…That in the fourth century, emperor Constantine tried to merge Christianity and paganism! On the surface, he seemed to be a hero of the faith as he legalised Christianity and brought about a freedom to worship without being afraid of being thrown to the lions. He may well have had good intentions and the religious freedom that characterised his reign would have undoubtedly contributed positively to the spread of the gospel globally but Constantine’s insistence on abolishing the celebration of the Passover is something worth analysing closely.
Why all the fuss about Passover? Well for starters, it’s very important to God. It was not only commanded by God for the Jews in the Old Testament to teach them the importance of redemption by the blood, but it was also observed by the New Testament Christians, to whom it served the purpose of reminding them and helping them better understand God’s redemptive work through the ultimate Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ. According to scripture, it is to be a permanent ordinance, a celebration for all time.
I personally like to look at the life of Jesus and the Early Church apostles as a blueprint for the walk of faith. Both Jesus and the apostles also celebrated Passover. The Lord’s supper was actually a Passover meal on closer inspection. As Jesus hung on the cross and was being sacrificed as the Passover Lamb, He would have been able to see the priests carrying spotless passover lambs into the temple for the sacrifice. Little did the people standing by know that the blood of lambs was about to be replaced by the precious blood that would forever atone for the sins of all mankind.
Even after Jesus’ death and resurrection, apostle Paul taught the Early Church to celebrate the feast of Passover. Scriptural reference can be found in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8. The early church celebrated this annual feast for hundreds of years. The message of Passover simply speaks of our redemption and deliverance from the power of the enemy. It is all about the precious blood of Jesus and how the enemy will stop at nothing to rob us of its significance and power. Remember that it is by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony that we overcome the enemy.
With that in mind, fast forward to the fourth century and we will come face to face with the outlawing of Passover celebrations from the church of Christ. Emperor Constantine had no problems with Christians celebrating the resurrection of Christ but he was very clear about those celebrations not being held at the time of Passover, which was when His resurrection marked our own spiritual exodus from Egypt or the kingdom of darkness. At the council of Nicea in 325 A.D, Constantine declared, “This irregularity of observing Passover MUST be corrected”!
He effectively outlawed Passover and directed that Christ’s death and resurrection be celebrated on “the Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox,” a time associated with the spring festival of the pagan fertility goddess, Ishtar, also knows as Easter! This is how the church today came to celebrate resurrection at Easter rather than Passover. Constantine’s aim was to remove Jesus from the context of Passover. Many in the church tried to resist Constantine’s edicts and the battle raged for several centuries. In the sixth century, another emperor named Justinian, sent the Roman armies to enforce the prohibition of Passover throughout the empire. Thousands of men, women and children were brutally murdered in this crazed campaign to wipe Passover away from our spiritual roots.
Later on, the Roman church became the vehicle through which the drive to eliminate Passover from the church was effected. There were several church councils that had decrees passed in support of outlawing Passover entirely. The enemy continues to this day to work against the reinstatement of Passover back to the prominence that Christ placed on it. We see how God raised men like Hezekiah and Josiah in 2 Chronicles 30 and 2 Kings 23 respectively, to reinstate the feast of Passover long after the enemy had succeeded in getting God’s people to forget its significance. The trend is remarkable when we study the scriptures. We find that from time to time, generations lived and died without celebrating Passover but as a new generation turned back to God and began to read the Book of the Covenant, the process of their restoration usually commenced with a celebration of Passover.
It’s amazing how much the very first Passover in Egypt pointed to Jesus prophetically. The father’s were instructed to paint the blood of a spotless lamb on the two doorposts and the lintel. That may well have been the sign of a cross! So we have the sign of the cross made by the blood of the lamb on the door of every household that belonged to God. This brought redemption from the power of the enemy. To this day, God still saves by the cross and the blood of His Son. Thousands of years later, Jesus died on Passover, as His blood and the cross made the way for us all to be saved from death. God timed this to perfection just so we would acknowledge and make the connection. Whilst God was trying to show that Jesus is the central focus of Passover, Constantine and others after him were working hard to separate the two.
As a Gentile, I am not required to celebrate the Passover feast. It takes or adds nothing to my salvation but because of my liberty in Christ and what I now know, I will at least spend the next Passover reflecting on the death and resurrection of Christ, the ultimate sacrificial Lamb. I will reflect on my redemption from the enemy just as the Israelites were redeemed from their bondage in Egypt. This will be my first time doing this and I am looking forward to it already!
- The History of Easter (proflowers.com:80)