The Greatest Event in History: Easter Explained

The World Wide Web and Easter

Many of us have been programmed to switch off when we hear people talk about history (or read about it!) Those unbelievably boring High School lessons have scarred us for life. How is history ever relevant now?

Since we live in the age of the Internet, I think we can all agree history really is relevant. Where would we be without the launch of the World Wide Web on 6 August 1991?* It’s changed life forever – it’s given us Google, social media and smart phones. It’s given us the ability to connect and video call around the world like nothing before.

We now take it for granted, but when it was launched back in the Summer of 1991 it barely registered as an event around the world. One writer states, ‘There was no fanfare in the global press. In fact, most people around the world didn’t even know what the Internet was’.

As one of the most important events in history – it grew out of obscurity into a worldwide phenomenon many of us cannot live without.

Curiously, the same thing can be said for Easter. It was an obscure event in the backwaters of the Roman Empire that became a worldwide phenomenon – one that many of us cannot live without.

But what is Easter?

It is best described as one event with two crucial episodes. A drama split in to two parts.

Part 1: Good Friday & Crucifixion

Good Friday is the day Christians celebrate the death of Jesus.

If you find that statement strange, then you’re not alone. To celebrate death is odd. To celebrate death by crucifixion is just plain crazy. To the Romans, crucifixion was the ‘extreme penalty’ and to Jews it was evidence you were under God’s curse.[1] No other crucifixion in history is celebrated, and for good reason. It was a horrific execution for dangerous criminals and slaves that caused great pain and shame.

So why do Christians celebrate the death of Jesus?

One of the most important early Christian writers was a man called Paul. He wrote a letter to a church in the city of Corinth in Greece just over 20 years after Jesus’ death. In it he recites a statement of truth he’d received earlier in life – a tradition (what is called a creed) – that explains what happened on that first Good Friday.

The first part of this creed states, ‘that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures’.[2]

The reason Christians celebrate the death of Jesus is because he died for us. We’ve all got used to the idea of sacrifice during COVID. Well, this was the ultimate sacrifice.

Jesus died for our sins – which is a way to describe our independence and rejection of God. Humanity seeks to live life without God in the picture – choosing life without God rather than life with God. It’s a rebellion that means nobody can know God or reach God. It’s a rebellion that deserves punishment.

The Good News of Easter is that Jesus steps in and takes our place – taking our punishment on the cross. He dies for our sins.

And this event was predicted by the Hebrew Scriptures hundreds of years before it happened![3]

Part 2: Easter Sunday & Resurrection

As a child I always enjoyed the morning of Easter Sunday. Why? Because it meant Easter Eggs! Most of us equate Easter with the sweetness of chocolate. But the original Easter Sunday brought something better than chocolate!

Easter Sunday is when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. It is why Good Friday wasn’t just another Friday. By rising from the grave Jesus proved his execution wasn’t for nothing.

Many of us are rightly sceptical about dead people coming back to life. This was no different 2000 years ago. Both Romans and Jews knew this wasn’t normal. In fact, for the Jews, the idea of resurrection wasn’t supposed to happen until the end of history – and it was going to happen to everyone. But the earliest Christians (who were Jews themselves) claimed the resurrection had started already, in the middle of history to one person – Jesus. No Jew would make this up.[4]

That early creed we quoted above continues: ‘…that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas,[Peter] and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles’.

Christians celebrate Easter and worship Jesus because the resurrection changed history. Jesus exited the tomb he was buried in and began to appear to his closest followers. Later, these followers began to preach that Jesus had risen, in the same location Jesus had been executed and buried in, at a great risk to their reputation and lives.

They did it because Jesus conquered death and sin for us, so that we might know the hope of life after death with him.

For this reason Easter is the greatest event, the most influential event, the most important event in history. No other event comes close, not even the launch of the World Wide Web. After all, the Internet might be able to connect us to our friends and family across the world, but the risen Jesus can connect us to God himself. The World Wide Web gives us knowledge about all kinds of things, but Easter helps us to know the true and living God.

That’s something worth celebrating!

* Technically the internet and the World Wide Web are different, even though we use them as synonyms today. The launch of the Internet, a network of computers – electronics pathways as it were, to connect to other computers – is usually attributed to 1 January, 1983. Some insist on a different launch date for the World Wide Web as 30 April, 1993 when it was released into public domain. Even then it took a another year or two for its popularity to really grow – culminating in the dot com boom of the late 90s.

[1] The Roman historian Tacitus wrote this in the context of Jesus’ crucifixion. The full quote is as follows, ‘Consequently, to get rid of the report, [about the fire of Rome] Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.’ The Annals, Book 15 Chapter 44. The Jews seeing crucifixion as a curse is linked to Deuteronomy 21:23.

[2] 1 Corinthians 15:3. Most scholars whether Christian or not, date this creed to within years after Jesus’ death, perhaps even months. So atheist German scholar Gert Lüdemann states, ‘the formulation of the appearance traditions mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 falls into the time between 30 and 33 CE, because the appearance to Paul is the last of the appearances and cannot be dated after 33 CE’. Lüdemann, Resurrection of Jesus, p. 38. Critical scholar James Dunn states, ‘This tradition, we can be entirely confident, was formulated as tradition within months of Jesus’ death’. Dunn, Jesus Remembered, p. 855.

[3] See for example Isaiah 53:4-6 written hundreds of years before Jesus, ‘Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.’ Iniquity is just another word for sin.

[4] So Justin Bass writes, ‘Resurrection was consistently seen as a future event; it would happen to all the saints and martyrs, but in the renewed creation. It was the earliest Christians who, with pure innovation, brought these ideas of crucifixion, resurrection and the Messiah together’. Bass, The Bedrock of Christianity, p. 127. James Dunn says, ‘Why draw the astonishing conclusion that the…resurrection had already taken place in the case of a single individual quite separate from and prior to the general resurrection? There must have been something very compelling about the appearances for such an extravagant, not to say ridiculous and outrageous conclusion to be drawn’. Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit, p. 132. Quoted in Bass, p. 128.

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