The cross has become a huge symbol in modern times making its way into our language, art, culture, and even modern jewelry. Christians see the cross as a symbol of hope but do you know the real meaning of the cross?
The Meaning of the Cross of Jesus
Table of Contents
If we are going to truly understand the meaning of the cross, we’re going to have to spend a little time uncovering the history of the cross and the reason Christ died for us.
What did the cross mean before Jesus?
In ancient Rome, only the vilest criminals were crucified. Crucifixion represented the cruelest, slowest, and most painful way to die and carried with it the shame of being made into a public spectacle while you were being killed.
It was often used by Rome as a deterrent to those who would rebel against their rule. The cross was kind of a “don’t cross me or this will happen to you” message.
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Death by crucifixion was one of the most heinous ways to die in the ancient world. Before a person was crucified they would first be scourged. The person was whipped with a flagellum – a handle, to which several cords or leather thongs were affixed.
The cords were weighted with jagged pieces of bone or metal, to make each blow more painful and effective. In his weakened condition, the condemned would then have to walk with his cross to the site of his execution.
As they nailed him to the cross, his bloody, torn back would press into the base of the cross. Can you imagine the pain? He would be trying to balance his weight on a pole while bearing the pain of nails driven through his hands and feet.
This was the death the Savior of the world experienced.
Related article: How Did Crucifixion Kill? (The Guardian)
So why did God send His only Son to die a criminal’s death? Why did God allow His Son to go through that?
I think the only answer is “because of sin”. Sin made us criminals as far as God was concerned and we had earned the death penalty.
Why did Jesus willingly subject Himself to the agony of a crucifixion? It’s because He loved us.
When Jesus decided to take on the sins of the whole world, He became a criminal times the billions of people who exist, have ever existed, or will exist…that’s a lot of sin!
God wanted us to know that look, that kind of death is what you deserve but instead, I’m going to give you grace. We got an executive pardon from the King Himself.
We only have an inkling of an idea of what death on a cross feels like. Movies, paintings, and people who get “crucified” once a year, portray a “clean” version of death on a cross. They attempt to belittle the meaning of the cross and the sacrifice of a Savior who died for our sins.
The naysayers claim it couldn’t have happened the way the Bible says it did. The scoffers claim four hours was much too short for someone to die by crucifixion. How long could they have lasted on a cross with their flesh torn to pieces and bearing the sin and shame of the whole world?
I believe the biblical account of Jesus’ crucifixion is real. I know the person on the cross should have been me-
So I worship the God who loved me so much He would die for me. I’m thankful Immanuel was born and became “God with us”, but I’m oh, so much more grateful for His death on a cross.
Why did Jesus die for us?
One of the great themes of the Bible is God’s great love for humanity. Since the beginning of time, God has pursued humanity in an attempt to save us from the destruction that results from sin. The fact that Christ died for our sins may seem like the furthest thing from love until we understand the reason for His death.
After the fall, the sin offering was put forth as a way to transfer the sin from the sinner to a blameless lamb. This allowed the individual to stand spotless before the Lord (Leviticus 4:1-35).
But the blood of animals was not enough to save mankind from sin. No animal, no matter how perfect it was, could take the place of a human being.
A greater sacrifice was needed.
The Creator Himself, gave up His place as God of the universe to come to Earth to die for humanity. He was not compelled. He was not forced. He knew, that only God’s blood was enough to save the world.
What does Jesus say about the cross?
Jesus tried to get His followers to understand the meaning of the cross long before the prophecy was fulfilled. Before His crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples:
“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’
If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also (John 15:18-20 NKJV).
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (Mark 8:34 ESV).
And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me (Matthew 10:38 ESV).
These sayings of Jesus were to get His followers to start thinking about what it meant to be the Messiah. Many of them were looking for an earthly kingdom, but Jesus knew His work on the cross transcended the world.
Thankful for the Cross
While we don’t know the date Christ was born, we know He was born of a virgin and lived among humanity. We have many reasons be thankful for His birth, but I remain thankful for the cross. I’m more grateful Jesus died than that He was born. Stay with me for a second.
When Jesus Chose the Cross
Imagine that the Messiah was born – He fulfilled all the prophecies about His birth. He lived His life and fulfilled all the prophecies of Isaiah and the Old Testament seers. He healed the sick, raised the dead, and gave sight to the blind. He taught and exemplified the love of God the Father for His children. Fast-forward three and a half years to the Garden of Gethsemane –
Jesus knew His death was imminent and so He prayed. But instead of saying “Not my will Lord but thine be done.” He said, “Not my will Lord, I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to die.” The entire plan of salvation would have come to a screeching halt in an instant. If Jesus had not died of His own free will, you and I would have been lost forever.
Celebrate His Willpower
So, I’m thankful for Jesus’ willpower. I’m thankful that though He was, at that moment, human as we are, He did not give in to the flesh. He didn’t step back from the pain, torture, and humiliation which lay ahead. Instead, He leaned into it because He loved us.
I’m grateful Jesus did not call on the legions of angels who stood ready to do His bidding. I’m glad He did not ask them to take Him away from Jerusalem.I'm thankful God, the Father--who is all-powerful--restrained Himself from saving His son from the cross. #thankfulforthecross #whatareyouthankfulfor #hebrews12endurance Click To Tweet
I’m awed because God the Father, who knew the pain His Son would face at Golgotha, allowed Him to go to Jerusalem. As a parent, I know how difficult it is to watch my child take a path that I know leads to difficulty, so I’m happy God did not throw Himself in the path between Jesus and His persecutors.
I’m thankful God the Father – who is all-powerful – restrained Himself from saving His Son from crucifixion.
Bible Verses that Remind Us of The Meaning of the Cross
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18 ESV).
Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2 ESV).
But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8 ESV).
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8 ESV).
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23 ESV).
And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross (Colossians 1:20 ESV).
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed (1 Peter 2:24 ESV).
But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53:5 ESV).
He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2 ESV).
We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin )Romans 6:6 ESV).
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV).
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17 ESV).
Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him (Romans 6:8 ESV).
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:13-14 ESV).
He Died So We Could Live
God’s great love is expressed in Romans 5:8. I love the way the Berean Study Bible renders this verse:
But God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (emphasis added).
We live in a world where everything must be verifiable. If we want to buy something, we must have good credit. If we seek employment, we must be qualified, experienced, or both. Everything must first be proven.
God’s love for His people has been proven throughout the ages. But the skeptic is going to say, “I’ve read the Bible but those things don’t apply to me. All the things that God did in those days were done specifically for the nation of Israel.”
I have good news for that person. Christ died for him. Christ died for you and He died for me. And the best news is:
God didn’t wait for us to change and start “living right”.
His Son died for us in our current state. Are you a fornicator? He died for you. Do you tell lies? He died for you. Have you committed murder? He died for you. Are you a sinner? He died for you. Jesus died for us.
There’s no greater love than that. the cross of Jesus represents the biggest sacrifice that has been made in the history of the world. One Person died so others could have the opportunity to live free from the bondage of sin. Jesus died on the cross so we could be reconciled with our Heavenly Father.
The Work of the Cross
Jesus on the cross has become a visible symbol of salvation. The cross of Jesus did for sinners what no animal sacrifice could fully accomplish: it removed the death penalty from our heads.
We no longer needed anyone or anything to die for our sins. Christ, the perfect lamb, had been crucified and His death was enough to save all of humanity from every sin we commit past, present, or future.
The only thing we have to do is accept that Jesus died for our sins and know that He is the only way through which we may be saved.
What Does the Cross Mean to You?
At some point in their lives, everyone has to make a decision: what does the cross of Jesus mean to you? This is the question that leads towards an acknowledgment that we need Jesus if we are to stand blameless before God.
Until we personalize the meaning of the cross, we will continue to make light of the sacrifice Christ made at Calvary. As Christ-followers, our introspection should take us to another level: Christ died for you, what are you willing to do for Jesus?
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