On Jesus' Cross
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On Jesus' Cross
Jesus' Cross: Historical Context
Pompey led the Roman Empire in war against the nation of Israel and overthrew Jerusalem in 63 B.C. and subsequently made it a client kingdom. The Romans occupied the region for well over a century thereafter. As part of its system of control, it instigated crucifixion (nailing people to a wooden cross to die a slow and painful death from blood loss, suffocation and related effects) as a means of capital punishment. The historical documents that describe the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ indicate that this was the form of death with which he met.
Yet, the story of Jesus goes back hundreds of years before his birth. Prophets (people who claim to hear from God and foretell coming events) predicted the birth and death of a coming savior of the world several hundred years before the birth of Jesus Christ. Most notably, the prophet Isaiah described in detail the execution of the coming savior around 700 B.C. in Isaiah chapter 53. When this reference is compared to the descriptions of Jesus on the cross, the similarities are stunning. They describe Jesus’ cross in precisely the same way that prophets predicted the coming savior (Messiah) would die hundreds of years earlier.
The description of Christ’s cross and suffering is one of the most gruesome depictures of any figure in human history. Yet, this horrific form of torture and execution is set in stark contrast to the recorded teachings and life of Jesus Christ. History records the life of Jesus as being occupied with loving others, caring for the needs of the poor and hurting in the most sacrificial of ways. His teachings were recorded as being filled with such principles as loving others as yourself and turning your other cheek to the person who just struck you. It’s interesting that such a sacrificially loving person is recorded as having met the most gruesome of possible deaths. The irony isn’t easily missed.
His biographers record that the cross of Jesus was preceded by a lengthy and severe beating that left him barely recognizable and brought him near the point of death. They suggest this beating was followed by him being nailed to a wooden cross. Upon this cross for the better part of a day, Jesus is recorded demonstrating the same love and kindness to others crucified near him as he did to others during the rest of his life. Even on the cross, Jesus is recorded as having loved freely and sacrificially.
Despite the grueling nature of Jesus’ cross, his biographers indicate that Jesus not only predicted his own death but foretold the means and manner of it too (see John 3:10-15, 8:21-27, 12:20-36). He knew the cross of Jesus was before him. His biographers suggest that his use of the phrase “being lifted up” was common vernacular of the culture for the act of someone being lifted up on a cross and crucified.
As the time for Jesus’ cross approached, he prayed this prayer, “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.” (John 12:27) His biographers suggest that Jesus revealed the purpose for his cross to be the salvation of the world; hence, the reason for his coming into the world. Despite his in trepidation of facing Christ’s cross and everything that entailed, he faced it head on.
His biographers suggest that Christ’s cross was a necessary element in God’s plan for sending him into the world. He described the purpose for this life in this manner, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son." (John 3:16-18)
So, according to his biographers, Jesus declared that he went to the cross to offer up his life in payment for the sins (mistakes) made by every member of the human race. They suggest that he wasn’t just any man. Indeed, they indicate that he was the only Son of God born into this world for a very special purpose. According to his biographers, Jesus died willingly so that through his death, every person would be given the opportunity to be united with God in heaven in eternity (that reality that exists outside our universe of time and space).
Yet, his biographers suggest that Jesus’ cross is not the end of the story. Historical documents indicate that 3 days following Jesus’ cross, death and burial, Jesus arose from the dead (was resurrected). They report that 3 days following his death and burial, his disciples found his tomb (burial place) empty. They suggest that he was seen by 500 people during one of several appearances in the 40 days that followed. His biographers record that Jesus had done what no other person had ever managed to do. After being dead and buried for 3 days, he conquered death and returned to life. After 40 days of appearances with his followers watching on, Jesus ascended into the clouds.
So, if the historical documents are accurate and Jesus’ claims are true, the cross of Jesus stands as the bridge between God and the human race. Jesus’ biographers suggest that the death of Jesus on the cross made a way for the human race to have their sins (mistakes) paid for by God himself to make a way for people to be united with God in eternity on the other side of this life.
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