filled with chocolate duckies and marshmallow chickies nesting in purple or green shredded plastic? Oy Vey! How Goyish can you get? And if you don't like the Easter Bunny you still can't eat him: rabbit isn't kosher!
But there's more to Easter than all this mishegoss. Easter has its roots in the most Jewish of all holidays: Pesach (Passover). This might surprise you, but "Easter" is not even mentioned in the New Covenant!
The first followers of Jesus, or Yeshua as he was known before the Gentiles got involved, were Jewish. They celebrated the resurrection of Jesus according to the Jewish calendar, at Passover, when Jesus was crucified and rose again. Centuries later, Gentile followers used a different calendar. The Easter Bunny is only a recent phenomenon.
What of Yeshua, Jesus, who started it all? Doesn't it make sense to investigate the greatest Jew who ever lived? Sadly, some Jewish people avoid considering Yeshua. But shouldn't the Jewish community be more than a little proud of a man who changed the world through three brief years of ministry in Israel? Listen, a rabbi whose teachings have caused millions of Gentiles to turn from idolatry to worship the God of Israel isn't somebody to be ashamed of. Yeshua can't be ignored!
And what about the historical basis for Easter? Did Jesus really rise from the dead, or was the whole thing some bobbe-myseh cooked up to deceive the masses? Can we trust the historical accounts of those early Jewish disciples?
This subject needs to be approached with an open mind. Too often we allow our prejudices to cloud our thinking. We've all heard the adage: "Don't confuse me with the facts. My mind is already made up!" If your mind is already made up, nothing anyone says can convince you otherwise. Try to consider the facts with a mind open to the truth, no matter how it may shake cherished preconceptions. This may be asking more than you are able to give, so why not do what a wise king of Israel did and ask God for wisdom? The great Solomon made this his paramount request of God. Could it hurt you to do the same? Maybe you're an atheist or an agnostic. OK, so why not at least be open minded enough to admit you could be mistaken and say: "God, if you're out there, help me to believe it and help me to see what is true about Yeshua?"
ANCIENT JEWISH PROPHECY
We'll start our inquiry into the resurrection of Yeshua way back with the Jewish prophet Isaiah, 700 years before Messiah was born. This great prophet of the Hebrew Bible wrote of one who would die as a sacrificial lamb to provide payment for our sins and rise again.
"He was led like a lamb to the slaughter...he was cut off from the land of the living...He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the Lord's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering...After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities..." (Isaiah 53:7-11).
Doesn't this sound like Jesus? Maybe you weren't told, but many ancient rabbis believed in a suffering Messiah! The Talmud quotes Isaiah 53 as referring to the Messiah, as do ancient rabbinic commentaries. Even the great rabbi Maimonides wrote that Isaiah 53 refers to Messiah!1
Many modern rabbis claim Isaiah 53 refers to the sufferings of Israel. But has the awful treatment of the Jewish people really been God's plan for atonement? Can anyone really claim that the suffering of the Jewish people, however undeserved and unjust, atones for sin? The figure described in Isaiah 53 suffers willingly, dies, and rises again. It says: "the Lord makes his life a guilt offering" for his people. Perhaps the ancient Rabbis were right in speaking of a suffering Messiah?
So, Isaiah foretold a suffering Messiah who would atone for sin as the ultimate Passover lamb and rise again from the dead.
THE HISTORICAL RESURRECTION
The Orthodox Jewish scholar Pinchas Lapide wrote: "The resurrection of Jesus on that Easter Sunday and his appearances in the following days were purely Jewish faith experiences. Not one Gentile saw him after Good Friday. Everything that the Gentile church heard about the resurrection came only from Jewish sources because he appeared after Easter Sunday as the Risen One exclusively to Jews." "I accept the resurrection of Easter Sunday not as an invention of the community of disciples, but as a historical fact."2 He still doesn't believe Jesus is the Jewish Messiah; Lapide is an Orthodox Rabbi! As a scholar he must admit the accuracy of the accounts of the Jewish writers who reported the resurrection was seen by more than "500 of the brothers at the same time," most of whom were still living when the gospel accounts were written (1 Cor. 15:1-7).
The New Covenant accounts are the best attested ancient historical documents we have. The oldest actual manuscripts date from 130 AD into the 3rd century. Bernard Ramm writes: "In regard to the New Testament there are about thirteen thousand manuscripts, complete and incomplete, in Greek and other languages, that have survived from antiquity. No other work from classical antiquity has such attestation."3 Beyond question we have an accurate record of the testimony of these first century Jewish eyewitnesses. To deny this would be to throw out all we know about ancient history from the writings of Sophocles, Euripedes, Livy, and Plato, since they are attested by far fewer manuscripts from periods much much further removed from the date of the original writings!
But perhaps the gospel writers were lying. Maybe they believed what they wrote, but were deluded. Possibly Jesus only passed out and was later revived. Let's consider these alternate theories.
Is it plausible that the same Jewish men who brought us some of the highest moral teaching the world has ever known were liars perpetrating a fraud? They suffered unspeakable torture and death, boldly refusing to deny what they had seen. These were the men who hid in fear from the authorities when Yeshua was being crucified! Men don't willingly die for what they know is a lie, and these witnesses were all willing to risk death for the sake of their testimony to the risen Messiah.
Could they have been deluded or even insane? Madmen don't bring a profound message that enlightens the world, morally transforms the hearts of evil men4, and becomes the most highly translated best seller of all time!
Lapide wrote: "Is it possible for deceivers or self-deceived to establish a faith that conquers half the world? In other words, can swindlers let themselves be tortured and persecuted in the name of an illusion, up to a joyful martyrdom?"5
Could Jesus have merely passed out and gone into a coma, later to revive? Hardly. The Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus were expert executioners. They knew when their victims were dead. In Jesus' case they even pierced his side with a spear "bringing a sudden flow of blood and water" (John 19:34). Could someone crucified, pierced by a spear, certified dead by experts, wrapped in burial clothes, and then buried in a cold stone tomb for several days, remain alive? And even if such an ordeal could by some stretch of the imagination be survived, would the emaciated victim be in a condition to convince a fearful band of followers that he was the Lord of Life, victorious over the grave? Could they be inspired by such as this to lay down their lives and proclaim him God incarnate in the face of heated opposition from the Roman and Jewish authorities? To believe such a theory requires more "blind faith" than belief in the Easter Bunny himself!
We can only conclude one thing, nu? Yeshua really rose again from the dead, fulfilling Isaiah's prophecy. First century Jewish eyewitnesses wrote down what they saw and we have an accurate record of their accounts. Jesus must have been who he claimed to be since he backed it up by rising from the dead.
Forget the Easter Bunny! Come to the Passover Lamb! Don't let some silly goyish practices prejudice you against the Jewish Messiah. Don't let what some Gentiles have done contrary to what Jesus taught keep you from our Messiah. Yeshua came to pay for our sins, for our failing to obey the Torah. We've all broken the commandments and all must have a means of atonement for our sins. Messiah paid the price by suffering as the Passover Lamb for us. At that first Pesach our forefathers needed to put the blood of the Passover Lamb on the doors of their houses in order to have God's judgement "pass over" them. Today we each need to receive for ourselves the "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world". God provided the Lamb's atonement so that the judgement we deserve for our sins can "pass over" us. The rabbis expected Messiah to come at Passover and for his redemption to be parallel to that of the Exodus. For this very reason we leave a place for Elijah at the seder. Elijah is said to prepare the way for Messiah. God sent the prophet Yochanan, known as "John the Baptist", in the spirit of Elijah to warn us to turn to God and receive the ultimate Passover Lamb for all peoples and for all time. Today in prayer receive the risen Messiah as your Passover Lamb and your deliverer from slavery to death before he returns to judge the world and renew creation. He promises eternal life and restored fellowship with God to all who trust him. Messiah's no Easter Bunny. He's the very real Passover Lamb risen from the dead.
1. BT Sanh. 98b, Ruth Rabba 5:6 and Pes. Rabbati pp. 161a-b. For Maimonides see The Fifty Third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters, by Neubauer and Driver, Ktav Publishing house, Inc. NY, NY 1969, Vol. II pp. 374-375. See also the Zohar 2:212a.
2. The Resurrection of Jesus C A Jewish Perspective, by Pinchas Lapide, 1983 Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis, pp. 15 & 123.
3. Protestant Christian Evidences, by Bernard Ramm, Moody Press, Chicago, 1972, p. 231. See also Evidence that Demands a Verdict, by Josh McDowell, Campus Crusade for Christ, 1972.
4. For example, John Newton, author of the hymn "Amazing Grace", was a slave trader who, after coming to faith in Messiah, lead the campaign against slavery in Great Britain!
5. Lapide, p. 140.