Would you like to know what the history of the cross is and what it symbolizes for Christians? The cross is undoubtedly the most used religious symbol in the history of mankind.
It is present both in Christianity and in certain occult organizations. Its presence in a place reflects the existence of a temple, a church, a cathedral … It can also be found at the entrance to cemeteries, on the graves of our disappeared or on the skin of certain people of whom it is a sign of beauty.
Although its meaning in Christianity refers to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, this symbol was not introduced into Christianity until three centuries after his death.
Let us remember before continuing that the cross was not born with Christianity and less with the death of Jesus Christ. Other men were crucified before and after Jesus Christ. And even on the mount of Calvary called Golgotha, Mark 15:27, Luke 23:32, John 19:18 ).
Men could kill Jesus in another way. But why did God choose the cross? Let’s first see the very origin of this symbol, the meanings assigned to it over time before touching the concern is ours.
The origin of the story of the cross
The history of the cross has its origins in the ancient Babylonians of Chaldea. Chaldea lies south of present-day Baghdad on the diamond formed by the lower Tigris and the Euphrates.
From there, rapid progression was made to China, India, parts of Africa, including Egypt, and other places in the world before Christianity was born. Originally, the cross is a pagan symbol, so the main shape is a T symbolizing the initial of the god Thammuz , a character from a Babylonian pagan myth. Many meanings have been attributed to this symbol over time:
History of the cross in Europe
In Europe, more precisely, where Italy is located today, centuries before our era, it was already considered a religious symbol and was placed on graves as protection against the spirits of the dead. This practice has spread throughout the world. It is still present today in the four corners of the world.
History of the cross in Egypt
In Egypt, the cross had a different shape than what we know today. This cross was called an ansée or ANKH cross where the upper part was a circle. This made it possible to use it as a jewel. It symbolized eternal life and fertility . That is why it was placed in the tomb of the pharaohs whom the Egyptians of the time considered immortal gods. It is from this cross that many religions derive theirs, namely:
- Kabbalistic cross
- Celtic cross
- Druid cross
- Christian cross
- Buddhist cross
- Byzantine cross, etc
History of the cross in Rome
Let’s talk about the cross in the Roman Empire, since it was under this regime that Jesus was crucified . It was used as an instrument of torture reserved for the death penalty of slaves, criminals and repressions against local riots. But the crucifixion was not born in the Roman Empire. This method of execution came from the Persians .
You will know its most diabolical meaning among the Romans. Unlike certain peoples for whom it was a protection, among the Persians it was the very symbol of evil and curse among the Romans.
Without a doubt, it is the cruelest means of execution in the history of mankind . The condemned slowly died of suffocation under the heat, suffering and mockery of the people. At this time there were other methods of execution such as: Stoning, hanging … But why did Jesus, who was holiness itself, choose the cross to die?
Reasons for choosing God
Many prophecies have spoken of the virgin birth, holy life, and death of Jesus. But it is surprising to note that none of them speak of his actual crucifixion.
Isaiah 53 tells us of his death and the consequences that accompany it, however, it does tell us about the cross itself. Jesus Christ himself throughout his ministry does not speak of it, even when speaking of his death to his disciples ( Matthew 16:21, Luke 18: 31-34, Mark 10: 32-34 ).
When reading these passages, we see that the Lord Jesus Christ does not make any precision about the means that will be used to put him to death.
- Why did Jesus keep the scene of his death a secret?
- Was it to avoid an indignation like that of the Apostle Peter?
Remember that the devil did not want Jesus to die on the cross because he represented a power. It is difficult to understand that an instrument of torture, which was originally a pagan symbol, could be a divine power. We will understand it in the following lines.
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The story of the cross and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ
Jesus had come for the supreme sacrifice. And each sacrifice requires a lamb and an altar. The greatness of the sacrifice required an exceptional altar. A place where good defies evil. The cross was the only place where this sacrifice could be performed.
No one wanted to be there ( Revelation 5: 4 ). It symbolized evil in itself for men. With this choice, Jesus Christ first wants to make it understood that even the slave and the criminal could have a place in the kingdom of God if they confessed their sins.
That the sin was not so great as not to be forgiven. This is verified on the very day of his crucifixion by the promise made to one of those who were condemned with him ( Luke 23: 40-43 ).
Then death is what every man fears; and coming back to life can be considered the greatest of miracles. Jesus resurrected quite a few people throughout his ministry. Through resurrection, death is challenged.
This required a public and humiliating death on the cross. And Jesus’ own resurrection testifies to the power he has over death and, therefore, over evil.
The story of the cross in Jesus Christ had a purpose
Finally, it was on the cross that everything had to be accomplished. This is what Galatians 3:13 tells us : ” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, becoming a curse for us, because it is written: Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree .”
There was a curse on the cross that only Jesus could wash away because he was God. And to do so, he himself had to become a curse by dying on the cross so that the shed blood would wash away the sin of all mankind.
When Jesus died, the earth shook because all the sins of men fell on him. And at that very moment the curse had disappeared, making the cross a symbol like any other.
The cross for Christians that we are symbolizes the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Although spiritually it represented a divine power because it was the altar of the supreme sacrifice, at the death of Jesus it became a symbol among many others.
Consequences of this act of love
Today it is surprising to note that a good number of people still find protection in the cross to the point of hanging it in the four corners of their home or even using it as a jewel.
If this were the case, evil would not exist. Because it would be enough for each of us to wear one. Also, why are most diabolical rituals performed in cemeteries where we have a strong presence of the cross?
The cross that we carry or admire does not protect us from harm. Protection comes only from the one who symbolizes it: JESUS CHRIST .
No Christian symbol (we say “Christian” and not “religious”) is spiritually effective; that is, any Christian symbol (cross, rosary, image, wood, gold, diamond, etc.) is null and has no effect.
The reason is simple. God said, ” You shall not make yourself a sculpted image, no representation of the things that are in the heavens above, that are on the earth below, and that are in the waters below the earth .” ( Deuteronomy 5: 8 )
Other aspects of the history of the cross
The interest that Christians have in the cross is not archaeological or historical, but Christological. They worry about the eternal, cosmic and soteriological meaning of what happened once and for all with the death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, on the cross.
From a theological point of view, the word “cross” is used as a summary description of the gospel of salvation (Jesus Christ “died for our sins”). The “proclamation of the gospel” is, therefore, “the word of the cross”, “the preaching of Christ crucified” ( 1 Corinthians 1:17 ).
The average Christian enjoys a quality of life that no other religion offers, not even one of its most ardent followers. Only Jesus saves because only Jesus is dead and can offer us what he offers us. No one in the world can match it.
The most wonderful “mystery ” is that of the redemptive death of Christ. We will never know the depth of this because what happened came from the heart of Jesus and the Father.
The story of the cross impacts human thought in many ways. Some think that Jesus was like a martyr, a rejection. Others see in the agony of Christ the image of a dying world. It certainly represented all of that.
Solidarity with our condition, He brought God to our world and to our miseries. We don’t need to ask the question, ” Where is God? ” “We look at the cross and see him there, sharing in our heartbreak, shame, and suffering.
The message of the story of the cross
Seven weeks after the crowd claimed His blood, Peter publicly accused Him: “ You crucified him, you killed him by the hand of the wicked. Therefore, all the house of Israel know with certainty that God made this Jesus, whom you crucified as Lord and Christ ”( Acts 2:23, 36 ).
The effect of his speech was phenomenal because nobody expected it. The preaching of the message of the cross led to repentance to 3,000 people: the first names that were inscribed in the Lamb’s Book of Life .
Jesus Christ crucified has since become the central message of the Gospel of Christians. A gospel very strange ! Religions always featured their great founders; but the gospel of Christ crucified seems utter madness.
However, Paul said, “ I have a great desire to share the Gospel with you too, who are in Rome. Because I am not ashamed of the gospel ”(Romans 1: 15-16) .
- He declared to the Roman citizens in Corinth: ” For I did not think of knowing anything among you but Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ crucified .” ( 1 Corinthians 2: 2 ).
- Paul knew that such a message would be a “ stumbling block ” for the Jews and a “ folly ” for everyone else ( 1 Cor. 1:23 ), but he preached it anyway.
The world heard him and changed. It seemed impossible that this message could transform a depraved generation, but it did. This message is still ” the message ” Crucified Christ has no competitor.
The death of Jesus in the story of the cross:
Jesus took three disciples with Him up a mountain and something wonderful happened. Jesus was gloriously transfigured and two figures from the past appeared: Moses and Elijah. The disciples were shocked by what they saw and heard them talking to Jesus about his impending death, which would be an extraordinary event.
Apparently it was a divine message. We read: ” They spoke of his departure that he was going to carry out in Jerusalem ” ( Luke 9:31 ).
The Greek version translated this word ” departure ” by the term ” exodus ” which reminds us of the liberation of the people of Israel from Egypt, a manifestation of divine power.
Death is described as an ” exodus ” in scripture only twice; the second time is when Peter (who had been with Jesus on the mountain) spoke of his own death. There he had learned that death is really a triumphant event.
When Jesus died, he gave a loud cry. At that moment, he gave his life to God, crying out: “ Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands! »(In Greek: tetelestai, from teleo) .
The Roman centurion heard these words. He had seen many people die before, but never before in such a triumphant manner and said, ” Certainly this man was righteous ” ( Luke 23:47, Matthew 27:54 )
The term tetelestai
The Greek term tetelestai means much more than” finished “; means “accomplished”, “completed”.
A related Greek term is used in John 17: 4 ; Jesus prayed: “I have glorified you on earth, I have completed ( Greek: teleioósas ) the work that you have entrusted to me.”
This word appears again in John 13: 1 : “Having loved his own who were in the world, he crowned his love for them” ( Greek: eis telos )
The story of the cross came to destroy the works of the devil
Many centuries before, the prophet Isaiah had described the sufferings of Christ saying: “ Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, like a dumb sheep before those who shear it; He did not open his mouth ”( Isaiah 53: 7 ).
He bowed to the will of his enemies, though he could have exterminated them with a single word. Jesus seemed to die like a helpless victim, but in that very act all his greatness and his love rested.
In the story of the cross, Christ did more than touch our emotions. He accomplished a purpose that he chose and spoke of throughout his ministry. He often mentioned his impending death. ” Now my soul is troubled. And what shall I say?… Father, deliver me from this hour ”( John 12:27 ).
- “This Hour” : There were great moments when Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, and taught the crowds.
But during all these hours, he mentioned ” the hour ” when his life purpose would be fulfilled, the climax of his entire existence on earth. This hour was His last hour when He died to make atonement. Death was his ultimate goal. He came to face this enemy. He came to destroy the works of the devil .
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Wearing the scars of battle but crowned with victory in the story of the cross
The first reference to the battle of the cross is mentioned in Genesis 3:15 : the seed of the woman will crush the head of the serpent but her heel will be wounded. Jesus also spoke of being ” saddened .” The word here means to be under pressure, constrained, trapped with an intention.
He constantly anticipated his encounter with death, the great enemy. In the Garden of Gethsemane and on Golgotha, he took the serpent of death, strangled it, and returned from the fight three days later, with the scars of that fight but crowned with victory for all of us.
- “Our Lord Jesus Christ destroyed death and took out life and immortality” ( 2 Timothy 1:10 ).
- “He also participated in blood and flesh so that with death he would annihilate the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” ( Hebrews 2:14 ).
The Greek word katargeo which is translated as “annihilate” means to be emptied of its vigor, inactive, useless. The day of victory came through the triumph of Jesus when “death was swallowed up by victory” ( 1 Corinthians 15:54 ).
In the story of the cross, Christ took poison from the serpent’s poisonous hook
The Serpent of Death has lost its poisonous hook. What poisonous hook? “O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin” ( 1 Corinthians 15: 55-56 ).
For any human being, the true horror of death is dying in our sin and passing into the afterlife laden with guilt.
It’s hard for us to grasp its scope, but Christ died in our place to prevent and end this horrible death. He died, not only to destroy death, but also to destroy our sins.
On the cross he drew the poison from the poisonous hook of the serpent and now we can proclaim: “O death, where is your victory? Oh death, where is your thorn? “.
What is sin?
This is the effect of human rebellion on God. Iniquity affects God. Feel all the injustice, all the ruthless cruelty, hatred, falsehood and evil. He is sorry because he loves us all.
His reaction is not that of an offended dignity, but that of a Father. ” Against you only have I sinned,” says David (Psalm 51: 6) . God is not indifferent to what happens on earth. He’s bruised, stabbed by human stubbornness hostile to his heart and his infinitely holy self.
Christ knew that this burden was formidable and He knew its physical horror and the spiritual darkness that accompanied it. But He became sin for us, endured our judgment of hell, and stood between us and the fate that was destined for us. Jesus brought us eternal forgiveness. God did not reject him or make him guilty, but he brought judgment for us as our great “ Second Adam ”, our representative.
The truth of the gospel
The truth of the gospel is not just that sin has been forgiven, but that it has been mastered and overcome. Jesus conquered the worst scenario Satan could have imagined. The promise was: “I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more” ( Jeremiah 31:34 ). He no longer remembers our sins to torment or condemn us.
If we preach another gospel, it is not the gospel of Christ. We are misleading the world when we minimize the horror of the cross, if we present this event by wrapping it in a cotton ball that is ” politically correct .” Without the truth of the cross, the world will die.
When God gave his son, he gave everything he had
Tied to the cross, Christ exposed the whole dimension of his love. How? ‘Or what? If a man said to his wife: “I love you and I am going to prove it by killing me,” this man would be really angry.
How could a suicide prove that a man loves his wife? It wouldn’t do him any good. However, if they killed him trying to protect her, losing his life for her, it would be love. This is how Christ died for us, not just to die, but to die in our place and save us.
Our sin would destroy us, but ” He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree ” ( 1 Peter 2:24 ). God Himself had to step in and bear the brunt of all the evil. God maintains the global order of nature. In this, he shows his love for his creatures, but without even mentioning it.
Something that said, ” For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son ” ( John 3:16 ). God gave what He had most precious: His Son. He had nothing greater to give or achieve. This is the only true sacrifice that God could make. Creating other worlds would be nothing in comparison .
Giving each of us the wealth of an entire planet would have cost him nothing; but in giving his own Son, he gave all that he had. It’s a shocking fact, but saving us cost God everything! It meant sending Jesus to earth to cry and pray for us in the Garden of Olives; He was arrested and subjected to the most mistreatment and had to experience the sword of divine judgment on His body.
This is what he did and it shows us what anguish we were in. Only God can save us. That is why we preach Christ crucified and the beautiful story of the cross. God must have worked so hard for the human race that we had better tell him.