The Cross of Christ Today
The initials S. 0. M. have occasionally appeared in Focus, in the past. Behind them are both a person and a message. Though a few people know who the individual is and what the initials stand for, as editor, I have been asked not to disclose the person’s identity. Though your curiosity may be stirred, don’t miss the important message of this excellent article.
“Would you believe it!” he exclaimed. “I was so interested in the spectacular ruins around me that I missed seeing that cross.”
It would appear that today many of God’s beloved people are so occupied with the affairs of this life, and with the chaos in world conditions, that they miss the cross; they fail to recognize the true meaning of the cross in their own experience.
The cross in the New Testament is used in a threefold manner. There is the literal cross, the cross of wood the Lord Jesus was made to carry, the cruel gibbet on which He died.
A friend, describing his visit to Rome, told of how deeply he was impressed by the ruins of its ancient buildings, very especially by those of the Colosseum where so many Christians were martyred during the reigns of the pagan emperors.
“Did you see the cross that stands in the Colosseum?” he was asked.
“There is no cross in the Colosseum!” he quickly answered, somewhat puzzled by the question.
“I have read,” replied his friend, “that centuries ago Christians, as a token of victory, placed a cross on the floor of the arena where the blood of so many fellow-believers had been shed. That cross in time disappeared. I have also read that in 1927, the Italian government ordered that another cross be permanently erected on the same spot.”
“No,” said the traveller who but recently had returned from Europe, “I did not see one; there is no cross there now. Let’s look at my slides of the Colosseum; I am sure that there is none there.”
As they viewed the slides, on the edge of one of them, the cross appeared; it had been almost missed in the taking of the picture.
Certain religious organizations make much of the literal cross. They reproduce it in wood, metal and stone. They even claim to have preserved some splinters from it, but God in His Word pays little attention to the actual wooden cross. Who made it, we do not know. What became of it, is not revealed. We only know that according to the Word of God, it served its purpose and passed from sight.
There is also what might be called the figurative cross. Said the Lord Jesus, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). The cross here stands for daily trial and testing which result from the persecution of the world. It comprehends whatever burden we bear for Christ: a cross of persecution and affliction, a cross of privation and loneliness and misunderstanding borne for Christ’s sake. This cross is the figure of patient suffering for and with Christ.
Then there is the symbolic cross which some call the doctrinal cross. This aspect of the cross in the New Testament is the emblem of the death of our Lord and of every truth expressed by His death. It is the representation of the atonement accomplished by Christ at Calvary. It is in this sense that the Apostle Paul uses the word “cross” in the Epistle to the Galatians, where he asserts, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14).
The Cross And The Resurrection
In any consideration of the cross today, the cross must be viewed from the perspective of the ascension rather than from the incarnation. This is how the early Christians saw the cross. They understood it from beyond the resurrection.
We need to remind ourselves that the early Church had the Epistles before it had the four Gospels. Chronologically the Epistles were written before the Gospels. All of Paul’s epistles were written and available to the Church by A.D. 65; whereas, the Synoptic Gospels probably were not written until after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, Mark being the earliest one. The Gospel of John may be dated between A.D. 80 and the end of the first Christian century.
From these facts we understand that the early Church received the doctrine of the cross before it was given the historical details of the crucifixion of our Lord. We must therefore ever view the cross from the perspective of the occupied throne.
The Meaning Of The Cross Today
Does the meaning of the cross of Christ change? Can it mean something different now from what it did in the past? Shall it mean something different in the future?
The cross in the past: John by the Holy Spirit writes of Christ as “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). The verb to slay is also used of one of the seven heads of the first beast of Revelation 13. We read that one of its heads was wounded to death. The verb is comparable to our English word assassination, and means death imposed by another. The same verb may also mean a sacrificial death; it does so in the case of our Lord Jesus.
In the divine councils of the past, the cross of Christ meant a death by the hand of an enemy, a violent death, a sacrificial death.
The cross in the future: In chapter five of the Revelation, John carries us into the indefinite future. He writes of Christ as a Lamb that had been slain (5:6). Here he uses the same verb as he did in chapter 13. Christ is here seen in the future bearing the marks of death imposed by others, as premeditated murder. The cross never changes its meaning. What it meant in the councils of the past, it will mean in the consumation of the future.
The cross throughout time: In Acts five Peter uses another verb, but it too implies a violent death: “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew (abused and killed) and hanged on a tree.” There seems to be an allusion here to the stoning and the hanging of the insubordinate son in Deuteronomy 21. In Acts 6:52, Stephen charges the nation of Israel with the death of Christ, saying, “The Just One, of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers.” The same concept of the cross is ever maintained.
Perhaps there are times when we could wish that the offence of the cross might cease, and that it might become easier to be a Christian.
Although Issac Watts, the founder of English hymnology, wrote some 600 hymns there are three which have been chosen as his very best. May the sentiments of one of these classics find an echo in our hearts, an expression in our lives.
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast
Save in the cross of Christ, my God;
All the vain things that charm me most
I sacrifice them to his blood.
Amen! Amen! Amen!