There have been many interpretations over the centuries about the meaning of Easter. Nobody denies the significance of Jesus dying on the cross, being in the grave for three days, and rising again on the third.

But what is the meaning of this central event and defining moment?

Historically, a man died on a cross after walking through Israel with a group of disciples for a few years, being a pain in the neck of the establishment for his peacefulness, mercy, and critique.

Others throughout history have been inspired to mirror that behavior.

Ghandi comes to mind. And yes, the establishment reacted to his peaceful protest.

And what about Luther? Reforming the doctrine, just as Jesus did, he threatened the influence of the established religious leadership and confronted them with their manipulation and misunderstandings.

Back to Jesus. Rome established an unprecedented era of peace called the Pax Romana, not least by its custom to crucify those that threatened it.

Jesus was one of many that died to stabilize Roman power and maintain peace. The situation appeared handled, and then the resurrection!

But this historical interpretation obviously was not enough for Jesus’ disciples. It stripped all meaning from their years with Jesus and nullified their commitment and sacrifice.

There needed to be sense-making, inspired by the resurrection that overshadowed the Roman solution.

Let us remember the time they were in and the journey that humanity had already walked up to this moment.

Humankind had gained or been granted an extraordinary way to look at the world, especially the self. It had become conscious and self-conscious and gained a concept of past, present and future.

People then learned to live within families and tribes. Seeing their tribe members die, they asked the question of where they were going and trying to make sense of their circumstances, they started to develop early spirituality.

Diverse causes were working together for people to develop a strong will and a hunger for power. The narrowness of the tribal system, encounters with other tribes with the need to defend one’s own, and a thrive for adventurous undertakings, to name a few.

And then, people discovered the need for morals and ethics expressed as external, binding laws to keep this hunger for power at bay.

Why did God not show them right in the beginning that he was one? Christians think that he did, but history tells us that the story of creation was penned when people had progressed in their maturity to a point where they realized that God was one.

How this? It was the circumstances and challenges they had faced over millennia that had taught them and shaped their sense-making. They first needed to realize there was more than the obvious and visible. Next, they instrumentalized their power gods for the most obvious need in their lives–security and self-defense. And then, they recognized that there was but one God, giving them a framework to grow.

We look back today and try to make sense of this era. We say things like God wanted to show us that rules, regulations, laws, rewards and punishment will not change or motivate us to behave. We lack the strength to keep at it with mere extrinsic motivation to obey.

But we forget that we do the same with our children, and nobody in their right mind would say that they reared, educated and nurtured their children with rules to show them that it does not work.

On the contrary, we know we cannot give them full freedom early on because they lack the internal morals, ethics, wisdom and knowledge to do the right things. Responsibility is granted with growing age and maturity.

Did God do the same thing with us? Did he meet humanity in its infancy and invest in it in changing age-appropriate ways to have us grow and mature?

Have you allowed your children to go through irrational phases, times they believed things that, to the mind of a grown-up, are ludicrous? Did you immediately correct them in their understanding of why things happen and what they needed to do with it? Santa Claus, fantasy tea parties, simplistic models of why the sky is blue, childlike faith and childish beliefs, you name it.

When humanity decided that they needed to sacrifice their dearest possessions to appease the gods and later their God, could that be such a fantasy? How do we react? We slowly, in age-appropriate ways, educate our children. And so did God.

God first showed us that he does not want human sacrifice in the story of Abraham and Isaac, to tell us that the thought never crossed his mind later bluntly some centuries later.

He first ordered the sacrificial system to prevent exuberance and later told us that he rather had obedience than sacrifice under the moral and ethical system of the law.

In their sense-making process, the disciples recognized that the death of Jesus as the sacrificial lamb in the tradition of Passah put an end to the sacrificial system in its entirety.

Or did it? It rather internalized it. We give ourselves as a living sacrifice, which is wonderful, but what is our motivation? We often do it to have the right standing with God, beginning with a decision and a prayer of surrender, followed by a righteous lifestyle and more or less institutionalized confession.

We still believe that God does need sacrifice. We hold on to a child’s understanding of having to earn his or her parents’ love and acceptance.

Jesus died at a crossroads of history. The time had come to show people that no external sacrifice was needed. His message was much greater, but that was the part they were able to understand back then.

And no wonder! They were deeply imprinted and infused by a system that called for obedience, observance and compliance. External rules and regulations motivated them to lead a good life and have a relationship with God. In this, we can see that fear is immature love. We instill a certain fear into our children, a fear of consequences and punishment, to lovingly draw them forward, knowing full well that they have no concept of unconditional love nor understanding of or the necessary guard rails to complete freedom yet.

But God wants us to grow past that, just as we want our children to become self-authored, mature human beings.

Easter has so much more meaning than a mere sacrifice would ever express. Much more, never forget that Christ rose again. It’s not about death or doing away with our sins. It is about the risen Christ, he the head and we the body. It is about our maturity as God’s grown-up children. If we were blunt enough, it is about us as gods with him.