The meaning of Easter is Jesus Christ’s victory over death. His resurrection symbolizes the eternal life that is granted to all who believe in Him. The meaning of Easter also symbolizes the complete verification of all that Jesus preached and taught during His three-year ministry. If He had not risen from the dead, if He had merely died and not been resurrected, He would have been considered just another teacher or Rabbi. However, His resurrection changed all that and gave final and irrefutable proof that He was really the Son of God and that He had conquered death once and for all.
God’s love is different than natural human love. God loves us when we’re utterly unlovable. When Jesus died, he died for the ungodly, for sinners, and for his enemies. Paul gets at how contrary this is to human nature when he writes, “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person, though perhaps for a good person one would dare to die, but God shows his love for us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7–8).
However, Easter did not always symbolize Christ’s resurrection from the dead and the meaning of Easter was quite different than what Christians celebrate today. The feast day of Easter was originally a pagan celebration of renewal and rebirth. Celebrated in the early spring, it honored the pagan Saxon goddess Eastre. When the early missionaries converted the Saxons to Christianity, the holiday, since it fell around the same time as the traditional memorial of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, was merged with the pagan celebration, and became know as Easter. The meaning of Easter was also changed to reflect its new Christian orientation.
Jesus’s death was Substitutionary. That is, he died in our place. He died the death that we deserved. He bore the punishment that was justly ours. For everyone who believes in him, Christ took the wrath of God on their behalf. Peter writes, “[Jesus] himself bore our sin in his body on the tree that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).
Justification, propitiation, and redemption — all benefits of Christ’s death — have one great purpose: reconciliation. Jesus’s death enables us to have a joy-filled relationship with God, which is the highest good of the cross. Paul writes, “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (Colossians 1:21–22).
Think about how this works in our relationships with other people. When we sin, not only do we hurt the person we sin against, we harm the relationship. It will never be the same until we seek forgiveness. So it is with our relationship with God. We enter this world sinful, and as a result, we’re alienated from God. Only forgiveness — forgiveness which was purchased at the cross — can heal the relationship so that we are able to enjoy fellowship with God.
Jesus’s death wasn’t just an act of love, it defines love. His substitutionary death is the ultimate example of what love means, and Jesus calls those who follow him to walk in the same kind of life-laying-down love. John writes, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:16). John Piper explains: “Jesus’s death is both guilt-bearing and guidance-giving. It is a death that forgives sin and a death that models love. It is the purchase of our life from perishing and the pattern of a life of love”