Cross – definition
The cross (the crucifixion) is viewed as a symbol of suffering for sin and of victory over sin. But will we ever fully understand that event which has so much meaning to it? There are quite different ways to understand it.
Traditional Legal Model – the cross was where God’s wrath against sin was satisfied in the sacrifice of His Son to pay the legal penalty of sin thus satisfying Divine justice and allowing God to then forgive sin.
Biblical Healing Model – the cross was the ultimate event showing the ongoing suffering of God because of man’s sin and the results of sin. It also demonstrated the magnitude of the love of God and the extent to which God will allow mankind to make their own decisions. And more.
The term “the cross” is often used as a reference to Jesus’ death on the cross. Here is one explanation reflecting the common (but not that of this website) view:
“One might ask why Jesus had to die in the first place. … due to the temptations of Satan (the serpent), Adam and Eve sinned and fell from God’s grace. Furthermore, they have passed the curse of sin on to their children so that everyone inherits their sin and guilt. God the Father sent his one and only Son into the world to take on human flesh and to be the Savior of His people. Born of a virgin, Jesus avoided the curse of the fall that infects all other human beings. As the sinless Son of God, He could provide the unblemished sacrifice that God requires. God’s justice demanded judgment and punishment for sin; God’s love moved Him to send His one and only Son to be the propitiation for sin.” (https://www.gotquestions.org/meaning-of-the-cross.html)
(Links I supplied in the quotation above are to definitions that help clarify the true meaning of terms.)
There is so much wrong with that description. I am not meaning to pick on gotquestions.org; this is just one example typical of many. Follow the links in that paragraph for more on the meaning of those terms in relation to the character of God. We will look in more detail at just a few points as we focus on the meaning of the cross.
Here is an example of wrong thinking about the cross in Christian music:
In Christ Alone Lyrics: (link added)
Till on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live
The Presbyterian church wrote to the author of the song and asked if the second line could be changed to “The love of God was magnified” which would be much more appropriate. The response was a definite “no,” reflecting very Calvinistic thinking.
Verses Speaking About the Literal Cross
There are eleven verses speaking about the literal cross such as:
“And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross.” (Matt 27:32)
Cross Definition – a Symbol of One’s Burden
There are six verses about taking up one’s cross after Jesus’ example. Here is one.
“And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.” (Matt 10:38)
In each case, it is Jesus speaking, indicating that His definition of the cross is self denial and self sacrifice.
Paul speaks of himself and our need to also take up our figurative cross:
“Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” (Rom 6:6)
“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20)
“And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” (Gal 5:24)
The Cross and Reconciliation
The Bible speaks of (the sacrifice of) the cross as a means of reconciliation. Notice how “the cross” can be equated to “the death.”
“And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:” (Eph 2:16)
“For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” (Rom 5:10)
Romans 5:10 makes a distinction between reconciliation and salvation. We are “reconciled to God;” we no longer have enmity (Romans 8:7) against God, because of our understanding of Jesus’ death. Also, we are being “saved by His life” – being spiritually healed through His work in us and by seeing the example of His life which works a change in us:
“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Cor 3:18)
It is important to understand who is being reconciled to who by the death of Christ. In the two verses above and this passage it is we who are reconciled to God.
“And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.” (2 Cor 5:18-19)
The Bible never mentions God being reconciled to us. There is no need for a reconciliation in that direction; no need for any change on God’s part towards us. He always loves us and is ever-merciful. That is much different than the Traditional Legal Model which requires a blood sacrifice and death in order to have sins forgiven. This verse may naturally come to mind:
“And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.” (Heb 9:22)
It is discussed in detail on its own page – Hebrews 9:22
The All-Important Cross
The cross was all-important to Paul:
“But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” (Gal 6:14)
Paul gloried in the cross by personally dwelling on Christ’s sacrificial death and by making that very prominent in his teaching and preaching:
“For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:2)
It is interesting that he wrote this after his time sharing in Athens where his success was more limited with the Greeks who were much more logical, analytical thinkers.
Cross Definition – The Eternal Cross
As soon as there was sin there was a Savior:
“And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb [planned to be] slain from the foundation of the world.” (Rev 13:8)
Even in anticipation, Jesus would have suffered from the beginning of sin. His suffering was largely due to the sympathy He had for His suffering children since sin entered as in these verses:
“In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old.” (Isa 63:9)
“And they put away the strange gods from among them, and served the LORD: and his soul was grieved for the misery of Israel.” (Jud 10:16)
We identify the suffering mostly with the event of the cross itself:
“Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2)
However, and since that suffering had such a large mental and emotional component to it, the pain in His heart continues to this day in reaction to every sin and act of violence:
“If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” (Heb 6:6)
Christ’s (along with His Father’s) greatest cross is yet to come – at the end of the millennium when all the lost will come to an end. Even beyond the end of sin, there will be a reminder:
“And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.” (Zech 13:6)
In the future, some who are saved (perhaps who lived long before the cross) and never heard about the cross will only learn of it and its significance in heaven.
Effects of Beholding the Cross
I watched the movie The Passion of the Christ (Mel Gibson, 2004) – it did not make me feel especially loving. My understanding at that time was more of the Traditional Legal Model. Many people watching that would likely be led to think that God is extremely bloodthirsty or to ask “is that God’s justice?” Really?
It is important to remember that the cross is not about a legal punishment. What it does show is the love of God in how far He was willing to go to convince us of His love and forgiveness.
We should recognize also, as we share with others, that the story of the cross has a drawing power. As we lift up the cross, explaining it in a relational rather than a legal framework, it will have a drawing power.
“And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” (John 12:32)
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