......, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse. Deuteronomy 21 v23

The Cross of Jesus - its religious meaning

"Christ of St John of the Cross" (part)  Salvador Dali   (c)why is it a problem to the Jews? 

Paul  (Rabbi Sha'ul) says, "..... but we preach Christ (the Messiah) crucified; a stumbling-block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles".   (1 Cor 1 v23)    IVP New Bible Commentary says, "    A crucified Messiah  was to Jews unthinkable, while for God to take human form and then be put to death was incomprehensible to the Greeks."  

The Messiah was expected to come in victory.

Peter had this problem, soon after he had made his amazing statement of faith to Jesus;  "You are the Christ (the Messiah)".   When Jesus explained what was about to happen to him Peter said, "Never Lord!   This shall never happen to you!" and he received a stunning rebuke.  (Matt 16 v21-23)  He was sure that the Messiah was about to come as conquering hero. 

The Tree

Peter was probably also aware of Deuteronomy 21 v23,  "anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse".    (In Hebrew there is no distinction between a living tree and a reconstructed structure such as the Roman crucifixion cross, both are ets - to the Hebrew speakers Jesus really was "hung on a tree”.)

The Jewish religious leaders had failed to see in scripture, that the Messiah would come first as the suffering servant and take the curse for our sin and make atonement.   See Isaiah  53 and Psalm 22.    (Messiah's assumption of the throne of David was to await his second coming.)   However, we Christians should not feel superior to them, as Paul explains in Romans 11,

What follows is that Isra'el has not attained the goal for which she is striving. The ones chosen have obtained it, but the rest have been made stonelike,

But this stonelike condition, which is for our benefit, is only temporary; until God completes his plan with "all Israel will be saved."

The symbol of the cross is also offensive to Jews because of its use by evil men acting in the name of Christianity.  The Crusaders proudly carried the cross emblem whilst slaughtering innocent Jews and Muslims.  (men, women and children)  The Nazis used variations of cross emblems.

The cross itself

There were variations to both the form of the cross and the manner of fixing the victim.  The cross was formed of two parts; the upright ( stipes ) and the cross arm ( patibulum ).  The type usually referred to as the Latin cross had the patibulum fixed two or three feet from the top of the stipes, whilst the Tau cross in which the patibulum fitted into a notch on top of the stipes. 

Thus the shape was a letter "T" (or Tau/Tav in the old Hebrew alphabet).  It is likely that Jesus died on a "T" cross, but the "cross" shape was formed once the titulus was in position above the victim's head.  The Titulus was the small sign which stated the victim's crime, that was fixed to a short staff and carried ahead of the execution procession.  The Titulus was then nailed to the top of the cross above the victim's head.  The victim would have carried the patibulum (cross arm) that would have weighed around 110 pounds,  not the whole cross as is often depicted.

The word usually translated as cross from the Greek is actually stavros - meaning stake, and David Stern translates it that way in the Jewish New Testament. In his commentary (JNTC p40-41) he explains that it refers to a vertical wooden stake with a crossbar, so he is not making a major argument with the description above. However, he explains that he avoids the use of the word “crucify”, as he says, “preferring the use of expressions that focus attention on the events themselves, particularly their character as judgment, whereas the usual terms explain less and carry church related associations developed much later in history.”

He also comments that, “As a Messianic Jew, still feeling the pain on behalf of my people, (over the evil done to the Jews by cross carrying men claiming to be Christians) I do not have it in me to represent my New Testament faith with a cross.”

It was not unknown for the Romans to execute victims by nailing them to a single vertical stake, but Dr Stern does not suggest this was the case with the execution of Jesus.

Jesus’ execution

The medical details of death by crucifixion are discussed on The Cross - physically

It must be remembered that Jesus' suffering on the cross was preceded by his suffering in the garden, where he sweated drops of blood, and the brutality of his “trial” before he was condemned to death.  One Jewish tour guide pointed out that Jesus went to the place known as the place of the crushing olives (the meaning of Gethsemane) to endure the crushing ordeal of bearing the sin of the world.

After his arrest, Jesus was subjected to mocking and being struck about the head before Pilate had him scourged.  Some suggest that Pilate hoped the scourging, which could be fatal if prolonged enough, would have been sufficient to satisfy the mob. Jewish law forbade more than forty lashes but there is no reason to assume the Romans felt bound by that.

Jesus refused the offer of wine with myrrh in order to die with an unclouded mind.  (Myrrh is a mild analgesic) This enabled him to make his  profoundly significant, seven last sayings.

Death on a cross

The eventual cause of death  would be asphyxia.   If someone was suspended by the hands, it became very difficult to move the rib cage and to breathe.

Eventually the victim found it more and more exhausting to support the body, causing  breathing to become weaker and weaker, and the heart to begin to fail under the strain until death, mercifully, arrived.

This is why the soldiers broke the legs of the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus.   Once their legs were broken they could no longer take the weight off their arms and breathing became impossible.  Thus they would die in time be removed before the holy day started at sunset.

Jesus survived on the cross a remarkably short time - only a few hours. "Pilate marvelled if he were already dead." ( Mark, 15, 44.)  Although Jesus had allowed men to take him and crucify him, he remained in control.  

Jesus said, "It is finished" and gave up his spirit.  (Knowledge of Temple procedures and careful calculation of times recorded in the gospels reveals that Jesus uttered these words at the same time as the High Priest uttered the same words announcing the end of the sacrificing of Passover lambs!)

As stated above asphyxiation, not blood loss, would have been the cause of death by crucifixion.  Jesus certainly did not bleed to death.  When Passover lambs or other animals were sacrificed, their throats were cut and their blood was poured out.  (In Torah it is said "the life is in the blood", and that meat was to be drained so that the people did not eat the blood)     For some reason known to himself but not recorded, one of the soldiers sent to speed the deaths of the victims, seeing Jesus was already dead, thrust a spear into his side, causing blood and water to flow out.   He thus fulfilled the necessary shedding of blood for a proper sacrifice.

"It is Finished"

Tam ve’nishlam - "It is finished", are the first two words of the Hebrew phrase, "Tam ve’nishlam Shevach La’el Boreh Olam", which means, "It is completed and fulfilled, blessed be God, the Creator of the world." The acronym for this phrase,  is written at the end of sacred Jewish writings such as books of the Bible.  

Thus Jesus declared that he had completed and fulfilled everything God had purposed since the creation of the world.


Some have suggested that the darkness recorded by Luke (23:44) was an eclipse, but an eclipse can not last for three hours. This darkness in daytime was not without precedent; Exodus 10:21 records the penultimate plague on Egypt,

 Adonai said to Moshe, "Reach out your hand toward the sky, and there will be darkness over the land of Egypt, darkness so thick it can be felt!” Moshe reached out his hand toward the sky, and there was a thick darkness in the entire land of Egypt for three days. People couldn't see each other, and no one went anywhere for three days. But all the people of Isra'el had light in their homes.
The darkness as Jesus died had no possible natural explanation.

Have you ever associated the darkness at the crucifixion with Amos chapter 8:9-11 ?     

"In that day," declares the Sovereign LORD, "I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your religious feasts into mourning and all your singing into weeping.  I will make all of you wear sackcloth and shave your heads.  I will make that time like mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day.  "The days are coming," declares the Sovereign LORD, "when I will send a famine through the land-- not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.

Why Jesus died for you and me.    The spiritual reasons for the Cross

At the cross Jesus made an exchange for us  . . . 

All the evil due to us came on Him   ----   All the good due to Him came on us.

Isaiah says (prophetically) of Him,  "All we like sheep have gone astray.  We have turned every one to his own way.   And the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all."

The original Hebrew for iniquity is abon that means rebellion, guilt, iniquity, and the consequences of this rebellion  (turning to our own way).

Came to Jesus

Came to us


Punishment Forgiveness Isaiah 53 v6
Pains and sicknesses    (usually, wrongly, translated griefs and sorrows) Healing   (Shalom - meaning wholeness and well-being usually trans Peace) Isaiah 53 v4&5
Made Sin with our sinfulness Made righteous with his righteousness Isaiah 53 v10  2 Corinthians 5 v21
Death Life Hebrews 2 v9
Curse Blessing Galatians 3 v13&14   -  See Deuteronomy 23 (re curse for being hanged on a tree!)    People still suffer from curses placed centuries ago!
Poverty Abundance  (not necessarily monetary wealth) 2 Corinthians 8 v9 and 9 v8   -  at his death Jesus was hungry, thirsty, naked and having nothing)
Shame Glory Matthew 27 v35&36 (naked before passers by)   Hebrews 2 v10  (re Glory)
Rejection Acceptance Matthew 27 45-51   (tearing of the veil is our acceptance by God)     Ephesians 1  (Accepted in the Beloved)

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Restructured with "The cross - physically" 29/10/16

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