“So he delivered him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.” (John 19:16-18)
We have already examined the crucifixion’s historical origin as well as how it pertained to Jesus Christ’s own historical crucifixion. We have also examined the events of Jesus’ crucifixion as revealed in all Four New Testament Gospels. But what about the theological significance of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion? What part does it have in the message of the Gospel?
To begin with, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and His subsequent bodily resurrection, is the central message not only of the Gospel which bears His name but also of all Christian theology. The cross conveys the message of substitutionary atonement by Jesus Christ on behalf of fallen sinners.
As one commentator explains, “The cross has meaning because of the significance of the person who was put to death on it and because of what his death accomplished. The word of the cross” was central in the salvation proclamation of the early church. Above all, the event of the cross was God’s principal saving act in history; hence the cross, though a past event, has present significance. Christ crucified and risen is the core of the church’s message (Gal 3:1).”
While the message of the cross is to be cherished and faithfully communicated by the church, it is at the same time hated by the pagan culture in which the church exists and ministers. The Apostle explained this phenomena in I Corinthians 1:17-2:5.
The Tyndale Bible Dictionary states that, “There the “word of the cross” (1:18) is contrasted with “eloquent wisdom” (v 17). Sounding like foolishness, it is offensive to both Greek philosophy and Jewish legalism (cf. Gal 6:12–15), but that very “weakness” in human eyes opens the door for the “power of God” (1 Cor 1:18). The cross in the church’s kerygma (proclamation) illustrates the pattern of God’s action: he forges out of the debilitated things of life both power and wisdom (vv 26–30). Because philosophical speculation replaces God’s message with human wisdom and thus empties the cross of its significance, Paul rejected “lofty words” and preached only the “crucified Christ.” The “Holy Spirit’s power” thus became evident in Paul’s “weakness” (2:1–5). The central core of the gospel is God’s demonstration of victory emerging from seeming defeat, of power arising out of infirmity.”
The cross as the basis of atonement is the principal emphasis in the Epistles (see Ephesians 1:3-14; 2:14-18; Colossians 1:19-20; 2:14). Jesus “was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25).
There are several biblical words which herald the significance of the cross. These are the words “redemption,” “propitiation,” reconciliation,” “adoption,” and “justification.” Redemption and propitiation are themes found in Isaiah’s prophecy of the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52:13-53:12). The Servant’s death was for “the sins of many.” The idea of redemption in both Old and New Testaments is the payment of a price to “ransom” slaves held captive. The price for redemption, the NT explains, was paid on the cross (Mark 10:45; Titus 2:11-14; 1 Peter 1:17-21).
Substitutionary Atonement by the cross is also found in Galatians 3:13-14 which says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” (See Deuteronomy 21:23; Romans 5:10–11, 18; 1 Corinthians 11:24; Ephesians 1:7; 2:13).
In the same way, the entire doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone centers on the cross. It is “Christ crucified” who declares humanity righteous and makes freedom from sin possible (Romans 6:1-6; Galatians 2:16–21). The sinner’s guilt was placed on Jesus at the cross and atoned there, providing God’s forensic (legal) forgiveness of all who avail themselves of its power (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 1:18–21; 2:24; 3:18).
The result of the cross is “reconciliation”—both vertically, between humans and God (Colossians 1:20), and horizontally, between Jews and Gentiles (Ephesians 2:13–16).
This is the great salvation God has provided through the cross of Christ.
May God’s truth and grace reside here.
Soli deo Gloria!