by David Padfield
The New Testament places great emphasis upon the cross of Christ. Whenever Paul went into a city the first thing he did was to preach Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:1-5). He told the saints at Corinth that “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). Christians in the first century suffered “persecution for the cross of Christ” (Gal. 6:12), while others were freely willing to bear “the offense of the cross” (Gal. 5:11). The Law of Moses, the “handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us” was “taken out of the way” and “nailed to the cross” (Col. 2:14). Paul spoke of some who were “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil. 3:18).
After reading these passages which deal with the “cross of Christ,” we need to ask, did Paul preach about a piece of lumber? Did he suffer for timber? No! Paul was using a figure of speech known as synecdoche which is “a figure of speech in which a part stands for a whole or a whole for a part” (Doubleday Dictionary). If you ask a friend what he had for lunch, he might say, “I stopped at McDonald’s for a sandwich,” but what he meant was a sandwich, fries, Coke and a hot apple pie. Whether he is aware of it or not, he used a figure of speech — a synecdoche.
New Testament writers often used “the cross of Christ” as a figure of speech, a synecdoche, to represent many other things — in this article we want to look at a few of them.
God’s Hatred Of Sin
People often ask, “Why did Christ have to die on the cross anyway?” The answer is that sin had separated man from God (Ezek. 18:20; Isa. 59:1-2) and the penalty for sin is death (Rom. 3:23; Rom. 6:23). In order for sins to be removed, blood had to be shed (Heb. 9:22). But, instead of man dying, God allowed an animal to die (Heb. 10:4).
Christ came to this earth as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Paul said “we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9).
“For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: ‘Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth’; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness — by whose stripes you were healed.” (1 Peter 2:21-24).
God’s Love Toward Man
You cannot think of the cross of Christ without thinking of the infinite love of God. John 3:16 is one of the best loved verses in the Bible — and rightly so — for it tells us how “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
An angel of God told Mary that she would “bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). The apostle Paul reminds us of how “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
The death of Christ was in the eternal foreknowledge of God. Peter told those on Pentecost about “Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know — Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death” (Acts 2:22-23).
Centuries before the Son of God came into this world, the prophet Isaiah, in one of the “suffering servant” passages, told of how “it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isa. 53:10-12).
Early in His earthly ministry Jesus said, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15). On His final trip to the city of Jerusalem He reminded the apostles that “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
The End Of The Law
The Law of Moses was taken away by the cross of Christ. Paul told the Colossians how Christ “wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:14).
The Law given at Sinai was temporary — God never intended for the Law of Moses to last forever. “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them, He says: ‘Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah — not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteous-ness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.’ In that He says, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” (Heb. 8:7-13).
Paul tells us that “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’)” (Gal. 3:13).
Those who seek to bind the Law of Moses on Christians today have no appreciation for what Jesus accomplished on the cross.
The End Of Racial Barriers
Prior to the death of Christ there was a great barrier between Jews and Gentiles, but Christ “Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of division between us” (Eph. 2:14).
God is not a respecter of persons, “for there is no partiality with God” (Rom. 2:11). He does not look down from heaven and see any distinction between the various races on the earth. While He is not a respecter of persons, He is a respecter of character. At the house of Cornelius, “Peter opened his mouth and said: In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.” (Acts 10:34-35).
The Power Of The Gospel
The cross was the means by which Christ would draw men unto Him and the salvation He offers. In the very shadow of the cross we hear Jesus praying to His Father: “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name. Then a voice came from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it and will glorify it again. Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, An angel has spoken to Him. Jesus answered and said, This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself. This He said, signifying by what death He would die.” (John 12:27-33).
The story of the cross is the very foundation of the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-4), which is God’s power unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).
New Testament preachers did not use carnal means to draw men to Christ — the story of the cross was sufficient. To those who love the Lord the story of the cross will never grow old. There will never be a cry to “preach something new” or “update the message for the times.”
Jesus Christ is the centerpiece of human history — time throughout the world is reckoned by His birth. For all eternity the redeemed will be with Jesus, “the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth,” the One who “loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father” (Rev. 1:5-6).