It was most likely the early church (i.e., prior to A.D. 100) who first replaced Passover customs with the Easter celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection (though not yet called Easter). This celebration took place “on the day following the end of the Passover fast (14 Nisan), regardless of the day of the week on which it fell.” The timing of the Passover was during the first full moon of spring, which would have been during the first month (Nisan) of the Jewish calendar (Ex 12:2, 6).
Over time, motivated in part from anti-Semitism (i.e., Christian Gentiles held Jews responsible for Christ’s death), a debate arose between Jewish and Gentile Christians over the Gentile Christians’ observance of the resurrection on a Sunday (typically the Sunday after 14 Nisan) as opposed to the day after the traditional Passover fast. The Gentile preference eventually won over, and this momentum led to Easter legislation by both civil and ecclesial authorities. By the end of the second century, the Jewish timing of the day was declared heresy in Rome and Christians who observed the day accordingly were excommunicated. The debate continued over the course of the next century, and the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) ordered churches to celebrate Christ’s resurrection on the same Sunday (which was not necessarily the same from year to year). The Roman Emperor Constantine (c. 285–337) mandated his empire to celebrate Easter on the Sunday after 14 Nisan.
Though the debate continued for a time, it became relatively customary over the next three centuries to celebrate Easter on the Sunday following the full moon after the vernal equinox. (A vernal equinox occurs in the spring at the point when day and night are relatively equal.) However, because this time was set according to the Julian calendar (365.25 days per year), the date for the equinox kept moving earlier and earlier and took place as early as March 11 in A.D. 1500. Pope Gregory XIII (1502–1585; pope, 1572–1585) introduced the Gregorian calendar (365 days per year with an extra day every fourth year) in order to move the equinox forward, and thus the date of Easter moved forward as well. Though Protestant and Eastern Orthodox countries were reticent to use the Catholic calendar at first, they eventually acquiesced to accommodate international trade. For Western Christendom, the timing of Easter now falls anywhere between March 22 and April 25 as a result.
“And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked” (Mark 14:51–52).
Who is the naked man in Mark 14:51–52, and why did Mark include this interesting episode in his Gospel?
Similar to how the apostle John identified himself in an unnamed manner in his own gospel (cf. John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20), some suggest that Mark subtly identifies himself in Mark 15:51–52 as the young man who fled naked from the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus was arrested. Though this conclusion is possible, it is speculative at best. There is simply not enough evidence to conclude the young man was Mark.
A better understanding of this episode is to conclude that we do not know who this man is because Mark did not identify who he was. Neither do the other Gospels record this story, leaving our information about him to be meager at best.
As to why Mark included this story, the context makes it clear. Just as Jesus prophesied (Mark 14:27), the disciples fled at His arrest (14:50). In fact, Mark 14:50 literally ends with the word “all” to emphasize how all had left Jesus behind. Mark 14:51–52 then records a young man being seized, leaving his linen cloth in the hands of his captors, and fleeing in desperation. Mark 14:51–52 demonstrates how chaotic the scene became and that, indeed, all fell away from Jesus at this time.
Along with the context in Mark, there may be an allusion to Amos 2:16 that helps us to better understand Mark 14:50–52 as well. Amos prophesied that God’s judgment on northern Israel would be so severe that “he who is stout of heart among the mighty shall flee away naked in that day” (Amos 2:16). Similarly, Peter and the other disciples claimed to be stout of heart in that they emphatically denied they would deny Jesus (Mark 14:29, 31). However, when God’s judgment against sin on Christ at the cross was precipitated by Christ’s betrayal and arrest, the disciples cowered and fled, and a young man was so desperate in flight that he left his clothes in the hands of his captors in Mark 14:51–52. If Mark intended this allusion, perhaps he subtly pointed to God’s judgment against sin that would be met in Christ’s death on the cross.
It is that time of year, spring when we have a lot of events! Please mark your calendars and join us.
Image Credit: Anita Martinz from Klagenfurt, Austria
Creative Commons Licence: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
The Passion Week refers to the final six days of Jesus’ life before His resurrection, His one full day in the tomb, and the day of resurrection. It is called the Passion Week because the word passion comes from the Greek word pasxō, which means “to suffer.”
Sunday: Day of Celebration (Matt 21:1–11, 14–17; Mark 11:1–11; Luke 19:29–44; John 12:12–19) – Jesus began this day by going to Jerusalem and ended it by returning to the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Bethany. In between these times, the most notable event on this day was the triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
Monday: Day of Confrontation (Matt 21:18–19a, 12–13; Mark 11:12–18; Luke 19:45–48; John 12:20–50) – Jesus went from Bethany to the temple in Jerusalem. At the day’s end, He either stayed on the Mount of Olives or returned all the way to Bethany. He cursed the fig tree, cleansed the time, and spoke of the Son of Man being lifted up in glory.
Tuesday: Day of Controversy (Matt 21:19b–25:46; Mark 11:19–13:37; Luke 20:1–Luke 21:36) – Jesus again went to the temple in Jerusalem and assumedly returned to the Mount of Olives or Bethany at night. He repeatedly silenced the challenges by Israel’s leaders, rebuked them, told many parables, and taught on the end times on the Mount of Olives.
Wednesday: Day of Conspiracy (Matt 26:1–5, 14–16; Mark 14:1–2, 10–11; Luke 22:1–6) – The chief priests and scribes plotted to kill Jesus. Later that day, Judas went to these leaders and promised to betray Jesus.
Thursday: Day of Consecration (Matt 26:17–35; Mark 14:12–31; Luke 22:7–38; John 13:1–17:26) – Jesus and the twelve celebrated the Passover, the first Lord’s Supper. Jesus washed the disciples’ feet and gave His “farewell discourse.” He prayed for His disciples.
Friday: Day of Consummation (Matt 26:30–27:61; Mark 14:26–15:47; Luke 22:39–23:56; John 18:1–19:42) – Jesus prayed in Gethsemane where He was arrested (approx. 12–3 A.M.). He was then on trial before the Jews and denied by Peter (approx. 3–6 A.M.). Just before 6 A.M., Jesus stood before the Sanhedrin. Judas committed suicide. Jesus was on trial before the Romans and was sentenced to crucifixion (approx. 6–9 A.M.). By this point, Jesus had been flogged twice. At 9:00 A.M., Jesus went to the cross and hung there until 3 P.M. He died, was taken down, and was buried.
Saturday: Day of Cessation (Matt 27:62–66) – Jesus laid in the tomb for an entire day. Soldiers appointed by Jewish leaders guarded the tomb.
Sunday: Day of Conquest (Matt 28:1–15; Mark 16:1–7; Luke 24:2–35; John 20:1–17) – Jesus arose! On this day, Jesus appeared four times.
Pastor David Huffstutler
Pastor Huffstutler regularly writes articles for our Sunday bulletin. See his bio on our pastoral bio page.