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Crucifixion was a form of torture and execution used by the Romans, not by the Jews. Yet Jesus knew that in the end this was the way the Jews would have him killed (John 3:14; John 8:28; John 12:32-33). Although the New Testament writers refer to the cruelty and injustice of Jesus’ crucifixion (Acts 2:23; see CRUCIFIXION), their main concern is not with the physical horror of his death but with its theological meaning (1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Peter 2:24).

The curse of the cross

Israelites of Old Testament times executed their criminals by stoning them. After an execution, they hung the body of the victim on a tree as a sign to all that he was under the curse and judgment of God (Deuteronomy 21:22-23). The Jews of Jesus’ day, being under the rule of Rome, had no power to carry out executions themselves, but had to submit requests for execution to the Roman authorities. In the case of Jesus they did not even ask for him to be stoned when they saw it would be easier to have him crucified (Matthew 27:22-23).

The Jews considered that Jesus’ hanging on the cross had the same meaning as hanging on a tree. They considered, therefore, that he was under the curse of God. Actually, Jesus did bear the curse of God, but he did so on behalf of sinners, not because of any sin he had committed (Acts 5:30; Acts 10:39; Galatians 3:10-13; 1 Peter 2:24). Because the Jews had a wrong understanding of the curse Jesus bore in his death, his crucifixion was to them a stumbling block. They could not trust in Jesus’ death on the cross as a way of salvation, and therefore they could not be saved (1 Corinthians 1:23; see CURSE; STUMBLING BLOCK).

God’s way of salvation

To the writers of the New Testament, Jesus’ death on the cross was the central point in the whole saving activity of God (1 Corinthians 1:23; 1 Corinthians 2:2; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; see JUSTIFICATION; PROPITIATION). The cross therefore became a symbol for that salvation. The message of the gospel was the message of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:17-18; Galatians 3:1; Galatians 6:12; Galatians 6:14; Ephesians 2:16; Philippians 3:18; see GOSPEL; RECONCILIATION). To the early Christians, the expression ‘cross of Christ’, like the expression ‘blood of Christ’, meant the same as ‘death of Christ’ (Romans 5:9-10; Colossians 1:20; Colossians 1:22; see BLOOD).

The cross symbolized death not only for Christ, but also for believers. Paul explained the meaning of the baptism of believers in relation to the cross of Christ. Their union with Christ means that they have, so to speak, died on the cross with Christ, been buried with Christ, and risen with Christ to new life (Romans 6:3-4; Galatians 2:20; Colossians 2:12-14; see BAPTISM). Christians demonstrate the truth of this in their daily lives by living victoriously over the old sinful nature, the flesh (Galatians 5:24; Galatians 6:14; see FLESH).

But death on a cross also meant humiliation. Believers must therefore be prepared for the sort of humiliation Christ suffered (Philippians 2:8; Hebrews 12:2; Hebrews 13:12-13; see PERSECUTION).

Christian self-denial

During his lifetime, Jesus warned people what to expect if they became his disciples. Jesus knew that his life would finish at the cross, and each person who followed him had to be prepared to take up his or her own cross and follow Jesus to a similar end (Matthew 16:24-26; cf. John 19:17-18).

To bear one’s cross is still a requirement for all those who want to follow Christ. It means they must sacrifice their own interests for the sake of Christ. Christ does not require every disciple to suffer literal crucifixion, but he does require every disciple to be prepared for it, should it be God’s will. If disciples are prepared for that, they will be prepared for the lesser sacrifices and hardships that are involved in following Christ (Matthew 10:37-38; Luke 14:27-33; see DISCIPLE).

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Cross'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. 2004.

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