In its more important use in the New Testament, the term cross refers to the framework of wood upon which Christ was crucified. It becomes at once not only a symbol of His death by crucifixion but a synonym of the words sacrifice, suffering, and death. The unique manner in which the inanimate timber on which Christ was crucified is linked with the very Person of the One slain there is to be seen in Galatians 6:14, where the terminology cross becomes, through use of the words "by whom," identified with that which Christ became in His death. The passage reads, "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."
In its doctrinal significance, the word cross is subject to a twofold usage, namely, (1) that which relates to Christ's sufferings and death and (2) that which relates to the believer's suffering and sacrifice.
1. Christ's Sufferings and Death. One passage may be cited under this heading, namely, 1 Corinthians 1:18, which reads: "For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God." Here the whole value of Christ's sufferings and death is in view. To the unsaved, apart from the enlightenment of the Spirit, the message of redemption is
"foolishness." Thus the Apostle declares in 1 Corinthians 2:14 also, "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." Likewise he states, "But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1:23-24). In this revealing body of Scripture the attitude of the unsaved, here termed foolishness, is not to be considered an intimation that they are making light of the cross by ridicule; it is rather that the best explanation of Christ's death which they are able to conceive falls so far below the truth that it proves to be foolishness, that is, it would have been folly for Christ to die if actuated only by the objectives these unregenerate people assign to His death. The historic fact of Christ's death, unique event as that was (the only holy man that ever walked on earth was forsaken of God and crucified as a malefactor), does require an explanation on the part of every thoughtful person. To claim, as some have done, that Christ's death was to the end that divine sympathy might be shown for those who are lost fails of the truth completely. Though He might display the sympathy of God, in so doing there would be no relief provided the one for whom Christ suffered either in respect to the cause of his woe or to the woe itself. To declare that Christ's death is of value to the extent that it reveals the evil character of sin and with the intent that sinners might turn from sin, once that is exposed, is to miss the essential truth again; for if all people could be persuaded to abandon sinful practices and even were they enabled to sin no more, there would still not be one person saved by such an achievement. Efforts to reform the lost apart from regeneration—the true objective in Christ's death—are well termed the folly of the ages. To suppose that Christ died as a martyr, the unwilling victim of a mob, and that to die for one's convictions must be glorious is likewise to be misled about the real meaning of His death. For Christ was not an unwilling victim, for He said of Himself that He laid down His life that He might take it again (John 10:17). In the second place the death of a hero, no matter how glorious, provides no reconciliation between God and man respecting sin. There is but one answer to the question of why Christ died. This has been stated in the Old Testament thus, "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:5-6), and in the New Testament by the words, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). To each individual the death of Christ should mean what it did to the great Apostle when he said: "The Son of God, ... loved me, and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20).
2. The Believer's Suffering and Sacrifice. Here all thought of making satisfaction for sin, as in the death of Christ, is excluded. It is only as the cross of Christ represents His personal sacrifice and suffering that it becomes, too, the symbol of the believer's sacrifice and suffering. The denial of self that the life may be lived for God is in view. Christ said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Matt. 16:24). A true definition of the believer's cross-bearing has been given in 2 Corinthians 4:10-11, where it is said: "Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh." By self-adjustment to the will of God, being ready even for a martyr's death, the attitude of Christ Himself was reproduced in the Apostle who was ministering to the Corinthian believers (cf. Rom. 9:1-3; 12:1-2; Phil. 2:5-8; 3:7-9; Heb. 10:4-7).
Was this article helpful?