EZEKIEL 18:4 – What the Bible Teaches About SOUL and SPIRIT

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“The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4).

This brief text expresses a simple truth. Souls die. Against the speculations of some that there is something within a man, a “soul,” which remains alive after death, lingering as a disembodied spirit, the scriptures affirm to the contrary. Death is what it seems to be — death.

When a dog dies, what happens to the dog? It stops breathing, its body decays and returns to the elements. Thought and consciousness immediately terminate. There is no more dog. It does not go to some place prepared for old dogs, to chew bones in bliss, for there simply is no more dog. It is dead, it is gone, it is no more.

Death is the same for human beings. Death is the cessation of life. Psalm 146:4 describes what happens when a man dies. “His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.”

“That which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other … they have all one breath … all go unto one place, all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. (Ecclesiastes 3:19, 20).

The Resurrection

However, unlike the animals, man has the hope of a resurrection from the dead. Animals were made to live for a limited period of time, procreate, age, and pass away as part of the cycle of nature. But man, the height of God’s physical creation, was created with the capacity to live forever. They appreciate life, plan for the future, and cherish the hope for continued life. Accordingly, the prospect of living forever was offered to Adam in the Garden of Eden, by God who created him.

This offer was contingent upon obedience, a test which Adam and Eve failed. But even after being expelled from the Garden, so robust was the human frame that Adam lived 930 years before death claimed his life (Genesis 5:5). Almost 4000 years after Adam sinned, Jesus died as a ransom for father Adam (1 Timothy 2:6), which allows Adam and his posterity a release from the death penalty — in other words, a resurrection from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:22). For the world, this will come during the Millennium so near at hand.

In the meantime, where are all the dead of past ages? They are simply dead. They silently await the resurrection, when they will be reconstituted as the persons they were before they died, to learn the lessons God has for them during the Kingdom on earth.

What is a Soul?

From our opening text, it is apparent that souls do die. The expression “immortal soul,” sometimes used among Christians, is not found in the Bible.

A soul is a living being, whether animal or human, and neither animals nor humans are immortal.

The Hebrew word for soul is nephesh, word number 5315 in Strong’s Concordance, which gives this definition: “A breathing creature, i.e. animal or (abstractly) vitality; used very widely in a literal, accommodated or figurative sense.”

Genesis 2:7 uses the word “soul” for Adam.

“The LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

Here the word nephesh, or soul, is defined as a living being, a body combined with the breathe of life. Thus we learn, that man does not possess a soul, but that he IS a soul, which means simply that man, when alive, is a living being.” Adam subsequently died, and he with all the others silently awaits the resurrection.

Animals as Souls

The “breath of life” which animates the human organism is no different than the breath of life given to the lower animals. In reference to the “beasts and every creeping thing” which perished in the Flood, we read, “All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died” (Genesis 7:21,22). Ecclesiastes 3:19-21 informs us that both man and beast “have all one breath, so that a man hath no pre-eminence above a beast.”

As Strong’s Concordance notes, animals are also souls — living beings. However, in the common English version this is hidden by the translation, which confuses the subject to many readers. When the word nephesh, soul, refers to an animal, the translators rendered it with some other word, such as creature or beast.

For example, Genesis 1:20 says “let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature [nephesh, soul]…”

Verse 21, God created great whales, and every living creature [nephesh, soul] that moveth…”

Verse 24, “And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature [nephesh, soul] after his kind, cattle, and creeping things, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.”

Here are other texts of the same sort: Genesis 1:30, 2:14, 9:3, 4, 9, 10, 12, 18. And Isaiah 19:10, “… all that make sluices and ponds for fish [nephesh, souls].

This method of translating hides the fact that animals are souls. Were this fact more open and apparent, it would assist people to recognize that souls are not immortal, for no one supposes that animals are in any sense immortal.

Only once in the Old Testament did the translators render the word nephesh “soul” when it applied to animals, namely Numbers 31:28, where the word applies at one time both to people and animals: “one soul of five hundred, both of the persons, and of the beeves, and of the asses, and of the sheep.”

The Difference Between the Human Soul and the Animal Soul

The difference between the soul of a human and an animal is in the construction of the organism, particularly in the formation of the brain. Although some organisms of some of the lower animals may seem to be superior to man’s (such as a dog’s keen sense of smell and hearing and an eagle’s eyesight), God in his great wisdom created man in his own image, thus giving man the ability to reason, and to have a moral sense of right and wrong — possessing a conscience (1 John 3:20-22). Man has the ability to love and obey Jehovah-God as well as to love (agape) his enemies or those who do or wish him wrong through, striving to see all things through the eyes of their Bridegroom — Christ Jesus. He died as a “ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:6) because of his great love of the Heavenly Father — stemming from a love for righteousness which comes from a knowledge, understanding and experience of the results of obeying the Heavenly Father, which permits the highest and purest form of joy to be felt, that joy that is felt through the eyes of faith, that joy that our Lord Jesus had in bringing the Heavenly Father joy, as reflected in his words: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34, ESV).

Other Hidden References

There are other important places where the translators also obscured the use of nephesh. “There were certain men, who were defiled by the dead body [nephesh, soul] of a man … those men said unto him, We are defiled by the dead body [nephesh, soul] of a man … If any man of you or of your posterity shall be unclean by reason of a dead body [nephesh, soul] …” (Numbers 9:6, 7, 10). If the translation use “soul” in these places, it would be apparent to the reader that souls simply die. When Samson toppled the house of Dagon, he prayed to God: “Let me [my nephesh, soul] die with the Philistines” (Judges 16:30).

Expanded Use

The texts above give us the proper meaning of the word soul, namely any living being. However, Strong’s Concordance shows that nephesh is sometimes used figuratively for one’s life, being, or vitality. Here are two examples of this. (1) When Rachel was dying at the birth of Benjamin, Genesis 35:18 says “As her soul was in departing (for she died) … she called his name Benomi: but his father called him Benjamin.” (2) 1 Kings 17:21, speaking of the raisin of a young boy by Elijah, says he cried to God “let this child’s soul come into him again.” In both of these cases the word “life” or “being” is the meaning intended.

Sometimes the word is used of one’s deepest thoughts or feelings, distinguished from the mere body. Thus 2 Kings 4:27 says of a troubled woman, “her soul is vexed in her.” Language is flexible, and the word nephesh is used flexibly. But none of these cases are any predicate for believing some conscious force called “soul” mysteriously lingers after death. Death is death. It is the cessation of life.

Soul in the New Testament

The New Testament Greek word for soul is psuche. Whenever the word “soul” appears in the common English version of the New Testament, it is from this word (Strong’s number 5590).

1 Corinthians 15:45 uses psuche as the counterpart of the Hebrew nephesh, which serves to equate the two words. “The first man Adam was made a living soul [psuche].” This expression clearly draws from Genesis 2:7, where nephesh is used. This word is frequently rendered life. “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it” (Mark 8:35). “I lay down my life (John 10:17). “They seek my life (Romans 11:3), and many other examples. In these cases “life” refers to the being, the person. The same meaning attaches when the word is rendered “soul,” as in Acts 2:43, “fear came upon every soul” — every person, or being.

Revelation 8:9 and 16:3 apply the word to sea creatures. Revelation 6:9 and 20:4 use the term metaphorically of the spent life of the saints, awaiting the resurrection. John 12:27 says of Jesus “now is my soul troubled.” Thus there is a breadth in this Greek word that matches the breadth of its Hebrew counterpart.

In the Old Testament the condition of death is expressed by the Hebrew sheol, and its Greek counterpart in the New Testament is hades. This was the condition into which Jesus’ “soul,” psuche, passed for three days until his resurrection, for a soul, psuche, dies and is later raised from the dead.

The Soul Is Not Immortal

If the soul were truly immortal, the soul would be indestructible, yet it is not, because each human born under the curse of Adamic condemnation, dies until the curse shall be lifted up from humanity once Christ’s ransom price has been applied to all mankind. By then the Bride of Christ will have completed their share in the sin offering — and the antityical “atonement day” sin offering thus completed. The High Priest in Leviticus 16 made atonement for  himself, his sons, and then, finally, for the sins of the people (the world of mankind). God warned Adam that if he disobeyed God’s rule, then as a living soul Adam would cease to exist. We read about this in Genesis 2:17, “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” In Ezekiel 18:4 God said, “Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth it shall die.” This means that the person who sins shall die, and since all are born in sin, the entire human race has been dying for nearly 6000 years. Here are two examples of Scriptures about death being the consequence of sin:

“So death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12, NASV).

Every soul [person] sins and, as a consequence, every soul dies (Romans 6:16,23).

But God in his great love provided redemption from death for all sinful souls, or persons, through the gift of his beloved Son, Christ Jesus, who died as a corresponding ransom price to free mankind from the prison house of death. All of Adam’s progeny lost life through Adamic transgression and thus have inherited sin and imperfection. The Apostle Paul wrote that “in Adam all die,” adding to this, “even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” And again, “Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:21,22). The Prophet Isaiah wrote that Christ’s “soul” was made an offering for sin, and also that he “poured out his soul unto death” (Isaiah 53:10,12).

John 3:16 says, “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.” Adam and all past generations of his children have fallen asleep in death, but they have not “perished,” because through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, and by the exercise of divine power, they are to be awakened in the resurrection and given an opportunity to believe. Then, upon the basis of their belief and obedience, they may live forever.

Those called to discipleship in the present life are given an opportunity to inherit eternal life by accepting Jesus as their personal Redeemer and responding to the invitation to take up their cross and follow him, gladly lay down their lives with him, and be planted together in the likeness of his death (Roman 6:3-6). These are referred to in Revelation 20:4 as the “souls” which are “beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the Word of God.”

The Apostle Paul wrote, “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished” (1 Corinthians 15:17,18). Thus, Paul speaks of Christians who die as merely being “asleep,” and not in any sense perishing in death.

Genesis 12:11-13 (NASB) says Abraham was afraid that his soul would not live, and thus, that he would die. “It came about when he [Abram] came near to Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, This is his wife; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. Please say that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that I (“my soul,” nephesh) may live on account of you.” If the Hebrew word nephesh meant an indestructible immortal soul, Abram’s soul could not have died (Br. Peter Karavas, 2011).

Jesus emphasized this same important truth in an admonition to his disciples to meet courageously any and all opposition against them and any persecuted unto death, saying, “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [Gehenna] (Matthew 10:28). Jesus here refers to the possibility of permanent cessation of life by God for the incorrigible, which the Bible terms as “second death.”

“This does not imply that the soul can live apart from the body, for actually the body is the organism of the soul. Rather, Jesus is speaking from the standpoint of the divine plan to awaken the dead in the resurrection. It was from this standpoint that Paul could say that Christians who fell asleep in death had not ‘perished.’ If an enemy puts a Christian to death, he has not perished as a soul. The body dies, but the person, the soul, merely ‘sleeps’ until the resurrection. But if a Christian becomes a willful sinner and is not worthy of a resurrection, then death means extinction of that person, or soul, forever.

“Jesus explained this from another standpoint, as recorded in Luke 20:37,38 ‘Now that the dead are raised, even Moses showed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him.’ Jesus did not say that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had gone to heaven to live with God. He simply explained that because there is to be a resurrection of the dead, and these faithful servants will be restored to life, God does not consider them as having gone out of existence — they ‘live unto him,’ or, to him they are alive.

“So it is with all God’s faithful servants of the past. They may have been ‘sawn asunder’ by their enemies; they may have been thrown to the lions, or beheaded, or burned at the stake, but to God they still live, they have not ‘perished,’ for he has the power and will use that power to awaken them from the sleep of death.

“The ‘souls’ which are ‘beheaded,’ as mentioned in Revelation 20:4, are brought forth in the ‘first resurrection’ to live and reign with Christ a thousand years. The ‘souls’ that died serving God during the ages preceding Jesus’ first advent will come forth to a ‘better resurrection,’ to serve as ‘princes in all the earth’ Hebrews 11:35; Psalm 45:16” (The Dawn – and Herald of Christ’s Kingdom Magazine, January 1959 issue).

Lazarus – An Example that the Soul is not immortal

In John 11:11 Jesus said “Lazarus sleepeth.” Lazarus was dead for four days (John 11:39). Surely Jesus would not have retrieved Lazarus from the bliss of heaven. For those four days Lazarus did not go anywhere, nor did he see anyone, nor did he speak, eat, feel, or think. He was simply dead. When he was raised to life he began again to do all those things. In this respect the whole world sleeps in death, waiting for the resurrection — unaware of what is transpiring in the meantime, because the dead do not sense, feel or think anything. “The living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing” (Ecclesiastes 9:5). “There is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest” (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

In John 5:28,29 Jesus said that the hour is coming when all in their graves will come forth. If their souls were already in heaven, then there would be no need for Jesus to say that he would bring them forth from the grave? If physical bodies were needed in heaven, how have these presumably immortal souls survived without them? Scripture also tells us that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:50).

Seeking After Immortality

The Bible never equates immortality with the soul of common man, only with the saints, and then only as a gift for faithfulness (Romans 2:7, 1 Corinthians 15:53-54). The sleeping, unconscious dead will one day be awakened from their graves (John 5:28,29; Job 14:11-15; Psalm 17:15; Acts 24:15,16). At that time, ‘the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea’ (Isaiah 11:9). ‘Many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths’ (Micah 4:2). In God’s kingdom on earth, mankind will be raised from the dead and have their first real opportunity to learn God’s ways of righteousness because Satan will be bound and will no longer be able to deceive the world (Revelation 20:3) (Br. Peter Karavas, 2011).

The Dead Raised To Life In the Resurrection Age

“Possibly the spirit that returns to God contains the unique ‘data’ of each individual can be compared to computer information on a removable disk. The resurrection of an individual could be a recreation after the pattern of Adam. The original body had passed to dust so a new one, either spiritual or fleshly, would be created. The individual again comes to life when the (unique?) spirit is returned to the body and he becomes a living soul again. Whatever the exact process is, we know the resurrected fleshly body will be in its intended perfected state. Job intimates that the flesh will be fresher than a child’s and will have the beauty and vitality of youth (Job 33:25)” (Robert Davis, The Herald of Christ’s Kingdom article.)

Spirit

The word “spirit” in the Old Testament is usually from the Hebrew ruach, and in the New Testament it is usually from the Greek pneuma. Both terms refer to breath, inhalation, or the movement of air, whether gentle or forceful. But as these are invisible forces, the words are applied by extension to the “spirit” of a person which is the invisible mental force, personality, influence, or disposition of a person.

Thus the Old Testament uses ruach when speaking of the “spirit” of Jacob, Elijah, Cyrus, Zerubbabel, Joshua, God, and others. The New Testament uses pneuma when speaking of the “spirit” of Paul, Christ, and God.

These words are also used to describe the influence of various non-personal but good “spirits” — the spirit of Truth, Holiness, Life, Faith, Wisdom, Grace and Glory and of an opposite spirit of Jealousy, Judgment, Burning, Heaviness, Infirmity, Divination, Bondage, Slumber, Fear and Error.

Ruach also refers to the “spirit of life” which we receive from God, which figuratively “returns” to him when we die. “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7). This does not imply a transport of persons. It applies to the motivating force of life, of both good and bad people alike.

Both words sometimes refer to the essence of a person, that is, their identity, character, personality. In this sense Jesus commended his “spirit” to God when he died, which was restored on the third day when God raised Jesus from the dead (Luke 23:46, Psalms 31:5).

In this sense also Paul speaks of the “spirits of just men,” the faithful Ancient Worthies of the Old Testament, who were matured by the things they suffered, and await their resurrection reward in the Kingdom (Hebrews 12:23, 11:40).

None of these cases teach that any conscious entity persists after the death of a person, except metaphorically, in the memory of God. Not until the resurrection does a person who has died live again as a conscious, sentient being. The great hope for the world lies in such a Resurrection from the Dead. “There shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust” (Acts 24:15). “The hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth” (John 5:28,29).

This assurance was secured for us at great cost, both by God who gave His dearest treasure, his son Jesus, and by Jesus who labored in his ministry for 3 ½ years, suffered accusation from the religious leaders of his day, and died for our sins on the cross.

“Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust … [to] bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh” (1 Peter 3:18). “By man [Adam] came death, by man [Jesus] came also the resurrection of the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:21).

For the saints of the Gospel Age, this resurrection occurs during the present “Harvest” period. For the remainder of the world, the resurrection will occur during the coming Millennium.

Do Angels Have a Soul?

As with human being, angels are souls, for they are the union of the spirit of life, together with a body, in this case a spiritual body. “The first man Adam was made a living soul…” (1 Corinthians 15:45). It would be the same with the angelic hosts, but on a higher scale. “There are also celestial bodies … but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another” (1 Corinthians 15:40).

——-

Acknowledgment & References

We are thankful for the permission of sharing content from a study titled “Soul and Spirit,” drawn from a study by Br. Gilbert Rice, featured in the “Faithbuilders Fellowship” Journal.
http://www.2043ad.com/journal/2006/01_jan_06.pdf

“Immortality and the Human Soul,” The Bible versus Tradition—Article IV, April 1959 in The Dawn – A Herald of Christ’s Presence (Monthly Magazine) Rutherford, NJ, USA.
http://www.dawnbible.com/1959/5904tbs1.htm

“Immortality of the Soul” by Br. Peter Karavas. The Herald of Christ’s Kingdom Magazine, May-June 2011.
http://www.heraldmag.org/2011/11mj_3.htm

“The Resurrection of the Dead” by Br. Robert Davis. The Herald of Christ’s Kingdom.
http://www.heraldmag.org/literature/doc_14.htm

Suggested Further Reading

Volume 5 of “Studies in the Scriptures” — “The Atonement Between God and Man” by Br. Charles Taze Russell, pages 383-404, Study 13, “Hopes For Life Everlasting and Immortality Secured by the Atonement.”

“What Is the Soul?” by Br. Robert Seklemian
http://www.heraldmag.org/olb/contents/treatises/seklemians%20discourses.htm

ACTS 23:6 — HOPE & RESURRECTION. Part A: What Is Jesus All About?https://biblestudentsdaily.com/2016/11/03/acts-236-hope-resurrection-part-a-what-is-jesus-all-about/

ACTS 23:6 — HOPE & RESURRECTION. Part B: Will Mankind Resurrect With the Same Mind?
https://biblestudentsdaily.com/2016/11/05/acts-236-hope-resurrection-part-b-will-mankind-resurrect-with-the-same-mind/

ACTS 23:6 — HOPE & RESURRECTION. Part C: The Order of the Resurrection Process
https://biblestudentsdaily.com/2016/11/11/acts-236-hope-resurrection-part-c-the-order-of-the-resurrection-process/

This post’s URL:
https://biblestudentsdaily.com/2018/07/14/ezekiel-184-what-the-bible-teaches-about-soul-and-spirit/

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The Origin and Meaning of Easter & Lent

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The Word Easter in the Bible

The only place in the Bible where the word “Easter” is found is in Acts 12:4, yet it is a mistranslation of the Greek word pascha. The word pascha should properly have been translated “Passover” (Strong’s G3957, “pascha, the Passover”). It has been correctly translated Passover in most modern translations. The corresponding word in the Hebrew Old Testament is Strong’s H6453, pecach, also defined as Passover.

Acts 12:4 describes events that took place in the springtime when the Apostle Peter’s apprehension and imprisonment by King Herod coincided with the Jewish festival of Passover, after Herod had earlier arrested and killed the Apostle James, brother of the Apostle John. In respect of Jewish religious custom, Herod waited till after Passover to act on Peter’s fate, planning to kill Peter as he had James. God did not allow this, and sent an angel to free Peter. Soon after, Herod himself was struck dead of a ghastly disease (Acts 12:23).

The “four quaternions (“squads”—in the NIV) of soldiers” (Acts 12:4) refers to four groups of four soldiers each, perhaps each group of four serving in rotation through the 24 hour day, at Jerusalem. During each period four soldiers guarded one prisoner as indicated in Acts 12:6—Peter was chained to one soldier on either side, with two guarding at the doorway.

A Real Angel, A Real Deliverer

During the festive week of Passover and Unleavened Bread, God’s mighty power delivered Peter from prison and death in a miraculous manner.

“The angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me. (9) And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision. (10) When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him” (Acts 12:8-10).

“It is worthy of notice that the miracles performed here were only such as were beyond Peter’s natural power. Whatever he could do he was required to do, namely, putting on of his sandals and his cloak, and following the angel. He could have been transported. His own sandals or other sandals could have been fastened to his feet. A new coat might have been provided. But the lesson is a more profitable one as it was given. Similarly in the Lord’s dealings with us today, we should remember that it is ours to do everything within our power, and the Lord’s to overrule all things for our good, and to supply our deficiencies from his abundance. Thus still he gives us day by day our daily bread, in the rain and the sunshine and the seed; but he expects us to labor for it, to plow the ground, to sow the seed, to harrow it, to thrash it, grind it and bake it.

” ‘When Peter was come to himself,’ when he realized the facts in the case, that he was free, he said, ‘Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath sent his angel and delivered me out of the hand of Herod and … of the Jews.’ St. Peter’s faith was strengthened. Willing to die, he found that the Lord was willing that he should live and labor and endure, and he was equally pleased, rejoicing, we may be sure, for the privilege of further service, even though it would mean further sacrifices and sufferings for the Lord’s sake and for the sake of his people” (Charles T. Russell, R4347).

From this account in Acts chapter 12, we are assured that “the Heavenly Father himself loves us and that all the heavenly powers are pledged to those whom he has accepted in Christ Jesus, and these unitedly guarantee blessings to all those who abide in God’s love. This means to abide in faith in the Redeemer. It means to abide loyal to our consecration, to do the Father’s will to the extent of our ability. That will is declared to be, that we shall love the Lord supremely, our neighbor as ourselves, and all the members of the household of faith, as Christ loved us” (Charles T. Russell, R4347).

Why Easter Sunday?

Dear friends, have you ever wondered WHY Easter Sunday is one of the most sacred Christian holidays?

It is because Christian churches have generally adopted Easter Sunday as the resurrection day and the proper time to celebrate the raising of Jesus Christ from the grave, which occurred on the third day after Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus died on Nisan 14th  (Friday, about 3 pm, 33 AD), and was raised the following Sunday morning, Nisan 16th. This was the “third day” counting inclusively—Friday, Saturday, Sunday (Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1‑2, John 20:1, Luke 24:1,24, 1 Corinthians 15:4).

Later on, it was determined in the Christian world to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus always on a Sunday, and remember the death of Christ by Good Friday, irrespective of whether Nisan 14th and 16th on the Jewish calendar actually falls on Friday or Sunday in a given year. Among brethren of the Bible Student fellowship, it is different. Jesus sat with his disciples for his “Last Supper” (Luke 22:20) on the evening that had just begun the calendar day Nisan 14th, and there instituted a memorial of his approaching death. We customarily observe our Memorial accordingly—on the night following Nisan 13th—that is, the night which technically begins the calendar day Nisan 14th. This year, in 2017, that means a Sunday night (April 9th) memorial of Jesus’ death, but the day of the week varies year by year.

Further in this post we shall explain why “Good Friday” is not celebrated by the Christian world closest to the exact day of our Lord’s commemorated day of death. But in brief, here, it is because of the decision made by the Papal Anti-Christ church (lead by Constantine as we explain later) and they were not concerned about the Jewish date of Jesus’ death. Their new rule (established in 325 A.D.) fixed it relative to the equinox rather than relative to the Jewish calendar. The truth of the matter is, that it is Nisan 14th which the Bible explains is the date when the memorial of our Lord’s death is to be annually commemorated—not the nearest Sunday to this or any other date.

Pagan Influences Came in Later

Today, in our memorial supper, we recognize the influence of the Hebrew traditions by observing it according to the days of the Jewish calendar. The celebration is not of the Jewish Passover, however, but of the sacrificial death of our redeemer, Jesus, the antitypical Passover Lamb. Subsequently, however, pagan influences also blended with popular Christian observances.

(a) The name “Easter” is from Ishtar—who was the Babylonian and Assyrian goddess of love and fertility. The Phoenicians called her Astarte (a sister and consort of Baal,) a god worshipped in many parts of the eastern world. Some of the ancient Hebrews also worshipped Baal.

(b) In Europe, Eostre (with variations in spelling) became the Anglo‑Saxon goddess of spring, emphasizing fertility and the rising sun. The month of April was dedicated to her, and the Old English word for Easter was “Eastre” which refers to Eostre. The festival of Eostre was celebrated at the vernal equinox, when day and night receive an equal share of light and darkness.

(c) During the early Middle Ages, Christian missionaries seeking to convert the barbaric tribes of northern Europe realized that the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection also coincided with the Teutonic springtime celebrations. The Teutonic goddess of fertility, Ostare, derives her name from the ancient word for spring. As the days of approaching spring grew longer, celebrations coinciding with the spring equinox emphasized the end of winter and a rebirth of nature, triumphing life over death. The Christian missionaries taught that this time also pointed to the resurrection of Jesus.

Easter Eggs and Bunnies

Eggs symbolize birth, fertility, and new life in many cultures. The ancient Egyptians and Persians would hand out coloured eggs as gifts during their springtime festivals.

Europeans during the Middle Ages, collected eggs of different colours from the nests of various birds, using them as charms to avert evil and bring good fortune.

The Easter egg hunt custom was gradually phased out by the more popular egg painting custom where colourful eggs were hidden and children as well as others would search for them. Eggs were painted in bright colours to resemble the sun, the arrival of spring, and fertility, while Easter baskets, holding the collected eggs, were intended to resemble bird’s nests. Polish people today still decorate their eggs with many traditional symbols for Easter, many of them with religious representations.

Rabbits have also served as fertility symbols in some ancient cultures. Legends from ancient Egypt connected the rabbit with the moon because of their nocturnal feeding habits. This association with the moon is also thought to have originated with those who watched the cycles of the moon to determine the precise date of the approaching change of season, and the accompanying celebration. This event took place on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox.

The first documented use of hares for the Easter festival was in Germany during the 1500’s. Later, edible Easter bunnies were prepared with pastry and sugar. These traditions made their way to America during the 1700’s by the Pennsylvania Dutch who had emigrated from Germany. During the years following the American Civil War, handcrafted chocolate Easter eggs and rabbits became increasingly popular.

Hot Cross Buns

Australians also celebrate Easter with hot cross buns, a spiced sweet bun made with currants or raisins and marked with a cross on the top. The first recorded use of the term “hot cross bun” was around 1733. They are traditionally eaten on “Good Friday” in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, and India. The cross on the bun represents the crucifixion of Jesus and the spices inside are meant to remind Christians “of the spices put on the body of Jesus” (See Mark 16:1, Luke 23:54‑56, Luke 24:1).

John 19:39 says that Nicodemus also brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, “about an hundred pound weight,” for the burial of Jesus. The number 100 is used for Jesus in the Tabernacle, as the square measure of the gate, door, and vail, representing that Jesus is the “way, the truth, and the life” for those who follow him (John 14:6). Also, there were 100 sockets of silver as a foundation for the Tabernacle, coming from the Ransom money of the Israelites, representing Jesus as the Ransom and foundation for God’s Plan of Atonement (Exodus 38:25-27).

Myrrh, a bitter herb, represents suffering, and aloes is used for healing. Thus these two elements represent the suffering of Jesus, from which comes the healing from sin and death from Jesus’ death. When Jesus is depicted as a king in glory, his “garments smell of myrrh, and aloes”these very two fragrances (Psalm 45:8). For Christ in his resurrection glory has achieved a death of suffering that brings healing for the world.

Lent

Does the Bible teach us to celebrate or commemorate Lent?

The following is an extract from a website by the Uniting Methodist Church explaining what “Lent” is about—a practice not observed within the Bible Student Movement:

“Lent is a season of forty days, not counting Sundays, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. Lent comes from the Anglo Saxon word lencten, which means ‘spring.’ The forty days represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry.

“Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self‑examination and reflection. In the early church, Lent was a time to prepare new converts for baptism. Today, Christians focus on their relationship with God, often choosing to give up something or to volunteer and give of themselves for others.

“Sundays in Lent are not counted in the forty days because each Sunday represents a ‘mini‑Easter’ and the reverent spirit of Lent is tempered with joyful anticipation of the Resurrection.”

There is no direct reference of this practice, of Lent, in the Scriptures. However, this pleasant custom probably has benefited various ones who applied themselves to it through the centuries, if it focused their minds and hearts on proper spiritual values. However, if afterward its observers supposed they were free at other times to practice worldly principles, then they would have missed the true value. A consecrated believer should remember that their life of service here first of all involves purity of heart and mind, always (James 3:17).

The Catholic Church believes that “Lent” is a time of repentance, fasting, and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self‑examination and reflection. This may have useful benefits. However, for the true Christian, their entire consecrated life should be one of devotion.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23 ESV).

Fasting can be a good practice at any time of the year, both for our physical benefit, and for mortifying the things of the flesh, to focus on things of the Spirit. Sometimes eating less can cause the mind to sharpen. We are to be continuously humble and lowly of heart, as was Jesus (Matthew 11:29, Luke 2:37). Weaning away from earthly attractions, it can help us also to be satisfied with whatever God permits us to have in other temporal commodities also—food, housing, car, or job. God gives us what we need. If we experience some discomfort for the flesh, it can augment our hope for and appreciation of the spiritual values, and spiritual promises, that exceed anything Earth can provide.

Regarding the practice of baptism at Lent season—perhaps this custom also had some beneficial results. However, it is not something mentioned in the New Testament, and baptism is appropriate at any time of year, when the believer determines to proceed in full commitment to God, with a personal consecration of themselves and their life to Him. Thus it is not reserved for a particular month of the year. See the post titled: What Does It Mean To Be Baptized Into Christ? and What Does Being Consecrated To The Lord Mean?

Pastor Charles Russell’s Comments about Lent

The following is an extract from Reprint 3170.

“Our best wish for all the people of New York and of the whole world would be that all or at least some of them, may observe Lent and join in such petitions heartily: if but one in a hundred of those who will observe the Lenten season will do so, it will surely mean a great revival in their own hearts.

“To us who observe the Memorial Supper on its anniversary only, the occasion is one of the greater solemnity, and may well be approached with the greater reverence. We commend to all of ‘this way’ (Acts 9:2) that the interim between now and the Memorial (April 10th) be specially a season of prayer and fasting—drawing near to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:5). True, the Lord’s consecrated people are continually to live as separate from sin and from the mind of the flesh as possible, and are to “pray without ceasing”; but, as the Apostle intimates, there may profitably be special seasons of this kind; and surely none more appropriate than this Memorial season. The fasting which we urge may or may not affect the food and drink, according to the judgment of each, respecting what diet will best enable him to glorify God and to keep his “body under.” We refer specially to abstention from all “fleshly lusts which war against the soul”; these appetites always under restraint with the saints, may well be specially mortified at this time.”

However as the Apostle Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 7:29‑31, our “fasting” or “mortification” should be a daily act moment by moment to those who have fully enlisted in the Priesthood of complete consecration in the “School of Christ” as far as it be reasonably possible and all depends on one’s level of maturity in Christ:

” (29) This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, (30) and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, (31) and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:29‑31).

Hebrew Customs

Concerning our opening text (Acts 12:4), let us consider the relationship between the Easter festival and the Hebrew Passover.

Passover is the oldest and most revered festival in Judaism. It is observed in the spring, in the month Nisan, the first month of the Jewish religious new year (Exodus 12:2). As Jewish months began with a new moon, the timing of Passover about halfway through the month puts it about the time of full moon. The afternoon that Jesus died was the time a full moon, and this represented that Israel’s favor was full—but because of their rejection of Christ, their favor would wane and diminish.

The Jewish Passover, under the administration of Moses, commemorated Israel’s deliverance from centuries of Egyptian bondage. The firstborn among the Israelites where passed over by the angel of death during the final plague suffered by Egypt. That tenth plague forced Pharaoh to release the Israelites from a life of compulsory servitude.

The Passover is celebrated on an annual basis in accordance with the instructions that were given by God to Moses:

“The Lord spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the first month of the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt, saying, Let the children of Israel also keep the passover at his appointed season. In the fourteenth day of this month, at even, ye shall keep it in his appointed season: according to all the rites of it, and according to all the ceremonies thereof, shall ye keep it. And Moses spake unto the children of Israel, that they should keep the passover” (Numbers 9:1‑4).

Our Lord Jesus became the antitypical Passover Lamb (John 1:29) when he gave his life as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, during the time of the Jewish Passover.

Christian Traditions

Though the Easter festival became well‑established and accepted by Christians by the second century after Jesus’ death, there had been considerable debate between the Eastern and Western divisions of the Church over the exact date the event should be celebrated.

The Eastern Church preferred to not hold it as an annual Sunday event, but rather to observe it on whatever day Nisan 14 fell. These early Christians wanted to time the observance according to the timing of the Hebrew type. The Western Church, on the other hand, wanted to remember the resurrection of Jesus always on a Sunday—Easter Sunday—regardless of the day of the week indicated by the Jewish calendar (Exodus 12).

Emperor Constantine wished to resolve this issue at the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325. The question of the Easter date was one of the main issues of concern. After lengthy dispute, the council was unanimous in its decision that Easter should always fall on the Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox. After further discussion, it was decided that March 21st was to be the date for the spring equinox. This dating process has been the general guideline for most of Christendom ever since.

In Remembrance of Me

Students of the Bible stand free from many of the long‑standing traditions that have been passed down to us from the past. Their faith is based on the meaning and partaking of the symbolic emblems that represent our Lord Jesus’ sacrificial death. Jesus’ request given to his disciples that night in the upper room were, “This do in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).

Every consecrated child of God joyfully accepts the privilege of partaking of the bread, representing Jesus’ flesh, and drinking of the cup, representing Jesus’ shed blood. This is the true meaning and purpose of observing this most important occasion each year on the 14th day of the first month Nisan.

Church of the Firstborn

In his letter to the Hebrew brethren, the Apostle Paul speaks of the “church of the firstborn” whose names are “written in heaven” (Hebrews 12:23). Elsewhere, he explains that they are walking with our Lord in “newness of life” (Romans 6:4). They also remember his death, and solemnly renew their consecration to God annually by partaking of the meaningful symbols, bread and wine.

In keeping the type of Exodus 12, the blood of each lamb that was slain in Egypt that night was sprinkled on the doorposts and lintels of the houses of Israel.

  • Each Jewish household represents the Household of faith, that is, all believers in Christ. This includes both spirit begotten and non‑spirit begotten, both fully consecrated and not yet consecrated, both the baptized into Christ and not‑yet baptized into Christ, who believe in the blood of Christ as the redemptive value that saves us from the curse of Adamic death. On that night, however, only the firstborn were under jeopardy, as only the firstborn has a spiritual life that could be lost.
  • That all believers benefit from the Passover sacrifice is reflected in the deliverance of all the Israelites through the Red Sea, subsequent to the Passover night. (1 Corinthians 15:22).

Here are some lovely words by Br. Charles Russell on the Household of Faith, from Reprint 5457. “These words “Household of Faith”—are broad enough to include not only those who are fully in the way, but also those who have made more or less of an approach unto the Lord and the Truth. The very fact that any one is drawing near to the antitypical Tabernacle is a strong reason why we should wish to encourage him to press on. He has come a part of the way, even if he has not made a consecration.

In a strict sense, the Household of Faith, of course, includes only those who are consecrated. But the words of the Apostle justify us in believing that those who are considering the matter, counting the cost, would in a broad sense be counted as of the Household of Faith. And we are to give these special assistance—all in whom we see any prospect of consecration. Our constant desire and effort should be to point men directly or indirectly to the Lord. Thus we shall be showing ‘forth the praises of Him who hath called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.’ ”

  • Each slain lamb—represents the antitypical Lamb of God: Christ Jesus.
  • The firstborn Israelites in each familyillustrate the Christ, head and body, the “church of the firstborn.”
  • The bitter herbs that were eaten with the lamb (Exodus 12:8)—illustrate the trials and afflictions that are experienced by the Lord’s people during the present Gospel Age.
  • The unleavened bread eaten with the lamb (Exodus 12:8)—represents our wish to be purged from the leaven of sin, as we feast upon the merits of our Lord’s sacrifice for us (1 Corinthians 5:7).
  • The household joining eating the Passover lambrepresents our common participation, our sharing together, of the merits of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16,17).

Those who are faithful to their High Calling will be privileged to share in the deliverance of the poor groaning creation during Christ’s future kingdom, as proclaimed by the Apostle Paul (Romans 8:22, 23).

Christ our Passover Lamb

The Apostle Paul directs our attention to the significance of the Passover type and our need to purge out all unrighteousness and sin (pictured by leaven). He wrote to the Corinthians brethren,

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 (1 Corinthians 5:7,8).

The Jewish people were to slay their Passover lambs on the 14th day of the first month (Nisan) of the Jewish New Year. This was the exact time many centuries later when our Lord Jesus, as the antitypical Passover Lamb, died for the sins of the whole world of mankind.

All who recognize Jesus as the true Passover Lamb and have accepted the merit of his shed blood on their behalf, may appropriate the merit of that blood by purifying their hearts from a consciousness of evil. Because of their faith in the blood of Jesus, they are privileged to enjoy a new relationship and standing before God.

The Lamb of God

When John saw Jesus coming toward him, he proclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Later, the Apostle Peter, when comparing earthly riches with the true value of our redemption (1 Peter 1:18), speaks of the exceeding value of Jesus’ blood of sacrifice, as “The precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot (verse 19).

God’s wonderful plan of reconciliation for the sins of the whole world will become manifest to all during the Millennial Kingdom soon to be established. The meaning of “Christ our Passover” takes on a deeper significance when we look forward to the time when the entire human family will praise God for the gift of his beloved Son, the “Lamb of God,” that takes away the sins of the world.

 

Acknowledgment:

The Dawn Bible Students’ Magazine—Article from the Highlights of Dawn, April 2006. “Easter—It’s Pagan Origins and True Meaning,” used to present this post.

Br. Charles T. Russell, The Reprints of the Original Watchtower and Herald of Christ’s Presence.

Br. David Rice—editing assistance.

The Uniting Methodist Church website—for references cited from “What Is Lent and why does it last 40 days?”

 

The URL of this post:
https://biblestudentsdaily.com/2017/04/07/the-origin-and-meaning-of-easter-lent/

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