The Fight for Passover
Christians believe that a man who lived 2,000 years ago was the Son of God. They believe that they have sinned and that it is possible that their sins can be forgiven by the death of that man, Jesus the Christ. They commemorate their beliefs this time of year with church services, decorated eggs, bunnies and a Sunday holiday called Easter. And to the vast majority of them, tonight is a regular night.
These observances are very different from the observances of the original Christians and of Jesus Christ.
When you understand the reason why, you understand why Christianity is so fractured, disunited, confused, self-contradictory, hollow, indifferent and weak. You understand why extremely anti-Christian forces are so strong, to the point of taking over America and other countries and erasing the Christian heritage we have left!
Yes, Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. Yes, the Father and the Son made an immeasurable, incredible, inspiring sacrifice for mankind. Yes, they want human beings to consider that sacrifice. That means that you and I must seek out exactly what the Bible records, what the history of the New Testament Church reveals, what the words of Jesus Christ tell us about that sacrifice. We must learn the truth about this sacrifice, prove it, do it, keep it, and if necessary, fight for it!
The effect of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on your life depends upon something that, even if you are a devout churchgoer, you might have never even heard of: the fight for Passover.
Have your Bible on hand. You will be surprised by some of the history we are about to look at and verses we are about to read. They will help you understand Christianity itself in a new, sharp, clear way.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). This inspiring verse was written by the Apostle John. He had known Jesus Christ very personally. He was there during His ministry. He was there at His crucifixion. He saw Him after His resurrection. And he wrote in great detail about what Jesus Christ did the night before He was tortured and murdered: He kept the Passover.
“I have earnestly desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer,” Jesus said (Luke 22:15; Revised Standard Version). The Son of God was on Earth, the same Being who had been with God for eternity and who had created the universe and mankind. He was about to face an unspeakable atrocity. If He succeeded, His indescribable humiliation, suffering and death would unlock the possibility of everlasting life for human beings in God’s Family. But if He failed and sinned, He and all other human beings would have no future, and God the Father would be alone. It is impossible to describe just how significant a turning point this was in the history of the universe, of time and of eternity before that!
And Jesus Christ’s mind was on the Passover.
God first commanded the annual observance of Passover in Exodus 12. His people were to take an unblemished lamb, kill it, consume it, and mark their homes with its blood. This literally saved their lives from the death angel, who passed over the houses marked with the evidence that a lamb had died. Each year, they were acting out the prophecy that the Lamb of God would come from heaven to be sacrificed for and to pay the penalty of the sins of all mankind. In this sacrifice would “all the families of the earth be blessed,” as God had promised their ancestor Abraham (Genesis 12:3; 28:14).
John 13, Luke 22 and other New Testament passages record what Christ did that night of the Passover. The God who became a man became like the lowest servant and washed His disciples’ feet. Then He ate with them, breaking unleavened bread and passing them wine. These were the new symbols of the Passover, because He Himself was that Lamb of God, in the flesh, “slain from the foundation of the world”—offered once to “bear the sins of many” (Revelation 13:8; Hebrews 9:28).
That night and the next day, Jesus was betrayed, arrested, slandered, mocked, convicted, scourged, crucified and murdered. But He never sinned. He was unblemished—so His death could take the place of our deaths!
What a truth! What awe-inspiring meaning there is in that night and in these new symbols.
You can see why many people are inspired by the fact that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and died for our sins. But why don’t most of them observe the Passover?
After the Crucifixion
The Bible discusses the Passover further in 1 Corinthians. This was a letter that corrected true Christians for observing the Passover in a completely wrong way. Many of them were feasting, socializing and not using the bread and wine as somber symbols of the breaking of Christ’s body and the shedding of His blood, but rather for enjoyment, even to excess.
Why were they making this extremely special, solemn night like a pagan festival? Because they had been pagan. They were a Gentile congregation in Roman Corinth. Yet God commanded these Christians—who were not physical Jews or Israelites—not only to keep the Passover, but to keep it just as Jesus and the Jewish disciples had kept it. And this was in a.d. 55! Two decades after the crucifixion, this amazing observance had not been abolished or altered by Christ, by the original apostles, nor by Paul.
Paul, the apostle God specifically sent to the Gentiles, is speaking to Gentiles (a term that means “the nations” who are not Jewish or Israelite). They are true Christians, and he is relaying to them God’s strong command to keep this observance (and the Feast of Unleavened Bread) and to keep it right—“For even Christ our passover was sacrificed for us.”
Read these verses in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 from your own Bible: “Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
Paul is telling Gentiles in the New Testament Church to keep not only Passover but also the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and to keep it like Jesus kept it!
Acts 20:6 also contains a reference to true Christians keeping “the days of unleavened bread.” But for even more proof, turn over to 1 Corinthians 11:20-30. Here are explicit, clear, detailed instructions for true Christians, be they Israelite or Gentile, to “eat this bread and drink this cup”: “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup” (verses 23-28).
Paul was instructing true Christians in Gentile Corinth to keep the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, to keep these days seriously, to prepare for them by examining themselves, recognizing that they are guilty of sin and that sin damages themselves and others, and to go beyond that to focus not on themselves or even on their sins but to rather focus on the enormous price Jesus Christ paid when He was offered as a sacrifice for sin.
This do in remembrance of me, Jesus had said (Luke 22:19).
Keeping the Passover is observing a memorial service of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Why don’t Christians do this in remembrance of Him?
What happened between Christ and true Christians keeping Passover, as well as the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and today’s Christians?
Traditional Christians often think of Passover as “Jewish.” The Jews still keep a form of Passover, but they don’t sacrifice lambs and they certainly do not observe a memorial service for Jesus. Why do most people find “Passover” to be an unfamiliar term and “Easter” to be much more familiar?
History shows why.
The Fight for Passover
The Apostle Paul died in the a.d. 60s. The Apostle John died around a.d. 100. Herbert W. Armstrong wrote in Mystery of the Ages, “Some time during the early decades of the second century, the baton was passed from the Ephesian era to the people that God had called to the Smyrna era of His Church. Powerless, often persecuted, and rejected as heretics, the world lost sight of them.”
Jesus Christ had said His true Church would never die (Matthew 16:18). After leading it through the original apostles, He now led it through a man named Polycarp. And it was in for a fight—a fight over what it means to be Christian. The battleground was a controversy between Passover and an observance called Easter. That word does not appear in the Bible: The King James use of the word in Acts 12:4 is recognized as a mistranslation of the word pascha, which should be rendered Passover. Easter is connected to a pagan goddess associated with the rising of the sun, day, spring and fertility (hence the bunnies and eggs).
“Perhaps the most important event in Polycarp’s ministry was his battle to preserve the Passover,” my father, Gerald Flurry, writes in The True History of God’s True Church. “The churches in the west had established Easter Sunday as the memorial for Christ’s resurrection. They stopped keeping the Passover. God’s Church in the east continued the custom of observing the Passover at night using the new symbols of bread and wine.”
“There is no indication of the observance of the Easter festival in the New Testament or in the writings of the apostolic fathers,” states the Encyclopedia Britannica (11th edition). “The first Christians continued to observe the Jewish festivals, though in a new spirit, as commemorations of events which those festivals had foreshadowed. Thus the Passover, with a new conception added to it of Christ as the true Paschal Lamb and the first fruits from the dead, continued to be observed ….”
This Britannica writer, like most people today, says that the first Christians kept something “Jewish.” But is it possible that they kept something Christian?
They kept an observance the Israelites and the Jews had kept. They kept it not with a lamb, which had symbolized Jesus Christ, but with the symbols that Christ personally instituted less than 24 hours before He became that sacrifice. That is a Christian observance.
The New Testament Church continued to keep that observance and even fought a major controversy over it, which eventually became known to history as the Quartodeciman controversy. By now, the Jews were actually keeping their Passover observance on the 15th of the first Hebrew month. Christians in the west were keeping Easter on a different day, commemorating the resurrection rather than the crucifixion. A much smaller group of Christians were keeping the 14th of the first month (quartodecimani in Latin). They were alone in setting apart the only date that commemorates the primary act in God’s plan of redemption for mankind—the beating and sacrifice of Jesus Christ our Savior. As Christ prophesied in Revelation 2-3 and Mr. Armstrong pointed out in Mystery of the Ages, this Smyrna era of the true Church would be small and persecuted.
Encyclopedia Britannica continues: “Generally speaking, the western churches kept Easter on the first day of the week, while the eastern churches … kept [Passover] on the 14th day. St. Polycarp, the disciple of St. John the Evangelist and bishop of Smyrna, visited Rome in 159 to confer with Anicetus, the bishop of that see [area], on the subject; and urged the tradition, which he had received from the apostle, of observing the 14th day. Anicetus, however, declined to admit the Jewish custom in the churches under his jurisdiction. … About 40 years later (197) the question was discussed in a very different spirit between Victor, bishop of Rome, and Polycrates, metropolitan of proconsular Asia. … Victor demanded that all should adopt the usage prevailing at Rome. … The few who afterwards separated themselves from the unity of the church, and continued to keep the 14th day, were named Quartodecimani, and the dispute itself is known as the Quartodeciman controversy” (emphasis added).
My father continues in The True History of God’s True Church:
Tradition tells us that Polycarp was more than 80 years old when he confronted Anicetus. He returned to Smyrna, where he endured continued persecution from the Roman government. He suffered continual isolation from the churches in Rome, but he would not change doctrine. Though he was an old man, he fought vigorously against doctrinal heresy. Polycarp was arrested shortly after this confrontation and burned alive for failing to worship Caesar. (Eusebius described the miracles surrounding this event in great detail.)
After Polycarp’s death, the apostolic mantle—and the work of protecting the truth—fell to his disciple, Polycrates.
As we read in Encyclopedia Britannica, Polycrates also had to deal with a corrupt bishop at Rome, the heart of the Roman Empire. By the time Polycrates went to Rome, Victor occupied a seat of great religious and political influence. He demanded that the true Church and other worldly Christian churches in the east submit to the power and authority of the bishop at Rome.
Victor wanted to enforce Easter worship. Polycrates refused to give in and held firm to Passover observance. He wrote, “We, for our part, keep the day [Passover] scrupulously, without addition or subtraction. For in Asia great luminaries sleep who shall rise again on the day of the Lord’s advent, when He is coming with glory from heaven and shall search out all His saints ….” He listed several of God’s people who had already died, including Philip, the Apostle John and Polycarp. “All of these kept the 14th day of the month … in accordance with the gospel, not deviating in the least but following the rule of the faith.”
Polycrates concluded by stating his determination to follow the same pattern. “So I, my friends, after spending 65 years in the Lord’s service and conversing with Christians from all parts of the world, and going carefully through all Holy Scripture, am not scared of threats. Better people than I have said: ‘We must obey God rather than men.’”
Commemorating the sacrifice of Jesus Christ produced centuries of controversy in Christianity. But by the third century, many Christians were now obeying men rather than God.
In a.d. 325, the Church of Rome held the Council of Nicaea. Its leaders unanimously decreed that Easter was to be kept on Sunday, the same Sunday throughout the world. Easter was officially “Christian,” and Passover was officially “Jewish.”
This history, not Bible history, not New Testament true Church history, is the reason why Christians today don’t keep Passover. This decree was enforced with persecution. And what do you read in Revelation 2:8-11? A prophecy from the resurrected Jesus Christ, who was dead and is alive, that His true Church would be a persecuted Church! It was persecuted not only by a huge church but by an empire.
Before he died (in a.d. 337), the Roman Emperor Constantine gave his blessing to the church of Rome. Church and state then went after Christians who still kept Passover and other biblical teachings in remembrance of Christ. Verses 10-11 are a message to the true Church being persecuted in large part by the false church!
The truth was not widespread, popular or politically powerful—not in ancient Egypt; not in Judea, where Christ Himself converted only 120 followers (Acts 1:15); not in the first century; not in Polycarp’s lifetime; not in Polycrates’s lifetime; and not today. Religious leaders had commanded apostles in the first century to obey men rather than God (Acts 5:28-31). They had labeled the Son of God a heretic. And since then, religious leaders have regarded and continued to regard a day He personally observed and personally enhanced the observance of, on the very same day He gave the ultimate sacrifice, as non-Christian. Christian leaders today won’t look at the Hebrew calendar, won’t keep the 14th of the month, won’t even call it Passover. Those few who have some sort of commemoration call it Maundy Thursday, Holy Thursday, Sheer Thursday, Thursday of Mysteries, or some other obscure name—certainly not Passover!
This year the true Passover begins at sunset this evening, a Tuesday. Since it falls on the 14th, the “quartodeciman” falls on different days of the week. But “Maundy Thursday” stays put, always less than three days and three nights before Easter sunrise, always ignored in favor of Easter, and never kept as Christ and true Christians kept it. Of the three major events of Jesus’s time on Earth, His birth, death and resurrection, Christians today celebrate holidays for the two events that He did not command, and they do not observe the one event that He did command: His death. Yet Christians reflexively think of Passover as “Jewish.”
There are not two different true religions, one that was “Jewish” and one that is now “Christian.” The Old Testament and the New Testament are both part of one true religion. All Scripture, in the Old Testament and the New Testament, is given by inspiration of God (2 Timothy 3:16). Both complement each other perfectly. And both are connected to each other by that sacrifice.
Passover is Christian. The Bible and history show that Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread and other holy days are God’s holy days.
Mr. Armstrong wrote a booklet looking at this in more detail: Pagan Holidays—or God’s Holy Days—Which? It’s a thought-provoking question. Which do you observe?