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Easter, a historical perspective
by Robert P Minz
(Number of words approx.800)
Easter is the most important festival of Christians all over the world. It marks the day Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity, rose from the dead. It is important as Saint Paul said,"If Christ has not risen then our faith is in vain". We must remember that Saint Paul himself was a persecutor of Christians before he was struck down from his horse and was rendered temporarily blind by a vision of the Risen Christ. This incident took place between AD 34 and Ad 37. At that time he was known as Saul. When he became a Christian he changed his name to Paul.
The four gospels (books on the life of Jesus Christ) written by Mathew, Mark, Luke and John describe the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. References to Jesus Christ are also found in the writings of non-Christians such as Josephus, who wrote about AD 90, Pliny the Younger, who wrote about AD 112, Tacitus, who wrote about AD 115, and Seutonius, who wrote about AD 120.
From the details of events given in the four gospels and related historical records it is possible to piece together the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in a time frame with a great deal of accuracy. The birth of Jesus Christ is described as having occurred in the last years of King Herod (the Great) at the time of the first census ordered by the Roman Emperor, Augustus Caesar. We know from history that King Herod the Great ruled from 37 BC to 4 BC, and Augustus Caesar ruled Rome between 29 BC and AD 14. The second census is known to have been carried out in AD 6-7, therefore, the first census must have been a decade earlier i.e. in 4 BC. Thus the birth of Jesus can be fixed at 4 BC. Jesus started his ministry in the "fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar". Tiberius Caesar ruled from AD 14 to AD 37, therefore, the fifteenth year of his reign would be 29 AD. During the ministry of Jesus four Jewish Passover festivals have been described, the last Passover being the day He was put to death. Therefore, Jesus died four years after He started his ministry, i.e. on April 3, 33 AD which would have been the date of the feast of Passover in that year.
However, the most striking thing about Jesus is the remarkable accuracy of the prophecy by Prophet Daniel who lived in the 6th century BC. Daniel was a Jew who had been taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, when he attacked Jerusalem in 605 BC. Daniel wrote about the Messiah in this prophecy which was revealed to him in a vision:
'Know therefore and understand
That from the going forth of the command
To restore and build Jerusalem
Until Messiah, the Prince,
There shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks...'
'And after the sixty-two weeks
The Messiah shall be cut off....' (Book of Daniel:Chapter 9,verses 25,26)
Jerusalem was completely destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC but the Persian King Artaxerxes I issued a decree on 4th March 444 BC for the reconstruction of Jerusalem.
As per Chapter 25 verse 8 of the Book of Leviticus written by Moses in 1500 BC:
'You shall count seven Sabbaths of years for yourself,
seven times seven years; and the time of the seven Sabbaths
of years shall be to you fory nine years'
Thus each prophetic day is to be counted as one year. Using this method of reckoning 'seven weeks and sixty two weeks' or sixty-nine weeks are 69x7 years or 483 years or 1,73,880 days. Therefore, as per the prophecy of Daniel this would lead upto March 29, AD 33 which is, astonishingly, the date on which Jesus Christ made the triumphant entry into Jerusalem when he was publicly declared as the Messiah and Prince, and whithin a week he was caught and put to death, as prophesied by Daniel.
The above calculation can be checked by noting that 444 BC to AD 33 is 476 years, 476 times 365.24219 days equals 1,73,855 days. Adding twenty-five days for the difference between March 4 and March 29 gives 1,73,880 days, which is exactly as predicted.
The Jews who are very staunch believers in biblical history, were aware of the prophecies of early Prophets, and there was an air of expectancy for the coming of the Messiah during the time of Jesus. It was for this reason that after the death and resurrection of Jesus many Jews who had seen and heard Him believed that He was indeed the promised Messiah, and thousands of them were converted. Christianity spread like wild- fire and provoked the Jewish rulers, and later the Roman Empire, to launch a persecution of Christians. Paul, or Saul, as he was known earlier, was one of the persecutors until he himslef saw a vision of the Risen Christ.