The sacrifice of Christ as an atonement for sin is the great truth around which all other truths cluster. In order to be rightly understood and appreciated, every truth in the Word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, must be studied in the light that streams from the cross of Calvary. - Ellen G. White (GW 315)
At the very heart of the gospel message is the truth concerning the cross of Christ [1 Cor. 17, 18]. It is Satan's determined purpose to enshroud this truth in darkness. In this he has had some measure of success. By convincing the Christian church to believe a lie, that men possesses an immortal soul, he has robbed the cross of its glory. If man possesses an immortal soul, then death is not goodbye to life but simply the separation of the soul from the body. In which case, that which constitutes Christ's supreme sacrifice was the shame and torture of the cross, no different than that of the two thieves that were crucified with Him and countless others who were executed by crucifixion.
Another factor that has robbed the cross of its glory is perceiving the crucifixion of Christ from the Roman perspective. While it is true Christ was crucified on a Roman cross, it must be remembered that it was not the Romans who demanded His crucifixion but the Jews [that is, the Jewish leadership]. It is only as we perceive the cross of Christ from the Jewish perspective, as did the New Testament writers, that we can begin to grasp the meaning of His supreme sacrifice, that demonstrated His infinite and unconditional love for us [Rom. 5:5-8].
Crucifixion was not a Jewish method of execution; on the contrary, the Jews detested the cross because it had a very special meaning for them. As we discover the significance of the cross to the Jews, we will understand why the Jews demanded that Christ be put to death by crucifixion and why this constitutes the supreme sacrifice.
The cross was invented by the Phoenicians approximately 600 years before Christ, then adopted by the Egyptians and later the Romans, who refined it and used it to execute run-away slaves and their worst criminals. Crucifixion was the most painful and shameful instrument of execution ever practiced by man. Besides bringing disgrace and shame, it involved much pain, physically as well as mentally, and it could take anything from three to seven days for the crucified one to die. But as we look at the cross of Christ with Jewish spectacles, we will discover that it meant something totally different to them. The following is a brief outline of the crucifixion of Christ and its significance:
|Jn. 19:5-7||The Jews demanded that Pilate have Christ crucified because, according to
their law, He had committed the sin of blasphemy.
|Lev. 24:16||But the law they were referring to stipulated death by stoning and not
crucifixion. Were they not aware of this fact?
|Jn. 10;30, 31||The Jews were fully aware that the law of blasphemy was punishable by
stoning. Why then did they demand Christ be crucified, especially since crucifixion was
not a Jewish method of execution?
|Deut. 21:23||Because the Jews of Christ's day identified crucifixion with hanging
on a tree. To the Jew, to be crucified meant you had committed the unpardonable sin
and was being punished by the irrevocable curse of God, the equivalent of the second death
of the New Testament [Rev.20:6,14]. By crying out "crucify him," the Jews were
asking God to pour out His wrath on Christ that He may experience the eternal death,
goodbye to life forever. (It must be remembered that the Jews did not believe in an
immortal soul; that was a Greek concept.)
|Josh. 10:25-27||An example of God's irrevocable curse invoked upon Israel's
enemies. (This text must be understood in the light of Gen. 15:13-16.)
|Isa. 53:4, 10||To the Jews, Christ crucified meant God had placed His curse on Him; this
involved much more than the shame and pain of the Roman cross. The Jews of New Testament
times who rejected Christ would often, in contempt, refer to Jesus as "the hanged
one," meaning the one who was cursed by God.
|Gal. 3:10, 13||God did place His curse on Christ on the cross. However, it was not for blasphemy but for our sins. On the cross God "spared not His own Son" the full wages of sin, the curse of the law, when He made Him to be "sin for us" [Rom. 8:32; 2 Cor. 5:21]. This is the wrath of God Christ experienced on our behalf and which Jesus identified with "the cup" in the upper room and in Gethsemane [Matt. 26:27, 28, 39; Rev. 14:9-11].|
Note: It is for this reason that the New Testament writers identified Christ crucified with "hanged on a tree" [Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29; 1 Pet. 2:24]. (This curse was represented by the fire that consumed the sacrificed lamb in the Sanctuary service.)
The fact Christ rose from the dead, predicted His resurrection, and claimed that He could lay down His life and than take it up again, is a stumbling block to many in accepting the idea that Christ actually experienced the second death on the cross. It is only when we realize the self-emptying of Christ at the incarnation and its implications that we can grasp the true sacrifice of Christ on the cross. The following is a brief outline of how Christ totally gave Himself up for our redemption:
|Phil.2:6-8||At the incarnation Jesus totally gave up His divine prerogatives i.e.,
the independent use of His divinity. By His own choice, He became a slave to the Father.
This meant, as a man, He was completely God dependent and had to live by faith alone, just
as we do [Jn. 5:19,30; 6:57; 8:28; 14:10].
|Rom. 6:4||Christ was also totally God dependent for His resurrection and the New
Testament clearly teaches that He was raised up by the glorious power of the Father [Acts
2:24,32; Eph. 1:20].
|Matt. 27:46||On the cross Christ actually felt forsaken by the Father. This meant that
the hope of being raised by the Father was taken away from Him. He was now treading the
winepress alone, experiencing the full cup of the wrath of God against sin, i.e., God
abandonment, the curse of the law [Matt. 26:38-42; Rom. 8:32; Gal. 3:13].
|Lk. 23:35-39||Satan was fully aware of this. Taking advantage of the terrible mental
anguish this second death experience Christ was undergoing, the devil tempted Him three
times to give up His faith in the Father, grab hold of His divine power, and independently
come down from the cross and save Himself.
|Jn. 19:30||Confronted by these fierce temptations, that no man will fully
understand, Christ had to make a choice: "Shall I come down from the cross and save
myself or shall I surrender to this second death, goodbye to life forever, so that the
world may be saved?" His choice was: "Not my will, but thine, be done." By
submitting to the full wages of sin, Christ demonstrated that He loves us more than
Himself [Rom. 5:8; Jn: 15:13; 1 Jn. 3:16; Rev. 1:5].
|Mk. 15:43-45||Pilate marvelled at such an early death because it was not normal for the
crucified one to die so soon. But it was this curse of the law that Christ experienced on
our behalf that actually killed Him within six hours of His crucifixion. The soldiers that
watched Christ die were equally surprised and had to make sure He was dead by piercing His
side [Jn. 19: 31-34].
|Isa. 53:11,12||It is this supreme sacrifice that satisfied a just and holy God and
lawfully saved mankind from the curse of the law. Hence, all who receive Christ and Him
crucified by faith will never have to experience the second death [2 Cor. 5:18-21; 2 Tim.
1:7-10; Rev. 20:6].
|2 Cor. 5:14,15||This self-emptying agape love of Christ, manifested on the cross, is what transformed the disciples from a bunch of greedy self-seeking individuals to men of God who were now willing to totally deny self and turn the world upside down with the good news of salvation. The same truth must transform us so that we feel compelled to live and die for Christ [Eph. 5:2].|