Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Cross in the New Testament

 Pastor John,

I have been restudying about the sacrifice of Christ.  I’ve had a desire to put up an “ad” on the web site for the sacrifice of Christ teaching that captures the significance of the truth as well as the typical error of Christianity in this area.  As a part of that, I have read what some Christian writers say about the cross.  One thing that became very clear is that despite Christ’s ascent into heaven to accomplish his sacrifice (Heb. 9:24–27), they consistently talk about him accomplishing everything on the cross.  Christians so often talk about the cross and preaching the cross!  The cross seems to be analogous to the gospel for many of them.

I wanted to see for myself everything that was said in the New Testament about the cross.  My summary of that study and my comments are below.  Overall, it seems that Paul spoke of the cross primarily as the means for removing the requirement to observe Moses’ law, the thing that divided Jews from Gentiles.  This is not the significance that Christians attach to the cross.  They speak erroneously of Jesus’ “finished work on the cross”, as if his death on the cross was all that needed to be done and one is “saved” if he just has faith in that.  That seems to be the error that characterizes Christian thought in this matter. 

As you will see, the verses from 1Corinthians 1 (below) caused me the most difficulty.  Paul’s use of “cross” in those verses seems to approximate what Christians say about the cross.  I would like your comments on 1Corinthians 2:2: “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”  Why did Paul say this when we know that elsewhere he discussed the need for the resurrection and the spirit of God? 


Introduction: The Cross

The word cross occurs twenty-eight times in the New Testament scriptures.  Thirteen times, “cross” seems clearly to be referring just to Christ’s actual cross or his crucifixion on it.  Six times (twice each in Matthew, Mark and Luke), it refers to the cross which those who would follow Jesus must take up.  These nineteen occurrences do not contribute anything to the discussion and are grouped separately at the end of this study, just for completeness.

The remaining nine occurrences are below.  In these verses, Paul is attaching significance to the cross which is beyond a simple description of the physical cross on which Jesus died.

1. Galatians

Galatians 5

11. As for me, brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still persecuted?  In that case, the offense of the cross is removed.

Galatians 6

12. As many as desire to put on a good show in the flesh, they compel you to be circumcised, but only so they might not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.

13. For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they might boast in your flesh.

14. But far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world.

15. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but being a new creature does.

Summary of Galatians:

Paul connects the cross with the Gentiles not being required to be circumcised and thus become subject to the law (cf. Gal. 5:3).  Paul says there is an “offense of the cross” which would end if he added circumcision to his preaching, for that persecution (from Jews against Paul and his gospel) was coming against him because he did not preach circumcision to the Gentiles.  The cross, in Paul’s thinking, did away with the need for the law, with its ceremonies and symbolism.  He gloried only in being a new creature in Christ, where circumcision was irrelevant because it achieved nothing for our souls.

Pastor John’s note: This is good Damien.  The “offense of the cross” that Paul mentions here is also the public disgrace which was attached to being crucified.  One of the stumbling-blocks to faith in Jesus in the public mind was simply that Jesus was crucified, a humiliating death imposed upon the least respectable characters.  To be closely associated with someone who was crucified was an embarrassment enough, but to claim that God loved a crucified person – and that a crucified man was the Savior of the world! – would have seemed completely absurd to people of the time.  Only God could touch a heart to believe it.

I believe that this is part of what Paul had in mind in 1Corinthians 2:2, and so I will respond to your inquiry concerning that verse here.  When Paul said, “I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified,” he had in mind two things: (1) to teach the Corinthians to trust in the power of the Spirit alone, and not in either the ceremonial works of the law or Gentile philosophy, and (2) to combat the pride which strict adherence to ceremonies and dependence on philosophy can cause by reminding them that the way of Jesus is a way that people of this world consider a disgrace and will never respect anyone for taking.

2. Ephesians and Colossians

Ephesians 2

4.    For he is our peace, who made of the two one and destroyed the dividing partition,

15. the enmity in his flesh, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, nullifying it so that he might make of those two one new man in himself, thus making peace,

16. and that he might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, having put to death the enmity within himself,

17. and after he was gone, he preached the gospel of peace to you who were far off as well as to those who were near,

18. for through him, we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Colossians 1

20.  And having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.

The verse above speaks of peace being made by the blood of his cross and of reconciliation to God.  Ephesians 2:14 also speaks of Christ making peace by making Jew and Gentile one, and of reconciliation to God.  Paul’s reference to the cross here is thus similar to Ephesians 2, though broader in application.

Colossians 2:14 also says exactly the kind of thing that was being said in Ephesians 2:

Colossians 2

10. and you are complete in him who is the head of every ruler and authority,

11. in whom you also are circumcised with a circumcision performed without hands, in the removal of the nature of the flesh given to sins, by the circumcision of Christ,

12. buried with him in baptism, in which you also are raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

13. And you, being dead in transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made alive with him, forgiving us of all transgressions,

14. after he had done away with the writing of ordinances by hand, which was contrary to us, removing it from between us when he nailed it to the cross,

15. by which, stripping the rulers and authorities, he exposed them publicly, leading them along in a Triumph.

16. Therefore, do not allow anyone to condemn you in matters of eating or drinking, or in regard to a feast, or a new moon, or a Sabbath,

17. which are a shadow of things to come, but the reality is of Christ.

Summary of Ephesians and Colossians:

In both letters, Paul teaches that by the cross, Jews and Gentiles have been brought together in the peace of Christ by his abolishing the commandments of ordinances, the ceremonial requirements of the law which divided them, through the death of his fleshly body on the cross.

3. Philippians

Philippians 3

18. For many (of whom I have told you often, and say again now with tears) live as enemies of the cross of Christ,

19. whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.

Summary of Philippians:

This verse concludes a section where Paul starts (3:2) by warning the Philippians of those who would have them circumcised – “mutilated”, he calls it!  He defines true circumcision in verse 3, then discusses his Jewish pedigree, but concludes by saying that all those things are dung (v. 8)!  In verses 9–14, he stresses his desire for the things that come from being in Christ rather than from a righteousness derived from keeping the law.  In verses 15–17, Paul reminds the Philippians to stay in the faith they have already attained to, to follow Paul’s example and the example of those who are likewise not relying on the law.  In verse 18, he says that many are walking in a way that makes them enemies of the cross.

The context of this passage requires that unnamed men are teaching Gentiles to submit to the ordinances and ceremonies of the law, which begins with circumcision.  This use of “cross” thus agrees with Galatians, Ephesians and Colossians above.

5. 1Corinthians

1Corinthians 1

17. For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, not with cleverness of speech, lest the cross of Christ be made of no effect.

18. The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.

Here, Paul seems to be using “cross” in a way different from the previous examples, namely, as a synonym for the gospel that he preached.

Verse 17 gives rise to a question.  Is it the using of “cleverness of speech” which makes the cross of Christ of none effect or is it the baptizing of people in water which has that effect?  The latter possibility seems difficult in the Greek, but it would make sense, given how Paul used “cross” in the previous examples.  One problem with it is, who are those who are “being destroyed”?  If Paul is making a distinction between those who trust in Christ but require the law (“Judaizers”) and those who trust solely in Christ, then the ones being destroyed would be those who trust in both Christ and the law.  But there is no reference in nearby verses which states that.  The verses at the beginning of 1Corinthians 2 seem to point to it being the “cleverness of speech” that is the problem:

1. Now, when I came to you, brothers, I did not come with lofty speech or wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God.

2. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

Summary of 1Corinthians:

In verse 18, Paul’s point seems to be that (1) Christ did not suit the way Jews expected things to work out and that (2) Christ did not satisfy the intellectual pride of the Greek mind.  Both had to humble down to God’s way of doing things.

Verse 18 seems closest to the way Christianity talks about the cross, but that verse could harmonize with the other uses if we understand, with Paul, that the cross removed the need to be a Jew and keep the law, and made it possible for anyone who has faith in Christ to be IN Christ and, ultimately, be saved.  This would mean that those who clung to the law and its works were going to be destroyed.

Pastor John’s Note: The Corinthians’ proximity to Athens, in addition to the typical Greek mindset, would assure that they had to deal with the influence of philosophy.  That influence would have been twofold: (1) the pride that philosophy can cause and (2) the temptation to depend on human reasoning instead of the power of God.  When Paul tells the Corinthians in 1:1, above, that he “did not come with lofty speech or wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God,” he added later how he did come to them, and why: “My message and my preaching were not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power, so that your faith might not be in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (2:4–5).

6. References to our personal cross

Mt. 10:38:  And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.

Mt. 16:24: Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

Mk. 8:34: And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

Mk. 10:21: Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.

Lk. 9:23: And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross  daily, and follow me.

Lk. 14:27: And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.

Pastor John’s Note: These are obviously references to the will of God for us as individuals.  The will of God for Jesus was, uniquely, to suffer on a physical cross for the sins of the world.  Each believer’s “cross” is likewise unique, for everyone in the body of Christ has his own function in accordance with his particular circumstance.

7. References to the cross as a physical object

Mt. 27:32: And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross.

Mt. 27:40: And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself.  If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.

Mt. 27:42: He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him.

Mk. 15:21: And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross.

Mk. 15:30: Save thyself, and come down from the cross.

Mk. 15:32: Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe. And they that were crucified with him reviled him.

Lk. 23:26: And as they led him away, they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus.

Jn. 19:17: And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha:

Jn. 19:19: And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross.  And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS.

Jn. 19:25: Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.

Jn. 19:31: The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.

Phip. 2:8: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Heb. 12:2: 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.

Pastor John’s Note: Thank you Damien.  This was a worthwhile study of an important element of the gospel of Christ.