Commemorating Christ’s Death
“A NAME is better than good oil, and the day of death than the day of one’s being born.” These words have seemed strange to many persons. Nevertheless, once they are understood they are seen to contain a fine truth and to have particular pertinency to the commemorating of Christ’s death.—Eccl. 7:1.
Note that first the statement is made that a name is better than good oil. Obviously, it must mean that a good name, not a notorious name, is better than good oil. Thus Jehovah God is repeatedly spoken of as making a name for himself, meaning a good, great name: “You gave signs and miracles against Pharaoh and all his servants and all the people of his land, . . . and you proceeded to make a name for yourself as at this day.”—Neh. 9:10; 2 Sam. 7:23; Isa. 63:14; Prov. 22:1.
When a human creature has such a name, then it is indeed true that the day of his death is better than the day of his birth. By the time of his death he has accomplished something, he has kept integrity, he has a good name with God, assuring him a resurrection. None of this is true of him the day he is born. At birth one has no merit or credit, but one can build up merit, credit, “treasures in heaven,” by pursuing a God-fearing course.—Matt. 6:20.
More so than to any other human creature that has ever lived or will yet live do these words of Ecclesiastes 7:1 about the day of one’s death being better than the day of one’s being born apply to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. True, at his human birth he already had a record of faithful service to his Father in heaven, but how much he accomplished by his life and death as a man! In the first place, he vindicated his Father’s name. Satan the Devil had proudly boasted that he could turn all creatures away from Jehovah God, even as he had turned aside Adam and Eve. Jesus Christ proved Satan the Devil a liar, for, try as he would, the Devil could not turn Jesus away from his loyalty to his heavenly Father. Jesus proved himself truly wise and thereby made his Father’s heart rejoice, because of giving him an answer with which to reply to the taunting Devil.—Job chaps. 1 and 2; Prov. 27:11.
Secondly, by his death Jesus provided for the redemption of humankind from sin and death. “The gift God gives is everlasting life by Christ Jesus our Lord.” “There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, a man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a corresponding ransom for all.” Yes, as he himself stated it: “The Son of man came, not to be ministered to, but to minister and to give his soul a ransom in exchange for many.”—Rom. 6:23; 1 Tim. 2:5, 6; Matt. 20:28.
And thirdly, by his faithfulness to death Jesus set a marvelous example for all his followers: “Look intently at the Chief Agent and Perfecter of our faith, Jesus. . . . Indeed, consider closely the one who has endured such contrary talk by sinners against their own interests, that you may not get tired and give out in your souls.” “Christ suffered for you, leaving you a model for you to follow his steps closely.”—Heb. 12:2, 3;1 Pet. 2:21.
Nor would we overlook the part Jehovah played in making the day of Christ’s death so memorable. Was it not he who first of all purposed that his Son take this course? And in giving his only-begotten Son did he not show the greatest love? As we read: “The love is in this respect, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent forth his Son as a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins.”—1 John 4:10; John 3:16.
Surely, in view of all that was accomplished by Jesus in his life and particularly by his death, it is most fitting that his death be commemorated. The Scriptures say nothing about celebrating Christ’s birthday, or any other birthday for that matter. (In the Scriptures only pagans are reported as celebrating birthdays.) But they do record Jesus’ command to commemorate his death. So the witnesses of Jehovah commemorate Jesus’ death rather than his birth. The apostle Paul, having received information regarding it from Jesus himself, tells us:
“For the tradition which I handed on to you came to me from the Lord himself: that the Lord Jesus, on the night of his arrest, took bread and, after giving thanks to God, broke it and said: ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this as a memorial of me.’ In the same way, he took the cup after supper, and said: ‘This cup is the new covenant sealed by my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me.’”—1 Cor. 11:23-25, New English Bible.
WHEN? HOW OFTEN?
Since it is fitting, right and a requirement for Christians to commemorate Christ’s death, how often should they do so, and when? When Jesus said, “Do this as a memorial of me,” or, “Keep doing this in remembrance of me,” did he mean for his followers to do this daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually? He himself does not specifically state, but we can reason on the subject and come to a proper conclusion. How often is any event of great note memorialized? Is it not yearly? Was not the passover celebration in commemoration of the deliverance of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage an annual one, and that at the express command of Jehovah God?—Luke 22:19; Ex. 12:14; Lev. 23:5.
Further, let us note that Jesus Christ is referred to as the passover (Lamb) sacrificed for Christians. (1 Cor. 5:7) This would suggest that his death should be commemorated as the original passover sacrifice was, namely, annually. More than that, since Jesus instituted the remembrance or memorial of his death on Nisan 14, the passover date, and also died on that day—the Jewish day beginning and ending with sundown—is it not reasonable to conclude that his death should also be commemorated in the same way, once each year on Nisan 14, there being only one Nisan 14 in the year?
Historically, for at least several centuries ever so many of the early Christians celebrated the death of Jesus Christ in exactly this way, once each year on Nisan 14, for which reason they were called “Quartodecimans,” meaning “fourteenthers.”
A noted historian of early Christianity, Mosheim, in his History of Christianity, the First Three Centuries, has the following to say about the Quartodecimans (Vol. 1, p. 529): “The Christians of Asia Minor were accustomed to celebrate this sacred feast, commemorative of the institution of the Lord’s supper, and the death of Jesus Christ, at the same time when the Jews ate their Paschal lamb, namely on the evening of the fourteenth day of the first month.a For . . . they considered the example of Christ possessing the force of law; and, as is equally manifest, they did not conceive our Savior to have anticipated the passover, . . . but that the Paschal lamb was eaten by him and his disciples on the same day on which the Jews . . . were accustomed to eat theirs.”
When, after having celebrated the passover, Jesus took some of the unleavened bread remaining and said, “Take this and eat; this is my body,” did he mean that that bread had suddenly, miraculously, by a process of transubstantiation, as it is called, actually become his body? How could it when he was still in his body? Besides, if he at that time had performed such a momentous miracle, would not some mention of it have been made in the rest of the Christian Greek Scriptures? Obviously he meant that this bread represented, stood for or meant his body. It was this fleshly body that he gave for his followers.—Matt. 26:26; 1 Cor. 11:25, NEB.
The same is true of Jesus’ words, “This is my blood.” He did not mean that this wine actually became his blood, for that was still coursing in his veins. Rather, the wine stood for, represented or meant his blood, “the blood of the [new] covenant, shed for many for the forgiveness of sins.”—Matt. 26:28; 1 Cor. 11:25, NEB.
“The blood of the covenant”? Yes, in Bible times blood was used to seal or make valid a covenant. Just as the blood of bulls and goats was used to validate the old law covenant made between Jehovah God and the nation of Israel, so the blood of Jesus Christ served to validate or make effective, put into operation, a new covenant, a covenant between Jehovah God and the followers of Christ.—Heb. 8:13; 9:15-24.
On the evening that Jesus instituted the commemoration of his death he also mentioned a covenant for a kingdom: “I make a covenant with you, just as my Father has made a covenant with me, for a kingdom.” That covenant that God had made with Jesus Christ was originally made with King David and foretold the coming of one who would rule forever. Those who are parties to this Kingdom covenant are described in the Scriptures as the 144,000 members of spiritual Israel sealed in their foreheads, as the 144,000 standing upon Mount Zion with the Lamb, and as those who will partake of the first resurrection and rule as kings and priests of God and Christ. It is only those who are parties to both the new covenant and the covenant for the kingdom that are eligible to partake of the Lord’s evening meal.—Luke 22:29; 2 Sam. 7:11-16; Rev. 7:4; 14:1, 3; 20:5, 6.
Since the number of those in these covenants is limited to 144,000 and their number began to be selected when Jesus was on earth, it follows that not all who profess to be dedicated Christian ministers today could be parties to these covenants, since they number today many times 144,000. Thus in 1962, 1,639,681 attended the commemoration of Christ’s death as celebrated worldwide by Jehovah’s witnesses, but only 12,714 partook of the emblems, the bread and wine, or about one out of one hundred and thirty.
The question then comes up as to how one can tell whether one should partake of the bread and wine. God’s Word says: “The spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children. If, then, we are children, we are also heirs: heirs indeed of God, but joint heirs with Christ, provided we suffer together that we may also be glorified together.”—Rom. 8:16, 17.
Those who have this witness in their lives, who have evidence that God’s holy spirit is preparing them for this heavenly reward, are certain of it. They have no doubts. The realization of this heavenly goal means more to them than any earthly prospect could possibly mean. Particularly were those of this heavenly class called prior to 1931, during which time God held out only a heavenly hope to dedicating Christians. Those who have this hope should partake. But those whose hope is one of everlasting life in an earthly paradise, also promised in God’s Word, clearly should not partake; for they are not in the new covenant nor in the covenant for the Kingdom.b
Does this mean that Jehovah God is unjust, unfair, partial, giving differing destinies arbitrarily to different individuals? Not at all. As the householder of one of Jesus’ illustrations, who hired workers for his vineyard, said to those who complained because those who had worked but one hour received the same wages as did those who had worked all day: “Is it not lawful for me to do what I want with my own things?”—Matt. 20:15.
We may never forget that all we receive at God’s hand is undeserved kindness. No one merits anything. This is especially true of human sinners, the offspring of Adam. If Jehovah wishes to reward some with everlasting life in the heavens and others with everlasting life upon earth, that is his prerogative. Adam was not unjustly treated by being created a human rather than an angel; John the Baptist was not unjustly treated in that he became merely the friend of the bridegroom and not part of the bride class. So today, none of those who gain everlasting life upon earth will have any reason to complain. If we are wise we will appreciate what is offered us.
Then why be present if one is not going to partake of the bread and the wine? Because of what will be said on that occasion. We will be reminded of how much Jehovah God has done for us, how much Jesus Christ has done for us and the marvelous example he set for us. To come together on such a serious yet joyful occasion also serves to draw Christians closer together.
This year the witnesses of Jehovah throughout the earth will come together to commemorate Christ’s death on Monday, April 8, after 6 p.m. All persons of goodwill toward God are invited to associate with them on that evening and to be benefited by what they hear and see.
a The Jewish year is a lunar year that usually begins with the new moon nearest the spring equinox. Its first month is Nisan.
b For more on this subject see The Watchtower, March 15, 1961, “Should You Partake of the Lord’s Evening Meal?”